Disney World has already announced discount vacation packages and other room only, military, and free dining discounts for 2013. Some of these Disney World discounts are better than others and discounts are quite predictable as they typically repeat, so to get an idea of how the various discounts stack up, we’ve put together this article rating Disney’s discounts. To see which discounts are best for particular “types” of guest read our summary and review of all Walt Disney World discounts below.
Rather than this being a generic post providing specific details (like dates) of the various discounts at Walt Disney World, this post will instead editorialize. You can find the information concerning applicable dates and the like on DisneyWorld.com or on a myriad of other fan sites that simply copy and paste the information from DisneyWorld.com. This post is meant to help those of you who are unfamiliar with Walt Disney World discounts get an idea of how good the discount you’re considering really is (despite Disney’s best marketing efforts, some discounts are better than others).
I’ve planned every Walt Disney World trip we’ve taken over the course of the years, and I’ve learned a lot about traveling frugally to Walt Disney World in the process. Hopefully this provides a primer for those who don’t visit as often, but are looking to save the most money possible when planning their Walt Disney World trip!
Although Walt Disney World constantly changes the discounts it offers, the same types of discounts are constantly offered (“Free” Disney Dining Plan, Room-Only, etc.), so these reviews should give you a good idea of which discounts are best for you.
When examining the discounts offered, it’s important to remember that package discounts may include things you don’t want (like the Disney Dining Plan, which offers more food than most guests can eat) and Walt Disney World park tickets, which can be purchased cheaper from an authorized third party, like Undercover Tourist. (Read our Buying Discounted Disney Tickets Guide for more information.)
2013 Magic Your Way Vacation Package – This is actually not a discount at all, but instead Disney’s way of bundling hotel, tickets, and the Disney Dining Plan together (there are numerous tiers of the Magic Your Way vacation packages; some include more or less than what’s listed here, but these are the main three things included in most plan). Disney pushes the Magic Your Way Vacation packages hard on guests booking their vacations. However, despite what Disney agents may say, the Magic Your Way vacation packages are not discounts, and are usually worse deals if paying full price for the package than buying each component individually. Although you will receive certain “Magical Extras” for booking a Magic Your Way vacation package, these Magical Extras are not things that most guests will use. That is, unless you plan on spending time bass fishing or at the arcade while you’re at Walt Disney World. Even if you do, you can usually find a better discount and then just pay full price for the arcade or bass fishing.
Discount rating - since it’s not really a discount, this rates poorly. Disney encourages people to buy vacation packages because that’s how it makes the most money. Most people will buy tickets and meals, anyway, but buying those items as part of a package typically encourages guests to buy greater-length park tickets and spend more on meals by purchasing the Disney Dining Plan. This also makes guests less likely to leave Disney property to see other Orlando destinations, such as SeaWorld, Legoland, or Universal’s new Wizarding World of Harry Potter (at Islands of Adventure) because they’ve already purchased length-of-stay Disney park tickets and pre-paid for all of their meals at Walt Disney World. Thus, if guests are less-inclined to leave for a day and “waste” the day on their ticket and meals they’ve already paid-for at Disney. The “Magical Extras,” that many guests won’t use anyway, are a small price for Disney to pay for keeping guests on Disney property. Most of the time you will save much more money by utilizing an available discount (which actually often incorporate a Magic Your Way package into the discount) than an undiscounted Magic Your Way package.
We actually don’t recommend doing this, because it’s more expensive to buy tickets from Disney directly, so you’re paying “extra,” in a sense, for this. Plus, with a package you are restricted in what you can add and receive “freebies” that most people will never use. As mentioned above, we highly recommend buying Walt Disney World tickets from an authorized third party ticket broker instead of directly from Disney.
“Free” Disney Dining Plan - Disney World has announced its “Free Dining” promotion for part of 2013. Value Resort guests receive the Quick Service Disney Dining Plan during the promotion, and all other guests receive the standard Disney Dining Plan. I have a numerous articles and resources devoted to the Disney Dining Plan and the Free Disney Dining Plan promotion. More details can be found there.
Discount rating - Free Dining is unquestionably the most popular discount Disney offers. Expect to see it every fall, plus some other dates. The promotion offers the Dining Plan for free to guests paying for full price Magic Your Way packages (so purchasing full price rooms and park tickets). When you get “free” dining, you give up another discount (namely, a room discount), and are forced to purchase park tickets directly from Disney (a more costly proposition than purchasing through a third party ticket broker). Still, “free” dining can be a great discount, and is generally best for larger parties in a single room or parties with small children. Popular dates and resorts book up fast for this discount, so it’s almost worth it to have the Disney Chase Visa, which gets a few day head-start on booking the discount.
Walt Disney World Resort-Hotel Room-Only Discounts – These room only discounts are available to the general public for booking only their hotel rooms. Tickets and the Disney Dining Plan are not included with these discounts, but typically may be added separately for full price. Room only discounts are typically tiered, with the deepest discounts (usually 30% off) for Deluxe and Deluxe Villa resorts. During low booking seasons, the least popular of these resorts can see discounts up to 40% off (most often only at Saratoga Springs and Old Key West). Moderate resorts usually see 25% off discounts, with Value resorts seeing 20% off discounts.
