Is Disney Vacation Club Right For You?

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So What's Your Definition of "Keeping" a "Secret"?

Psst. I want to let you in on a secret. Disney’s Best Kept Secret, actually. What, you’ve heard of it?! I thought those giant billboards, bus advertisements, numerous in-resort and in-park kiosks, dedicated tv station, pins and buttons, stickers, etc., were only directed at me. Apparently the marketing line is a bit of a misnomer.

Given that you probably have heard of Disney’s (Supposed) Best Kept Secret, Disney Vacation Club, I’ll cut right to the chase: is Disney Vacation Club right for you? By asking yourself the questions below, you can get a pretty good idea of whether DVC is right for you.

“Will I have to finance the DVC contract purchase?”

If the answer to that question is yes, and one of the reasons for purchasing DVC is to save money, it’s likely a bad idea to buy into DVC. I could easily write two full articles on the actual economics of Disney Vacation Club, but I’ll keep this brief. Unlike Disney’s claim that DVC will save you 70% off of future resort stays, this is not the case. If it were, do you really think Disney would actually be offering the program–and that it would be wildly profitable for the company? If you have to finance, any potential savings are quickly dissipated by the interest you pay on the purchase. Even if you’re not financing, the time-value of money, which is the principle that money at the present time is worth more than the same amount in the future due to its earning capacity, makes any claim by Disney that you’ll actually save 70% with DVC  highly specious. Now, if you have plenty of cash sitting under your bed that you would only “invest” in lottery tickets, then there certainly are potential savings in DVC. For most people, however, DVC will only offer limited savings, at best.

“In what kind of accommodations would I like to stay?”

Old Key West - Olivia's
This is a tough question to answer, because you need to be able to anticipate your vacationing habits in the future. If you only roll Deluxe, and anticipate demanding posh accommodations in the future, DVC sounds right for you. If you have kids, and are tired of sleeping in the same small quarters with them at a Moderate Resort, DVC is also probably right for you. If you’re an Ultimate Touring Plan-driven bachelor who travels alone, primarily stays at Values now, and stays out until all hours of the night and gets up for rope drop, DVC may not be a good option for you. If you can’t stand the idea of MouseKeeping not coming into your room and fixing up after Hurricane Your Kids, DVC may not be right for you. If you like the idea of being able to do your laundry, prepare a meal in your in-room kitchen, utilize free in-room internet, or enjoy a whole host of other “at-home” amenities, DVC may be right.

“Can I plan my vacations in advance?”

If you can’t regularly plan your vacations 7 months or more in advance, and you’re not wild about Saratoga Springs Resort or Old Key West Resort (the two resorts that are the last to fill up), then DVC may not be right for you. During various times of year, popular DVC resorts fill up quickly. In fact, during the Christmas season, it can be difficult to get even Saratoga and Old Key West inside of 7 months.

“Will I vacation at Walt Disney World or Disneyland at least once every three years for the next 40 years?”

Reasons I Love Walt Disney World:  #2,350
Thanks to the banking and borrowing system, it isn’t necessary to take a Disney vacation every year. However, to make DVC a pragmatic option, you pretty much must visit WDW or DLR once every three years. Using DVC points for non-DVC vacations offers terrible value. Since many DVC contracts expire in 2054, you better hope the Mouse won’t break your heart anytime soon. Although if he does, selling your contract on the resale market is an option, and thanks to Disney’s Right of First Refusal, contracts retain a somewhat inflated value on the resale market.

“Do I like the DVC resorts?”

Much like using DVC points for non-DVC vacations is a bad idea, using DVC points at non-DVC resorts is a bad idea. Do you like the DVC resort choices? With DVC’s explosive growth in the past several years, and new DVC units strongly rumored at the Grand Floridian Resort and Fort Wilderness, resort choices only look to improve in the coming years.

“Are there any other benefits that DVC will offer me?”

DVC members get discounts on Annual Passes and D23 Memberships. There are several Members-Only DVC pins, events, and other offerings throughout the year as well.

“Will DVC increase my quality of life?”

