The 2016 State Fair of Texas starts its 24-day run at Fair Park on Friday, September 30. For many, the fair is an annual ritual, a segue from summer to fall and a touchstone of life in Texas, no matter how you enjoy it — as a foodie field trip, a day off with friends, or a sacred ceremony to be shared with family.
For us, it's all about the discounts. Call us cheap — but when State Fair time rolls around, our thoughts turn to finding the best ways to save a little cash.
Tickets normally run $18 for general admission and $14 for seniors and kids under 48 inches tall. But we look at the idea of paying normal price as a challenge. Luckily, there is no shortage of bargains to be had.
We spent all summer digging up the best State Fair of Texas discounts and now we have the full list. Here are the ways we've found for you to save money on tickets to State Fair of Texas:
The season pass
If you plan on going to the State Fair more than once, a season pass is the way to go. Although you could just buy individual season passes for $39.95 each (or $34.95 at participating Kroger stores) and still claim a good deal, everyone knows the two biggest reasons to attend are the food and the rides.
That's why the $95 Season Pass Combo Pack, which includes two season passes and 100 food/ride tickets (worth $50), is the much better deal. Not only will you have the food/ride tickets delivered to your hot little hands early, you're essentially getting a second season pass for only $5 (or two for $45, however you want to look at it). This deal is available only at BigTex.com. (CultureMap exclusive: Use promo code SPculture5 when you purchase your pack and save an additional $5.)
All season passes come with extra perks, like one free single-day bring-a-friend ticket, a free State Fair of Texas reusable tote bag, a free commemorative Big Tex photo, a free Midway Race Game, a coupon for $5 off the 2016 State Fair Cookbook, and 10 percent off all State Fair gear at official merchandise stores.
Buy your ticket in advance
If a season pass is not for you, you still have multiple options to save. Tickets bought in advance through BigTex.com are $2 off — but we recommend waiting until September 12 and buying your ticket through DART's GoPass app. You still get the $2 savings on individual tickets, but you can also pre-buy DART tickets to get you to the fair. The best part: Your tickets are right there on your phone, ready to be activated whenever you want to use them.
Similar to the season pass combo is a family deal for individual tickets. The Family Four-Pack deal gives you four one-time-only general admission tickets and 100 food/ride coupons for $99. That's a 26 percent savings over normal ticket prices. If you want more, there's also a $189 family pack that ups the food/ride coupon number to 300; if you want less, there's a $69 combo pack that gets you two general admission tickets and 100 food/ride coupons.
You can also save by buying advance tickets at Kroger. General admission tickets there cost $16.50, but no senior or children discounts are available. Keep in mind that kids 2 and under do not require a ticket.
Opening day deals
Opening day for the State Fair has always, under the right circumstances, offered the opportunity to get in half price. But now there's another opening-day deal for a special group of people.
As in prior years, anyone who brings in a full 20-ounce Dasani water or Coca-Cola product on opening day gets in for half price. No cheating: Every person in your group must have a bottle to get the discount.
But a new opening-day deal this year is the OneMain Financial Military Appreciation Day, which offers free admission for all active military, retired military, and veterans, as well as their spouses and children under 18. Both military members and spouses must present valid military IDs at the gate.
The next time you eat at Mickey D's, make sure to check your tray liner or bag for State Fair coupons. You'll find ones for $5 off general admission any day, and ones that offer half-price tickets for kids when an adult pays full price. All coupons are good for tickets purchased at the gate and cannot be combined with any other offer.
Dr Pepper Tuesdays
Don't toss your empty Dr Pepper cans. Save 'em up, as every person with one gets $5 admission all day on Tuesdays — October 4, 11, and 18 — or half-price tickets after 5 pm any day of the week.
North Texas Food Bank Wednesdays
Every Wednesday during the State Fair is philanthropy day, and the discount is large. Bring in at least four cans of food for the North Texas Food Bank on October 5, 12, or 19, and you get in for just $4.
Seniors 60 and over have it made in the shade — or the sun, more likely — as they can get into the fair for $4 off every day. But nothing beats the deal they get every Thursday on Seniorific Senior Days (October 6, 13, and 20): They get in totally for free.
Thursdays have two ways to save. The first involves 20-ounce Coca-Cola products. If you drink them, hold on to your empties, as you can get in for just $6 every Thursday — October 6, 13, and 20 — with an empty 20-ounce Coke bottle.
Back again for 2016 are special Thursday discounts on more than 60 popular food items. Those include State Fair classics like Frito pies, cotton candy, and funnel cakes, and deals on specialty foods, too. Most are half-price or better; check out this handy State Fair map for a full list of vendors and foods.
You can get $5 off general admission on Fridays — October 7, October 14, and October 21 — simply by going to the KISS-FM website and printing a coupon for every member of your group. The discount does not apply to senior or children's tickets.
Craft & Growler
This is an unofficial discount, but for a limited time only, Craft & Growler is selling tickets for just $13 while supplies last. Each ticket also includes a coupon good for 10 percent off State Fair gear.
At NorthPark Center, you can get discounts and donate money to charity at the same time. Now through October 23 - i.e. the last day of the fair - you can buy tickets at NorthPark for $15 ($3 off the price of admission at the door), and $5 from each ticket purchase will be given directly to the Assist the Officer Foundation, which provides financial assistance to officers who are facing the loss of income due to a serious injury, life-threatening illness, or other catastrophic event.
AdPages.com will be giving away 500 tickets to the fair in the form of family four-packs. To enter for a chance to win, fill out this form on their website. As with many giveaway contests, you can share your entry on Facebook to earn more entries. Winners will be notified between September 26 and October 10; the final day to enter is October 9.
Not everyone can take advantage of this discount, but for anyone coming with a big group, you can rack up the savings. Groups of 20-249 people can get in for $12 each, or $6 off regular admission, which equals the best single ticket price you can normally buy. Groups can also pre-purchase food/ride coupons and get special rental spaces.
Discounts on Midway rides
Tuesdays are a great day to go to the fair. Not only can you get your $5 Dr Pepper ticket, you can save more inside, when all rides except for thrill rides and the Texas Star are six coupons. If you buy a season pass combo and only go on Tuesdays and Thursdays, you've found the perfect way to save a bundle.