How to make the most of your memberships - Guggenheim Museum, New York City
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How to Make the Most of Your Memberships

Do you have a wallet full of membership cards to various organizations and clubs? Do you like to support local facilities, but after attending once or twice, are not sure what to do with your membership? You likely are not using your status to the best advantage. So, how to make the most of your memberships? Especially as an avid traveler, there are many opportunities.

How to Make the Most of Your Memberships

Where and Why to Join?

There are many types of venues and organizations that offer membership. Decide what your interests and needs are. Then, consider perks, reciprocals, discounts, social aspects, and if it is a membership you can use while traveling.

Often for slightly more than a one day entry, you can become a member. By joining, you not only support organizations that you believe in, but you also enjoy added benefits. Memberships may offer both tangible and social benefits. Choosing where is right for you to join, will help you to make the most of your memberships.

Various sports-related clubs have membership opportunities. Since sports are competitive by nature, many of these memberships also open the door to partake in and/or view amateur and professional competitions.

Rhinestone Embellished Sneakers

Fitness Centers and Gyms

Sports memberships are especially beneficial while traveling. The obvious may be a gym or sports club wear you take aerobic or yoga classes, and workout. Many fitness facilities offer the use of their gyms in cities aside from your home base.

Members sometimes have the opportunity for group travel. Interest based trips incorporate an activity you love, with people who share your interests. For example, a gym may have a yoga instructor who offers retreats in Greece each Summer. While standard membership may not include the fee, being a member gains you a slot.

Country Clubs, Golf, and Tennis

Golf, Tennis, and Country Clubs are a great place to exercise while playing a sport you enjoy. These clubs also offer excellent social opportunities. Many clubs offer reciprocals, sometimes worldwide. In addition to being able to use membership abroad, these clubs often have private dining, bars, entertainment, pools, spas, and social events.

When you travel, you may be welcome to attend other club’s extra curricular activities. It is a great way to meet people while you are traveling, as you already have a commonality. Often the club will welcome you and make introductions. While you may still need to pay, these clubs are private. Therefore it is difficult to gain entrance, unless you have a membership somewhere. Also, with golf, it is fun to get to play a new, unfamiliar, or famous course.


Yacht Clubs and Sailing Centers

Another useful sport membership is boating or sailing. Like country clubs, yacht clubs are usually very social, and located worldwide. They often offer access to boaters-only bars, restaurants, docks, and social events. Many offer area information. They can aid in travel reservations, supplies, and suggestions. Like golf, sailing can be extremely social.

Some areas have sailing centers. Members are able to utilize the boats and water crafts owned by the facility for free or a nominal fee. Sometimes they offer classes on sailing, safety, and other water experiences.

Many yacht and golf clubs, are members and guests only. Clubs sponsor several of the exciting professional competitions such as PGA tours or regattas. You may request access to these through your membership. Additionally, if you are interested in sail racing or golf tournaments, many require you to be a rated club member in order to partake. Members often receive discounts on related equipment and clothing.

TIP: If you do join a yacht or country club, and want to gain entrance to a reciprocal club while traveling, you often need to request that your home club sends a letter, requesting them to accept your visitation request. This is common practice. Showing up unannounced is generally in poor form, and you may not gain entrance. (Although if you have your membership card with you, and you happen to be there, you can always try!)

As a lover of the arts, I often join local museums, theaters, music venues, and arboretums. By joining, you can save money, support the arts, and get great ideas of places to visit.


At a local level, an obvious advantage to museum membership is the repeated access you receive. You can explore over many days and at your leisure. Often there are a variety of changing exhibits or acts, therefore you can make the most of your membership with repeated visits.

The attraction you experience may be on tour from other cities or countries that you have not visited yet. I always find that the arts are an invaluable way to connect with the world, especially in between travel. Arts help to satiate my wanderlust by offering a “mini getaway,” even when I’m near home.

Museums often offer classes, and membership only viewing, openings, and events. These opportunities are generally less crowded, informative, and social in nature. Many museums have special member only discounts to their merchandise.

Music and Theatre Venues

Music and theatre venues offer many perks to members. Some include, presell tickets, premium seating, member-only events, access to lounges, and backstage access. In addition to venues, there are organizations such as the not for profit, TDF, that offers discount theatre tickets and experiences. Membership in many of the theatre and musical non-profits support children’s programs.

Supporting the Arts

Many art venues are not for profit. So when you join, not only do you support a great cause and receive multiple benefits, but a portion of your membership can usually be written off for tax purposes.

Of course there are many fabulous reasons to support the arts, and during this difficult time, consider joining and donating to arts-related not for profits. Even though many venues cannot have live performances, they are offering valuable virtual experiences. In relation to travel, the arts have the ability to transport you to other times, places, and cultures, no matter where you are, nor how you partake. Arts are an essential part of a healthy and well rounded society.

