Entrance to the beloved The Metropolitan Museum of Art costs a "suggested" price of $25 for adults. But nobody's quite sure what that suggestion means, or whether it's even legal.
The Met asks its adult visitors to pay the recommended fee for entry, but the $25 price is just that — a recommendation. However, international travelers often fail to understand the difference, and can feel duped once they realize that the asking price was not required. Those internationals could soon be getting their day in court, as a lawsuit in the State Supreme Court accuses the Met of fraud for burying the fee's "suggested" status to a mere unbolded footnote on signs.
Another lawsuit, too, accuses the Met of reneging on its lease from the late 19th century with New York City, which agreed that the museum would be free most days of the week. Technically, there is a minimum fee, but it needn't be restrictive, as art lovers can in fact pay as little as a penny for entrance. But there's certainly a "murkiness" around the pricing, The New York Times explains, as visitors have to balance their own budget with feelings of guilt or being seen as cheap. The plaintiffs behind this case commissioned their own study that unsurprisingly supported its argument, and found that 85% of nonmembers believed they had to pay some fee to see the Van Goghs and Picassos.
“I know lifetime New Yorkers who don’t quite know what it all means,” Andrew Celli, Jr., another of the lawyers suing the Met, told The Times. “And it’s much harder if you’re not a New Yorker.”
The Met hopes to dismiss the case as "frivolous," but the consequences could be anything but. The museum makes $40 million of its $250 million budget from admissions, a significant chunk of change.
The Met's confusing price structure came under fire most recently with a "deal" on Groupon selling tickets for the low, low price of $18 per person. The tickets' "recommended" status came below the headline price in an asterisked note. Meanwhile, that same group of people could have all spent $18 on their own at the museum as part of the recommended fee. The only difference, as far as we can tell, is that buying the Groupon deal makes people feel like the Met approves of that price and absolves them of feeling any guilt about shorting the museum. Oh, and they'll be able to skip the admissions lines.
The recommended cost is even trickier to understand online. Ticket buyers on the Met's website don't have the luxury of choosing to spend however much they want, and can either choose to pay $12 as a student, $17 as a senior, or the full $25 for adults. In smaller print at the bottom of the screen, the Met gives a full explanation: "If you would like to pay less than full recommended admission, please go directly to The Metropolitan Museum of Art to pay as you wish."
It would be easy to skim over that detail, though. But does a readable footnote count as fraud? And what about the bolded headline blaring "Recommended" on other parts of the site — shouldn't buyers notice that?