Ways to Save Money at Halloween Theme Park Events
It's apparently never too early to get into the Halloween spirit if you're a theme park operator. Comcast's (CMCSA) Universal Studios Florida kicks off Halloween Horror Nights this weekend. It won't be alone. Disney's (DIS) Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party at the Magic Kingdom also gets under way this week, giving guests a tamer experience complete with trick-or-treat stations and unique character greeting opportunities throughout the world's most visited theme park.
Out on the West Coast, Cedar Fair's (FUN) Knott's Berry Farm in California kicks off the latest season of Knott's Scary Farm -- complete with 11 haunted mazes -- next week. Six Flags (SIX) transforms its seasonal coaster havens into Fright Fest starting shortly after that.
Park operators realize that there's a lot of money to be made in trying to scare you and your friends this time of year. Let's go over the ways that you can keep as much of your money as possible while still enjoying the macabre mayhem.
1. Know Your Discounts
Haunts typically offer discounts for folks buying their tickets online. Ordering directly through SixFlags.com to attend Fright Fest at Six Flags Great America -- just outside of Chicago -- can shave nearly half the price of admission on select nights.
%VIRTUAL-WSSCourseInline-956%You definitely don't want to show up at the gate and buy your tickets the day of the event. Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Florida has a gate price of $101.99 this year, but online entrances can be purchased for as little as $49.99 on select nights.
You should also check the social media accounts of the park you expect to visit. Parks often team up with area supermarkets or drugstores for discounted admissions, though it's often not much better than what you can score online directly through them. Some also offer coupons through fast-food chains or products distributed locally. Halloween Horror Nights is running a promo based on Coca-Cola (KO) products, though you can always cheat and see UPC discount codes online.
2. Timing Is Everything
Most of the park haunts don't charge the same admissions every night of the week. Universal Studios Florida is a perfect example. Online tickets for Thursday and other off-nights can be had for $49.99, but that balloons up to $76.99 for Saturday.
Tickets to Cedar Point's HalloWeekends in Ohio also cost more on Saturday nights. Combine HalloWeekends admission with the line-skipping Fright Pass and you will pay $21 less online if you go on a Friday in late October instead of a Saturday. Online tickets for Fright Fest at Six Flags Magic Mountain costs $5 more Saturday night than it does Friday or Sunday.
It also will be easier on your pocketbook if you go early. Fright Fest at Six Flags Great America will set you back $10 less on the first Saturday in October than it does during the third and fourth Saturdays of the month. The closer you get to Halloween itself, the pricier the ticket is likely to be.
The moral of the story is that if you can avoid Saturdays or late October, there are some real deals to be scored.
3. Plan Ahead to Skimp on Express Passes
Haunts get crowded, and that's a welcome opportunity for the parks with the more popular events to roll out premium-priced tickets that let folks bypass traditional lines. Some of the biggest operators even offer several classes of passes that provide expedited access. Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Florida has the $70 Express Pass, where guests can wait in shorter lines than regular guests, or the RIP Tour, which starts at $140 for immediate access to all of the scare mazes in a group tour.
These passes are great if you can afford them, and on busy nights it may be the only way to see it all. However, you can also plan ahead, and that doesn't mean just arriving early. You already know about avoiding Saturday nights and going early, in late September or early October, to maximize your savings, and that's also a good way to avoid the longest maze lines.
There's more that you can do. Seasoned haunt-goers know that the scare mazes closest to the entrance tend to be the ones that guests flock to first. Start at the back of the park and you should be able to hit many of the attractions before you run into serious crowds. Check online forums and social network groups for tips on the best scare zones or the shows that can't be missed. With the right strategy, you can see all that is worth seeing without springing for the premium passes.
Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns and recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has the following options: long January 2016 $37 calls on Coca-Cola, short January 2016 $43 calls on Coca-Cola, and short January 2016 $37 puts on Coca-Cola. The Motley Fool recommends Coca-Cola. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. To read about one great stock to buy for 2015 and beyond -- no tricks included -- check out our free report.