Universal Studios $299 VIP line-skipping tours stir online reaction

Angry responses to Universal Studios Hollywood's plan to sell VIP line-cutting passes quickly dotted social media after a New York Times article this weekend brought the plan to a broader audience's attention.

In March, Universal Studios, a subsidiary of NBC Universal, the parent company of NBC News, announced a new VIP package tour, allowing customers to pay $299 to skip lines, get reserved seating on rides, valet parking, and eat catered meals. A regular ticket costs $80 and one with more limited line-skipping privileges costs $149.

Universal's other U.S. theme parks, Universal Studios Florida and Universal's Islands of Adventure, sell a VIP tour for $229 guaranteeing "priority entrance" into a minimum of eight rides.

However, It wasn't until the New York Times this weekend published "At Theme Parks, a V.I.P. Ticket to Ride" that Twitter really sat up and noticed.

Within a few hours the story was trending on the New York Times site. In social media, some commentators expressed simple anger.

"This really pisses me off," tweeted ‏@Friedenberg_IST. "Makes me want to punch everything," tweeted @meggomaheggo. "Boycott!" tweeted @tillzen.

The New York Times zeroed in on the likely source of the frustration in the article's first sentences. "Theme parks have traditionally been the ultimate melting pots," wrote the Times.

"Tourists, retirees, rowdy teenagers, families and fathers who would rather be golfing are all thrown together in an egalitarian experience in which the line for one is the line for all, and cotton candy is the food of the masses. Not anymore."

Some on Twitter cited it as an example of the growing stratification of American society.

"Universal Studios theme park engages in class warfare with VIP tickets," ran Gawker blog Jezebel's headline. "We are, more and more, a class-based society," tweeted @JohnMedaille. "No desire to mingle with the masses? No problem, for a price," tweeted columnist @ConnieSchultz. "lol the Universal VIP tix comes with hand sanitizer in case you brush against one of those disgusting poors while skipping them in line," tweeted @JoseEgan.

However, in light of a recent Disneyland line-cutting story that garnered controversy, it's at least "Better than ppl hiring handicapped "guides" to cut the lines," tweeted @SCJoson.

A few of those in the industry praised Universal Studio's move.

It's "market segmentation," noted @AnalyticGlobal, whose profile bills itself as "the leader in marketing analytics consulting and software services." The practice is "customer driven price discrimination done right," tweeted @rags, a pricing strategist.

Others noted that the practice of charging people extra to get in first and get a better experience is hardly revolutionary.

"Who are those people that sit in the front of the airplane passenger section and boarded through a special line? Not new," tweeted @daswenson.

Meanwhile, customers who had opted for the pass seemed pleased with their experience. "Nothing like having VIP access and riding up elevators to every ride at Universal #ScrewLines," tweeted @ConnorCullian in late March. "I have done the VIP Tour 4 Times and I love it more each time," tweeted @DGDXAnimation. "Bout to get this VIP trip in universal #wedontwaitinlines !" tweeted @Robert15Jgod.

Universal Studios did not respond to a request for comment.