Disney Moves to Seasonal Pricing for Theme Park Tickets

February 27, 2016, 1:21 PM · Walt Disney World and Disneyland made official this morning that their theme parks will start charging different prices for admission on different days of the year, starting tomorrow. The new seasonal pricing plan will create three pricing tiers for one-day theme park tickets: value, regular, and peak days. Disney will use its crowd calendars to assign days into one of the three price tiers, and single-day tickets now will be assigned to a specific day of use.

The upside is that the new plan will allow visitors who have the flexibility to visit on less crowded days to enjoy a lower-than-usual price for a single day's visit, as well as the smaller crowds in the park found on such days. The downside is that families with children in school likely will find it even more expensive to visit a Disney theme park, as many school vacation days likely will end up in the peak days tier.

Of course, most visitors — especially to the Walt Disney World Resort — visit using multi-day tickets. Those tickets will not vary by tier but the prices on them will go up across the board tomorrow, as well.

One day, one-park tickets at Walt Disney World will cost $124 for peak days at the Magic Kingdom and $114 at Epcot, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios. Regular days will cost $110 at the MK and $102 at the other parks. Prices for the value days will remain what they are now — $105 for the Magic Kingdom and $97 for the other three WDW parks.

One day, one-park tickets to Disneyland and Disney California Adventure will cost $119 for peak days, $105 for regular days, and $95 for value days. Those tickets currently cost $99 on all days of the year. There will be 83 value days remaining in 2016 — all weekdays during the school year. And there will be 83 more peak days — during spring break, summer weekends and the holiday season in December.

Earlier this month, Universal Studios Hollywood adopted a dynamic discount system for one-day tickets bought in advance via the park's website. Universal kept the gate price of daily tickets the same for every day, but offers varying discounts based on the date you commit to visit.

The point of these variable, seasonal, dynamic pricing systems (whatever you wish to call them), is to provide another incentive for people to move their visits from busy days to less-busy ones. That allows the parks to better distribute their capital resources, as they no longer have to build excess capacity for peak periods that sits unused during less busy times.

In addition, peak pricing allows the parks to be more aggressive about admission increases, as these systems allow the park to avoid raising the price on less popular days, when people might not be inclined to visit at the higher prices.

Today's move leaves Universal Orlando's theme parks as the only ones among the nine most popular theme parks in the United States not to have some dynamic pricing system for its theme park tickets. Earlier this month, Universal Orlando raised prices for its one-day and multi-day tickets, beating Disney to what's become the annual late-winter price increases for tickets at major theme parks.

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Replies (29)

February 27, 2016 at 1:31 PM · Oh boy, here comes the backlash...(ducks under table)
February 27, 2016 at 1:48 PM · Oh Oh spadoodios.
February 27, 2016 at 2:00 PM · For consumers, there is no upside to this new plan. Slow day prices aren't being cut, just remaining steady, but for how long? Six months? One year? Such a great value at a time when many of the park's best attractions are closed.

Disney - every year the price goes up and the value goes down. How long until Iger and company kill the goodwill that Walt built?

February 27, 2016 at 2:21 PM · Pricing has gotten absurd at all the theme parks. Every year worse than the year before for admission, parking, food, gifts, hotels, everything, especially with no recent updates or added attractions at most Disney parks.
They are gonna shoot themselves in the foot pretty soon. You can only squeeze people so much before they have nothing left to give.
Average peoples wages haven't gone up in over 20 years in this country as a whole and with inflation, actual earnings are lower than they have been in eons.
Glad my kids are all grown. I/we couldn't afford to go there these days.
As Florida residents, we went to Orlando on average twice a year for 15 years+/- and visited all the parks (large and small) and even flew out to Anaheim once to visit the parks in California.

Probably never again.

February 27, 2016 at 2:39 PM · Really doesn't mean too much because it's just one day tickets at this point in time. Now, if & when, they extend that policy to multi day tickets it could get real confusing, or expensive, since most vacations embrace a couple of different crowd level days. Wake me if/when that happens.
February 27, 2016 at 4:25 PM · Count me skeptical of how much this will redistribute crowds at the Walt Disney World Resort, given the high number of visitors on multi-day tickets. For the most part, this just seems like an attempt to discourage further the sale of what few single-day tickets the resort now sells on busy days. (Or to cash in even more on visitors inflexible or desperate enough to buy those tickets.)

At Disneyland, however, I think this has the potential to move crowd levels, given the relatively higher number of locals visiting on one-day tickets. But the recent AP changes probably will do more to shift crowd levels at the DLR.

February 27, 2016 at 4:33 PM · Multi-day tickets will stop this from making a difference at Walt Disney World, and annual pass payment plans will stop it from making a difference at Disneyland.

Pure and simple: Walt Disney World parks need more to do, and Disneyland needs to eliminate annual pass monthly payment plans. Period. It has to happen before Star Wars. Disneyland should have one annual pass tier priced at the Signature price point, no monthly payments. That's the only thing that'll slow Disneyland down to a reasonable place.

