1. Purchase tickets in advance -- always.
Rather than purchase day-of tickets, buy your tickets online. Most parks offer discounted rates if tickets are purchased ahead of time, which can save a significant amount on the ticket cost combined. Families can save up to 30 percent when they purchase advance tickets for Hersheypark, for example. Also, check park websites for flash sales, especially in the springtime, ahead of the park's opening. Buying tickets as part of a combined package with other attractions can save on individual costs, too.
2. Look beyond park-specific promotions.
You don't have to rely on park promotions or even coupons on cans of Coca-Cola. Coupon sites like RetailMeNot and flash sale sites like Groupon and LivingSocial often post deals (a limited number) for amusement parks. Membership groups like AAA and AARP also offer discounts to theme parks, and some credit card companies provide special promotions to cardholders. For example, American Express partners with Universal Studios to offer cardmembers special benefits, including an American Express lounge, and Discover Card provides members with a dedicated park entrance and exclusive ride times at Six Flags parks.
3. Don't overlook multi-day or season passes.
For families spending more than one day in the area, or those who live within close distance of an amusement park, purchasing a season or multi-day pass can save hundreds. The cost of a season pass at Six Flags, for example, isn't much more than the cost of one-day admission. In addition to admission, season passes can also provide additional bonuses, such as exclusive ride times, and free or discounted parking, food, souvenirs and even tickets. Some parks with more than one location also honor season passes at other locations as well -- providing savings close to home and on the road.
Also, contact the local tourist bureau for coupons and discounts. The local tourist bureau can be your best source of unadvertised discounts and deals, and most have some sort of coupon program for local attractions. You can save 10 to 20 percent on entry, meals and more using these enticements.
4. Spend the night.
Many parks partner with local hotels to extend special offerings to guests, including discounted tickets, complimentary breakfast or early park entry. Some of the partner hotels also provide onsite attractions and activities, such as water parks and sports complexes -- giving you even more bang for your vacation buck. Look for a package or hotel that provides transportation to and from the park to save on the cost of parking, too, and visit our roundup of amusement park packages for savings.
5. Visit later in the day.
Some parks offer discounted tickets and other incentives after a certain hour in the day. For example, Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri, provides free admission to the park if you enter after 3 p.m. the day prior (with regular admission). If you don't mind a shortened visit, or don't have time to spend an entire day at the park, check to see if there are half-day or evening tickets at a discounted rate. Visitors can sometimes save as much as 50 percent by taking advantage of off-peak deals (and riding roller coasters at night is pretty cool, too).
6. Eat outside of the park.
With $6 hot dogs and $5 soft drinks (or more!), lunch could cost you $20 per person, and a day's meals $75 per person or more. When sensible, eat before and after your visit. Also research parks that allow you to bring in food to the park or provide a picnic area just outside the gates.
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