See Jenny In Wanderland article, Why Travelers should Join Art Nonprofits Today

Additional Types of Memberships

In addition to venue memberships, there are various other places to join as a traveler. Whether a place within driving distance of your home, a weekend getaway, a place close by friends or family, or a destination you visit often, these can all be locations to consider membership options.


Gardens may include botanical, arboretum and special interest. Joining a garden near your home base offers obvious benefits of visiting a well kept outdoor venue often. Additional benefits may include holiday displays, special events, classes, and private rental facilities for parties.

In my research, I found that the American Horticulture Society offers membership to many gardens throughout the United States. Further, if you decide to become a member of a garden in their program, many offer reciprocals to the other participating botanical facilities.

Sunken Gardens

Amusement Parks and Zoos

Depending on how often you travel and where, it may make sense to have a yearly pass to entertainment related venues such as Disney, Busch Gardens, and Zoos. Do your research, but if you know you will be visiting these popular attractions more than one day in a calendar year, it is often worthwhile to consider joining. Membership at entertainment attractions usually offer added benefits such as dining discounts, member only hours, and free parking. In addition zoological societies are usually nonprofit and your membership helps to support the animals and various community learning programs.

Discount Travel Clubs

A variety of clubs that offer discount travel exist. Some are free to join with the expectation that you will accumulate points or miles that you can use toward upgrade privileges and free passes. Other clubs will cost a monthly fee, but offer exclusive travel services and discounts through membership.

Examples of paid travel clubs are AAA in the USA that offers some worldwide reciprocals. Free club to join may consist of airline clubs, rental car, credit card clubs, and travel site enrollment, such as hotel sites to earn points toward discounts and free nights.

Return Visits and Making the Most of Your Membership

Another great option to make the most of your membership, is the ability to take your time. You do not feel compelled to cover a place in an entire day. It is great to be able to show up for a specific experience, knowing you can cover more next time. With membership, you can visit for an hour on a lunch break or before heading out for the evening. You can always return at no or low cost.

To make the most of your membership, it is important to consider whether you will visit the venue more than once. Determine if it is in reasonable proximity to your base. While it may be worth joining a faraway venue, closer places may be most advantageous. Obviously, it is less effort to frequent a close by venue. Distance may affect your number of return visits. Additionally, in a time where virtual experiences are more popular than ever, this eliminates the distance issue.

Staycations and How to Make the Most of Your Memberships

Venues frequently offer special events to their members, such as private openings, free entertainment, advanced ticket sales, parties, interactive activities, meet and greet opportunities, guided tours, classes, and more. 

To make the most of your memberships, check the website and mail materials often. Mark your calendar with all the upcoming events that may be of interest, so that you don’t miss them. Use this great planning method to stay engaged. When you find a gap in your schedule, or just get the urge to travel (which happens often to me!), check your calendar to see what is being offered.

For example, while I was working in New York City, I needed a break. It obviously wasn’t an appropriate time for me to jump on a plane to a foreign destination. As a member of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I saw there were member opening hours for an Egyptian exhibit. For me, this was a great alternative.

MET - How to Make the Most of Your Memberships

Of course in 2020 we are in a unique situation, where travel is difficult. Memberships during this time are especially important to help maintain facilities, but it is a win-win. Many museums, for example, are offering member-only virtual classes, lectures with curators, and private online experiences.

Golf clubs are offering Covid safe practices such as single cart riders and auto ball ejection, so as not to touch the flag. Some clubs are having member only outdoor movies or concerts. Holding member events limits the number of people who can partake. These memberships provide a great way to connect with the world, potentially even more so now.

Reciprocals, Perks, and How to Make the Most of Your Memberships

When you purchase a membership, other perks are often offered. Knowing these perks is key to understanding how to make the most of your memberships. To make the most of your memberships, familiarize yourself with the perks.

Rewards may include discounts in related shops and restaurants. Some members enjoy free parking or the ability to bring guests. Special member-only lounges, restaurants, events, classes, or spaces may be available. One of the best features I found of membership, aside from supporting an organization’s mission, is when a reciprocal is offered.

When you join a membership with one club, location, or facility and are offered the opportunity, through your membership, to utilize additional clubs, facilities, and locations, aside from the specific one you joined, this is generally referred to as a reciprocal privilege (or simply, “Reciprocals”).

Reciprocals can apply to any type of membership from sports to country clubs to museums. For example, if you are a member of one museum, you may be offered free entrance to several other museums in the state, region, country, or even internationally. I have found this to be extremely beneficial. I use this feature regularly.

