Any Disney Parks fan loves the idea of an annual pass because it lets the imagination go wild with the possibility of going to the parks more than you normally would. The allure that I'm not just using a pass for one trip, but for many in the coming year, is too powerful of a dream to ignore.
There is a natural progression for the Disney vacationer. You start with a once-in-a-lifetime trip, and you progress to going a few times when your kids are young, to going maybe once every 2-3 years. Then, as that Disney fanatic grows in you, you're going every year. That isn't the end; there is always the next step that requires some real financial consideration.
The next step becomes planning multiple trips per year to the World, and from there you may find yourself becoming a DVC fan as well. I won't touch the DVC discussion, but let's stick with the multi-trip vacationer. At some point, if you're going down to Disney World multiple times a year, you're going to consider an annual pass.
However, are annual passes right for you?
This is strictly a question driven by dollars. Does it make sense from a financial point of view? Right now, a Disney Platinum Pass for 2020 for ages 3+ costs $1,195.00 if you're not a Florida Resident or DVC member. How many times do you have to visit the parks for it to make sense?
Let's forget the other benefits for now as we'll get to those in a little bit.
First, we have to discuss the costs of tickets, assuming you're an adult and purchasing tickets in advance from Walt Disney World. The more tickets you buy at once, the cheaper they get. Ticket packages have a specific window when you purchase them, so you can't buy a 10-ticket package for September and use half of them then and use the rest five months after.
Who doesn't like a good spreadsheet? As you can see, the more tickets you buy for your vacation, the cheaper they get. The major breakpoint is when you buy five tickets as the 5th ticket only costs you $30. With that being said, just looking at ticket prices alone, there is no vacation length where an annual pass makes sense unless you're going for 20+ days.
This is why we're talking about multiple trips. So when does it make sense to buy an annual pass? The math is easy.
Things not taken into factor: going during cheaper times or more expensive times. We're using average ticket prices. Also, we're not taking into account any discounts or future price increases as well. Remember, pricing can vary tremendously from the highs to lows, so the average number may be a little inflated. This is only for general planning, so be sure to run your own numbers.
So how do you use the chart above? Pick the number of times you typically go to the parks on vacation. If you typically only go once, for example, then you'll need 9 trips if you don't park hop, or 6 if you do. If you're a park hopper, then it's easier to justify an annual pass.
Obviously, there are a lot of different combinations out there and I trust that you can use your own calculator to figure out the math. If you're planning two trips within a year, you'll need at least 2 four-day hopper pass packages to make sense, or a 10-day and a 3-day.
Oh but it's not over yet...
Remember those other benefits? Well, there are some other savings as well that may help in the margins of this decision. A Disney Platinum Pass also offers the following:
- Up to 20% off on select dining
- Up to 20% off select merchandise in stores
- Disney PhotoPass
If you were to purchase Disney PhotoPass for your vacation, the current value is $169.00 if purchased in advance, which is nearly 15% of your annual pass cost. However, those savings aren't shared across your party so the more people you are buying annual passes for, the more diluted those savings are.
The discount on merchandise is not as big as you think. Assuming a full 20% discount, you'll need to spend roughly $1,125 on souvenirs just to make up for the annual pass increase from last year. Don't bank on this to be what gets you over the edge on an annual pass purchase.
The wild card really is dining and how much you typically spend on food. Let's look at a family of four: two adults and two Disney kids (ages 3-9). Annual passes for everyone will run you $4,790.00. A Disney Dining Plan for everyone for a 6-night, 7-day stay would run you $217.01 a day or $1302.12 for the week. I'm going to use those numbers (high, I know) to give you a best case scenario. Assuming all spending falls under select dining, you're saving $260.43 with your annual pass.
Again, this is stuff in the margin, but every dollar helps. With PhotoPass and the the dining savings, you're looking at $429.43 total savings. All of a sudden, instead of spending $4,790 on annual passes, the real cost is $4,360.57.
So, what kind of vacations are you looking at where annual passes make sense in the perfect scenario? Assume we are using base tickets with the trip we mentioned above (6 nights, 7 days), and let's say 6 tickets. To break even, you'll need to plan another trip that makes use of 5 tickets, so maybe a 5-night, 6-day trip.
Or, if you're like me with a bunch of little kids, you can dream of a three trip year and go on the family trip for a week, then a long weekend (3 nights, 4 days) and then get away for a spouse only trip and hit up Food and Wine Festival for 2 days.
With hopper passes, you're looking at a second trip with a minimum of 3 tickets and don't need a third.
But those scenarios are bare minimum and my numbers are on the higher side. With the recent price increases, Disney really pushed the majority of people toward ticket purchases.
So, what is the conclusion? If you're dead set on needing park hopper passes for your whole vacation, and you're doing two trips (one long and one short), the math might make sense for you. Otherwise, you're looking at three trips in the year. If you're going three times a year, maybe it's time for you to hop over to DVCfan.com and learn more. Plus, you'll get an annual pass discount.