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Prices vary wildly on Busch theme parks' chain-wide annual passes

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Published: February 23, 2009 at 3:11 PM

Busch Entertainment today sent along a press release detailing new benefits for annual passholders at Busch's Sesame Place theme park in Pennsylvania. Sesame Place is offering a 30 percent discount on all food and merchandise purchases in the park for its passholders this season. The park offers three pass levels, from a basic $77.95 pass to a $110.95 pass with free parking and preferred show seating, to a $159.95 "Super Grover Season Pass" that includes unlimited free admission to all Busch Gardens and SeaWorld theme parks through Dec. 31, 2009.

And that's what caught my eye. Because I hadn't seen Busch offering an unlimited admission pass to all its theme parks for such a low price. I checked, and found wildly different pricing on Busch's "Platinum Pass," depending upon the park where you buy it.

In Florida, you can't even get a one-year pass to all Busch parks. The best you can do is a two-year Platinum Pass, for $429.95. Ouch. But if you were to buy the same two-year pass from Busch Gardens SeaWorld San Antonio, you'd pay just $199.99. It's $249 at SeaWorld San Diego, but they'll throw in an extra two months on to the pass if you pay for it all at once and don't opt for the EZPay multiple payment plan.

San Diego offers a one-year Platinum Pass for $169, again, with two months free if you pay the full price at purchase. The same pass (minus the two free months) is $179.95 at Busch Gardens Europe in Williamsburg, Virginia.

For comparison, the Florida-based theme parks are selling a one-year, two-park annual pass for $159.95, $10 less than you could get a pass that covered all of Busch's theme parks, if you bought in San Diego.

I know that we've talked about these types of pricing discrepancies before. But I still don't get it. I can see a variance of give or take $10-20 bucks based on home parks for a chain-wide annual pass, to reflect higher costs of operation in different markets. But a $230 difference?

And why charge the highest chain-wide prices in Orlando, the market with the most out-of-town visitors. Why wouldn't Busch want to encourage Orlando visitors from mid-Atlantic states, for example, to make a weekend trip to BGE or Sesame Place later in the season? Two days at SeaWorld Orlando costs $130 with online advance purchase, $150 at the gate. I bet if you offered visitors at SeaWorld Orlando's front gate the opportunity to come back for the next year, plus visit Busch Gardens Africa and all other Busch theme parks (save Discovery Cove) for that year for just $20 more than the two-day gate price, you'd get more than a few takers.

What are your thoughts about chain-wide annual passes, and their prices? What would you like to see? What would get you off the fence and visiting more theme parks this year?

Readers' Opinions

From Brian Creedon on February 23, 2009 at 7:10 PM
I see your point. It would appear as though the all parks pass prices are based almost solely on distance to multiple parks. They figure someone living in the Orlando area has the most parks available to them and closer so those people are more likely to pay more for the use of more parks? If I were planning a trip to Orlando I would without a doubt head to Sesame Place (45 minutes away) and purchase the all parks pass, how could I not.
From Chuck Campbell on February 23, 2009 at 8:44 PM
You can buy a two-year Platinum (all-park) Pass through Busch Gardens Europe's Web site for $299.95. I paid for my pass renewal with my Visa ($11/month)two years ago and was grandfathered into the old rate. Who knows if that offer will still be good when Busch-In Bev sells the parks?
From Amy Tupper on February 24, 2009 at 6:04 AM
I remember years ago when I lived in Europe, I had a Six Flags pass that got me into any Six Flags park ANYWHERE. We had bought the passes in the states (to go to the park in New England), used it again for the Six Flags in MD. THEN, we got to use it at the two parks in Europe. :) It was a great deal, and basically paid for itself in two visits (which is how it sold itself to us). I don't see why Busch parks couldn't do the same thing.

(BTW, you freaked me out a little with "Busch Gardens San Antonio". I think you meant "Sea World".) :D

From Larry Zimmerman on February 24, 2009 at 5:46 PM
Frankly, the horrendous jump in Florida Platinum Passes prices cost them 4 renewals this past May. We might go to Williamsburg this summer, but you can bet we'll be going via San Antonio! ;)
From David Graham on February 25, 2009 at 10:32 AM
Then really is it possible for someone who lives like in FL to order the S.Street unlimited pass just to use it in FL? Or they making you have to live near that park to take advantage of it? With the Internet, you'd think people would just order one, unless you have to go to the park to validate it?
From Charles Reichley on February 27, 2009 at 6:30 PM
At BGE n Williamsburg, you can also buy a 4-pack of the 2-year platinum passes for $252 each. Unfortunately, you have to pay for 4 passes with a single credit card.

BUT, there is no other rules -- you don't have to be related, in the same house, or even in the same state. So if you have 3 other people you know who want passes, and you can work out the money, you can save a good bit of money by going together on the passes.

What I find more confusing and kind of stupid is the wide variety of "savings" they offer for current passholders.

Looking at BGE again, you can save almost 20% off the normal price of a pass if you are an existing passholder -- for the 2-park pass. But for the Platinum pass, you only save 7%. Throw in the 12-month rule instead of the calendar-year rule, and the "continue month-by-month" you get with ez-pay, and there are simply too many decisions.

Normally I would have paid for next year's single-park pass already, knowing that I could upgrade to a 2-park or platinum if necessary. But they actually TOLD me not to buy my passes yet, but to wait until spring because of the 12-month rule. And now I'm not sure WHEN if ever I will buy.

And I had to do a spreadsheet just to compare all the offers. And that was just for BGE -- I didn't even LOOK at the other parks.

I know that if I decide for a Platinum pass, there is no point it hurrying to get my passholder discount. My family of 4 will be $242 each for 2-years; If I wait too long, it will be $254, or $12 more. Since the cost per month is $10, if I wait 2 months I actually save money even without the passholder discount.

I can't imagine why a company would make a plan that actually encourages it's current passholders to NOT send them money.

If i could change one thing for them, it would be to offer the passes so that the start date is the first time you go to the park, rather than the day you buy.

The way it is, I will wait until the week before I know I am going, and buy my passes. If they offered a pass that started at the 1st visit, I'd have already sent them my money.

One year I got the six-flags all-parks pass for $40, by buying it with a $10 discount from Wyandot Lake in Columbus, Ohio (I did have to go there first to get the pass).

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