‘Free’ Dining Card Deal at Disney World: FAQ, Info & Tips
We’ve received a lot of questions about the ‘free’ Dining Card deal that Walt Disney World released for select dates in Summer and Fall 2023. This FAQ answers those common inquiries about eligibility, value for money, how and where to use it, comparisons to (real) Free Dining, and much more.
It’s understandable that there’s confusion, as this sounds similar to Free Dining, but is actually very different. It also doesn’t help that Walt Disney World’s special offer info is not entirely clear (see Summer & Fall 2023 Discount: ‘Free’ Dining Card Up to $150 Per Night for dates & details) and given that call-center Cast Members have been confused.
With that in mind, we’ve combed through the official terms & conditions of the “Stay, Play and Enjoy a Disney Dining Promo Card” offer page. In addition to that, we’ve actually used these Disney Dining Cards ourselves many times in the past–both the physical and digital versions–and have learned about their quirks in the process. (This is actually nothing new!)
Based upon all of that, we have answers to frequently asked reader questions–and other ones we anticipate being common once guests actually start using the Disney Dining Card. However, we have to caution that how this has worked in the past isn’t necessarily predictive of what’ll happen starting in Summer 2023 with the Disney Dining Cards.
Previously, a very small percentage of all guests were using the Disney Dining Card (probably under 3%). Later this year, a high percentage will be using them, which will almost certainly necessitate some changes. Keep this in mind when reading these answers–they’re all based on a mix of speculation and past precedent, with no guarantee that it holds true for 2023.
Is this free Dining Card actually free?
Of course not. Remember the old adage: there is no such thing as a free lunch.
Here, that is true both literally and figuratively. In order to qualify for this Disney Dining Card promo, you are required to book a vacation package with certain parameters–full priced tickets and hotels. This means, more likely than not, you will be forfeiting an alternate discount to qualify for this.
Although those have not yet been released for most dates, they almost certainly will–especially in August and September 2023, which will likely be the two slowest months of this year. June and July 2023 are a potentially different story, and it’s entirely possible general public discounts will not be offered those two months, meaning minimal opportunity-cost for this Disney Dining Card promo. Time will tell!
Is this a bad deal?
I’ll throw an even better adage at ya for this one: only a Sith deals in absolutes.
One of the most frustrating things for me around the (normal) Free Dining discourse was that it so often lacked nuance. Some Walt Disney World fans claimed it was the best deal ever and others derided Free Dining as actually being a scam. Both were wrong. At the very least, they should’ve appended “for my family” to the end of their very-subjective assessments.
For the last 12 years, I’ve analyzed every single Walt Disney World discount that has been released. What I’ve discovered during that time is that every deal can be “good” or “bad.” Even ones that I have criticized as being subpar by historical standards have been great for some planners who otherwise would’ve paid rack rates for their vacation.
This is especially true with special offers that are more variable, and can vary based on party size, resort/room category, travel dates, and so forth. (On the spectrum, room-only discounts are the most straightforward and Free Dining is the least–this is about middle of the pack.)
In short, you absolutely need to do the math on the Disney Dining Card special offer based on your own circumstances, and the room-only discount that is likely (based on past precedent) to be released for your travel dates. This could be an awful or awesome deal, depending upon your circumstances and frame of reference. For most, it’ll be fairly average–but you could be an outlier in either direction.
How is this worse than Free Dining?
For one, there’s not really any way to “hack” it. What so many Walt Disney World fans loved about the Dining Plan (and by extension, Free Dining) was that they were the in-group who knew how to leverage the DDP to their advantage and actually come out ahead. We used to have voluminous resources about ‘best uses’ of Disney Dining Plan credits, and it was possible to get way more bang for your buck with the DDP than its face value.
The minority of Disney Dining Plan power users were far outweighed by those who came out behind–not using all of their credits, not eating steak for every meal, or otherwise the DDP for low-value redemptions. Think of the Disney Dining Plan almost like credit cards–some people leverage them to their advantage and get tremendous benefits at low or no cost; that is subsidized by the overwhelming majority of people who pay far more in interest than they get in rewards. Same idea, different circumstances.
For another thing, this discount is per room rather than per person. That put families of 3-4 in one room at a distinct advantage with Free Dining, and those parties will–without question–be worse off with the Disney Dining Card promo. Even large parties who did a terrible job maximizing their use of credits–and wasted a lot of them–would be better off with Free Dining as compared to this.
How is this better than ‘real’ Free Dining?
It’s more flexible.
For years, there has been fierce debate about whether the Disney Dining Plan offers advantages in budgeting and convenience. For our part, we have strongly argued against this, contending that nothing is more convenient than simply paying as you go; if you don’t want to worry about budgeting, purchase (discounted!) Disney Gift Cards before the trip.
