Will Disney World Offer Huge Discounts After Reopening?
“Will Walt Disney World offer deals when the parks & resorts reopen?” and “will WDW raise prices to make up for lost revenue during the closure?” are two common reader questions right now. While they’re phrased very differently, the idea is the same, and we’ll attempt to answer here based on history and our expectations.
This is going to be an ongoing series, coming in response to feedback and concerns raised in response to our Will Walt Disney World Reopen on April 1, 2020? post. Other topics we’ll tackle along these lines include how crowded the parks will be for the remainder of 2020 and how Disney will modify the guest experience in light of the current (and potentially ongoing) public health crisis.
A few people, presumably new to the blog and not familiar with my “methodical” (a nice way of saying long and rambling) approach, felt the previous post was verbose. Our short and sweet answer is that Walt Disney World will eventually end up offering incredible discounts after reopening. If you want to be notified immediately when these deals are released, sign up here for our FREE Disney newsletter here. What follows is the why and when of that…
For starters, let’s dispense with the question of whether Walt Disney World will raise prices to make up for the lost revenue during the closure? We’ve addressed this countless times in the past, but to reiterate: Disney charges what the market will bear. They don’t hold off on price increases as a nice gesture to guests.
When Disney increases prices, the company does so not at the rate of inflation or because its costs are increasing at a commensurate level, but because they can. When they offer discounts, it’s out of necessity, not corporate benevolence. Walt Disney World is an extremely savvy and sophisticated business—they are going to maximize profits to the greatest degree economically feasible.
It’s not as if Walt Disney World has ever dropped prices when attendance was high and increased prices when attendance was low. To the contrary, Disney charges the highest prices when demand is up (e.g. Christmas and New Year’s) and drops them when attendance is low (e.g. September). Simply put, if Walt Disney World could have freely increased prices without seeing a corresponding lack of demand, the company already would have.
I think this is difficult for some Walt Disney World fans to grasp because our view of the parks is fundamentally different than the vast majority of guests. For many of us, visiting the Disney parks is a near-essential. Sure, we’re keen on deals and cutting costs. However, one way or another, we will find a way to go, even if that means financial belt-tightening in other aspects of life.
This is not how the vast majority of guests view Walt Disney World. While there might be an emotional component to the calculation for that “rite of passage” vacation, most people are not willing to pay any amount that Disney tells them is the cost. They do have a balking point or price ceiling.
If middle class Americans considering a first-time trip–far and away Walt Disney World’s single largest demographic–go to price out a vacation on DisneyWorld.com and the package price is staggering, that’s it–they’re done. They move on to the next-best alternative, whether that’s the local Six Flags or a road trip to see America’s National Parks.
For regular readers, we probably sound like a broken record with regard to Walt Disney World’s pricing. Exactly two years ago, we published Is Walt Disney World Eroding Fan Goodwill?, which is an assessment that could’ve been written two weeks ago. Just last month, here’s what we wrote in response to ticket price increases:
At this point, it would seem that price increases will continue unabated until the next economic downturn. Given the staggering number of “Most Expensive Day Ever” and “#BROKE” shirts (among hundreds of other similar Etsy designs) visible in the parks right now, we do think Walt Disney World has a serious pricing reputation and perception problem.
However, as long as consumer confidence remains high, people will pay the prices…and then spend even more to wear shirts complaining about said prices. The serious issue will come down the road when people are not feeling so hot about their economic circumstances and future.
At that point, it’s a question of whether discounting will be enough to incentivize guests to return, or if irreparable brand damage will have been done during the last decade or so of increases. We don’t have an answer to that—no one does—but it’s definitely something about which we’re curious.
This is all to say that Walt Disney World’s long-held reputation of being expensive has accelerated in recent years, and there’s now the perception even among guests who choose to go that it’s overpriced. Just a few weeks ago, it was something many laughed off by spending even more money on shirts poking fun at that fact.
