Thoughts on Seasonal Pricing at Disney World

NOTE: This post will cover just the new Seasonal Pricing aspect of today’s price increase. Reaction to the multi-day ticket increase will be covered in a separate post.

As we (and every other Disney site on the Interwebs) reported earlier today, Disney World introduced seasonal pricing as part of its ticket price increase. The basic explanation is that the year is now broken up into Value, Regular and Peak “seasons” and 1-day tickets differ in pricing from season to season (You can read all the details here).

No matter the Season, you can always relax at Crescent Lake
No matter the Season, you can always relax at Crescent Lake

After seeing the Season pricing proposals earlier this Summer, I was pleasantly surprised with how the actual implementation of Seasonal Pricing took place. (Notice I’m not saying I’m “pleased that they implemented Seasonal Pricing”, I’m just happy with how they decided to implement if they had already decided they were going to do it.) First, Disney only applied the Seasonal Pricing to 1-day tickets. This alleviates a lot of the issues where people who had multi-day trips across the “seasons” would have been forced to buy tickets for the most expensive of the seasons in their trip. Relatedly, as was discussed on the above linked TouringPlans article and on WDW Today, the original “Seasons” had almost all weekend days listed as “Silver” or above (Disney decided to use Value, Regular and Peak for its Seasons instead of the Bronze, Silver, Gold structure it used in the survey that started all this discussion, but the concepts remain the same.) In the actual implementation, Disney generally left weekends as part of the same season as the weekdays surrounding it. Again, this could alleviate some of the “cross season” concerns when Disney implements Seasonal Pricing on multi-day tickets. (I think it’s safe to assume multi-day Season Pricing is coming within the next few years, so hopefully Disney continues to divide its “seasons” up the same way in the future.)

The actual division of the seasons was also a little interesting. I know that “Spring Break” is considered a popular time at Disney World, but I’m surprised to find it part of the new Peak Season (and, therefore, have the same price as the Summer and Christmas.) Similarly, I’m surprised to find that the 1st and 2nd weeks of December are part of the Regular Season instead of the Value Season, since they’re usually considered some of the lowest crowd times at Disney World. (Even the some of the “higher” crowd levels last year seem to suggest those weeks could have been value. Sorry, Howie.) Maybe Len Testa isn’t that far off the mark when he says that Value Season is “hurricane season” and Peak Season is “when your kids are out of school.”

In summary, I think we got (at least?) a 1 year reprieve from a full-on implementation of Seasonal Pricing for the multi-day tickets that a majority of Disney World guests purchase. We also ended up with a much more customer-friendly version of the “seasons” calendar than was originally rumored (I hope that holds true in future years.) Though I wish we weren’t moving to surge pricing at all, I’m pleasantly surprised by this particular implementation.

Initial Breakdown of the February 2016 Disney World Ticket Price Increase

As was expected, Disney World rolled out a new price increase this morning. It featured the “seasonal / tiered / surge” pricing that people had been expecting (Disney calls it “Seasonal” pricing, so I guess that’s what I’ll go with), but (thankfully?) only applied that pricing structure to 1-day tickets. Multi-day tickets will continue to have the same prices throughout every day of the year.

Here is an explanation of the new “seasonal” and multi-day pricing changes: (There will be more analysis and reaction coming in a separate post, later.)

Seasonal Pricing

Seasonal pricing is for single day tickets only and is based on a calendar that’s available when you choose to buy a single day ticket on Disney World’s website (the calendar currently only lists “seasons” through the end of 2016). It divides the entire calendar into 3 different “seasons”: Value, Regular, and Peak (and like Disney’s hotel “seasons”, they don’t align with traditional summer, spring, etc… seasons at all.)

NOTE: As you might expect, you can use a higher tiered ticket for a lower tiered day (e.g., Peak Season ticket on a Value Season day), but you can’t go the other way around.

Here is the breakdown for the Disney World price “seasons” for the rest of the year:

  • February 28 through March 3 – Value
  • March 4 through 10 – Regular
  • March 11 through April 2 – Peak
  • April 3 through May 26 – Regular
  • May 27 through July 23 – Peak
  • July 24 through August 21 – Regular
  • August 22 through September 29 – Value
  • September 30 through November 19 – Regular
  • November 20 through November 27 – Peak
  • November 28 through December 21 – Regular
  • December 22 through December 31 – Peak

Though I plan on writing about this more later, two things jump out at me: (1) I’m really glad Disney didn’t just make every weekend day part of a Regular Season or above; and (2) it’s interesting that early December (normally thought of as one of the lower crowd times) has been marked as a “Regular” season.

The pricing for the various seasons is as follows (NOTE: All prices are without tax):

Value Season

  • Magic Kingdom – $105
  • Epcot, Animal Kingdom, The Studios – $97
  • Park Hopper- $155

Regular Season

  • Magic Kingdom – $110
  • Epcot, Animal Kingdom, The Studios – $102
  • Park Hopper – $160

Peak Season

  • Magic Kingdom – $124
  • Epcot, Animal Kingdom, The Studios – $114
  • Park Hopper – $164

The Value Season 1 Park tickets are actually the same prices that those same tickets were in 2015. The Regular Season tickets get a $5 bump across the board, while Peak Season gets a whopping $19 per ticket increase over Value Season when talking about the Magic Kingdom, $17 for the other parks and $9 for a Park Hopper.

All 1-Day tickets purchased this year must be used by December 31, 2017 or they “expire.” (Thankfully, you can get the amount you paid for your “expired” tickets as a credit to use  for purchasing new tickets at the then existing prices.)

