Why is Disney Vacation Club Availability So Limited?
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.
Planning a Walt Disney World trip? For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know. If you’re considering joining DVC, first be sure to read our Ultimate Guide to Disney Vacation Club which covers everything from home resort to membership perks. If you are convinced a membership is for you, check out the discounted options at DVC Resale Market.
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!
Man this is fantastic content. Just not a whole lot with this level of substance out there.
I have been a DVC member since 2008 and I too have found it more difficult to book a villa at the 7 month mark. It has become so difficult. I just booked my vacation to Aulani and it was not available for the entire time. It is so frustrating. So now I have to wait until my window time opens to book that last day and there is no guarantee that it is still available. The representatives always says that is how the booking works; and that makes me more frustrated. I think DVC needs to re-evaluate their policies and re-evaluate how they are choosing to increase membership. Eventually there won’t be any left and no one will enjoy their timeshare anymore. They also suggested adding more points. Oh Yes, that makes sense, adding more points only to lose them.
It’s all true, but here’s the thing. We were sold DVC on the premise we would be able to vacation at Disney. It’s getting impossible to get a good resort. And we are stuck. If we try to sell, Disney will take their first option and make a bundle on the sale. I am getting fed up with the management continually taking things away (specifically the Tables card where I sent $30,000 the year before covid). We live 15 minutes away and typically spend at least 15 nights a year at DVC resorts and spend a bunch. Those days are over. For the first time we will be doing exchanges and pray they are nice places. Can’t do disney anymore. They make it too hard.
Robert rotondo: If you are trying to book something else at seven months out, it had better be late January, early May, maybe summer. If you are trying for Sept through early Jan RunDisney events holidays or Spring Break, you need to book your home resort at 11 months out and see what is still available at seven months out.
Disney can’t over sell since they can only sell what is available. But when you want to go might not be the time it is available. Resorts like Polynesian, where the Bungalows have a ton of points tied up in those (and they might not all be booked all the time) and Copper Creek where they have the same problem with the Cascade Cabins. Studios always book up first, so if you are trying to book a different studio at seven months out, your choices may be very limited.
I disagree with that article I try to book someplace else other than my homebase at Saratoga for five years and had no luck. To me it’s simple there over selling DVC membership and not keeping up in demand for people making reservations. When I signed up and purchase DVC they made it sound like you can go to any anywhere at Disney World in seven months and not have a problem.So in 2021 it seems that promise has been broken said.
While the loss of 3 months to closure is a big DVC point problem, the bigger problem is simply everyone pushing back travel…
1 — only points that were actually booked for travel during the closure were extended. With banked 2018 points extended to November 2020. So those points must still be used by November 2020…
2 — A lot of people are having no choice already but to let their points expire (or try to rent them out), if they don’t want to travel right now. So not all those points will become part of the problem.
3 — The bigger part of the problem may not just be the extended closure points, but simply people delaying the use of their points. 2020 likely had far greater than average banking of points. So 2021 will become use or lose all those banked points. And many people, especially early 2021 use years, may already be banking into 2022.
What this adds up to…. when things start to normalize, there will likely be a crush of DVC owners using banked points. The crush won’t likely start until travel normalizes more. But …. second half of 2021 through 2022 might be insane.
Which brings us to the solution of dumping hotels rooms into DVC — But as things normalize… I’ve never been under the impression that Disney sits on loads of empty rooms. My impression was they mix discounts and pin codes to keep occupancy rates quite high, year round. Hotel income may drop as they need to offer bigger discounts to book those rooms. But does Disney ever really sit on loads of *empty* rooms during normal operations? And business-wise, probably makes more sense for Disney to rent a room at 40% off, as opposed to giving it to DVC.
I’d suggest the solution for DVC is to temporarily extend the banking period — allow banking for 18-24 months, instead of just 1 year. Thus, spreading out the unused points over a longer period. Perhaps with even tighter restrictions against borrowing points.
Alternatively, another creative solution would be a way to encourage use of points OUTSIDE of DVC — Jumpstart DCL cruises in 2021 by offering a very generous point-trade value. Same with “Adventures by Disney.”
Right now, the trade values for those things are insanely bad. But a big promotion, you may get people to pull their points out of the WDW resort map.
Maybe create some new ways for guests to use their points — Use them at Galactic Starcruiser! Imagine the potential marketing: “With the Grand Opening of the Galactic Starcruiser coming December 1st (or whenever), we have decided to reward our most loyal guests! The first “soft open” voyages of the Starcruiser in November 2020 will be reserved solely for DVC guests! (at an insane point value).
“Alternatively, another creative solution would be a way to encourage use of points OUTSIDE of DVC – Jumpstart DCL cruises in 2021 by offering a very generous point-trade value. Same with “Adventures by Disney.”
Right now, the trade values for those things are insanely bad. But a big promotion, you may get people to pull their points out of the WDW resort map.
Maybe create some new ways for guests to use their points – Use them at Galactic Starcruiser! Imagine the potential marketing: “With the Grand Opening of the Galactic Starcruiser coming December 1st (or whenever), we have decided to reward our most loyal guests! The first “soft open” voyages of the Starcruiser in November 2020 will be reserved solely for DVC guests! (at an insane point value).”
