If you’re a fan of stately homes and gardens, but baulk at the expensive entry costs, it makes financial sense to consider an annual membership. But over the last seven years, membership fees have shot up. For instance, the cost of English Heritage joint senior membership has risen around 33% in the past seven years from less than £52.50 to £70; while an individual senior membership has leapt from £32 a year in 2010 to £46 today – an increase of 44%.
It’s similar case with National Trust memberships, with annual fees rising by more than a third since 2010. Seven years ago, an individual annual membership (for adults over 26 years of age) was just £48.50 but now costs £64.80, while a joint membership – for two adults living at the same address – has risen from £79.50 to £108.
But you can still enjoy days out to stately homes and gardens on shoestring budget – here are five ways to save on membership fees.
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1 Buy a Scottish membership
Did you know that you can cut costs for joining the National Trust and Kew Royal Botanic Gardens by opting for memberships at their Scottish partners? Thanks to a reciprocal agreement, you can pay to join a sister organisation north of the border and slash your membership costs by as much as half – and it’s completely legitimate.
"Choosing an annual National Trust membership north of the border saves you £26."
For instance, buying an annual National Trust Scotland membership, rather than England, will save you as much as £25 a year and covers up to four kids under 15 to visit any NT venue in all of the UK, so it includes Wales and Northern Ireland as well. You can save on a senior membership (60+) too – choosing an annual NT membership north of the border gives you a discount of £26.
What’s more, you can do a similar money-saving trick with Kew Gardens. Become a member of Kew Gardens and there’s an annual cost of £72 for an adult for free entry to Kew and Wakehurst. But buy a £32 adult membership at Edinburgh Royal Botanic Gardens and you'll qualify for free entry to Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and Wakehurst, Westonbirt Arboretum, Bedgebury National Pinetum and Forest, National Botanic Garden of Wales, Ness Botanic Garden, University of Oxford Botanic Garden and Harcourt Arboretum, plus many more gardens overseas.
As well as entry to all the additional arboretums and gardens, Scottish membership will also save you £40 a year, and provides additional benefits you don't get with an English membership. Please note that free entry applies to the membership holder only and additional entry fees will apply for other guests – please check with individual gardens prior to your visit.
How to cut your household expenses.
2 Save money on days out with the grandchildren
For a cheap day out with the grandchildren, members of English Heritage can take up to six children free as long as they’re under the age of 19 and members of the family. But at the National Trust, which has properties in Wales and Northern Ireland, only under fives get free admission with an annual membership.
There is an English Heritage membership option for a young person from 13 to 25 and for a child (under 13), both of which cost £32.40 per year, however it’s cheaper to add them to a family membership which can include up to 10 children or grandchildren under the age of 17. It costs £71.40 for a one-adult family membership and £114.60 for a family with two adults living at the same address.
Activities to do with your granchildren.
3 Search for online deals
If you're signing up for an annual membership for any stately home or garden association, it's always worth searching online to see if there are offers available, with codes for money off or extra months when paying by direct debit.
But bear in mind that the discounted annual price is an introductory rate for the first year of membership, so once the money's taken from your account you should cancel the direct debit if you want to avoid automatically being charged for a full-price membership next year.
12 ways to get a discount when you're shopping online.
4 Look at cashback websites
You can also cut costs on annual memberships by buying through a cashback website such as Quidco or TopCashback. The concept behind these websites is simple: each will pay a cash reward when you visit one of their retail partners via the site. All you do is sign up and provide your bank details.
The sites list product providers and retailers that pay commission when shoppers click on their links. In turn, the cashback website passes on the commission to the consumer. Some retailers pay a fixed sum, while others pay a percentage of your spend.
"Cut costs on annual memberships by buying through a cashback website."
Using the sites is relatively simple – register with the site and then, every time you buy online, visit the retailer via your chosen cashback operator rather than directly. The retailer typically pays a commission into your account at your cashback site, which in turn sends your cut direct to your nominated bank or PayPal account.
At Quidco, for instance, we found a National Trust deal of £5 cashback for all membership sales, and English Heritage were offering 4% cashback on all membership sales. At TopCashback there was an offer of £5.25 cashback on new NT memberships, and 5.25% on English Heritage memberships.
Find out more about cashback websites.
5 Ask for a discount
It may seem old fashioned, but if you don’t ask, you won’t get. Simply asking for a discount can often pay dividends – for money-saving blogger Faith Archer, a simple phone call was all it took to cut the cost of her English Heritage family membership by a fifth.
"When our membership expired, I rang the helpline... that call saved us nearly £20."
“When our membership expired this summer, I rang the helpline rather than renewing online,” she explains. “I asked if there were any offers for existing members rather than new ones – and was offered 20% off. That phone call saved us nearly £20 on family membership, so it was well worth asking.”
Plus – Heritage Open Days and Open House
Fancy looking inside the Gherkin, The Royal Courts of Justice, Birmingham Hippodrome or The Royal Liver Building? September sees the Heritage Open Days festival across the England, and the Open House event in London. These annual events give the public free entry to thousands of buildings that are often closed to the public, or access to areas of public buildings that are usually off limits. You can visit offices, private houses, schools, gardens, churches, temples and much more. The dates change every year but the Heritage Open Days weekend is usually the weekend before the London event.
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