If you travel to Walt Disney World or Disneyland and are able to see or hear, you probably are familiar with Disney’s “Best” Kept Secret: Disney Vacation Club (or “DVC” as the cool kids call it). Disney Vacation Club 2013 prices are higher than ever, making many wonder whether buying into Disney Vacation Club is actually a good idea for their families.
Like a lot of frequent Disney vacationers, at one time or another, you’ve probably wondered whether Disney Vacation Club is right for you. Maybe you’ve taken a tour, maybe you’ve done some research online on one of the great resources such as MouseOwners.com or DVCNews.com. Heck, maybe you’ve even crunched the numbers yourself!
If you’ve considered purchasing Disney Vacation Club, one of the biggest considerations, no doubt, is whether it makes good economic sense. Unfortunately, as with almost everything in life there is no definitive answer to this question that fits everyone. From a purely economic perspective, Disney Vacation Club will not make sense for a lot of people. However, it’s worth reading on to see if it makes financial sense for you, or if there are other compelling reasons for you to make the purchase.
As mentioned above, if your main reason for purchasing an interest in Disney Vacation Club is to save money, whether it’s a good deal for you depends of your party size and resort tier preference. Contrary to Disney’s claim that Disney Vacation Club will save you “70% off” of future resort stays, this is not actually the case. If this were true, do you really think Disney would actually be offering the program–and that it would be wildly profitable for the company? Sure, Disney might take a bit of a hit to guarantee that you will be a loyal customer for years to come, but 70% off?! As we all learned in grade school, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Disney’s 70% savings number assumes things that aren’t realistic to reality, such as paying rack rate in the most expensive Disney hotels and no return on investment for the (unfinanced) money invested in Disney Vacation Club. Even assuming these things, I’m still not quite sure how Disney arrives at its 70% off number, especially in 2013 when DVC direct prices are substantially more than they were just a few years ago. I think it might be equal parts magic and advertising puffery, but I’m not entirely sure.
It’s also worth noting that Disney Vacation Club is a pre-paid vacation plan, which differs slightly from the traditional definition of a timeshare. In the strictest sense, Disney Vacation Club can be viewed as an asset, but not a tangible one. This is an important distinction to some people, but it doesn’t matter to a lot of people.
Accommodations Preferences – This is the threshold question, because if you’re (voluntarily) a Values and Moderates type person, Disney Vacation Club may never make financial sense for you. However, it can be a difficult question to answer, because it’s tough to anticipate your vacationing habits in the future. If you only roll Deluxe, and anticipate demanding posh accommodations in the future, Disney Vacation Club might be right for you. If you presently have kids or anticipate soon having kids, and are tired of sleeping in the same small quarters with them at a Moderate Resort Disney Vacation Club, and its wonderful one-bedroom units, may be right for you as it gives you the option to separate yourself from the kids at night! Similarly, if you have to book two or more rooms at a Value or Moderate, it might be for you…
Even if you enjoy Deluxe Resorts, Disney Vacation Club still might not be right for you if you can’t stand the idea of MouseKeeping not cleaning your room daily. Conversely, 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 “home-away-from-home” amenities, Disney Vacation Club may be right for you. To us, this isn’t a big deal at all, as we actually prefer MouseKeeping not coming into our room.
If you are a commando park tourer who primarily books All Star Movies, find the Value Resorts acceptable, and you stay up until all hours of the night and get up for rope drop daily, Disney Vacation Club may not be a good option for you. This is for two reasons. First, because the initial cost of Disney Vacation Club plus the cost of the annual maintenance fees will be higher than the sum of the yearly cost of a room at a Value Resort over the life of the Disney Vacation Club contract, assuming reasonable price increases of those rooms and factoring for the time value of money (not factoring in a reasonable discount off of rack rate for the Value Resort, which you will presumably receive; once you factor this in, the results are even more lopsided). Second, because you simply don’t need one of the vacation-home style rooms offered by Disney Vacation Club.