That now feels like an entirely different era–a time when the economy was booming and consumer confidence was at record highs. Since then, the stock market has plummeted and estimates of unemployment have skyrocketed at a record rate. The former has yet to find its bottom, while the latter will continue to rise until the current situation is under control.
It’s entirely possible that the economic recovery will be swift, with the stock market recouping its losses in short order and many furloughed or laid off employees quickly going back to work. Things could be largely back to normal by Christmas. It’s also entirely possible that things will worsen and theme parks are the last thing on any minds this holiday season. There are also a number of possible scenarios in between the extremes.
It should go without saying, but there’s so much future history here that remains to be written. Two weeks ago, how many of you would’ve predicted what your lives look like today? It’s safe to say that any forecasting of the future two months or even two more weeks from now is inherently unreliable.
One thing that is safe to assume is that the longer this drags out, the less likely it is that the United States economy quickly bounces back, and the more likely there’s lasting or even irreparable damage. For many small business owners and their employees, things are already at that point. Even if the overall economy recovers quickly, it’s very difficult to envision unemployment numbers going back to where they were at any point in the next 2 years.
Ditto consumer confidence, which is the best indicator of how willing people are to spend big on lavish vacations. Just as with past recessions, this will take a psychological toll–our collective memory of this won’t immediately be vanquished from minds once people can get out of the house and go back to work. At least initially, consumers will be more conservative with spending and cautious about saving.
Once this is over, there will unquestionably be pent-up demand and a strong desire for vacations. In some regards, Walt Disney World will likely benefit from this. That’s especially true as the parks offer a good mix of nostalgia, safety, comfort, and escapism–all things Americans will almost certainly be seeking after all of this.
However, a desire to get out of the house and put this in the rearview mirror does not equate to on-site hotel occupancy (the main consideration for offering deals–and why this is a separate post from our crowd predictions). First, there’s the obvious–desire doesn’t translate to ability or action. If economic circumstances, anxiety, or available credit don’t allow for a trip, it’s not happening.
Second, people can visit the theme parks without staying in Disney-owned hotels. We’ve been asking the question, Is Walt Disney World’s On-Site Advantage Disappearing? for a while now. In good times, many people brush it off–they want to stay on-site to be immersed in the “Disney Bubble.”
It’s as simple as that–cost and value for money considerations don’t even come into play. Going forward, if staying off-site is the difference between going and not going, we suspect that calculus will change for many people.
History is somewhat instructive on both of these points. Post 9-11, Americans were eager to prove that we wouldn’t live in fear, but we were still collectively apprehensive of air travel. Following the Great Recession, there was anxiety about personal finances and savings. At the very least, everyone knew someone who lost their job or home. Although it’s still early, it seems like the aftermath of this is poised to have a mix of the two moods.
Most of my knowledge of deals post-9/11 comes via anecdotes, as my family was still staying at Shades of Green at that point (and thus insulated from the realities of WDW’s actual pricing). However, there are numerous stories online of people paying <$200 per night for Deluxe Resorts, Wilderness Lodge in the low $100s, with Value and Moderate Resorts in the $40-80 per night range.
We vividly remember the deals during and coming out of the Great Recession. It was a great time for Free Dining, along with other more novel discounts. We did several inexpensive stays at Pop Century and Saratoga Springs Resort thanks to deep-discounts and stacking deals. We were also big fans of the “Buy 4, Get 3 Free” deal, which provided 3 free hotel nights and ticket days–plus a $200 gift card–when you booked 4 nights.
Once the current crisis is behind us, we would similarly expect Walt Disney World to get creative with ways to increase hotel occupancy as well as the average length of stay (that 4/3 deal accomplished both). It’s also likely we’ll see a surge in “traditional” deals like Free Dining and room-only discounts (likely ‘sweetened’ versions of both) as well as Disney dumping unsold inventory onto blind-booking sites.
