Disney Playing The Hotwire Lottery Game With PIN Codes?!

by on June 24, 2011 56 Comments

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Two of my favorite things are Disney and discounts. (Yep, I live a life of non-stop thrills and excitement!) It should thus be no surprise that, when emails land in my inbox with subject lines advertising a, “Special Offer for the Bricker Family,” they move to the top of my email queue and are immediately opened. I’ve written about these targeted offers here before, which are known as Pin Codes in the Disney vernacular. However, when I saw a new type of offer for the Fall off-peak season yesterday, I was especially intrigued.

He's a Tramp

Here are the details of this offer:

Lower Price: Stay at our choice of a Disney Value or a select Disney Moderate Resort hotel for just $67* per night, plus tax!

With this special low rate:
• We choose the hotel and room type and you’ll find out what it is after booking and paying in full
• Full payment is required at time of booking and payment is nonrefundable
• No cancellations or modifications are allowed after payment

Based upon the above, it appears that Disney is trying its hand at a Hotwire.com or Priceline.com style room lottery system, where you receive a greater discount by offering greater flexibility in where you’re willing to stay and by paying up-front without the ability to cancel. Especially intriguing is that Disney is employing A/B testing with this deal, offering slight variants of the deal (such as removing the possibility of receiving a Moderate from one variation of the deal). This is undoubtedly being done to test whether such a “room lottery” appeals to past Disney guests, and whether it might be successful with the general public.

Given that the current Pin Code room-only discount for a Value Resort is $91/night, even if guests are to get “stuck” with a Value Resort through this offer, they’re still getting a fairly good deal. Although I doubt $91/night will be the top discount for Value Resorts during this period, $67/night is not bad, and falls in line with Fall Value Resort discounts from past years. Assuming, for the sake of discussion, that $67/night is a fair room-only rate for a Value Resort during this time period, you are essentially trading the pre-paid and non-refundable elements of the discount for the possibility of snagging one of those elusive Moderate Resorts!

Tranquil Pool at Disney's Pop Century Resort

Thus, the question becomes, is there sufficient upside to that trade-off? For myself, and for most people reading this blog (read: Disney Nuts), I think there is. Obviously there is the attendant risk in having to pay up-front and not being able to take the trip for whatever reason, but many of us take this risk frequently with those other booking engines, anyway. Additionally, for the obsessive planners among us who want total control over their vacations, and I’m guessing a lot of readers here are like that given the nature of this site, this offer may simply force us to sacrifice too much planning control to Disney. The great benefit, though, is that stated above: we get a deeper discount and the possibility of landing a higher tier room for the discounted price of a Value!

That said, I could see some issues with this deal were it released to the general public. I think this untrodden soil onto which Disney is stepping might be dangerous for it from the perspective that it cheapens its product (as if the constant barrage of deep discounts haven’t already done that–okay, maybe this isn’t much of an issue at all). More importantly, I think it might create expectations in the minds of guests that Disney is unable to satisfy. While Disney clearly indicates that the room will be in either a Value or Moderate Resort, at Disney’s election, I have little doubt that many guests will be disappointed when they find out that Disney has chosen a Value Resort for them. A great portion of Disney’s success is predicated upon the general public’s incredible guest satisfaction numbers, and if Disney disappoints guests at the outset by informing them that they’re getting the “lesser” resort, that could set the tone for their vacation. This does not jive with Disney’s mantra of exceeding expectations, as it would create the opportunity for Disney to easily fail to meet guest expectations.

A Midsummer Night's Polynesian Dream

Conversely, Disney has the opportunity to use this system to increase guest satisfaction with the general public by moving as many guests to Moderate Resorts as possible, thereby starting their vacation out with a ‘bang’ as they find themselves landing a resort in which they might not otherwise stay, for over 67% off the normal rack rate! If Disney ends up using the discount in this manner, to fill the moderates as close to capacity as possible, this discount could be a huge victory for guest satisfaction. I’m not a hospitality management expert, nor did I stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night, but I think this might also be good for Disney in that it could close down portions of certain resorts during slow booking seasons to save on expenses (or for refurbishments). I have no clue if this is actually feasible or would result in a savings, so I won’t file this as one of the “official” benefits of the discount. (Oh yes, by virtue of being in this blog post, it becomes official!)