That said, even if you do presently stay at Value Resorts, after one stay at a Disney Vacation Club resort, you may be hooked. For many people, it’s one of those, “I didn’t realize what I was missing until I tried it” scenarios. Our first stay at the BoardWalk Villas definitely made it tough for us to stay in Value accommodations again! If you’re not sure whether Disney Vacation Club accommodations will be a good fit, rent Disney Vacation Club points! There are a number of sites from which you can rent points, and they offer a cheap way to ‘get your feet wet’ with DVC, so to speak. You can also book Deluxe Villas from Disney directly, although this isn’t as cost-effective.
Advance Planning – If you can’t regularly plan your vacations 7 months or more in advance, and Saratoga Springs Resort and Old Key West Resort, which are typically the two resorts that fill up last, aren’t acceptable resorts to you, then Disney Vacation Club may not be right for you. During various times of year, popular Disney Vacation Club 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. If you can plan more than 7 months in advance, DVC is probably a good fit.
Disney Vacationing Frequency – 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 two or 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.
Even this isn’t a hard rule. A lot of Disney Vacation Club owners who aren’t able to use their annual allotment of points safely rent them out through point-rental businesses, such as the DVC Rental Store. The amount owners can make through point rental is usually more than enough to pay for accommodations elsewhere!
DVC Resorts – Trading DVC points into the RCI system or using them for Disney Cruise Line or Adventures By Disney vacations is not a smart use of points. Using DVC points at non-DVC resorts is also a poor use of points. If you buy into Disney Vacation Club thinking that you might cash-in your Disney Vacation Club points for any of these options every once in a while, you are going to have a difficult time getting adequate value out of your membership. With Disney Vacation Club’s rapid growth in the past several years, and new DVC units as much as confirmed at the Grand Floridian Resort and one also probably on the way at Fort Wilderness, resort choices only look to improve in the coming years. That said, it’s important to like the resort choices that already exist as Disney Vacation Club resorts, and, as will be discussed below, it’s important to like your home resort.
Extraneous Benefits – Disney Vacation Club Members get discounts on Annual Passes and receive free D23 Memberships (as of 2013). There are several Members-Only DVC pins, events, a small magazine mailed to members, and other offerings throughout the year as well. It is important to note that none of these things are contractual rights, so Disney is free to terminate or reduce these perks at any time. In late 2012, Disney ran a special promotion for Premium Annual Passes priced at $399 (a savings of $300!) for Disney Vacation Club members. Many suspect that this promotion will return in some form for 2013, and that Disney will offer more perks to Disney Vacation Club members to entice them to visit the Disney parks, rather than making trips to Universal Orlando to see Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Disney Vacation Club members may also purchase a Tables in Wonderland card for $100, which is another new benefit offered to Disney Vacation Club members.
It’s important to note from the outset that all of the monetary considerations below assume that you are purchasing Disney Vacation Club via the resale market. This is the ‘best case scenario’ and definitely the way to buy into DVC given the presently high prices direct from Disney. The incentives Disney offers for direct-from-Disney DVC purchases rarely make sense. If saving money is your paramount concern, you should always purchase from the resale market. Before making a purchase, you should crunch the numbers to determine what your vacation costs would be for the next 40 years if you do purchase DVC and if you don’t. Since these numbers will vary widely for everyone researching the matter (based on party size, at which type of resort you’d prefer to stay, etc.), it’s difficult for me to offer sample calculations here. Instead, I’ll offer a few important considerations to make sure you take into account when doing the math.
Before coming to any conclusion, though, make sure you read past the ‘Hard Economics’ section, as there are many compelling reasons to purchase DVC that go beyond the numbers!
Financing Disney Vacation Club – Once you get past the important threshold questions, it’s time to start crunching the numbers. Whether you have to finance Disney Vacation Club is an incredibly important question and definitely shouldn’t be glossed over. If you have to finance your Disney Vacation Club purchase, any potential savings are quickly wiped out by the interest you pay on the purchase. Interest will vary from purchaser to purchaser, but it’s a very important consideration. Unless the intangible reasons that will be discussed below strongly apply to you, I would highly advise anyone considering a purchase of Disney Vacation Club who would have to finance it not to make the purchase.
Time Value of Money – If you don’t have to finance your purchase, Disney Vacation Club should look a lot more appealing, but there still is a pitfall. Based on what I’ve read, this is the most frequently overlooked aspect of any equation when people are crunching the numbers on Disney Vacation Club. 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 over the course of time, makes any claim by Disney that you’ll actually save 70% with Disney Vacation Club highly specious.
