Theme Park Insider

Are Shanghai Disneyland guests scalping Fastpasses?

February 19, 2017, 3:07 PM · Scalpers at Disneyland? Fans have grown accustomed to seeing people selling tickets outside pro sports games, concerts, and even some Broadways shows. But not at theme parks. Well, that might be changing, according to Theme Park Insider reader Adriel Tjokrosaputro.

The big reason that you haven't seen scalpers hanging out at theme parks is that reselling tickets at a mark-up requires that demand for tickets exceeds their supply. But, for the most part, theme parks sell an inexhaustible supply of tickets. Until recently, no major U.S. theme parks sold single-day admission tickets that were tied to a specific date of admission. When parks have capped the supply of admission by closing their gates, having a ticket in that situation won't help you get in. The park just will tell you to use it later, when the park reopens its gates, or to come on another day.

Universal Studios Hollywood now is selling date-specific tickets, but it's only gotten to the point where it has stopped selling tickets for a specific date a couple of times. I suppose someone could try to scalp one of those tickets, but it's hard to imagine who would want to pay an above-list price to visit a park on a day it's slammed to capacity when they could pay less to come on another day when the park isn't as busy and presumably they could do more.

The few times when you do sometimes see people trying to scalp theme park admission are for hard-ticket, capacity-controlled events such as Mickey's Halloween Party. (Insert a "Not-So-Scary" modifier there, if you're a Walt Disney World visitor.) Those events do have a limited supply, for which demand often exceeds the number of available tickets. But requirements that ticket buyers assign a user's name to each of their tickets when they are bought in advance cut down on buyers' ability to resell the tickets, as they're essentially having to ask the people who buy the scalped tickets to take the risk that the ticket-taker won't ask for ID or will let them in without it.

Universal Studios Hollywood is doing that with its date-specific advance sale tickets, making even the limited scenario in which people might scalp a daily general admission theme park ticket in the United States pretty much next to impossible.

Of course, plenty of theme park admission tickets are available in the resale market. But they almost always are being sold below face value. (Can we even call that "scalping," then?) Resellers do this because either, A) the tickets are fake, or B) they've written off any ability to use the ticket and simply are trying to recoup whatever value from it they can.

(By the way, as much as you might hope that the resold ticket you are looking at buying on Craigslist or eBay is from scenario B, the odds are that it's really from scenario A. Do really want to risk your money?)

The Shanghai Disneyland situation offers would-be scalpers more of an opportunity, however. All single-day tickets to the park are date-specific. The park has welcomed about a million visitors a month since its opening last year. And demand for Fastpass ride reservation tickets at some attractions far exceeds supply, with all Fastpasses assigned for rides such as Soarin' Over the Horizon distributed shortly after park opening. Shanghai Disneyland is using the old paper Fastpass system, which allows people to transfer Fastpasses to someone else without penalty to anyone.

That's all that some park visitors have needed. Adriel reports that resellers are asking for CNY100 for a pair of Fastpasses — that's about US$15.

To put that in perspective, the price of a one-day ticket to Shanghai Disneyland costs between US$54-73. If the cost of hypothetical scalped Fastpasses at Disneyland were the same, relative to the park's low-season one-day ticket price, those Fastpasses would cost about $27 in Anaheim. But if you make average monthly income in China versus the U.S. the standard for comparison, those CNY100 Fastpasses in Shanghai would be worth about $92 in the U.S., given the average US$754 monthly income in China, versus US$4648 in the U.S.

With Shanghai Disneyland selling a weekday seasonal pass for CNY925, 19 scalped individual Fastpasses pays for that pass, at the rate Adriel reports. If someone could sell multiple passes a day, to people who don't know how to use this unfamiliar system on their own, he could be money ahead relatively quickly. So the math works here.

How long will this last? It's a new phenomenon in its theme parks, so Disney might need time to find the most effective way to stop this. Disney could deploy more park security cast members to catch and ban people reselling tickets. It could tie Fastpasses to park admission media, a la Fastpass+ at Walt Disney World. It could try educating guests not to buy the scalped Fastpasses, as it has tried to do with other behaviors in the park.

Or, Disney could just cut out of the middleman and start selling Fastpasses itself. Concert promoters, sports teams and other entertainment businesses have found ways to sell tickets directly to people willing to pay above face value for hard-to-get admissions. Could scalping in Shanghai finally push Disney do the same with Fastpasses?