Much like TouringPlans.com, it seems one of DVC’s main goals is to increase world happiness. Well, maybe that’s a bit over-zealous. Perhaps increasing Disney-fans’ happiness is more apt. Will the little things, such as the “Welcome Home” doormats, Disney Files Magazine showing up in your mailbox, and going to bed at night knowing your vacations are partially paid in advance for the next 40-some years make you happier? If so, that might trump everything else here, and you may want to purchase DVC. As they say, you can’t put a price on peace of mind.

Disney's Beach Club Resort at Night
These are the questions we asked ourselves when contemplating a DVC purchase. Ultimately, we decided it was right for us. After doing the math every which way, we determined that buying a small Saratoga Springs Resort contract (one of the most economically-efficient options because of the lower per-point prices for contracts on the resale market, low annual dues, and 2054 expiration date) and banking & borrowing points to use for our 10-day honeymoon would be a good option for us.  In comparison to paying out of pocket for a stay at the BoardWalk for our honeymoon, buying the small DVC contract outright provided a reasonable break even time. Plus, as new Annual Passholders, the DVC membership would save us over $200 per year total for our APs. Staying in DVC accommodations also offered us the ability to purchase the Disney Dining Plan without purchasing park tickets unnecessarily. Granted, our touring style of only staying out late and getting up early doesn’t really necessitate DVC accommodations presently, but we probably won’t keep up this pace forever. When we slow down and have kids, I’m sure the amenities DVC offers will be vital. In the meantime, we still enjoy the nicer room and resort once every three or four trips. The math worked for us, and so too did it increase our happiness. There are few pieces of mail I look forward to more than the Disney Files magazine, and hearing “Welcome Home” from the Cast Member at the front desk of our resort gives me an ear-to-ear grin every time. It may not work for everyone, but it certainly works for us.

What about for you? If you’re a member, has it been a good or bad experience? If you’re not a member, why not?

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Posted on April 8, 2011

38 Responses to “Is Disney Vacation Club Right For You?”

  • Thanks for the article, Tom. This is the first time I’ve heard the value of DVC explained in such an easy-to-understand manner. Nice work!

  • Great article Tom. Any chance you’ll do a deeper dive into the finances of DVC, and the calculations/assumptions you made? I actually agree with most of your points (having done exhaustive calculations myself), but I think for most people it would be a very illuminating article.

    Also – did you look at Old Key West? How did it compare aesthetically, and cost-wise, to SSR?

    • Not a chance on the financing article! :) While I am willing to do math when necessary, I certainly do not enjoy it (I’m a liberal arts man) and would not want to recreate those calculations. Besides, in the space allotted here, I doubt I could an article on the math justice. The math can be tricky with TVM (or opportunity cost) and may vary depending on the interest you figure (what percent is reasonable? I think 6%) and when you factor capital gains taxes, etc. No thanks on writing that article!

      We looked at every resort. Back when we bought, Saratoga was by far the best option. OKW is lower per-point, but it expires sooner (unless you have the extended K, in which case it expires later but costs more for the contract) and the annual maintenance fees cost more. Similarly, Hilton Head and Vero Beach cost much less for their contracts, but their maintenance fees quickly make up for that.

      Some people will advise you to buy where you want to stay. Rubbish, I say. Except for during the height of Food & Wine Festival and at Christmas, you can get most resorts at the 7 month mark year-round (except maybe Beach Club and BoardWalk standard). As long as you are *somewhat* flexible with where you’re willing to stay, buying SSR makes the most sense. To be sure, if you have a ‘must-stay’ resort and only that resort will suffice, buy there (unless that resort is OKW or maybe even Animal Kingdom, as you can book at both pretty easily anytime). If not, go with SSR.

  • by Brian Noble on April 8, 2011, at 9:57 am EDT

    Nice article. I almost never see someone discuss the time-value of money when considering a DVC (or other timeshare) purchase—and it’s one of the things that I think most Members (and Guides!) usually get wrong.

    • It’s the one thing I seldom see mentioned, as well. I find that quite odd, as it is what quickly swings timeshares from being a great value to a not-so-great value. The fact that people don’t consider TVM is probably what makes timeshare marketing so successful.

  • Great article! I’m always confused by the whole timeshare idea. I only know that if you don’t plan on vacationing at least once a year, they’re not usually worth it. But its nice to see it explained in a way everyone understands. And without the pushy salesman trying to close the sale!

