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Daring to Disney: When a Disney annual pass makes sense

Update April 2016 – I need to find the time to update my tables, but since ticket prices went up but annual pass prices didn’t, the annual pass is going to be an even better deal in the instances when the table says you should buy one!

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:

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.

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
  • Random discounts on lodging, dining, etc.

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.

Random 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.

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 take to 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 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).

Disney's professionals probably wouldn't get the hand in the picture

Disney’s professionals probably wouldn’t get the hand in the picture

Free Disney Photopass downloads is 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).

You can link all these Photopass cards to My Disney Experience instead of your friends and family

You can link all these Photopass cards to My Disney Experience instead of your friends and family

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.

And of course, getting admission to all four theme parks for a year is great. And that’s where the ticket math comes in.

Why the math on my ticket meant I probably should have bought an annual pass

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:

Item Our Trip Annual Pass
7 park days $335 Included
Park hopper $65 Included
Parking $120 Included
Memory Maker/Photopass $169? Included
Total Cost $669 $749

I put a question mark by Memory Maker/Photopass because I haven’t decided whether to buy the photos or not (more on that in the next post). But as you can see, if I did buy it, I would have 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.

Haley also reminded me on the last Observation Deck (releasing soon) that annual pass holders get various discounts, but that’s tough to quantify so I’ll leave that out of the equation.

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?
Three 3 No No No 550 No
Three 3 No No Yes 699 No
Three 3 No Yes No 610 No
Three 3 No Yes Yes 759 Yes
Three 3 Yes No No 610 No
Three 3 Yes No Yes 759 Yes
Three 3 Yes Yes No 670 No
Three 3 Yes Yes Yes 819 Yes
Four 3 No No No 580 No
Four 3 No No Yes 729 No
Four 3 No Yes No 640 No
Four 3 No Yes Yes 789 Yes
Four 3 Yes No No 660 No
Four 3 Yes No Yes 809 Yes
Four 3 Yes Yes No 720 No
Four 3 Yes Yes Yes 869 Yes
Five 3 No No No 590 No
Five 3 No No Yes 739 No
Five 3 No Yes No 650 No
Five 3 No Yes Yes 799 Yes
Five 3 Yes No No 690 No
Five 3 Yes No Yes 839 Yes
Five 3 Yes Yes No 750 Yes
Five 3 Yes Yes Yes 899 Yes
Six 3 No No No 600 No
Six 3 No No Yes 749 No
Six 3 No Yes No 660 No
Six 3 No Yes Yes 809 Yes
Six 3 Yes No No 720 No
Six 3 Yes No Yes 869 Yes
Six 3 Yes Yes No 780 Yes
Six 3 Yes Yes Yes 929 Yes
Seven 3 No No No 610 No
Seven 3 No No Yes 759 Yes
Seven 3 No Yes No 670 No
Seven 3 No Yes Yes 819 Yes
Seven 3 Yes No No 750 Yes
Seven 3 Yes No Yes 899 Yes
Seven 3 Yes Yes No 810 Yes
Seven 3 Yes Yes Yes 959 Yes
Four 4 No No No 610 No
Four 4 No No Yes 759 Yes
Four 4 No Yes No 690 No
Four 4 No Yes Yes 839 Yes
Four 4 Yes No No 690 No
Four 4 Yes No Yes 839 Yes
Four 4 Yes Yes No 770 Yes
Four 4 Yes Yes Yes 919 Yes
Five 4 No No No 620 No
Five 4 No No Yes 769 Yes
Five 4 No Yes No 700 No
Five 4 No Yes Yes 849 Yes
Five 4 Yes No No 720 No
Five 4 Yes No Yes 869 Yes
Five 4 Yes Yes No 800 Yes
Five 4 Yes Yes Yes 949 Yes
Six 4 No No No 630 No
Six 4 No No Yes 779 Yes
Six 4 No Yes No 710 No
Six 4 No Yes Yes 859 Yes
Six 4 Yes No No 750 Yes
Six 4 Yes No Yes 899 Yes
Six 4 Yes Yes No 830 Yes
Six 4 Yes Yes Yes 979 Yes
Seven 4 No No No 640 No
Seven 4 No No Yes 789 Yes
Seven 4 No Yes No 720 No
Seven 4 No Yes Yes 869 Yes
Seven 4 Yes No No 780 Yes
Seven 4 Yes No Yes 929 Yes
Seven 4 Yes Yes No 860 Yes
Seven 4 Yes Yes Yes 1009 Yes
Five 5 No No No 630 No
Five 5 No No Yes 779 Yes
Five 5 No Yes No 730 No
Five 5 No Yes Yes 879 Yes
Five 5 Yes No No 730 No
Five 5 Yes No Yes 879 Yes
Five 5 Yes Yes No 830 Yes
Five 5 Yes Yes Yes 979 Yes
Six 5 No No No 640 No
Six 5 No No Yes 789 Yes
Six 5 No Yes No 740 No
Six 5 No Yes Yes 889 Yes
Six 5 Yes No No 760 Yes
Six 5 Yes No Yes 909 Yes
Six 5 Yes Yes No 860 Yes
Six 5 Yes Yes Yes 1009 Yes
Seven 5 No No No 650 No
Seven 5 No No Yes 799 Yes
Seven 5 No Yes No 750 Yes
Seven 5 No Yes Yes 899 Yes
Seven 5 Yes No No 790 Yes
Seven 5 Yes No Yes 939 Yes
Seven 5 Yes Yes No 890 Yes
Seven 5 Yes Yes Yes 1039 Yes
Six 6 No No No 650 No
Six 6 No No Yes 799 Yes
Six 6 No Yes No 770 Yes
Six 6 No Yes Yes 919 Yes
Six 6 Yes No No 770 Yes
Six 6 Yes No Yes 919 Yes
Six 6 Yes Yes No 890 Yes
Six 6 Yes Yes Yes 1039 Yes
Seven 6 No No No 660 No
Seven 6 No No Yes 809 Yes
Seven 6 No Yes No 780 Yes
Seven 6 No Yes Yes 929 Yes
Seven 6 Yes No No 800 Yes
Seven 6 Yes No Yes 949 Yes
Seven 6 Yes Yes No 920 Yes
Seven 6 Yes Yes Yes 1069 Yes

