One thing that surprised me in a very good way while I was in Disneyland earlier this month was how well Disney treats passholders in its California parks.  Every time I purchased something, I was asked if I had an annual pass so that I could get a merchandise or food discount. It turns out that Disneyland has nearly a million passholders, so they’re that resort’s bread a butter, a real part of the Disneyland family.

Passholders are more rare in Disney World, so rare in fact that you’ll occasionally get a cast member who doesn’t even know about the passholder discount when you ask for it.  We still get room and merchandise discounts, we just have to ask for them. Discounts on food, which is such a nice bonus in Disneyland, are more uncommon in Disney World.  I’ve been a Disney World passholder now for three years and I can’t see not having a pass in the foreseeable future. It gives me the occasional discount, but not only that, it allows me to visit more often. So is a pass for you? You might be surprised.

How many days will you need to spend in the parks to break even?

Conventional wisdom says that you should buy an annual pass if you’re going to spend more than ten days per year in a the parks, but this isn’t a guaranteed formula for every guest.   Disney World tickets, as you may know, go up to ten days in length. After that you’ll need to start over, and since your tickets are pricier on the “front” end, this can be a very expensive option. So, say you’re visiting for twelve days. You’d buy a ten-day base ticket for $338.67 and then you’d need to add an additional two-day ticket for $187.44 to get all your park days.  That’s a total of $524.11, well under the cost of an annual pass, which costs $611.31. In fact, you’d need a ten-day and a four-day ticket to equal the cost of a regular annual pass.

An annual pass actually works for fewer days in the parks if you go more than once that year. It doesn’t even need to be a long trip.  So say you visit once with the family and go into the parks for seven days. That will cost you $306.72. Now, say you’re lucky enough to go back one time for a quick weekend and this time, you’re with grown ups and you want to park hop. Adding the hopper option to a 3-day ticket will cost you $318.44, well over the price of an annual pass.  So don’t automatically assume that “ten days” is the magic number. I tend to go on multiple weekend trips and even without considering that I always park hop, the annual pass saves me money.  Well, at least according to my “Disney math.”

Get Park Wise:  You can upgrade any Magic Your Way ticket to an annual pass, just make sure you have at least one day left on your ticket. Your effective date will be backdated to the start date of your ticket, not the day you got the pass, so do it at the beginning of your trip so you can use it for discounts right away.  You can only use one type of media (or entitlement) to upgrade, so multiple tickets can’t be combined for an upgrade.

Should I buy an annual pass for the room discounts?
Again, I’m going to go against conventional wisdom and say yes, but with a strong caveat: Only purchase a pass for room discounts if you aren’t planning a trip around free dining or if you suspect that other discounts won’t be available.  In these cases, you will only need to buy one pass.  Annual pass room discounts tend to be some of the more reliable discounts Disney offers and while they no longer tend to come out sooner than general public discounts, they often cover more days and are slightly better than those offered to the general public. In addition, I have found that it’s much easier to get a passholder discount closer to travel than it is to get a general public discount on short notice. So if you’re like me and you’re a bit more spontaneous with your Disney travel, this can be a nice option.

You have to be very careful with room discounts in general. For example, under the general public discounts, you’ll see advertisements promising up to 30% off deluxe rooms, but what you’re not seeing is that that rate is for a very small category of rooms at that resort and that many rooms are discounted as little as 5%.  This can be confusing for guests, so you’ll want to ask what percentage you’re saving. I don’t find this to be as common with annual pass discounts, another reason I consider these discounts more reliable. You can read more about how room discounts work here.

Get Park Wise:  You don’t need an annual pass to book a passholder discounted room, but you can’t book it online without a pass. Instead, just call  Disney directly and ask for the “AP rate” and it will be applied to your room. Once you get to Walt Disney World, you’ll be required to show that you have a pass within 24 hours of check-in, otherwise the price of your room will revert back to the dreaded “rack rate.”

The passholder can book two rooms with his annual pass discount, so if you’re traveling with friends or family, you can book their room as well. This means the entire family doesn’t need to have a pass if you’re just buying it for the discounts. Keep in mind you’ll need to be present when they check in and it will need to be at the same resort.

Get Park Wise:  One thing I don’t like about annual pass room discounts is that they tend to have very few standard rooms available under these offers, so you’ll often end up having to move up to a higher room category. That’s fine if the view is important to you, but if saving money is a bigger deal, you will want to make sure you get your discount the day they become available.

Watch out for these pitfalls.
Probably the most obvious problem with buying an annual pass is that it requires you to plan your vacations out a year in advance. If something comes up and you can’t travel again that year, you’ve lost money. But a less obvious problem with having an annual pass is when you start doing “Disney math” and convince yourself that an extra trip is a good idea–even when it’s not. So make sure before you buy your pass that your schedule–and your wallet–will allow you to come back within the next twelve months.  No matter how tempting it is to be part of the passholder “club,” it’s only a good deal if you’ll actually use it.

Other passholder benefits.
In addition to the room discounts mentioned above, passholders can usually count a few perks. A basic pass will get you 10% off on merchandise, which can add up.  In addition, you can expect discounts at most World Showcase restaurants for weekday lunch.

Benefits also go beyond discounts. In addition to a quarterly newsletter, passholders have been the first to enter new attractions. In fact, we’re hearing that passholders will be able to enter the Fantasyland Expansion before the November 19th soft opening. For some of us (okay, me) that’s reason enough to become a passholder!

Have you done the “Disney math” and decided whether or not buying a Walt Disney World Annual Pass  was right for you? If so, how did you come to your decision?  Has it paid off for you?


  • PatMcDuck

    Many guests in NJ (and I assume many other distant states), end up buying the WDW APs. These families may only go to WDW once a year, in the summer. BUT, they do the trip “overlap”. First trip is in 2nd week of August, the following year the trip might be in the 1st week of August……. so even going only once a year, might get them 12-14 days or park touring, 2 years worth of trips, out of their Annual Passes. Smart planning.

    • Chris Wood

      PatMcDuck, that is such good advice. THe trip “overlap” is a smart move. Thank you.

  • StevenW

    “say you’re visiting for twelve days”

    Do you really have that problem? Visiting for 12 consecutive days is not something most visitors have to deal with. I get my fill usually after 4 to 5 days. Thus, the left over days go to waste, but the loss isn’t anything to complain about. It might be a $20 loss per person if I bought a 7 day ticket.

    Going for 12 days is the exception to the rule. Going to an annual pass is the logical choice especially since the perks are good like free parking. Perhaps it might be a better idea to mix it up with a Hopper and Water Park Fun and More Option. In the off days, go to a water park, golf, or DisneyQuest to make up the remaining 4 days before the pass expires within 14 days. You’re entitled to 10 visits for a 10 day Magic Your Way Ticket.

    Or go to Universal and Sea World.

    • BC_DisneyGeek

      10 is more than enough for me for sure. On those occasions I”ve had a 10-day park hopper many of those days are just a few hours or an evening in the parks, on days I visit other attractions.

      • Chris Wood

        Gasp! You mean . . . you actually enjoy the pools and resorts? 😉

        I need to do that some day.

    • