Which city passes are worth the money?

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Ed Perkins

Discount passes to major sites in big cities are often, but not always, a bargain.

You’ve probably seen the promotions for passes that promise free admission to a handful of a major city’s top attractions — often bypassing ticket lines — for a fixed price that is a lot less than you’d pay for individual admission to all of them.

I know of two major programs that sell passes for lots of different cities. And some individual cities organize their own passes. The idea is intriguing, both for the lower total cost and bypassing some lines.

CityPass

CityPass (citypass.com) issues passes for 12 cities/areas in North America: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, Southern California, Tampa Bay and Toronto, providing no-extra-cost admission to a city’s mix of important museums and major commercial tourist attractions.

• Each pass is valid for nine days after first use.

• Each pass typically covers one-time admissions for four to six attractions from a total of six to eight alternatives.

• Prices range from $41 to $329 (for Southern California, including a big Disneyland package), depending on the city, but most cost less than $100.

•  Pass prices claim to “save” 31 percent to 53 percent off the list prices for the attractions they cover.

•  In many cases, passes cover “no wait” admission, bypassing ticket lines.

All in all, my take is that the value of these passes varies among the individual cities: Some are great; others, not so much.

The Southern California version is pretty good if you plan a three-day Disneyland visit and one other attraction, for example. But the Philadelphia pass does not include the city’s most important museum.

Overall, the formula is pretty obvious: If you plan to visit all or most of the attractions covered by each pass, it’s a good deal, but if you would otherwise visit only one or two, fuhggeddaboudit. Check out each pass online to decide.

Leisure Pass

If you’re headed for Europe, Leisure Pass (leisurepassgroup.com) issues passes for Berlin, Dublin, London, Paris, Stockholm, Vienna, and an “Omnia Card” pass for Rome. Each pass covers more attractions than CityPass, but pricing is higher and varies by length of validity.

As an example, the London version includes admissions to “over 60” attractions, including such blockbusters as the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey and Windsor Castle, often with “fast track” entry. In addition, it includes some general sightseeing options, such as a hop-on-hop-off bus tour and a river cruise, but it also includes quite a few attractions that probably aren’t on your “must see” list, such as a tour of Arsenal Stadium. Prices range from 59 pounds (about $84) for one day, 79 pounds for two days, up to 159 pounds for 10 days.

Pricing and attractions for the other European cities are similar. And most offer non-discounted, all-day local transit passes as add-on options.

Leisure Pass also offers comparable passes for Las Vegas and New Orleans. But, at least in my experience, the attractions in these areas are not as important as in the European cities.

All in all, Leisure Pass is a tougher proposition to recommend than CityPass. Even the one-day prices are high, and you pay a lot more for multiday validity. Most of you could probably come out ahead using a Leisure Pass for a day or two of intensive museum or commercial attraction visits, but the CityPass formula is a lot better if you don’t want to cram all your museum and attractions visits into a short period.

One of the main benefits of both pass families is “fast track” admission to very popular attractions. In busy seasons, that can avoid hours of tedious waiting in line.

On the other hand, you can often find independent city passes that may also be better deals. For example, a Paris Museum Pass (en.parismuseumpass.com/) costs from 48 euros (about $53) for two days to 74 euros for four days, and covers all the main “usual suspects” venues. You can buy online or on arrival at De Gaulle or Orly airports. 

A three-day Berlin Museum Pass, which includes most of the key museums, costs just 24 euros. Do a Google search to find independent passes for other cities you want to visit.

Send e-mail to Ed Perkins at eperkins @mind.net. Also, check out Ed’s new rail travel website at www.rail-guru.com.

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