When Does a Walt Disney World Annual Pass Make Sense?

by on November 21, 2012 31 Comments

Filed under: Trip Planning, Walt Disney World (FL)

Let’s say you’re visiting Walt Disney World for two weeks. Lucky you!

If you’re a UK resident, there are 14-day Disney World ticket options available to you. You lovely Brits can move along now, nothing to see here. But if you’re a North American visiting Disney for two weeks, you’ll quickly see that there’s no immediately apparent ticket option that makes sense for you. There are 10-day Magic Your Way tickets, but nothing longer than that. What to do?

Annual pass holders have access to discounted WDW hotel room rates.

First lets look at some basic numbers. A ten-day basic, one park per day, adult ticket currently costs $318. But let’s face it, if you’re going to Walt Disney World for an extended period of time, you’ll want a Park Hopper ticket, which runs $375. Given that as a starting point, if you’re staying for 14 days, your ticket options are:

  • Stick with a 10-day ticket. Spend your remaining four days at your resort, Downtown Disney, or other Orlando area attractions.
  • Add the Water Park Fun & More option to your 10-day Park Hopper. This involves only a slight bump up in price, making your ticket cost $397 instead of the non WPF Hopper at $375. Adding WPF gives you ten admissions to the water parks, DisneyQuest, ESPN Wide World of Sports, a round of 9-hole golf, and some daytime minigolf. This is plenty of additional fun to fill four non-theme-park days.
  • Add a four day ticket to your ten day ticket, giving you a full 14 days of theme park admissions. Let’s say that for these four days you don’t need Hopper capabilities. A basic adult four-day, non-Hopper WDW ticket costs $256. Add that to your previously purchased $375 10-day Hopper and you’re looking at a ticket outlay of $631.

Compare this to the current price of a standard Walt Disney World adult annual pass: $611. Clearly, for a 14-day visit, if you’re going into the theme parks every day, then an annual pass makes sense. You’ll save at least $20 getting the pass versus getting 14 days of park tickets in Magic Your Way form.

Annual pass holders have discounted rates for some recreation, including parasailing at the Contemporary.

Consider another scenario: You’re making two separate trips to Walt Disney World in one calendar year. A seven-day visit and a three-day visit. A seven-day Park Hopper costs $345; a three-day non-Hopper costs $242; for a total of $587. Not far off from the $611 annual pass price. And if you tweak your ticket needs just a little by making that three-day ticket a $299 Hopper, then you’re at $644. Again, this is over the price of the annual pass. So, if Hopping is important to you, and you’re taking two trips totaling ten days within one calendar year, then an annual pass likely makes sense for you.

Considering this situation, some guests who have a “visit Disney once per year” mindset, plan to take their year one trip on, say, the first week of April, and then their year two trip on the last week of March. Doing this, you’re effectively taking your two trips a year apart, but getting both covered by the same annual pass. This can potentially save over $300 per person on ticket costs.

Let’s see if the annual pass might make sense for guests staying for an even shorter amount of time.

Annual pass holders have discounted rates for some behind the scenes tours, including Behind the Seeds at Epcot.

Consider a guest making a seven-night, eight-day visit in late February 2013. The guest wants to stay at a moderate level resort. A week at Port Orleans Riverside will cost $1,402 during that time period. However, Disney is running a hotel pricing special for annual pass holders during this time period. Annual pass holders booking a late February stay at Port Orleans prior to the end of 2012 are eligible for a 35% discount off the room rate, making their room cost $911, a savings of $491. This guest might normally have purchased a $289 eight-day basic Magic Your Way ticket. However, by spending an additional $322 to get the annual pass, the guest reaps the $491 in hotel room savings, a net gain of $169. Only one member of a party needs to have an annual pass to get the room rate benefit.

Other typical annual pass benefits include:

  • 10%-20% off select Walt Disney World restaurants.
  • 10% off most merchandise purchased at Disney owned shops on property, as well as many other merchandise locations.
  • 10% off many recreation opportunities including the Richard Petty Driving Experience, golf, mini golf, massages, parasailing, boat rentals and more.
  • 15% off many backstage tours.
  • 20% off many Alamo car rentals.
  • Discounts on special events such as Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party.
  • Access to intangible perks such as invitations to previews of new attractions.

Again, as long as the passholder is the one paying, generally an entire family can be included in the discount.

Annual pass holders can get discounts on some special events, such as select nights of Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party.

So if during a week long vacation, a family of four does the following:

  • Spends $250 on merchandise (annual pass savings = $25)
  • Takes the Backstage Safari Tour at 4 x $72 (annual pass savings = $43)
  • Spends $100 at Yak & Yeti (annual pass savings = $10)
  • Spends $220 on two massages at the Saratoga Springs resort spa (annual pass savings = $22)

Then they’ve saved $100 as annual pass holders over non pass holders.