As I always geek out when contemplating the psychology of discounting, I found this new offer really fascinating as it could be a huge victory for Disney and guests alike if executed carefully. If you didn’t like this post, and you wondered how I just rambled on for over 1,000 words about a three sentence discount, I apologize (although in my defense, it’s not like I pretended at the outset that the article was going to be about Concierge Level at the Polynesian or something else more “interesting”!).

For those of you who do find this new type of discount fascinating, what do you think? Is this something you would or would not book if you had the opportunity? Do you think Disney is heading into dangerous territory playing the resort “lotto” game, or is this a great new discount that guests will embrace like they’ve embraced Priceline and Hotwire? Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments!

Posted on June 24, 2011

56 Responses to “Disney Playing The Hotwire Lottery Game With PIN Codes?!”

  • Very interesting. I don’t know if I would do it because I REALLY don’t want to end up in an All Star Resort, but it’s certainly interesting. Especially if it’s just going to be a quick trip, the savings could make it all worthwhile.

    I would be really interested if it were a moderate/deluxe roll of the dice. The price differential probably makes this infeasible for Disney but I bet a lot of people would be willing to “settle” for Port Orleans or Caribbean Beach and then have the chance of landing at Animal Kingdom Lodge or the Boardwalk or something.

  • Random other thing I just thought of: I assume the moderate resort has no chance of being the Fort Wilderness Cabins, right? Because that would be kind of unfair.

    Could you imagine the guy who wanted Pop Century, took a stab at maybe getting Coronado Springs, and then lands himself in the cabin in the middle of the woods? Haha.

    • Ha, I guess Fort Wilderness isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time, but I was actually thinking the opposite: “for $67/night I might be able to land a Cabin?! That would be AWESOME!”

      Sadly, I am sure that the Cabins, All Star Music Suites, and Moderate “themed” (Nemo, Pirates, etc.) are not part of this offer. Hope I’m wrong!

  • I think it’s a great idea. If I had that code, I would take the chance. In fact, now that I think of it, I would use it right now if the dates fell during Food & Wine and the Halloween party. For that price it’s worth it. Sure, I might get stuck with All Star Movies or Music, but I might get a moderate.

  • by TrevorTheGovnr on June 24, 2011, at 11:32 am EST

    I too get geeked out by these two topics. I like the idea and the possibilities it may further open. I’d love to see it as a last minute option as I’m not one to typically pay up front without a possible refund. Especially during off season you know they have plenty of empty rooms they could unload at discounted prices. They’ll make up for the discounts on food, merchandise and park revenue.

  • by courtney stasko on June 24, 2011, at 11:34 am EST

    LOVE LOVE LOVE The All Star Movies resort but I have seen a very similar deal offered until Oct1 on the Disney website. It is $69 {it think} Sun thru Thurs of your stay.

    • This is definitely a first-of-its-kind offer from Disney, and isn’t something they are offering, or have offered, on the Disney website.

      • Actually, Disney currenty has the $69 a night (plus tax) at select value resorts from Aug 14 – Oct 1 Sun-Mon on their site right now.

        • The crux of this deal is the possibility that the room will be a moderate. The unprecedented aspect is the resort roulette. Obviously, as the article discusses, lower price points have been offered before.

  • How can I get the opportunity for this discount?

  • I think Disney’s best course of action here is to just guarantee the Value resort, make no mention of the potential Moderate upgrade, and let guests be surprised if they end up in a Moderate instead. Chalk it up to Disney magic. As Tom alluded to, expectations are key in this transaction. Far better to get something you didn’t even know was a possibility, than to not get something you thought might happen.

