Less than one day into his second tenure as CEO, and already Bob Iger has personally and single-handedly raised the price of Genie+ at Walt Disney World. Anyone else already missing the glory days of Bob Chapek?!?!
Bad dad joke aside, it is true that the price of the Genie+ line-skipping service has reached a new all-time high at Walt Disney World. It’s also true that this is occurring on the first day of CEO Bob Iger being back in charge of the Walt Disney Company. It’s further true that the timing of these two things are total coincidences.
The real reason for Chapek’s firing is discussed in our new post: Disney Replaces Bob Chapek with Bob Iger as CEO! The real reason for Genie+ hitting its highest price ever–and by a wide margin–is the arrival of Thanksgiving week. Historically, this is one of the busiest stretches of the holiday season and entire year at Walt Disney World.
For today and potentially the rest of this week, the price of paid FastPass has jumped to a new high of $29 per person at Walt Disney World. (The potentiality part of that is our added commentary–Walt Disney World does not publish Genie+ prices in advance, so you won’t know what it’s going to cost until logging onto My Disney Experience after midnight on the day of your visit. Awesome, right?!)
This is up considerably from the previous high water mark for the Genie+ service, which was $22 per person at Walt Disney World. It had hit that mark a number of times, starting over fall break in October and continuing on various weekends and holidays in November 2022. However, it had never gone above that amount–so today marks a $7 increase over the previous high.
For its part, Walt Disney World had previously announced that Genie+ prices would range from $15 to $22 plus tax for the rest of this month. That was simply example pricing for the month of October, and no details were provided about the minimum or maximum over the course of the year.
By my calculations, it is no longer October. Given that, I guess the company felt comfortable going above that previously published price range.
For our part, we assumed at the time that Genie+ pricing would more or less track with date-based ticket pricing. Single-day ticket prices maxed out at $154 on Saturdays last month, which were also (most of) the $22 Genie+ days. In November and December, day ticket prices max out at $159, meaning Genie+ should have cost no more than $23 on those days.
However, that was also our assumption at the time. Within only a few days, Walt Disney World deviated from this approach, charging $22 on a lower-priced single-day ticket day and $16 to $17 on higher priced ones. With the exception of weekends, it seemed sort of like Walt Disney World was testing the waters to see what consumers would pay and how prices, crowds, and other variables impacted load balancing.
The timing of this move shouldn’t be too surprising. In our most recent wait times report, we addressed how wait times have worsened. Since then, holiday crowds have started to descend upon Walt Disney World in full force. While things haven’t been too bad yet, there is still plenty of time for that to change.
The goal of all these changes is to avoid a repeat of the week before Thanksgiving last year, when Genie+ Collapsed in Crowds. Crowds absolutely exploded the Sunday before Thanksgiving, peaking on Wednesday, before subsiding on the following Sunday. Several days before Thanksgiving had 10/10 crowd levels, making that the worst week of 2021–surpassing even Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
“Unfortunately,” I won’t have a chance to witness and report on Thanksgiving crowds firsthand as we are in Kyoto right now (that was by design after the misery of doing DHS twice last year during this week!), but I’ll be back on the ground in Florida next weekend.
We’re looking forward to our favorite week of the year at Walt Disney World and doing Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, but probably not testing more Genie+ itineraries if it’s still $29 per person (before tax). Okay, maybe just one day at DHS. How can I say no to a not-so-good time?!
Last year, part of the reason why things got so bad over Thanksgiving week was because the crowds came by surprise and caught Disney off-guard to some degree. As you might recall, the Delta variant and reinstated mask rules put a damper on attendance last quarter, which was also likely exacerbated by fears of Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary drawing record-setting crowds. (It did not.)
The circumstances are very different this year. Walt Disney World has restored a ton of capacity via entertainment, dining, and other offerings. Disney has gotten better at redistributing crowds, and this year has been much busier as a whole. Even if attendance and wait times end up surpassing Presidents’ Day (the current worst week for 2022), it’s not going to catch the company flat-footed. They are ready for this.
