Walt Disney World has discount vacation packages and other money saving deals, including military, room, and free dining discounts. This post covers tips for making the best use of these discounts, and when you can expect to find each of them. Several of these Walt Disney World special offers are already available through Fall 2020, with more to come later in the year.
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 details like dates (which can be found here) 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.
Magic Your Way Vacation Package – This is Disney’s way of bundling hotel, tickets, and the Disney Dining Plan together, and they don’t typically offer any discount. 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. 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 un-discounted Magic Your Way package.
The exception here to keep in mind is that there are some other discount offers that require the purchase of a Magic Your Way vacation package. The most notable of these is Free Dining (below), which can offer significant savings over buying each component of the package individually.
Discount rating – Free Dining is unquestionably the most popular discount Disney offers. Expect to see it to be released in the spring for travel dates typically from August through December. 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). Free dining can be a great discount, and is generally best for larger parties in a single room or parties with small children. With this year’s downgrade of the Quick Service DDP to Moderate Resort guests, the Free Dining promo loses a lot of value for guests who leveraged it the best.
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 as we have had great “luck” in receiving them regularly. 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.
“Stay, Play, Dine & Save” – This is often released in the winter for early-year travel dates. It off offers varying savings on Magic Your Way vacation packages that include park tickets, a hotel stay, and the Disney Dining Plan.
Discount Rating – With this bundled package savings, Disney doesn’t state the amount that you actually save (which is frustrating), but currently is touting savings of “up to $600 for a family of 4.” By pricing out sample bookings, you can see that the savings are hit or miss–most of the time it’s not as good as a room-only discount. Typically, it offers an ~50% off savings on the Disney Dining Plan (more or less depending upon the precise details of your booking). Thus, we consider it “Half-Free Dining.” It can be a good deal–especially for travel dates when Free Dining has, historically, never been offered in the past.
Authorized Walt Disney World Ticket Seller Discounts – There are a limited number of third parties that are authorized by Walt Disney World to sell discounted tickets. We cover these sellers (and which tickets to buy to get the most bang for your buck) in our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. These savings can be fairly modest or significant depending upon where you buy and the type of ticket purchased. The important thing to remember here is the word authorized. We’ve emphasized that twice now because it’s really important. There are a lot of roadside stands and timeshare scams near Walt Disney World in Florida, as well as sellers on eBay and Craigslist that run ticket scams.
Discount rating – The discounts from these authorized Walt Disney World ticket sellers vary by ticket and might be insignificant for some tickets and more significant for others. The savings can add up, though. This discount is not as good as the Florida Resident or military discounts, but if you don’t qualify for either of those savings, this is the best way to go.
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.
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!
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. 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.
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 extended through 2020. It’ll likely be extended again for 2021 and beyond (it has been running for the past 7 years without interruption–extended every time it was about to expire). 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 our review of the excellent 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, and thanks to a recent refurbishment, 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. Additionally, 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 for 2020. 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. These tickets may 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, extended every year for roughly the last decade. 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.
Foreign & Association Discounts – In addition to the military discount, there are other “association” discounts. The most prominent of these was the AAA discount. Disney and AAA terminated their partnership at the beginning of last year, meaning perks and exclusive discounts available to AAA members are gone. AAA locations still sell discount tickets and travel packages, but these are the same offers available elsewhere to the general public. 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. 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 are rarely, if ever, better than what’s available to the general public.
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 that you can normally count on seeing most years. Other, minor discounts (like add-on ticket days) aren’t mentioned here as they typically are insignificant and/or uncommon.
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!