Walt Disney World is offering a “free” Disney Dining Card special offer for travel dates in Summer & Fall 2023 as a substitute, of sorts, for the Dining Plan. This post shares discount details, who will save the least & most with this promo, best dates for the biggest savings, why you might actually pay more for your WDW vacation with this, and other commentary. (Updated March 27, 2023.)
This Disney Dining Gift Card discount is one of several being released for Summer 2023 and beyond, and it’s far and away the most high-profile of the bunch. For all other deals, see All Current Walt Disney World Discounts (Spring to Fall 2023). With that said, these are the first special offers available after Spring 2023, and they encompass select dates from spring break until July 2023!
We have a lot of commentary to share about this “free” Disney Dining Gift Card deal–and there’s a lot to know before you take advantage of this special offer. With that said, let’s start by dispensing with the core details…
Per Walt Disney World, here are the deal details: Stay in the magic with this special offer—and make sweet summer memories to savor! Get up to a $750 Disney Dining Promo Card when you purchase a non-discounted 5-night, 4-day vacation package that includes full price park tickets for at least 4 days, and a minimum 4-night resort stay. This special offer is valid for arrivals between June 25, 2023 and September 14, 2023. More specifically, there are four sets of arrival windows offering different Disney Dining Gift Card amounts:
March 27, 2023 Update: Walt Disney World announced last month that the ‘free’ dining card special offer would be bookable through March 27, 2023. As should be clear from the update timestamp…or your phone or computer calendar…THAT’S TODAY!
This is not normal, and it does not appear that Walt Disney World is cutting this promo short due to high demand or lack of resort availability. Instead, it looks like they’re pulling out the playbook that led to the “Disney Vault” and other artificial scarcity strategies in an attempt to incentivize bookings.
All of this previously led us to speculate that Walt Disney World would extend or re-release the Dining Card Promo. Exactly that happened 4 years ago when there were three “waves” of Free Dining. Another possibility is that new discounts will drop very soon, effectively replacing the Dining Card Promo for similar late summer and early fall travel dates.
Regardless, we’d highly recommend booking today if you’re on the fence and even potentially want to take advantage of the ‘Free’ Disney Dining Card promo. If a better discount is released in the coming days, weeks, or months, you can always switch to that. However, you cannot later book a discount that is no longer available!
With that update out of the way, here are the details of this Free Dining Card Deal at Walt Disney World…
Disney Dining Gift Card Values
Arrivals 7/1 – 7/10 & 8/1 – 9/14:
Value Resorts: $50 per night
Moderate Resorts: $100 per night
Deluxe Resorts: $150 per night
Deluxe Villa Resorts: $150 per night
For Arrivals 6/25 – 6/30 & 7/11 – 7/31:
Value Resorts: $35 per night
Moderate Resorts: $75 per night
Deluxe Resorts: $125 per night
Deluxe Villa Resorts: $125 per night
Here’s the rate chart of eligible resorts courtesy of Walt Disney World:
Here are other important details about the Disney Dining Gift Card special offer, per Walt Disney World:
$750 Disney Dining Promo Card for stays at select Disney Deluxe and Deluxe Villa Resorts. The value of the Disney Dining Promo Card is determined by Disney Resort hotel and length of stay.
One Disney Dining Promo Card per room—valid for room-and-ticket packages that include up to $1,000 on a Disney Dining Promo Card. If a package includes more than $1,000 on a Disney Dining Promo Card, the value will be distributed across more than one Disney Dining Promo Card.
Tickets are valid beginning on date of check-in and must be used within a limited number of days, depending on length of ticket.
Cannot be combined with any other discount or promotion.
Offer excludes the following room types: campsites, 3-bedroom villas, and Cabins at Copper Creek Villas & Cabins at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge.
(Note: the first and second bullet points might sound contradictory–and the wording definitely is confusing–but we’ll explain below how to reconcile the ‘up to $750’ promo headline with Disney Dining Gift Cards over $1,000.)
Upon check-in at eligible resorts, the Disney Dining Gift Card will be sent to the guest email associated with the resort reservation. Check your email spam for for a message from ‘Disney Gift Card Services.’ If there are issues with receipt, speak to the front desk for assistance. The digital Disney Dining Promo Card is not valid after September 30, 2023.
Disney Dining Gift Cards can be used to purchase food and beverage items at select participating locations at Walt Disney World. Resort. Disney Dining Gift Cards can be loaded into Apple Wallet or other digital wallets for use at a wide variety of counter service, table service, kiosks, and other venues around the parks and resorts. Hotel exclusions and participating dining locations available at Disneyworld.com/DisneyDinePromo.
