Walt Disney World Annual Pass: Not Just For Locals

by on July 31, 2015 42 Comments

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

Annual Passholder Box

This box could be yours! – © John Kivus

If you’re going to Walt Disney World for a once in a lifetime trip, or even a once-a-year trip, it has probably never occurred to you to get an Annual Pass.  Honestly, why would you? Those things are expensive and are only appropriate for locals that go regularly, right? Well, sometimes you have to spend money to save money, and believe it or not, a Walt Disney World Annual Pass can pay for itself and then some even if you only intend to go once in your entire life! How? Find out after the jump!

 

Saving On A Single Trip

 

Polynesian Village Resort

Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort

Imagine a family of four doing a week long trip to WDW, staying at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. One approach for a trip of this length would be to get four 7-day park hopper tickets. Each of these tickets will cost $425, including tax. An Annual Pass, which provides unlimited admission for one year, costs $696 — or $271 more — so simple math would tell you that a pass would be a waste of money, right?

 

There is a way to make an Annual Pass work for you in this situation. In addition to park admission, Annual Passes come with a variety of discounts, most notably on hotels and merchandise. Moreover, only ONE person in the party needs to have a pass to be able to take advantage of these discounts. Over the course of a week long trip, these discounts can more than pay for the additional cost for the Annual Pass.

 

Caution: Math Ahead

 

Annual Passholder Discount Card

Annual Passholder Discount Card – © John Kivus

Here’s how it might work: this family intends to stay at the Polynesian, Theme Park View, during Regular Season, where the hotel rack rate is $862 per night. With an Annual Pass, however, they are able to take advantage of the pass holder 35% discount, or $560 for the same room, a difference of $302 per night. Spread over a week, that’s a savings of $2114 on the room alone.

 

While it is true that there are often room-only discounts available to the general public, those discounts historically track 5% less than the discounts available to Annual Passholders for the same property. Even as compared to the 30% discount often available to the general public during this time, however, it still represents a savings of $301 over what would be possible without the pass, which itself is sufficient to cover its cost. After that, every bit of money you save is gravy.

While it is never my goal to needlessly introduce math into my posts, a quick, cocktail napkin calculation can give you a sense of whether you’re in the ballpark of an Annual Pass saving you money:

  • Determine how much more expensive an Annual Pass is for one adult as compared to the ticket he or she would otherwise be purchasing.
  • Because there is usually a 5% spread between Annual Passholder hotel discounts and other hotel discounts, figure out the rack rate for your room over the length of your stay and multiply it by 5%.

If the second number is bigger than the first, you’ve already made up the difference in price, and getting an Annual Pass will definitely save you money. If it’s close, consider whether additional savings, discussed below, will make up the difference.

For example, if you like to buy souvenirs, having an Annual Pass will take a chunk out of that expense. The pass gives you a 10% discount on all of the merchandise you buy, which can add up if buying souvenirs is something you do. Similarly, an Annual Pass will save you money on tours, activities and hard ticket events like Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. Take a look at the perks and discounts available to passholders, and if you would otherwise be paying full price for things that are discounted, it can push you over or well past the break even point.

Tables in Wonderland

Tables in Wonderland

Having an Annual Pass also gives you the ability to get a Tables in Wonderland card, which has the potential to save you a significant amount of money, depending upon how you eat. The card costs $100 and entitles you to 20% off of all food and drink, including alcohol, at most table service restaurants. If you spend more than $500 at table service restaurants — which is very easy to do over the course of a week long trip, particularly if you like a glass of wine or two with dinner — Tables in Wonderland will save you money.

This is one example, and it’s easy to see how under the right circumstances — perhaps a large family trip with multiple hotel rooms and lots of table service dining — one person in the party having an Annual Pass could be a real boon.  Obviously, however, the numbers won’t work out for everyone.  The hotel discounts on deluxe hotels and villas are the most dramatic (often 30-35%), and if you’re staying at a value property where the raw cost of the room is less, it is going to be tougher to hit that break even point.  Ultimately, however, it always makes sense to crunch the numbers to see if an Annual Pass will save you money, particularly if you are planning a longer trip and will be staying at a deluxe resort.

Annual Trips

Maybe you’re not blowing it out for one big trip, but you do try to make it down once a year for a shorter trip. Again, an Annual Pass can save you money even if you only go once a year, provided you have some flexibility on what “once a year” means.

Example: suppose a family of four goes to Walt Disney World every January for four days. Each person buys a 4 day park hopper ticket, which comes to $393/ticket, $1,572 total. They go back the same week the following year, they spend another $1572 for another batch of four-day park hopper tickets (well, history tells us they would pay more the next year, but just bear with me for the sake of making the math easy), for a grand total of $3,144 for park tickets.

