Travel passes mean more choices at cheaper rates

Skip lines, pay less and get your money back for tickets you bought but didn’t use? Not a bad vacation, if you do the research ahead of time.

That’s the goal of a new line of travel passes called Go Select by Smart Destinations, which takes the traditional city travel pass (pay one price to visit a set list of sites for a certain number of days) and lets vacationers pick out only the attractions they want. The more attractions, the higher the discounts. If you didn’t make it to all your destinations, you have a year to ask for a refund.

“It’s taken an entire city and made it like a theme park experience,” said Smart Destinations president Cecilia Dahl.

Smart Destinations has been selling its traditional unlimited-visit Go City cards in 14 US cities, including Miami, Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. The company negotiates discounted rates with individual attractions and then bundles them to customers, who can then use the pass to skip ticket lines at each site.

But this summer, the company added customisable passes called Go Select for a number of destinations, including New York, Chicago, Boston, San Diego, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Oahu, Hawaii. (Three more cards are being added within the next few weeks: Seattle, Orlando, Florida, and Blue Ridge, which is mainly in and around Asheville, North Carolina) The new product lets consumers choose which attractions they want to see. You pay discounted prices that get steeper the more attractions you choose. The top discount is 36 per cent off gate price for all entry fees, Dahl said. But you’d have to buy at least a half-dozen attractions to achieve that savings. Typically, the minimum discount is 10 per cent for two items.

The ability to pick means you’ll shell out less overall, and not pay for places you don’t go. In Chicago, for example, using the company’s unlimited-visit card, you can pay $66.99 for unlimited entry for one day to two dozen sites in Chicago. Depending on how many things you cram in, and how much regular admission is, you might or might not spend less on the combination ticket than you would buying your tickets at the gate. If you pick the Shedd Aquarium, the Field Museum and the Brookfield Zoo, for one very busy day, buying at the gate would cost you $57.45. But if you make your own pass for those same three attractions using the new Go City card, you’ll save a few bucks, at $54.67, and have 30 days to see them, not one. Go City also offers refunds if you don’t end up seeing all the places you signed up for.

This writer recently used one of the old-fangled standard city passes in Paris sold by another company and left unimpressed. It seemed like a good deal when it was bought, giving two days for museums such as the Louvre, Musee D’Orsay and Versailles for $50. But it didn’t have a few big names, including the Eiffel Tower. And one of the two days the pass was used was for a free museum day for all of Paris. The pass was pointless, and the museums were packed.

But when the writer gave the Go Select pass a try in New York, he came away pleased. The biggest appeal? The refund. On vacation, plans do fall through.

Buying was easy. Log onto the company’s site — http://www.smartdestinations.com — pick the city, tick off a box that said you want to choose your own sites, and you’re taken to a list of attractions, 43 in all. The site lets you browse attractions based on popularity, whether they’re family-friendly, open late or don’t allow kids at all.

A ticket for the Museum of Modern Art, the American Museum of Natural History and the Empire State Building rang up at $48.64, 15 per cent off the $57 that Smart Destinations said the writer would pay at the gate if he bought tickets on site. By removing the Empire State, the price rang up $31.44, a savings of 13 per cent.

Smart Destinations offered a free, printable city guide with maps and information and the tickets. One barcode is good for all entries. The company plans to allow users to load these barcodes onto their phones in the future but for now Smart Destinations recommends printing out the coded ticket to show at each site. (Tip: Make note of your six-digit order number. If you lose your print-outs, you can go back to smartdestinations.com and print out new ones.)

The tickets stated where to go upon arrival in order to skip lines. At the Museum of Modern Art, a staffer spotted the print-out in my hand and sent the writer to the information desk. There, it was exchanged for an entry ticket.

But the writer didn’t make it to the Natural History museum, so wanted a refund. He called the number on my receipt — also listed prominently on the website — went through a few pre-recorded messages, got a person, and requested a refund. He asked for the order number and verified the museum trip wasn’t made. The writer got $14.09 back, so the ticket for MOMA — usually $20 — was $17.35.

It helps to be somewhat tech savvy to navigate the options online, but phone numbers are displayed throughout the site if you prefer to buy over the phone. Either way, you might save a few bucks.

If You Go…
http://www.smartdestinations.com/goselect/

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