Boardwalk Inn and Villas. Photo copyright Disney.
I’ve written before about the process of renting Disney Vacation Club (DVC) points and how it’s one of the least expensive ways to stay in Disney’s better resorts while enjoying separate living and sleeping areas, as well as a full kitchen. Briefly, DVC properties are deluxe Disney resorts that are owned by DVC members. Members buy points and can use those points any time of the year that there’s availability. They are a timeshare, but only in the loosest sense of the word: No one will pester you into buying during your stay. When DVC members can’t use their points, they’re allowed to rent them, a process which benefits both renters and owners. Renting DVC points is almost always a better deal from a financial standpoint than going through Disney directly, but it’s important to be careful that you’re not paying too much.
Renting DVC points is not for everyone. Point rentals are and should be a bargain for you and a benefit to the owner because there’s an element of risk involved. If you have to cancel, in most cases you’re out of luck. This isn’t the case with Disney, where your room-only reservation will be refunded right up until a week before your stay. Further, this is a transaction that is based a great deal on trust. You’re probably renting from someone you don’t know, relying on recommendations from previous renters. While the vast majority of points rentals go smoothly, you’re still taking a chance that yours will not.
I am a huge fan of renting DVC points, but I’ve been in the situation where I rented at 11-months out and ended up having a family emergency several weeks before my trip that kept me from going. While I could use my tickets any time and the dining plan had yet to be added, I was in possession of a $2000 rental that I couldn’t use. Because I worked with an owner I knew well, he and I were able to find someone else to take the reservation, but it’s highly unusual for an owner to do this. This isn't because they want to take your money and leave you with nothing, but because of the strict penalties placed on the owner for cancelling close to the reservation.
Before the advent of room discounts, renting DVC points was always the cheapest route to go. For example, a week in a Jambo House (Animal Kingdom Lodge) one-bedroom in January goes for $3780 full price. The points rental for that week is 169 points. At $10 per point, the standard rate, you’ll pay $1690. That’s less than half-price. In fact, it’s actually less than you would pay to stay at a moderate resort, assuming you stayed without a discount. What makes this confusing is that Disney has been discounting rooms for the last few years, meaning that if you shop around carefully, you’ll never pay full-price except during the busiest weeks. Unfortunately, this also requires you to project in advance what a room will cost off the usual rack rate. With the standard 40% off villa discount, that room runs around $2268 for the week, clearly still a good deal, right?
The problem is that some owners charge around $12 to $13 a point. That’s a bit steep in my opinion, provided that discounts are available. I know this won’t make me popular with DVC owners and really, it’s not my intent to interfere with anyone’s ability to make money, but then again, allowing DVC owners to rent points is not about allowing owners to make money from owning DVC. In fact, Disney frowns upon this practice quite a bit. Renting points is a safety net that allows owners who might not be able to travel that year a way of getting rid of their points rather than losing them.
Consider our Jambo House situation again. At 169 points for the week, if you pay $13 per point, your total room cost will be $1956, or a savings of $312 with the 40% off discount offered by Disney directly. That’s a nice savings, but when you consider the risk to you that's involved with renting many months out, you have to ask yourself if saving a few hundred dollars is worth that risk. To me, for that amount, it’s not. In that scenario, I'd rather book through Disney.
DVC units are rented out at the 11-month mark at an owner’s home resort, which is the resort they originally bought into. This means that if you have a strong preference for where you want to stay, you’ll need to contact a home resort owner just prior to that time and make your arrangements. This also means that you’ll need to be able to project your vacation availability nearly a year out. DVC owners can book at any non-home resort at 7-months out, but the availability for more popular resorts during busier times of the year can be tricky since they’re competing with home resort owners who had the availability to book at 11-months and beyond. For example, a unit at the Wilderness Lodge during December, the most popular time of the year at that resort, may be scarce or even non-existent within 8 or 9 months out, so waiting until 7-months out is unwise if you have your heart set on that resort.
But here’s another wrench thrown into your planning. Disney holds back a certain number of DVC rooms as cash-only rentals. You can reserve them 500 days ahead, but at about the six month mark, sometimes later, they’ll probably announce discounts for these rooms. Of course, again you’re having to project whether or not this will happen and that’s risky, but if it does, you can then try to apply an existing reservation to the latest discount if there’s availability. Keep in mind that what you can’t do is get out of a DVC rental contract you made five months prior when better deal comes along.
