When it comes to booking DVC resorts at Walt Disney World, members are asking two questions more and more: “why can’t I find any availability at the 7-month mark?” and “why can’t I use my points when the same room has availability with cash?” In this post, we’ll answer both questions, and explain some recent Disney Vacation Club trends.
We’ll start with the second of those common questions, the issue of points versus cash. Frequently, there is no availability when attempting to book via DVCMember.com, but ample availability on DisneyWorld.com, or when calling Walt Disney World and attempting to book a reservation.
Contrary to what some members think, this is not a “scam” or shady attempt by Disney in attempting to make more money off of the “same” room from cash-paying guests. While we never put it past Disney to find new and inventive ways to get people to pay more, that’s not what’s happening here. Rather, it comes down to the way room inventory is allocated by Disney…
Think of each Disney Vacation Club resort as two resorts. One is the timeshare resort and the other is the Deluxe Villa Resort. These pull from separate inventories, with timeshare members pulling from the points side of the inventory and the Deluxe Villa pulling from the cash side.
Rooms enter the Deluxe Villa side of the inventory in a number of ways. Some of these rooms are retained by the developer, some “undeclared inventory” that represents points that have not been sold, some are exchanges used for cruises, RCI, etc., some are points reclaimed by Disney via ROFR, and some are breakage–unused points inside the 60 day window.
Each and every way points end up in the Deluxe Villa inventory is on the up and up (and a couple of these are good for the membership as a whole since they keep dues down). There are a number of reasons for Walt Disney World wanting to rent out these points, but the simplest is guest demand.
As Disney Vacation Club demonstrates, there’s a huge market for villa style rooms, and many guests paying cash are willing to pay a premium for such accommodations.
In the past, this was never really an issue among members–at least not as big of an issue as today. That’s because bookings used to be a lot easier at the 7-month mark, so members tended to notice this less. However, as we’ll discuss below, non-home resort availability is becoming increasingly scarce.
This has led to members noticing the cash availability for their resort of choice even when it’s “fully booked” on DVCMember.com, leading them to believe Disney is running some sort of racket.
That should explain the why of there being cash availability when Disney Vacation Club doesn’t have rooms, but it doesn’t totally answer the questions some DVC members have had. Namely, why booking at the 7 month mark has become so much more difficult in the last few years. Our answer, in a word, is competition.
This competition has occurred in a few ways. The first and most noteworthy is Aulani. Originally, I had this further down the list…until I found some numbers about the total number of points at each Disney Vacation Club Resort. To my surprise, Aulani is the second-largest DVC resort, behind only Saratoga Springs. Aulani has a total of over 11 million points, which is more than Beach Club, Bay Lake Tower, and Grand Floridian combined.
Unlike Saratoga Springs, there are a huge number of Aulani points that are not being used consistently at Aulani. As with the other resorts built outside of Walt Disney World (except for the Grand Californian), owners are far less likely to stay at their home resort year after year.
Aulani has created a large pool of points that are infrequently used at Aulani, and the utilization rate of points from Walt Disney World DVC resorts at Aulani is likely lower than Aulani points utilized at Walt Disney World DVC resorts. This is a huge imbalance that means more competition for DVC resorts at Walt Disney World.
Unfortunately, this imbalance will only get worse, as Aulani still is not sold out, so we can expect its owners to increase over the course of the next couple of years, making bookings difficult elsewhere. (I remember the ‘good ole days’ when members complained that Saratoga was having same impact, but within Walt Disney World–now those days seem quaint!)
There are likely a number of other explanations, from refurbishments taking rooms–but not points–out of inventory to a more robust resale market with faster sales than ever before. All of those things play a role in the increased competition at the 7 month mark (and beyond), but I don’t think they are as significant of factors as rentals, the bungalows, and Aulani.
Then there’s the growth of renting out points. Renting Disney Vacation Club points has become increasingly popular, and word has gotten out about it. This is particularly noteworthy when it comes to Disney Vacation Club owners.