To illustrate this principle, imagine you have $1 today. If you invest that dollar today with in something with a 6% yearly rate of return, and let it sit for 20 years, at the end of that 20 year period, that dollar is worth $3.21. Since you’re paying for all of your future Disney Vacation Club vacations up front as opposed to when they occur, large portions of the initial investment in Disney Vacation Club could be invested in other ways (with a similar return on investment rate, if not better) if you were instead paying for your room each year as you vacationed. The calculations here can be pretty complex given that you can’t take that entire initial investment and perform a time value of money calculation on it to determine what it would be worth in 10, 20, or even 40 years, as you would be paying out portions of that initial investment each year for your hotel stays. That said, by even doing rough math here, you should get a pretty good idea of the “actual” cost of Disney Vacation Club. Now, if you have suitcases full of one-hundred dollar bills sitting under your bed that you wouldn’t invest anyway, maybe this is not a consideration for you.
Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa – No, this isn’t in the wrong area. If you’re interested in maximizing the economics of Disney Vacation Club, it’s almost a requirement that you be willing to purchase a contract that has Saratoga Springs as the home resort. The reasons here are three-fold. First, it frequently has the lowest per-point cost of any of the Walt Disney World-based resorts. Second, even when other resorts are lower in per-point costs, they’re higher in per-point maintenance costs, which is more important than the initial cost-difference. Saratoga Springs has the lowest per-point maintenance costs among the resorts with the cheapest initial contract per-point costs. Finally, the contract expires in 2054, which is 12 years later than many of the other cheaper contracts. Of course, if you buy at Saratoga, that means your 11-month window is at Saratoga (and not a more desirable resort), but we seldom have an issue with this (we’ve never been “stuck” at Saratoga since we’ve been DVC members).
Locking In Your Vacation Costs – One of the huge benefits of Disney Vacation Club is locking in prices for future vacations. In other words, you know up front what your vacations will cost for the next forty years or so (depending on the expiration date of your DVC contract). This is something you can’t accurately predict without DVC, but one thing you can predict is that room prices directly from Disney will increase. Depending on how dramatically these prices increase, you could realize significant savings by purchasing Disney Vacation Club. When performing your calculations, make sure to account for this yearly increase in room rates you’d be paying if booking a room from Disney each year rather than using your DVC membership.
Okay, I wrote up a lot of “stuff” above, and it’s funny to think that one sentence can wipe away all of that, but it very well might. That sentence is, “will owning Disney Vacation Club increase my quality of life?” If the answer to this question is yes, all of the economic considerations in the world may very well be meaningless. It may be a good idea to purchase DVC anyway.
If things, such as the “Welcome Home” doormats, Disney Files Magazine showing up in your mailbox, going to bed at night knowing your vacations are partially paid in advance for the next 40-some years, the “forced vacation” aspect, owning a piece of the Magic, or being able to share trips with friends and family in awesome and unique accommodations are a big deal to you or will make you happier, then you might want to disregard everything I’ve written above. As with everything in life, “happiness” is that ace-up-the-sleeve trump card that can render everything else meaningless. Quite simply, you can’t put a price tag on happiness and peace of mind.
We highly recommend trying Disney Vacation Club before you buy to see if it’s right for you. You can either do this by booking a Deluxe Villa directly from Disney or by renting Disney Vacation Club points. We highly recommend renting Disney Vacation Club points, as you will save considerably over booking directly from Disney (typical savings over even a discounted Deluxe Villa price are around 50%) and you will get the true “Owner” experience. We have a separate guide to renting DVC points, so check it out if you want more information about the process!
For renting points, there are a few options. The most popular is renting points from the DVC Rental Store or David’s Vacation Club Rentals, both of which specialize in points rentals. Other reputable options are the Timeshare Store and DVC-Rental.
Alternatively, you can browse the forums on Mouseowners or the Disboards and find someone from whom you’d like to rent points. Rental companies are slightly more expensive (usually be $1-2 per point) than these forum options, which is the downside. The upside is that DVC Rental Store is an actual BBB accredited business who has a strong reputation. You won’t get ripped off by the DVC Rental Store or David’s, whereas the same isn’t necessarily true for random folks you’ll encounter on the forums. Now, I’ve only heard a couple of negative stories about forum transactions, but caveat emptor with that one. We recommend playing it safe and going with a professional rental site.