If these folks have also booked their Port Orleans stay with the annual pass discount, they’ve now saved over $250 by having one person in the group buy an annual pass for a simple one week stay. That’s enough to cover their souvenir budget.

Of course there are many other factors to consider, including Florida resident and Disney Vacation Club member passholder discounts which can make annual pass purchases a near no brainer, room rate discounts available to the general public which make the pass discounts superfluous, and required travel dates which don’t overlap with available discount dates.

The moral of the story is that you have to do the math based on your family’s unique circumstances including length of stay, total number of trips per year, preferred resort, travel dates, merchandise and recreation spending, and dining habits including possible purchase of the Tables in Wonderland card.

Passholder benefits are listed on the Walt Disney World website. In general, if you’re staying at Walt Disney World for a week or more during a calendar year, it pays to do some investigating about whether getting at least one annual pass for your family makes financial sense.

So Disney travelers, what have been your annual pass experiences? Have you found the discounts to be worth it? Have you even purchased an annual pass even if you were only making a short Disney visit? Let us know in the comments below.

Posted on November 21, 2012

31 Responses to “When Does a Walt Disney World Annual Pass Make Sense?”

  • Great article, Erin. Another benefit of the AP discount over the general public discount is that you can book the discount pretty much up to the date of arrival. With the general public discount, the booking window typically ends about one month prior.

  • Don’t forget about the free parking benefit. If staying offsite and driving to the parks, 14 dollars per day to park can make a difference in calculating the value of an annual pass.

  • Excellent. Yes, in September I found a huge discount using the pass holder rate… I saved money by buying a Premiere annual pass vs a regular California Premium annual pass. So my contribution? If you visit both Disneyland and Walt Disney World, run the numbers for that, too. Also, note that if you’re dead set on booking a package deal, eg one that might qualify for a “free” dining promotion, you can’t do that with just a pass holder hotel reservation. However, if you book a vacation package with tickets, you should be able to go to a guest services window and have them apply the value of your park ticket toward an annual pass (or pass upgrade).

    • I’ve been a WDW annual passholder forever. I made a brief trip to DL this summer and waivered whether to get regular tickets for DL or upgrade to the Premier Pass. I decided to upgrade because of the increased merchandise discount (20% for premier vs. 10% for regular WDW AP) because I buy an absurd amount of Disney merchandise. At the time I didn’t realize that DL and Premier passholders also get 15% off most quick service restaurants at DL. This was a huge bonus and make my borderline Premier Pass purchase totally worth it.

    • Your information here is very helpful. I hoped we could buy regular tickets then upgrade to a premier pass. We’re purchasing a Disney Cruise for the first time. If we can combine any park tickets with our package, we can use our Disney Visa to get 6 months same as cash. And since Disney doesn’t let us include a Premier Pass in that package, this helps us spread the cost of the majority of the PP over 6 months if we upgrade after the fact.

  • It is worthwhile for us UK people if DVC members due to the huge discount on it at the moment. It is cheaper than any of the 14 day options I have seen for next year and great for us as we are not going until next October so should get a couple of long trips from it for 2013 and 2014!

    • The current DVC annual pass rate is amazing. Anyone who can take advantage of it certainly should.

    • Even without the current AP-plus deal, DVC members get $100 off for standard APs. I think I usually figure if we get two trips a year of at least 8 days total, it’s better to go with the APs. There’s also a slight additional savings if you renew your APs instead of buying new ones. You can’t really factor in hotel discounts as a DVC member staying on points, of course. And a lot of the AP shopping discounts are the same as the DVC discounts.

  • Another question I’d love to see: if you get one AP for your group (to get the hotel, parking, dining, etc. benefits), who gets it?

    • I suppose that would depend on the dynamics of your group. In my family, I always get the AP because while the whole family goes for one big vacation annually, I also take several shorter quick trips throughout the year. If you’re unsure, you do have to take a gamble on who has the most likelihood of having a random extra visit or two during the year.

  • I just upgraded to the Premier Passport after having the WDW AP for a few years for the reasons you mention: several short visits, sometimes hotel discounts (not always available, sadly) and flexibility: if I am in town in business, I have an incentive to make a 2-hour visit for dinner and a few rides rather than having to jam everything in one day. I almost never rent a car at WDW – I either use ME & Disney Transport or the Orlando Lynx 111 line, but once in a while I savour my free parking as well.

    Because I have become addicted to runDisney, I found that I have started to visit both parks each year. Recently I began to consider the Fla-Calif PP and did the deal last month on a non-running trip to DLR/DCA. I was *bowled over* by the much better benefits of the PP in California. Discounts all over the place – every time I went to buy a food, beverage, or trinket, people were throwing 15% discounts at me. Made the Florida discount kind of disappointing in comparison! Yes, it’s spendy, but there are foreigners who will find the big-ticket passes worthwhile.

