The Hidden Value of Family Memberships
Most Central Ohio parents are in the know when it comes to finding fun places to take the kids. Our region has many of them, including ones where inquiring minds even learn something along the way.
Some attractions, however, can be costly—especially for those who visit multiple times a year. This is where a membership can come in handy. In addition to offering free admission, being a member often comes with other perks, such as discounts on parking, food and merchandise.
But there's another perk that's lesser-known: reciprocal privileges, where being a member at one venue gets you free or discounted admission at similar facilities around the state—or even the U.S. Most times, visitors just need to present a membership card and photo ID at the partner institution.
We've compiled a rundown of memberships and reciprocal privileges for nine of the most popular local family attractions. Costs and reciprocity details are subject to change, so call ahead to verify current policies.
Unsure whether a membership is worth the upfront investment? We also calculated how many visits a family of four (two adults and two school-age children) would need to make to recoup that cost.
AHA! A HANDS-ON ADVENTURE
315 S. Broad St., Lancaster
Membership cost: A $100 family or grandparent membership includes up to two parents or grandparents as well as all children, stepchildren and foster children in the immediate family who are younger than 18. A premium membership, which includes reciprocity, is $125. Additional family members are $15.
Reciprocity details: AHA! members get $1 off admission to The Works in Newark, a similarly themed hands-on science and history center. Premium membership includes half-off admission at 200 participants in the Association of Children's Museums reciprocal network. The list has seven Ohio venues, including COSI. For more information, go to childrensmuseums.org.
Payoff threshold: Five visits
COLUMBUS MUSEUM OF ART
480 E. Broad St., Columbus
Membership cost: A household membership, which does not provide reciprocity, is $85; a reciprocal membership is $125. Both provide free admission for two named adults and all children younger than 18 and free parking.
Reciprocity details: CMA participates in the North American Reciprocal Museum Association, which offers free admission to 973 member venues of various types. Other Central Ohio participants are the Ohio Craft Museum, the Peggy R. McConnell Arts Center of Worthington, Wexner Center for the Arts and The Works. Note, though, that NARM benefits do not apply to other institutions within a 15-mile radius.
Elsewhere, other notable NARM institutions include: Cincinnati Art Museum, Detroit Institute of Arts, The Frick Collection (New York City), National Constitution Center (Philadelphia), National Underground Railroad Freedom Center (Cincinnati), The Phillips Collection (Washington, D.C.) and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (Cleveland). For more information, go to narmassociation.org/map.
CMA also participates in a 14-member Ohio Reciprocal Program, which includes Wexner Center for the Arts, and the Art Museum Reciprocal Network.
Payoff threshold: Three visits for a household membership and four visits for a reciprocal membership
COLUMBUS ZOO AND AQUARIUM
4850 Powell Road, Powell
Membership cost: A standard family membership is $99 for Franklin County residents, $119 for all others. Discounts are offered for online purchases and renewals. Membership includes two named adults in the same household plus either dependent children or grandchildren (not both) up to age 21. It also provides free parking as well as discounts on membership to The Wilds and admission/season passes to Zoombezi Bay.
Reciprocity details: Members get free or reduced admission to participating facilities accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which has 230 members in the U.S. and Canada. Most offer a 50 percent discount, matching what the Columbus Zoo offers members of other AZA venues. Reciprocal institutions in Ohio are: African Safari Wildlife Park (Port Clinton), Akron Zoo, Boonshoft Museum of Discovery (Dayton), Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, Toledo Zoo & Aquarium and The Wilds (Cumberland).
Other AZA members include: Buffalo Zoo, Detroit Zoo, Los Angeles Zoo & Botanical Gardens, Memphis Zoo, the National Aviary (Pittsburgh), Oglebay Good Zoo (Wheeling, West Virginia), Philadelphia Zoo and Zoo Miami. For more information, go to aza.org.
Payoff threshold: Two visits, regardless of residency
333 W. Broad St., Columbus
Membership cost: A basic family or grandparent family membership, $149, covers two named adults and dependent children or grandchildren ages 18 and younger.
