Should You Buy an Annual Pass?

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If you go to Disney more than once a year, or if you go for very long trips, you might consider buying an annual pass (AP). There are really only two problems with buying an AP. One, they’re expensive. And two, it requires you to predict your travel plans a full year in advance, so you won’t know what you actually save until the year is up. When I buy a yearly pass to my local zoo, it’s pretty clear even for someone as math phobic as me that in just two trips, I’ll break even. It doesn’t take much effort to make it to the zoo twice in one year. But Disney? Well, that’s a bit more difficult. Factor in the savings offered to AP holders in the form of discounts and you have a fairly complicated problem.

There are two types of APs for non-Florida residents. The first sells for $499 plus tax and gives you admission to all four parks plus park hopping, free parking, and special AP discounts. The premium pass, which sells for $629 and gives you all of the above plus admission to the water parks, Disney Quest, and Disney’s Oak Trail Golf Course. Passes for kids, Disney Vacation Club owners, and Florida residents are slightly lower.

Consider these discounts when determining if an AP fits your needs:

  • Free parking, which saves non-resort guests $14 a day.
  • Discounted tickets to Night of Joy, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, and Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party on select nights.
  • 10% off lunch discounts at certain resort restaurants, such as The Wave and Grand Floridian Café as well as most sit-down restaurants in Epcot’s World Showcase (excluding Le Cellier). Valid Monday thru Friday only.
  • 10 to 20% off lunch at most Downtown Disney sit-down restaurants.
  • Merchandise discounts in Downtown Disney between 10-15 %.
  • 15% off most tours, such as the Epcot Segway tour.
  • Up 30% off sports and recreation, including golf.
  • AP holders may buy a Tables in Wonderland card for an additional $75, allowing them to receive 20% off at participating restaurants.
  • Invitations to passholder-only events and promotions. A few years ago, for example, passholders were invited to soft openings for Toy Story Midway Mania before the general public.

 

One thing that makes estimating the value of an AP difficult is the variability of the AP room discount. When factoring in the total cost of an AP, most passholders include these savings, as high as 45% off certain rooms. Lately however, these discounts have lost some of their exclusivity as discounts offered to the general public are nearly as good as those offered to passholders. This spring, for example, the difference between an AP rate on a Disney deluxe villa and the general public rate was only 5%. And the head start that passholders got on these rooms before discounted rates were released to the general public was only a matter of days. Worse still, this year’s summer discounts for the general public were actually released weeks before AP discounts for those same dates, causing a lot of grumbling among passholders.

 

It’s for the above reason that I wouldn’t buy an AP for the room discount. Sure, you may get a great deal, but that’s a pretty big gamble to take. If you’re borderline on the number of days you’ll need the pass versus buying a regular park admission, this could push you over the edge. But if you’re unsure about whether you’ll be able to at least get close to breaking even on park admission, it’s probably not worth the cost.

 

Conventional wisdom says you’ll break even on an Annual Pass if you’ll be in the parks for more than ten days in a given year. Disney allows you to buy up to a ten-day pass. After that you’ll need to start over again. This can be pretty costly since the cost of your pass is highest the first four days and those days start over again if you’ve used up your ten days. Of course, most people don’t spend more than ten days in the parks during their vacation. What usually happens is that people go for five or six days and then come back for a shorter trip. In this case, the savings are pretty clear.

 

Say you take a six day trip to WDW and then, later in the year you head back for a long weekend and need a three day pass. That first trip’s park admission without park hoppers would cost you $231; the second would cost $219. At $450, that’s slightly less than the cost of an AP, but add a park hopper option to even one of those tickets and you’ve paid $502. So even taking a short trip plus, a slightly longer trip, shows a slight savings. And that’s not adding in AP discounts, which you may or may not use. Some people swear by them.

 

If you aren’t the type of person who goes to Disney World more than once a year, you can still benefit from buying AP. Many passholders schedule two trips, one when they activate their pass and one just before it expires. Keep in mind too that you’ll save about $40 when you renew your annual pass.

 

Buying an annual pass requires you to predict how you’ll vacation in the upcoming year. It can be a huge savings. It can also, as a couple of passholder friends of mine pointed out, “burn a hole in your pocket,” making you want to go to Disney World more than usual or perhaps even more than you should. Personally, I could have saved around $180 by buying a pass last year, but I tend to plan one long trip with the family and take shorter trips on the spur of the moment. This year, I’m going to get a pass and hope for the best. Even if means it burns a hole in my pocket.


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6 thoughts on “Should You Buy an Annual Pass?

  1. The Annual passes are so expensive…especially if you have a family of 5! I like that they offer a payment plan now but I think we can still get a better deal when they have the play 3 day or 4 day passes for Florida residents. Our family is happy with the those….they usually expire 6 months after first use. You can’t park hop but that is OK with us!

  2. We currently are “burning” through our 10 day, park hopper, no expiration, plus options tickets. When they are gone, I think we are doing Florida resident annual passes – by the time you count up what that 10 day ticket cost AND the parking, our annual pass will pay for itself. and my 5 year old LOVES disneyquest, so we actually burn through our plus options or “and more” part of our tickets quicker than our park days…
    As for hotel discounts, we don’t stay on property – we are Hilton Grand Vacation Club owners and so we either stay in one of the three HGVC in Orlando or trade into another nearby resort.

    I think annual passes are a thing you have to weigh the pros and cons on…each situation is going to be different.

  3. We finally broke down and bought the annual pass last year, we made a few 4-5 day trips and did our usual 10-12 days over the summer; it really paid off for us. We got the Premium Annual Pass and were able to enjoy the water parks, as well as the merchandise discounts!!!
    The Annual Passholder room only rates are really helpful, I just wish there were more of them!
    Do the math before you take the plunge and enjoy your AP if you get one!

  4. We’ve just moved to the Jacksonville, FL area and have been discussing buying AP. We’ve done the math of how many times you have to go and such. We have a timeshare in Kissimie that we’re going to use for a week sometime next year. My moms thing is “if we have them, we’ll use them” so she’s not worried about getting her moneys worth out of them. Plus if your a FL resident you can pay for them by the month 🙂

  5. We got a pass 3 out of 5 of the years we lived in Orlando…and I have to say it is so worth it for FL residents….we went 20+ times in one year (not counting how many times we park hopped – and only counting days went to park [did include one stay]). Now that we live out of state…I don’t think we’ll be getting AP at out of state prices – I think you brought up all good points about why or why not someone should buy an AP. All reasons I thought of…and we won’t go anywhere near enough now to make it worth it. We probably won’t go again until end of next year … so…it’ll be a consideration then.

    And, on the note of hotel discounts – I’ve found that when prices are first listed for Passholders…that you can go to discount sites like Priceline (not name your own price part) and find the Disney hotel there for nearly the same price (no pass needed). Sometimes if you know far enough ahead, too…you can get a really great rate on a Disney hotel…without a pass. Just have to look around or use a free Disney travel agent…make sure they have their mouse ears! 😉

  6. We always buy the AP because (a) we usually go for more than 12 days at a time (the break even point is 11 days); (b) because we usually go twice in a 12 month period; and, (c) because we get a slightly better discount when staying on property; and, (d) because if we do stay off property we get free parking!

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