“When will new Annual Pass sales resume at Disneyland?” and “will Magic Keys be available again?” are common reader questions. Many locals are eager to purchase passes, having waited too long to buy last year before sales were paused, forgetting to renew, etc. We’ll share the company’s official position and speculate as to when APs will return. (Updated November 16, 2022.)
Let’s start with basic background to bring you up to speed. During the closure, Disneyland ended the AP program and cancelled all outstanding passes. When Disneyland and Disney California Adventure reopened, Annual Passes remained unavailable through the summer, but unprecedented ticket deals were offered for California residents. Corporate leadership began teasing a new “membership program” coming soon.
By the beginning of August, just as schools were going back into session and the summer vacation season was winding down, Disneyland introduced that membership program: Magic Keys. This was really just Annual Passes by a different name, higher prices, and required reservations for all tiers. Demand was high from the outset, with a virtual queue and all-day waits to purchase Magic Key Annual Passes on release day. (At this point, a multi-hour virtual queue is the rule, rather than the exception.)
November 16, 2022 Update: Fortunately for all of you, the below predictions were wrong. Very wrong!
Disneyland Resort has resumed sales of select Magic Key Annual Passes just as the busy Christmas 2022 season has gotten underway, and with Thanksgiving–one of the top 5 busiest weeks–right around the corner. The Inspire, Believe and Imagine APs have resumed new sales. However, the Enchant pass will remain unavailable for new sales but is still available for current pass holders to renew.
“With an incredible year ahead, we’re happy to open new sales for select Magic Key passes in time for holiday giving and to create opportunities for guests to treat themselves and their families to a year full of experiences during the upcoming Disney100 celebration,” a Disneyland official said in a statement.
If you are attempting to purchase a new pass, be prepared to wait. There’s a virtual queue to access the sales page with a current wait time of more than 1 hour. It’s worth noting that when Magic Keys originally went on sale, some fans waited 8 to 10 hours to purchase. Our expectation is that this won’t be much different.
If anything, more people will have a sense of urgency, as most Magic Key sales have been paused for roughly one year after being sold for only a couple of months. That was totally unprecedented, and this ‘limited availability’ might cause those who previously waited a day or two for the initial rush to die down last time to move quickly. Conversely, there should be a smaller pool of potential purchasers, as most Magic Keymasters have already purchased and renewed. In any case, pack your patience and prepare for a lengthy wait.
Alternatively, wait until tomorrow if you’re willing to risk Magic Keys selling out. I’d be shocked if they’re gone in only a day or two, but then again, I’ve been shocked a few times in the last year-plus by demand for all things Disneyland.
Late last October, Disneyland paused sales on the top level Dream Key. This came as park reservations were almost entirely gone for weekends over three months into the future. Then in November, the Believe Key also sold out amidst a similar shortage of reservation availability.
That left only the Enchant Key and Imagine Key available for purchase. At the beginning of this summer, both of these had their statuses change to “Currently Unavailable” on Disneyland.com. This coincided with the summer season blockouts for the lower-tiered APs. Once summer ended, renewals resumed for existing Keyholders with tweaks and higher prices, but not new sales.
This all came as a surprise, but in hindsight, it probably shouldn’t have. Back when the new Magic Keys were announced, Disneyland Resort stated: “Pass types may be limited in quantity, and may not be available for purchase or renewal at any time.”
A Disneyland spokesperson indicated that passes had sold out “due to the popularity of the new Magic Key program and in order to deliver a great guest experience for all guests.” However, it’s also noteworthy that this occurred on the day before Thanksgiving last year, at a time when reservations were extremely limited or downright unavailable for regular ticket holders.
By Disney’s own admission, the decision to suspend new Magic Key sales occurred due to anticipated crowds at Disneyland Resort during the holiday season. As soon as the higher-tier Magic Key sales were suspended last holiday season, more reservations opened up for regular tickets.
Even with AP sales paused, crowds were absolutely bonkers last November and December. We visited the parks on numerous days that historically would’ve been shoulder season only to find peak season crowds. Wait times for attractions were high, but the biggest issues were congestion and dining. Mobile Order time slots were often far into the future, waits upon arrival were still lengthy, and menus remain incredibly scaled back.
Thus far, 2022 has been even busier than last year. Crowds really picked up around Presidents’ Day weekend and remained elevated through Easter. Some of the summer was slightly less busy, but there was minimal off-season this year after schools went back into session. Since pretty much the start of Halloween season, crowds have been bad. That’s gotten even worse this month, with crowds exploding in October and likely to get worse between now and December 2022.
Diminished reservation availability has been exacerbated by the fact that Disneyland Resort still isn’t operating at 100%. It may seem minor, but there’s missing entertainment, an entire land is closed, and not every venue in the park is fully efficient due to staffing shortages. Even attraction capacity is reduced because there’s been more Cast Member turnover than normal, and new employees aren’t as good as experienced ones at dispatching ride vehicles efficiently. All minor in isolation, but it adds up in the grand scheme of things.
