BIG Disney World Deal Drop Day PSA

Walt Disney World is going to be releasing discounts for Summer 2024 and likely beyond within the next week. This covers what we know based on both historical precedent and what Disney has already quietly announced, our predictions as to what deals will be offered, multiple scenarios for the releases, and–most importantly–how you need to prepare.

Let’s start with past precedent, which is a key piece of the puzzle. Early January has been Walt Disney World’s biggest special offer release date of the year since 2019. That was the year of the pre-Star Wars slump, when fans were postponing visits to Walt Disney World until after Galaxy’s Edge opened.

As a result, Walt Disney World moved forward the Free Dining drop-date, while also releasing room-only discounts for the general public, Florida residents, and Annual Passholders. Although there wasn’t as compelling of a reason to do so, the exact same thing happened the first week of January 2020.

Fast-forward to 2022, and the circumstances were once again similar. It wasn’t OG Free Dining that was released, as there was no Disney Dining Plan. Instead, the similar-but-very-different Free Dining Gift Card was released on January 5, along with a slew of room-only discounts. That’s a succinct rundown of recent and historical precedent.

The first week of January tends to be the biggest release date for Walt Disney World discounts because it’s when people are planning trips. We’ve mentioned this before, but there’s a reason why the ABC Christmas Day Parade is so valuable to the company–it’s basically an extended infomercial for Disney Destinations as families gather and start planning their vacations for the year to come.

Likewise, discounts are released in early January because that’s when people start to act on that and actually book vacations. Stumbling upon substantial savings rather than having sticker shock upon seeing rack rates for hotels is advantageous to the company for obvious reasons. It’s all part of Walt Disney World’s “Kohl’s Pricing Model,” where the regular prices are almost meaningless due to discounts. (Thankfully!)

Against that backdrop, we already know that Walt Disney World is releasing at least one discount on January 3, 2024 because a special offer “just for Disney+ subscribers” was announced last month (see above).

Note the adjacent image Disney+ used in promoting this promo–a couple sitting at the best character dining experience at Walt Disney World: Topolino Terrace’s Breakfast a la Art.

It could be a random photo chosen to illustrate the upcoming discount, but we suspect it was purposeful–that a dining discount of some sort is dropping for Walt Disney World.

A few days before that, I shared my 2024 Free Dining Deal Date Predictions. Even prior to that tease, I thought the chances of Free Dining coming back in early January was about 50/50. The other “half” of that wasn’t Free Dining not coming out at all, but rather, being released released in late March or early April 2024.

Other things have happened since that increase the odds of Free Dining, leading me to revisit the topic with refined predictions in our comprehensive Guide to 2024 Free Dining at Walt Disney World. Suffice to say, I now think the chances of Free Dining being released in January 2024 are 75/25. And if anything, that’s a conservative estimate.

But even assuming it is released, there are a few ways this discount drop could play out–all of which are supported by historical precedent. Let’s run through the scenarios:

Free Dining for Disney+ Only – Since we already know Disney+ is getting an exclusive special offer on January 3, 2024 let’s just assume that it’s the only discount that’s released and it’s the big one: Free Dining.

It would actually make complete sense for Walt Disney World to be conservative and not release any other special offers if they drop Free Dining on January 3 for Disney+ subscribers. Free Dining is far and away the most popular discount that Disney offers (based on booking volume) and after a 4 year absence, fans are going to be starved for Free Dining.

Releasing only Free Dining for Disney+ subscribers on January 3, 2024 would offer several advantages. It would allow Walt Disney World to assess demand and the necessity for other deals before releasing more. Disney could stagger demand so the website wouldn’t crash (or have as bad of a virtual queue) and prevent the phone lines from being as overwhelmed. From the perspective of the company as a whole, it would also push more people to purchase Disney+ subscriptions.

During past Free Dining releases, Walt Disney World has sometimes gone this route–with a slight staggering of discounts to spread out demand and prevent the website and phone lines from being overwhelmed.

If I were in charge of the company, this is exactly what I would do. It’s the disciplined decision with the most upside and least downside. But it also assumes coordination and cooperation between different divisions along with knowledge of how things worked (and didn’t) pre-2020, and I’m skeptical of all that happening. As such, I don’t view this scenario as likely.