Replies (16)

February 19, 2017 at 9:00 PM · The Shanghai Disneyland Fastpasses must be fake since the scalpers must buy the admission ticket, stand in line to get them, and then resell them. Or buy them from other guests and resell them. Either way, it can't be easily done so they must counterfeit them. Just a guess.
February 19, 2017 at 9:36 PM · Anon, all they need to do to get the passes is have a ticket to get into the park and queue up for the fastest. You could theoretically do the same thing in DLR if you were so inclined.

I can understand it happening, since there's clearly a demand for some of these rides.

February 19, 2017 at 10:05 PM · Grant: Scalpers are selling a pair. Two Fastpasses means two admission tickets. They must get there early and consistently at the most popular rides.
February 19, 2017 at 10:17 PM · I don't know if these tickets are counterfeit or legit, but let's say they are fake, for the sake of an argument here. As soon as the customer gets to the entrance and discovers that, they're likely going to be upset - perhaps angry enough to come looking for the person who ripped them off, with Disney security in tow. Even if the scalper's gone by then, word will get around and the scalpers eventually will find it harder and harder to move product.

But if you sell legit tickets - which you got yourself or bought for cheaper from others - then you've got happy customers who aren't going to complain to Disney. And if you do get caught, you're not facing fraud charges for selling fake tickets on top of whatever scalping trouble you're facing. So selling legit Fastpasses seems to me a better strategy for anyone who's going to be doing this longer than for about one hour for one day... then running like heck for the exit.

February 19, 2017 at 10:37 PM · Disneyland Anaheim doesn't bar scan the Fastpasses. Does Shanghai Disneyland check the validity of Fastpasses? They should since they know scalping goes on.
February 20, 2017 at 3:14 AM · I was just about to post something about this... Having just returned from SDL, I can confirm it was pretty widespread. And not especially covert. (Uniformed security in the Shanghai park is on a level I've never seen in a theme park before, but I guess even they can't keep up. Or they're being 'encouraged' by the scalps to ignore what's going on, which wouldn't be unusual for China.)

I didn't personally check out what the scalps were offering, but to make it a financially viable gig for them, the tickets offered have got to be fake. To enter a FastPass queue in Shanghai, unlike other Disney parks you have to show both your FastPass ticket and a physical admission ticket for the park. The cast members were rigorously checking that the guest ID numbers on both tickets matched before letting people join the queue.

(Even if you had purchased an e-ticket, as I had, you were handed a physical ticket at the gate to use specifically for the purpose of using FastPass.)

So without the touts also handing over an admission ticket for the park - thus preventing them from getting further legit FPs - any FPs sold would be useless. Perhaps they were doing this, simply as a one-shot sale. But I imagine the more profitable business strategy would be to sell a raft of single FastPasses without admission tickets to a number of naive customers. (Or yeah, just skip the whole process and print a bunch of fakes from the get-go.)

I was planning to put some longer thoughts together in a discussion piece, but while I'm here... this wasn't the only outside activity going on in the park either. There were regular folks selling ponchos in the queue for Roaring Rapids, and knock-off Minnie ears being flogged all around the park. (I also found someone with their hand in my bag on two separate occasions... Not that there was anything in there except a poncho and some snacks, mind.)

I don't know whether Disney simply isn't aware of this, or they can't keep up with the scale of the racket, or the security staff were in collusion with these people. But I saw lots of people buying this stuff - so while it remains profitable, I think Disney's going to have a hard job kicking it. It's also much more part of the culture in China, whereas it'd likely be reported or laughed at in the other parks.

February 20, 2017 at 7:30 AM · At WDW my wife and I use the kid-swap option on rides because our 3-year-old isn't able to ride the big boy stuff yet. Sometimes we don't get to use the ticket they give us that expires within 30 days. They are good for 3 people on the one return ticket, so typically we will just wait at the standby line, find a party of 3 and give it to them. The thought never even crosses our mind to sell it to someone. I really hate people like these scalper that ruin things for others.
February 20, 2017 at 7:40 AM · Gotta' love that sign! Disney said, "Should nature call when you are in the queue, please get a 'return card' from a Cast Member before going to the toilet. There's always a toilet nearby." Disney meant, "Please don't poop in the flower beds."

There is a third possibility in regards to the "counterfeit" fastpasses. Not only are these fastpasses legitimate, but the chain of corruption extends further up the Disney Shanghai managerial ranks. Highly doubtful that these scalpers are working for themselves. Shanghai Disneyland will continue to lose money for many decades. Why does Iger still have a job?

February 20, 2017 at 11:40 AM · This is just people capitalizing on a gap in a market. Disney should take note and do a better job maximizing income by selling fastpasses themselves.