In short, there’s currently more demand for Disneyland than there is supply or capacity, and it’s most advantageous for the company to restrict Magic Key sales in favor of single and multi-day ticket purchases. As we’ve explained before, Annual Passholders are advantageous to Disneyland, but not in a constrained capacity environment at the expense of tourists.
Statistically speaking, per visit spending is significantly higher among infrequent visitors than APs. Or as Disney now-infamously put it, more Magic Keyholders in the parks results in an “unfavorable attendance mix.” It thus makes sense that Disneyland would want to prioritize those demographics and not fill the parks with Magic Key Passholders at the expense of more lucrative vacationers during busier seasons. (All of this may seem like irrelevant or excessive ‘backstory,’ but we’ll be circling back to all of it in the analysis.)
Which brings us to the present question: when will Disneyland start selling new Magic Key annual passes? (NOTE: What follows is now an obsolete (and incorrect) prediction, but I’m preserving it for posterity so as to not be accused of ‘revisionist history’ or anything of that sort.)
One such potential impediment to new sales is a Magic Key Passholder filed lawsuit in the Central District of California following months of limited reservation availability. This alleges that Disney misled and deceived pass purchasers by artificially limiting capacity and restricting reservations. The suit contends that Disney has effectively created a second tier of blockout dates by virtue of allocating reservations differently for passholders and regular ticket holders, in order to maximize the number of tickets that Disney can sell.
Disney filed a motion to dismiss on all claims, and was successful on some of them. However, the federal judge found that the “plaintiff has adequately pled facts supporting how a reasonable consumer may be deceived by the advertisement, which states ‘no blockout dates.'”
This has led to some speculation that Disneyland is reticent to sell Magic Keys. It’s possible that fundamental flaws exist in the Magic Key program, making it possible that the company has paused new Annual Pass sales while waiting the resolution of this case. However, we think this is highly unlikely.
As noted above, Magic Key renewals resumed this off-season, along with minor changes and major price increases. If the company truly feared a massive class action lawsuit, no passes would be sold at all–not renewals, not new APs. On top of that, Disney could easily avoid future litigation by clearly defining blockout dates and how those function in relation to reservations.
Since the passes originally went on sale last fall, additional verbiage has been added to its marketing doing exactly that. When Disneyland began Magic Key renewals, even more language was added to make it abundantly clear that “it may be difficult or not possible” to get park reservations. It thus does not seem like there’s legal exposure going forward with AP sales.
Another fan theory is that the company is embracing the “Disney Vault” strategy of creating demand through scarcity, or rather, perceived scarcity. It’s possible that Disneyland has survey data showing a high dissatisfaction rating among Magic Key purchasers and low intent to renew or purchase.
That wouldn’t be surprising, especially with the difficulty so many have reported in securing reservations. However, if these same fans believe they might not be able to simply purchase passes at their leisure down the road, they might err on the side of caution and renew when their time comes.
Personally, I don’t give this theory much credence. It’d be one thing if Disneyland felt the need to artificially “juice” Magic Key sales or play marketing games to increase attendance. That simply is not the case. Even in the face of ever-increasing prices, there is no shortage of demand. If new Magic Key sales opened with 20% higher prices across the board, there would still be a multi-hour virtual queue to buy.
Rather than believing there’s a contrived or convoluted explanation for the lack of new Magic Key sales, we’ll apply Occam’s Razor. The simplest explanation is that the same underlying issue is causing all of this: crowds. More demand for admission and reservations to Disneyland than there is available capacity or supply.
The most straightforward explanation is that new Magic Key sales are suspended due to concerns about Disneyland’s ability to meet demand for regular tickets once Annual Passes are available again. It’s entirely possible that renewals help Disneyland fill the parks and meet attendance targets, but that internal projections show that new Magic Key sales would (once again) “break” the reservation system and lead to reservation shortfalls yet again.
We already know that this Halloween through New Year’s will be busy. As crowded as Disneyland and DCA have been in the last month-plus, that’s only going to get worse in November and December 2022, which are the two busiest months of the year. As long as the parks aren’t operating at full capacity and there’s the potential for unsatisfied demand among higher-spending tourists, this is the simplest and clearest explanation for the lack of new Magic Key Annual Pass sales.
As discussed above, Disneyland suspended Magic Key sales last year ahead of Thanksgiving. That move probably occurred too late, and should’ve happened before Veterans’ Day based on crowding and reservation availability. The company will not make that same mistake again heading into the holiday season. Accordingly, the likelihood of Magic Key sales resuming in 2022 is less than 1%.
With all of that said, there are a few possible timeframes for the return of Magic Keys at Disneyland. The first is that new Annual Pass sales resume on or after January 9, 2023. This is not necessarily the precise date that APs will return to Disneyland Resort, it’s simply the week after Los Angeles and Orange County schools go back into session following winter break. In a normal year, this would mark the start of the winter off-season.
Consequently, Disneyland might wait until mid-February to resume new Magic Key sales, wanting to capture some single-day ticket purchases from Californians who cannot resist seeing the festivities early-on. Maybe February 6, 2023 would make sense from that perspective.