Disney+ Discount Only (No Free Dining) – This is the same as the above, except with a different discount instead of Free Dining. In this scenario, I still think it’s a dining-related discount. Not necessarily because of the Topolino’s Terrace photo, but because food has been Walt Disney World’s go-to for “bigger” deals lately.

The first alternative here would be an extension of the current “Free” Disney Dining Card Deal for 2024 and/or 50% Off Tickets & Dining Plans Discount for Kids in Spring & Summer 2024. However, what we’ve seen since those releases is Walt Disney World getting even more aggressive with discounts, so I’m highly skeptical of them playing that same card–except targeted–again.

As such, the second alternative would be one or both of those dining-related deals, but better. Bigger gift card denominations or somehow more for kids. I wouldn’t necessarily bet against that; it’s more or less the trajectory we’re on. I don’t think it’s the most likely scenario, though, because Walt Disney World has already been pulling from the 2019 playbook, including some deep cut discounts.

Literally the only card they have not played is Free Dining. While it’s possible we could see a new or novel deal–such as “Book X days, Get Y Free” that would increase length-of-stay, they haven’t done a deal like that since the Great Recession. All recent signs have pointed to Disney saying: “What worked in 2019? Let’s do that again.” (I would bet that this is quite literally the conversation that has happened internally.)

Half-Dozen Discounts (Wide Free Dining) – This is the free-for-all option, with at least 3 types of room-only discounts and potentially as many as 5 depending upon what’s offered to Disney Visa Cardholders and/or Disney+ subscribers.

It also would include Free Dining for Disney+ subscribers, as well as the general public and perhaps Disney Visa Cardholders. It’s difficult to say what’ll happen with that last group–Disney+ has sometimes filled the slot that Disney Visa used to occupy, with “special” or “extended” special offers.

If this is what happens, Walt Disney World will still need to fulfill the promise of a special offer “just for” Disney+ subscribers. And they will, most likely with more Free Dining dates than what’s offered to the general public. This would be pulling from the old Disney Visa playbook, and is a way of offering the discount for dates with borderline room occupancy. (When a discount is necessary to hit targets, but a wide release would be overkill.)

On paper, this is the best outcome. Everyone gets what they want! As a battle-tested WDW deal drop-day veteran, I fear this possibility. In practice, people wait hours in a virtual queue or on hold and end up being shut out. It’s too much demand, all at once. Trust me, this would be a poor result. So the pessimist in me says it’s what’ll happen.

Half-Dozen Discounts (No Wide Free Dining) – Same as the above–meaning a bunch of room-only discounts for the general public and affiliation discounts–but with Free Dining only for Disney+ subscribers. In my view, this is the best outcome–especially for planners who read this site–and the optimist in me wants to believe it’s what’ll happen.

This is basically a compromise approach, and one that makes sense because there are distinct audiences for Free Dining and room-only discounts. It’s possible that Walt Disney World would worry that not releasing room-only deals on the exact same day as Free Dining causes some number of discount fence-sitters to immediately book vacations elsewhere. Maybe they’ve seen data suggesting this in the past–I don’t know.

If this does happen, it probably would not be the end of Free Dining for 2024 at Walt Disney World. If you look back to the 2019 playbook, there were three waves of the discount released–to different groups (general public vs. Disney Visa) and different date ranges. I would not be the least bit surprised to see Free Dining released for Disney+ subscribers for earlier travel dates and then released for the same dates to the general public (but more picked over at that point). Then in late March 2024, the same thing plays out again for later travel dates.

That’s right–I wouldn’t be shocked if there are as many as 4 waves of Free Dining in 2024. I also wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if it books up well enough with Disney+ subscribers that there are just two waves and it never hits the general public, period. The barrier to entry on a streaming service subscription is a lot lower than a Visa card, and anyone with any sense will just buy a month of Disney+ to get immediate access to the deal. It’s a totally different ballgame than with a credit (or debit) card.

Why You Need to Prepare NOW!

