Update: With the new 2018 prices going into effect a few weeks ago, this is a repost of my article from 2016 about how an annual pass often makes financial sense. I’ve updated post to reflect the recent Feb 2018 price increase. I’ve also created a new Annual Pass calculator – add in your trip lengths and options to see if buying the Disney Annual Pass makes sense for you!
So I mentioned in my last post that I saved money by staying off site, but I should have saved more. It’s downright shocking to me, but it would have made a ton of sense to buy an annual pass on my Disney World trip. Haley Bach (a Disney Expert who is going to be on the next episode of the Observation Deck!) summed it up perfectly with this tweet:
@asthejoeflies 😱 yeah, ticket math often makes an AP a good call.
— Team Hedgehog #2018MMM (@BachFancy) January 11, 2016
So what ticket math would make an annual pass a good call? I think I read somewhere that if you are spending at least 12 days in the parks over a calendar year an AP is probably worth it, but to me, it’s even less than that. Towards the bottom of the post I have created a simple tool that you can use to calculate costs for your own situation if you want to skip ahead!
What you get with an annual pass
The basic Disney annual pass is called the Disney Platinum Pass and costs $849 (pre-tax) for a 366 day period (so you can use it from 1/14/2016 – 1/14/2017, wait, do you get 367 days in a leap year!?). Here’s what you get:
- Unlimited admission to the four Walt Disney World theme parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom)
- Park hopping privileges (you can go to multiple parks in the same day)
- Free theme park parking
- Free Disney Photopass downloads
- 10% off merchandise
- 10-20% off dining depending on location (excludes quick service, thanks Haley!)
- Various discounts on lodging
Let’s take these one by one before we go through the ticket math, in order of importance in my mind from least to greatest.
1. Lodging and dining discounts
For discounts on lodging and dining, my guess is take it or leave it. There are often sales during off periods available to everyone of up to 30%, I read online AP discounts are usually up to 30% as well on hotels. My guess is during peak times you’re probably looking at paying close to the rack rate anyway, it’s just simple supply and demand. I’d love to hear people’s experiences in the comments though. Dining discounts can add up, Disney annual pass holders have had a running 10% discount for a few months. Penny pinchers bringing their own food obviously might not save as much with an annual pass.
2. Park Hopper
Park hopping is great, but to me it’s usually more of a luxury than anything else. If you are staying for a week, like we did, spending one day per park is definitely enough. If you’re thinking about getting an annual pass, then you definitely have the time to spread things out and visit one park per day. I’d say the only exception is dealing with the Magic Kingdom and young children: taking the ferry or monorail across the Seven Seas Lagoon adds like 15-20 minutes to your commute each way and makes going back home for a nap really annoying. The luxury of park hopping to Epcot for dinner is very tempting. But I still think it’s a luxury (more on that later).
3. Photopass downloads
Free Disney Photopass downloads are another luxury, but you can glean a lot of value out of this benefit. Unlike Memory Maker (subject of my next post), you don’t get automatic downloads of your friends and family pictures. However, that’s pretty easy to circumvent – anyone who is linked as family and friends to your My Disney Experience account effectively receives your Photopass privileges. You can download their photos as if they are your own.
If you don’t want to make people your friends and family, grab a Photopass card (say, from a character meet and greet or something). Scan the same Photopass card for whatever photos they take. Then link all those Photopasses to your account and for a little extra work you should be able to download everyone’s photos (in theory at least).
4. Free theme park parking
If you’re saving money by staying off site, free theme park parking is huge – $22 a day adds up quickly. Doesn’t mean anything if you’re staying on site, but it adds up quickly if you’re trying to save money by staying off site. Sometimes it might make sense for at least one person in your party to grab the annual pass just for this benefit.
Why the math on my ticket meant I probably should have bought an annual pass
Of course, getting admission to all four theme parks for a year is great. And that’s where the ticket math comes in.
Here’s a quick tip that a lot of first time Disney goers might not know: as long as you have at least one unused day left on your ticket, you can use the value of your ticket to “upgrade” to a more expensive ticket at any time. Put a pin in that and we’ll get back to it.
Anyway, let’s take a look at my costs compared to an annual pass (note these were prices from Jan 2016):
|Item||Our Trip||Annual Pass|
|7 park days||$335||Included|
As you can see, with all the things I ended up tacking on to my tickets, I spent only $60 less than I would have spent if I had gotten an annual pass. That year, I visited Orlando again for FT4RL4, so bought another ticket – that cost more than $60. So you can see how ticket math can really hurt you. And even if I hadn’t visited a park, I probably would have gotten close to $60 back with the dining and merchandise discounts.
I would have spent less money if I had bought an annual pass in 2016.
Is an annual pass the right decision for you?
Should you get an annual pass? In my case, I think we should have bought at least one annual pass. There are also some pretty easy rules of thumb.
You should almost always buy an annual pass if:
- You plan to visit the parks on three separate occasions in a calendar year
- You plan to visit the parks for at least twelve days total across two trips
However, if you want to mess around with some calculations yourself, here’s a simple tool I made. You can input trips you plan to take and ticket types you plan to buy, along with Memory Maker and parking. At the bottom of the table, you’ll see how much you will save with an annual pass or how much more you’ll spend. The tool is in beta so please let me know if you see any errors! You can either click the link below or I’ve embedded the tool at the bottom of the post.
If you want to go deep down the rabbit hole, check out this very amazing and very in depth spreadsheet made by Touring Plans forum user JJT. It includes a bunch more options plus info on ticket discounters.
Note: Only use the tool if you’re not a Florida resident, since Florida residents get discounted rates on everything.
Upgrading your ticket
As I mentioned above, as long as you have one unused day on your ticket, you can upgrade it to a more expensive ticket. This includes adding park hopper options, water park options, or even upgrading to an annual pass.
If I had figured all this out about the annual pass before I had gotten to the parks I probably would have upgraded to an annual pass on the first day. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize this until day six, meaning I had already paid $120 for parking.
But if you have a trip planned and you’ve already bought tickets but want to upgrade them, you can totally do it before you pay for all the parking and make it worth it. You can upgrade at the ticket booths at the park, but that of course would require you to pay for one day of parking. You can also do it at any Disney hotel or at guest relations at Disney Springs. I think if you bring your parking receipts they can be applied to the cost of the pass as well.
If you’re going to Disney World for close to a week, you should definitely think about upgrading to or buying an annual pass, especially if you are going to have to pay for theme park parking. The math often makes it worth it – feel free to use my table if you’re too lazy to do the math yourself!
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