This is actually another place where you might want to stop and do the math. Not to see if renting is cheaper than booking through Disney (it unquestionably is), but to see if renting Disney Vacation Club points for all of your trips is a better option than buying Disney Vacation Club points. We know a lot of people who go this route year in and year out because it provides great savings without locking them into an actual contract. It is something to give serious thought, and you might be surprised just how attractive renting, rather than buying, can be!
Home Resort – If saving money is the impetus behind the purchase, and you’ve crunched the numbers and think it can be done, this is a no-brainer–you buy into Saratoga Springs via the resale market. If money is a concern, but you have a definite resort preference, you should buy where you want to stay. If you won’t be happy unless you are able to stay at the Beach Club Villas every trip, you should purchase points there. This is especially true with the popular and small resorts, such as the Beach Club Villas, which are difficult to book at the 7 months mark throughout much of the year. At the bare minimum, your home resort should be somewhere you wouldn’t mind staying–because you just might have to stay there during busier seasons where other resorts are booked at the 7 month mark. If you are not sure which resort might be the one you want to call “home,” read our article ranking the Disney Vacation Club resorts.
Start Watching The Resale Listings – We bought our contract through ResalesDVC.com and were incredibly satisfied with the experience. We also looked at listings on The Timeshare Store, and DVCByResale.com, and I’ve only heard positives about each. Figure out what you want, whether your contract needs to be ‘loaded’ and start making reasonable offers on contracts. There are also by-owner resale websites with Disney Vacation Club resales, like SellMyTimeshareNOW. Also, don’t forget to look on eBay and CraigsList to see what’s available.
A great resource to use for searching Disney Vacation Club resale listings is DVCFinder.com. It’s basically a search engine of active listings on the main DVC resale sites.
Research, Research, Research! – This post is aimed at whether you should buy Disney Vacation Club. Once you’ve made the decision, you need to understand various aspects of ownership. With regard to those things, this post barely scratches the surface. You might have seen passing references to the “7 month window” above. Do you know what that is? Do you understand terms such as “banking,” “borrowing,” “ROFR,” or “use year,” just to name a few terms? Disney Vacation Club practically has its own lexicon, and it’s important to fully understand the product before you buy. I spent two years reading and posting on the MouseOwners.com forums before we made our purchase. It’s worth hanging around there or the other sites mentioned above before making a purchase. The members there can impart far more wisdom on you than I ever can. Many of them are true experts.
We are DVC owners, and the economics work well for us even though we don’t have a larger party or a demand for always staying in Deluxe Resorts. We save money with DVC, but more importantly, owning makes us happy, which is the paramount consideration. We reviewed these same factors 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 was what we needed.
Our circumstances were a bit different than the norm, though. For our honeymoon, we wanted to stay at Disney’s BoardWalk Inn, Disney’s Polynesian Resort, or Disney’s Beach Club Resort. Unfortunately, for the busy summer season, we couldn’t get much of a discount on any of these rooms. We found that if we purchased a small contract, we could bank & borrow enough points to use for our 10-day honeymoon. In comparison to paying out of pocket for a stay at the BoardWalk for our honeymoon, buying the small DVC contract outright on the resale market provided a very short break-even number of years. With the math working out well, it was an easy decision, as the hotel stay would have no residual value, whereas the DVC contract would be useful for years. Plus, as Annual Passholders, the DVC membership would save us over $250 per year total for our Disneyland and Walt Disney World APs, which is roughly the cost of our dues. Staying in DVC accommodations also offered us the ability to purchase the Disney Dining Plan without purchasing park tickets unnecessarily.
While our touring style of staying out late and getting up early doesn’t really necessitate DVC accommodations presently, but we 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, and on those trips, we do slow down the pace to enjoy our resort. 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. Hopefully this guide helped you determine whether it works for you!
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A lot of you reading this are probably either members who stumbled upon it while looking for Disney Vacation Club content, or prospective buyers weighing their purchase? What do you all think about Disney Vacation Club? Owners, are you happy with your purchase? Potential owners, how does this article impact your decision to buy? Share your thoughts in the comments!