February 27, 2016 at 5:38 PM · I work in elementary education, and would absolutely encourage families of elementary school children to vacation during the school year. It's not high school or college; they aren't doing anything that can't be made up with advance notice to the teachers. I see a lot of parents who treat their (young) child's education with the seriousness of the Marshall Plan, and it's not necessary.
February 27, 2016 at 5:43 PM · Yes. The problem of over crowding happened when they went to monthly payments. I've been going to Disneyland before and after they instituted the payment plan. It made a BIG difference. Now it's out of control and Disney is trying to figure out how to control the crowds. Raising prices didn't work, people keep coming. But the monthly payment people bring in too much revenue, and they're hesitant to give that up. They dug a hole for themselves......
February 27, 2016 at 5:55 PM · What they really need to do is stop the monthly payment plans on annual passes. That's the number one reason for overcrowding, at least at DLR.
At WDW, they could stop trying so hard to get tour groups, cheerleaders and other such groups known for their loud and obnoxious behavior. That's if they had any consideration for their other guests.
February 27, 2016 at 5:55 PM · In Florida, this isn't going to do anything. Very few people purchase one-day tickets at Walt Disney World, and those that do so are likely going to do so anyway.

In California, however, I think this may have an impact. While a lot of Disneyland visitors are either locals with APs or tourists visiting on multi-day tickets, there is still a sizable population that purchases one-day tickets. These may be people visiting with resident relatives who have APs, people who are visiting So Cal and just want to check out Disneyland for a day, or even just locals who only visit the park once or twice a year. For those that have flexibility, I think a $10-25 discount may be enough to persuade them to change the time of their visit. Low crowd days will probably get busier, and busy days will probably get a little more reasonable.

Note, however, that this will not reduce overall crowds or make major changes. In order to do that, Disneyland needs to completely revise their AP system. Personally, I'd like to see one of the following two alternatives put in place:

1. Keep AP levels as is, but significantly modify the payment plan. Instead of 12 payments, go with a 3 to 6 payment setup. Additionally, add an interest fee or similar to the payment plan to discourage people from using it.

2. Keep the Signature Plus AP, but get rid of all the other options. Instead of lower level APs, offer tickets with a set number of visits that can be used anytime in a 12 month period. Something like 5 visits for $300, 10 for $500, or 20 for $800 (with a flat $50-100 upcharge to enable park hopping on visits) would probably prove very popular. A payment plan could be offered for these tickets, but you would only be eligible to use the visits you have credit for. For example, if you bought a ten visit ticket and had only paid off $300 worth of it, you would be suspended after 6 visits until more payments were made.

The variable pricing strategy Disney is switching to is not a bad idea, but I think more needs to be done before significant change can occur. I've got a feeling this will be coming over the next few years as it will be impossible to handle the Star Wars crowds on top of what is already present.

February 27, 2016 at 6:09 PM · This will make little difference because few people buy single day tickets. One thing that I think would help at Disneyland is switching passes to a seasonal basis. Have 3 seasons, each season the same price, but vary in length. Spring season passes would be from January 4th through May, Summer Season June through August, and Fall September through December. This would make people choose a season, and most will pick the off season because it's the best value, and Take the ease off Summer and especially Christmas. Whatever they do, they need to go back to the drawing board becausethis change will do nothing.
February 27, 2016 at 8:12 PM · What I find interesting is that the company is exploring dynamic pricing structures -- something they can tweak at will to ensure their gate.
February 27, 2016 at 10:13 PM · Anyone who thought that Disney would actually lower the ticket price during the slower periods was a fool. It was obvious that prices would only go up, not down.

This should educate all that successful businesses are not going to lower the price on something they already have no problems selling at a higher price.

February 27, 2016 at 11:24 PM · When I was a kid my parents took me out of school for my birthday or Christmas visits to Disneyland or Knott's Berry Farm so we could go on the less crowded days. I can see this type of pricing plan affecting DLR more then WDW with the crowds evening out and we tend to visit during the week on our Annual Passes so we will probably see larger crowds during the week.
February 27, 2016 at 11:38 PM · Rounding off, there's a $20 difference between Peak and Value pricing. This adds a lot of money to the bill of a typical family. The tweaking around the margins of what guests pay makes it a very hard decision for people to consider going. Most visitors find it more economical to purchase a multi-day and multi-park pass. Since changing to dynamic pricing, the prices of all passes will goes up. I wonder if this means they will sell a 4 day weekday pass that blocks off Friday thru Sunday. They will sell an any day pass that includes Friday thru Saturday and costs 20% more. Just the thing to make me feels like the guy who got laid off and replaced by foreign workers. What happened to my Disney?
February 28, 2016 at 4:59 AM · It saddens me to hear that anyone thinks it's okay to take a child out of school to go to a theme park.
February 28, 2016 at 5:28 AM · This will do nothing in Florida, and almost nothing in SoCal to stop the parks from bursting at the seams. It's just a PR cover for raising the single-day ticket price over $100.

I like the idea mentioned of interest on monthly payment APs.