The exact percentages here can fluctuate a bit depending upon season. I’ve seen Values as low as 10% off and as high as 30% off. The tier system is pretty constant, though, so you can expect Values to always be the “least discounted” and Deluxe Villas to be the most discounted.
As with all discounts, room only discounts are to entice guests to stay on-site and fill room inventory that is not projected to sell out. As such, you won’t see discounts as often at popular resorts or during the busiest seasons. Why would Disney charge less without reason?
In general, the discounts here are slightly better during off-peak times. If you have flexibility, you should avoid traveling when lesser discounts are offered. Not just because you won’t save as much, but because greater discounts are typically offered during slower seasons. So, not only do you save more money, but you have lighter crowds to deal with. Win-win!
Discount rating – For parties of two or less, the room-only discount is usually my recommended discount (and in our opinion, this discount is “best” at the Moderate Resorts, which we think offer the most bang for your buck). For parties of four and sometimes three, I usually recommend the Free Disney Dining Plan discount when it’s available. This discount usually offers the best value because it doesn’t force you to purchase things you don’t need, and gives you the most autonomy in selecting other aspects of your vacation, like park tickets and meals. If you’re purely considered with traveling cheaply, a Value Resort with a lower percentage discount is always cheaper than a Deluxe Resort or Deluxe Villa Resort with a greater discount. However, the higher tier resorts, obviously, have nicer accommodations.
If you’re in a party of three and are traveling at a time when Free Dining is also offered, which discount you should select depends upon how much food you would ideally want to eat on your trip, the exact percentages of discounts, and in which resort tier you’d stay. If there’s 40% off the resort at which you want to stay and you’re light eaters who would rather save time by doing mostly counter service meals, the decision is easy: take the room discount. If your party would otherwise stay at Port Orleans Riverside on a 20% room discount and you enjoy large table service meals, the decision is also easy: take free dining. Chances are, your circumstances won’t be quite so cut and dry, so you’ll have to crunch some numbers. Consider how much the restaurants at which you want to eat would cost out of pocket versus what you’d save with a room only discount. If the out of pocket dining cost is higher than the percentage savings, take Free Dining. If not, take the percentage discount.
As a party of two that prefers to use the Tables in Wonderland 20% off dining card, we generally go with the room discount.
Annual Passholder Room-Only Discounts – Annual Passholders typically receive slightly better room-only discounts than the general public. The Disney Dining Plan can typically be added to these discounts for an additional fee. Just like the general public room-only discount, these are typically broken down into tiers with the best discounts available at Deluxe or Deluxe Villa Resorts. These discounts also vary widely based upon booking trends and season.
These are often available later than the general public discounts with the presumption on Disney’s part that Annual Passholders are in a better position to book a room at the last minute.
Discount rating – Annual Passholders (obviously) don’t need park tickets, so this will, with very rare exception, be the best discount for them. In fact, even if you’re NOT currently an Annual Passholder, it might be the best discount for you! Depending upon the length of your stay and the tier of resort at which you’d like to stay, it may be advantageous for one member of your party to purchase an Annual Pass to take advantage of the discount (for example if you’re planning a 12-night vacation at Disney’s Polynesian Resort, one person in your party might want to purchase an Annual Pass if the discount rate there is better for Annual Passholders than it is for the general public). You will need to present your Annual Pass at the time of check-in, so make sure to order it in advance and pick it up before checking-in!
Florida Resident Room Discounts – Florida Residents typically receive room discounts comparable to Annual Passholders. Proof of Florida residency is required at check-in. The Disney Dining Plan is not included with these discounts but may be added.
Discount rating – If you’re a Florida resident who only needs a room for a weekend or something, this is probably the best discount for you. This is true even if you do not have an Annual Pass. Depending upon how many times per year you visit, it may be advantageous to purchase an Annual Pass (and possibly also a Tables in Wonderland card if you eat on Disney property on a semi-regular basis). If not, see below for discounted tickets available to Florida residents.
Florida Resident Disney Ticket Discounts – From time to time, Disney offers discount tickets to Florida residents who don’t own Annual Passes. Proof of Florida residency is required to purchase these tickets. Disney often offers special multi-day tickets for Florida residents for use during lightly attended days in the spring. These tickets almost always have blockout dates during spring break season and Easter week.
Discount rating – As an Indiana resident who is an Annual Passholder, I can’t fathom being a Florida resident and not being an Annual Passholder. However, if you’re not, these are great prices for tickets, as standard Magic Your Way tickets are typically much more expensive. If you’re a Florida resident planning a vacation to Walt Disney World, I highly recommend adding on the Park Hopper option or the Water Park Fun & More option (or both!). Depending upon how many times per year you visit, it may be advantageous to purchase an Annual Pass (and possibly also a Tables in Wonderland card if you eat on Disney property on a semi-regular basis).
These tickets are a win-win for Disney and guests. Disney gets to draw some guests who otherwise might not have visited at all during the year (or visited during busier times) during times of the year when there is unused capacity. The guests benefit in receiving cheaper tickets and visiting during a light time of year.