Mention must be made regarding the popularity, or lack thereof, of some resorts and the time of year you plan on visiting. Old Key West and Saratoga Springs, both of which are free standing (that is, not attached to Disney deluxe resorts) resorts, are generally less desirable. Part of it’s location, part of it’s the age of the resort or the theming. While these resorts do have their charms and I happen to like them, for whatever reason there are often rooms available close to when you want to travel. Don’t pay $12 a point at 11-months out for one of these resorts unless you find yourself particularly drawn to them. These two resorts are the most likely to show up for “fire sale” prices closer to your trip.
Conversely, owners of very popular resorts know they can get more than the usual going rate per point for their resorts. It might be worth it to you to pay $13 a point to stay at Bay Lake Tower, Disney’s newest DVC property and the only one of the Magic Kingdom monorail, or to stay at an Epcot resort during Food and Wine.
Finally, if you plan on traveling during the most popular times of the year, be aware that availability will be snapped up quickly. If you’re searching at 11-months out for a unit at Christmas, that owner is probably aware that she can get a higher price per point than say, late September, so when you go in with a plan to negotiate your price, keep that in mind. The owner may be willing to walk away knowing that someone else will snap it up. Also, historically, discounts are much less likely during popular weeks, particularly Easter and Christmas week. I wouldn’t gamble on getting a discount from Disney those weeks, although it happens. I f you really want to stay in a DVC resort during this time, be prepared to pay a bit more per point, but don’t be afraid to do some comparison shopping either.
Here are three scenarios to consider:
1) If you’re making your reservation early, don’t pay more than $11 a point in most cases; as noted above, I’m leaving some flexibility for popular resorts where you simply may have to pay more, but don’t do it right off the bat. Shop around first. Not only is there a great deal of risk for you renting this far in advance, it’s also simply outrageous given the probability of discounts available from Disney. Paying a lower price per point means you’ll save regardless of how much Disney discounts the room in relation to the element of risk you’re assuming. You’ll want to be in contact with an owner whose home resort is the resort you want to stay in just prior to the 11-month mark so that she can make your reservation at the time when there is the most availability for home resort owners . If you’re looking for a highly desirable resort and can’t find a lower price, consider going through a points broker who will act as a go-between between you and the owner. They’ll charge the maximum, around $13 per point, but they’ll also do all the legwork for you.
2) If you’re willing to gamble a bit with your vacation but want a little security, make a room-only reservation as soon as you firm up your plans, say 12-9 months out. You’ll be required to pay for one night’s stay, but this is fully refundable up to a week before your visit begins. Meanwhile, you can wait until the discounts for that time come out. If they’re not to your liking or you can’t apply it to your room, you can then consider renting points. Once you secure a reservation that works for you, you can cancel your room-only reservation with Disney. This plan works well for people who are flexible about where they want to stay, who can’t easily project their ability to vacation a full 11-months in advance, and for whom renting DVC points farther out is a high risk.
3) Finally, for the real thrill-seekers among us, at about 2 – 3 months out, consider renting “fire sale” points. The way DVC is set up, owners who cancel close to their stay pay a hefty penalty. Rather than losing their points, some owners will rent them out at deeply reduced prices. Sometimes these come in the form of a confirmed reservation, for example “one-bedroom at Bay Lake Tower for the week of 12/3-11” and then a price per point. These are often a very good deal, as low as $6 to $7 per point, but again with more desirable resorts, expect to pay more. This type of rental works best for individuals who are very flexible about when they travel.
One thing to be careful of in the last scenario is the occasional owner who reserves confirmed weeks during the most popular times of the year (Christmas, for example) with the sole intent of selling that week for much more than it’s worth closer to the reservation date. This seems to be less of a problem in the last year or so as message board owners have cracked down on the practice, but it still exits, particularly on less moderated boards and on places like Craigslist and the like. Again, there are only a very small number of owners who engage in this practice, but just be aware that it happens. Personally, I don't want to give this type of owner my money; they make it harder for owners trying to get reservations when they need it or get rid of weeks they can't use for a legitimate reason. Of course, if you truly want that week, it’s possibly worth the higher price, but check with Disney first.
In closing, if you're looking to save a great deal of money on your resort rental, consider renting DVC points. Just be careful that you weigh the very real risks against the benefits. In addition, keep in mind that all but the busiest times of the year will likely have room discounts, at least for the near future, possibly making a reservation directly through Disney a better deal in the long run.