What’ll be interesting to see is whether consumers are ready to fork over $29 per person–or nearly $31 after tax–for the Genie+ service, which was free only a few short (but sweet) years ago. In the grand scheme of a multi-thousand dollar Walt Disney World vacation, that’s not a large amount, but it’s a huge percentage jump for the cost of the service, and all at once.
I’m honestly surprised that Walt Disney World is being this bold. I figured that they wouldn’t break the $25 barrier until sometime in 2023, and probably would’ve bet against the service hitting $30 next year at all. As one reader pointed out in response to my commentary about the introduction of date-based pricing, that puts Genie+ above $100 per day for a family of four (Walt Disney World’s core demographic). That’s exceeding a significant psychological barrier, and may actually result in reducing sales of the service.
Speaking of which, since I can accept (potentially) being wrong, my previous position was that, unlike the elimination of the Genie+ ticket add-on, the price increase would not do much to reduce demand for the paid FastPass service. I’m going to rehash this below not because I think it’s still true, but because I wonder whether it is.
An animating assumption of my argument was that Walt Disney World would gradually increase Genie+ prices rather than abruptly increasing them. Apparently, I was wrong about that–as a $7 jump overnight qualifies as significant. Maybe not in the grand scheme of what a trip costs, but potentially enough to cause enough guests to balk at the price. Again, this is a significant amount in percentage terms–and it definitely adds up if you’re visiting Walt Disney World this week and were planning on buying Genie+ every single day for every person in your party.
As we’ve discussed at length in Disney Doesn’t Want Lower Crowds and then again a bit in the commentary to the most recent price increase post, the common viewpoint is that price increases are actually good because they decrease attendance and help cut crowds is erroneous. This is a go-to line when raising ticket prices, and one that has been mindlessly parrotted by a certain subset of Walt Disney World fans.
We have rejected this perspective time and time again. For one thing, there is ample evidence to the contrary, as attendance has increased by millions of guests per year in the pre-closure decade. For another, if Disney wants to reduce crowds, there are ways to accomplish that–building more attractions or not taking 84 years to open a cloned roller coaster in an otherwise empty warehouse. In reality, Disney has little desire to reduce attendance–they want to “optimize” wait times, staffing, and pricing.
When it comes to paid FastPass, there’s a variation of the above argument. This is more or less that Genie+ would be better if prices were higher since Express Pass works well at Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure. That service costs significantly more but is included for free with stays at Universal’s three top-tier hotels. (See Universal’s Express Pass v. Lightning Lanes & Genie+ at Walt Disney World for more comprehensive thoughts, and why Universal’s “dumb” system is superior.)
For some Walt Disney World fans, the idea of Express Pass checks all of the right boxes. Exclusive but included with select on-site resorts, frictionless, and tech-free. To be sure, Express Pass is better than Genie+ from a usability perspective. We aren’t doubting or debating that. We’ve used Unlimited Express Pass extensively, and it’s far better overall. No question whatsoever. However, date-based pricing for Genie+ with the current cost range is not a move in that direction.
Whether it be for park tickets, resorts, or the Genie+ service, date-based pricing is an effective way for the company to accomplish its desired optimizations at Walt Disney World. There are certain times of year that experience higher demand for a number of reasons–school schedules, seasonal events, weather, etc.
Charging incrementally higher prices for these times of year allows Walt Disney World to capitalize on and profit from that inherently higher demand. That’s the goal–not redistributing attendance or whatever the talking point might be. There’s a reason spring break, summer vacation, and fall/winter holidays continue to see heavier attendance than any other time of year and have not leveled off with random dates in mid-January, early May, late August, etc. Increasing prices on that quasi-captive audience is simply savvy business or opportunism, depending upon your perspective.
My previous assumption was that the same scenario would play out with date-based pricing for the Genie+ service. The more expensive dates wouldn’t have a better guest experience–if anything, they’d be worse. Demand for Lightning Lanes will be higher because crowds are higher, and the Genie+ date-based surcharge over the low or regular seasons will be relatively insignificant.
