New York City Attraction Passes | Which One Is the Best to Buy
This post reviews and explains the various options for tourist discount passes available to you in New York City. New York is a large city that is filled to the brim with exciting things to see and do. Most people that visit like to see as much as possible, but paying individual admission at NYC’s most iconic attractions can really start to add up! For this reason, several companies have created New York City passes that include admission to several attractions for one price. Additionally, there are discounts for other attractions and tours. Depending on what you have planned for your trip and how long you’ll be visiting, these New York City passes can really save you a lot of money. However, it can be difficult to know what will be best for your particular trip when it comes to purchasing passes. Which one (if any) is right for you? (en español) (auf Deutsch)
To Buy or Not To Buy Tourism Passes?
There is a pretty wide assortment of passes available for visitors to NYC. Depending on your travel plans, interests, tourism stamina and budget they can be a really good way to see some of the best that New York has to offer. Most of them offer cheaper passes for children, so they can be a good option for people traveling with a family. In general, having an idea in advance of what you would like to see/have time to see will help you choose the pass that is right for you.
TIP: CitySights is offering a pretty good combo deal with their Freestyle Pass, currently $30 off. Get 3 days of hop-on, hop-off bus service, a night bus tour, a hop-on, hop-off ferry and then your choice of 3, 5, or 7 NYC attractions, including the Empire State Building, One World Observatory, the Statue of Liberty. Prices start at $139 adult and $119 for kids.
Currently there are two all-inclusive passes available in New York City: the Sightseeing Pass and the New York Pass (which is currently offering a deal). These passes are like an all-you-can-eat menu. You pay one flat price for the pass which is sold in increments of 1, 2, 3, 5, 7 days. (New York Pass also offers 10 days). With your pass, you can visit as many attractions as you want in the number if days you selected. You also get discounts variety of shops, restaurants and other attractions not included in the pass. These passes often come with skip-the-line privileges.
Both these passes have a long list of attractions, tours, and museums included, though the lists are not identical. Be sure to always look over the list of attractions carefully before choosing a pass to purchase. Make sure that the sights you want to see are included in that pass. We’ve provided the average daily cost of each multiple day pass so that you can see how much of a deal you will get each day. Both cards have sample itineraries to demonstrate how you could maximize your savings as well.
THE SIGHTSEEING PASS
TIP:Through Feb 2018, get 20% off all Sightseeing Passes. Prices increase in March.
The Sightseeing Pass offered by Citysights is a credit card-like pass that you can use to visit over 90 attractions, walking tours, cruises, bus tours, and more. You can choose from Choose a 1, 2, 3, 5, or 7-day pass. A big highlight of this pass is that it now includes One World Observatory as an attraction. They are also the only pass to offer the Gray Line City Sightseeing Double Decker Tour Pass. They also offer a pass based on the # of attractions, not days. They also offer sample itineraries to help with your planning.
Another perk of this card is that it includes a meal (lunch or dinner) and also includes prix-fixe meals and discounts at popular NYC restaurants. Finally, you receive additional discounts at select locations such as B&H Photo, one of the most popular shops among tourists, and discounts at Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s. Many other discounts and coupons are included.
After you make your purchase, you will receive an email confirmation with a link to your voucher. You can either print it out or, even more conveniently for those with a smartphone, take a screenshot of the QR code and use your mobile phone as your ticket!
Click here for the complete list of attractions you can choose from. They also offer sample itineraries to help with your planning.
THE NEW YORK PASS
The New York Pass is a credit card-like pass that can be used at over 80 different New York City attractions. The card has a microchip that will be read when it is swiped at each attraction. New York Pass can be purchased as either a 1, 2, 3, 5 7 or 10-day pass and it comes with a travel booklet in English, Spanish, French, German, Dutch, Italian and Portuguese.
The New York Pass is offering a deal through March 15th. Get 20% off of 3, 5, 7, and 10 day passes when you enter code FTBF20offer at checkout. To purchase, click New York Pass.
The pass will be activated as soon as you use it at the first attraction
The number of days that the pass is good for refers to calendar dates, not 24 hour periods. For example, if you use the 1-day pass for the first attraction at 1 pm, it still expires at midnight that night.
Can only be used once at each attraction, so it cannot be shared between two people.
Line-jumping privileges at 15 of the offered attractions. For some attractions, such as Top of the Rock, this can save you quite a bit of time.
Money back guarantee insurance is an extra 4.5% of the cost of the pass – (free with Go Card).
Benefits of the New York Pass
It is nice to have the different options for time increments. The New York Pass also includes a pretty staggering array of attractions that can be used in any order, including some more off-the-beaten-path options. If your trip allows enough time for you to take advantage of the New York Pass it can save you quite a bit of money.
Is the New York Pass Worth the Money?
Should you buy the New York Pass? That depends on how long your trip is and what you are interested in seeing. We included the average daily prices above, so you really just have to add up the full retail prices of each attraction to see if you get your money’s worth. This pass includes so many attractions and tours, but you have to have the time to do a lot in order to make buying it worthwhile. New York Pass provides sample itineraries to help plan out your days. Generally speaking, the 3, 5 and 7-day passes are better deals. That gives you more time to really take advantage of the offerings. The one and two-day passes are a little pricey considering what you could realistically squeeze into your trip. Also, for families traveling with children, the savings are significantly better for the 5 and 7-day child passes. To purchase the pass, click here.
This pass is a good deal for avid museum-goers with several days in New York. While The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History are suggested a donation, private museums like the Whitney and the Guggenheim have fixed admissions that can really add up. Both of those museums are included with the New York Pass, as well as a wide variety of others.
If you only have one or two days in New York and think that you can reasonably see enough attractions to make the pass worthwhile, then by all means: go for it! If cost is the main factor, however, you can pay what you wish at two of the city’s best museums, take a pay-what-you-wish tour in a variety of neighborhoods with Free Tours By Foot, and then select maybe one or two attractions to pay admission for, like the Empire State Building. It will keep your cost lower than a 1 Day New York Pass. Likewise, Smart Destinations offers you the opportunity to save 20% a la carte style with a free money back guarantee.
Should you decide to go with a New York Pass of any duration, it is still a good idea to keep Free Tours By Foot in mind! While New York Pass includes some walking tours, you can maximize your savings by using the pass for attractions (to which there are no pay-what-you-wish options available!) and then take one of our many walking tours (see our calendar for dates/times.)
Differences between the Sightseeing Pass and the New York Pass
The Sightseeing Pass offers 1, 3, 5 or 7 days. New York Pass has a 10-day option in addition to the 1, 3, 5 or 7 days.
Sightseeing Pass includes One World Observatory, Ripley’s Believe It or Not, and Woodbury Common Outlets Super Saver Ticket. The New York Pass does not include these attractions.
The Sightseeing Pass includes only 16 museums whereas New York Pass includes 30. Both include the Guggenheim and Whitney, but the Sightseeing Pass does not include Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) which is a highlight for many people’s visits to New York City and which costs a pricey $25 per person. However, we know how you can visit MoMA for free – see our post, Free Entry to the Museum of Modern Art.
If you love shopping discounts, the Sightseeing Pass includes a Super Saver Ticket to Woodbury Common Outlets as one of its options. The New York Pass does not.
This kind of pass is good for someone who already knows (or has a good idea) what he or she wants to see and the number of days he or she will have in NYC. Rather than being based on the number of days, these passes are based on the number of attractions you want to see. By purchasing a pass rather than a ticket to each attraction individually, you can save up to 50% on the retail cost of each attraction. Savings are dependent on the number of attractions you choose. The more you choose, the more you will save. You are not obligated to choose which attractions you will go to in advance or what days you will visit them. So these passes offer flexibility if you like to improvise. At many attractions, you will get fast-track entry and get to skip the line. We included the average price per attraction in red so that you could more easily calculate your potential savings over retail price. Be careful – if the retail price of your choices totals less than the average, then you will lose money. There are 3 of these types of passes to choose from. (Be sure to read our breakdown of pricing)
After we describe these passes below, we include a section with advice about which of these passes may be best for you.
This pass can only be purchased online at their website. When you purchase, you will have to choose a date – but you will not be locked into starting your pass on that date. You have a year from the date of purchase to begin using your pass.
After you make your purchase, you will receive an email confirmation with a link to your voucher. To redeem the voucher once in New York, bring a printed copy and valid identification at any one of their 11 Visitor Centers. If you can’t print the voucher, you can also show the voucher on your mobile device.
Once you’ve redeemed your voucher, you are ready to go!
Good to know
• The pass is valid for 7 days from activation. Your pass is activated the moment it is scanned for admission at your first attraction, bus tour or restaurant.
• Once you use the pass at any attraction choice you must wait one hour before you can visit another attraction.
• You’ll have a full year from the day you purchase your passes to receive a full refund, as long as they are unused. However, the passes are non-refundable once they’re activated.
This pass includes over 40 attractions and offers you the chance to save up to 40% compared to walk-up ticket prices. While this pass has fewer attractions to choose from than other passes, this pass includes a 3-day All Around Town Bus Tour with unlimited hop-on, hop-off access. Not only are these fun, they will help you save money getting around the city as the buses travel on loops that have stops at most of the major attractions. You also get a night bus tour, a hop-on, hop-off ferry, free entry to the Museum of New York or the New York Historical Society.
3 Attraction Pass – $149 for Adult, $129 for Child
[$22/attraction/adult and $18/attraction/child]
5 Attraction Pass – $179 for Adult, $159 for Child
[$19/attraction/adult and $17/attraction/child]
7 Attraction Pass – $199 for Adult, $179 for Child
[$17/attraction/adult and $15/attraction/child]
How to purchase
Go to their website. You will be asked to choose a date but don’t worry, you will not be locked into starting your pass on that date. You have a year from the date of purchase to begin using your pass. It expires after one year.
After you make your purchase, you will receive an email confirmation with a link to your voucher which you then print and redeem at any of the 11 Visitor Centers throughout the city. If you can’t print it, no problem. Just show your voucher on your mobile device to receive the pass. Be sure to bring valid ID.
Good to know
• Freestyle Pass is valid for 72 consecutive hours from the time you redeem your voucher.
• Online tickets are non-refundable and can be redeemed up to one year from date of purchase.
NEW YORK EXPLORER PASS (by Smart Destinations)
This pass, like the New York Pass, is a credit card-like pass that is microchipped to be swiped at each attraction. The Explorer Pass does not charge per day, however. You select a fixed number of attractions that you want to visit. You have over 70+ attractions and tours to choose from. They provide sample itineraries to help you plan how to get the most out of your pass. Smart Destinations also offer two other types of passes, a build-your-own option, and pre-packaged deals. As with all of their passes, Smart Destinations offers a 100% money back guarantee for unused passes up to 1 year after your intended travel date, no questions asked and no insurance to purchase.
You can choose from a list of 70+ options. You do not need to decide in advance what you want to see in order to buy the Explorer Pass. They provide sample itineraries to help you plan how to get the most out of your pass.
The pass will be activated with first use.
The Explorer Pass is valid for 30 days, so it is a nice option for those staying awhile.
You can skip ticket lines at certain attractions with this pass.
This pass is also well reviewed, averaging 4.3 out of 5 stars on Get Your Guide (read the reviews).
Is the Explorer Pass Right For You?
Both of the passes offered by Smart Destinations are good for 30 days, so if you have a longer stay in NYC and want to see things at a leisurely pace, this could be a good option for you. Because this pass offers a set number of attractions, it is probably better for those who have a pretty good idea of what they want to see already. While you don’t run a big risk with this pass of paying for more things than you can see, you do want to be reasonably sure that your selected number of attractions will be enough.
Also, because you pay based on the number of things you do rather than different attractions’ individual prices, like with the Go Select Pass, you should look at the actual prices of the things you are most interested in seeing. For example, if you buy a 3 Attraction Pass for $79.99 and then choose to go to the Empire State Building ($27), the Statue of Liberty Ferry ($18.00), and the Museum of Modern Art ($25), then you are actually paying more for the pass than you would to just purchase individual entry at each place. So the Explorer Pass can be a good deal for the right traveler, but it does require a little advance research.
WHICH “PICK” PASS IS BETTER FOR ME?
All of these passes are pretty similar. Here are a few notable differences:
Both the Explorer and FlexPass are valid for 30 days whereas the Freestyle Pass is valid for just 3 days. That is a significant amount of difference in the time allotted.
Both the FlexPass and Freestyle Pass include One World Observatory as an attraction but the Explorer Pass does not.
The Flexpass has a much larger list of attractions to choose from (about 90) whereas the Explorer Pass and Freestyle Pass have around half that many.
The Freestyle Pass costs a bit more but you get a hop-on, hop-off bus tour, and a hop-on, hop-off ferry tour as a bonus. Not only is that a worthwhile deal, but you will save some money if you use the hop-on, hop-off bus to go from attraction to attraction rather than pay for public transportation.
As with all passes, make sure the attractions you want to see are included in the pass you purchase!