What if, instead of going back the same week, they went back one week earlier the following year, such that both of their trips fell within the same 365 day window?  This family could cover park admission for both trips for the cost of four Annual passes, which comes out to $2784, for a savings of $360. This substantial savings doesn’t include the additional discounts on rooms, souvenirs and the like discussed above, or the savings you might realize using a Tables in Wonderland card that you could get by virtue of having a pass.

The point is, when budgeting for a trip, make sure you consider things like an Annual Pass or Tables in Wonderland that can have a  “big picture” impact upon the cost of your trip, in addition to things that save you money on an item-by-item basis. Moreover, if you travel to Walt Disney World regularly, give some thought to whether you can reduce the overall amount of money you spend on Disney trips during a twelve month period by spending more on your first trip.

Warning

I will close with a minor warning and caveat to this recommendation, and that is that having an Annual Pass in your possession makes you much, much more likely to travel to Walt Disney World more frequently than you otherwise planned. It’s frankly a lot easier to justify a spur-of-the-moment trip when your tickets are covered and your hotel room is discounted. If you’re the sort of person that has lots of airline miles saved up, well, just brace yourself, because the itch to get yourself down to visit the Mouse will be palpable. While this is probably not a bad thing in a lot of respects, if the true impetus for getting an Annual Pass is to save money, you might have to exercise a lot of willpower to realize that goal — the raw cost of going on multiple trips will indeed eclipse any savings you realize on the trip that prompted you to get the Annual Pass in the first place!

 

Posted on July 31, 2015

42 Responses to “Walt Disney World Annual Pass: Not Just For Locals”

  • Lately, I seem to be obsessed with WDW, and even though I usually go by myself for short periods of time, I’m thinking of buying an Annual Pass next year and making it The Year of Disney. If I go for three trips, with 3-4 days in the parks each time, it might work. I have to calculate how airfare and the cost of a value resort affects the bottom line. But it’s very tempting! Is the start date of an Annual Pass the day you first go to a park or the day you purchase?

    • The start date is when you activate it at the parks. I bought APs for the first time for our upcoming trip, and they sent me an Annual Exchange Certificate in the mail. You take to a ticket window at the parks to get the pass, and that will be the start date.

      • Only the first year, after that, the start date is when the old one ends

      • If you haven’t activated the annual pass yet, can you still make Fastpass+ selections? I think MDE requires you to have (at least regular mulitday) tickets linked to you account and will only let you reserve fastpasses for the number of days remaining on those tickets.

        • by Brian McNichols on July 31, 2015, at 10:11 am EST

          Yes, you can link the Voucher you receive to your MDE and make FP+ reservations with it. In my experiences I’ve had to call to get it to link properly, but it’s always worked in the end.

      • That is probably common knowledge to some people, but it’s a revelation for me. Thank you for that, I hadn’t come across that information and it’s kind of a game changer!

  • Being that we had two Easter Break vacations overlap in a year (this year in late April, next year late March), I took it upon myself to buy my family four passes. Being that we would have bought Park Hopper tickets both weeks, the saving is already built in. After you factor in the AP rates on rooms, we save even more. The best part, is that we could plan for an extra week in the summer, and a couple of long weekends, and that All I had to do was find best AP rate on lodging. Sure, we have spent about four times as much time here, as normal. But, the AP made this “Year of Disney” possible.

    We have been able to stay in Moderate, where before we were Value spenders. Better yet, we have been able to treat ourselves to the off night at Grand Floridian, and Beach Club.

    • by James Rosemergy on July 31, 2015, at 1:15 pm EST

      We have this same “problem,” using that term in the loosest possible sense. We’ll get the pass to cover two trips slightly less than a year apart, but then that pass ends up burning a hole in our pockets and we end up taking more trips than we’d planned!

  • Thinking of getting an AP for upcoming trip in December, will probably return July 2016 so that alone makes it worth it in terms of cost. Trying to find out what the discount for MVMCP is with AP but can’t find the info on Disney’s site without logging in as a pass holder. And not all dates are discounted, correct? Looking at Tuesday December 8. Anyone know where to find this information? How many discounted tickets can AP purchase?

    • On December 8th, the price is $74, but it’s $70 with an AP. I don’t know how to tell these prices either without signing in as an AP holder, I had trouble finding this info also before I bought my own AP.

      It also says this:
      Item(s) are priced for Passholders only. For each ticket or pass purchased at the Passholder price, you must show a valid Passholder ID at the park entrance.

      • Thanks! I guess the $4 difference won’t be a major deciding factor, especially since I can’t get the discount for other members of our party.

