The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City is facing a class action suit claiming their entrance fees are deceptive. A big sign at the ticket counter says $25, and in much smaller print below, “recommended.” In other words, you are being asked for a donation of $25, but the admission itself is free and the donation amount is voluntary. Native New Yorkers recognize this, but most foreigners and out-of-towners do not. Only 40% pay the full $25.
The Philadelphia Art Museum charges $20 admission, but pay what you want on the first Sunday of each month. Guess which day I pick? And I pay $5. The museum, I tell them, is magnificent, well worth the full price if I had the stamina to stay all day, but I do not. After the long trip to get there, I am ready to leave after an hour, and $5 per hour seems about right for any entertainment, no matter how worthy. I wish them well and hope they get lots and lots of all-day visitors at $20 a pop, but that is not me.
Longwood Gardens is much the same. They charge $18, which can be thought of as a bargain. Fees only pay for half of the garden’s expenses, the rest coming from the du Pont foundation. There is plenty to see in a full day’s visit for the young and strong, but how long does the average person stay? I would guess about two hours. No matter how enjoyable the gardens are, two hours is a long time to be on your feet, and that works out to $9/hour.
This year we skipped the Philadelphia Flower Show. We used to think we would recharge during lunch and could continue on through the afternoon. This would justify the steep admission fee. But we were only kidding ourselves. We would drag around for only another half-hour, then gratefully head for home. That ended up as about 2.5 hours for a total cost approaching $100 for two. That seems extravagant for anyone.
Most museums have a senior rate which is a negligible dollar or two less. This is their feel-good rate—feel-good for them. I have suggested at various museums they have a super-senior rate for those over 75, or, more fairly, charge everyone by the hour. I am typically rewarded with a tolerant, but unyielding, smile by the well-trained admission person who understands politely listening to a venting old man is just part of their job.