Debating whether to take advantage of Walt Disney World’s new free ticket offer or a hotel room discount for 2021? This post will break-down the pros & cons of each, and compare prices across Value, Moderate, and Deluxe Resorts with each of the deals.
While the “two free days” deal is attractive and eye-catching thanks to the marketing power of all things FREE, it’s always worth remembering that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Not in life and not with Walt Disney World discounts. It’s “free,” with air-quotes. In this case, there’s the opportunity cost of choosing the free ticket promo in lieu of other discounts–right now, that’s a room-only discount offering the general public up to 30% resort stays.
If this language sounds familiar, it’s because we’ve continually stressed the exact same thing when it comes to the popular Free Dining at Walt Disney World deal. The exact same idea applies here, which is probably even more obvious since we’ve seen about 2% as much excitement for this 2 free days ticket as Free Dining normally garners…
As with Free Dining v. room-only discounts, this one is also not an apples to apples comparison. With Free Dining, the math presupposes that you want the large amounts of food the Disney Dining Plan offers, are not vegetarian, etc. Basically, that you’ll get full value out of the Disney Dining Plan in the first place, and are not one of the many guests who would come out ahead going the simpler route of paying out of pocket for your meals.
With this free ticket v. room discount comparison, the necessary threshold assumption is that you need or want park tickets for most or all days of your vacation. In fact, the best savings arise out of short stays with visits to the Walt Disney World’s theme parks on both arrival and departure days. Good for those doing a long holiday weekend flying in via redeye and leaving late at night, but arguably less sensible for most other bargain-hunters.
Also ignored entirely in this breakdown is the reality that anyone could effectively “double-dip” by booking a room-only special offer and then following the advice in our Money-Saving Walt Disney World Ticket Tipsguide to purchase discount tickets. If you’re in one of the “in-between” zones we discuss below, you’ll definitely want to do the math with tickets purchased via those authorized Walt Disney World ticket brokers to see if you come out ahead with a room only discount.
Finally, before we get started, I should “disclose” our bias…which is probably already evident. We strongly favor room-only discounts. While that’s true to a degree with Free Dining, that’s mostly due to the obscene levels of (over) hype for that promotion. With Free Dining, there are many scenarios where it’s the better deal–sometimes by a wide margin–over room discounts.
The ticket discount looks similarly good on paper, but our view is that real world use cases of it being the best discount are incredibly limited. There are definitely some, but they’re a narrow set of circumstances and even those–like cramming 4 people into a room at Pop Century–arguably have better alternatives.
Anyway, enough of a preface…let’s get to everyone’s favorite thing: math!
We’re going to start with the specific scenario that will most strongly favor the two free days ticket deal. For this comparison, we’re using Pop Century Resort, with 2 adults and 2 kids (but adults for ticket purposes) staying 4 nights but purchasing 5-day tickets with the Park Hopper option.
The percentage savings on Value Resorts is pretty meager at only 15% off, which puts this room at ~$175 per night after discount. That’s way higher than my personal price ceiling for Pop Century; even with the new rooms and Skyliner access, that’s still a lot to ask for a motel.
Same scenario, but with the ticket promo.
We expected to see greater savings here given the higher incremental cost of 3-day versus 5-day tickets, but honestly, the $500+ difference surprised us. That’s greater than anticipated. If you’re doing a short trip and want to visit the parks on arrival and departure days, this is unquestionably the better deal–that would be true (albeit by a smaller margin) even if purchasing discount tickets with the room-only promo.
Moving up to the Moderate Resort tier, here’s where things get closer. For this example, we’re trying to approximate a “middle of the road” scenario: 2 adults and 1 child, 6-night hotel stay, and 6-day park tickets without the Park Hopper option.
We’ve also used Caribbean Beach Resort because we view it as the best Moderate from a transportation, amenities, rooms, and location perspective. In our view, Caribbean Beach is a “Deluxe Lite” thanks to its quality and advantages in every area except guest rooms. With a 20% room discount, the price works out to $3,066. Now we’re getting into “worth it” territory from our (highly subjective) perspective.
Above is the cost of the same package, but with the 2 free days ticket promo. As you can see, that’s $157 more expensive than the room-only offer.
However, even this is a lot closer than we expected. Adding another child and/or tweaking the tickets could tip the scales in favor of the ticket deal. By contrast, removing one guest or adding nights to the vacation would create an even larger margin in favor of the hotel discount. Basically, the Moderate Resort tier is where it’s the closest call as to which will be the better deal.
Finally, our Deluxe Resort comparison.
Whereas the Pop Century deal was structured to illustrate the potential savings of the ticket deal, the reverse is true here. This is a longer stay with only 2 adults and 8-days worth of standard tickets. Grand Floridian is a more expensive hotel and it offers a 30% room-only discount, making it a foregone conclusion that will be the superior discount.
While this extreme example shows the significant difference, the scales are going to tip in favor of the room-only discount for the vast majority of guests at Deluxe and Villa Resorts. There is probably some obscure scenario where the ticket deal is better, but I can’t think of one off the top of my head.
Obviously, we’ve only done the math here for three specific packages. There’s an endless line of possibilities in between, and you really need to do the math or comparison shop to see how you can save the most money. Nevertheless, this should give you an idea of which variables have the biggest impact on each discount, giving you a good starting point for putting together your own Walt Disney World vacation package.
Finally, editorializing a bit more, we’d encourage any Walt Disney World first-timer reading this to give serious consideration before booking something akin to the first Pop Century scenario above. That’s going to require a commando style of touring, no days off from the parks, and relatively tight accommodations. It’s not particularly conducive to a relaxing vacation, and in our view, is not the ideal way to dip your toes into Walt Disney World. (This caveat does not apply to repeat visitors–if you already know you enjoy the commando lifestyle, more power to you!)
For the cynical, this is not because we’re Disney shills attempting to upsell you. While we would recommend splurging on Caribbean Beach over Pop Century, we’d also recommend staying off-site somewhere that offers more bang for buck (and space!), on-site at the Swan & Dolphin, or even at one of Universal’s hotels. Basically, we’re just really apprehensive about scenario #1, especially right now with how the parks are operating. It looks like significant savings on paper, but that does not sound like our idea of a pleasant vacation in practice. Of course, your mileage may vary–it could be exactly what you want!
Have you done the math? Do you save more money with the two free ticket days or the room-only discount? What do you think of these promotions for Walt Disney World? Does this 2-day ticket deal present good savings for your family, or does it not work out with your park visiting habits? Do you agree or disagree with our assessments? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!