  • As much as I would like to buy into DVC, we already own three timeshare weeks elsewhere, all of which were purchased as resales for incredibly low amounts of money – a small fraction of what the same resorts would’ve charged if we’d bought directly from them. And since there’s no shortage of timeshares in the Orlando area, we’ve never had any trouble exchanging to a resort just a few minutes from the parks. The advantages of staying in a DVC property don’t outweigh the savings of sticking with non-DVC timeshare exchanges.

  • We looked into the DVC and it was not worth it for us as Canadians. They wanted us to put the whole amount on a credit card and pay it off for so many years. Can you imagine the interest? We go to Disney every year and wouldn’t be able to while paying off a huge credit card debt.

    • If you’re looking to buy DVC, the resale market is definitely the way to go. None of the promotions that have been offered by Disney in the last several years even come close to touching the resale prices. In any case, financing the purchase is a bad idea.

  • We have not bought in but haven’t ruled it out. We’re basically happy with the Moderates but there being only 4 of those, there isn’t much variety. That’s why I started looking at DVC. I ran the numbers with a plan of booking Moderates every other year and buying just enough points (on resale) to book a DVC studio for the alternate years. When I looked at it, the break-even point on the DVC purchase (compared with booking a standard Deluxe room every other year) would be very far in the future, and virtually nonexistent if you’re able to get at least a 20% discount on the Deluxe rooms. For us, whether we buy in will depend on whether we’re still happy with Moderates and still happy with the everyone-in-the-same-room style of vacationing.

  • We’re DVC members and for all the reasons you mentioned, it’s right for us. We didn’t have to finance, we prefer the deluxe resorts, we have a toddler and like the extra space, and like ability to dine easily in our room. We usually stay for 10 days every year, or every other year, and the thought of staying in a normal sized hotel room for that long with a rambunctious three-year old isn’t my idea of a good time. My husband is a CPA and he crunched the numbers. Is it a BIG savings? Nope. Not at all. But compared to staying at deluxe resorts every year or every other year, and all the extra ammentities IMHO it can’t be beat.

    We also have a Disney Visa, use it for everything and pay it off every month. I know you said in your post last week or so not to get it for the rewards… but we love it. Our park tickets have been paid for with reward dollars (one year our park tickets AND dining plan were paid with reward dollars). Couple this with the DVC membership makes our ten-day trips much easier to manage financially.

  • by Jul from MD on April 8, 2011, at 12:28 pm EDT

    My husband and I are DVC members twice over. We bought our initial buy-in at AKV as a wedding present to ourselves (second marriage…what else would we want to get?). We bought a small add-on at BLT when the prices were cheap just to try it out and see if we wanted to buy more there. Our first trip to BLT is in October, so… ;)

    For BLT, we paid cash, but we financed the much bigger chunk at AKV. Because we had just paid off our cars, we’ve been just seeing that as a car payment. When we’ve paid off AKV, then it will be time to get a new car.

    We’re typically cheap people and would never pay out of pocket for a deluxe resort, and getting DVC was a way to “force” us to take vacations on a regular schedule (we’re both workaholics). With a kid now, the extra space and the kitchen is very important. By banking and borrowing efficiently, we’re able to take large groups of people with us who typically couldn’t afford a Disney vacation because we’re “paying for the room”. It isn’t for everyone, but it works incredibly well for us!

    • I think you view it mostly in light of the last consideration I discussed above. If it’s something you want and will make you happy, it may not be a bad idea to buy even if you do finance. If it makes you happy, no one can knock that!

    • Full disclosure, I’m the aforementioned husband. :)

      For us as parents of an infant (at the moment), one of the best DVC room amenities is the Pack’n'Play. Even though we travel via the Auto Train and could conceivably bring our own Pack’n'Play along for her to sleep in, it’s a large piece of cargo. (And it’s not something you’d be taking on an airplane these days.)

      Value rooms don’t even have room to comfortably deploy a Pack’n'Play, and you’d be hard pressed in most moderates. Having a way for our daughter to sleep safely and room to set it up was a huge benefit on our last two trips.