    I’ve never stayed at a Value or Moderate resort (only been on-property twice, Deluxe both times), but something like this might convince me to pay to come cross country more often.

    • I think this would probably be better, but would it be as strong of a marketing tool? I guess for Disney it comes down to the downside of unmanageable guest expectations v. the value of the marketing ploy. Since Disney generally lets the bean-counters do the thinking, I’m betting there’s only one side of that balance that the company is seriously considering when offering this deal…

  • I would rather see pay X amount for staying anywhere at a value, pay Y amount for staying anywhere at a moderate. I’m really not a fan of the values after my trip this past December. I’d be more than happy to stay at any moderate, but I wouldn’t take the chance of staying at a value.

    The concept is intriguing though…

    • If you aren’t willing to stay at a Value, this definitely is not a deal for you. I think the crowd who sees appeal in this deal is those who typically stay at Value Resorts because they either can’t stomach or afford the higher prices at other resorts. I fall into this crowd, and while I don’t mind the Values, having a shot at landing a Moderate would be great!

      I can definitely see the appeal in your suggestion, too, but for me, there is far greater allure in this.

  • No way would I take this deal! I have already made the decision that I will not stay at a value resort again. Did that once, won’t do it again. I would be intrigued by an offer like this for moderate vs a deluxe, however, I doubt that Disney would ever offer that. I also like Kelly’s idea about agreeing to pay a certain amount for any moderate resort. I don’t think you could go wrong with a deal like that.

  • Decent deal at best if you’re looking to stay at a value with the chance of being upgraded to a mod. But in the fall time frame, the discounts have been far better.

    I guess overall, not a fan of this.

    • Care to elaborate on the “far better” discounts? As far as room-only discounts go, the best price on Values since 2002 has been $59/night. In the last couple of years, $69/night has been the norm. I wouldn’t consider $59/night “far better” than this all things considered.

      Now, if you’re talking package prices, free dining is arguably a better deal at values, but now, that’s only the quick service plan (which actually can be quite good with those snack credits during Food and Wine!).

  • Since I usually have to stay Value anyway, I’d take my chance with this offer. I agree that Disney wants to make guests happy, so my guess is that the majority of the rooms (if not all maybe) will be Moderate. Best PIN code I ever got was in 2009 (actually only PIN Code)…upgrade from a Value to a Studio Villa at SSR or Old Key West. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the e-mail for several hours and they no longer had any rooms when I was able to call. Still bummed about that. My recommendation is that if you get a PIN Code…act fast!

    • Upgrade from a Value to SSR/OKW?! NICE!

      In the Summers of 2007 and 2008, we booked a studio at SSR at 60% off plus $19.99/night dining plan through our friend’s Cast Member discount. When we arrived we were upgraded to a 1BR BOTH YEARS!

      The joke was eventually on us because we ended up buying DVC at SSR, but still, it was a great deal… I really wish we could score that again!

  • LOVE this. Ever since I became an adult (read: parents stopped paying for my vacations) I have only stayed in values, so obviously this would be a win-win situation for me. I’m headed to WDW in December and am already planning on staying @ Pop…here’s to hoping for once of these pin codes!

  • I don’t “have” to stay at a Value resort, but most times I choose to. I love the cheaper price, total Disney ambiance (if I wanted to stay in the Caribbean I would go there, not stay in a “Caribbean Themed” resort), and for me, it’s just a place to sleep and shower. Maybe grab some for every now and again. But for the most part, I go to Disney to go to the parks.

    • I totally agree about the Values, although I think you and I are in the minority on this one!

      That said, I think the theming is great at most of the Resorts, and just because I could vacation elsewhere to get the authentic experience doesn’t mean I wouldn’t want to stay at any particular resorts.

      I mean, I could visit Europe, but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying the World Showcase!

      • I will join in that minority. I have stayed at all levels but the values are by far the most fun and interresting. If i wanted be in New Orleans I would go to New Orleans not Florida.

