It's easy to see why – they offer the best combination of attractions, experiences and diversity of all destinations, and all conveniently located in one relatively small space.
In certain cities, it's even possible to take in several attractions and events in the same day, with each no more than a few blocks away from each other.
But probably the biggest disadvantage of cities as travel destinations is cost.
The sheer concentration of residents, tourists, attractions and convenience make cities expensive places to travel to. Hotel accommodations are usually more expensive – often much more expensive – than in less crowded destinations. And the attractions themselves can because prohibitive, especially if you're traveling with the family.
Cost may be a major reason why even local area residents often fail to experience all their city has to offer.
But there's a service called CityPASS that can help make travel to large cities more affordable.
What is CityPASS?
CityPASS a sightseeing pass service that enables you to see attractions and participate in events at greatly reduced rates. Surprisingly, the service isn't new. It was launched all the way back in 1997 by Mike Gallagher and Mike Morey, as a service that would both save money and the time involved in attending big-city attractions. The company has more than 50 employees, and is headquartered in Victor, Idaho, on the west slope of the Teton Mountains – hardly a location you'd associate with urban travel.
CityPASS focuses on providing fast, reduced-price admission to the top attractions in a handful of cities in the US and Canada. Users can save up to half the price of admission to popular attractions and events. In fact, the services available for just 14 cities:
CityPASS also operates in the United Kingdom, Mexico and Australia.
Why You'll Want CityPASS
CityPASS tickets will give you admission to top attractions and theme parks for up to 50% off the combined regular cost. You'll be effectively purchasing your tickets in advance, avoiding the higher prices you'll almost always pay on arrival at any attraction.
CityPASS attractions usually provide expedited entry, enabling you to skip long ticket lines. This feature will depend on the attraction as well as the city where it's located. You might also experience longer lines during heavy travel times, such as summer, weekends and holidays.
Your CityPASS booklet also provides maps, coupons and other useful attraction information to help you optimize your trip in each city.
How CityPASS Works
CityPASS is designed to give you typically nine days to enjoy your destination city. The products include booklets, mobile tickets or vouchers, which you can purchase online at citypass.com. But you can also purchase CityPASS booklets at any included attraction once you arrive in your destination city, although mobile tickets are sold only on the website.
CityPASS booklets include actual admission tickets to each attraction. You'll need to present your booklet at each attraction you attend. Each ticket is good for a one-time admission only. With some attractions, your CityPASS ticket will serve as full payment. For others, it will be a partial payment. You'll need to check the specific arrangement with attractions in each city visit. And as a bonus, most CityPASS tickets include applicable sales tax.
Once you are in your destination city, you can attend attractions in any order you choose. CityPASS does not require a specific attendance sequence. In some cities, each ticket represents a one-time admission. But in others, admission may be available more than once on the same ticket.
IMPORTANT: You must not remove tickets from the booklet, otherwise, the ticket will become invalid. The tickets can only be removed by attraction staff.
The CityPASS booklet can be delivered by mail to residents in the US, the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. You can also have the booklet delivered by email. In some cities this will be a voucher which you will present at the first attraction you visit. At the first attraction, you can exchange the voucher for your booklet.
In still other cities, you'll receive mobile tickets, which can be shown on your smart phone for entry at each attraction. But you can also print your tickets if you prefer a paper copy. In fact, in some cities, tickets must be printed, while others will accept them on your phone. Mobile vouchers are currently available only in Atlanta, Houston and Dallas.
CityPASS tickets are valid for nine consecutive days, including the first day of use, though that does vary somewhat from city to city. Vouchers must be exchanged for a CityPASS booklet within six months of purchase. Both booklets and mobile tickets expire one year from the date of purchase.
CityPASS Features and Benefits
Refunds. You can get a full refund by returning any unused CityPASS products for up to 365 days from the purchase date. However, the refund does not extend to theme park tickets.