We also do not think this is likely to occur. That’s during the heart of the popular Lunar New Year festivities and only a couple weeks before the busy Presidents’ Day holiday. Shortly after that, spring break season starts. Moreover, Disneyland has already announced that the reimagined Mickey’s Toontown will open and the Magic Happens Parade will return in Spring 2023. All of this will draw colossal crowds without new Magic Keyholders added to the mix.
The next logical time for Disneyland Resort to sell new Magic Keys would be after spring break season and Easter 2023. This would put the new AP sales starting around April 18, 2023…just in time for Tax Day!
I’m less inclined to dismiss this date out of hand like the others. This is pretty far into the future, and by this time it’s entirely possible that pent-up demand has exhausted itself and locals have gotten their fill of the new offerings by then. The general economic environment could also take a turn for the worse. Who knows–that’s literally 6 months into the future at this point. Still, I would not bet on this occurring.
Rather, my actual prediction for new Magic Key sales is next fall off-season, about the same time they originally went on sale. While it’s way too early to offer a specific prediction, I’ll nevertheless go with August 14, 2023. That’s the date by which most Los Angeles and Orange County schools will be back in session, which is the typical start off fall off-season.
As economic conditions continue to normalize–the labor market, household savings, and staffing shortages–there could be less of an issue with reservations being unavailable. By then, it’s also entirely possible that the non-stop price increases and cash grabs alienate enough locals and tourists that Disneyland is once again in a position of needing to lure back locals. It’s entirely possible that this actually occurs sooner, perhaps during the second half of summer season (which is how things actually played out last year).
In any case, it’s safe to say that new Magic Key sales will resume at some point, and will not enter the “Disney Vault” for years. In normal times, Disneyland is dependent upon locals during the off-season when tourism to Southern California is low because the weather is colder or school is in session (or both).
Although Disney has tried to make Disneyland Resort a standalone vacation destination (and moved it in that direction since the debut of Cars Land), it is still reliant upon Californians and not tourists for much of the year. While those same locals cause attendance problems, Disneyland has not shown that it can subsist on travelers to the same degree as Walt Disney World.
The challenge is in finding a balance. Disneyland is a Southern California institution, but it’s also becoming a popular destination for families on the West Coast. While most Disneyland Resort guests come from somewhere in California, people travel from other states, more and more. Utah and Nevada are chief among these, with Oregon, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and Washington also heavily represented. For the last several years, we’ve observed crowd spikes when major districts in those states (especially Utah and Nevada) have breaks.
Disneyland also has a huge local population, with a high degree of disposable income. The collective population of Los Angeles and Orange Counties is nearly 14 million, which is higher (by millions) than the local population near Walt Disney World. Once you throw San Diego and other areas into the mix within a reasonable driving distance of Disneyland, you have around 20 million potential guests that can easily do day trips to Disneyland. And Disneyland only has two parks.
In the meantime, our expectation is that Disneyland finds this balance with more California resident ticket deals. Typically, one of these is released shortly after New Year’s crowds have subsided. Our guess is that the upcoming one runs from January 3, 2023 through May 25, 2023. It’ll likely be valid on weekdays only, which is consistent with recent precedent.
The biggest wild cards are whether all Californians will be eligible or just Southern California residents. If it’s everyone, expect blockouts around peak dates (possibly including the start of 100 Years of Wonder). Disneyland has been leaning on these 3-day ticket specials more and more in the last few years.
If you’re looking for alternatives to buying a Magic Key pass or the resident ticket deals, consider simply purchasing tickets now. This is especially true if you’d like to visit this holiday season (when neither Magic Keys nor SoCal ticket deals will be available) or you want to visit after February 2023 (when it’s possible another price increase will hit).
Ultimately, our prediction is that Disneyland Resort resumes new Magic Key sales at higher price points in 2023. Personally, I think sales restarting in January 2023 is highly unlikely, and would require a surprising slowdown in attendance to occur almost immediately. That’s possible given the latest round of price increases…but right before the holiday season? Again, highly unlikely.
At some point, things will normalize. Staffing shortages will be fully resolved, pent-up demand will fizzle out, and consumer spending will fall back to normal levels. All of that might happen by Spring 2023 or it might take until the tail end of next summer. For the better part of a year, we’ve been wondering when demand would slow…and it’s only grown stronger during that time. As such, we’re now firmly in the pessimistic camp, expecting sales of new Magic Keys to remain paused for a long time to come.
Of course, that’s just our guess from the outside looking in. I never would have predicted this happening back when Magic Key sales started last fall. (In fact, I didn’t! My expectation was that it would take a long time for Disneyland to rebuild its AP base, which I suppose was technically correct, but I also figured that meant low crowds.) Then again, Disneyland Resort also did not predict those problems. Disney executives have said they were surprised by sales and the company was clearly caught off-guard by the sky-high demand. So we shall see what happens next!
When do you expect Disneyland to start selling new Magic Keys? Think sometime in mid-January 2023 is a safe bet for AP sales, or will Disney wait, being more cautious this time? Think we might not see new Annual Passes until Fall 2023 to ensure there’s ample capacity for more lucrative tourists? Would you purchase a Magic Key right now if you could? 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!