Free Disney Dining, Does It Always Save You Money?

Disney has extended Free Dining once again. What does this mean for you? Is Free Dining always the best option? To find out I compared: Room and Ticket rates (Magic Your Way) with Room, Ticket and Free Dining (Magic Your Way Plus Free Dining) and Room rates, Tickets plus Dining Plan (Magic Your Way Plus Dining)

Important things to know to keep the comparisons apples to apples:
1. Magic Your Way is the name Disney gives to packages. Magic Your Way includes: Room and Tickets.
2. When Disney offers Free Dining in Value Resort packages – it is Quick Service Dining.
3. Free Dining in Moderate and Deluxe Resort Packages — is the Basic Disney Dining Plan.

All prices are based on a trip November 2 – 6, 2009. 2 Adults, 2 children. Standard View. 4 Day Base Tickets. Tax is not included.

If you notice in the Deluxe category, it is actually $91.60 cheaper to purchase the Magic Your Way Plus Dining than the Free Dining offer. Just because FREE is in the offer, it’s not always saving you money.

Here are the numbers for the deluxe resorts:

Caroline Baggerly

Caroline has a love of Disney that her family and friends don't quite get. Always ready for a trip to the Happiest Place on Earth or to do research for "The Unofficial Guide".

36 thoughts on “Free Disney Dining, Does It Always Save You Money?

  • September 16, 2009 at 6:01 pm

    I’m not sure of your methodology here — shouldn’t the MYW base plan cost the same as MYW plus free dining? Did you have a room discount code to use when calculating the first package? If so, what was the percentage of the discount off of rack rate?

    When we were planning our upcoming trip (9/27-10/1), I did the math every possible way. Even with a 45% off pin code, free dining was cheaper at a moderate.

  • September 16, 2009 at 6:30 pm

    Hi R,
    At a Moderate, “Free Dining” is a little cheaper.

    Have a great trip.

  • September 16, 2009 at 6:40 pm

    Sorry, I don’t buy this. Not only does it make no sense, I ran the numbers myself and they came out as they should. Are you sure you’re using the same views and ticket options?

  • September 16, 2009 at 7:04 pm

    Fuzzy math?
    I just checked the Animal Kingdom for 2 adult and 2 kids base tickets for those dates and the standard MYW plus dining would be: $2575.88
    While the free dining offer was only: $2167.96

  • September 16, 2009 at 7:49 pm

    Yhe diference is that with the ferr dinning plan, you must pay “rack rates” or full price for the room, no discounts.
    Notice the CODE of “NBH”? that gets a discounted room rate.

  • September 16, 2009 at 7:57 pm

    Our family of four is going in November and it saved us more money to use the room discount than to pay full price for the room and get the “free” dining plan. (staying at the campground cabins)

  • September 16, 2009 at 10:33 pm

    As Len Testa said in Episode 464 of WDW Today, thou shalt not pay rack rate. Some sort of room-only discount is available at nearly all times of year, and there are plenty of discounts to be had in 2009. Since only suckers pay rack rate, comparing free dining to other options requires the sort of analysis done in this post.

    The parameters in the analysis, however, will be different for each traveling party since the resort, available discounts, number of people per room, ages of people in the rooms, and time of year all fact into the costs and savings.

    The analysis above is for a particular scenario, and I think it’s interesting to look at. If nothing else, it shows that “free dining” is sometimes more expensive that non-free dining, and that’s a concept that lots of people have trouble believing. If you work with a good Disney travel agent, the agent should be willing to look at your situation and let you know what will work best for your group.

    That said, I push my own analysis ever further by comparing free dining to not having the dining plan at all. The dining plan is generally too much food for me, so it is never cost-effective to pay for it. Thus I need to compare what I would spend on food out of pocket with the difference in price between free dining a room-only reservation with food (but not the dining plan). Other circumstances (like if you have an Annual Pass and don’t need to purchase tickets) can also complicate things.

    Thank you for sharing this information with a wide audience via the Blog!

    • September 17, 2009 at 10:50 am

      Hi David,
      Thank you for your wonderful analysis!! Awesome!! You summed it so well. 😉

  • September 17, 2009 at 7:49 am

    I just wanted to point out that those of us with annual passes can often get better discounts and we also have the ability get the Tables in Wonderland card with a 20% discount on table service and a few counter service restaurants. With these discounts it is almost always cheaper to use them rather than the free dining deal.

    Can you share what percentage off your code gave, Caroline? That may help the clarify things a bit. Thanks for the info!

