By Jacob Passy
In a bid to smooth out crowd levels over the year, Walt Disney World has released plans to begin pricing tickets for its theme parks based on dates. Already, ticket prices vary depending on whether people book during “value,” “regular,” or “peak” seasons. Earlier this year, The Wall Street Journal reported that Disney parks executives were working on a dynamic pricing model similar to airlines.
This announcement confirms that. Beginning Oct. 16, when travelers purchase theme park tickets for Walt Disney World /zigman2/quotes/203410047/composite DIS +0.47% online, they will now use an interactive calendar that will display different prices based on the dates they plan to book their visit, the company announced Monday . The changes are part of a new online vacation-booking portal.
Although this resembles booking engines used by airlines and hotels, the prices listed will not fluctuate once they are initially set by Disney. Disney believes that the new pricing approach “gives guests tailored choices and better allows us to spread attendance throughout the year to improve the guest experience,” said Walt Disney World Resort spokesperson Jacquee Wahler.
When tourists visit the website, they will choose the first day of their planned trip. This will then set the daily rate they are charged for the number of days they plan to visit one or more of Walt Disney World’s four theme parks: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The online portal will also highlight the least expensive times to visit.
Consumers have the option, for an additional fee, to purchase tickets that they can use at any point during the following year. Disney will allow modifications if consumers accidentally purchase tickets designated for a lower price. In these cases, the guests will need to pay the difference on their tickets; Disney will not issue a refund if the visitors inadvertently bought more expensive tickets.
Previously, tickets to the Magic Kingdom were more expensive than other parks. Starting Oct. 16, single day prices will be calculated based on the day people visit rather than the park, and will range from $109 to $129 for a single ticket, up from a previous range of between $102 and $129. (The price per day is cheaper for those who purchase tickets for multiple days.)
While the changes are aimed to help spread crowds more evenly across the calendar, experts said those effects will be limited. “Many guests are restricted by school or work schedules, want to visit for particular seasonal events, when weather is more desirable,” Tom Bricker, who owns DisneyTouristBlog.com , wrote in an email. “This should nudge attendance in various directions, but it’s unlikely to upend crowd calendars.”
Others argued that the new pricing calendars could help to reduce crowds, but not in the way Disney intends. Instead of merely feeling better informed, consumers might experience more profound sticker shock when they go to book a trip to Disney World, said Joshua Humphrey, founder of easyWDW.com and co-author of “The easy Guide to Your Walt Disney World Visit.”
“I don’t think it’s in Disney’s best interest to focus so much on the individual components of what a Walt Disney World vacation costs,” Humphrey said. “You’re giving people more and more pause as they have more and more big numbers to consider.”
Other aspects of the new pricing policies changes may disadvantage consumers. If a traveler opts to visit more than one day, they do not need to use their tickets on consecutive days. However they must use the tickets within a specific time-frame after which the remaining tickets expire. Currently, that window is 14 days regardless of how many days’ worth of tickets they have purchased, but moving forward it will shrink based on the number of days purchased to as little as four days.
“That’s less flexibility for consumers,” said Len Testa, co-author of “The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World” and president of travel website Touring Plans . The change benefits Disney because the company will “better be able to predict how many people will be in the parks each day, and staff accordingly,” Testa said.
Not everything about buying a theme park ticket for Walt Disney World is changing. Consumers can still purchase tickets from Disney by phone or online through an authorized third-party re-seller such as Undercover Tourist or Park Savers . These companies, which often feature discounts for Disney theme park tickets, will gain access to the date-based pricing information, a Disney spokeswoman said.