Some museum entrances can cost upward of $25 per entry. Occasionally I have an hour to fill. I may not want to pay full pop to enter a large exhibit for an hour. However, if it is free through my membership, what a great option!

I find that reciprocals prompt me to visit places that I may have otherwise missed or skipped. If reciprocals are offered with your membership, you will likely receive a list of the names and locations of additional venues. Sometimes I have not heard of the places offered, so this introduces me to somewhere new.

Willard House and Clock Museum

Additional Personal Experiences

This also applies to Country Clubs and Yacht Clubs. I have been lucky enough to play some fabulous private golf courses that I would not have otherwise been permitted to enter throughout the world. If you enjoy golf, you understand how exciting it can be to challenge yourself to an unfamiliar course. Often in golf, you are paired with other players, which creates a space to meet new people while traveling. Generally the people you meet at a member club are local, and can often offer great insight into other local attractions of interest.

While sailing in the British Virgin Islands, it was fun to be welcomed at a fellow yacht club. We met other sailors and learned of special local mooring spots that we would never have found on our own. Even if we were not on a sailing trip, we have utilized our yacht club membership in many other states and countries abroad to gain access to the restaurant or bar. There, we were introduced to other members and able to make new friends. Sometimes we are even invited for a sail!

No matter what the membership, taking advantage of all aspects definitely brings so much extra value.

US Museum Reciprocal Programs

Private clubs tend to have their own relationships when it comes to reciprocals. However, for US museums, there are several organized reciprocal programs in the United States. Not all museums belong, and not all levels of membership receive the benefit, so research carefully where and how you join.

Popular US Museum reciprocal organizations include: NARM (North American Reciprocal Museums), ROAM (Reciprocal Organization of Associated Museums), ACM (Association of Children’s Museums), and SERM (South Eastern Reciprocal Membership). To make the most of your membership, find out if the museum you are joining is part of one of these organizations. If so, be sure that your membership level allows you to use your card at the venues offered on the organization’s list.

Always Carry Your Membership Card

To make the most of your membership, be sure to always have your card with you while traveling. You never know when you may use it!

I cannot tell you how many times I have my membership card with me from one place and I find myself in another city. I plan sites I want to see, and activities I want to do, and realize that I can enter many of them at a discount, or no cost, just by having my card!

When I was visiting an arboretum outside of Boston, I was able to use my Florida arboretum card to enter there. I saved a $20 entrance fee! Not all memberships offer all the perks and many times you need to join at a certain level to receive the reciprocals, but often it is well worth it.

Tower Hill Botanic Garden - How to Make the Most of Your Memberships
Tower Hill Botanic Garden

Levels of Membership

Each organization usually has several membership levels from which to choose. If you are joining in order to support a venue, then donate what you see fit. However, if in addition to support, you are looking to make the most of your membership card, then think strategically. Consider how often you plan on visiting, the number of people included, and the benefits.

For example, I often commit to dual membership for many organizations since I am married. However, if you are a family of 4 verses a couple or a single person, the price and level you need may differ. Also, a family or dual level may have different rules, varying by venue. Various types and levels of membership usually apply regardless of the nature of the facility. Whether golf or art, be sure to research which level is right for you.

Be knowledgeable of whom is eligible to share a membership. My local arboretum used to define a family of 4 by any 4 people, but now it has changed to any 2 adults and any 2 children. With these rules, there is only one name on the primary holder’s card. This means that the primary holder must be present, but can bring any other adult and any two kids each time. This is not necessarily right or wrong, but different than prior years.

Some cards require an included member to have their name on their card; Therefore only that person may use it. In contrast, some establishments allow “guest” to be printed next to the primary member, thus allowing any second adult to use the membership. The point is be sure to verify what the rules of membership are for the category you are considering.

Things to contemplate when considering membership:

  • Is the venue a not for profit?
  • What level of membership best suits your needs?
  • What are the perks of joining?
  • At what level do you need to join to receive your desired perks?
  • Do you get discounts to related stores/restaurants?
  • Are reciprocals to other facilities included at the membership level you are considering? 
  • What is the reciprocal program?
  • Can you bring guests?
  • Is parking included? 
  • Aside from the primary member, are the additional cards, in a multi-person membership, person specific?
  • Is the venue one you will visit more than once?
  • Is the facility in reasonable proximity to your base?
  • Does the venue offer virtual programs and classes?
  • Is there a cultural or foreign component that offers a “Staycation” type experience?
  • Does the membership grant access to related facilities in additional national or international locations?
  • By joining, does it open opportunities to partake in social and/or competitive events?

Additional Tips:

  • Always carry your membership card and a photo ID with you to ensure entry.
  • Familiarize yourself with all benefits and the level of membership required to receive them.

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