    • September 18, 2009 at 5:58 pm

      Hi Kristen,
      When I did the research, I priced the available packages for the dates of travel. The codes listed in the chart reference the available packages. What was available was “Fall Magic Your Way”, “Magic Your Plus Free Dine” and “Fall Magic Your way Plus Dine.”
      Hope that helps.

  • September 17, 2009 at 9:13 am

    Just to support some of these findings…we booked a Club Level room at the Boardwalk Inn for the last week in October using the 40% off room discount featured on the WDW website. We added the basic dining plan and saved $100 as compared to booking the free dining and staying in a standard room at Boardwalk Inn. So, basically, we got an upgraded room out of the deal.
    The lesson…do your research and make sure what you are getting is the best value for you 🙂

    • September 18, 2009 at 5:59 pm

      You are going to love Club Level at the Boardwalk. The staff there is outstanding!! Have a great trip.

  • September 17, 2009 at 12:24 pm

    Disney “extended” free dining … Looking for it on Mousesavers and the Disney website. I assume the extending is the old one and not one that goes into 2010 …

  • September 17, 2009 at 4:17 pm

    Hi! I love this website, helped a lot on planning… I follow the blog and recent news everyday! Well, I must have got some magic on my prices, because we are going from 09/27 to 07/10, 2 adults and a 5 year old boy, at French Quarter, 7 day base ticket, Deluxe Dining, all for only 3150 US$. I added it up a thousand times, tried every combination possible, and decided to upgrade from “Free Dining”, that was 2400, to deluxe. It made more sense, since we’ve been there for about the same time last year, stayed off-property, and usually a single meal for the three of us costed 30-40 at counter service restaurants. So, 2 fast-food meals and breakfast would be more than 120 bucks a day. But, when we had the character breakfast, it costed almost 90 at Cape May Cafe. For me, it was simple: for about 80 dollars a day, we got three sit down meals, for three people, plus snacks, plus perks… I think it was a GREAT deal. I booked every character meal and every signature dining possible, so we can take the most of our plan. Since it´s not our first trip, we´ll have time to relax having nice meals at fancy restaurants, instead of running aroud the park to get into every single ride possible!! Regards from Brazil, can’t wait to get there!!!!

  • September 17, 2009 at 5:52 pm

    I think the article would have made more sense if the discount code had been explained up front. From reading the first paragraph it didn’t say anything about comparisons using a discount code. I don’t think everyone can guess what “Code NBH” means.

    • September 17, 2009 at 8:25 pm

      I think there is an error on the Port Orleans option on the chart. I put in the same dates and family size and I got the same $1761.40 for the paying for dining option.

      However, when I did the free dining option I got $1627.96. To get the $1740.52 in the chart, you need to upgrade to a water view room.

      So the chart is not comparing the same package. The same package is $133.44 or 7.5% cheaper than paying for dining.

      I haven’t checked the other options, but this pretty big mistake makes the whole chart, in my opinion, suspect.

      • September 18, 2009 at 6:55 am

        Larry, I think you’re right about the price at POR for free dining (although my total was $1,640.74). We’ll re-do the prices on the chart.

      • September 18, 2009 at 7:53 am

        Hi Larry,
        Thank you for alerting me to my mistake. You are absolutely right, I mistakenly quoted a Water View Room at Port Orleans. I have corrected the chart. Please, don’t throw the baby out with the bath water, I double checked my research and the chart is accurate. I apologize.
        Thanks, Caroline

    • September 18, 2009 at 6:02 pm

      Hi Olivia,
      The discount codes reference the name of the package listed next to it. I hope that helps. These were the packages that were available for these specific travel dates.

  • September 18, 2009 at 9:02 am

    I agree that free dining is not always the best option. You have to crunch the numbers for your particular situation. For my family there are 5 of us and all but 1 are considered adults by Disney standards. We booked the free dining at POR for Dec 12-20 and it saves us $1300 on the total trip. For us even free dining at AKL would be a savings because of the number of “adults” in the room. Our total trip for 8 nights 5 people is $2940.

  • September 18, 2009 at 12:13 pm

    Last year we went through the same analysis. The ultimate moral of the story is that we ended up rebooking the exact same package 2 different times between our original August booking and literally day 47 prior to departure. (Day 45 is when they impose the cancellation penalty.) Our original booking was for Contemporary, Garden Wing standard view, 7 nights hotel, 6 day basic tix (3 adults 1 child), and dining plan, not the quick service.