Worse wait times creates a higher incentive for bypassing lines, meaning higher uptake of Genie+ even when it costs more. Keep in mind, those visiting during these peak weeks are already paying more for their vacations. The difference between $16 and $24 (after tax) is relatively insignificant in the grand scheme of things, and won’t cause many guests to balk at pricing. What’s another “few dollars” on top of a multi-thousand dollar trip if it’ll offer a competitive advantage?!
However, I’m honestly not sure if this analysis holds up when the price goes from $16 to $29. That’s a much bigger difference, and more guests will take note of it.
Then again, maybe it will–and Disney has a solid basis for increasing the price of Genie+ to ~$31 after tax for the week of Thanksgiving. (There’s also reality that there are still a lot of tickets with the Genie+ add-on in circulation, as Walt Disney World provided advance notice of that change and we know many readers stocked up on tickets at the time–a very smart move in retrospect!)
We’ve seen this play out for years with date-based pricing on everything else. Not only that, but Individual Lightning Lanes already have a rudimentary form of date-based pricing, and that form of line-skipping is more “popular” when it’s more expensive. Again, the rationale is simple–people are willing to pay more to skip lines when they’re worse.
This isn’t necessarily to argue against Walt Disney World moving to date-based pricing for the Genie+ service or charging whatever the market will bear (in this case, over $30!). It’s simply to refute the misconception that Disney is doing guests a favor with price increases by (supposedly) reducing demand, crowds, or whatever.
That probably would be true if the cost jumped from $16 to $80 per day, but that’s not the case here. Instead, it seems that Walt Disney World is trying to walk a tightrope by incrementally increasing prices in an effort to keep demand relatively inelastic.
Ultimately, there’s probably no good quick fix to this issue for Walt Disney World. It will be interesting to see whether this massive overnight price increase meaningfully dampens demand, but it’s also entirely possible that we won’t see the true impact of market-pricing for Genie+ until 2023 since a sizable chunk of current Walt Disney World visitors have the Genie+ ticket add-on, and are thus insulated from the price increases, anyway.
As for how to handle load balancing and demand for the paid FastPass service, the immediate alternative that I could get behind is simply capping Genie+ at a reasonable level and letting it sell out at the current price on peak season days. However, as the backlash to eliminating the ticket add-on demonstrated, many people would not be on board with that.
Another option would be a price jump so large that utilization of Lightning Lanes dropped dramatically, thereby improving the standby experience. Maybe the move to ~$31 after tax will be sufficient to accomplish that, but I wouldn’t bet on it.
It’s also hard to fault Walt Disney World for not leaving money on the table. While we hate all of the price increases of the last 2-3 years and believe there will be negative long-term ramifications, it’s also patently obvious that Disney has pricing power and no shortage of demand right now.
Long-term, the solution to all of this is building more attractions. Queueing is a zero-sum game. No approach to lines–not all standby, not paper FastPass, FastPass+ or Genie–changes capacity. The only meaningful way to alter the equation is by actually increasing capacity.
That’s done by adding entertainment, attractions, or extending operating hours. Everything else is a matter of rearranging the deck chairs, and having different guests or demographics come out ahead or behind. In this case, the “winners” (air quotes) are those willing and able to spend more during the busiest times of the year at Walt Disney World.
If you have questions about the basics of using–or not using–the paid FastPass service, see our Guide to Genie+ at Walt Disney World & Lightning Lane FAQfor all of the foundational need-to-know info. This whole system is confusing and convoluted, so you might have a question or two-dozen. That answers all of the most common ones we’ve been receiving from readers.
What do you think of the price jump to $29 before tax for Genie+ at Walt Disney World during the week of Thanksgiving? Disappointed that it’s happening, or do you see the upside from a lowered demand perspective? Thoughts on our perspective that demand for Genie+ will continue to be highest on the busiest/most expensive days? Any other considerations we failed to take into account or details we missed/got wrong? Will you purchase Genie+ or is $30+ after tax per day too expensive for you? Do you agree or disagree with my assessment? 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!