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Road Warrior

Travel passes that give vacationers most bang for their buck

Harriet Baskas, Special to CNBC
Tourist outside the Coliseum in Rome, Italy
Giorgio Cosulich | Getty Images

Passes offering discounted entry to museums and other attractions are a staple of city tourism offices and travel websites.

Marketed as a convenient way for tourists to save money on entrance fees, passes often include appealing extras like local transit passes, priority entrance lines and the option to make return visits to the most popular and scenic sites.

Still, travelers need to do their homework to determine if the deals really offer good value, basing the decision on how long they'll be in town and what they plan to do while there," said Arabella Bowen, editor-in-chief of Fodor's Travel. Otherwise, "you could wind up spending more than you need to."

For visitors to Italy, for example, Bowen recommends the 48 hour Roma Pass. That option includes unlimited use of buses, trams, metro, free admission to two museums or archaeological sites of your choice, plus discounted entrance to others, all for 28 euros, or about $31.

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Separately, admission to the Colosseum/Palatino/Roman Forum and the Capitolini Museum adds up to 27,50 euros, "so visiting two attractions alone pays for the pass," said Bowen, "At that price, you might as well buy it for the additional benefits of public transit and other discounts — they're essentially free."

Lonely Planet's Alex Howard, destination editor for Western USA and Canada, likes Vancouver's 160-page City Passport. It sells for 25 Canadian dollars (about $18) and offers over $1,000 in potential savings so pays for itself after only a handful of coupons.

Howard, however, said Las Vegas travelers who use the city's travel pass should beware.

"Several of the advertised attractions are off the Strip, requiring visitors to hop in a car," he said, which means more out of pocket costs. "Plus, the High Roller, the Neon Museum and the Mob Museum, three of my personal favorite Vegas attractions, are conspicuously absent."