        • by James Rosemergy on July 31, 2015, at 11:00 am EST

          Yeah, the big savers are on lodging and potentially food if you use Tables in Wonderland. With that said, once you hit the break even point, you might as well take advantage of the discounts when they are available. One caveat with respect to the parties, however, and that is to get the discount, you have to buy your ticket in advance. If your plan is to decide on the fly whether or not to do a hard ticket event, you won’t be able to take advantage of the discount, so maybe it’s worth missing out on that small savings to keep your flexibility intact.

  • Planning on visiting for our honeymoon next June, but want to go ahead and make reservations now so that we can guarantee that theme park view room at the Contemporary. Does your annual pass need to be activated before you can use the discount? Or can I buy the AP now and make my reservation getting the discount, but not activate the AP till the trip next June?

    • by Brian McNichols on July 31, 2015, at 10:13 am EST

      Yes, you can make room reservations with the Voucher, although I believe you have to call or have a Disney Travel Agent do it.

      • I have an annual pass linked on MDE that is not active yet and I can book available passholder discounted rooms right now directly through the Disney web-site.
        The offer details say “Passholder must present a valid Walt Disney World Annual Pass at check-in.” So I would guess that means you might have to stop at a park ticket window first to exchange the voucher before checking in? Does anyone know because that will be my situation in October.

        • by Brian McNichols on July 31, 2015, at 10:34 am EST

          If you have the Voucher, you can show that to the Cast Member at check-in, if they ask (I’ve been asked for proof once so far out of about a dozen times).

  • by Michelle Lahti on July 31, 2015, at 10:31 am EST

    Don’t forget with annual passes you also get free parking. Saving $17 per day at each park if you have a car to park. You don’t get your free magic bands that are included in the AP until after you activate the pass (wish they would change that). Once you activate the pass you will be able to order magic bands with customized lettering of up to 8 characters. Takes about a week to get them once you order them. You also save on activities outside the park like mini golf and such. We always double check with every place we are making a purchase (food, souvenirs, etc.)to see if they offer pass holder discounts. Remember with Tables in Wonderland you get a 20% discount but they automatically add in an 18% tip. Check which restaurants its valid at to see if they are ones you will be eating at.

    • by James Rosemergy on July 31, 2015, at 11:07 am EST

      Good tip re the parking, that would make a big dent in the cost of two or more off-site trips within a year. Just remember for number-crunching purposes, however, that you also get free parking at the parks if you’re staying at a Disney resort so that wouldn’t add to the savings if you’re onsite.

      • The parking savings has been huge for us. We will NEVER (well, never say never LOL) stay on-site when we can get a 3 bedroom 3-bath townhouse with private pool and full kitchen for <$100/night.

        On our annual passes, we have gone 3 times in the last year, at 9 days/trip in the parks. 27 days x $17/day for parking comes to $459 that we would have paid if we had bought 3 sets of 9 day tickets. If we had bought three 9-day park hoppers each (just the two of us), we would have spent $416/ticket from Official Ticket Center, for a total of $2496 for tickets + $459 for parking, grand total $2955. Two annual passes cost us $1350 total, a savings of $1605. Put another way, we saved more than the cost of two annual passes.

        On another note, it saddens me that bloggers here continue to ignore off-site guests in these articles. The assumption seems to be that everyone stays on-site. We don't. Lots of others also don't.

        • by James Rosemergy on July 31, 2015, at 5:08 pm EST

          That is quite a savings, and yet another example of how Annual Passes can end up saving a ton of money. I certainly don’t view this example as ignoring off-site guests in a general sense, though. The thrust of the post is to point out how the AP discounts — including the room discount, which for many people can make the most difference in the bottom line — can offset the extra amount you pay for an annual pass over the “normal” cost of tickets. Besides, if you’re spending 27 days in the parks, an Annual Pass puts so you far past the break even point on tickets alone, you shouldn’t need to crunch any numbers to know that you’ll come out ahead! 🙂

          • “I certainly don’t view this example as ignoring off-site guests in a general sense, though.”

            Well, given that the article itself never once mentions staying off-site, and further that in response to Michelle Lahti’s comment above you redirected the discussion back to on-site guests, I’d say you pretty effectively ignored off-site guests.

            The reason for my post was to point out how much can be saved even if you don’t stay on-site, a topic that was ignored in the original article.

            I think the root of the problem (as a long-time TouringPlans blog reader) is that most of the bloggers here never, or very very rarely, stay off-site. At least that is the impression given by the articles published here. The only way I know how to fix that would be to get a blogger who NEVER stays on-site, but explores various off-site lodgings.

  • Someone told me that Disney has a sale on the AP sometimes. True? And if so, how do you find out about it?

    • by James Rosemergy on July 31, 2015, at 10:54 am EST

      It does happen, but not with regularity, and not necessarily to the general public. DVC members and Florida residents can always buy discounted annual passes, and I recall a few years back, Disney ran a promotion where DVC members could buy the Premium Annual Pass for $399. The sales (as opposed to the normal discounts) are certainly more the exception than the rule, however.