  • Call me a control freak but never in a million years would I book something as important as my “home base” without knowing exactly what/ where it was, let alone pay upfront for it with no chance of a refund! My hotel choice is a HUGE part of my vacation and I would honestly be very disappointed to open this e-mail up- it would be a huge let down if PIN codes go in this direction. Now mind you, if I lived in FLA and not Canada I would likely have a different opinion- it’s easier to take a risk when it’s not your only chance to go for a year or more.

  • Tom, what dates are considered Fall off-peak? Couldn’t tell from the link above. We’re going November 10-14 and I’m waiting for deals to be released, but this might be up our alley if I can get a Pin code!

    • The dates are most of October through December. Unfortunately, if you haven’t received this Pin Code by now, I’m betting you won’t. They usually do a blast at once. Hopefully there will be a second wave, though!

  • I would be more inclined to take the offer if the discount were for each level of resorts, i.e. $69 for any Value resort, $** for any moderate, or $** for any Deluxe, and then finding out which Value, Moderate or Deluxe that I’d be staying in afterwards.

  • Location plays too much importance into my expectations for the trip, e.g, the general transportation approach, dining, etc. Maybe I’d be more interested in Resort Roulette if I went 5-6 times a year instead of once every 1-2 years.

    • I am shocked by all of the people who aren’t interested, but I definitely understand your points. Chancing it on a once-per-two year trip may be less-than-desirable.

  • I wouldn’t be interested. The only Value I ever stayed at was All Star Sports, and I wouldn’t want to take the chance of having another vacation there. We spend a fair amount of time thinking through where we want to stay each year. I might be willing to do this sort of roulette if it only involved the Deluxes, but I feel as though with Moderates and Values, you have a fairly good idea of which resorts are the least popular and therefore the most likely ones you’d end up at.

  • Come on Tom for the sake of research book a room with the pin code and see which hotel you get!!! Please, please, please!!!

    • I absolutely would, but we JUST booked Caribbean Beach Resort on Tuesday for our trip for WDW’s 40th. We’ve never stayed there, and I really want to give it a try, plus we got an excellent rate there, otherwise I would be really tempted to cancel and book this deal!

  • I wouldn’t take the deal either. I’ve never gotten a pin code and am desperately wanting one, but I wouldn’t take this deal, simply because I have my heart set on staying at Pop. Without knowing where I was staying to start with and ending up with ASM or Sports or Caribbean Beach would be a total disappointment to me after all the good things I’ve heard about Pop, I’m so excited to stay there! If the Cabins were included in that then, maybe, just maybe, but I’m much more of a planner than I am a gambler. For that reason, I have never used and never plan to use Hotwire or Priceline no matter how great the deal. I need to know what I’m getting up front.

  • Wow, I too am surprised by the number of people who wouldn’t take this deal. I share Tom’s philosophy of staying at a Value even though I don’t ‘need’ to. While Pop is definitely my favorite Value, I would totally gamble with ending up at an All Star if there was a chance I could end up paying $69/night for Port Orleans Riverside! Is it sad that I would probably be most disappointed if I got Coronado Springs? Even though I’m a total type A planner, this is definitely up my alley!

  • While I think it’s a good offer, there are a couple reasons why I wouldn’t take the deal. First, the idea of spending almost $4000. (that’s how much our Christmas trip will cost) and it NOT being refundable is terrifying to me! There are too many variables in my life that make that something I wouldn’t be able to do! Second, having to pay in full up front. One of the reasons I book so far in advance is that it gives me time to pay my trip out without it being a burden to my budget. If it weren’t for those two things, this would be a great deal as far as I’m concerned. Especially since I could pay for a value and potentially get a moderate? Yes!

    • I never considered the ability to pay over time. Like I said to Melissa, below, would it make a difference if it was only $500 you were paying in a lump-sum? $4,000 would be a lot, but since this isn’t a vacation package, you could pay for the room in a lump sum, then set-aside money each week in a vacation-fund of sorts (just like you would with the incremental payments to Disney), and pay for everything else when you arrived?