  • Thanks, great article. It’s something I’ve been thinking about and I think this helps focus my decision. If I come into some money – like my shares mature way better than plan- then I’ll give it another look but until that day it’s probably a silly idea for me personally.

  • We’ve been debating DVC since we go to WDW every other year. We always stay at the Grand Floridian (DVC might be building there?!?) and spend at least $5000 per trip so I’ve been seriously thinking DVC could be a way for us to save money. Now I don’t know if that would be the case – especially with all the deluxe room specials lately. Thanks for the article!

    • All of the 40% off Deluxe room deals certainly throw a wrench into the math, don’t they? If you’re spending $5,000 per trip (I presume this is not just for the room), it might be worth considering how many points you’d need to purchase to accommodate your stays, and for how much money you could buy that many points via resale. It might not be worth it, but it’s worth checking!

  • Thanks for the good article, Tom. I think the DVC choice is a rather complex one and you’ve barely scratched the surface, though your article was definitely one of the best I’ve seen given its size.

    I would encourage anyone who has any interest in DVC to do 4 things, in no particular order:

    1) Take the tour. It’s very low key, you will not be pressured and your time is usually somewhat compensated for, perhaps, for example, by giving you a few super fast-passes so you can ride a few attractions without waiting. This will give you a look at the rooms and the pricing (though also don’t forget your option to buy via resale) as well as all the terms you’ll be subject to.

    2) There are a couple of websites devoted to discussion of DVC. Friendly people and TONS of good info. You can just read if you choose… no registration needed to just read. dvcnews and mouseowners (both dot coms) are excellent.

    3) Talk to DVC owners. They’re everywhere. Look in the Rose and Crown Pub :-)

    4) Stay at a DVC property yourself. While you can pay obscene amounts of money to do this directly from Disney you can also “rent” a room from DVC owners for a lot less. I think this is the best way to experience the negatives and positives yourself.

    You’ll be sufficiently educated by then to make a good decision. And you’ll probably have a lot of unexpected fun in the process!

    • You’re right – this article is hardly an exhaustive look at buying DVC.

      1) I would also recommend taking the tour. If you live near Chicago or New York, you can do this at the (very cool) Doorway to Dreams stores. If doing it at WDW, you can make clear at the start of the tour that you really aren’t interested in buying during your trip, that you JUST want a tour (they should still give you the FastPasses–and a nice book!)

      2) Prior to us buying, I did a lot of research on MouseOwners.com and DVCNews.com – both are excellent sites and I would highly recommend them. Some of the popular Disney forums also have DVC subforums.

      3) Agreed, but just be sure that the ones you talk to know what they’re talking about! When people buy into a product, I find they’re more likely to give a biased view that disregards flaws (i.e. they’re less objective). Mind you, I am a DVC owner, but I hope my take on buying was mostly objective!

      4) Great suggestion! We stayed at SSR twice before buying (thanks to an awesome 60% off Cast Member promotion…and we got a free room upgrade BOTH times on top of that!). Just be careful, as this could EASILY be the most expensive stay you ever have, even if the room doesn’t cost that much! ;)

      MouseOwners.com and the Disboards both have point rental forums. You can also rent points from certain websites, but they’re generally more expensive.

      Like Bill says: read, read, read! You should never jump blindly at such a large financial decision!

  • I second, or is that third, the notion of stay there first. Our first stay at a DVC resort was using a great AP rate at Saratoga Springs. We fell in love with the whirlpool tub and washer/dryer. The refrigerator and full kitchen amenities certainly put the experience over the top.

    Another time, I got a great bounce-back rate for the Boardwalk Villas–which was an amazing place to stay during Food and Wine Festival. Last couple of trips, the bounce-back offer had disappeared, much to my dismay.

    I have been lucky and have rented points from a friend, so I didn’t have to worry about the “trust” element. So, we’ve been staying at DVC resorts for about four years at this point. We enjoy staying in an apartment with a kitchen, laundry, and whirlpool so much, that now we stay off-site and the Sheraton Vistana Villas if we can’t get what we want at a DVC property.