    Our original reservation was with a PIN sent to us as disney card holders.

    Our first rebooking was with a published special on room rates and saved us approximately $250 off the rate with the PIN.

    Our second rebooking was when they offered free meal plans to disney reward visa members, and saved us $170 off our first rebook, plus upgraded us to a water view room.

    So in the end we saved over $420 through rebookings, especially when you count the value of the water view room upgrade.

    I think you just have to constantly do the math, there is no “rule of thumb.”

    I kept all our dining receipts from last year, and I conclusively know that, for my family, the ONLY reason the dining plan pays for itself is that we use the table service meals to book character buffets and the “dinner and a show” packages for candlelight processional etc. You can get one redemption reservations for these packages and “street price” for these meals easily run $37 each. If we were not splurging for these premium priced buffets and special event ticket packages, we would not come close to breaking even on the cost of the meal plan.

    There is something to be said, however, for knowing that most of your food is already pre-paid.

    For those agonizing over this quandry (to buy or not to buy meal plan) you should be aware that garden grocer will deliver to your disney hotel. For pretty normal grocery store prices, you send them your order for bread, meats, drinks, snacks etc and they deliver to your hotel. Put the perishables into your fridge and you easily have one meal and a hearty snack per day at ordinary prices.

  • September 18, 2009 at 12:52 pm

    bummer, just did our numbers and we would have saved $60 not to book the dining plan, since it costs $50 to change guess we break even..well then I will just get and enjoy the desserts!!! Still pleased and excited to be at the Poly in less than 2 weeks!!

    • September 18, 2009 at 6:04 pm

      Hi Ann,
      Have a great trip!!

  • September 19, 2009 at 6:46 pm

    With all of this “free” dining flying around AND with the “extra 10 day” advantage that Disney guests have when booking ADRs (not to mention the fact that Disney does not reserve ANY tables for walk-up guests), we off-site guests are frustrated because we can’t get reservations at Disney restaurants!! It seems like Disney is caring a LOT more about its guests on-site. I suppose that’s just the way it is this year and for the foreseeable future. *sigh*

    • September 21, 2009 at 1:11 pm

      I see it as a business decision. I know that before I book there are certain specific advantages to staying on-site, and I can then budget accordingly.
      Think about it this way: I don’t earn free nights on my American Airlines account for flying Southwest; I don’t get credit towards a free night at the Hilton for staying at the Sheraton. Every business logically reserves certain ‘benefits’ for customers who exclusively use their product. I can still fly whatever airline I choose or stay wherever I wish, but there are always trade-offs.

    • September 22, 2009 at 11:13 am

      To cgs878, we are passholders and Fl Residents and my stepmother lives in a small house in Kissemmee, so we have stayed just about everywhere on our frequent trips to Disney. That said we prefer to stay onsite when not staying at my stepmom’s due to the various fees and surcharges at the off site Hotels. We have had many quality/cleanliness issues even at some of the “Better” offsite resorts. We have never had bugs, or hot water, or other issues at any of the “onsite” properties. So for the price the value resorts may seem expensive compared to the cheapest offsite hotels but after you add in the $10 city imposed resort fee and then the other sometimes unmentioned in the website fees, the Disney Value resorts always come out on top.

  • September 22, 2009 at 2:49 pm

    Where do you enter a discount code? I’m playing around on pricing @ WDW’s site but I must be missing it.

    • September 22, 2009 at 3:54 pm

      Hey Todd,
      You don’t have to enter a discount code. I don’t have your travel dates so I’m not exactly sure what is available. For the sake of playing around with the site, put your dates in, the different packages should be available.

      I hope that helps. If not, let me know.

  • September 23, 2009 at 6:47 pm

    YOu also have to factor in room availabity too. When we initially booked our December trip for the Wilderness Lodge using a PIN code we could only get a room with 1 Queen and bunk beds (which I understand is an upgraded room). My 15 year old son did not want bunk beds. When I learned of the free dining I called to change and was able to get what we really wanted which was a standard room with 2 Queens. So it ended up costing me less to add the free dining to a standard room. We plan on doing some signature dining and plan to eat well so I think we will be winning out on this deal.

  • September 26, 2009 at 10:28 pm

    With finding this site I’m now wondering if I have a good deal or not…lol.
    Can some body help me out???
    2 adults
    4 kids (17,10,3,3)
    Wilderness cabins
    Free dining also
    Quote price @ 4300$

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