That’s something that’s not often considered, but more owners are now aware of Disney Vacation Club point rental options, and these points are less likely to be used at the last minute–or not at all. Likewise, Disney’s promotion of the RCI exchange, Member Cruises, and other ways to utilize points (remember “converted” points don’t just disappear–they become Disney’s to use for cash bookings), fewer points are going to waste.
All of this means more competition for bookings even before the 7-month mark, using points that previously might’ve gone to waste or been used on last-minute bookings, there’s more competition. The rental market has become increasingly sophisticated and savvy from its nascent message board days.
Next, the points allocated to the Polynesian Bora Bora Bungalows. Depending upon the season and view, the Bungalows account for 6 to 7 times the number of points of each Deluxe Studio at the Polynesian. Even though there aren’t nearly as many Bungalows (comparatively speaking) as Deluxe Studios at the Poly, in terms of points, there’s just over double the amount allocated to the Deluxe Studios as the Bungalows.
Unfortunately, we don’t have insight into the point utilization rate of the Bora Bora Bungalows (or even the occupancy rate, for that matter), but last we heard, it was pretty far below the resort-wide average. When we stayed in the Polynesian Bora Bora Bungalow, I’d hazard a guess that over half were sitting empty.
As of last year, the Polynesian was regularly offering tours of the Bungalows, meaning there were consistently empty Bungalows available for that purpose. While we’re not sure whether these tours are still offered, it doesn’t bode well for occupancy/utilization numbers.
Irrespective of whether the Bungalow is booked for a night, those points have been sold and can be used elsewhere. Each one of those that sits empty potentially represents ~7 studios that are filled elsewhere. Even with a supply of only 20 Bungalows, that’s a huge number of studios being filled with points allocated from the Bungalows.
The Cascade Cabins at Wilderness Lodge could have similar consequences, although the adjusted point chart there will hopefully mitigate that. Anecdotally, we’ve heard that the occupancy rate is already much better at the Cascade Cabins, but we’re not sure what that means in terms of point utilization.
Ironically, the best overall solution to all of this is the opposite of what many members assume–building more Disney Vacation Club resorts. Actually, it’s a bit more nuanced than that, as Disney needs to build more DVC resorts at Walt Disney World, with a focus on studios since those are the most in-demand units. In order for this to be effective, Walt Disney World needs another Saratoga Springs-sized resort, as offsetting those ~11 million Aulani points requires more than just add-ons at existing Magic Kingdom or Epcot area resorts (or even the standalone Riviera; it’s a start, but not nearly enough.)
One unintended side effect will be making fall bookings at Epcot resorts even more impossible, but that ship sailed long ago. Not building high-point units that are more likely to sit empty is another component to the solution, as is not building stand-alone properties outside of Walt Disney World. Obviously, Disneyland is the exception to this, and thankfully, it’ll be getting another Disney Vacation Club resort in 2021. Disney should have learned its lesson with Vero Beach and Hilton Head, or at least should’ve allocated more of Aulani to the hotel side, as it’s way too big and few Disney fans–even those who own at Aulani–want to vacation to Hawaii year after year.
With that said, the dearth of availability at the 7-month window really underscores the conventional wisdom to “buy where you want to stay.” I’ll be honest, this is advice we resisted when we first bought into Disney Vacation Club, and it’s why we ended up owning at Saratoga Springs, a resort we didn’t exactly love (although our opinion of it has improved with time–and Disney Springs upping its game). We still don’t fully embrace this wisdom, but disagreeing with it would require ignoring reality. This is why we’ve been saying for the last couple of the years that we’d buy Bay Lake Tower (which also isn’t my favorite resort) if we had to do it over again. For us, that’s a compromise decision and is not pure “buy where you want to stay.” Your mileage may vary if you’re considering buying into Disney Vacation Club and are currently debating a home resort.
Have you had more difficulty in finding DVC availability in the last couple of years? Have you noticed certain resorts or times of the year getting more competitive? Any firsthand experiences you care to share? Any other thoughts or tips to share? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!