I'm shuttling my youngest son through Texas this week, and it's all Six Flags' (NYSE:SIX) fault. Earlier this summer, I bought a season pass at Six Flags Over Georgia for my family. I wound up tacking on a pair of season-long dining passes that came with a pair of refillable drink bottles.
I had justified the purchase just on the three days that I would be spending in Atlanta. My improv comedy troupe was invited to perform at Atlanta's Dad's Garage, and I figured I'd venture out a few days earlier with the family to check out the regional amusement park that I hadn't visited since I was a teen. The prices were right at $67.99 for the season-long park pass, and $92.99 for the premium dining plan that includes a lunch entree, snack, and dinner entree as well as a decorative water bottle that's good for unlimited soft-drink refills at no additional cost.
The fact that the park and dining passes as well as the refillable bottle would be good at any Six Flags park seemed like an afterthought at the time, but something happens to your decision-making process when you're handed an unlimited opportunity. A few weeks later, we visited my elder son in New York City, and armed with Six Flags-issued plastic, we pieced together a day trip out to Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey. This week, I decided to reward my younger son with a trip before he starts school again later this year, with both of us checking out Six Flags Fiesta Texas and Six Flags Over Texas for the first time.
Going up that hill
All of the major theme parks and regional amusement park operators offer season passes, but few price them as aggressively as Six Flags. Prices vary by park, but the garden-variety Six Flags pass is always just a little more than a single-day ticket. Six Flags is also one of the few players to throw in access to all of its properties, something that it can do because most season pass holders are locals who won't venture out to other locations.
The dining plan is also unique. It's been offered for a couple of years now, and SeaWorld Entertainment (NYSE:SEAS) tried to follow its lead by rolling out a plan late in 2016 that would be good through the end of 2017. SeaWorld didn't bring it back this year, so it seemingly didn't prove to be cost effective. Six Flags with a few years under its belt obviously sees things differently.
I've spent a lot more money on my visits to four different Six Flags parks this summer, but the bad news for shareholders is that very little of that money outside of the initial outlay has gone to Six Flags. New Jersey Transit scored on my family's trip to Six Flags, but we didn't spend much more outside of the meal plan. The only new money that Six Flags Fiesta Texas and Six Flags Over Texas on Wednesday have seen from me was the $25 parking charge for the San Antonio park as I hadn't realized that the parking pass included in my season pass was only good for the Atlanta attractions. I've relied on hotel shuttles and ridesharing services after my initial oversight. In short, I've spent a lot of money to fly out to Texas and cover three nights of lodging, but Six Flags hasn't seen any of it.
Right now, it would seem as if Six Flags doesn't need my dough. Revenue growth exceeded all of the other parks during the first quarter, fueled mostly by the timing of the Easter holiday, a new waterpark in Mexico, and going to year-round operations at California's Six Flags Magic Mountain. However, it still grew its top line at a respectable 5% in the second quarter -- despite the headwinds -- with increasing attendance and guest spending.
Six Flags is trying to do a better job of monetizing folks on its all-you-can-ride and all-you-can-eat smorgasbords. It's tacking on small surcharges to some premium items that weren't part of the meal plans before, angling at incremental revenue. Six Flags is also revamping its membership program this week, introducing new loyalty perks where frequent visitors can rack up points that can be used for merchandise and unique experiences.
Six Flags is doing a lot of things right. I'm getting a lot out of my Six Flags passes this year and, hopefully, next year it will do a better job of getting more out of me.