Multi-day Tickets

Multi-day tickets also got a (more standard) price increase of $5 per day. In other words:

  • 2-Day Ticket – $202 ($10 increase)
  • 3-Day Ticket – $290 ($15 increase)
  • 4-Day Ticket – $325 ($20 increase)
  • 5-Day Ticket – $340 ($25 increase)
  • 6-Day Ticket – $355 ($30 increase)
  • 7-Day Ticket – $370 ($35 increase)

The Park Hopper option went up $5 dollars as well (it’s now $55 for tickets of 1 to 3 days and $69 for tickets of 4+ days).

Summary

As I mentioned earlier, I’ll have more to say about this in a bit, but my initial reaction is that things are not as bad as I was expecting (I was convinced that the “seasons” would be more like Disney Hotels and that all weekend days and holidays were would be part of a higher priced “season.”) The $5 per day multi-day ticket increase is pretty much in line with my expectations.

I might have to work a little more to afford Peak Season pricing
I might have to work a little more to afford Peak Season pricing

John’s Guest Appearance on Mighty Men of Mouse Episode 229

The gang at the Mighty Men of Mouse podcast were kind enough to invite me on the show. You can find the episode here.

Here are links to some of the things we talked about:

Disney Annual Pass Price Increase.

Trip Planning – Segmenting

RopeDrop.net

Listener Questions

As always, thank you to the Mighty Men of Mouse guys for having me on the show. Please don’t blame them when I bring the overall quality of the show down.

Reacting to Disney World’s Annual Pass Price Increase

On an upcoming episode of the Mighty Men of Mouse podcast, I briefly discuss my thoughts on the price increase of Disney World annual passes. I frame those thoughts on the idea that they impact “people in Florida” at a much higher level than they impact Disney World guests at large. Thinking things through a bit more, I think my explanation on the podcast lacked some of the nuance that I intended to convey.

When people listen to my reasoning tomorrow, I would anticipate that one major criticism of my opinion is that I fail to account for the impact the price increase has on DVC members. Ultimately, I think is more a failure in my word choice than an actual point against my position. I should have said that the changes in annual pass pricing impact “people in Florida AND DVC MEMBERS” at a different level than it impacts other people who may purchase annual passes. My thoughts are the same for both groups.

The Yacht Club Lighthouse at Dusk
There’s a not of text on this page. I just kind of wanted to break it up. This is a picture of the Lighthouse at the Yacht Club.

My position (which I share with various other theme park commentators) is that Disney World has a certain, definitive capacity that, at peak times, is actually reached. Disney, therefore, has determined that if people who have the “option” of attending the park other times during the year (such as Florida residents and DVC members) want to attend at peak times, those people will pay a premium to do so. Basically, Disney is saying “if you want to take the spots that could go to a family making their only Disney World trip in 2 or 3 years, then you’re going to have to compensate us for that privilege.” I’m not saying thats “right” or “fair”, but it’s the decision that Disney appears to have made. (And it shouldn’t really be a surprise to DVC members who sometimes have to spend almost twice as many points to stay during Christmas as during September.)

A common attack on this pricing approach by Disney has been the idea that “Disney World is punishing its best customers.” I understand that position (and frankly, I would much rather pay the previous $535 to renew my annual pass than the new $635 (before tax)), but Disney has determined that attempting to funnel these “best” customers into non-peak seasons is a better economic strategy than trying to preserve the “loyalty” of certain repeat guests. Only time will tell if this strategy pays off, but I think it’s clear that the strategy is in place.

Lastly, I want to show some of the math that fueled my position that these prices had a disproportional impact on Florida residents and DVC members. As a non-Florida resident, non-DC member, it will cost me $676.28 (including tax) to renew my annual pass next year. Here are a couple of possible trip plans that Elyssa and I have for 2016, along with their combined prices for a Park Hopper pass:

  • Five Day Trip ($367.50) + 2 Two Day Trips ($257.30 * 2) = $882.10
  • Five Day Trip ($367.50) + Three Day Trip ($325) + Two Day Trip ($257.30) = $949.80
  • Five Day Trip ($367.50) + Four Day Trip ($367.50) = $735.00

Buying individual tickets for these trips still comes out to be more expensive than buying an annual pass, even without including the benefits like free parking, photopass downloads, and restaurant discounts that an annual pass provides. (Also, these ticket prices are almost surely going to go up next year, probably in February. At that point, these numbers will look even better.)

NOTE: All ticket prices were found using the lowest price available from the TouringPlans Ticket Calculator (And, yes, the 4 day and 5 day passes do cost the same according to that calculator)

In other words, as someone who is purchasing an annual pass as a way make multiple trips a year, I am still saving money versus buying individual trip tickets. (And also getting some benefits I’ve questioned the value of in the past.) That said, there’s a good chance that I “make up” some of the difference in my annual pass renewal price by having an extra meal or two offsite during those visits (Always feel free to let me know if you want to meet up with Elyssa and me for some G-Mac and Cheese).

In summary, I stand by my position that the annual price increase impacts certain types of guests (Floridian residents and DVC members) more than it impacts regular Disney World travelers, but I wanted to “show my work” a little more than I did when I made those statements on the (soon to be released) podcast.

Your First Visit’s 2017 Walt Disney World Season Projections

For those of us who like to plan far, far in advance, Dave Shute of Your First Visit has posted his projections for Disney World’s 2017 pricing “seasons”. If you’ve been following Walt Disney World pricing for any length of time, you know that Disney World’s seasons don’t really parallel the traditional “spring, summer, fall, winter” calendar. Thankfully, Dave’s post gives us some early indications about when prices at Disney World might be at their highest and lowest.

This information might be especially interesting if there is a Mighty Men of Mouse Listener Vacation in October 2017. According to Dave’s analysis, the end of October (starting with October 15th) might end up having Deluxe Resort prices only 6% higher than the lowest prices of the year.