Unfortunately, this will not be the “real” Free Dining promo. Instead, it’s basically the “Stay, Play, Dine and Save” deal that we’ve seen repeatedly over the last several years. This, too, has traded on the ‘name recognition’ of Free Dining in order to make a less appealing special offer seem more desirable. It’s also pretty similar to ‘free dining’ offers released for United Kingdom guests in the last couple of years, including 2022 and 2023.
It’s also not much different from the current Walt Disney World 50th Anniversary “Grand Finale” offer for the general public, which touts Saving Up to $100 Off Nightly Resort Rates. With that tiered discount, guests can save up to $20 per night at Value Resorts, up to $40 per night at Moderate Resorts, and up to $100 per night at Deluxe Resorts for dates between now and March 30, 2023.
On a positive note, this is not “Free Dining Lite” or “Half-Free Dining” as we’ve come to call Walt Disney World’s other marketing gimmicks that trade on the name recognition of the Free Dining offer. We haven’t seen one of those in a while, which is nice since they’re usually pretty weak promos.
In short, this Disney Dining Gift Card promo is not particularly unprecedented. The discount being offered in rebate form as a gift card is the new (clever) twist for U.S. guests, but the mechanics of the offer closely resemble plenty of past deals. Just wanted to put this into context before some of you see FREE FOOD and get overly excited! 😉
With that out of the way, here’s what we found for best available rates for this Disney Dining Gift Card discount:
This search is for September 4-8, 2023, which is part of the “Value 2” rate season at Walt Disney World. On the rack rate chart spectrum, this is one of the least expensive times to visit Walt Disney World.
This season occurs throughout late August and early September weekdays, as illustrated below in the rate chart for Disney’s Pop Century Resort:
If you’re looking for the very best dates to take advantage of this, they are as follows for most resorts:
August 20-31, 2023
September 4-9, 2023
September 10-30, 2023
As an added bonus, these all fall under the higher level of Disney Dining Cards and have lower resort rack rates. (The lower gift card amounts are offered during summer despite higher room rates, presumably, because demand is higher and fewer incentives are needed.)
Again, how this actually plays out could differ from the official details. You’ll want to price things out, ideally searching for a variety of date and resort combinations if your vacation plans aren’t finalized. Resort and room category availability can make a big difference on total package prices.
Note that this is one of the date ranges that offers the lower gift card amounts but you still come out ahead at the vast majority of resorts by paying the lower rack rates and receiving less in your gift card amount.
Another thing to keep in mind is that you have to purchase full price tickets from Walt Disney World. This negates the value of the offer for Annual Passholders, and also means you can’t purchase discounted Walt Disney World tickets from an authorized reseller. You’re potentially forfeiting large savings there, so it’s worth doing the math yourself to determine whether this is a good value for you.
Speaking of park tickets, there’s actually another reason why this special offer will not be so special for many of you. Anyone who already booked their 2023 Walt Disney World vacation with tickets before December 8, 2022 is in for an unpleasant surprise. Your package price will almost certainly INCREASE when applying this “discount!”
That’s because this Disney Dining Card promo requires the purchase of park tickets–and prices went up pretty much across the board on December 8. Meaning that if you booked before then, you locked-in cheaper ticket prices. However, if you take advantage of this promo, you lose that lock, and pay the current ticket prices. The end result is that your package price increases. Most of you should still come out ahead when factoring in the gift card, but some of you will not.
There will be some people who pay more even after taking the gift card into account, making this more like a Grinch-count or reverse deal. Grinch-counts happen from time to time with Walt Disney World discounts, but this will likely be more noticeable than normal due to the deal being a rebate.
Note that the headline touts that this offers “up to” a $750 Disney Dining Promo Card. However, that may not be accurate as the maximum. Walt Disney World has been really weird about how it promotes these deals, often (shockingly) underselling them.
In fact, if you go on DisneyWorld.com and look for the same deal that we described as up to $100 off per night, you’ll see that Walt Disney World’s special offer page lists it as “Save Up to $400 on a 4-Night, 4-Day Room-and-Ticket Package at Select Disney Resort Hotels.” However, as we pointed out in our analysis of that deal, it is NOT capped at $400. To the contrary, you could save over $1,000 if you actually max out that discount, rather than the $400 that Walt Disney World advertises. (Why they do this is beyond me. It’s deceptive…but in a way that works to their disadvantage!)
Another thing we’d caution here before you get too excited is that availability for some resorts and dates appear to belimited. Our expectation once we’re able to do extensive spot checking of hotel availability is that there will be a decent amount of options for the August and September dates, but not as much for the peak summer travel dates.
Regardless, what’s available now will likely go quickly as several months worth of Walt Disney World bargain hunters scramble to all fit their summer travel within this offer. My guess is that entire room categories, certain dates, etc. will sell out from day one. (If you’d be willing to help me crowdsource this data, I’d love to hear via the comments what dates and resorts you were able–or were not able–to book!)