Any time you use DVC points outside of DVC, that trip must be paid for by selling the lodging those points represent except for RCI. But with RCI, there has to be a villa to trade for an RCI villa somewhere else. There isn’t any magic pot of money that pays for all the outside of DVC trades.
Using points for the Starcruiser might use up a bunch of points because it would probably be something similar to an Adv by Disney trade. But you still have to pay the hotel portion of Disney for that DVC stay.
Adam – Did you mean to reply to this post instead of the Point Pool Problem one?
It’s a good, thoughtful comment and I wouldn’t want people to miss it; just a heads up since this is an older one…
Tom.. you’re right. Ended up reading both your articles together and replied to the wrong one.. I’ll cut and paste it.
Thanks for the heads up.
Certain things can be done at no or minimal cost. Not everything needs to have a straight non-discounted cash cost.
Let’s take the 2 examples I gave:
Encourage more cruise use: Cruise lines offer discounts all the time, including targeted discounts. Better to sell a room at a discounted rate than not sell it at all. Same applies to using DCL points. Yes, there needs to be some cash value trade. But reducing the amount of that cash value benefits the DVC member and DCL if they are otherwise having difficulty booking the cabins.
As proof, Disney is already doing it!
From the DVC member website currently:
“Eligible Disney Vacation Club Members can enjoy 35% off original Points Chart values for select sailings when booking with Reservation Points”
I’m simply saying they can extend this type of promotion to more cruises, promote it more heavily. Maybe even increase the discount a bit more.
My Starcruiser idea: Not exactly unusual to, for example, give free rooms away to bloggers and journalists, especially pre-opening, to create positive buzz.
You also want to do a soft open to work out kinks on such a complex project.
So a pre-open DVC member cruise (just like they do on DCL), doesn’t need to have a high cash exchange value. Yes, those points would need to have some cash value exchange — but wouldn’t have to be the $3,000 per night that Disney will eventually charge regular guests.
its simple. Disney is greedy (over selling) and instead of making it easier for DVC members they continue to make it more difficult. Not sure I buy the number game you describe in your article, sorry.
I’m not sure how long ago this article was actually written but, in 2019-2020 we are having difficulty booking at our home resorts (BCV & VWL) at the 11th month window. When we log in 11 months to the day, the resort already has no availability. This can’t be due to Aulani, Vero, or Hilton Head as these members can’t book at the 11th month window. I think it is more due to the RCI and DCL exchanges. I also remember reading somewhere that Disney was selling DVC memberships at a higher price for a pre-selected specific time period. So that reduces our availability for highly desirable times around the holidays. This was not available to us and many older owners when we purchased and takes away from our availability. This is not what we signed up for and I hope they make some changes soon.
What changes do you want DVC to make? Your issues may depend on when and what you are trying to book. Owners are walking reservations around popular times to mak sure they get what they want. If you are arriving a few days after the majority of guests who are going a similar time, they probably booked the first day you needed a few days before you could even book. RCI and DCL exchanged don’t really have anything to do with your issues. DVC is pretty much only offering SSR one bedrooms for RCI trades; it very hard to get anything other that by trading. With DCL (and the entire Disney Collection), the owners who are eligible for those trades is getting smaller since resales since last year can’t book DCL.
Add in rentals and that may be affecting your booking because people who want to rent DVC are getting very savvy with their booking and contact an owner 12 months out, so the owner can book it right at 11 months. Finally, if you are trying to make that reservation later than right at 8AM ET online or 9AM ET by calling MS. you just may be missing out by calling too late.
First two weeks of Dec, holidays, DisneyRun events are all really busy times for DVC.
Our Home Resort is Copper Creek and we have never had a problem booking at the 11 month or less window. Granted we never book for summer, we book in the fall (Sept, Oct, Nov Window), We have even booked a studio, then upgraded to a 1 or 2 bedroom and this year we moved our 1 bedroom to a 2 bedroom at CCV and then switched to BLT at the 7 month window without any issues.
I honestly don’t want to have to book months in advance. I’m not a type A traveler and more a go with the flow person. Additionally, I live in Florida and Disney is my weekend getaway not my planned 2-week vacation. This scarcity in availability is really becoming a problem for my family and I who usually plan Disney trips only weeks before going. We have annual passes and purchased DVC in 2005 to have a place to stay whenever we decided to go.
I have to ask though. Who is auditing DVC to ensure they aren’t just saying there is “no availability”? So that members either lose their points or are forced into less desirable seasons.
How can anything become “more impossible”?
As a Canadian teacher who mostly travels on March break I am finding it much harder to book at the 7 month mark. Last time we had to split our stay at three resorts. AKL is our home resort which I do love. I am finding this increasingly frustrating. But it still doesn’t stop us from coming…
Why not just book your home resort before seven months out and then wait to see what is available exactly at seven months out? I’ve been able to stay at GFV at seven months two years in a row and it’s the smallest DVC resort at WDW. There isn’t a penalty for changing your reservation at seven months out.
I suspect people doing that is part of the difficulty finding non-home availability. The problem self-perpetuates.