    We don’t own, though. Why not? I have run the numbers (repeatedly), and taking the money out of other investments and spending it on DVC makes absolutely no sense–for us. It sort of works, until you factor in the annual maintenance fee. At that point, any financial/logic-based argument completely fell apart. I was better off putting the amount 160 points would cost into DIS stock! ;-) So, we’ll keep renting points or paying cash–and all along the way, loving the DVC!

  • I’m glad you threw in the comment about “quality of life”. I think that is really the deciding factor for most people. If you think of it as an investment, you will always be able to put numbers together in a way that will make it not make sense to buy. I think of it more like a car. If you thought about the time-value of your money when buying a car, no one would ever by the Mercedes. The Kia is so much cheaper. The number one reason to buy DVC . . . you just want it!

    • I totally understand what you’re saying, but I think the difference is that Mercedes doesn’t purport to be a money-saving option. One of, if not the, single biggest aspects of DVC marketing is that you will save money by buying DVC. Since a lot of people view DVC as a money-saving “investment,” I think it’s important to discuss that.

  • We’re just now looking to buy. I admit it’s more emotional and less financial for us. Also, we would NEVER stay in deluxe if we had to “pay-as-you-go.” We’re hoping to become members so we can take my MIL & FIL to Hawaii for their 50th Anniversary next year. We’ll buy enough points (at SSR, natch) to stay EOY in a 1BR.

    We would trade out sometimes and maybe try a studio once in a while, but studios are just expensive, fancy hotel rooms. No thanks. The “home away from home” is part of the sale for us.

    I think the “cost effective” argument is nearly always lost when it comes to timeshare. It truly is about happiness. Does it make you happy? If I wanted to save money, I’d stay home.

    • It is good when you know you are making an emotional decision. That’s why I keep running the numbers, over and over. ;-) There is nothing wrong with that–and in fact, we’ll all be happier if we remembered our hearts are in the right place as much as our heads.

      Enjoy!!!!! And Welcome Home!!!!!

  • Don’t know about the US but in the UK Saratoga Springs and Old Key West are regularly offered at 42% discount plus free dining (regular DDP) – doesn’t that wipe out pretty much any potential DVC cost saving?

    • Yes, that absolutely wipes out the savings. I don’t think I’ve *ever* seen that offer made to the general public here in the states. I would definitely jump at it!

      • That’s pretty much the AP discount for OKW and SS, but you have to wait until you’re about 45 days out to get it. Not for the faint of heart! ;-)

        • I’ve seen 42% off via an AP rate for those two, but never WITH free dining. That would make it an awesome deal.

          • I missed the free dining part! That’s a significant game-changer. Maybe I should be planning my trips when I’m at my office in Ireland instead of state-side. Hmmmmmm . . .

  • by matt new york on April 8, 2011, at 6:51 pm EDT

    I bought and like a lot of people my only regret is not doing it sooner!! I stay at BLT, magic kingdom view, with my immediate family and friends. Seeing my kids’ faces as we watch Wishes and listen to the synchronized music from the comfort of our room is literally priceless!!!! Renting points would have saved money, but what a hassle. YOU HAVE ONE LIFE. Buy now and don’t look back!!!

  • We bought a resale contract at Old Key West, and then added 50 more points with a smaller contract (at OKW). We’ve enjoyed 2 great trips already, and have another planned for this year! It’s been one of the best things we ever did! Luckily, we were able to buy without financing, so much the better. Thanks for the great article.

  • by Joseedanylo on June 13, 2011, at 11:16 am EDT

    Hello. I am canadian and my DH and i are looking at buying DVC. With 4 kids we would like the chance to rent a larger accommodation then always using the Fort Wilderness Campground (which is great but our trailer is getting old…)and any other options is to rent a DVC room at full price!!! My worries is the Canadian / US income taxes. Can you give me any details on what happens when you do buy DVC? Do you have to pay “duties” on your purchase? income tax in the US?…. Thank you for any help.

  • kind of liked this post :P not all of it – there were a number of things which i found a tad off but all in all it was a nice read, many thanks for the post! =) Regards, Akerley

  • We’re taking the tour tomorrow, so this might be answered then, but there’s no mention of assessments. Are they a part of the analysis? For instance, if a resort burns, are DVC members assessed for those damages on top of the annual fees? That’s how other timeshares work, right?

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