Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Playing the Disney Discount Game, Part III: Is Free Dining Really a Good Deal?

One question I hear a lot is whether or not free dining is a good deal.  If you're a Disney discount hunter, you probably the know the answer is "It depends."  And it depends on a lot of things: Where you're staying, how many people are in your party, and perhaps most importantly, how do  you normally eat and tour the parks?

Last night one of my clients wrote to let me know that they got a pin code. A pin code, for the uninitiated, is a code personal to you that gives you certain discounts. These discounts come directly from Disney and are often for percentages off rooms or for free dining.  They're usually a better deal than what's available to the general public and often a preview of discounts that will be available later in the year to everyone else.  In my client's case, her pin code was for free quick service dining at a value resort.   They were already signed up for the regular/plus dining plan, so it wasn't a question of whether or not they would use it.  When I applied the code, I was shocked to see that it saved them around $600 off their trip, several hundred more than the room discount they previously had. That's a nice savings. 

As noted above in their case, they already had a discount for a certain percentage off their room at Pop Century. Since you can't combine discounts, they paid full "rack rate" for the room, but it was still a better deal.  They're traveling with two children, one of whom is over the age of nine and therefore a Disney adult, so the plan costs around $150 a day.  The room discount at the values is almost never as good as free dining even when only the quick service plan is offered; remember, you can pay a few dollars more and upgrade to the regular/plus dining plan, which is what my clients did. Even if they were only traveling as a couple, free dining is a better deal at this resort.

The waters get a little murky when you move up from a value resort. This is particularly true at the moderates where the better deal is often a matter of a few dollars either way based mainly on how many people are in your group.  For example, a family with three kids over the age of nine plus two parents will pay $229.95 a day for the regular/plus dining plan. There's no way you'll ever get a moderate discount that's better than that. But if it's only two adults, depending on the season, the better deal could go either way.

In the past, the general rule was that room discounts at the deluxe resorts are better than free dining because these rooms can easily run $500 or more a night, but that's no longer the case the case. Recently, deluxe discounts at some resorts have been no better than value discounts. For example, the Grand Floridian was previously discounted at 25% off, the same as the values.  Most of the other deluxe resorts were 35 to 40% off. This means you'll need to know the exact discount offered at the resort you're interested in.  Don't just assume that an ad that reads "40% off Deluxe Resorts" applies to your resort as well; read the fine print and make sure your resort is one of them.  Finally, the same rule that applies at the values and moderates applies at deluxe resorts as well:  The more people in your party, the higher the chance that free dining is better for your wallet.

So how do you figure out which discount is better for you? You'll almost always have to run the discount both ways:  Free dining vs. the room discount.  Don't hesitate to ask your travel agent to run your quote for any and all discounts--that's what they're there for.  In fact, a good travel agent won't have to be asked!  If you're going on your own, ask the Disney cast member when you call to do the same. I say this all the time, but it bears repeating:  Be aware that when you call Disney directly, they frequently won't run discounts unless asked, so make sure you're armed with the latest discount information before you call.  If you're using the Disney website, information on discounts is often listed at the bottom of the website.  I tell people to run a full-priced quote first so that they can compare it to their discounted offer.

While the above information is universal, the next question you have to ask is entirely a personal one:  Will you actually use the plan? If you're a light eater, possibly not.  If you're the type of guest who goes all day and doesn't want to stop, or if  you have small children and you don't feel comfortable scheduling a lot of sit-down restaurants, the idea of being tied to a dining plan which requires you to stop what you're doing and eat may be too much of an interference. Personally, I need a nice sit down meal every day at Disney. I like the food and I like the break, but not everyone tours the parks that way.  Finally, being on the dining plan means you'll need to make at least some of your dining reservations months ahead of time. Not everyone likes planning their meals that far out!  So take a look at how you travel. If you're like me, the dining plan can save you money. But if you're a more "commando" guest, it might not.

Good luck and happy hunting!

Booking a Disney vacation?  Email me at ChrisW@pixievacations.com for information on how you can receive a free $50 Disney gift card when you travel. This is on top of current Disney discounted offers.  As always, Disney travel agents do not charge for their services.

1 comment:

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