This unique type of pass is only offered by Smart Destinations. This pass is a really great, flexible option for a visitor to New York. You don’t have to worry about paying for things that you don’t use, as with some other passes. Because discounts are applied individually to the attractions that you select, you are guaranteed to save money. If there are a few attractions that you know for certain that you want to see, go for it! Customize your pass and then explore the many suggested donation or free offerings in this city and you could have a relatively inexpensive and very fun-filled trip to New York! Smart Destinations also offers a pass with a set # of attractions as well as 4 pre-packaged deals. As with all of their passes, Smart Destinations offers a 100% money back guarantee for unused passes up to 1 year after your intended travel date, no questions asked and no insurance to purchase. They provide sample itineraries to help you plan how to get the most out of your pass.
This video explains how it works:
This pass will save you up to 25% off the regular price of admission to some of the top attractions in the city. This pass is for you if you know in advance which attractions you want to see and if they are included in the list of 80+ attractions offered through this pass. The choice of attractions is quite diverse and offers the many of the most popular New York City attractions and museums, as well cruises, hop-on/hop-off bus tours, walking tours, bike tours, food tours and cruises.
You can select as few as 2 attractions or the entire 80+ offered (though there are much better passes if you want the option to see so many attractions. See our section on all-inclusive passes below). With the Build Your Own Pass, the more attractions you add, the more the savings increase. For example, let’s say you wanted to see the Empire State Building, take a Hop-On Hop-Off Big Bus New York: Classic 2-Day Tour and visit the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). If you were to purchase tickets for these three attractions individually at the ticket gate, you would pay a total of $121.00. But if you purchase them in advance through your Build Your Own Pass, you pay only $96.80. That’s a saving of 20%!
There is no flat price. It depends on which attractions you choose. Once you select which attractions you want to see and they are added to the pass, the discounts are applied. For example:
2 attractions = get 15% off the normal cost of admission
3 attractions = get 20% off the normal cost of admission
4 or more attractions = get 25% off the normal cost of admission
How to purchase
Go to their website, look through the attractions offered and add them to your pass.
Choose the number of people in your party and check out. You will see the savings reflected in the price you pay.
Once your purchase is complete, you will get a confirmation email with instructions on how to either print your pass or to download the free Go City Card app which lets your smartphone serve as your pass.
Good to know
• Once you activate your pass (activated at first use) it is good for 30 days. This is especially good for those who are here for a longer visit and don’t want to cram too much sightseeing in on any given day.
• At several attractions, you will have fast-track entry where you can skip the line.
• To enter attractions, you show either your paper pass, if you chose to print it or you can show your smartphone with the Pass QR barcode.
• Smart Destinations always offers a Risk-Free Guarantee that gives you one year from purchase date to return any non-activated passes for a full refund.
These types of packages save you money by bundling a certain number of attractions into one purchase with a set price. However, you have less control over what attractions are including in your package. Fortunately, these packages do include the attractions that most people want to see and in some cases, you are offered choices. Two of the three below passes are offered by the same company, and they offer an easy way to help you decide which pass is right for you.
CityPass is a booklet of 6 tickets that grant you admission into some top attractions.
CityPass booklet prices and features:
$122 for adults and $98 for children (ages 6-17)
Good for 9 consecutive days (from the first day of use).
Most of the tickets will also allow you to jump the line at attractions (can be helpful in crowded New York!)
There is a deal offered by CitySights, a hop-on, hop-off bus company that gets you the CityPass booklet and 3 days of hop-on, hop-off bus service in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx, a night bus tour, a hop-on, hop-off ferry ticket and entry into the Museum of the City of New York or the New York Historical Society. $150/Adult, $120/Child.
Also well reviewed, averaging 4.5 out of 5 stars on Get Your Guide (read the review).
Attractions included in CityPass booklet:
Empire State Building with audio guide. Admission includes two visits, so you can go once during the day and again at night if you’d like.
The projected savings with an adult City Pass is $79 (if you paid full price for all 6 attractions).
Benefits of the CityPass booklet
The CityPass booklet is relatively flexible – you have 9 days to visit the included attractions in whatever order and at whatever times you would like. The line bypass privileges can save you quite a bit of time for other sightseeing. The booklet would grant you entry into many NYC “highlights,” which you could then supplement with our walking tours (see our calendar for dates/times). If the price of the pass works for your budget and you have several days in New York it could be a good option for you. To purchase, click New York CityPass booklet
Some Things to Consider Before Buying
The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Natural History Museum actually do not have a fixed admission. The prices listed are suggested donations, so you can actually pay anything you like that works in your budget. Also, the Museum of Modern Art offers “Free Fridays” from 4 pm to 8 pm, so if your trip includes a Friday, you could take advantage of that. This means that half of the attractions included with City Pass could be free or very low cost.
