Zoos have become really expensive to visit, so that is why we wanted to learn how to save money at the zoo.
Many of the larger zoos charge around $20 per adult and anywhere from $11-16 for a child. That is a LOT of money for a family to spend!
Although there are many ways to save money at zoos like bringing your own food or buying cheap souvenirs (or no souvenirs), one of the best ways is to get a zoo membership.
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If you already signed up, go ahead and download this cheat sheet in our resource library!
What is a Zoo Membership?
Most zoos offer some type of zoo membership. This just means that if you become a member of a certain zoo, you get free admission to that zoo and discounted admission at other zoos (sometimes free admission at other zoos)
There are typically different memberships you can get such as a couple or family membership. You just pick the one that suits your needs.
How to Save Money at the Zoo
Zoo memberships only make sense if you are going to visit several zoos or the same zoo more than once in a year. If you only go once a year, then this will not really help you.
A zoo pass will pay for itself after visiting the zoo only TWICE (if you have a family membership)! It doesn’t even have to be the same zoo!
The awesome thing about getting a zoo membership is that it saves you money on other zoos and aquariums not just the one you purchased it from.
Some passes have extra perks such as gift shop discounts or sometimes a concessions discounts.
To see a full list of all the zoos that participate in zoo memberships, click here.
Related: Five Cheap Souvenirs to Collect
Where Should I Purchase My Zoo Membership From?
A zoo that offers reciprocity at other zoos
What does reciprocity at other zoos mean? It just means that you can use your zoo pass to visit other zoos besides the one you purchased it from. Typically, other zoos offer a discounted rate with a zoo pass (even if you didn’t purchase it from them).
Unless you visit a zoo over and over again within a year, it is not a good deal to buy a zoo membership from a zoo that does not allow you to use it at other zoos. Some zoos choose not to participate in membership reciprocity, so make sure you check before you buy.
Any zoo that allows you to use your zoo membership at other zoos will have the reciprocity list available on their website. If they can’t show you what other zoos you can visit, then you should avoid buying a pass from them.
Your home zoo
The best place to purchase your zoo membership is from the zoo that you will visit the most that year. Every time you visit that zoo, you will get free admission.
Even if another zoo is more expensive, it will benefit you more if you get to visit a zoo for free.
A zoo with a better reciprocity rate
Another thing you can think about is what type of reciprocity a zoo offers compared to another. If you look at the zoo memberships list, you will notice that some zoos say 50% reciprocity and some say 50% & 100%.
If the zoo that you are a member of has a 50% next to their name, this means that any time you use your zoo pass at another zoo on the list, you will get 50% off of admission (unless you are visiting a free zoo).
If the zoo has a 50% & 100% this means that you will get 50% off at other zoos that say 50%, but you will get 100% off of admission at other zoos that say 50% & 100%.
So ideally, it is awesome to get a zoo membership from a zoo that offers the 50% & 100% reciprocity rate. Although, it only benefits you if you want to visit other zoos that have the same rate.
Can Having a Zoo Membership Really Save Me Money?
If you visit multiple zoos (or aquariums!) in a year, then yes, you will save money.
Here is one example of the benefits of a zoo pass.
We have made up a chart of zoos that are less than 200 miles from Toledo, Ohio. Many of them are only a couple hours driving distance from each other. We have compared gate prices and the cost of a zoo membership just to show how beneficial a zoo pass would be.
Bonus: How to Save Money at the Zoo—Free Zoos!
There are also a few zoos that are free to the public.
You can download our free zoo guide to see a list.
Do you have a zoo membership? Let us know down below how you save money when you visit the zoo.
Other ways to save money on travel: