The economics of how Disney got from E tickets to paid Fastpasses

January 10, 2018, 12:42 PM · Walt Disney World has made yet another tweak to its Fastpass+ ride reservation system. This one affects only the highest-spending Disney World guests, however.

Guests staying in club-level rooms at Deluxe-level Disney resorts will be able to book three additional Fastpass+ reservations in advance of their day in the park, starting this weekend, for a $50 upcharge. These are not "golden Fastpasses" that can be used at any attraction without an advance reservation. They're just three additional Fastpass+ reservation opportunities, but they also come with preferred seating at the park's nighttime shows such as Fantasmic! as a bonus. Eligible guests must already have bought multi-day theme park tickets (of at least three days) to add this upcharge benefit.

Disney has offered extra Fastpasses to select guests at Disneyland Resort hotels in the past, but this is the first expansion of Fastpass+ opportunities to Walt Disney World hotel guests that I can recall. (Correct me in the comments if I'm wrong. You're usually very good at that!) But it's hardly the first opportunity that Disney has provided its hotel guests to get extra access to Disney World attractions.

Disney offers Extra Magic Hours access to select park attractions to its hotel guests. And on-site hotel guests get a 30-day head start on booking Fastpass+ reservations — with booking starting 60 days out from their park visit instead of the 30-day advance booking open to everyone else.

The $50 price is the closest that Disney has come to putting a specific monetary price in its US theme parks for its Fastpass reservations, which are offered free of charge to guests but that have definite, real value to them. (Disney offers a paid-Fastpass "Disney Premier Access" program at Shanghai Disneyland. And see the comments for how this relates to Maxpass at Disneyland.)

Of course... once upon a time, all Disney theme park rides had an assigned monetary value — back when Disney required A-E tickets to enter an attraction. Guests paid one (relatively low) price just to enter the park, then bought tickets for each ride or show they wished to experience. "A" tickets were the cheapest — for things such as the Main Street Vehicles — while B, C, D, and ultimately, E tickets got you into better, or at least more popular, attractions... but each class of ticket cost a bit as you moved up the scale.

The system effectively managed crowd levels and wait times around the park, as most people bought ticket books with a set number of tickets from each level. When your D and E tickets were out, you could buy more of those tickets... or you could just schlep over to the less-popular rides and burn off your remaining A through C tickets. Since people are often inherently cheap, that system helped redistribute guests from the "best" rides to ones with shorter queues, evening out wait times overall.

But a lot of people ended up with A and B tickets they never used, and no one likes feeling nickel-and-dimed in the park by having to buy extra tickets to get on the good stuff. So, eventually, Disney followed Six Flags' lead (who had today in the pool for the date that sentence first appeared on the site?) and converted Disneyland and Walt Disney World tickets into one-price-gets-you-on-everything "passports."

That system changed the economics of visiting a Disney theme park. Before, if you wanted to experience more at Disneyland or Disney World, you had to pay more. Now, you didn't. Ultimately, this was the change that allowed the price of Disney theme park tickets to escalate so quickly.

People who were able and willing to learn how to maximize the number of rides they could get on in a day were getting more value from their tickets — in some cases, a lot more value. As knowledge how to get more from a day at Disney spread, thanks to guidebooks and the Internet (um, guilty as charged?), Disney found that it could raise prices much higher than the general inflation rate and still not capture all the extra value that people were finding from their Disney theme park tickets. Attendance soared even as prices went up.

But the loss of the A-E ticket system cost Disney its best tool for distributing crowds through the parks. With one-price-for-all, guests were filling queues for the top rides, while other queues emptied. In an effort to alleviate long wait times and encourage people to visit less-popular attractions, Disney introduced its Fastpass system in 1999.

As one-day ticket prices approached and then surpassed the $100 mark, Disney started looking for other ways to get money from guests who had the means and willingness to pay, beyond raising baseline tickets prices for everyone. That's why we have so many upcharge dessert parties, special hard-ticket events, seasonal variation for one-day tickets, an increasing number of price points for hotel rooms... and now, paid extra Fastpasses, too.

The irony? Theme park fans now face a far more complex array of options and prices for a Disney theme park visit than the old A-E ticket system... which Disney eliminated in part because visitors found it too much of a hassle. Be careful what you wish for.

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Replies (26)

January 10, 2018 at 12:55 PM · "The $50 price is the closest that Disney has come to putting a specific monetary price in its US theme parks for its Fastpass reservations, which are offered free of charge to guests but that have definite, real value to them." Are you ignoring the paid option for Maxpass at Disneyland Resort?
January 10, 2018 at 1:12 PM · Is it $50 per person or $50 per everyone in the club level $500 per night room?
January 10, 2018 at 1:19 PM · Strong point on Maxpass, but the price point for that came in under the old price for the one-day PhotoPass, which is included with Maxpass. And Maxpass includes an online management component which was not available for Disneyland Fastpasses, before, so this new upcharge is closer to a straight-up price on just a Fastpass than Maxpass was, IMHO.

Only the addition of the preferred seating for the night shows keeps this upcharge from being a straight-up price for a Fastpass.

January 10, 2018 at 1:20 PM · Tony,

I believe that it is $50 per person.

January 10, 2018 at 1:30 PM · Robert, what a way to turn a $500 per night room into a $700 per night room.
January 10, 2018 at 1:35 PM · Robert, what a way to turn a $500 per night room into a $700 per night room.
January 10, 2018 at 1:37 PM · A bit disappointing. I've never liked the idea of paid queue jumping, and always thought of the original fast pass as the most equitable way of people having shorter queues. The new system, although flawed, was still equitable but had an advantage for people staying on site.

This is now going down the Universal path of those with money having a distinct advantage in making those without wait longer in queues. I guess it was inevitable, but still disappointing.

January 10, 2018 at 1:54 PM · Luckily, Disney World fails to have sufficient E-Ticket attractions in each park. Only the Magic Kingdom requires addition Fastpass if you wish to visit the top attractions in one day. Otherwise, it might be smart to spread your FP over several days at MK. This is more about convenience for their top customers who have no problem paying the toll. Good for them.
January 10, 2018 at 2:23 PM · This is really expensive. Deluxe Resort rooms are already quite pricey (typically over $300/night), and then when you add the costs to be on the club level, your talking over $600/night. Now Disney want to charge these guests another $50/day just to book some extra FP+ reservations????

I guess it doesn't affect me, because I would never spend that much on a room (and then pay even more to skip a few lines), so I guess if Disney wants to fleece the 1-percenters out there, then I suppose they're free to do so.

January 10, 2018 at 2:30 PM · I know a lot of people find it unfair but I just wished Disney would copy Universal and offer proper real paid fast passes. I don't want to plan my theme park visit 2 months in advance. This is one of the main reasons we avoid Disney like the plague. I don't find it enjoyable planning everything out to the last minute. I just want to pay and enjoy my day.

I am by no means "rich" but I personally find express passes the best thing and great value no matter the cost. I save up throughout the year to afford my trips to Universal so when it comes to paying higher ticket costs I really don't care.

January 10, 2018 at 2:56 PM · I feel like “optimal Disney” was achieved in the beginning of that short window of time where unlimited passes and tickets co-existed. I recall being able to structure days where we’d walk right on e-ticket attractions in the afternoon, after the ticket users had depleted their e-tickets. Wearing a Pass tag was the only potential downside and we kids just thought it made us cooler.

Also, it made it easier to get someone’s parent or grandparent to drive us, since they could get a relatively cheap ticket book and still accompany us into the park.

January 10, 2018 at 5:33 PM · Getting closer, but three additional passes are not enough. I have said for years that, as an annual passholder, I would gladly pay double for the year if I could get unlimited access to the fastpass lines all year. Fastpass has singlehandledly increased wait times across the board (except for the few rides for which you actual get a fastpass). The days of riding every ride in one day disappeared with the advent of fastpass.

Also, as with most things Disney does, this doesn't really do anything for annual passholders, the most loyal Disney fans, because a large percentage only drive in for the day and don't get a hotel, certainly not Deluxe club level.

January 10, 2018 at 7:56 PM · The current system in Orlando is completely broken, and I am not sure they can fix it at this point. One huge issue is having FP+ on everything, even attractions that did not have the old fast pass system previously, like Spaceship Earth, Haunted Mansion, Pirates, and other attractions that were fast loaders. See, they can run many guests through per hour, but stopping the line to accommodate FP+ just slows the whole thing down. If they have nothing but standby on those, more people could experience it during the day. Allow FP+ for the preferred seating events and the high demand attractions like Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Space Mountain.

Disney could never have the system that Universal does due to the greater number of guests that Disney has over Universal. Also, Universal's Express Pass is basically the cost of a Disney Moderate resort. This new additional three fast pass? It is at least triple the per day cost of Universal. At least. And that is just for three additional fast passes. One poster said this is why they avoid Disney like the plague, and, while I love Disney, I completely understand this sentiment. WDW is simply a huge hassle compared to what it was ten years ago. Sure they are upgrading the parks, but so what if all you can experience is six or seven attractions per day.

January 10, 2018 at 10:04 PM · The balance of price is ridiculous between Disney and Universal. As many said before paying club level on a delux resort and 50 per person to top it off equals 800 bucks per night for a family of four to just get three extra fat passes. You could stay at a Universal Delux resort for 300 or less and get unlimited fast pass. You might as well stay at a Universal Delux property and go for a few days to Disney using Uber. I am a Universal fan and people might think I'm one sided but this is just simple math. You can get two to three days at Universal than at Disney for a somewhat equal resort stay. I love the kinds of things Disney is doing with Toy Story, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Star Wars but the kinds of quality that I want is too expensive at Disney. I'd rather be relaxed at Universal for my vacation and maybe go to one or two Disney parks to suffer to wait in long lines at new attractions. Staying at Universal will double or triple my length of stay in a problem free philosophy Hakuna Matata.
January 10, 2018 at 10:57 PM · Disney World really is an inelastic product for lots and lots of people all over the world. People will kick and scream and write angry comments on the internet about prices, over crowding, corporate greed etc, but they will still go. They have two options. 1: pay lots of money and go, or 2: don't go.
So think about this, is the fact that club level people are allowed to spend more to buy a few extra fastpasses (about $400 upsell for a family of four for one day) going to keep you from going to see Avatar, Star Wars Land, Guardians, Tron, etc? Probably not. Bob Iger is not an idiot he knew what he was doing when he shelled out $4 bil for lucasfilm, he didn't do that on a whim, there was a strategy there. So to people who kick, scream, and write angry comments on the internet they can do that all they want it won't make any difference lol. If it becomes too much of a hassle the only statement people can really make is to stop going en masse, and that will never happen (especially with so many new attractions down the pike). So spread your legs and STFU (i'm saying this facetiously of course).

I know that may have seemed a bit harsh but its true. Disney is a publicly traded company and the people running these places are always going to be pressured to increase profits year after year, so the fact that they keep adding upsells does not surprise me. I would never pay that kind of money for just 3 Fastpasses and a reserved seat at a show i'm going to watch anyway, but I acknowledge there are lots of people out there that will.

However I absolutely agree with the poster that the parks do not have enough attraction capacity for the amount of issues Fastpass creates. What they did to Dumbo/Soarin/TSM was necessary and they really should look at adding tracks to rides like Peter Pan, Winnie the Pooh, etc as well. It would take time and cost money but the parks are so crowded every day it would be worth it (it really shouldn't be OK for a crappy ride like Peter Pan to have 90+ minutes waits every day).