If you are on a tighter budget for your trip you could forgo the City Pass and take advantage of the “Admission by Donation” policies or designated free hours offered by many museums (see our list of museums with free admission or free hours) and all of Free Tours By Foot’s walking tours. That way you can decide what works best for your budget and maybe have some funds left over to splurge on attractions with a fixed price, such as the Empire State Building. (Note: the savings calculated with the CityPass booklet for the Empire State Building are for the price of entry AND the audio tour. Regular price for the Main Observation Deck is $32 for an adult.
Smart Destinations has also put together 5 packaged deals. These can offer a bit more savings if what is in the package matches what you want to see, but you lose the flexibility of choice present in both the Explorer and à la carte passes. Smart Destinations also offer two other types of passes, a build-your-own option and a set number of attractions pass. As with all of their passes, Smart Destinations offers a 100% money back guarantee for unused passes up to 1 year after your intended travel date, no questions asked and no insurance to purchase.
Top 4 Attraction Pass – $99/adult, $75/child (34% savings on retail prices)
24 hours of hop-on, hop-off bus tour
Empire State Building Tickets
A cruise past Statue of Liberty
9/11 Tribute Center and Tour
Spectacular City Views – $49/adult, $39/child (28% savings)
Empire State Building Tickets
Top of the Rock Tickets
New York City Museum Pass – $58/adults, Free/child (23% savings)
Metropolitan Museum of Art (entry fee is suggested, not required)
Museum of Modern Art
New York Sightseeing 5 Attraction Pass – $99/adult, $59/free (27% savings)
Empire State Building
Top of the Rock
Statue of Liberty Ferry Ticket
American Museum of Natural History (entry fee is suggested, not required)
Metropolitan Museum of Art
NYC Land and Sea Pass – $69/adult, $55/child (32% savings)
• You have 30 days to visit all your attractions from the day you activate it, which is when you visit your first attraction.
• You have 1 year from the purchase date to begin using your pass.
• Our Risk-Free Guarantee gives you one year from your purchase date to return any non-activated passes for a full refund.
Many companies offer discounted rates on bus tours if they are purchased in combination with a boat or helicopter tour. For more information on all the combo packages available, check out our post on New York bus tours.
If you’re not interested in all of the activities typically included with a tourist pass, take a look at some of these combo deals instead. Whether you want to visit the Empire State Building or see the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, there are several opportunities to cut touring costs in New York City. As a matter of fact, you could save even more by picking the package that best fits your interest rather than paying up front for a plethora of different attractions.
There are a couple of considerations that you should make before you purchase any tourist pass, considerations that may lead you to create your own pass. We explain below.
Keep in mind that the retail prices for each attraction or tour are usually inflated in order to cover the commissions that these attractions pay to the tourist pass companies. There are almost always discounts or packages available that the lower the retail cost (we explain below).
Calculate Cost Per Hour
You need to calculate the cost per hour of each tour and attraction to make sure that you are getting the best value possible, and you should make your calculations based on the actual best price and not the retail price (we explain in the examples below).
Likewise, the suggested amount of time for each attraction and tour is usually the best case scenario and you may very well find that you need more time than is indicated and you may experience fewer options than you planned. You need to calculate travel time between attractions as well as time for lunch and dinner.
Remember Our Tours
When you have highly rated pay-what-you-wish tour options, like we offer here at Free Tours by Foot, you don’t really need to consider many of the sightseeing tours available in the passes.
To show you what we mean, here is a breakdown of the average time you can expect to spend at various popular attractions in New York City:
Example #1 – Top of the Rock
All passes suggest a duration of 1-2 hours, but you should count on 2, even with skip-the-line privileges, particularly in high tourist season. The retail price is $34/adult. Based on this, you appear to be getting $17/hr/adult value. However, you should note that you could get Top of the Rock tickets for just $29.45 through a company called Trusted Tours by using code NYTO5. This calculates to just $14.75/hr/adult value.
There are also websites such as CitySights that offer flat 10% discounts on most popular NYC attractions with code SAVE10.Therefore, ignore the stated retail prices and calculate the real value of these prices.
Example #2 – Statue of Liberty
This attraction is one of the worst choices to pick on a tourist pass. Firstly, it takes at least 4 hours (we suggest 5 hours) to get through security, visit both the Statue and Ellis Island, and return. Secondly, the tourist passes only offer access to Liberty Island and not to the Statue’s pedestal or crown. At $18.50/adult, this is under $4/hr/adult. You are better off purchasing tickets on your own.