I think some form of pay-to-ride will eventually come to Disney whether people like it or not (in addition to the current "VIP tours"). Disney is wise to ease into it and feign reluctance so as not to upset and lose their core base.

February 20, 2017 at 12:03 PM · Unfortunately, I have to confirm that these Fastpass tickets are not fake. Based upon multiple observations, I have seen these Fastpass tickets scanned, matched with the park tickets, and they're let through.

How do these scalpers do it, then?

In December 2016, Shanghai Disneyland applied a system in which Cast Members are required to match the numbers written on the Fastpass tickets with the numbers on the visitors’ park admission tickets. Only those with matching numbers will get through.

Since January 2017, however, the scalpers have been using “Escort Service,” in which each transaction requires the buyers to purchase Fastpass tickets for their parties plus one (+ 1) for the escort.

For example, if a group of three (3) people want to experience an attraction, the scenario goes down like this:
1) Buyers negotiate price with a scalper and come into agreement.
2) Buyers pay agreed price to the scalper.
3 ) Scalper tells buyers to wait and calls // writes to his group requesting for four (4) Fastpass tickets for specific return time for the requested attraction. If the scalper already possesses his/her own Fastpass tickets, then he/she will request the needed amount minus the tickets he/she owns.
4) Other scalpers arrive at the requested attraction with their Fastpass tickets and park tickets in hand, ready for use for the requested return time.
5) One of the scalpers is then designated as the escort for the buyers.
6) The escort brings a total of four (4) Fastpass tickets and four (4) park tickets, each pair has a matching number, then distributes them to the buyers: three (3) sets for the buyers, one (1) for the escort him-/herself.
7) The escort brings tickets to the Cast Members at the Fastpass line for matching check.
8) The buyers experience the attraction with the escort.
9) The buyers return the park tickets to the escort, who then returns them to the original owners (the other scalpers).

Unfortunately, there is nothing the Cast Members can do because this is legal: the numbers on both the Fastpass tickets and the park tickets match. They do not have any grounds to accuse the visitors of scalping tickets (despite being too obvious sometimes).

February 20, 2017 at 1:22 PM · I was thinking this would likely need to be a group effort, as one individual would only be able to collect a couple Fastpasses per day and couldn't get overlapping times. Sounds like I was on the right track, though I had no idea there were so many. I'm not sure what the laws in China are, but my guess is that unless security caught the scalpers while the transaction was actually taking place it would be impossible to do anything. Given the difficulty of doing that, I wouldn't be surprised if Disney is choosing not to fight this and instead is focusing their efforts on creating a scalper-proof Fastpass system.
February 20, 2017 at 5:46 PM · I am starting to think that there is a huge cultural issue that Disney has not comprehended when building this park.

If you have to create signs telling people not to pee on the sidewalk, something is up!

February 21, 2017 at 8:21 AM · Before opening the Paris park, Disney failed to do basic research regarding European vacation habits. It's incredible that Disney has repeated the same basic mistake again in both Hong Kong and Shanghai.

Apparently, "three strikes, you're out" does not apply to current Disney executives. The problem is that Disney has been run by TV executives since 1984. They know how to sell a good line of bull, but they are careless with the little details that used to make the Disney parks such a magical experience.

February 21, 2017 at 8:55 AM · "I have seen these Fastpass tickets scanned, matched with the park tickets, and they're let through."

Is each Fastpass actually scanned? Just checking. Not every poster said they are scanned. Some are just saying the park tickets are matched with the Fastpass. If they are merely matching, then the Fastpass can be counterfeited with the admission ticket of the scalpers. I find it a wonderful coincidence that the scalpers can manage to get a precise number of Fastpasses at the same time window. Almost too perfect.

February 21, 2017 at 10:24 AM · The assumption that any ticket being sold on eBay is a fraud has gone on long enough; it is obnoxious. While Craigslist offers no more security than any other classified ad, eBay has a very effective rating and review system for both buyers and sellers. While I have never sold theme park tickets anywhere, I have sold many hockey tickets on eBay. I have spent a lot of time and effort to achieve and maintain my 100% positive rating. Almost every problem that has arisen has been the buyer's fault, and the one time I blew it, it was resolved to the buyer's satisfaction. Would I risk buying from someone with no track record? No. But if someone has several sells with positive feedback, it is offensive to assume that person is a thief.
February 21, 2017 at 7:14 PM · what gets me mad, is that you say they are selling weekday annual passes for only around 170 dollars us

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