This promo is essentially that. This card can be used for whatever you want to eat (assuming you want to eat food and not, for example, a tasty Spirit Jersey). You don’t have to comport your dining habits with the parameters of the Disney Dining Plan to make it “work” for you.
Why is my previously-booked vacation package more expensive with the ‘free’ Disney Dining Card promo?
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. 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 Disney Dining Card, but some will not.
Is the total Disney Dining Card promo amount capped at $750?
That might come as a surprise given that the special offer highlights on Disneyworld.com touts that this offers “up to” a $750 Disney Dining Promo Card. However, that is not actually the maximum. Walt Disney World has been really weird about how it promotes these deals, often (shockingly) underselling them.
Due to the special offer highlights, even some call center Cast Members have been confused by the maximum amount, stating that it’s $750. They are incorrect.
What is the cap on the Disney Dining Cards?
Officially, there is not one listed in the terms and conditions. The offer details only state this: “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.”
From that, we can surmise that the limit is no less than $1,001. Unfortunately, we cannot determine what the maximum actually is, since Walt Disney World has not published that information anywhere–and it does not appear even on confirmed reservations.
Anecdotally, we’ve heard reports from travel agents that this is limited to 10-night reservations. Normally, the limit would be 14-night stays. So…we do not know the real maximum, just that it’s not $750.
How do you get the Disney Dining Card?
The digital Disney Dining Promo Card will be sent to you via email when you check in at your Walt Disney World Resort hotel.
If you do not receive it, check your spam folder. We’ve had many emails–including these digital Dining Cards–from Disney get caught by spam. Failing that, inquire at your hotel’s front desk. (Do it in-person, not over the phone.)
How is the Disney Dining Card redeemed?
Simply present your digital Disney Dining Promo Card email or a printed copy of the email when purchasing food and beverages at participating locations. Additionally, you can save your card to your phone’s wallet (Apple Wallet or Google Wallet) to use at select locations.
In our experience, the best practice for redeeming the Disney Dining Card at counter service and other point-of-sale (POS) locations is via Apple or Google Wallet. At table service restaurants, printing out the gift card is ideal. (However, that might be challenging since it won’t be emailed until check-in!)
Where can the Disney Dining Card be used?
The digital Disney Dining Card can be used to purchase meals, snacks, treats and beverages at “select participating dining locations” according to Walt Disney World. “Enjoy a tasty bite on the go from quick-service venues, food carts, kiosks and more. Or, sit down to a leisurely meal at a table-service restaurant (advance reservations are highly recommended).”
While there is no accompanying list of locations that are actually eligible, we’ve found that all Disney-owned venues that are focused on food (meaning not merchandise with food also sold) accept the Disney Dining Card. Every EPCOT festival booth, counter service restaurant, table service restaurant, etc. This also means you should be able to use the Disney Dining Card on non-edible items from these locations, such as popcorn buckets and sippers. (No guarantee that this will continue to be true, but it has been in the past!)
Although not ineligible, per se, we’ve found that about 5% of kiosks have trouble with the Disney Dining Card. However, this was in the past when it was rarely used (and some Cast Members had never seen one before). That will not be the case come mid-2023, when a high percentage of guests are using this, and Cast Members will presumably be trained on it.
Where are the best places to use the Disney Dining Card?
Pretty simple: any restaurants that offer the best value when paying out of pocket. This is not like the Disney Dining Plan or Free Dining, that necessitated a range of resources for obtaining the most bang for your buck due to convoluted redemption rules. This is just like paying cash–your Disney Dining Card goes furthest at restaurants that offer the best value for money.
Of course, that’s not really a straightforward answer if you’re new to Walt Disney World and thus do not know which restaurants are more fairly priced than others. Accordingly, if you’re interested in ‘best value’ dining posts, please let us know in the comments. We’ll working on putting together a list or two.
Which locations do NOT accept the Disney Dining Card?
According to Walt Disney World, locations that are unable to accept the Disney Dining Promo Card include, but are not limited to:
- Merchandise locations and candy kitchens
- Dining locations at Walt Disney World Swan Hotel, Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel and Walt Disney World Swan Reserve Hotel
- Dining locations at Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort
- Dining locations at Disney Springs Resort Area Hotels
- Dining locations at Walt Disney World Official Hotels at Bonnet Creek
- Dining locations at Walt Disney World Gateway Hotels
With that said, we have had the Disney Dining Card on several occasions in the past (including last year) and found that there were additional third party locations that did not accept it. This included a handful of restaurants in Disney Springs and maybe even one or two in EPCOT. (Unfortunately, I didn’t make note of which ones because I never expected to be writing about such a niche offering.)
However, it’s possible that Walt Disney World has negotiated with more operating participants in EPCOT, Disney Springs, and beyond so they accept the Disney Dining Card now that it’ll be more mainstream. There’s really no reason everywhere that accepts Disney gift cards can’t also accept this. Nevertheless, you might want to ask restaurants in World Showcase and Disney Springs if they accept the Disney Dining Card before you’re seated or order.
