Have you bought a seasonal or annual pass to a theme park? If so, how did you pay for it?
Many Theme Park Insider readers have annual or seasonal passes to their favorite theme parks. And I suspect that many of you also paid for those passes by taking advantage of parks' monthly payment plan offers.
Most parks now allow their passholders to spread their payments over a year with no interest charges. Without having to pay the full price for a season or year-long pass up front, fans have responded by driving pass sales to record levels across the industry. That, in turn, has helped push record attendance and revenue at the parks as fans spend more on food, drinks, and merchandise during their extra visits.
But are monthly payment plans really the best way to buy a theme park pass?
The first question to ask whenever you're offered a monthly payment plan - whether it's for a theme park pass or anything else - should be, is there interest? When you buy a theme park pass on a monthly payment plan, you're essentially taking out a loan for the cost of the pass. The down payment might be the cost of a one-day ticket, but technically the park is loaning you the balance of the pass price.
I haven’t heard of a park doing it, but if a park were to charge you interest on that loan, I would 100 percent recommend that you walk away from that offer and pay the full price upfront, instead. Why end up paying more for a pass than you have to? This isn't a car or a house - something that few people have enough cash on hand to buy up front. It's a freakin' theme park ticket. If you can't afford to pay for the whole thing up front, perhaps you should reconsider the purchase.
That said, if the park is offering what amounts to a no-interest loan, why not? Especially for relatively expensive passes, such as those from Disney, a payment plan can free you from having to take a big cash hit of hundreds of dollars, or more, in one month during the year. Spreading the cost over the year can make paying a lot easier on your budget, at no cost to you. That's a much better deal than charging the pass on a credit card, where you would have to pay interest if you didn't pay off the full balance right away.
Is there any downside to a monthly payment plan? Up until about two months ago, few of us would have said so. But then the coronavirus happened, and millions of theme park fans found themselves being charged monthly payments to visit parks that weren't open. Granted, those of us who paid in full were holding passes to parks that weren't open, too. But at least those passes were paid for so there wasn't any problem with a pass payment hitting your bank account while you were laid off or facing a big loss of income.
Ultimately, all the parks ended up suspending the collection of monthly pass payments, but that took awhile. And most chains also have extended the validity period for their passes, too. But the experience highlights the potential risk of taking on another item of consumer debt. What happens if you lose your job or take a cut in pay? If you pay for a pass up front, you can forget about that expense and just enjoy the rest of the season or the year.
Monthly payment plans are evolving into open-ended memberships, which bring with them the potential additional hassle of getting out of them some day. Ask anyone who's trying to cancel a gym membership how that went. Some chains have tried automatic renewals for their passholders on monthly payment plans, which effectively turn them into memberships. For people who don't visit a park on a regular basis, a monthly payment plan can too easily become a forgotten payment plan - a monthly drain on your bank account for something you rarely, if ever, use.
Paying upfront removes that risk, as the transaction is over once it's made. There's nothing to cancel.
So, again, how are you paying for your passes? I'd love to hear your thoughts about pass payments and memberships, in the comments.
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