As with most discount release days, Walt Disney World’s phone lines will be jammed and the online system will likely slow to a crawl at peak times, with Stitch eating the occasional page here and there. Even when we began searching for availability at 4:45 am EST, the “We’re Almost into Orbit” virtual queue was already in use to access the discount page and search. (Granted, it was immediate entry, but that wait will almost certainly increase.)
This shouldn’t come as a huge surprise, as it’s more or less par for the course on Walt Disney World discount release day. Things will only get worse as more people wake up and try to book. This is to say you will want to book ASAP for the best chance at scoring the resort and room you want, assuming this is actually a good deal for you. Speaking of which, let’s turn to an assessment of this discount’s quality…
My assessment of Walt Disney World’s deal is that it’s weak by historical standards butter better than the recent general public discounts we’ve seen. It’s even superior to the recent up to $100 off promo. That’s a pretty low bar, though.
The biggest thing that I dislike about this ‘free’ Disney Dining Gift Card promo is that it’s a flat-rate rebate rather than a percentage savings. That means you’re paying more up front and it puts those in higher rate seasons at a disadvantage. (Conversely, that’s an upside if you simply choose the cheapest dates, as listed above.)
For Free Dining diehards, there’s also the obvious distinction that this is a flat-rate amount per room rather than a variable amount based on party size. This is a huge blow for larger parties who crammed into a single room–the demo that typically loved Free Dining. Instead of receiving the Disney Dining Plan, worth $55 per person, they’re receiving $50 off in total when staying at Pop Century. For those parties, this promo is far inferior to the real Free Dining.
It’s likely a better deal for couples or solo travelers staying at Moderate Resorts or above. This group that routinely called Free Dining a “bad deal” because it didn’t work well for their circumstances. Just as subjective assessments of Free Dining being “good” or “bad” were not true across the board, the same holds true with this special offer. It really depends upon a mixture of resort/room availability, party size, and the total package pricing that DisneyWorld.com spits out when searching for your dates. (Personally, I’ll take a room-only offer over this any day.)
Don’t overlook the fact that this is a rebate instead of an upfront discount. Meaning that instead of reducing resort rates, Walt Disney World is keeping the base price high and shifting that savings onto a Disney Dining Card. For most guests, this is a distinction without a difference as they’d easily spend that money on meals.
For others, that may not necessarily be the case–especially those who dine off-site or do grocery delivery to prepare meals in their rooms. Which is precisely why Walt Disney World is doing this rather than simply reducing prices. (Well, that and this is probably better from a marketing perspective!)
Another thing to be mindful of is that the percentage savings vary widely, and could be as low as the single-digits if you’re looking at pricey rooms at the Deluxe Resorts or Deluxe Villas. Because the savings are capped at a dollar amount, it doesn’t matter whether you book a standard no-view room or a swanky suite. That’s not as noticeable at the Values and Moderates, but the rack rates at the top two tiers fluctuate a lot more.
To some degree, this is also true at the Values and Moderates. For example, All Star Sports has room rates as low as $148 per night during this promotion. By contrast, the Finding Nemo Family Suites at Art of Animation can cost as much as $770 per night during this promo. In fairness, the latter does get a $50/night gift card whereas the former gets $35/night, but that’s due to the timeframe differences, not categorization.
This is why doing the math for your travel dates, preferred resort, and room category is essential. I could tell you that this amounts to 17% off Pop Century, 21% off Coronado Springs, or 19% off Contemporary Resort. However, that would be based on the parameters I’m choosing at random–and likely would not reflect your savings unless you’re traveling during the same dates and booking the same room categories.
This is why I far prefer the room-only discounts. They’re more transparent, rely less on marketing puffery, require less up-front out of pocket outlay, and don’t demand the purchase of things you don’t actually want. While it’s absolutely true that all deals are YMMV, it’s also true that room-only discounts tend to offer the best and most straightforward savings to the greatest number of people. (And yet, this will likely be significantly more popular since it’s easier to promote!)
From my perspective, the good news is that room-only discounts will likely be released for at least some of these dates in the future. In particular, August and September are prime candidates for percentage-off savings in the future, as these are two of the lowest occupancy months of the year.
Whether June and July will have general public room-only discounts is more difficult to say. My guess is yes based on the general trajectory of Walt Disney World discounting, but that really depends on how successful this promo is in filling rooms plus economic circumstances, etc., closer to those travel dates.