This is now my fourth 2024 Free Dining prep post, and maybe you’re getting tired of them given that it’s still only a potential discount and not a real one. Sorry not sorry. You’ll thank me when you’re ahead of the game by being fully prepared for the range of possible outcomes, one of which is almost certain to happen. Don’t believe me? Come back on January 3, 2024 and read the frantic comments from people who are having trouble–or flat out fail at scoring a deal.

One way or another, the Disney+ special offer for Walt Disney World is going to be better than what’s offered to the general public. As such, our strong advice would be to subscribe to the streaming service TODAY. Ring in the New Year by watching Christmas with Walt Disney, Pluto’s Christmas Tree, and some Muppet goodness. (It’s still technically the holidays!)

Even if you don’t want Disney+ for whatever reason, you only need to subscribe for 2 months–the one of booking and the one of travel. You will absolutely come out ahead, monetarily, if you book the discount even after accounting for the cost of Disney Plus. And even if I’m wrong, you’re only out eight bucks–but got to watch Pluto’s Christmas Tree and Christmas with Walt Disney, so you still came out ahead. (You’re welcome.)

In a perfect world, you’d use the same email address for subscribing to Disney+ as your My Disney Experience account. My reason for suggesting you do this today (January 1, 2024) instead of waiting until January 3 is because of the potential problems. It’s not uncommon for credentials to not properly link, meaning that your My Disney Experience account may not recognize you’re a Disney+ subscriber. (Disney IT isn’t flawless?! Who would’ve guessed!) To our knowledge, this has actually gotten a lot better since Disney made backend login changes–but it’s still not 100%.

Regardless of how you sign up, go to your My Disney Experience profile and check your “Membership and Passes.” If you’re a subscriber, you should see Disney+ there. If not, you should be able to go into your Disney+ account and update the email address associated with that to match your My Disney Experience account.

In both cases, should is the operative word. This won’t always work. If it doesn’t, try calling Disney+ customer service at 888-905-7888. You will likely have much better results doing that in the next 2 days than you will on January 3. Suffice to say, you’ll be one of the few people calling for help today–but won’t be alone then!

The bottom line is that you want all of this squared away before January 3, 2024 because it’s likely to be a competitive discount drop day involving virtual queues and in-demand dates, resort and room combos going quickly. Don’t let fumbling around with Disney+ be what gets between you and a great deal. Lose out the old fashioned way–because others are hoarding resort reservations! 😉

Finally, we’ll end with a plug. We will be closely monitoring the 2024 Walt Disney World discount situation, keeping our ears open for more news about a return of Free Dining. Should something–anything–be released or rumored, we’ll send you an alert if you sign up for our FREE Walt Disney World newsletter.

Longtime readers might also recall that we offered a heads up before Free Dining was actually announced most years up to 2020. While all of the above is speculation based on past experience and is NOT a rumor or leak, the latter does happen. If Free Dining really is coming on January 3, there’s a decent chance it’ll be an open secret by January 2.

Failing that, we’ve notified subscribers about discounts early in the morning–while they were live but before Walt Disney World officially announced them–on countless occasions in the last decade. All of this may not seem like much, but a heads up of even a day or a few hours can be the difference between successfully booking or not–or at least not being stuck in a virtual queue for hours!

If you’re already overwhelmed, you might just want someone else to do the work for you. Free Dining is Walt Disney World’s most complicated promotion, and can be a huge headache to book. Between limited availability and navigating a sea of rules and restrictions, it’s easy to get frustrated, have problems, or be unsuccessful in scoring a reservation.

To that end, we always recommend that Walt Disney World first-timers or regulars who just don’t want to deal with the hassle use a travel agent. (Click here to request a free quote from Be Our Guest Vacations, an Authorized Disney Travel Planner that we recommend.) Most legit travel agents do not charge for booking Walt Disney World vacations (and you don’t pay a premium to use them–Disney pays them commission, so they’re free to you), so that’s really the easiest way to go.

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. 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!


What do you think will happen–will Free Dining be released for the general public on January 3, 2024? Will Disney+ subscribers have access to an extended set of dates for that, or an entirely unique special offer? Agree or disagree with our predictions or commentary? Any questions? Hearing your feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!

27 Responses to “BIG Disney World Deal Drop Day PSA”
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