Payment methods. Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover, PayPal, or Union Pay are accepted. You can also pay with Amazon Payments (Pay with Amazon). Payment will utilize your Amazon account information, eliminating the need to re-enter your address or credit card information. CityPASS does not accept gift cards.
CityPASS gifts. You can purchase CityPASS products as a gift for others. Just be aware that once activated, they're non-transferable. If you're going to give a gift, the entire booklet must be gifted. You won't be able to use some tickets, and get the remaining ones.
Attraction substitution. CityPASS tickets are for specific attractions. They don't accommodate substitutions or changes.
What's NOT included with CityPASS. Products don't cover the cost of transportation or parking at any attractions in any cities.
Ticket upgrades. Most theme park tickets can be upgraded but only on-site. You'll need to go to the individual ticket desk or box office at each attraction to complete the upgrade.
Special exhibits. Some CityPASS tickets include special exhibits, but others require a separate upgrade fee. Once again, upgrades must be purchased at each attraction.
Customer service. Available by toll-free phone, live chat and email, seven days a week, from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm, Eastern time.
CityPASS City Programs
CityPASS offers a unique package of attractions in 13 US cities, plus Toronto in Canada. We're not going to cover the offers available in all 14 cities, but details for New York City, Chicago and Atlanta are provided below.
CityPASS New York City
CityPASS provides discounted admissions to 10 popular New York City attractions. They offer two different plans, New York CityPASS and New York C3. Details for each plan are as follows:
Basically, New York CityPASS includes the ability to pick six out of the 10 attractions, at a cost of $132 for an adult and $108 for a child. New York C3 allows you to choose any three of the 10, at $84 for an adult, and $64 for a child. Each is valid for a nine-day visit, and allows you to choose the specific number of the 10 attractions you most want to see. Under both plans, you'll be able to skip most ticket lines.
Which plan you select will be determined by how long you plan to stay in New York City, and which attractions you most want to see.
To show how much you can save with CityPASS, let's do a working example.
You choose the following six attractions to visit (all regular prices quoted are for adults):
- Empire State Building, 86th-floor Observatory – $61
- American Museum of Natural History – $28
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art – $32
- Top of the Rock Observation Deck – $41
- Circle Line Sightseeing Cruise – $37
- Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum – $33
The total regular cost of visiting all six attractions is $232. But since the cost of a New York CityPASS is $132 for an adult, you'll save a full $100 on all six attractions. That's a savings of about 43%. For a couple, the savings will be $200. That can make at least a small dent in an otherwise costly visit to New York City.
What's more, you'll be able to save time that would otherwise be spent standing in line, leaving extra time to take in the rest of the city. That alone may be worth it!
Chicago CityPASS gives you access to seven attractions in the city:
- Shedd Aquarium (includes priority entry)
- Skydeck Chicago (for day or night admission)
- Field Museum (all-access pass)
- Alder Planetarium (premium pass) OR Art Institute of Chicago (Fast Pass)
- Museum of Science and Industry (Entry + one ticketed experience) OR 360 CHICAGO Observation Deck (express entry)
Chicago CityPASS is a single price plan, at $108 for adults (ages 12 and up), and $89 for children (ages three to 11). Children under three are free.
To show how much you can save using Chicago CityPASS, below are the regular box office prices for adults at the following five attractions:
- Shedd Aquarium – $45
- Skydeck Chicago – $45
- Field Museum – $38
- Art Institute of Chicago – $42
- 360 CHICAGO Observation Deck – $44
The total cost for the five attractions is $214. Since your Chicago CityPASS will cost just $108 for an adult, you'll save $106 on the combination of all attractions. That's a savings of nearly 50% off the regular price.
And just as is the case with New York CityPASS, you also save time by avoiding waiting in lines.