Military Disney World “Armed Forces Salute” Room Discounts – Disney’s popular “Armed Forces Salute” was just extended through September 2014, and we wouldn’t be surprised if it’s extended again come Summer 2014. Military personnel (active or retired) receive better room-only discounts than the general public. The Disney Dining Plan is not included with these discounts, but typically may be added at full price.
Discount rating – Disney does a lot for military personnel, which is absolutely great. However, even with these excellent savings, you might instead check out Shades of Green resort. My father is retired military, and we always stayed at Shades of Green when I was growing up. It was great back then, but thanks to a recent refurbishment (we again stayed here with my parents in 2010), it’s looking better than ever. It’s located in the Magic Kingdom area (walking distance to Disney’s Polynesian Resort) and rooms are generally as large or larger than Disney Deluxe Resorts, and the food is much more reasonably priced. Prices are based upon military-ranking.
Military Disney World “Armed Forces Salute” Ticket Discounts – The wonderful “Armed Forces Salute” Disney ticket offer is also available now through September 2014. When booking with this offer, active or retired US military personnel may purchase 4-Day Military Promotional Tickets with your choice of either the Park Hopper or Water Park Fun & More option at a steeply discounted rate, to be used by themselves, family members (including spouse) or friends. Guests booking this package can upgrade to either the Park Hopper or Water Park Fun & More options for a bit more (highly recommended). These tickets are by far the cheapest that Disney offers, so if you qualify, jump on this deal.
Discount rating – This is a frequently-offered discount, so don’t fret if you’re traveling after September 2014. It’s not expected to be canceled after that, but prices and exact details will likely be adjusted a bit. This is a great price for a 4-day park ticket. If you’re eligible for these tickets, buy them, as they are without a doubt the best deal you’ll be able to find. I would highly recommend adding on either the Park Hopper option or the Water Park Fun & More option. If you’re going to be at Walt Disney World for more than four days, the Water Park Fun & More option allows you to spend some time enjoying other Disney offerings on your remaining days. If you’re going to be at Walt Disney World for only four days, the Park Hopper option allows you to visit multiple parks in the same day. This will allow you to travel to the parks with morning and evening Extra Magic Hours. Although there are only four theme parks and four days might seem like plenty, it’s impossible to see it all in four days. The Park Hopper option will at least help you see a bit more.
For more information about these military discounts and other military tips for Walt Disney World, visit the excellent MilitaryDisneyTips.com.
Foreign & Association Discounts – In addition to the military discount, there are other “association” discounts. The most prominent of these is the AAA discount. This discount is usually small, and usually isn’t as good as other discounts that are available. However, you might check with your local AAA branch to see what, if anything is available. Members of other associations are advised to inquire as to whether their association affords them a discount. Again, these savings are unlikely to be better than what’s listed above.
Discount rating - Guests from overseas frequently can receive substantially better discounts than those offered to Americans. In the past, a 30-40% room discount plus Free Disney Dining Plan was not unheard of. Access to these discounts is only available through foreign travel agents and from foreign arms of the Walt Disney Travel Company, but guests coming from other countries would be well-advised to look into these discounts first–they’re often better than US discounts! Discounts for US associations like AAA are rarely, if ever, better than what’s available to the general public.
PIN Codes – PIN codes are often regarded as the holy grail of discounts within the Disney community as they’re only sent to a select few. They’re not a separate category of their own, as they could incorporate many different types of discounts. Only those who receive the PIN Code may utilize it, and usually these discounts are better than those offered to the general public. Usually. I’ve written a lot about PIN Codes over at TouringPlans.com. To increase your chances of receiving a PIN Code, read this. PIN Codes can be room-only discounts, “kids play free” discounts, free dining discounts, or other discounts with which Disney is experimenting.
Discount rating – Since PIN codes aren’t really their own category of discount so much as multiple types of discounts offered to select groups, it’s impossible to rate them. Generally, PIN codes are better than what’s available to the general public, but there have been some exceptions to that. PIN codes are most often early Free Dining, Free Dining for dates not available to the general public, or room only discounts.
Kids Stay and Play Free – This discount offers free tickets for your kids when booking a Magic Your Way Vacation package. The rest of the package is full price (meaning no room discount or discounts on adult tickets).
Discount rating - Since children always stay free in a room with adults, this isn’t that great of a discount. On short stays in Value Resorts with multiple children is when it’s best. The fewer children you have, the longer your stay becomes, and/or the higher tier of resort you choose, the worse discount it becomes. If you have 3 adults and one child staying in Disney’s Polynesian Resort for 12 days, this is most certainly not the best discount. Obviously, if you have no kids with you, it’s a terrible discount no matter the trip duration and resort tier. When this discount is offered, it’s seldom the best discount for most guests.
Other discounts may be offered from time to time (one discount we’d love to see return is the “buy 4, get 3 free” offer), but these are the most common ones.
For Walt Disney World trip planning tips and comprehensive advice, make sure to read our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide and related articles.
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There are a lot of different ways to obtain discounts on your Walt Disney World vacation, which do you find works best for you? What “extinct” discount would you like to see return? Any other tips for saving at Disney? Share your thoughts in the comments!