With the new prices going into effect a few weeks ago, this is a repost of my article from last year about how an annual pass often makes financial sense. I’ve updated the tables and spreadsheet to reflect the recent Feb 2017 price increase. The new tables also factor in taxes so it’s the all in price you will pay. Bottom line, the annual pass now costs about $829 after taxes and makes more financial sense in a handful of cases.
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. Haley (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.
— Haley B °ο° (@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 a table 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 $749 (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.
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. 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 though if you’re pinching pennies you might be bringing your own food a lot anyway.
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).
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 – when you get pictures taken by official photographers in the park, they ask you for either your magic band, park ticket, or Photopass card.
Those Photopass cards can be linked to any account, so it’s as simple as getting your friends and family to grab those cards (say, from a character meet and greet or something), and scanning those 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).
Free theme park parking
If you’re saving money by staying off site, free theme park parking is huge – $20 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. Then, if I go into any park for one day when I go down to Orlando for FT4RL4, I’ll have paid more. So you can see how ticket math can really hurt you. And even if I don’t visit a park, I probably would have gotten close to $60 back with the dining and merchandise discounts.
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
Here’s a table I made calculating the costs of a variety of two trip scenarios. I did two trips because those are the cases with the “closest calls”. They also are the most realistic scenarios, if you want to take your family to Disney once a year, you just need to take them once every 355 days to make an annual pass worth it over the course of two years.
|Trip 1 Days in Park||Trip 2 Days in Park||Need Parking Trip 1?||Need Parking Trip 2?||Memory Maker?||Total Cost a la carte||Annual Pass?|
|Four||3||Yes||Yes||No||$821||Probably ($8 more)|
|Seven||3||No||Yes||No||$804||No (but only $25 more)|
|Seven||4||No||No||No||$809||No (but only $20 more)|
|Six||5||No||No||No||$809||No (but only $20 more)|
I set the table up to only show 10 rows, but there are 113 different scenarios included in the table. Each scenario specifies two separate trip lengths, whether you are paying for parking or not, whether you want to buy memory maker or not, and finally, whether an annual pass is worth it in that particular case.
My suggestion? If you know one trip length, use the search function to narrow down all combinations with that trip length and then see your results. I purposely wrote the numbers in “Trip 1 Days in Park” out so you could do this. So if you know one of your trips will be 5 days long, search for “Five”. The table will automatically tell you how many results have been filtered out at the bottom (in case they aren’t all showing).
If you would like to see it on Google Sheets, you can access it here. The Sheets version actually makes the calculations for you, so you can input other combinations that I haven’t included in my table. Feel free to use it as you like (and put in your own combinations) as long as you are willing to credit the source!
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!
Other Posts in this Series