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Free admission to hundreds of museums

Want to visit museums, zoos, aquariums or science centers? You may have already paid your admission.

By Donna_Freedman Jun 14, 2012 7:48PM
Image: Zebras (© Theo Allofs/Corbis)Traveling this summer? Take your museum membership card with you.

If you buy an annual pass to an institution affiliated with the North American Reciprocal Museums program, you'll eligible for free admission to more than 600 others in the United States and Canada.

So if you're a member of, say, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts you can get in free at a huge variety of other institutions, from The Frick Collection in New York City to the Surfing Heritage Foundation in San Clemente, Calif.

Pay once, make multiple visits -- that's quite a deal. And museums are just the beginning.

Three other groups -- the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Association of Children's Museums and the Association of Science and Technology Centers -- also have reciprocal agreements. Depending on the institution, you'll get free or discounted admissions, cheaper tickets to special events like concerts and lectures, and discounts at gift shops.

Finding your options

Some restrictions may apply. For example, a specific level of membership may be required and special attractions may not be included. It's important to call ahead or check websites for specific rules.

Here's the information you need to get started: 
The next time you plan travel for leisure or business, check out the reciprocal options in that area. It's a frugal way to enrich any trip.

Be sure to allow enough time to purchase your hometown attraction membership, since you'll need the actual membership card to take advantage of these deals.

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12Comments
Jun 15, 2012 12:14PM
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If you buy an annual pass, good program, but how exactly is this free?
Jun 15, 2012 12:55PM
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I remember when ALL museums were free plus the Botanical Gardens. The Bronx Zoo is free on Wednesdays but they make you pay by not having all the exhibits open. There's no such thing as a free lunch my friend. Those were the days.
Jun 15, 2012 11:40AM
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Great list.  In New Orleans there are free family days in the spring for museums here and also there is the Smithsonian Day which I am sure you are aware of. 
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i am a member of the st. louis zoo and science center.  we saved well over $250 at museums in chicago this spring. 

 

a worker at the stl science center said many chicago citizens buy stl memberships to use in their hometown.  if they buy a membership to one museum in chicago it is not reciprocal in chicago, so they buy a membership in stl.

Jun 15, 2012 1:55PM
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The museums in the UK are free, its the law..America wants you to pay through the nose for everything, its shameful...
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Always ask what ALL your options are too.  For example, in addition to memberships, The Brooklyn Botanic Garden has a "Frequent Visitor's Pass" that costs $25.00 annually.  It lets you in the door and nothing else.  No parties, no discounts in the gift shop etc., but for many of us, it is quite enough and saves the bother of feeling like a complete deadbeat.  You walk right in without standing on the lines to pay too.
Jun 15, 2012 1:38PM
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museum of Natural History in NYC has always been free... it says sugested donations so most of us payI but you dont have to pay the sugested price.
Jun 15, 2012 12:50PM
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I buy a membership at the charles paddock zoo a small zoo in atascadero and use it and the Santa barbara zoo often. as it's a bigger zoo and the membership fro the paddock zoo is cheaper.
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Don't forget there is also the Southeastern Reciprocal Museums Program (SERM) that allows for similar benefits to NARM. Find out more at: http://shellmuseum.org/membership.cfm
Jun 16, 2012 11:54AM
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I would add there are lots of parks, government museums, etc. that are free or low cost. That's especially true if you live within an hour of Washington, D.C. as I do.  The next time I babysit our 4-year old, I'm taking him either to the NASA-Godard Visitor's Center (FREE) where he can try on a space suit, sit in a real space capsule, play with space toys and, on certain days, watch model rocket shots.  Or if we've got a long day I'll take him for a 3-4 hour visit to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., (FREE with $4/hr parking) where we can bring our own cooler and see the Giant Pandas, Komodo Dragons, Orangutans, Tigers, etc.
The next time I babysit our 11-year old, I'm taking him either to Harper's Ferry (FREE with $6 parking) to see the John Brown and Civil War city, reenactors, "captured Southern spys," etc. or else to the Smithsonian in D.C. (FREE with FREE parking if you arrive very early - or park for about $4 in the suburbs and take the Metro in and out).
Jun 15, 2012 3:10PM
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It's important to note that most of these reciprocal memberships are at the mid-level of membership, usually starting at the $250 annual fee. If you're a frequent traveler and museum visitor, it does represent a nice savings. Otherwise....
Jun 15, 2012 2:24PM
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kattbuloo, most museums are non-profit, but it costs money to run them.  If they were "free" they'd still cost me money via more taxes.  There are some museums with wealthy benefactors that are free, just not most.
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Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.

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