Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Why Does a Teen Mania Global Expedition to Panama Cost So Much?

As I Tweeted the other night, I was looking at the Teen Mania mission trips available over the holidays, and I couldn't believe how much an 8 day trip to Panama cost: almost $1900 dollars!

I price hotels and flights fairly regularly....and I've been on a Teen Mania Global Expedition so I am somewhat familiar with what to expect in terms of food and accommodations. Just by looking at the price of the trip, I knew there was no way that TMM's actual expenses were anywhere close to what they were charging. But, in the interest of educating others, I decided to sit down and do the math--so everyone can see just how much profit Teen Mania is making off the backs of teens who decide to go on a Global Expedition.

Actual Expenses:

Round Trip Flight to Panama: $665
Food: $15/day x 8 days = $120
Lodging: $12.50/person/day x 8 days = $100
Ground Transportation: $100/person
Ministry Materials/Supplies/Misc = $75/person
Leadership Subsidies - $75/person
TOTAL: $1135


DIFFERENCE (aka "profit margin"): $739 (39.4% of the trip price)

Now, since I'm sure there will be arguments about how I arrived at these figures, let me take a moment to explain.

Round Trip Flight to Panama: This is probably the biggest trip expense that Teen Mania has the least amount of control over. I looked up round-trip flights from Miami (where the trip starts) to Panama City for the trip dates on I assumed that Teen Mania would pick the cheapest flight.

Food: As anyone who has ever been on a Global Expedition knows, the food on Teen Mania missions trips isn't the best. A lot of times, teens are served nothing but peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch or dinner. Local churches in host countries also often feed the teenage missionaries at no expense to Teen Mania. Restaurant meals are rare on Teen Mania missions trips. I alloted $15/day/person for food, although the actual expense to Teen Mania could be much lower depending on their reliance on local churches and/or PB&J.

Lodging: One of the better hotels I could find in Panama City was $50/night, and this is the price I used in my calculations. Many hotels in Panama City were only $20 or $30 per night, so Teen Mania could definitely find cheaper accommodations than the ones I used in my math. I also assumed that teens would only have to sleep 4 to a hotel room, although I know it is a regular occurrence for TMM to try to squeeze 6 or more people into a hotel room on missions trips. This also assumes Teen Mania even springs for a hotel room--on many trips, teens simply sleep on the floor of a local church (or even prison!) at zero expense to Teen Mania Ministries.

Ground Transportation: I allotted $100 for buses/vans to transport teens to ministry sites while in Panama, although this seems a bit high to me for a Central American country. I believe this figure represents the most Teen Mania could possibly spend transporting teen missionaries in Panama. I know that a lot of time local churches donate the use of their vehicles to TMM, so their actual ground transportation expenses per missionary could be much less.

Ministry Materials/Supplies/Misc.: In my experience, Teen Mania doesn't spend a whole lot of money on ministry supplies. On my missions trip, the only thing they "gave" us that would fall into this category was the costume for our drama--which we didn't get to keep, was poorly made, and obviously worth less than $10. But, I decided to give TMM the benefit of the doubt, and I used this category to account for expenses that might not to fall into any other category.

Leadership Subsidies: Finally, the project directors, team leaders, etc., that help TMM on their Global Expedition trips receive a discount on the cost of their trip. The discount isn't very much, and the leaders definitely still give Teen Mania money to go on the missions trip. But, in the interest of fairness, I allotted $75 per full price participant to help offset the cost to Teen Mania of providing this leadership discount.

I think this is definitely a very fair assessment of the actual cost to Teen Mania to send a teen to Panama for 8 days given the typical TMM level of accommodations. As you can see, Teen Mania Ministries stands to make a lot of money by recruiting the maximum number of participants for this missions trip. If they get just 100 teens to go on the trip, and make $739 on each one, that's almost $74,000 extra they have in the bank. That's not exactly chump change.

In fact, it's no secret that Teen Mania has built in a "profit margin" to their summer & holiday missions trips, and this extra money is what enables them to take a loss on expensive stadium events and the Honor Academy. Teen Mania leadership freely admits that this margin is what covers the "overhead" of the massive ministry.

So, when your kid asks you if he/she can go on a Teen Mania missions trip, keep in mind that you're not just paying for their travel expenses--you're also paying for a huge campus in Texas, flashy pyrotechnics at Acquire the Fire events, and extravagant salaries for Ron Luce, Dave Hasz, and other key Teen Mania employees. The fact of the matter is, just about any other organization that takes people on missions trips is going to charge less than Teen Mania. A quick Google search revealed that I could actually take a month long missions trip to Panama for $500 less than Teen Mania is charging to go for eight days. Plus, you can avoid dealing with an organization that many have labelled a "cult" and that is currently dealing with serious accusations of physical and spiritual abuse.