Speaking of the Free Disney Dining Plan Deal–as that is one specific promo about which many of you have asked–we would absolutely expect another wave of that offer to be released for late 2020 travel dates. We previously would’ve anticipated this being released in April 2020, as is normally the case.
However, we now expect the second wave of 2020 Free Dining to be released at least a few weeks after Walt Disney World’s official reopening plans are unveiled. This is both so Disney can space out demand on its phone lines and can gauge what hotel occupancy numbers are looking like for the remainder of the year.
As for timing of other discounts, that largely depends upon internal projections of hotel occupancy and attendance upon reopening. Even though the Great Recession and 9/11 are instructive, this is still fairly unprecedented. My fear here is that people within the company will initially overestimate the strength and resilience of the parks & resorts.
Walt Disney World has enjoyed an era of unprecedented prosperity–a time during which it felt like the business segment’s leaders could do no wrong. Even unpopular decisions were begrudgingly accepted, and Disney reaped incredible financial results. A decade like the last one can give rise to delusions of invincibility, and a lack of appreciation for the fickleness of consumers.
From my outsider’s perspective, the current closure would be an ideal opportunity for Walt Disney World to hit reset on a lot of things. We’ve previously remarked that Disney takes the Kohl’s approach to pricing–never lowering “tag” prices, just offering aggressive and sometimes illusory discounts for their psychological appeal.
Now would be a good time for that to be rethought. Use the closure as a sort of soft reboot, eliminating fees that have not been well-received (the hotel parking fee is top of mind there) and correcting other prices for the current and future market. My fear is that Walt Disney World’s recent memories of success will result in a slower pivot, with aggressive discounting taking more time to roll out.
During both recent economic downturns, Walt Disney World also made operational changes–some of which we could see play out here. Post 9/11, some venues were mothballed and costs were cut to the greatest extent possible. It was almost as if the Y2K party was over. Following the Great Recession the approach was very different, with Disney leaning in to the idea of a party. The parks had some of their longest hours ever, “What Will You Celebrate?” was the promotional campaign, and the “Summer Nightastic!” event debuted.
What path Walt Disney World takes here on the road to recovery remains to be seen. If I had to guess based upon corporate attitudes and recent strategies, I’d bet on a period of austerity measures followed by a massive party. That might not seem like a bold prediction given likely attendance patterns and Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary on the horizon, though. We’ll tackle those two topics in follow-up posts, so stay tuned!
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!
Do you think Walt Disney World’s prices will rise or fall once the parks & resorts reopen? Are you anticipating colossal savings on hotels, tickets, or dining? Will you be ready to pounce on deals–or will you wait for a full economic bounceback? Do you agree or disagree with our commentary? 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!
Disney will offer token discounts at best. There will be no lowering of stated prices due to the messaging that sends. They’ll learn the hard way, like with Galaxy’s Edge.
I’ve already booked 6 nights at the beginning of November, with hopes/assumptions/fingers crossed that we’ll be able to go, and that discounts will get offered for those dates and I’ll be “ahead of the curve”. Masks and hand sanitizer ready to go
I’m ready to visit again as soon as the two week isolation and mask necessities are halted. I loved Disney world and universal studios last December and am super looking forward to returning.
I agree with your sentiment that people reading this blog are not your average Disney fan and are signifantly less price-sensitive when it comes to Disney trips than your average consumer. I know I’ve had multiple people look at me like I’ve grown a third head when I say we’re making our annual pilgrimage to the mouse. “But it’s so expensive!” They say. Well, yes it is, but that’s why I eat bagged lunches and drive a ten year old car the other 51 weeks of the year.
Disney has done a lot of things to foster good-will amongst the mega-fans during this time (releasing on-ride videos, the goodnight hotline, competitive guest recovery, etc) but the truth of the matter is many other customers will have a hard time justifying an expense during a time where there is so much uncertainty. As always I appreciate your thoughtful analysis, and as you can probably tell from this comment I’ve been accused of being long-winded myself from time to time so don’t let the haters get you down. Thank you so much for being a bright spot in my day and keeping the Disney coming.
