Season Pass Buying Guide: Always Amused January 2019
By Erik Chalhoub
January is here, and that means there are months of theme park adventures right around the corner.
That also means it’s time to break out the wallet again. Anybody who has visited a theme park knows it can be a very expensive hobby or time out with the family.
As the new year begins, and most parks are hibernating in the offseason, it’s a good time to plan out your potential theme park visits for 2019. Through the planning process, you are almost guaranteed to ask the question: Should I splurge for a season pass, or purchase separate tickets?
This month, I will attempt to answer a few common questions you may have when considering purchasing a season pass.
Do I Need a Season Pass?
If you ask yourself this question, answer it with another question: How many times will I be visiting a certain park?
On rough average, daily admission tickets are $40-$70 (with the notable exception being Disneyland, which is upwards of $100). Many season pass options across many different parks are about two times the price of a daily admission ticket.
In other words, if you plan on visiting one park at least twice in the year, then a season pass pays for itself after the second visit. The more times you visit, the cheaper each visit becomes. Even if you plan on traveling to a park once a year, but will be staying for three days, a season pass is worth the price.
If you are only visiting once in the year, then a single admission ticket is the way to go.
While the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is admission-free, it does charge about $3-$7 per ride. If you only plan on riding the Giant Dipper a few times this year, a season pass probably isn’t for you. But, if you will be a frequent visitor and ride multiple rides, then a season pass is a good option. The Boardwalk will give a free $40 all- rides wrist band for the guest of any- one who buys an $81.95 yearly pass by Jan. 6.
I Want to Buy a Season Pass! But What is the Best Time to Do So?
Timing is everything. Most parks offer different perks throughout the year to people buying a season pass. For example, a park may offer a bring- a-friend-free ticket with the purchase of a season pass, or a free meal.
Certain times of the year, you can get a ridiculously low price on season passes. Often, this is right at the end of summer, typically when parks announce their new attractions for the following year.
Six Flags, I’ve found, has the best deal around, so good that it’s hard to believe it’s true. Around Labor Day, the chain offers a one-week “flash sale,” where season passes are $56 (for Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo). For this price, you also get admission to every Six Flags park in the nation, and free parking at every single one. It’s almost like they are paying you to visit the park.
The worst time to buy a pass is in July/August. Parks typically start sell- ing the next year’s passes in September/October, so if you buy a pass in late summer, you really only get about two months’ worth out of it. This is because when next year’s passes go on sale, they also give you admission to the rest of the current year.
Gold, Platinum, Diamond, Diamond Elite, Bronze? What Type of Season Pass Should I Get?
There is no one-size-fits-all season pass. Most parks offer different layers of season passes, at different price points.
Some may give you early admission, while others will give you discounts on park merchandise and food.
It’s really up to you what kind of perks you want to get. At the very least, I highly recommend you purchase a season pass that has free park- ing included on it. With parking prices averaging $20 or more, paying for a more expensive pass is well worth it.
California’s Great America introduced a “Pre-K” pass recently, where children ages 3-5 can visit the park for free the entire year. This is a great con- cept that I hope more parks pick up.
Six Flags has been experimenting with a “membership” pass over the past few years, and other parks are starting to take notice, as it makes more sense on the business side of things. With a membership, you pay monthly installments, rather than paying the entire cost of the season pass all at once, giving parks a consistent stream of revenue. Some industry ob- servers are predicting the season pass will fade out in favor of the membership option.
I hope this helps with your planning for the next year. Every parks’ website has a great list of benefits for each season pass option, so I recommend you study that as well before making a purchase.