Sunday, February 12, 2012

Buying an Annual Pass: Is It Right for You?

If you go to Disney World more than once a year, or if you go for very long trips, you might consider buying an annual pass (AP), however, while it may make perfect sense for frequent park guests to purchase an AP, the real problem is this: The cost.  An annual pass will set you back around $550.  It also requires you to predict your travel plans a full year in advance, so you won’t know what you'll save, if anything, until the year is up. 

One way to gauge what you'll save by buying an AP is to estimate your savings based on AP discounts and benefits:
  • Free parking, which saves non-resort guests $14 a day.
  • Discounted tickets to Night of Joy, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, and Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party on select nights.
  • 10% off lunch discounts at certain resort restaurants, such as The Wave and the Grand Floridian CafĂ© as well as most sit-down restaurants in Epcot’s World Showcase (excluding Le Cellier). Valid Monday thru Friday only.
  • 10 to 20% off lunch at most Downtown Disney sit-down restaurants.
  • Merchandise discounts in the parks and Downtown Disney between 10-15 %.
  • 15% off most tours, such as the Epcot Segway tour.
  • Up 30% off sports and recreation, including golf.
  • AP holders may buy a Tables in Wonderland card for an additional $75, allowing them to receive 20% off at participating restaurants.  You'll need to spend around $350 in food and beverages to break even on the TIW card.
  • Invitations to passholder-only events and promotions. A few years ago, for example, passholders were invited to soft openings for Toy Story Midway Mania before the general public.

One thing that makes estimating the value of an AP difficult is the variability of the AP room discount. While AP discount room rates are fairly consistent and often cover more travel dates than general public discounts, they're usually only slightly better than general public rates if they're available at that time.  Further, they often don't include standard rooms so you can sometimes pay more for your discounted AP room than you would with a general public discount. That's fine if you want an upgraded room, but if you don't care about getting one, it really doesn't make sense to pay more.  Finally, AP rates tend to come out closer to travel than regular discounts, making it stressful not knowing what you'll end up paying until close to your trip.
Conventional wisdom says you’ll break even on an Annual Pass if you’ll be in the parks for more than ten days in a given year, but I actually think you can spend fewer days and still benefit, depending on how you travel.  Say you take a six day trip to WDW and then, later in the year, you head back for a long weekend and need a three day pass. The cost of tickets for both of those trips combined would roughly equal the cost of the annual pass.  Further, if you always add the park hopper option, even with just two long weekend trips, you'd break even with an annual pass.  And that’s not adding in AP discounts, which you may or may not use. Even if you aren’t the type of person who goes to Disney World more than once a year, you can still benefit from buying AP. Many passholders schedule two trips, one when they activate their pass and one just before it expires. 

Buying an annual pass requires you to predict how you’ll vacation in the upcoming year. It can be a huge savings. It can also, as a couple of passholder friends of mine pointed out, “burn a hole in your pocket,” making you want to go to Disney World more than usual or perhaps even more than you should.  But if you do the "Disney math" and find that you're going on at least two long weekend trips a year, an AP might be your ticket to saving a little bit of money.


Blondie said...

Thanks for this, Chris!

Our trip in November will cost us $1200 in tickets alone. (APs would be ~$2000 for the four of us.) My interest does not include the room discounts but in the flexibility of traveling whenever.

A drive to Disney is nothing for me - our parents all live in Alabama and the trip to Disney is only 40 miles more! My husband travels once a month and I REALLY like the idea of traveling with the kiddos to some place fun (we homeschool so the homeschool days appeal, too) on occasion.

I actually don't plan to buy the AP until November even though we have one day tickets for next week. Of course, things change and we may just upgrade next week.

Thanks again!

Lisa Battista said...

Hi Chris,

We try to take a longer family vacation every year and then squeeze in at least one shorter trip. Unfortunately, with small kids, it can sometimes be tough to guarantee the second or even third trip. Life happens. This makes it a bit tougher to decide whether to purchase the AP or not.

Just as you've suggested, we've started to plan our annual trip in year 2 a week or two before our AP expires. This guarantees we'll take at least two trips with our Annual Passes. Add in the discount for DVC members and Tables in Wonderland discounts and we're very happy Annual Passholders.

Virginia bed and breakfast | Victorian inn bed and breakfast | Romantic bed and breakfasts said...

My friends and I have SoCal passes and our passes are expired. We are planning for our tour to Disneyland and it one more time that we have to renew. However, we decide that we would not renew for our next tour to Disneyland. We would just purchase a new one.

Best Regards,

mary said...

I don't know if this promotion will be extended, but WDW was running an annual pass renewal deal for existing passholders. If you renew within 30 days before or after the expiration date, you get an extra three months for free. So, if you bought an annual pass in 2009, and are debating about renewing, just remember that this deal is available. You can renew online, on the phone or at the park.

Lisa Battista said...

See, math is your friend.

Savvy Diva said...

I live in Orlando and my fiancee and I both have premium Annual Passes, including access to the water parks and Disney Quest. For us, the annual pass was absolutely worth the cost. Sure, initially its a pretty big investment, but being that we go to a park 2 to 3 times a month, we have absolutely gotten our moneys worth. For anyone visiting the parks more than 2 to 3 times per year for multiple days, this is a great investment.