Well, first of all, the truth is that none of us can really do this, right? I mean, as we wait for fall discounts to be released by Disney, only a small number of people who work for The Mouse really know what to expect. But what we can do is take what we know about past discounts and combine that with what we're seeing today to get an idea of what to expect in the future.
Last year, Disney CEO Bob Iger announced that Disney would be scaling back on discounts now that the economy has begun to improve. Almost concurrently, a new round of discounts came out, including free dining and a kids free promotion that covered most of 2011. Most of us assumed that Iger's comments were nothing more than bravado designed to appease shareholders, but it looks like Disney means it this time--at least to an extent. While the first round of discounts to come out for 2011 were excellent, what we're seeing is that subsequent offers for the same time period are not as good.
For example, free dining was offered in August 2010 for most dates through September 2011 (there were the usual holiday blackouts, of course). The only catch was that you had to book by December 20, 2010. That was the last offer for free dining until it was offered again in May for the month of September 2011, but there was a catch: The offer now required you to purchase a photobook for an additional $90. So this new offer costs you an additional $90 more than it would have if you'd booked it back in December. It's still a deal, of course, just less than what was offered before.
This is exactly what we, as travel agents, are hearing from Disney. It's true that most of the rank and file cast members we talk to when we book vacations probably aren't all that informed on what discounts will come out in the future, we occasionally encounter some real gems. A couple of weeks before the latest free dining offer was announced, I was talking to a cast member while making a reservation. It turned out she was a supervisor and a passionate Disney fan who had read an article I'd written for another website I write for, Chip and Co. We got kind of chummy and I felt comfortable enough to pry a bit about upcomgin discounts. What she said is exactly what we're seeing now: That anything discount that comes out after an initial offer will be very limited in both the time and availabilty. Sure enough, there was another summer discount, but it was for deluxe resorts and villas only. And when free dining came out, it bypassed summer and went straight to fall.
What does this mean for the rest of the year? I would put money on Disney releasing free dining and room discounts for the rest of the year. Remember, October through December were not covered in the initial discount offer for 2011; it ended in September 2012. The only discounts we've seen for this time period have been pin codes. If they follow the same pattern they did last year, they'll release the offers in mid-August for the rest of 2011 and much of 2012. And, these will be the best offers for that time-period.
What you can do:
1. Register at http://www.disney.com/ for a pin code, which are discount codes personal to you. These are often better than discounts offered to the general public. Be advised that some people report never gettting a code whereas others get one every month.
2. Always book the first discount that comes out. I know that plans change and that booking nearly a year in advance can be a scary proposition, but the first discount released for a time period will likely be the best that Disney offers. If you need to cancel your plans, Disney offers a full refund on packages 45-days prior to travel, no questions asked. If a better discount comes out, it can usually be applied to your travel package without penalty.
3. Be an informed consumer. I don't personally wait for Disney to tell me when discounts are coming out because I want to be ready when a discount is announced. It's especially important with limited offers to get your travel dates covered the first day the discount is released. Yes, this sometimes means false starts because the rumor mill is always churning, but it also means that I'm not caught of guard. If you're booking on your own, you should be ready as well. If you're booking with a travel agent, make sure you have the kind of agent who stays up on discounts.
I keep up with a couple of sources religiously: The resort discount board at Disboards and the Touring Plans Twitter feed. Disboards posters are always on top of discounts; it's sometimes uncanny. You'll often hear of them days before they're released by Disney. As for Touring Plans, they've been right about every discount that has come out for the last year; usually they'll announce it several days ahead of time.
I don't see Disney eliminating discounts completely in the near future. The public has grown too used to them. And while some sources have theorized that Disney is willing to take a major hit regarding attendance to wean the public off completely, I'm not seeing that. But I do think there's a great deal of truth in the idea that the best discounts will be the first ones to come out.
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