So many negative comments. I can’t believe it. WHY ARE YOU COMING TO READING A DISNEY BLOG, IF YOU ARE JUST GOING TO TRASH THE COMPANY?! These are the types of people that you run into at the park and walk the other direction.
You CAN go to Disney on a budget, stop judging others for wanting to have something to look forward to and enjoy.
How people act at Disney, isn’t necessarily how they navigate day-to-day life. I’m not sure why people feel the need to be so bitter. Disney is taking care of their people.
Also, as far as I know, no cases came from Disney, I was there a few days before they closed. They could have gotten away with staying open longer, but they wanted to keep people safe. Someone said something about “if it wasn’t for Trump..”. Why are you relating the responsibilities of Disney to those of the President’s? Since you brought it up, I think Disney handled it better considering Trump blew it off and now a lot of people are going to die. This isn’t a place for politics, so I will stop there.
I hope you all stay well! We will get through this. Stop looking for reasons to judge people.
P.S. if you don’t want to pay “$15” for a drink, they are more than okay with you bringing your own.
Also numbers will be reduced as isolated countries like UK, Australia and NZ are talking about preventing citizens from going overseas until a vaccine has been produced.
Are we? I’m not aware of that from a UK perspective plus we have this lovely tunnel which joins us to France and therefore Europe?
We still have lorries travelling daily through that tunnel and via ferries to bring food in from across Europe so I don’t think this is something we, or our economy, could sustain.
I find it odd that most articles about the future state of the parks do not address the inevitable realities of this virus still being a factor. The virus will still have no vaccine and no cure at the point that the economy starts opening up again. Maybe healthy and younger people will confidently travel on airplanes and line up in theme parks, but older people and people in high risk categories will likely live in a less exposed fashion until they can receive some relative guarantee of safety. Most of the industry discussions I’ve heard about lifting the current distancing restrictions talk about restaurants being allowed to open up with fewer tables, set 6 feet apart, and stores and malls having caps on the number of shoppers allowed at one time. Doesn’t it stand to reason that theme parks will only be permitted to open with limitations on attendance? If that is so, I wonder whether it would even be cost effective for the parks to operate. My friends and I have also been wondering if there won’t be some kind of medical test/examination before entry into large gatherings is permitted. Show your proof that you have had and recovered from Coronavirus, or have your temperature taken and chest listened to before you may enter. It just seems to me that these next phases will be a lot more complicated than what can be predicted by strictly fiscal factors.
This crisis is unique. The last big epidemic, the 1918 flu, hit a largely rural, rather poor economy. The Federal Reserve system, which is key to stabilizing the financial situation now, was only five years old. The resources being put into encouraging recovery once the virus lets up are enormous, too big for a mere biologist like me to comprehend.
I’m worried that there will be attempts to restart normal activities, including vacations, before the virus stops spreading. I don’t want to see a second wave of infections spread from Orlando. From that point of view, it’ll be interesting to see how long US-Europe travel remains shut down.
It’s hard to tell what the upper middle class family mood will be from June onward. This summer might be the biggest vacation season in years, despite ongoing coronavirus outbreaks. I have a hunch that airlines, hotels, and theme parks will have generous rescheduling offers. Southwest will be popular (I think their current sale ends tonight). Or everyone might be cautious. I dunno. Maybe competitive parents will send their kids to summer school to make up for lost time and get better SATs or hone their athletic / arts skills.
With this crisis in our country why are people thinking of spending loads of money on a trip to Disney World. You should save your money and be prepared for possible job erruptions and a changing tide in our country. People are fivrolous with their money and don’t know how to conserve and than when their is an emergency they don’t have any money to pull them through a crisis like this one. We are headed for much worse things in the future so be wise with how you spend every dollar. Disney doesn’t care about the common people only about how much money they can get from them. Have they done anything for this country being stricken with Covid 19? I doubt it very much. I haven’t heard one official from Disney put out any well fare for their people in the press. If it weren’t for President Trump giving the people money to pull them through these people would go hungry and loose their homes. They have so much money that they could at least give their employees paid leave while on furlough. I think many people will not go to Disney this year or next because they are more concerned on putting food on the table.