February 28, 2016 at 6:22 AM · Overcrowding? A better solution is to have more space, more lands, more things to do. If they have ever growing crowds, then they need ever growing things to do. I never recommend people go during the peak seasons. Take the young kids out of school and enjoy a week. I do NOT see any serious advantage for the guests. No prices are being held low. It's another way to rake in more dollars.

There has been a lot of construction in the various parks. Sounds good, but that construction isn't adding anything. It's changing the old for new (which is good), but it might be better if they added new stuff. Maybe it's time for another WDW theme park.

February 28, 2016 at 8:34 AM · Mr. Niles writes: "Count me skeptical of how much this will redistribute crowds at the Walt Disney World Resort, given the high number of visitors on multi-day tickets."

I Respond: I concur. Especially considering that such a sizable percentage of these visitors are actually vacationers and not locals (see DLR).

February 28, 2016 at 8:36 AM · Mr. Brungot writes: "Overcrowding? A better solution is to have more space, more lands, more things to do."

I Respond: I totally agree! Thankfully Disney is doing exactly that: Reworking the hardscape at the Magic Kingdom's Hub. Adding Pandora to DAK. Adding Toy Story and Star Wars to DHS. Dramatically expanding Disney Springs. Re-working the road sustems in LBV and throughout the property.

February 28, 2016 at 5:13 PM · I find it hilarious when people get angry about the price hikes, like it's not a for-profit business. The demand just keeps going higher and higher, so, guess what, the price will too! Does it suck for us, the consumer? Yup. Is it going to change? Not unless people stop going, and they haven't even plateaued yet, let alone gone downhill.
February 29, 2016 at 1:58 AM · @ It's not just price hikes that people are getting upset about. It's the lack of investment and continual cuts as well. All while the parks are doing record numbers, I'd hate to think how Disney would respond in another economic crisis.

The one day ticket price won't make any difference in Orlando. There it's just getting people used to the idea before they spring tiered multi-day tickets on us next year.

February 29, 2016 at 9:12 AM · Hey Shanghai isn't going to pay for itself. Disney has to go after revenue somehow or someway.

This ticket change does affect how I visit the parks. Previously I would purchase a non-expiring 7 day parkhopper to use over the course of seven years. The reason for this is that I usually only visit the Disney parks one day for the year in October (weird I know, but hey). Once my last non-expiring ticket has been used I'm not sure how I'm going to proceed. I don't want to purchase a multi-day ticket because I only have to time to visit for one day. Plus adding on a parkhopper option will only make it more expensive than purchasing a one day ticket with parkhopper. I do realize that when it comes to guests that visit the parks I am in an extreme minority with my method of visiting them and the revenue I'm contributing for my one day visit doesn't really matter to Disney nor will they miss me if I don't visit. It is frustrating though that guests are being limited based on cost with how they would prefer to visit the parks.

February 29, 2016 at 9:24 AM · "the revenue I'm contributing for my one day visit doesn't really matter to Disney nor will they miss me if I don't visit"

On the contrary, Disney decided that your contribution is exactly the one day price. Previously, you gotten away with paying less with the non-expiring park hopper pass.

"guests are being limited based on cost with how they would prefer to visit the parks"

You're only limited if you refuse to pay.

It is certainly very expensive to go for one day so their ticket policy is designed to get you to go more. Therefore, you should make a decision to pay their price or make adjustments to go more times in a trip. Going once a year for one day, as your preferred routine, just won't be suitable for most people.

February 29, 2016 at 11:51 AM · Disney is in a no win situation here and really didn't go far enough to fix the problem. Yes Disney is going to make they more money, but the parks are overcrowded and in turn degrading the guest experience. Disney had 2 choices to reduce the number of people in the parks. Put a cap on the number of people allowed in the parks, which is a poor solution. Imagine planning your vacation to Disney, only to find that when you got to the park it was closed due to capacity. The other option is to raise the price during peak times to deter people from coming to the park during those times yet still allowing the free flow of people in to the parks. Disney went with the only option they could, so as much as everyone wants to call Disney greedy, this was their only option to reduce the number of people in the parks.
February 29, 2016 at 12:19 PM · "Hey Shanghai isn't going to pay for itself."
If that's true, then Disney needs to stop building overseas. Shanghai is near a big population center, and it is definitely supposed to pay for itself and be profitable. What's the point of building overseas if they all need to be subsidized by the company's stateside businesses?

"It saddens me to hear that anyone thinks it's okay to take a child out of school to go to a theme park."

Couldn't agree more. On another site, parents were trying to justify this behavior by claiming that theme parks are educational. Hilarious. More educational than the classes that they are missing?

February 29, 2016 at 1:03 PM · "their only option to reduce the number of people in the parks.

No, that's not their only option for this option to raise prices won't reduce crowds. They will increase revenue and use that money to expand the parks. Increase park capacity and allow even more people in and getting more profits.

March 1, 2016 at 1:41 AM · @ Or they could have invested in some new attractions over the years. How about opening some they've already closed? e.g Future World is a damning indictment of the Disney's current management.

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