I had the misfortune of being at MK about a month ago when Thunder and Seven Dwarfs went down at the same time so all of those people with Fastpass for those attractions annihilated the Space Mountain Fastpass. If you think about it (and this is based off pure observation and no scientific research at all) Thunder probably gives out 1000+ FP per hour and Seven Dwarfs maybe 500. Needless to say the line for Space Mountain fastpass ended at the Astro Orbitor and that was with the switchback inside being used. I had a FP for Thunder at the time and wanted to use it on something else but the person I was with really wanted to ride Space, so I ended up in that FP line and timed it. It was about 35 minutes and that was basically like 95% FP to 5% standby. Now the circumstances leading up to that were obviously not normal but still when things go wrong FP can really muck things up. But also when you have 50,000+ people in a theme park its going to be a disaster crowd control wise any way the crowd is managed.

January 11, 2018 at 7:14 AM · What it comes down to for 99.9 percent of the population on our vacations are time and money. Like many have stated before including Robert. Where you have two theme corporations Disney and Universal putting out theme parks, resorts, shopping, and entertainment venues that are essentially even in quality, this time and money play a big factor. I could spend a lot longer at Universal than at Disney with a simular outcome. Now I could stay at a good neighbor resort at Disney and pay a lot less and get offered a lot less but that's comparing apples to oranges. I would never pay 600 to 800 dollars a night at any resort but in comparing that to a deluxe stay at Disney with more fast passes to a deluxe stay at Universal with unlimited express pass, you do to make the two corporations somewhat equal. I get more bang for the buck staying at Universal. I could stay at a Moderate hotel at Disney and pay less than than 300 but I would lose to much. I would not have easy access to the parks, fewer fast passes, and longer waits for everything, all of that means my family has less time. Where I could stay at Universal deluxe resort for the same price where I have easy acces and multiple means of transportation, unlimited express pass, and no to a small wait in line equals out to a better time spent for my family for equal money.
January 11, 2018 at 7:32 AM · I haven't been to DW for about 4 or 5 years. The last time I went there was still the old paper FP that you could get. My family would go on a ride I hated like Small World and I would run to splash mountain get a FP and meet them when they got off.
This worked well as we got to the park early and would be able to get an additional FP when the time passed on the one we held. We would wait on the standby lines (which were short as it was still early) and then use our FP in the afternoon when it got crowded.

The idea of waiting 90 minutes to go on Snow White it just mind boggling. Even though I would like to go back to DW after they finish all their construction, I will not if lines like this are the standard. I can't understand why anyone would.

January 11, 2018 at 8:07 AM · Even though we are staying club level at the Yacht Club next month, we will not be taking advantage of this program. That's an insane amount of money for a modest privilege. For the up-charge that Disney asks for in a club level room, those passes should be included.
January 11, 2018 at 9:13 AM · I wholeheartedly endorse paying a premium price for a premium product but the sad reality is that Disney only care about one thing these days.....exploiting the paying public every conceivable way possible. This will only be reassessed, not stopped, if there is a seismic downturn in attendance.
January 11, 2018 at 9:40 AM · "This will only be reassessed, not stopped, if there is a seismic downturn in attendance."

And see, that's the thing. This move is explicitly aimed to not affect overall attendance. This upcharge is for the richest of the rich (those who pay 2-3x above standard Deluxe Resort rates to stay on the Club/Concierge levels of those resorts), which appears to be a theme with WDW these days at trying to get even more money out of the biggest spenders. We're probably talking about <0.1% of the guests at WDW at any given time that will even have access to this benefit, and who knows how many will even bite at this upcharge, so the overall affect on attendance, FP+ availability, and wait times should be minimal.

However, the real question is where is this going? Disney is famous for testing systems at the smallest scale before rolling them out wide. Will an upcharge available to a very small segment of the resort population be eventually rolled out to every on-site guest? Will the amount of the upcharge stay the same, or be variable depending upon how much you're paying for your room (or DVC status)? Will the upcharge system eventually replace the free FP+ reservations that guests currently have access to? It's tough to predict what Disney will do all the time, but this looks very much like a test, and a potential transition away from free FP+ access a few years down the road.