It didn’t take long after Walt’s passing, for the company to start getting greedy, and start to lose all family values and morals.
I’m planning my Disney trip because it gives me hope. And it makes me happy. And that’s what I need during this time. Hope and happiness.
I love your comment Patty! I read this blog, my favorite, and look at a couple of other sites, get the D23 (there’s a free version) newsletter, and go on mydisneyexperience.com from time to time. I miss the parks and yes, we need some happy thoughts during this time and imagining and planning our next trip helps me too. I hope you get to go soon and have a wonderful time!
I love both your comments, Liz and Susan! I have postponed or cancelled trips starting in February, then March (the only one requiring an airline ticket thankfully), then April and yesterday I sadly cancelled May. Now we are holding out hope for Disneyland to reopen for the postponed Dapper Day in mid June! I know people who have contract work with Disney and Disney is telling them mid June too. Hopefully we are all not just hoping!!! We imagine Disney taking our temperatures and handing out Disney themed masks to wear…who knows?
It really disturbs me that most families cannot afford a Disney vacation especially if they have more than 1-2 children.A family discount would be so helpful.And a senior discount would also help for families to enjoy the parKs with their grandchildren.Most really don’t want to go on the rides,they just want to experience the park with their families.A non riding pass or a limited pass would be wonderful and they will still spend plenty on food and souvenirs.I really like Disney springs for those reasons.I think the alcohol drink prices are outrageous too.Minimum 15.00 drink is an ridiculous.What happened to happy hour?All the food prices are way too expensive too.Make the portion sizes smaller and lower the price by 1-2 dollars.unless you are sharing,most people should not consume that much fat,sugar and calories In one sitting,or toss the food away.I love going and hope to return soon,these are the changes I would like to see done.These doughnuts sitting on top of a giant milkshake is a heart attack in a cup,and it’s gross!Then it’s a competition,who can eat the entire treat?Its called gluttony and sends a very bad message to our children.Very few healthy choices,not saying celery and carrot sticks,there needs to be more enjoyable healthy treats for us all!
How about you live your life while letting people make their own choices and live theirs. If I want a donut on top of a shake then damn I will have a donut on top of a shake, If I want to spend $15 dollars on a drink, then I will spend $15 dollars on a drink. You stated most families can’t afford a Disney Vacation, I say they can if they save for it. You stated, most seniors don’t want to go on rides, how do you know? I don’t go to Disney to eat healthy, I go to enjoy myself, and eat what I want and when I want is part of the enjoyment. Let me stop here so I can go make me my Kale Smoothie.
I agree with you we pay for our trip by the month and when we go we eat and drink like we want our only vacation for the whole year, we stay 9 nights and get tickets for 6 days for the three of us, we have tun and forget about e everything until we get back home
I’d be very curious on the consumer confidence front. Right now, I can only speak anecdotally based on my own approach and maybe another person or two, but I’m especially worried and cautious right now. We had actually started the refinance process on our home over a month ago, looking to take advantage of the near-historically-low mortgage rates. We were going to switch to a 15-year mortgage, only slightly raising our payments while aggressively paying down the principal. However, yesterday we decided to instead do a 30-year mortgage, despite the 0.5% higher interest rate. This is entirely out of concern over what’s to come. While our intention is to still make the higher payments to try to pay down the principal faster, we decided it’s better to take a hit (to the tune of >$1,000 per year, at least) on interest payments for the option to fall back to a $500+ lower payment should things get worse and I find myself out of a job or laid off, even temporarily. Even a month ago, I would have never considered this.