      • When you are on a budget like I am (my husband is self employed), even a $500 gamble can give me nightmares! How many people(on a budget or not) have $500 that they wouldn’t mind losing? No one I know. While I agree that it’s a good deal for some people, it just isn’t for me.

  • Honestly the only part that bothers me is not being able to select the room type. I think it would be great to get placed in a hotel you may not normally pick for a great price (even if it is a value resort) but not all rooms types work for all people. My husband and I for example need a queen or king size bed to sleep in comfortably and if we were booked in a room with two double beds we would either have to squish together in one bed and be uncomfortable or sleep separately and be unhappy. So that’s my only major issue with this offer. Otherwise it seems like a fantastic deal!

  • These pin offers would never work for my family. We can’t do non-refundable trips because of my husband’s work. And we are a family of 5 so where would that land us if they didn’t include the family suites or cabins, (especially if they take away the trundle beds in Port Orleans Riverside?) And I WANT to choose which hotel I am in, that’s part of the fun to me!

  • by matt marcella on June 24, 2011, at 8:58 pm EST

    I wonder if people realize that the cost of a value hotel is probably less than 1/4 to 1/3 the real cost of the trip. So saving 30 dollars, but then paying say, close to 200 per day for park tickets, does not seem like a great savings. How about 30% off park tickets for my family of 5 for a week?

    • That’s a good idea, too! If you’re an AP holder and you eat economically, the resort cost can be more like 1/2 the total, though. But yeah, for many others, I could easily see it being only 1/4th the total cost.

  • to follow up on comment by laurie schaerer, this was a pin that I just got. $60/night value, $115/night mod, $175/night deluxe. This is for Sept. travel. Unfortunately, couldn’t use. If I got the “roll the dice” pin discussed here for Jan., I would definately think about it. I like Matt’s idea of thinking outside the box with ticket discount.

    • I didn’t receive that! That is a really good offer. Are all deluxes included, or is it the typical WL, AKL, SSR, and OKW offer? I would DEFINITELY pay $175/night for the Poly!

  • I wouldn’t take it. I also want to choose my hotel. I wouldn’t take it even if the gamble was all moderates for a low price.

  • I would totally take this deal, under certain circumstances–namely, when the free dining promotions cease to be the best deal for my family. I like controlled chaos, so hotel roulette really appeals to me. Even if I get assigned All Star Sports, I’m still going to Disney!

  • Never in a million years. My reasons are all the ones that have been mentioned. 4,000 dollar gamble. No refunds. No choices.

    Um what?

    We save for a couple of *years* at a time to go to Disney World.


    Years of saying, “no guys we can’t…(do that, buy that, eat there) because we are saving for Disney, remember?”

    So there is no way we would want to gamble away any part of that vacation, but especially not the *whole vacation* by signing up for something non-refundable.

    That’s just our family. I suppose for other families it might work.

    • I totally respect the reasons given, especially gambling all that money when you’ve saved and made sacrifices for so long.

      I’m wondering if it being a significantly lower dollar value gamble would change things at all for anyone, though.

      Say, for instance, it was a $500 gamble instead of a $4,000 gamble. Since the room is $67/night, on a 7 night trip, you’re looking at a grand total of about only $500 that’s non-refundable. You can then purchase tickets, meals, and incidentals when you arrive, making the gamble far lower in stakes.

      I agree with those who aren’t willing to take a $4,000 gamble on it being non-refundable. Unless you’re staying for almost 2 months, though, this is not a $4,000 gamble, since it’s room-only and not a vacation package.

  • Even if the whole $4,000 was not at risk, it would still be a pretty big gamble for us in that we might end up in a resort other than our current favorite(Pop Century).

