I have been pondering what to say about the new membership program, announced by Busch Gardens Williamsburg on Monday. My initial response was surprise, followed by confusion, and rounded out by concern.
Before I go any further, I want to highlight the fact that both Zachary and I supported the original introduction of the Membership Program. It seemed like an elegant solution to long-standing problems. So, the issues detailed below were primarily created by this week’s update to the program, and are not a result of any objections to memberships in principle.
We have reached out to the park with specific questions, and updated our ticket options spreadsheet with the new memberships. You can find both of those below. First, however, I’d like to examine each of my reactions.
We were starting to hear rumors over the weekend about changes that were in the works for the Membership Program, possibly chain-wide. It seemed very strange to us that a program would be modified only eight months after it was initially rolled out.
When I saw the actual details, however, I was stunned. Two items in particular stood out to me:
- The Premier level had been scaled back dramatically to include only the Virginia parks; and
- A new Platinum level had been added above Premier.
There were already two systems in use in Williamsburg: the classic Platinum/Two-Park/Single-Park Passes and the Premier/Unlimited/Basic Memberships. Adding a third set of options seemed to fly in the face of BGW’s goals, when they introduced the Old Membership Program in February.
As we started to examine the New Membership Program more closely, we realised we had more questions than answers. We reached out to BGW Marketing with two sets of specific inquiries. The responses are below.
We were not the only ones who were puzzled, however. Throughout the day on October 1st, we received reports directly and on our Forum from people who had contacted Busch Gardens Customer Support with questions of their own.
Over the past two days, we have been piecing together information from BGW’s Marketing Department, Customer Service Center, Website, and Blog. I believe we have a fairly good understanding of all of the options. We do not, however, yet understand why Platinum was added and Premium was downgraded.
I can understand why the park modified Basic and Unlimited. They faced a fair amount of backlash from their decision to include Water Country USA in all of the membership options. Making those two tiers single-park memberships with options to upgrade for $2 a month was a reasonable response to customer preferences.
I cannot, however, wrap my brain around the changes they made to upper tiers. I am having difficulty understanding why anyone would select the New Premier Membership. Perhaps the free Preferred Parking, extra guest ticket, and slightly higher discounts will make it worthwhile for some guests? I can see an argument in favor of families purchasing one New Premier Membership for those benefits. The fact that the price is same as Old Premier, which includes 11 parks, however, makes it insupportable to me.
Similarly, New Platinum doesn’t seem to have many advantages over Old Premier, yet is costs $7 more a month. So, for $84 customers get a year-long PhotoKey, which only works in Virginia. Once again, I can understand the argument that it could be a useful benefit for some people. I’m not sure, however, how many members really want unlimited park photos from BGW and WCUSA. In fact, most customers who select Platinum probably plan to use it outside of Williamsburg, where arguably PhotoKey could be more useful.
Regardless, the cost-benefit analysis of both New Premier and New Platinum seems hard to justify to us. Perhaps we are missing some critical factor? Or perhaps Old Premier is just a better deal.
Now that we have a better understanding of the New Membership Program, we are left with one overriding worry: given the complexity of the current system of systems, will we actually receive the benefits we have purchased?
The New Membership Program reuses names from the two previous structures. We now have Basic Memberships, Unlimited Memberships, Old Premier Memberships, New Premier Memberships, Platinum Passes, Platinum Memberships, Two-Park Passes, and Single-Park Passes.
Is it reasonable to expect park staff anywhere in the chain, especially outside of Virginia, to know which benefits are associated with each pass? Will someone with an Old Premium Membership be able to use it for parking, admission, and discounts at parks outside of Virginia? Will Old Unlimited Members enjoy discounted tickets and other benefits in non-Williamsburg parks? Will Platinum Pass Holders still enjoy re-ride and reserved seating benefits in Florida?
BGW claims that the barcodes on our passes will ensure we receive all of the perks associated with our membership levels. Not all benefits require a swipe, however. For example, I have never had my pass scanned for either re-ride or reserved seating privileges. In those cases, how will park staff know whether my Premier Membership is old or new? Will they have even heard of Memberships to begin with? Will anyone who doesn’t have the word “Platinum” on their pass receive all of their benefits outside of Virginia?
Even in Williamsburg I can see this becoming a perennial problem. Who has the right to use the Employee Entrance, and will the guards be able to differentiate? Will everyone know which tier gets what discounts?
These are not idle or needlessly inflammatory questions; we know of instances where Premier and Unlimited Members were denied entry and discounts at Florida parks just this past summer.
