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Is Bowling Expensive? The Real Costs of Bowling Balls, Shoes, Lane Fees and More

  • Reading time:13 mins read

Bowling is one of America’s most popular pastimes. With over 70 million people hitting the lanes every year, it provides fun for all ages.

But a recent bowling outing left me shocked at just how expensive a couple games can be. Between shoe rentals, lane fees, and grabbing some nachos at the alley’s cafe, the costs really add up quickly.

This made me wonder – is bowling really that expensive of a hobby? Or are there ways to knock down those pesky pins without breaking the bank?

In this article, we’ll take a detailed look at the various costs associated with bowling. You’ll see a breakdown of lane rental fees, equipment prices, added league and club memberships, and more. I’ll also provide some insider tips to help you save money on your next bowling adventure.

By the end of this article, you’ll have a solid understanding of bowling’s true affordability. Time to lace up those shoes and roll!

The Costs of Lane Rentals

The biggest factor affecting the price per game is the bowling alley itself. Location, time of day, and demand all impact how much you’ll pay for lane time.

Peak vs. Non-Peak Hours

Just like airfare and hotel rates, bowling alley lane fees fluctuate based on peak demand times. The most expensive times to bowl are Friday and Saturday evenings after 7 pm. That’s when bowling leagues, parties, and family gatherings pack the center. Prices are also higher on weekends and holidays when more people are looking to bowl.

You can save money by bowling during off-peak times like weekday mornings and afternoons when the lanes are less crowded. Some bowling alleys offer special discounts on lane rentals before 5 pm to attract customers. Taking advantage of these “early bird specials” is an easy way to score savings.

Rates Per Game

So how much does one game of bowling typically cost? The average price for a single game is $5-$7 per person during non-peak hours. When demand is high on weekends and evenings, expect to pay $8-$12 per game in major cities.

Bowling alleys within hotels and resorts also tend to charge higher lane rental fees. For example, booking a lane at The Venetian in Las Vegas runs $60/hour per lane. That shakes out to $15 per game once you factor in shoe rentals.

On the other hand, you can find cheaper alley rates at under $5 per game in small towns and non-urban areas. Just beware of run-down lanes with lousy pin machines and worn down lanes. You get what you pay for.

Unlimited Bowling Deals

To maximize lane time, consider paying for an unlimited bowling package. These allow you to bowl as many games as you want within a set block of time. Packages usually span about 90 minutes to 2 hours.

Unlimited bowling rates range from $15-$25 per person depending on location. While it seems pricey upfront, you can bowl 6+ games in that time frame. That brings the per game cost down significantly. Bring a group to split the package price and it’s a even better value.

Leagues and Equipment Rentals

Joining a recreational league provides another chance to lower bowling costs by splitting lane time with others. League fees run $15-$30 per week for 2-3 games plus shoe rentals. Not only does this offer team camaraderie and friendly competition, but it locks in consistent alley time at a reasonable rate.

Many bowling alleys also offer ball and shoe package deals to league members. These allow unlimited free rentals during league nights. That eliminates extra rental fees each time you bowl.

Buying vs. Renting Gear

Serious bowlers end up buying their own custom ball and bowling shoes. But new equipment comes with hefty price tags. You can rent gear as a beginner for just a few dollars per visit. But buying your own offers benefits over the long run.

Bowling Balls

A brand new bowling ball from a top brand like Storm or Brunswick costs $150 and up. Higher-end balls with reactive resin coverstocks run over $200. Drilling and fitting fees add $50-100 to a new ball purchase.

However, there are deals on used equipment at bowling pro shops and resellers. You can find quality used balls for $40-$75 without drilling. This saves a ton over buying new. Look for barely-used balls from bowlers who gave up the sport quickly.


Bowling shoes seem simple enough. But slide soles and traction bottoms require specific engineering. New pair of name brand shoes like Dexter run $55-$150. High-performance models with interchangeable soles push close to $200.

Renting shoes costs around $5 each time. At two games per week, renting adds up to $520 yearly. Buying used shoes instead saves money in the long run. Gently worn shoes cost $20-$40 if you know your size and preferences already.

Other Gear

Bowling bags to stow multiple balls cost $50+ for basic options. Upgrade to rolling bags at $100-$300. Wrist supports and gloves also have specialty designs for bowlers costing $20+. While not mandatory, this gear improves convenience and performance.

Added Fees and Memberships

Bowling alleys provide more than just lanes to roll strikes on. You also have to account for any added fees, food and beverage costs, and club memberships.

Food and Drink Costs

Remember the iconic scene in The Big Lebowski where The Dude enjoys a white russian at the alley’s bar? Bowling centers today still make big profits on food and drink orders. The average bowling alley generates 85% of revenue from its lounge and cafe versus just 15% from lane rentals.

A single game with no food or drinks purchased keeps costs low. But a round of beers, nachos, pizza, and soda for a family or group adds $20-$50 typically. Budget accordingly if you plan to dine at the alley. Or eat beforehand to avoid impulse orders.

Bowling League Fees

Joining a weekly league requires paying membership dues and league fees upfront. Recreational league fees range $25-$45 per person for a 10-12 week season. More competitive scratch leagues charge $50-$75 per bowler. Youth leagues cost slightly less around $15-$25.

This covers operational costs for the league – lane rentals, awards, prizes,banquets, etc. League bowling has upfront costs but results in consistent alley time at reduced rates.

Pro Shops and Drilling Work

Visiting the bowling alley’s pro shop brings added costs when buying new equipment. Pro shop staffers provide expertise in selecting and fitting balls based on your bowling style, stance, release, and more.

Once purchased, balls require drilling holes for your fingers. Simple conventional grips cost $25-$35 on top of the ball price. More complex fingertip drilling with custom thumb inserts runs $50-$100. Lifetime grip adjustments average $25-$35 per visit.

