How to save money with theme park ticket deals and discounts 100 gas vs 10 ethanol

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Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, Disneyland, and Universal Studios Hollywood all charge different prices for one-day tickets on different days — based on what they expect attendance to be at their parks. More expensive tickets = more crowded days. That means you can use the parks’ online ticket stores as free crowd calendars, telling you when the parks will be busiest.

Universal, Six Flags, and the Cedar Fair amusement parks also give you discounts for buying your tickets in advance through their websites. Always start with the park’s official website to price tickets for the days you wish to visit. That will be your baseline to compare as you look for tickets from other sources. (Be sure to look for local resident deals on the website if you live close to the park, too!)

Parks don’t sell just one-day tickets. They also sell a variety of multi-day and season-long passes. If you are planning to visit a park for more than one day in a year, you almost always will find a better deal than buying one-day tickets. Parks want you to extend your stay, so they price tickets so that the daily cost of getting in to the park decreases with the more days you buy.

Seasonal and annual passes typically also include discounts on in-park purchases, such as food, merchandise and even parking. Theme parks also might bundle dining plan and front-of-line pass discount options with their annual passes. If you are a big eater, or have limited time in a park, you might find value in upgrading to a dining plan or a front-of-line option. But if you are looking for the lowest possible price to visit, skip those and bring a snack and plan to wait in the lines.

Six Flags’ season passes also are valid for all parks in the Six Flags chain. So if you are planning to visit more than one Six Flags park in a year, definitely go with a season pass option. You can get admission to all Cedar Fair parks with a Platinum pass from any of its parks. And the SeaWorld/Busch Gardens parks offer admission to all of their properties with a Premium Membership from any of their parks, too.

Now that you know what the park will charge you for tickets, it’s time to look for a better deal. Our readers recommend Undercover Tourist as the best source for discounted theme park tickets. They also recommend checking VisitOrlando, the website of the official tourism association for Orlando, if you will be visiting the world’s theme park capital. Finally, you might check with your local AAA/CAA auto club to see if they offer discounted tickets, as well.

Each of these are authorized resellers, offering legitimate tickets from the parks themselves. Fake or invalid tickets abound for sale online and in roadside stands outside the parks, so stick with the authorized resellers or the parks’ official websites. Never buy tickets on Craigslist or eBay!

Theme parks use photos and finger scans to associate multi-day tickets and passes to their original user, so unused days on tickets cannot be used by anyone else. And parks track their inventory rigorously. Stolen tickets are often immediately canceled and duplicate tickets simply won’t work. Don’t waste money on deals that seem too good to be true. They are.

Now that you know the going rate for tickets from the parks and from authorized resellers, there’s one more step to take before you commit and buy your tickets. Follow your favorite theme parks on Twitter and Facebook to see if they announce any additional discounts to their fans.

Regional theme parks often offer deals with Coke cans and fast food restaurants that might be cheaper than their best online prices. Disney and Universal almost never offer lower prices than you can find online, but they do use their social media accounts to announce ticket sales for special events, such as their Halloween parties, and on vacation packages.

3. Since you’re probably going to be spending 12-14 hours in the park, try to reduce the amount of walking by riding attractions as you come to them instead of criss crossing back and forth across a massive park following someone else’s trip plan. Also, use in-park transportation (trains, sky rides, trolleys, etc…) to make your way around the park to limit walking wherever possible.

4. Know before you go. Understand the rides and attractions in the park. There’s a certain level of innocence and spontaneity in walking into a theme park blindly, but considering most people are spending hundreds of dollars on theme park admissions, it’s foolish to spend $80 or more to walk into a theme park and not knowing what you’re getting yourself into. Know what the top rides are and how long the lines can be. Know what attractions shut down in bad weather, and have a metal snapshot of the park map or at least have the park’s app downloaded on your phone.

5. Understand and use (if determined to be worthwhile) in park line avoidance systems. Even if you don’t end up using an upcharge system (like Universal Express, Fast Lane, or Flash Pass), know how it works, so you’re not disappointed and frustrated when you see dozens of people stream past you at a merge point.

6. Plan out your meals. Whether you plan to eat in the park, if you’re bringing in your own food (if the park allows it), if you’re having a picnic in the parking lot, or if you’re going off-site for lunch, know what you’re going to do ahead of time. You’re guaranteed to spend more money on food if you’re staring at a menu with your kids letting them guide your decisions.

1. Buy in bulk. Many park chains will give you discounts for buying groups of tickets (sometimes a group as small as 2). If you’re a few people short of the group size needed to score a discount, don’t be afraid to walk up to a stranger at the ticket booth and make the pitch for the discount. We’ve done this before at Six Flags when they offered significant discounts for buying 4 season passes (we’re a family of 3).

2. Pick your days. Many parks are using variable pricing for their tickets. As Robert noted, you can use the price as a de facto crowd calculator. Most parks that have variable pricing also allow guests to purchase flexible date tickets at a slightly higher cost. Don’t be tempted by these upcharges. Just pick a day, and enjoy the savings. Some parks (like Holiday World) offer weather guarantees that if park operations are affected by weather, you can come back on another day for free, so at those parks, don’t let the weather keep you from picking a day ahead of time to score the savings.

3. Go for multiple days. Just about every park on the planet makes the value proposition of additional days at an incremental cost. Some parks it can be $20-30 bucks for a second day, while others it can be as little as $5 or $10. Even if you don’t spend the full second day at the park (maybe you’re flying home the next afternoon), it can be liberating to know if a big attraction goes down that you can get another shot the next day for just a small upcharge. A few parks force you to make that decision before you arrive, while others will let you take your current admission ticket and add extra days after you’ve already entered in the park (even some will allow you to apply what you paid for the single day admission towards a season pass).

4. Purchase combo tickets. Some parks will bundle their admission with other attractions. You may not be interested in these attractions, but occasionally these combo tickets may include unlimited admissions for the theme parks and/or water parks over a set period. In regions where there are multiple theme parks (Orlando and SoCal), there are almost always combo tickets that are good for many of the parks in the region, including Disney parks (SoCal CityPass).