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 plan 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.

Final Thoughts

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

Flights, Hotel, and Car

Making Disney Dining Reservations

Saving Money on Disney Tickets

Using Touring Plans (the non-touring plan parts)

Optimizing a visit using Touring Plans’ touring plans

Saving money by staying off site

When a Disney annual pass makes sense

Touring Epcot attractions with a toddler

Touring Animal Kingdom with a toddler

One perfect day at the Magic Kingdom

Dining Reviews

Tips for parents of toddlers and infants

Things I wished I knew before I went to Disney

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Leave a Comment

  • AMJ January 18, 2016, 12:20 pm

    We’ve had APs for several years. The price really jumped this year and I’m not sure if we’ll continue to get them.

    A couple of thoughts…don’t buy an AP for the room discount. Years ago, the AP room discounts were definitely a perk, but they have really closed the gap between AP room discounts and general public offers. If anything, it seems like you may save an additional 5% off the room. Sometimes the general public offers are better than the AP discount.

    Park hopping might be a luxury, but it is really nice to be able to split your day up between two parks. I really can’t visit WDW without park hopping. I love MK first thing in the morning, but I have to force myself to stick around for the evening entertainment because it just gets so congested. My ideal days at WDW usually involve starting at MK and park hopping to Epcot or Animal Kingdom (which is an underrated afternoon park). Also, DHS is going to be a mess for the next year or two. It probably isn’t worth the money to go to that park for a day, but if you can park hop it is still worth it.

    If you go to WDW a lot, the Memory Maker is nice, but you can only have so many pictures in front of the castle. I would gladly give that perk up to bring the cost of the AP down.

    Parking? Not applicable because we only stay on property. When I go to WDW, I want to stay in the bubble. 🙂

    Perhaps one of the best perks of getting an AP is the ability to get the Tables in Wonderland card. It’s a dining discount card that gets you 20% food and drinks (alcohol included) at most table service restaurants and some counter service. It cost $150 (it also had a huge price increase this year…used to be $100), but if you are a family going on a couple of trips to WDW a year, it quickly starts saving you significant money off dining. It’s a much better value than the dining plans.

    Reply
  • HaleyB January 19, 2016, 7:06 pm

    You forgot merchandise (10% off Disney owned plus a handful of others) and food discounts 10-20% off depending on the location (excludes quick service). These two can add up to $50-$100 pretty easily over a week.

    Activities like Splitsville (20% discount), Water Parks ($4 off adult/$3 off child), and 15% off Amphicar Tours.
    Spa services 15% off ($45 or greater charges)

    15% off select Tours (Disney Visa gets the same)
    10% off boating and water sports.
    15% off mini golf.
    20% off Alamo car rental

    Occasional offers for Pirates League or Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique.

    The Resort discounts will sometimes be about 5% higher than the public offers but the real perk is that you get a chance to book the offers before everyone else. For specific room types (Garden View at Contemporary for example) this is a pretty big advantage.

    Reply
    • Joe January 19, 2016, 7:09 pm

      I didn’t see anything about the food discount online – tables in wonderland costs $150 right?

      Reply
      • HaleyB January 27, 2016, 1:44 pm

        Oddly the perks you get with an AP are hard to find until you buy one and get the insert that lists them, in teeny tiny print.

        Tables in Wonderland gives you 20% off at sit downs and is a fantastic deal if you have a large group that drinks, since alcohol is included. As far as I know it is the only way to get discounts on adult beverages. It was a much better deal at $100 🙁 I do not have one as I tend to travel with DVC owners who can buy one at a better discount (or they could last year, it is getting hard to keep track as Disney is changing things up so often of late).

        The AP discount for dining is somewhat random, mostly 10% and some places only good for lunch seatings. If I am not with someone that has Tables in Wonderland I always ask. Same for the merchandise discounts, I always ask.

        Reply
        • AMJ January 27, 2016, 6:56 pm

          I’m pretty sure that the Tables in Wonderland price has always been the same for AP holders and DVC members. It is Florida residents without AP’s that have always had to pay more ($25 more). For an AP/DVC, the break even point is $750. If you have an AP, TiW is generally a good investment, but of course, that depends on your dining habits. AP/DVC also can get 10% (a few places 20%) at selected restaurants.

          There is a list of AP benefits that is kept current on the grandmother of all Disney sites: allears dot net.

          Having a Chase Disney Visa can also get you a random 10% off at shopping, restaurants, etc. We’ve had the fee free one for 10+ years that we break out for discount and other minor perks when we travel to WDW or DL.

          Reply
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