  • I always used to buy 10 day no-expire tickets and go on 3-4 trips per ticket. But Disney stupidly got rid of no-expires so I will have to consider judicious use of an annual pass to get the most bang for my buck.

  • I have an AP to WDW and TiW even though I live in CA. The discounts on rooms used to be great, but it seems like the benefits are diminishing quickly. TiW is adding more black out dates, the AP discounts on rooms are hard to come by and the merchandise discounts went own. Not sure the AP will be worth it in 5 years. Disneyland benefits for APs are much better.

  • I’d love to see a comparison between the perks and discounts of being an AP holder and being a Disney Chase Visa cardholder. It seems like they have similar benefits, as far as discounts go.

    • by James Rosemergy on July 31, 2015, at 4:26 pm EST

      That’s actually a great idea, might do that at some point! There’s a decent amount of overlap between benefits for DVC and AP, too, and it can change the math if you’re able to take advantage of a discount without paying extra for the AP. Always important to not just consider the discount, but to consider it as compared to other discounts that may be available through other means.

  • Very informative! Thank you for an interesting read.

  • Your Warning is right on! We purchased APs 10/1/14 & spent 10 nights enjoying F&W. Then some good discounts were available after Easter, so we reasoned that our tickets were paid and we hadn’t been to Flower & Garden in years, so we spent 8 days at the end of April. Now we are planning our annual trip to F&W for 9 days the last week of Sept. ending on 10/1/15. Have Len do the math, but I think the cost of an AP divided by 27 days is pretty good! Did I mention we are from NJ?

  • We are Disneyland locals (well, about an hour and a half away). This year we upgraded our passes to the Premier pass for our first trip ever to Disney World this fall. We ended up using the Late Fall discount instead of the AP discount on our rooms, but with the price of passes, and the other discounts, I think it was still worth it. And to your point about return visits, we may go back next spring as well, and we won’t have to buy passes.

  • This investigation into a year long Pass of some sort makes you realize that if you compare a FL resident seasonal pass with blackout dates to a regular priced MWY ticket with parkhopper option that if you’re going to be there more than 4 days then it’s worthwhile:

    $350.39 for an adult FL resident season pass that can be paid over 12 months
    $378.08 for a 4 day parkhopper!! (And you have to pay all up front).

    It’s plain to see that being able to get the FL resident somehow when purchasing tickets goes a LONG way.

    Another discount is the DVC discount on an annual pass. They basically give you the FL resident price, but only on the full annual pass (without blackout dates) as opposed to season pass.
    The least expensive DVC discount annual pass is: $563.39;

    If you’re not gonna be there during blackout dates, then it’s still more than $200 per person savings to take advantage of the FL resident season pass. I’m not including parking costs because paying to park is almost never necessary.

    • “I’m not including parking costs because paying to park is almost never necessary.”

      Why not? If you are an off-site guest using regular tickets, then it is necessary. Thus, to calculate the savings of an annual pass or other pass that includes free parking, you have to factor in the cost of parking. Or are you implying that there are easy ways to get around paying for parking, even if using regular tickets?

  • Can an AP bought at WDW also be used at DL?

    • by James Rosemergy on August 1, 2015, at 7:20 pm EST

      Not a regular annual pass, no. Disney does sell a Premier Passport that will get you into all 6 domestic parks, the water parks, and provides some other benefits, but that costs quite a bit more at $1,099. It can still make sense for some people, but he math is obviously going to be different and it will require multiple trips to recoup its value.

  • So do annual pass holders receive a 35% discount or some kind of discount for any hotel they choose at any time of the year?

    • by James Rosemergy on August 4, 2015, at 9:06 am EST

      No, it tends to range between 25-35% and there are a few dates a year during the busiest of times (think Christmas) where no discounts are available, but regardless of what the discount is, it tends to track 5% more than other discounts available to the general public. Here’s a chart showing historical discounts, which will hopefully be helpful.

      http://www.mousesavers.com/historical-information-on-walt-disney-world-resort-discounts/#codetrends

      • Thank you! Now we usually stay at a 2BR Villa at BLT and book about a year out because those rooms sell out quickly. If I understand it correctly, when those AP discounts come out, you need to make a NEW reservation that most likely won’t have availability at the hotel of your choice?

        • by James Rosemergy on August 10, 2015, at 12:12 pm EST

          Yes, you would need to make a new reservation, or at least see if the AP rate can be applied to your existing reservation, once the AP discounts are announced. As for the second part of your question, I wouldn’t necessarily say that it “most likely” won’t have availability, I’d say that they might or might not — although the same can be said about discounts available to the general public.