Reciprocity details: COSI participates in the Association of Science-Technology Centers Travel Passport Program, which provides free or discounted general admission at more than 300 venues (excluding special exhibits, planetariums or large-screen theaters). Note that the perk excludes any institution within 90 miles of either COSI or a member's residence. In Ohio, this rules out the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery (Dayton), SPI (Mount Vernon) and The Works, but these museums routinely offer each other's members a discount.
Ohio institutions where COSI members get free admission include Cincinnati Museum Center, Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Great Lakes Science Center (Cleveland), Imagination Station (Toledo) and William McKinley Presidential Library & Museum (Canton).
Notable out-of-state ASTC museums include: Adler Planetarium (Chicago), Adventure Science Center (Nashville), Buffalo Museum of Science, Carnegie Science Center (Pittsburgh), Children's Museum of Pittsburgh, The Field Museum (Chicago), The Franklin Institute (Philadelphia), Kentucky Science Center (Louisville), Museum of Science and Industry (Chicago) and Ontario Science Centre (Toronto). For more information, go to astc.org.
COSI also participates in the Association of Children's Museums reciprocal network, for premium and ultimate family members.
Payoff threshold: Two visits
FRANKLIN PARK CONSERVATORY AND BOTANICAL GARDENS
1777 E. Broad St., Columbus
Membership cost: A family membership, $90, includes two named adults (parents or grandparents) and children or grandchildren in the same household who are younger than 18. Members also get discounts at local greenhouses and ProMusica Chamber Orchestra.
Reciprocity details: The conservatory is part of the American Horticultural Society, so members receive reciprocal benefits at about 300 facilities, including: the Chicago Botanic Garden, Garfield Park Conservatory (Chicago), Hershey Gardens (Hershey, Pennsylvania), the National Aviary (Pittsburgh) and West Virginia Botanic Garden (Morgantown). Gardens within 90 miles may not provide full reciprocity. For more information, go to ahs.org.
Payoff threshold: Two visits
THE KING ARTS COMPLEX
867 Mount Vernon Ave., Columbus
Membership cost: A family membership is $60 and covers two adults and all children younger than 18 living in the same household.
Reciprocity details: The King Arts Complex currently does not participate in any national reciprocity programs.
Payoff threshold: Varies. Membership includes gallery admission, two free performance tickets and discounts on workshops/classes and tickets, the cost of which differs by event.
OHIO HISTORY CONNECTION
Ohio History Center, 800 E. 17th Ave., Columbus
Membership cost: A basic family membership, $55, includes two adults and all children or grandchildren 18 and younger in the immediate family. Members get free admission to more than 50 facilities across the state operated by the Ohio History Connection.
Reciprocity details: The OHC participates in the Time Travelers program, which provides free or discounted admission to more than 300 places such as: Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (Springfield, Illinois), Campus Martius Museum (Marietta), Historic Zoar Village (Zoar), The National Civil War Museum (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library & Museums (Fremont) and The Works. For more information, go to timetravelers.mohistory.org.
Payoff threshold:Varies based on site. The Ohio History Center, for example, would take two visits.
WEXNER CENTER FOR THE ARTS
1871 N. High St., Columbus
Membership cost: A household membership, which includes free gallery admission, is $150. This level provides two free film/video passes and reciprocal benefits.
Reciprocity details: Like the Columbus Museum of Art, the Wexner Center participates in the North American Reciprocal Museum Association, as well as the Modern and Contemporary Reciprocal Membership program, the Museum Alliance Reciprocal Membership program and the Ohio Museum Reciprocal Membership program.
Payoff threshold: Varies. The Wex always offers free admission to its galleries and discounted program tickets for students (with ID) and anyone younger than 18.
55 S. First St., Newark
Membership cost: A family membership, $80, covers two adults plus all children in the same household younger than 18. A grandparent membership, $70, covers two adults in the same household and all grandchildren younger than 18.
Reciprocity details: The Works participates in the Association of Science-Technology Centers Travel Passport Program, the Smithsonian Affiliate Reciprocal Membership Program (for family club level membership, $150) and the Time Travelers program. Though the ASTC limits reciprocity if a member lives within 90 miles of another program, COSI gives The Works members 50 percent off admission. For more information, go to astc.org, affiliations.si.eduand timetravelers.mohistory.org.
Payoff threshold: Three visits