January 11, 2018 at 11:25 AM · Russell, it is the whole Disney upcharge epidemic I am appalled by not simply what they are doing in this article. The future for WDW is so crystal clear. Everything, and I mean everything, will have a tiered price structure dependant on what time of the year you go, what tickets you have, what day, what time and what you want to do. And, unfortunately, people will continue to pay it, moan, revisit, pay even more, moan even louder, be exploited even more, revisit, pay even more, moan even louder ad infinitum. Time for a revolt!
January 11, 2018 at 12:17 PM · Good luck with that ProfPlum. Don't forget that a big chunk of those perpetual returning visitors have ownership in DVC, and not visiting on a regular basis would be wasting their already significant investment.

I'm with you about the upcharges, but I personally return on a regular basis because I know I can extract a commensurate value for the price of a WDW vacation. When I can no longer do that, I will find other places to spend my money. It's those that are "pot committed" (to borrow a poker term) to WDW through DVC that are really stuck. They paid tens of thousands of dollars, and pay even more in annual fees to visit WDW and its limited sister properties around the world. Disney can nickel and dime those guests for the next 40-50 years (typical terms for DVC ownership), and they either pay it or try to find someone to buy their points before they expire.

Actually, what I ultimately see happening are moves by Disney to make staying off-site (and/or without DVC) so cost prohibitive that the only people in the parks are either AP holders, DVC owners, and on-site guests. Maybe that's the solution to the unwieldy crowds and FP+ nightmares.

January 11, 2018 at 12:41 PM · Russell, agree 100%. I nearly put it in the above. I do think the next step is for off-site guests to pay more than on-site and have less "privileges". I think you are also correct in DVC guests having enhanced treatment, which I can fully understand, as we would have to sell our grandkids to afford one of those packages. May have to also include the wife!
January 11, 2018 at 1:08 PM · I may be 100% wrong, but I see Maxpass and these new bonus Fastpasses as the first steps toward the elimination of the free Fastpass system. Fastpass worked well with the crowd levels seen in the early 2000s, but the parks have gotten so busy that Fastpass is more of a hindrance than a help unless you really know how to use it. Plus, the system relies on attractions running at full capacity all day long...any service disruption can severely affect an attraction (and possibly the entire park) for the remainder of the day due to how many delayed riders there are.

So, what would happen if free Fastpass went away? More likely than not, lines would get shorter as there would be fewer guests using the Fastpass lines. Yes, you'd probably be able to do slightly fewer attractions in a day, but overall it would improve the experience as you're not waiting in lines that crawl forward. Personally, I'd rather wait 30-45 minutes per ride on every ride than wait an hour or more on many attractions while walking onto a handful of them.

However, most major theme parks now offer some sort of line skip service, so Disney would need a replacement for Fastpass. As I've said before, I still think the Q-bot model is the most successful of the systems (reserve a return time equal to the actual wait time, then get another return time after you ride), though for a Disney park it might be better (and more appealing) to go with an anytime access system, restricted to one use per ride to avoid overcrowding. Charge $50-60 for these on top of admission, and a lot of visitors would pass on them. However, for those making a once in a lifetime trip, it would be a good investment to ensure that they get to experience everything.

There really is no good option to solve the current crowd problems at Disney's parks, but the free Fastpass system can't last indefinitely, and admission prices do have an upper limit before people stop coming. With all the projects coming to the parks in the near future, I've got a feeling we're less likely to see major price hikes and more likely to see upcharges for things that used to be included (can we get a stroller parking charge, too?).

January 13, 2018 at 4:48 AM · Isn't giving everybody a FastPass the same as giving nobody a FastPass? To book more after 3, everybody is walking around the park looking at their phone or in the standby line watching the people you passed on the last ride walk past you. .... Hate the current system.
January 13, 2018 at 5:40 AM · Is that $50 per day or stay?

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