Like Chicago CityPASS, Atlanta CityPASS allows you to select from up to seven major attractions in the city:
- Georgia Aquarium
- World of Coca-Cola
- CNN Studio Tour
- Zoo Atlanta OR the National Center for Civil and Human Rights
- Fernbank Museum of Natural History OR College Football Hall of Fame
Atlanta CityPASS has one plan, at $76 for adults (ages 13 and up), and $62 for children (ages three to 12). Children under three are free.
But as we did for both New York City and Chicago, below is how much you can save using Atlanta CityPASS, based on regular prices for each of five popular attractions:
- Georgia Aquarium – $46
- World of Coca-Cola – $17
- CNN Studio Tour – $15
- Zoo Atlanta – $26
- College Football Hall of Fame – $22
The total regular cost to attend all five attractions is $126. By purchasing your tickets through Atlanta CityPASS at just $76, you'll save $50 per adult, or about 40%. Two adults will save $100 attending all five attractions. And once again, you'll also be eligible for priority access at certain attractions, saving you time to spend experiencing everything Atlanta has to offer.
If you are going to a city covered by a CityPASS, give them a look because they can cover a lot of tickets you'd otherwise have to buy separately and at higher cost. My friend Lily shared her experience with the Seattle CityPASS and how much it saved her. With the Seattle CityPASS, she saved money as long as she did at least two of the attractions on the list.
CityPASS Pros and Cons
Pros of CityPASS:
- Save up to 50% of the cost of attending major attractions and theme parks in the largest cities in North America
- At most attractions, you'll receive expedited service, avoiding long lines
- You can choose from a list of major attractions in each city, selecting only those you most want to see
- You can decide which attractions you want to visit once you reach your destination city. There's no need to purchase tickets in advance, you'll already have them
- CityPASS will be especially valuable for families. Not only can you save up to $100+ visiting attractions for an individual, but you'll also have the benefit of expedited access. That'll be important for families traveling with small children, who prefer to avoid standing in long lines
- Some attractions allow you to visit more than once during the same trip
Cons of CityPASS:
- Not all attractions in every city offer expedited entry
- Since CityPASS is a discount service, there are no additional discounts available for seniors, students, military personnel or groups. However, some military bases do offer discounts for CityPASS products purchased on base
- CityPASS booklets will not be refunded or replaced if they are lost or stolen
- The number of attractions covered by CityPASS is fairly limited, at no more than 10 for New York City and seven each for Chicago and Atlanta
- CityPASS doesn't offer discounts for other major attractions that you might want to see in major cities, particularly concerts and major league sporting events. Conspicuously absent from the New York City package are theater tickets. They're one of the major attractions for anyone visiting the city
- CityPASS is available in only 14 cities in the US and Canada. It does not cover other popular destination cities, like Washington DC, Miami, Nashville, or Montréal
Should You Sign Up for CityPASS?
Whether CityPASS will work for you really depends on your travel plans.
It's certainly worth having if any of the following are on your agenda:
- You plan to travel to the 14 cities included in the CityPASS program
- The destinations included in each city are attractions you want to see
- You'll be able to take in at least most of the attractions that are included with your CityPASS booklet
- You expect to have sufficient time to visit each attraction – after all, you'll be paying for it whether you visit it or not
- You'll be traveling with your family. Because you can save money on a booklet for each person in your party, the savings will be greatest for families
- You live in or near one of the cities in the CityPASS program, and you've been avoiding taking in the attractions due to cost
You may not be interested in CityPASS if any of the following apply:
- You don't plan to travel to any of the 14 cities included in the plan
- You don't really have a burning desire to see the attractions available
- You're planning to go to a CityPASS city, but it's primarily for unrelated purposes, leaving you little time to see the included attractions
Any disadvantages aside, CityPASS should definitely be a consideration if you're planning to visit one of the cities covered by their plans. Big cities are expensive to visit, starting with hotel stays. There are other discount plans you may be able to take advantage of to limit those costs, while using CityPASS to lower the cost of the attractions you plan to visit.
If you'd like more information, or you'd like to sign up for the service, visit the CityPASS website.