2021 Free Tickets v. Room Discounts at Disney World
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 Tips guide 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!
Planning other aspects of a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!
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!
Renting DVC points and staying in deluxe accommodations is cheaper for our family of 4 than all the options above, and spoils us from ever wanting to stay in value Disney motels. Don’t forget to mention this option (using a trusted site like DVC Rental Store) to your readers. I also highly encourage purchasing tickets through a site like Undercover Tourist. There are so many ways to drastically cut costs and still have 100% of the Disney experience.
We were an extreme difference. Ticket offer saved us a couple hundred…room discount saved us $1888.63. It was a no brained. Haha. We’re doing a two bedroom villa. And I told my agent if there’s a discount we can swing it. If not we’ll be heading to Cornado.
We’re a family of 5. I just priced this ticket offer for an upcoming stay and am calling now to change our reservation to this package. Even though we are staying at a deluxe villa (Boulder Ridge Villas, booked direct through Disney, it is 200 cheaper for a 4 night stay with the ticket deal than with the room discount. I was NOT expecting that at all, even with our larger family, because the room-only discount on deluxe resorts is so large. Really does show you have to do the math.
Thanks for the info Tom. We were able to score a coveted PIN code which we’re using for a stay at AoA (Cars) at the end of April (8 nights). We are also spending 6 days in the parks. Given this scenario, I wasn’t going to do the math, because I was assuming that given the length of our trip and the number of nights we were staying there (and the number of days in the parks for that matter…) that the hotel discount would greatly exceed the ticket promotion. I guess I should look into it. Anyone want to talk me off the ledge?
I see no reason not to look into the deal, you should be able to price it out before committing to anything. It seems unlikely you will save money but maybe you will, or maybe you will find it costs the same that you’re paying now to upgrade to an 8 day park ticket and gave more options for your stay.
Thanks Jared. I ended up pricing it out, and our original plan using the PIN code for our hotel stay ended up being cheaper by a few hundred dollars for each family – but it was closer than I expected…so I’m glad I at least looked into it.
I’ve been hearing about the ticket vs. hotel deals. Because of this morning’s article from you, I went ahead and compared the deals. Other things I’ve read encouraged readers to not really bother with the ticket deal. BUT I was able to SAVE $410 with a moderate hotel family of 5 (5th person sleeper room) with the ticket deal rather than the hotel one. Thank you for making my day!!
Based on your screen shots, the only example you showed with 2 adults/2 kids during the cost comparison was the two free park days staying at Pop Century. The other examples, you either showed 2 adults or 2 adults/1 kid. This doesn’t make for good comparisons.
Just reread the article. I was incorrect in my statements above.
Trying to do a split stay, I discovered that you can’t purchase a ticket for your entire trip. You can only purchase for the amount of days of your resort reservation. In the past, I would have been able to purchase let’s say an 8 day ticket package for the first 4 nights staying at resort and then book a room only for the next 4 nights at another. It won’t let me do that.
You can still purchase it–you just have to call and do it over the phone. I tried to book a package online with a 3-night stay and 5-day tickets and the maximum it would let me do was 4 days. Then I called and they said they could extend the ticket to 5 days.
The other issue that you don’t cover and is VERY VERY important is room availability
when this discount offer came out last week we went online and found our rooms discounted but we had an existing reservation.
by the time I picked up the phone and called Walt Disney World reservationists (because it wouldn’t allow me to change online) that 20 minute on hold, the rooms disappeared and they have not been available since. (Caribbean Beach resort — preferred room) so if you do see a good room discount deal you better grab it quickly because theRe is limited availability. The reservationist told us that if we have an existing reservation and the system won’t automatically apply the discount to go ahead and make a second reservation then go back and cancel the first then call Walt Disney world to have Them AP ply the funds to the new reservation …. your mileage may vary.
We have a stay the first week of March. We ended up using both discounts by splitting our stay. We used the ticket deal for 4 nights at pop century for two adults and two teenagers. Then we used the hotel discount to stay at art of animation for the last 2 nights of our trip. It ended up saving us almost $200 from our original package of 6 nights and 4 day tickets at just pop. So the kids were happy to get an extra day at the parks and we got to try out Art of Animation where we haven’t stayed before.
Aw, Tom, too much math. Makes my head hurt.
We’re planning a Pop Century vacation at the end of May with an 8 and 7 year old. Mostly planning on using the hotel for sleeping. We have a relatively early flight in. We’ll be at the hotel by 12:30 and hopefully in the park by 1pm. We’re staying 7 days and have a late flight leaving around 6pm. Two questions. First, which park should we visit the first day? I’m leaning towards Epcot at the moment. Second, are you able to check bags for the airport at the hotel like in years past? Any other helpful hints and suggestions especially during this time of COVID is appreciated!
I would agree with Epcot on arrival day, there aren’t really any rope drop attractions right now and lots of great options for dinner.
And no there is no airline check-in at the hotels since Covid and likely will not return with magical express going away.
When do you think Disney will release the fun in the sun discount for hotel rooms. Applied this discount to my stay at the Grand in Aug 2019 and it saved me alot of money.
Do you expect any discounts of any kind for October 2021? Have room only reservations at Pop for 2 rooms. Unsure if I should add tickets now and make it a package or go ahead and buy tickets from an third party.
This is my problem with all these current “deals”…I dug through my records to find our initial confirmation from booking Pop Century (2 Adults & 2 Children) from December 11th to December 16th in 2018. We had five day park tickets (not hopper), and stayed in a preferred room. It was $2,149.61.
We probably could have found ways to pay less, but whatever. It worked and seemed reasonable. That being said, it was very much a “commando” trip and while we had a lot of fun I don’t have a desire to stay at Pop Century again (sunrise at CBR spoiled me).
I understand I’m not doing a strictly apples to apples comparison, but in my opinion it’s close enough to get the gist. By my math the current “best” discount is 20ish+ percent more expensive than a similar trip just three years ago.
That 20ish percent increase in room and tickets eats up a huge chunk of the family’s budget for airfare, and really tips the scales away from on property at WDW.
I’m also not a cynic or trying to just complain about price increases. Not having a 2021 trip booked is driving me nuts…
Meanwhile continually cutting benefits and perks for staying on site. I love Disney, but every year it becomes harder and harder to justify continuing to give them my money. Once the kids are a little older, I am probably out.