How does this Disney Dining Card work at table service restaurants, given that it’s digital and not physical?
When using the Disney Dining Card in the past, we’ve had to hand off our phone to the server at table service restaurants. To avoid having an issue or providing our phone passcode, we’ve first taken a screenshot of the Disney Dining Card and made that our lockscreen. This is a highly imperfect solution, but it’s the best option from an ease and security perspective.
Given how widespread the usage of these Disney Dining Cards will be in 2023, it would be nice if Walt Disney World would equip all restaurants with handheld POS machines. When you think about it, giving your credit card to someone who then disappears from view is a pretty poor practice–and one most of the rest of the world abandoned years ago. (The United States finally switched to chipped credit cards, hopefully this is next!)
Can the Disney Dining Card be used with Mobile Order?
You can use the digital Disney Dining Card just like a regular ole gift card when paying for your order via the My Disney Experience app.
Does the per night amount expire at the end of each day?
Does the Disney Dining Card expire at the end of our stay?
Based on the official terms and conditions, it does not appear to expire at the end of a stay.
This detail offers an advantage for Walt Disney World regulars who are also lighter eaters and won’t use the entire Disney Dining Card amount during their stay. This is probably a very small number of people, though.
When does the Disney Dining Card expire?
Per those same T&C: The digital Disney Dining Promo Card is not valid after September 30, 2023.
Why can’t Disney Vacation Club Members get the ‘free’ Disney Dining Card?
They can! So long as DVC Members qualify with the parameters of the promotion, they are eligible to book this special offer. Same goes for Annual Passholders, Florida residents, members of D23, Hell’s Angels, and so forth–anyone is eligible.
However, it seems like those wondering this are actually asking: Why can’t I get a “free” Disney Dining Card with no strings attached? The answer to that is, as intimated above, that no one gets a free Disney Dining Card with no strings attached. Again, no such thing as a free lunch. This requires the purchase of full priced tickets and accommodations.
Disney Vacation Club members already save 40% or more (in some cases, 70% or more, depending upon when they joined and how they purchased their membership interest) on accommodations. Without question, DVC Members are getting a better deal than this Disney Dining Card promo. For whatever reason, DVC owners seem to think they’re entitled to double-dip on discounts despite having locked-in theirs up-front. These complaints always happened with Free Dining, too.
As DVC Members ourselves, we’re sympathetic to a lot of complaints about the program–especially in the last few years. Availability, Member Services, call-center wait times, the lack of Annual Passes, etc. are all legitimate gripes. This is not.
Will Walt Disney World bring back the real Disney Dining Plan?
The Disney Dining Plan 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. (See above comparison to credit cards.)
The Disney Dining Plan has better “breakage” than gift cards because the vast majority of guests will not use it to full advantage. Not all guests drink alcohol, eat steak, love snacking, etc. For most, the various Disney Dining Plans offer way too much food. Very few people eat in ways that maximize the DDP’s value. Breakage obviously exists with gift cards (that’s also the whole point!), but the Disney Dining Card is still far more flexible and malleable to natural eating behavior than the DDP. It won’t be as wasteful for guests and doesn’t have the same all-inclusive feel. In short, Walt Disney World will have multiple incentives to bring back the Disney Dining Plan at some point, just not quite yet.
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!
Have any questions about the “Stay, Play and Enjoy a Disney Dining Promo Card” special offer for Summer & Fall 2023 that this FAQ did not answer? Other thoughts or points to address? Will your family be booking or sitting out this Walt Disney World discount? How does this compare to Free Dining for you–is it better or worse? Do you agree or disagree with our perspective on this? 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!
Would be interested in seeing some best value dining lists. Heading to WDW this summer and would love to maximize our free dining card.
Can you tip on the card?
for anyone who has received this digital card before, what time on check in day did you get it? would really love to be able to print it but fearful I’ll already be on the way before we get the email
I’m going to ask front desk at my resort to print it out for me. They have printers and one piece of copy paper won’t break Disney. I’ll have it as a backup and will probably use it as I really don’t like the idea of handing over my phone to my server. Really wish the digital card could somehow be accessed through my magic band like the dining plan was.
Just for fun I priced a 4 night stay at OKW. It was more than the cost of my dues for the year, including the cost of my AP renewal. And with these points and my AP I can stay 21 days at OKW.
I’m an AP, but decided to look into this anyway – figuring we would be traveling right around the time we renew and could use the ticket value toward our AP renewal, but comparing how much we would pay to rent DVC points for those dates saves us far more money, and even the typical AP rate will likely save us more.
it’s not the dining plan which we miss, but it is something to save some type of expense.
looking forward to using it and hopefully in the future the dining plans will return.