Where We Are Now
While the park’s answers to our fairly specific questions have alleviated several of my concerns, I am still not sold on the new price structure. The New Premier and New Platinum Memberships seem to have much higher rates than their predecessors. While Basic and Unlimited are enjoying increased flexibility and a potential cost reduction, the upper tiers have been forced to choose between a substantial loss in benefits or yet another significant price hike.
Similarly, I am not comfortable with the information we have received from BGW about future rate increases. While I understand that they cannot (and probably should not) commit to specific dates and amounts, it would be nice to know if they have a long-term plan for grandfathered passes and memberships. When my 12-month commitment is fulfilled, will I be required to switch to a new membership? Will my prices be aligned with one of the new tiers? What about pass members, who never switched to memberships?
Finally, if SEAS does elect to roll out the Membership Program chain-wide, will that affect our structure? Will ours be updated again? Will everyone be forced to the new system? Will we lose benefits outside of Virginia?
Ultimately, I guess I am still left with many questions. We do have some useful answers, however. I believe they are generally good news, as well.
Conversations with BGW
Here are the two sets of questions we sent BGW Marketing. They were very helpful, getting us answers quickly.
- It is our understanding that if we currently have a membership, we can keep it with the original benefits. Obviously, for those who paid in full, their current plan expires 12 months from the time they purchased it. If we are on EZPay, however, how long can we keep our current Memberships (all tiers) with the original benefits?
- As long as Members stay current and in good standing with EZpay there are no plans to adjust original Membership benefits at this time.
- In-Park Discounts, Re-Ride Privileges, etc seem to be excluded at non-VA parks according to the terms on the Platinum Membership. Is this true? If so, why has a benefit been eliminated that Platinum Pass Holders and then Premier Members had for years? Moving to a “home-park” model seems to be contrary to the concept of a “membership,” as it was originally explained to us by Dan.
- New Platinum Members & Premier Members who joined prior to Oct. 1, 2018 and are active and in good standing on EZpay will receive parking and in-park discount benefits at all non-Virginia parks.
- Will grandfathered Premier Memberships still get benefits at parks outside of Williamsburg?
- Yes, as noted above. Premier Members who joined prior to Oct. 1, 2018 and are active and in good standing on EZpay will receive parking and in-park discount benefits at all non-Virginia parks.
- Who will be able to use the Employee Entrance? We understand that it is not a guaranteed perk, but previously Premier Members could use it, when available. Will grandfathered Premier Members and Platinum Members still have access?
- There are no changes to the Employee Entrance access at this time. This is based on availability.
- Are there any current Premier benefits in Williamsburg or any other park that grandfathered Members will lose?
- In-park discounts and parking benefits will still apply as noted in question 2.
- For those using EZPay, will rates be locked in? If so, for how long? Will grandfathered Members on EZPay have their rates locked in, as well?
- Price lock guarantee has not been available since the launch of the Membership Program in February. Members rates will not change within the first 12 months of their commitment. After the initial 12-month commitment, any Membership is subject to price increases, with notification.
- Will Members still get discounted tickets to other SEAS parks? If so, how much? Will grandfathered Members continue to get discounted tickets at other SEAS parks? Under the old plan, Unlimited and Basic both received a 50% discount.
- Yes, Members will still get discounts to other SEAS parks. Members receive a 50% savings on one-day admission tickets to all other SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment locations (excluding Discovery Cove, Virginia & Texas parks).
- Will Old Premium and New Platinum Members also get re-ride privileges, reserved seating, and other “Platinum” benefits at non-Virginia parks, as we have in the past.
- The ride again privilege is new for Busch Gardens Williamsburg Platinum Members for Griffon, Apollo’s Chariot, Alpengeist & The Loch Ness Monster, and is available at the home park where purchased. Ride again privileges and reserved seating at non-Virginia parks are honored where available.
- How will staff at all of the parks be able to differentiate between old and new Memberships? We worry that parks outside of Virginia especially won’t know that grandfathered memberships have different perks. Additionally, we have heard about Premier Members being denied entry to other parks. Is there someone we can contact if we are in Florida/Texas/California/Pennsylvania and have a problem?
- Old & New Memberships can be determined by the product name and barcode located on their Membership. Please proceed to the ticket window or guest service at each park visited should you have any questions.
- We are hearing stories about people being denied their 50% ticket discounts at SWO (by Guest Services supervisors). Who can they contact to get a refund?
- Guests should contact our guest correspondence team directly to determine appropriate next steps. firstname.lastname@example.org
- Understanding that at some point Old Premier Memberships will increase in price, we have a question: will the price increase mirror New Premier or will we all be moved to the Platinum price? Or will ours increase differently than both?
- We do not have any plans at this time to increase prices of our old Premier Memberships.
We have included a spreadsheet below reflecting what we know about the new program in addition to how it compares to the original Membership program launched earlier this year.
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