Did you know that museum memberships at one museum could get you into hundreds of others for free? Museums, zoos, aquariums, science and technology centers, and more participate in reciprocity programs that let you do just that.
So what is reciprocity? Basically, it’s an exchange of benefits between two locations such as two zoos or two art museums. Except that the program participants are more than just a couple of locations but span hundreds to thousands of locations nationwide and in Canada.
Following is more information about these programs, where you can buy them, what benefits they provide, and how to use them.
Benefits of buying museum memberships
Paying for visits to museums, zoos, and science centers individually gets expensive fast so this is a great way to save money. Reciprocity programs give you access to many more places to visit as you travel in your RV. And also a great way to supplement the learning programs of homeschoolers and road schoolers.
Museum reciprocity organizations
Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA)
The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) is an organization of zoos and aquariums and dedicated to conservation, education, science, and recreation.
In reciprocity programs including the AZA, you can get free or discounted admission to participating parks. The list of participating zoos and aquariums indicates which locations are participating and what their reciprocity is (50 percent discount in most cases). The list of zoos and aquariums participating in the network may change so please call the museum you plan to visit ahead of time to verify their participation in the AZA Reciprocal Network.
Current participating zoos and aquariums include:
- Birmingham Zoo
- Phoenix Zoo
- The Living Desert (Palm Desert, California)
- Mote Aquarium (Sarasota, Florida)
- San Antonio Zoo
- Gladys Porter Zoo (Brownsville, Texas)
- Texas State Aquarium (Corpus Christi, Texas)
- Memphis Zoo
Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC)
The Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC) is an organization of science and technology centers and museums that fosters understanding and engagement in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
In reciprocity programs including the ASTC, you can get free entry into ASTC locations that participate in the ASTC Travel Passport Program. The list of science and technology centers participating in the network may change so please call the museum you plan to visit ahead of time to verify their participation in the ASTC Reciprocal Network.
Current participants include:
- U.S. Space & Rocket Center (Huntsville, Alabama)
- Turtle Bay Exploration Park (Redding, California)
- Saint Louis Science Center, Museum of the Rockies (Bozeman, Montana)
- Fleishmann Planterium and Science Center (Reno, Nevada)
- The Corning Museum of Glass (Corning, New York)
- Space Center Houston
- Witte Museum (San Antonio, Texas)
Association of Children’s Museums (ACM)
The Association of Children’s Museums (ACM) is an organization of museums specifically geared towards children and their learning through play and exploration.
The ACM Reciprocal Network is a voluntary group of ACM member museums open across the U.S. and Canada that reciprocate discounted admission to each other’s members. Two hundred museums participate in the network and reciprocate 50 percent off general admission for up to six people. The list of museums participating in the network may change so please call the museum you plan to visit ahead of time to verify their participation in the ACM Reciprocal Network.
Current participanting children’s museums include:
- Miami Children’s Museum
- Boston Children’s Museum
- I.D.E.A. Museum (Tempe, Arizona)
- Creative Discovery Museum (Chattanooga, Tennessee)
- The Children’s Museum of Cleveland
- Children’s Science Center Lab (Fairfax, Virginia)
- Sacramento Science Center
- Children’s Museum of Pittsburg
North American Reciprocal Museum Association (NARM)
The North American Reciprocal Museum Association (NARM) is a mosaic of 1,244 art museums and galleries, historical museums and societies, botanical gardens, children’s museums, and zoos.
In reciprocity programs including the NARM, you can get free entry into participating locations. It is always best to contact the institutions before your visit to confirm all the reciprocal benefits you will receive.
Current participants include:
- Sharlot Hall Museum (Prescott, Arizona)
- The Dali Museum (St. Petersburg, Florida)
- Auburn Cord Dusenberg Automobile Museum (Auburn, Indiana)
- National Corvette Museum (Bowling Green, Kentucky)
- Georgia O’Keeffe Museum (Santa Fe, New Mexico)
- Will Rogers Memorial Museum (Claremore, Oklahoma)
- Bullock Texas State History Museum (Austin, Texas)
- Glenbow Museum (Calgary, Alberta)
Time Travelers is a free reciprocal membership network for historical museums, sites, and societies throughout the United States.
Currently, the Time Travelers program includes 472 organizations in more than 45 states. Members of these organizations can receive a variety of exclusive benefits and privileges such as free admission and gift shop discounts. It is always best to contact the institutions before your visit to confirm all the reciprocal benefits you will receive.
Current participating locations include:
- Edison & Ford Winter Estates (Fort Myers, Florida)
- World Golf Hall of Fame and Museum (St. Augustine, Florida)
- Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (Springfield, Illinois)
- Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio (Oak Park, Illinois)
- Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians & Western Art (Indianapolis, Indiana)
- Studebaker National Museum (South Bend, Indiana)
- Living History Farms (Urbandale, Iowa)
- Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum, and Boyhood Home (Abeline, Kansas)
- Armstrong Air & Space Museum (Wapakoneta, Ohio)
- National Museum of the Pacific War (Fredericksburg, Texas)
American Horticultural Society (AHS)
The American Horticultural Society (AHS) is a national gardening organization providing gardening and horticultural information. A current membership card from the American Horticultural Society or a garden participating in their Reciprocal Admissions Program (RAP) entitles you to special admission privileges and discounts at 345+ gardens throughout North America.