Short-term missions trips can definitely be a positive learning experience for Christian teens. But make the smart decision--skip the overpriced Teen Mania Global Expedition and find a more affordable trip with a local church or ministry.


  1. As you mentioned, people should also keep in mind that they are supporting TM's "internship" program and take a look here at what they're money is going toward.

  2. I am almost positive that the hotel TM Missionaries stay at every year is called Aramo Hotel. Their website shows $70.00 a night, though I'm sure they give TM a discount for renting so many rooms at once.

  3. Cult Cult Cult Cult Cult Cult!

  4. I've been on 3 trips with GE and would not trade the experiences I've had for the world. We had great food. Yes, we had PB & J for lunch. But we also had cookies, fruit, drinks, and several other things with it. Maybe ONE or TWO meals had to be paid for, but you still had the option of packing a lunch of PB &J instead. And everybody has to be able to fit on the same plane. That might not be an option with the cheapest fair.

  5. Layne--thanks for the info about the hotel TMM usually stays at! :) I'm sure Teen Mania is able to negotiate a group rate, and I believe that my calculations would be accurate even if the hotel did cost slightly more. I gave them lots of "wiggle room" with the number of teens they house per room, and accounted for "miscellaneous" expenses. So I still think my calculations are pretty close.

    Anon on 10/24/2010 - I'm glad you had a good experience on your GE, but LOTS of other people have had horrible experiences on their trips, including me. I'm sure they had some other "snacks" in addition to the PB&J, but the point I was trying to make is that their food cost per missionary is extremely low, and not nearly enough to account for the inflated prices they charge for their trips.

  6. Do you really believe that Teen Mania doesn't leave a penny for the people who help year round in Panama? How about the communities they work with? I recently heard the stories of how their contributions built a community of christians and eventually the foundation of a church. I pray that what you are doing doesn't reach one potential missionary that would have the priviledge to take part in that. Aquire the Fire and the Honor Academy are in the black. GE does not give a penny to them. Yes, there is a staff that has to rely on some small overhead that is left to be able to work for less than standard salaries because they believe in what is happening. I know you'll probably delete this too, but I hope you at least take a second to think about the damage you could do to something that is improving everyday and still makes a huge positive impact in places like Panama.

  7. First off, ATF and HA are NOT in the black....some years ATFs come close to "breaking even," but other years Teen Mania has literally lost millions of dollars on their live events. The HA may come a little closer to "break even status" on a more regular basis, but again, there are years that the HA has lost money as well.

    Regardless, the original point of this post still stands: Teen Mania overcharges for their missions trips because they need to make money to pay massive overhead expenses. I'm not denying that good work has been done in Panama, or that a missions trip can be a great experience for a teen. But I am saying that there is no reason to pay 2 or 3 times as much to go on a trip with Teen Mania compared to a local church or smaller missions organization. I don't think God is "using" the Teen Mania teens two or three times as much as the ones who paid less for their trips elsewhere.

  8. In case someone comes across this and wonders how much is given to nationals let me point out this. I became friends with our Translator in Mexico when I was in college as she was one year younger than me and the head pastor for our contact church's daughter. We talked about what TM did and didn't pay for. They gave the Church a flat donation (less than the cost of ONE missionary's trip) of about 400-600 dollars per 2 weeks they were allowed to use their faclitities. This was at a church that was also a housing unit for the missionaries. With this the Church had to pay translators that were not family (most were under age 20) they had to pay for bus upkeep and gas as well as their drivers. Plus all the upkeep on the shower house ect. The rest was donated by the church and they NEVER broke even from having TM stay there. They made more money off of the BOUGHT candies and cookies that were concessions to the missionaries directly as most of us would donate more than our candy or soda was worth than they did from Teen Mania in total for a full summer of 3 two week sessions. The last straw was when my friend went to college in Colorado and looked at how much they were charging Missionaries to Go to Mexico with no plane flight vrs how much her family's church got for taking care of upwards of 120 students at 2 weeks at a time.

    If you ever think to go on a Teen Mania trip or if you feel it's your only option please take the time to see if there are other groups that can connect you directly to the church's specifically in South and Central America

  9. I love GE mission trips. :) Don't listen to slander.

  10. Mission trip for junior and senior high youth groups. Workcampers “work” during the day and “camp” at a school during the night.The purpose of our Teen Missions Trip is to help people in need .

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    Teen Missions Trip

  12. Interesting. I took 3, month-long trips with Teen Mania in the early to mid-90's (India, Panama, and Botswana). We certainly did eat a lot of PB&J...and not only that, but TM didn't pay for it. Each teen was required to BRING 1 can each of peanut butter and jelly. That said, there was a lot of good in my experiences...but the spiritual pressure and focus on faith healing and such affected me in ways that are still bubbling to the surface. Meanwhile, I am now atheist, and happy to be so. TM had one thing right: If the truth shall set you free, you are free indeed. ;)