Price: Varies by park. Passes to Cedar Point in Ohio, start at $120, while Six Flags Great America in Illinois charges $71.99 and up.
"An annual pass can be a really great deal for regional amusement parks," said Robert Niles, editor of Theme Park Insider. Even considering that it's easy to pay less than the face price for one-day admission, most passes pay for themselves with two park visits. Some passes also include parking, dining discounts and free guest passes, which can be valuable.
A few parks, such as Six Flags, also give passholders free access to other parks around the country.
Destination parks like Universal Studios and Disney Parks & Resorts are a harder sell for visitors who fly in for an annual vacation, Niles said. For example, at Walt Disney World, even a 10-day park-hopping and water park pass costs $220 less than the $634 price for an annual pass.
But those parks often offer locals-only deals that can help an annual pass pay off faster, he said. Disney has a $62 pass for accessing water parks after 2 p.m., and a weekdays-only park pass for $219, among other options. Visitors to Universal Studios Hollywood can buy a one-day pass for $84 and get free access (with some blackout dates) for the rest of 2014.
Price: Varies by card. Chase Sapphire Preferred costs $95 a year after the first year, while the Platinum Card from American Express runs $450.
The important question here is if the value of the card benefits eclipses the price.
"Annual fees are a little bit taboo," said Odysseas Papadimitriou, CEO of CardHub.com. "But don't rule it out."
That AmEx Platinum, for example, comes with a $200 airline fee credit, free Priority Pass airline lounge membership (worth $399) and a $100 credit to apply for Global Entry travel screening clearance, among other benefits—which could be more than worth the fee for a frequent traveler.
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Ongoing rewards and new-cardholder bonuses can be another incentive, Papadimitriou said. (The Chase Sapphire Plus comes with 40,000 bonus points, worth $400.) Plus, many cards also waive or reduce the fee for the first year. Be sure to reassess the value once that fee kicks in: At redemption, points are worth about a penny each, meaning without bonuses you'd need to spend almost $10,000 a year just to offset a $99 annual fee.
And of course, any benefits' value dwindles fast if you're carrying a balance. If that's the case, he said, a fee-free card is likely a better option. Cardholders should also weigh the likelihood of program changes that could devalue rewards. That's more likely with a hotel or airline card—United and Delta, for example, have recently made program changes that require more miles for a free flight on some routes.
Price: Varies by program, region and membership level. In Maryland, for example, an annual AAA membership starts at $71.
Most roadside assistance programs pay for themselves with one lockout, jump-start or tow, said Phil Reed, consumer advice editor for Edmunds.com. (Past experience may be a good guide, he said. Do you tend to lock yourself out of your car? Do you drive maintenance-intense vehicles?)
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"We do really recommend, particularly in urban areas, for people who commute, for people who have intensive driving habits, that they have some kind of coverage," Reed said. "It's a small price to pay for a pretty useful service."
Programs also tend to offer other perks—such as hotel discounts and free passport photos—that could help defray the cost even if no roadside assistance is required.
That said, don't be quick to pay up. You may already have roadside assistance coverage under an auto insurance policy, a premium credit card or as a freebie from the auto manufacturer, said Reed. Compare those terms against paid programs to see if there's a coverage gap (say, a longer towing distance) or other benefits (travel discounts) worth paying for. Then compare auto club prices and coverage for the best deal.
Zoos, aquariums and museums
Price: Varies by location. Family memberships for the Philadelphia Zoo start at $115 and at $199 for the California Academy of Sciences.
As with amusement parks, annual memberships to a zoo or museum typically pay for themselves with just two visits. Many also wrap in valuable extras such as parking, free guest passes and in-house extras like IMAX movies, rides and tours.
Members may also get discounted access at other institutions in the network: Join a museum that's part of the Association of Children's Museums, and you'd get 50 percent off admission at member museums. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums members might get free access or half off, depending on the zoo.
Keep in mind that if the institution is a nonprofit, some of your annual membership may qualify as a deduction. For example, $97 of that $115 Philadelphia Zoo pass is deductible.
Price: Varies by club, though Amazon Prime and ShopRunner both cost $79 per year.
Whether paying for free shipping works out depends largely on how often and what you order online. ShopRunner works with 80-plus sites. If you're shopping at Neiman Marcus, where two-day shipping costs $15, the annual membership pays off in eight orders. (Fewer with returns—return shipping is also free for members.)