I spoke with my financial advisor friend prior to finalizing the description, and he told me this is the only time he would ever say to ignore the numbers (as in number-crunching on the increased interest payments, etc.) and do whatever’s possible to be in a position to better endure a worsening situation: save as much as possible, build up available credit, and lower payments, just in case.
I can’t imagine what people in much more volatile and strong-economy-dependent jobs are going through (not to mention those who already are laid off as a result of the current crisis). I’m an attorney, but I changed firms and practice areas at the beginning of the year. I’m now working at a firm that does primarily real estate and estate planning, and I’m especially worried. Business was booming (hence the need to add me and perhaps more attorneys), with days in which real estate settlements were constant and even double-booked throughout the day. I can’t imagine that will be the case going forward. It’s just a question of how badly the real estate market is affected. Will it just be a blip because of the inability to go out on the weekend just looking at houses, or will increased interest rates (that go up potentially more) and a recession just bottom out the real estate market again? If so, will my job at my firm no longer be necessary or sustainable (I’m the newest one and have to imagine the first person to get cut if my salary isn’t justifiable)? As a result of these concerns, we’re already cutting spending and altering our shopping habits. Our intention of adding on a new DVC contract is certainly on hold, and while I will certainly be disappointed if we have to cancel our August trip (due to the virus), I can’t help but worry that it might also be fiscally necessary at that point.
If we’re already at this point and our consumer confidence is suddenly shot – how bad is it going to be for those already directly impacted? I have to imagine that will be the just the beginning of concerns that Disney will have to consider when handling all of this. My, completely uninformed and non-expert guess: we will see big discounts once they get a handle on what things look like, coupled with significant cuts in expenses elsewhere (think along the lines of all the streetmosphere, entertainment cuts, etc.). My hope is that they don’t have to make so many cuts that the experience changes unalterably and permanently.
Smart approach on your mortgage. We’re doing the same and I chose the same as you–if things go well you can always pay more and limit how much the interest rate affects you anyway. I’m in real estate myself on the other side–multifamily housing (apartments) and we tend to see an uptick in business when homes are harder to buy/people have less money for down payments. Like you I have no idea what the future holds so I’m doing everything I can to free up my financial situation. Good luck, friend.
Spoilers for the 50th Anniversary post: don’t bet on anything actually happening. Construction is delayed months, and they already have an anti-spending CEO heading into it without a multi-billion dollar loss to account for. We’ll have a nice shiny castle and a cardboard sign that says happy birthday, and we’ll like it.
While my family starting going to Disney yearly since 2012, I have noticed a decline in the food offered. You said prices are going up because costs are going up. This would be true if Disney was offering the same products. This is not the case. An example, a certain character sit down in a resort, would leave a caraffee of juice at your table for breakfast. Now they walk around pouring from person to person, table to table. The price on this character breakfast has gone up, but what you get has decreased.
From the post: “When Disney increases prices, the company does so not at the rate of inflation or because its costs are increasing at a commensurate level, but because they can.”
This type of tactic has been going on for years and years at Disney…take some small thing away but raise the price. Disney blogger Kevin Yee called it “Declining by Degrees.”
For me, having changed plans a few times in the last couple of years, the key has always been: ask very nicely and politely and if you don’t get what you want the first time you try, do NOT change anything. Say thank you, you need to think about your plans, then call back and speak to a different Cast Member. I have had great success doing things this way. I can’t believe how different the results were with the second Cast Member, two different times I needed to change reservations.
We have a family trip to Walt Disney World booked for September / October this year. Where would we stand on being able to take advantage of any potential discounts Disney may offer for these dates having already booked? Would we be able to contact Disney and adjust our booking accordingly?
“Would we be able to contact Disney and adjust our booking accordingly?”
Yes. Discounts can be applied to existing reservations so long as your booking comports with the requirements/parameters of the new deal.
hate to say this my my inside info tells me Disney will not open until 2021 some time