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Robert Niles
Editor

Variable pricing comes to US theme park tickets

Published: February 14, 2013 at 10:07 AM

If you've visited Legoland Florida's website recently to buy a ticket for the Winter Haven, Fla. theme park, you might have noticed a new offer on the site: Discounts for tickets bought for use on certain days.

Legoland Florida website

Yep, variable pricing has come to American theme parks.

I like the way Legoland's framing this: You get a discount for visiting the park on certain (presumably, less popular) days. That makes sense in a couple of ways.

If you look at theme parks' current daily ticket price as representing the fair-market value of visiting on an average day, it's reasonable to assume that less popular days should be priced less under a variable pricing scheme. Of course, that means more popular days should be more expensive, but by starting the with discounted days, Legoland can introduce variable pricing in a way that the public's more likely to accept.

Variable pricing gives theme parks another way to manage their crowds. Instead of closing the gates and turning people away on busy days (such as during Christmas week), variable pricing and advance-sale, date-specific tickets can allow parks to reduce the number of people showing up at the park on those days. In the same way, parks can use variable pricing to encourage more people to visit on slower days, better distributing visitors throughout the year.

Of course, there are limits, especially for a park targeted specifically at school-aged children, such as Legoland. Most families just aren't willing to pull their kids out of school to visit a theme park, so all the discounts Legoland can offer won't entice those families to visit on those days.

Date-specific tickets and variable pricing aren't new outside the United States. When I visited Tokyo Disneyland and Universal Studios Singapore, I bought tickets that were tied to the specific dates I visited, unlike U.S. theme park tickets, which typically can be used anytime after they're purchased.

And if you look at theme park tickets on a cost-per-hour basis, US theme parks long have had variable prices, except that parks charged less per hour on their busiest days. With variable pricing, perhaps the cost-per-hour price will even out, with parks charging less on days they're opened for fewer hours, and more for days when they open early and close late.

What do you think about variable pricing for theme park tickets? Please tell us, in the comments.

Replies (11)

Carlo Guardascione

Published: February 14, 2013 at 10:33 AM

I love the idea. If it really does result in less people visiting on popular days because the tickets are pricier, then I'd gladly pay.
98.87.93.234

Published: February 14, 2013 at 11:38 AM

Terrible idea (Especially for Disney and Universal). Seems geared to greed. It will enable a higher level of economic discrimination. Now, only the 'well to do' and their families will be able to afford visiting the parks during Christmas, Easter, Spring Break, etc.
Tony Duda

Published: February 14, 2013 at 12:48 PM

Makes sense if you can buy an "any day of the year" ticket at full price and a "specific date of visit" ticket (during slow season) at a reduced price. This will tend to even out the number of visitors with lower busy season crowds and bigger off-season crowds.

However, I don't think any park will make the discount big enough, say 50% off, to have any noticeable change in crowd sizes. You are already paying many times the ticket price on the other associated vacation costs and a $10 to $15 a day discount won't be an influence on vacationers.

David Brown

Published: February 14, 2013 at 1:57 PM

I am fortunate to live near Portmeirion, (a tourist attraction here but famous as the location for the iconic 60's TV series The Prisoner). In the 1970s it had an interesting pricing model. The price increased during the day according to the number of visitors in the village. It might cost £1 to enter at 9am but turn up on a busy day at 2pm and you'd still be able to enter but it would cost you £5. Crude but very effective at controlling crowds.

We accept variable pricing in airline tickets, in train tickets, in retail goods, (ever tried buying a new kitchen in the month before the January sales?), so I can't really see that variable pricing at theme parks is really such a great step. I think it's inevitable.

Brandon Mendoza

Published: February 14, 2013 at 2:11 PM

I would prefer that the price varies due to park hours, and not strictly by season or projected crowds. The parks can justify lower prices and shorter hours by saying it's the off season.

I fear that if the prices are variable throughout the week and year that no one will be able to track any sort of distinct price increase. If the prices were set by quarter, by day and were set at least three months in advance, I would think that was fair. But if prices can change on the fly like Airline Tickets or gas prices I'm not an advocate of that type of price structure.

174.67.225.208

Published: February 14, 2013 at 2:20 PM

If you think of the price as attractions/$ instead of hours/$ then variable pricing doesn't make sense. The original article states the $/hour is less on the busiest days because the parks are open so long, but these are also the busiest days. You may be able to be in the parks for 16 hours, but with 60 minute lines you may only see 16 attractions in that time compared to going at the end of January or September when the parks are only open 10 hours but with 10 minute lines you could see a few dozen attractions. This makes that off-season ticket WAY lower on an attractions/cost basis, and aren't we there to experience the attractions, not just spend the time with our feet hurting in the parks.

On a second note the AP's (at least at Disney) are already based this way with the lower cost AP's not for use on the busier days.

RoseAnn Felt

Published: February 14, 2013 at 2:29 PM

If you think of the price as attractions/$ instead of hours/$ then variable pricing doesn't make sense. The original article states the $/hour is less on the busiest days because the parks are open so long, but these are also the busiest days. You may be able to be in the parks for 16 hours, but with 60 minute lines you may only see 16 attractions in that time compared to going at the end of January or September when the parks are only open 10 hours but with 10 minute lines you could see a few dozen attractions. This makes that off-season ticket WAY lower on an attractions/cost basis, and aren't we there to experience the attractions, not just spend the time with our feet hurting in the parks.

On a second note the AP's (at least at Disney) are already based this way with the lower cost AP's not for use on the busier days.

Charles Reichley

Published: February 14, 2013 at 7:26 PM

I guess I'm used to parks offering "special deals" throughout the year, so I've never thought of that as "variable pricing", but I guess that is what it is. It seemed clear that they did this when they had less business.

Kings Dominion offered cheap tickets for passholders on fathers and mothers day, and it turned out that the park was a lot less crowded for a sunday than I would have expected, so I guess that was a good deal for them.

And their halloween is priced lower on friday which is only open 5 hours, than saturday or sunday.

Perks are also priced more on bigger days. The "front of the line" passes cost more during peak times than other times.

David Brown

Published: February 15, 2013 at 1:29 AM

Several posters are making the point that this doesn't make sense on a $ per attraction basis but it's not about value - variable pricing is purely a mechanism for controlling attendance. Low pricing when it's quiet encourages more people to attend, boosting occupancy and revenue. Conversely when it's insanely busy you pay more. If you can only attend during those summer vacation weeks this will ultimately not be good for you but it's the same model I use for pricing in my guest house here in the UK and it works across the globe across pretty much all sectors....
98.21.99.22

Published: February 18, 2013 at 9:37 PM

I'm fine with variable pricing. I think it rewards me for choosing a less popular day to make my visit, and that I would like (of course it might increase attendence on those days - which the park would like, but maybe not me so much). However, I do think on the days that are more popular and cost more, part of the perk to those paying more should be sure that the park has extended hours (open earlier and / or close later) on those days (most parks usually are open later on a Saturday anyway though). After all, if you are paying more to be in a crowded park.... there needs to be some sort of perk.
98.21.99.22

Published: February 18, 2013 at 9:44 PM

Someone commented something I wanted to chime in on a little (sort of)...... I think the prices should be posted in advance and NOT made up throughout the season close to the dates families would be traveling the way Airlines, etc. does thier pricing. I'm okay with the variable pricing, but it needs to be posted in advance (far in advance so people can plan) and not get too extreme with the variance.

Really, the main people this might encourage to reconsider what days they visit on would probably be the locals. If you live in an area and know that it will be cheaper to go on certain days you might adjust what day you are going to accommadate that.

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