    My biggest complaint is AP perks like New Fantasyland previews were not available to foreign AP holders. I was going to be there at the time of the preview events, but could not even register for the preview (or the preview lottery) because I am on record as foreign. Boo. Thanks for appreciating my investment and loyalty, Mickey.

    That aside, I second your advice to run the AP numbers even for those who don’t live near the parks.

  • This article is right on target. We have been getting APs for three years now. We love the extra discounts and count the money saved towards park and resort swag budgets.

    Thank you for a great article.

  • What I want to know is: Why is it only the UK who gets the awesome 14 day pass? I guess I kind of understand why it’s not available to US visitors (the notion here being that international visitors are more likely to want to stay those big long visits) but why not open it up to ALL international visitors?

    (Says the Australian.)

  • If you purchase a AP w/ a Disney visa card, do you also get the option of interest free paying over time?

    • I was told only Disney packages could get 6 months same as cash on the Disney Visa. And that the annual passes could not be rolled into that purchase, but regular park tickets could be. So I’m getting the most expensive park tickets, then will upgrade afterwards and pay the difference in cash.

  • I was told only Disney vacation packages could get 6 months same as cash on the Disney Visa. And that the annual passes could not be rolled into that purchase, but regular park tickets could be. So I’m getting the most expensive park tickets, then will upgrade afterwards and pay the difference in cash.

  • Great article. Remember, if you travel with grown children w/kids that having 2 APs can be a big advantage on getting 2 rooms. Also. Tables of Wonderland lets you and the whole crew get 20% off food and drink{booze} at most restaurants at WDW. My wife and I have been APs for over ten years, and have saved tons over the years.

  • Nice article. I have been having a running email “battle” with Disney Guest services as we are planning a week in WDW (from Australia BTW) followed by a Disney cruise then another week at WDW. Was planning on more than 10 days at WDW but cannot buy the tickets AND they would expire 14 days after first use anyway so are totally useless (unless I fork out over $1000 for no-expiry). How stupid is it to have 10 day tickets expire in 14 days (same as a 2 day ticket!) AND limit it to 10 days in the first place!!

    Beats me why you can’t just extend a 10 day ticket at the 10th day rate of $30ish a day. Then our, say, 12 days would cost $1464 (10 day 2A & 2C with hopper) plus $292 for 2 more days = $1756.80 – almost $700 cheaper than 4 annual passes. Our options are less WDW days and we are considering not staying at a WDW hotel the second week – as we won’t have tickets anyway. A big loss of our money for WDW.

    BTW I assume the water park option expires after 14 days too?

    • Yes, the water park add-on option does expire 14 days after first use as well.

      Have you really done the math on an annual pass? It may work that if you consider discounts on dining/food/rooms/recreation, then that will be the most cost effective ticketing method for you.

      • Thanks again Erin.

        I wasn’t aware of the Hotel discounts until I read your article – they aren’t mentioned on the WDW ticketing site. How do I find out about these? Do you only get notified after you buy an annual pass? Seems a bit hit-and-miss if I have to buy the pass first then hope that a discount (with an effective rate like 35%) occurs at the right time. As I said on another of your blogs, we’re coming from Australia – just the airfares are about $8000 and the total trip will be around $18000, so don’t want to mess it up!

  • Oops. Also meant to ask if anyone has any cunning ideas to get around the 10 day limit and 14 day expiry??

    • I’ve been a regular WDW visitor for 15 years and have written extensively about it for the past 5 years. I’ve never heard of a work around for the 10/14 day limit, other than the (as you mentioned) expensive no expire option. The only work around I know if is getting the annual pass and engineering other aspects of your trip to make that the most financially sound option.

      I’m curious about whether any other guests have input.

  • Hi Erin, Thanks for another great article! If you have an annual passport are you no longer eligible for to purchase the dining plan as everyone in your party won’t need to buy tickets with your package? Thanks

  • Question: if you book an AP discounted resort room, can we get the AP after coming from the airport and prior to check-in at our resort?

    Anyone have a tip on this? Can we get the AP ticket at Downtown Disney and then go to our resort?

    Please say yes 🙂

    • I’ve been researching annual passes blogs advice through google and another article said that you don’t need a pass number to reserve the discounted room over the phone, and some have said that the hotel didn’t ask to see their pass when they got there. Some have told the hotel that they’ll be buying their pass after check-in and that wasn’t a problem. It doesn’t mean it won’t be though. I’m buying a discounted 7-day pass from my workplace then converting that to an annual pass when I get there so I’m in the same boat as you.