Some gardens have exclusions for special events or exhibits. Each garden has its own distinct admissions policies and hours of operation which is also why it’s best to check ahead of time to get the most up-to-date information.
Current participants include:
- Tohono Chul (Tucson, Arizona)
- United States Botanical Garden (Washington, D.C.)
- Marie Selby Botanical Gardens (Sarasota, Florida)
- Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest (Clermont, Kentucky)
- Frekerik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park (Grand Rapids, Michigan)
- Hoyt Arboretum (Portland, Oregon)
- Magnolia Plantation and Gardens (Charleston, South Carolina)
- Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center (Austin, Texas)
Southeastern Museums Conference (SEMC)
The Southeastern Museums Conference (SEMC) is an association of museums focused on the Southeastern United States including Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.
Southeastern Reciprocal Membership Program (SERM) is a way for museums to offer their members an opportunity to visit participating museums in the Southeastern region. Reciprocity is for general admission only. A participating museum membership card with “Southeastern Reciprocal” or acronym, “SERM” must be shown to receive admission.
Current participants include:
- The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art (Sarasota, Florida)
- Andrew Lowe House (Savannah, Georgia)
- Tubman Museum (Macon, Georgia)
- Kentucky Artisan Center (Berea, Kentucky)
- Cheekwood Estate & Gardens (Nashville, Tennessee)
- Burritt on the Mountain (Birmingham, Alabama)
- Beauregard-Keys House (New Orleans, Louisiana
Museum Alliance Reciprocal Program (MARP)
The Museum Alliance Reciprocal Program (MARP) is similar to NARM, mentioned above but with fewer participants.
Participating institutions include:
- Amon Carter Museum of American Art (Fort Worth, Texas)
- Walker Art Center (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
- The Bruce Museum (Greenwich, Connecticut)
- The Norton Museum of Art (West Palm Beach, Florida)
- National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa, Ontario)
- Vancouver Art Gallery (Vancouver, British Columbia)
Reciprocal Organization of Associated Museums (ROAM)
The Reciprocal Organization of Associated Museums (ROAM) program includes art and history museums, gardens, and various other types of museums. Reciprocal membership with ROAM provides free admission to participating ROAM locations as well as other benefits determined by each location individually. ROAM was created in February 2013 and currently has 447 participating museums.
Participating institutions include:
- Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West (Scottsdale, Arizona)
- Charles Schultz Museum (Santa Rosa, California)
- Rosemount Museum (Pueblo, Colorado)
- Oldest House Museum and Garden (Key West, Florida)
- Harvard Art Museum (Cambridge, Massachusetts)
- Henry Ford Estate (Dearborn, Michigan)
- Georgia O’Keefe Museum (Santa Fe, New Mexico)
- McNay Art Museum (San Antonio, Texas)
- Museum of Glass (Tacoma, Washington)
- Buffalo Bill Center of the West (Cody, Wyoming)
- Tom Thompson Art Gallery (Owen Sound, Ontario)
- Art Gallery of Alberta (Edmonton, Alberta)
Various museum memberships will get you reciprocity at locations in one or more of the above organizations. Once you know the type of reciprocal membership you’d like, look for museum memberships that offer those specific programs and provide the best price. There are lots of options.
Things to know about museum memberships
In addition to the benefits offered and the price, there are a few things of note as you’re picking out your museum memberships for reciprocity benefits. For AZA benefits, you want your membership to be from a place that offers 100 percent/50 percent reciprocity. You will then receive 100 percent discounted admission to other zoos and aquariums listed at 100 percent/50 percent in the reciprocity program list and 50 percent off of those listed as 50 percent. If your home museum is listed only as 50 percent you will only receive a 50 percent discount regardless.
Also, consider the location of the place you are buying a membership from. This is not only for the ability to visit that location but because it affects which other locations you can get into for free or a discount. They may check your ID and your membership and may refuse admission if you are trying to use it somewhere that is either within 90 miles (as the crow flies) from your home address or your membership institution.
Number of people covered
Check the type of membership you desire based on the number of adults and children you want covered. The options can include single, dual, or family memberships up to a certain number of children/grandchildren for example, or family plus for additional guests among other potential options.
Keep up to date
Before you go, double-check the most current participant lists for the membership and museum you are hoping to get reciprocal admission to. These are updated and published periodically and there can be changes. Consider calling to double-check as well as not all locations participate in these reciprocal admission programs.
Things to bring
Bring your driver’s license or another form of ID to confirm you are the membership holder and if they ask to confirm your address. Bring your membership card as well. You can use an app in which to load your virtual membership card. Use the eMembership Card app to download your membership cards and reduce one more plastic/paper card you have to carry. Features of the app are that you can quickly look up your membership card to show, see your benefits, how many people are covered, and when the membership expires. Additionally, you can find nearby institutions you may want to visit and read some information about them.
Just a few visits will make up for the cost of the museum memberships outlined above. You’ll have access to all sorts of fun for yourself and your family. So if you’re looking for fun things to do, ways to save some money, and great learning opportunities for your kids, consider these memberships. And whether you choose one of the memberships listed above or are looking into another, make sure to see what reciprocal benefits are included and make sure you use them.
A visit to a museum is a search for beauty, truth, and meaning in our lives. Go to museums as often as you can.