Club Memberships

For committed bowlers, paying for an annual club membership plan at your favorite alley provides perks. A basic membership giving discounts on open bowling and equipment typically costs $29-$49 per year. Premium tiers run up to $99-$150 annually for free game cards, league discounts, merch, early lane access, and more.

Memberships pay for themselves quickly with frequent bowling. But only opt for a plan if you’ll visit often enough to maximize the added benefits.

Transportation Expenses

Don’t forget about transportation costs! Regular bowlers make frequent trips to the lanes. The cost of gas or ride shares to and from the bowling alley adds up. Bowling venues in bigger metros often charge pricey parking lot fees too, especially downtown.

To save money, try carpooling with teammates for league nights. Or use public transit if available in your area. Walking or biking works for alleys closeby, and it burns calories too!

Ways to Save Money on Bowling

After seeing the many expenses associated with bowling, you may be shocked at the total costs. But there are also plenty of ways to knock down those prices with insider tips and money-saving strategies.

Here are my top ways to bowl often and spare your budget:

  • Hit afternoon happy hours for discounted games and shoe rentals. Most bowling alleys offer reduced rates in the early evenings.
  • Sign up for email lists and social accounts to take advantage of online coupons and specials. Your inbox is the alley’s ad space.
  • Split lanes with more bowlers to reduce your share of lane fees. Get a full six person team together on a lane.
  • Share gear and food costs with friends to save on rentals and grub. Split nachos instead of everyone ordering separately.
  • Purchase used equipment to avoid expensive new gear costs. Shop resale pro shops and bowling forums.
  • Join a league to lock in consistent discounted lane time with teammates over solo trips.
  • Take advantage of unlimited bowling deals during off-peak times to maximize your lane time.
  • Check hotel package deals that bundle bowling with discounted room rates and perks.
  • Buy annual alley membership plans if you’ll bowl frequently enough to break even on upfront fees.
  • Only opt for bowl extras like drinks, food, and equipment rentals when you need them to control variable costs.
  • Drive less and carpool when possible to save on gas and parking fees to get to the alley.

With insider knowledge and smart spending tactics, you can avoid leaving the bowling alley with sticker shock. Careful choices allow you to keep striking those pins without striking out your wallet.

The Takeaway: Bowling Has Affordable Options

When tallying up all the potential costs – lane rentals, shoe and ball rentals, food and drink orders, league fees, and more – bowling can get very expensive, especially if you go frequently to upscale alleys in major cities.

But there are also plenty of ways to lower costs through off-peak timing, splitting fees with groups, buying used gear, using discounts and coupons, and more.

At the end of the day, bowling offers entertainment and activity at a reasonable price compared to many other hobbies.

You ultimately get great value from the fun times and memories bowling creates. Don’t let the costs deter you from hitting the lanes when you get the itch to roll. With smart strategies, it is possible to spare your budget and still enjoy this classic American pastime.

So grab your friends and family or competitive teammates and head down to the alley soon. Don’t let the sound of crashing pins derail you from bowling over sticker shock. There are plenty of tricks even the most casual hobbyist bowler can utilize to avoid any budget gutterballs.

Now get out there, lace up, and roll with confidence! I hope this breakdown helps you save money on your next bowling outing. Until then, may the strikes be with you!

Frequently Asked Questions

Is bowling an expensive sport?

Bowling can be an expensive sport if you are buying brand new balls, shoes, accessories, and bowling frequently. However, there are ways to lower costs by bowling during off-peak hours, using rental equipment, joining leagues to get discounts, and buying used gear. Overall, bowling is more affordable than many other sports or hobbies.

How long does it take to bowl 1 game?

One game of bowling typically takes 15-20 minutes if playing with 4-6 people per lane. With less people, games go faster at around 10-15 minutes. With more people rotating on a lane, games can take 20-30+ minutes.

Why are bowling reservations so expensive?

Bowling alley lane reservations are most expensive during peak hours on weekends and evenings when demand is highest. Lanes cost less at non-peak times like weekday mornings. Reserving a lane also guarantees the space, so some pricing premium applies versus just walking in.

How many games of bowling do you need?

For a fun casual outing, 2-3 games per person is usually sufficient. For more serious bowlers, 5+ games allows time to get in a groove and work on technique. League play often spans 3 games per session or matchup. Ultimately, play however many games fit your budget and schedule.

What sports cost the most money?

Some of the most expensive sports based on gear, fees, travel costs include golf, sailing, horseback riding, auto racing, and flying personal planes or gliders. The least expensive sports are ones requiring minimal gear like running, basketball, soccer, tennis.

What sport is more expensive?

Of mainstream sports, golf and auto racing (NASCAR) tend to be among the most expensive due to equipment costs and facility fees. Winter sports like downhill skiing also carry high costs for lifts, slopes fees, and gear. Bowling falls more midrange versus low cost sports like basketball and high cost ones like sailing.

Do I have to wear bowling shoes?

Bowling shoes are required at pretty much all public bowling alleys for safety and preventing damage to the lanes. The slide soles allow bowlers to complete their approach smoothly. Rental shoes are available if you don’t have your own.

Is bowling good for a first date?

Yes, bowling can make for a fun, relaxed first date! It provides an activity to break the ice but still allows talking and getting to know each other. Taking turns and friendly competition also reveals personalities. Avoid overly crowded times for a better 1-on-1 experience.

How do you score in bowling?

In bowling, you score points by knocking down pins. A strike knocks down all 10 pins on the first roll and earns 10 points plus the next two rolls. A spare knocks them all down in two rolls, earning 10 points plus the next roll. An open frame with pins left standing just earns points from pins knocked down. The goal is to have the highest total pinfall after all frames.