Waiting and waiting (and waiting) in rat-maze lines is as much a part of the amusement park experience as riding roller coasters and eating cotton candy. 90 minutes of inching along in stanchion hell is the price we must pay for 2 minutes of coaster heaven. Or is it?
Actually, you can pay a price to skip the lines at Six Flags. The park chain calls its program The Flash Pass. Is it worth it?
That depends on a lot of factors (not the least of which is your ability to pay). In many cases, however, it may make great sense to bite the bullet and pony up the extra cash. Let's explore what The Flash Pass is all about and whether you might want to get it for your next visit.
What the Heck is The Flash Pass?
It used to be that park visitors had to just suck it up and deal with lines. Then Disney rolled out its Fastpass system which allowed guests to bypass lines on certain attractions. (In 2014, Disney World introduced a major upgrade it calls FastPass+.) Other parks developed their own line-skipping programs. But unlike Disney's Fastpass, which is included with admission, virtually all other parks, including Six Flags, charge extra fees.
The Flash Pass has evolved through the years. While there are some variations among the parks, it essentially works the same at most of them. (The major exception is New York's The Great Escape, which calls its program GoFast Pass. It uses a simple wristband which allows guests immediate, unlimited access to select coasters and other rides. A Platinum pass adds on additional rides as well as some of the water park rides.)
There are three types of Flash Passes available: regular, Gold, and Platinum. With a regular one, you would have to wait the same amount of time as those without Flash Passes, but you would get to skip the lines. If the anticipated wait were one hour to ride a coaster, your reservation time would be in one hour. But the virtual placeholder would allow you to roam around the park and squeeze in other rides before returning to the coaster at the appointed time.
A Gold Flash Pass reduces the wait time by about 50%. For example, your reservation time would be 30 minutes to ride a coaster with a listed wait time of one hour. A Platinum pass virtually eliminates the wait. Instead of waiting the posted wait time of one hour for a coaster, you could return in about 10 minutes. Platinum pass holders also get wristbands which entitle them to a second ride on select attractions. When the coaster pulls into the station, you flash your wristband, remain seated, and enjoy a re-ride.
How Does it Work?
It's simple to use The Flash Pass. Go to the distribution center at the park on the day of your visit to pick up the device. It's known as a Q-Bot by the company that makes them available to Six Flags and other parks. Resembling an old-fashioned beeper, the small, oval-shaped gadget can fit in a pocket or attach to something such as a belt loop using the provided clip. (Use the clip, since you'll probably be flipping upside down throughout the course of your visit.)
The Q-Bots have a small screen and a couple of buttons. Scroll through the available attractions, and click one you'd like to ride. The gadget will show the reservation time and vibrate when it is time to ride. You can arrive anytime after the reservation time. The Flash Pass holders can only make one reservation at a time.
There are separate entrances for The Flash Pass, which either route holders through the exit line to the loading station or cut into the regular line near the loading station. A Six Flags employee will hold your Q-Bot next to a sensor to confirm that it is time to ride and allow you to enter the bypass line. That's it.
Up to six guests can use one Q-Bot (but Six Flags charges each user a fee). It's easy to cancel reservations. The device is water resistant, so feel free to let it get soaked on water rides. Speaking of water rides, some of the parks offer separate Flash Passes for use in their water parks.
How Much Does it Cost?
(Note that the following prices are valid for the 2017 season.) The prices vary from park to park and reflect the principle of supply and demand. At popular parks with huge crowds, lots of major rides, and exceptionally long lines, the cost is higher than at less popular parks. For 2017, some of the parks are using variable pricing and charge more on high-demand days such as weekends and holidays. You'll pay more on a Saturday in July than you would on a Tuesday in September, for example.
For a regular pass, the prices average about $45 with a low of $33 for Six Flags America in Maryland to a high of $55 for Six Flags Magic Mountain in California. To cut wait times in half, Gold passes average about $70. Line-erasing Platinum passes average about $100 but can soar up to $150 (whew!) for Magic Mountain.
Keep in mind that the cost for The Flash Pass is over and above the regular cost of park admission. It is not a cheap option, particularly for the Platinum flavor. A family of four would pay $916 for admission tickets purchased online and Platinum passes at Magic Mountain on a high-peak day. That's before parking, food, games, souvenirs, and any additional expenses at the park.
How Would I Figure Out Whether It Is Worth the Price?
Unless you are rolling in the dough (you lucky dog), you're probably going to think twice before spending so much extra money for a day at the park. What might sway you one way or the other to buy a pass?
Think about what you and your park posse hope to accomplish. Will you be visiting a park with lots of coasters and other rides that you really, really want to give a whirl? If you show up on a day when the park is packed, it would be impossible to pull that off without The Flash Pass. (And ironically, one of the reasons why the standby lines are so long is because people keep skipping them with passes.)
How much value do you place on packing in as many rides as possible when you visit a park? How frequently might you be visiting the park? If you are from out of the area, might this be your one chance to experience the rides at a park? (By the way, if you live near a park and like to visit often, Six Flags offers an all-season version of the Gold Flash Pass.) What is your tolerance, and the tolerance of those who will be joining you, for long lines? What would you be willing to pay to avoid infernal lines?
Your answers to these and other questions could help you decide whether to spring for the passes.
Ways to Save Your Money (and Your Sanity)
If paying so much extra to ride coasters seems excessive or if your budget just couldn't handle the extra fees, there are strategies to avoid the costs:
- Plan to visit on a day when it is less likely to be crowded. Avoid weekends, go early or late in the season, or otherwise try to zag when everybody else is zigging. The regular lines shouldn't be long. The problem with this strategy is that Six Flags might cut back operations on its rides during slower days. For instance, a park might run only one train on a coaster that has three trains, thereby still making the lines long. D'oh!
- Go on a day when it is threatening rain or will be very hot. Nothing keeps crowds away and lines short more than crummy weather. If you don't mind getting wet or hot (heed your inner Mom and don't forget to apply sunscreen and keep yourself hydrated), the parks will generally operate rides in inclement weather unless the rain is excessive or there is lightning forecast.
- Arrive at park opening before most of the crowds and go immediately to the most popular rides. You could leave in the middle of the day when the crowds are the heaviest, enjoy a nice meal outside the park, and return later in the day when the lines thin out again.
- Lower your expectations. Don't plan to ride every major coaster. Set your sights on three or four, and be prepared to wait in lines.
The Flash Pass Tips
- Wait until you get into the park and see some of the posted wait times before you decide whether to spend the extra money for the passes. The danger with this strategy is that the park has a limited supply of Q-Bots and could sell out of them, especially in the middle of a busy day. Which leads us to the next tip:
- Reserve the passes in advance online at the park's website. The upside is that you will be guaranteed passes, even if you show up later in the day. The downside is that the weather or other factors may make the lines relatively short and the passes unnecessary. In that case, Six Flags may issue a refund (or it may not; check with the park for its policy).
- Prioritize and use The Flash Pass for the coasters and other rides that you most want to experience first. If you are unsure, book the rides with the longest wait times first so you won't be shut out at the end of the day.
- You can book more than one reservation time for the same ride. If you have a ball on your first ride, make another reservation as soon as you get off or later in the day.