How to explore for nearly FREE! With ASTC and other passes with benefits.
- How do we see all the things we do and stay on budget?
- What’s one of our favorite lunch or leg stretching stops?
- What do we do when we run into weather that doesn’t warrant playing outside?
- How do we keep gifts from family manageable?
We get asked these questions regularly and they are all answered with a fantastic onetime $69 fix. We have a family science center pass that we use all over the US and you can even use it in parts of Canada.
Not only does our pass give us reciprocity benefits at Association of Science-Technology Center (ASTC) member locations, we also get access to some of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) locations. We get 1/2 price of FREE admission to all the locations on this list. We chose a pass with overlapping benefits (more than one reciprocity program) for the best bang for our buck.
Here is the ASTC reciprocity list (Current at the time of publication)
Here is the AZA reciprocity list (Current at the time of publication)
We chose to get our pass from Western North Carolina Nature Center. You can find out more about their membership options and the Nature Center HERE.
Full disclosure, all of these museums set their own prices and you will find a huge range of prices!
How Much Have We SAVED?
At the time of this publication we have used this pass six times. Here’s our breakdown of what we have saved. Remember, we got this pass as a gift so this has literally been 100% savings for us!
You will find that we have a different number of people on each pass use. We have had them museums allow our guests in with us for free and our youngest doesn’t always count in the admission. Each museum has different age fees.
See some of our adventures with our pass in the following videos. Make sure to subscribe to our channel while you are there.
Don Harrington Discovery Center
The Fine Print
As with anything, there’s always an exception. The reciprocity that’s offered with these passes is a courtesy and could change anytime. I always call ahead to verify that wherever we are headed is still part of the association and that we won’t incur any admission cost.
The reciprocity benefits can’t be used within 90 mile radius of your home MUSEUM. It’s not 90 miles of roads, but rather as the crow flies. I think that’s part of why the pass we have is so inexpensive. There are quite a few other museums right in the area that they are competing with where you can’t use it. For travelers who are looking at other areas, that’s not an issue.
The reciprocity benefits can’t be used within 90 mile radius of your home ADDRESS. Keep this in mind with wherever your domicile is because you may not to be able to use it around that area. Again, for us, the cost benefit well outweighed the potential inconvenience.
You can read all the FAQ’s on the ASTC Passport program HERE and all the admission program rules on the AZA Reciprocity program HERE.
Money Saving Membership Options
We’ve chosen to stick to the ASTC and AZA museums for now. There are many other organizations that also have memberships with reciprocity. I’ll include a list of them for those of you who may be interested in other money saving options. There are more than just those we discuss here, however it’s a great start!
- Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC) – Free admission to a huge collection of science centers. Many of the Children’s Museums also fall under this pass too, but NOT all.
- Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) – Gives free or half-price admission to a large number of zoos and aquariums across the US.
- Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) – Gives members 50% off tons of children’s museums. (We prefer the ASTC pass because the admission on those is FREE and many, but not all, of the children’s museums fall under that pass)
- North American Reciprocal Museum Association (NARM) – Free admission to mostly art museums, and some specialty museums.
Museum Alliance Reciprocal Program (MARP) – Also offers FREE admission to some museums. Most say that NARM is a much better option. We haven’t had either, but when we do we will go for NARM.
- Time Travelers – Discounted admission to history museums. Not all are free and simply discounted.
- Reciprocal Organization of Associated Museums (ROAM) – Free admission to a small, but decent, reciprocal program with a collection of history, and art museums and gardens.
- “America the Beautiful” Pass – This pass is great for locations within the National Parks circuit. For only $80 an “America the Beautiful” pass grants you free admission to almost every National Parks System site for an entire year from the purchase date. (Families with a fourth grader or anyone who’s disabled qualifies for a FREE pass!) This pass doesn’t cover guided tours, but it does cover admission.
- State Park Passes – These are individual from state to state. If you plan to camp in or visit state parks multiple times or for lengthy times, definitely look into these.
We found a family pass with ASTC reciprocity for just $50 for a year at Space Foundation Discovery Center in Colorado Springs.
Here are a couple other suggestions for passes with overlap.
- WNC Nature Center (the pass we have): ASTC, AZA
- Kern County Museum: ASTC, NARM, ACM, Time Travelers, ROAM
- Boonshoft Museum: ASTC, ACM, AZA
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