If you’re wondering why this is being offered instead of Free Dining or some other superior discount, it’s pretty straightforward: Disney doesn’t need to get that aggressive in order to meet resort occupancy targets (yet). As always, discounts are dictated by supply and demand and not by corporate benevolence. The simple (and unfortunate) fact of the matter is that demand has been so high the last 2 years that Walt Disney World has not had to offer aggressive deals in order to incentivize trips or fill rooms.
The good news is that this is almost certainly going to be a better discount than was offered for the same timeframe last year. On top of that, this also follows 4discounts that run through March or April 2023 that were released earlier than normal by historical standards. If weak discounting and late releases were a sign that pent-up demand had still been running strong, all of this is a sign that the opposite may no longer be true as of early 2023.
As we’ve written several times in the last few months, we’re optimistic that there will be better Walt Disney World discounts in 2023. There’s a chance this past holiday season was the “last hurrah” for pent-up demand. As that starts to fizzle out, household savings decrease, inflation stings more, and the economy slows down, it seems increasingly likely that Walt Disney World will experience its own slowdown.
Finally, another hot topic of conversation will undoubtedly revolve around what this means for the Disney Dining Plan. (What follows is the same commentary from when this was rumored, so if you already read that post, there’s nothing new here.)
As of January 2023, that is still “temporarily” suspended at Walt Disney World despite assurances that it would return soon back in mid-2021. In When Will the Disney Dining Plan Return?we forecast timing for its comeback, as well as our rationale. It’s a good read that explains why the Dining Plan is integral to Walt Disney World and offers our prediction as to when it’ll return.
In our view, this discount has absolutely no bearing on the return of the Disney Dining Plan. These cards are nothing new, and certainly are not a replacement for the Disney Dining Plan. At the end of the day, both the DDP and these cards serve the exact same purpose: to lock people into spending $X on their vacation, thus buoying per guest spending numbers. (They also keep people on-site, another key purpose.)
Right now, it’s more advantageous for Walt Disney World to offer something straightforward like this Disney Dining Card. However, this will almost certainly not supplant the Disney Dining Plan long-term for one simple reason: it’s too simple and straightforward. The convoluted nature of the Disney Dining Plan is a feature, not a bug.
The Disney Dining Plan has better “breakage” than gift cards by virtue of the simple fact that the vast majority of guests will not use it to full advantage. Not ever guest drinks alcohol, eats steak, loves snacking, etc. Very few people eat in ways that comport with maximizing the Disney Dining Plan’s value if left to their own devices.
While breakage certainly exists with gift cards, the Disney Dining Card is far more flexible and malleable to natural eating behavior. It won’t be as wasteful for guests and doesn’t have the same all-inclusive feel.
All of this has been discussed to death in other posts about the Disney Dining Plan, so we’ll spare you further analysis. This is actually one of the big reasons why the Disney Dining Plan has proven so polarizing. Some cannot or will not use it to full advantage, and “see through” the Disney Dining Plan as a result. Then there are diehard fans–many of whom also see through it–have found ways to “hack” it and come out ahead. Finally, some simply want convenience and be able to budget ahead of time, and don’t really care whether they “win” or “lose.”
Regardless, the point still stands that this is not a replacement for the Disney Dining Plan. That very well might change when it returns, but this special offer has almost no bearing on that or its timing. What it does impact is Free Dining. It was already pretty safe to say that there would be no Free Dining in 2023–this all but guarantees that.
Ultimately, this is all a long-winded way of saying that you should really temper your expectations and be sure to price out a variety of different vacation packages before booking this ‘free’ Disney Dining Gift Card special offer. This is not the real Free Dining, and is really more like a dollar-off discount, but in the form of a rebate that can only be used on dining at Disney-owned restaurants. It could end up being a solid deal for some, but won’t work well for others. Anyone applying this retroactively will likely be paying more up-front due to the discount.
That’s pretty much the nature of the beast with Walt Disney World discounts in the current environment of historically strong demand and hotel occupancy. As always, plan on being flexible with your hotel choice, room category, and even travel dates if this Disney Dining Card is a must-have for you. Even though it’s going to be inferior to (real) Free Dining for most, this is going to garner a lot of attention and will likely be an incredibly popular deal thanks to the way it’s marketed. For many people, the first WDW deal drop day of 2023 is going to be like Christmas morning. Unlike Christmas, though, this is a day on which many of you will just get lumps of coal. We’ll be back bright and early tomorrow morning with details about all of the promotions, sample bookings to illustrate actual savings, and more commentary.
What do you think of this “free” Disney Dining Card for Summer and early Fall 2023? Disappointed that it’s a flat rate gift card instead of dollars off or a percentage savings like normal, or just happy that something, anything is being offered? If you’re trying for this Disney Dining Card deal, what travel dates are you aiming for? Are you ‘sitting out’ Walt Disney World this year, not wanting to deal with the headache and stress? 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!