City Tourism Cards: Are They Worth It?

For most people, vacation is all about the attractions. The more, the merrier. But when you're in huge cities like New York and Los Angeles where a single museum ticket can cost you $20, you often have to make sacrifices and see fewer attractions.

That's where city tourism cards come in. If you aren't familiar with the concept of city tourism cards, know that you pay one discounted fee and you receive access to several attractions either free or at a severely discounted rate. Depending on the city and the ticket package, these cards can last up to 30 days of consecutive touring. Why not get it, right? What's bad about that?

Traveling on a budget takes time and planning, correct? You have to research the best hotels, the best restaurants and admission prices for attractions you want to see plus figure in for transportation, shopping, and - God forbid - emergencies. Vacations, as we all know, can be pretty expensive, which is why most of us can't afford to go more than once a year, if that. So is the city tourism card really the best option for your budget? It depends.

1. Price

There are a few companies that sell these tourism cards, the biggest of which is City Pass. Spanning 10 U.S. cities plus Southern California, City Pass is the country's largest overall provider of city tourism passes. I'll get to their individual benefits in a bit but for the moment, let's consider the price of the tickets alone. Say you're visiting Chicago and you want to see the Field Museum and the Shedd Aquarium during your stay. The Chicago City Pass comes with admission tickets to five attractions including the two I mentioned. A regular adult ticket to Shedd is a whopping $41.95, the Field Museum is $31, totaling $72.95 for what constitutes a single day's touring. One adult ticket booklet from City Pass costs $96. Obviously you aren't saving anything this way unless you add more attractions. Chuck in the Museum of Science and Industry ($32) and you're already saving $7.95 when you go with the City Pass; adding in the Art Institute of Chicago ($42) saves you $49.95.

The more you see, the more you save and that's the motto for every tourism card regardless of company or city. All of these savings depends solely on how long you're going to be in a city and how much you want to see. If you're only going to be in Chicago for a single day and you have time for only 1-2 sites, it's obviously not going to save you anything but if you're in town for five days, you can see one free attraction a day and save 52% on combined admission prices.

If you're in a city like New York, there's no denying the savings. The New York Pass, unaffiliated with City Pass, gets you free entry into over 80 attractions. City Pass also has a New York card but it only includes six tickets. The New York Pass lets you skip to the head of the line and jump right into the Statue of Liberty, the Museum of Modern Art, and Discovery Times Square among others. BUT, you have to purchase the New York Pass for a certain number of days. Unlike City Pass, the New York Pass is only valid per the number of days you purchased. A one day pass costs $90, two days is $140, three $180 and so on. However, it may not be as bad as it seems. The more you tour, the more attractions you see, the more you save overall. Each attraction may be visited only once, but with the New York Pass, you have more than 80 to explore and keep you busy.

2. Perks

City tourism cards don't just get you into places, they amp up your savings too. The New York Pass, for example, gives you VIP access to NYC shopping, dining, and entertainment. Show the card at certain stores and they'll give you a free gift while others like Bloomingdale's will take 15% off your shopping cart. Get discounts up to 10% off on Broadway shows, 25% off comedy club tickets, and discounts on city tours and dining as well.

3. Convenience

When it comes down to convenience, some tourism cards shine brighter than others. While the New York Pass requires multi-day purchases, cards like Go Card Los Angeles offers valid tickets for 30 days after your first attraction visit with customized passes. Take your time and pick the touring package right for your budget, only choosing the attractions you want to see, cutting out the wasted tickets from the ones you don't want. From Universal Studios Hollywood to Knott's Berry Farm and celebrity home tours, the Los Angeles Go Card offers choices of 36 attractions for the customized packages. Say you want to go to the Natural History Museum, the L.A. Zoo, Six Flags Magic Mountain, and Universal Studios during your stay. Regularly, adult tickets for each add up to $199 but with the Go Card, you pay only $169, a 15% savings. On the other hand, all-inclusive passes require multi-day purchases - but, they do get you into 33 attractions for free. A one day pass is $77 in Los Angeles, two days is $120, et cetera. If you're only going to be in town for 1-2 days, the all-inclusive passes may be more prudent considering the number of attractions you have to choose from.

However, this is based purely on personal preferences. The savings are there for you to review and decide but this budget saving customized tour card is best used for people who know where they want to go and how much they want to see in a day. The all-inclusive cards and packages are perfect for groups that like wandering a city until they see something they want or pick what they want to do for that day over breakfast.

Final Verdict: The city tourism card industry, depending on the company and city, is overall a pretty wonderful money saver. Attractions are up at the top of the list for vacation money grabbers, seeming to rip the cash from your pocket before you know what happened. Unless you are headed to a city with a lot of free attractions like Washington, D.C., a tourism card with upwards of 50% savings is probably your best bet.

If you're still unsure, or if you're wondering about group discount prices, contact our travel agents at 877-397-5700 and they'll give you guidance on how to make your budget student or graduation trip the best possible vacation.