    Although most consider the mods an upgrade, for our 8 yr old, no giant Disney icons, no bowling pin-shaped pool and no huge food court with ice cream sundaes would be a downgrade of monumental proportions. *LOL*

    I think the not knowing part is almost as big of a gamble when you plan and dream about a vacation for so long. Especially when little kid dreams are involved. 🙂

  • As Florida residents, my wife and I like to go 3-4 times per year for a weekend. In this regard, I think this deal would be right up our alley provided that we’re “ok” with getting a Value resort (much like when you go into a casino and you have to resign yourself to not walking out with any money, I think the same holds true with this deal that you should only anticipate you’ll get a Value, and not a Moderate, resort). It’s still a good deal and gives you the CHANCE at a REALLY good deal for a moderate. I’d spring for it.

  • I think this is a great idea and would definately give it a shot if it was offered to me. We did something like this for our honeymoon in Riveria Maya, Mexico and ended up getting placed in the highest tier resort possible as part of the deal (saving us a couple grand!). We were not banking on it though and would have been happy with even the couple hundred dollars we would have saved had we been placed in a lower tiered resort. For us it was all about the base savings and the chance for more!

  • I also would never go for this. Like others said, the idea of noting being able to choose my resort, room type, or get refunded puts me into a state of paralysis. Resort is very important to me, and while I’ve never stayed Value I would only want to stay Pop, not any All-Star (I don’t like that they share the same bus).

    I much prefer the general % off resort only discount. Where did those go :/

    Resort rates for 2012 have been posted and they aren’t too bad (mostly $10-$15 more a night for Values/Mods). The real increase was Deluxe’s on weekend night (BWI is $45/night more I think!). This makes me think they won’t be doing many more discounts — they can claim they didn’t raise rates as much, and that is a kind of discount.

  • I definately would not take this deal for a couple of reasons:

    1) We have a family of 6—4 kids who have never been to Disney. Since we have a family of more than 4…we would have to book 2 rooms (1 adult with 2 kids, and 1 adult with the other 2 kids). Even though Disney would not promise us a resort with this deal, could they at least promise us 2 rooms to be in the same resort, same floor, and hopefully right beside one another? Not only would that not be good for family bonding if we were at 2 seperate resorts–but would also be a nightmare for check in/check out…meeting up to go to the parks together, getting to restaurant reservations, and so forth.

    2)We are planning to go in December. And although we live in the south, we do have the occassional ice or snow storm that may prevent us from traveling, so I would be ok with risking $200 or $250 (about what you would pay for trip insurance) if we had to cancel our plans at the last minute, but not thousands. Things happen and I don’t know anyone (working class) who would be willing to risk that much money for such a little payout. I might be willing to try it if (for whatever reason, you had to cancel your trip) they held you money for a future trip. And since Florida has been known to be affected by a few hurricanes in the past, how many people would continue their vacations if they knew a hurricane was headed towards Orlando? Not only would you possibly not be able to drive toward the hurricane, who would be willing to risk their lives and their kids lives to see Mickey?

    3) I have stayed on Disney before. I don’t need room service, or a bunch of other ‘upscale’ ammenities. I just want a clean place to stay with a decent amount of room at a reasonable price. We found 3 bedroom/3bath townhouse, with private pool–2 miles from Disney–for less than $100/night. I had stayed at the Ft. Wilderness ‘cabins’ before, and had a pleasant experience (I was not paying)—but that was with only 2 people. I just don’t think that a 1 bedroom/1bath trailer (the ‘cabins’ are trailers) with a full size bed and a bunk bed in 1 bedroom, and a pull down murphy bed in the living room is anywhere near worth the $300 to $450/night price tag Disney is charging. Not to mention that they are such a far distance that you end up renting a golf cart (anther $50/day)to get to and from the cabins.

    Doing this for tickets might be great, but I doubt Disney would go for it. Considering people could get the deal on the tickets, and then use them during peak season…or years down the road. And there would not be any cons in my opinion. I guess they could offer a deal–and then for a little more money, you can take a chance to win the park-hopper add-on or the water-parks and more add-on. I know–keep dreaming!!!

  • I think the idea is good, but I also think it is geared at non-Disney junkies (so everyone that posted or members of this site). Because we understand the difference between ASMu and Pop, the possible deals that might come out, etc.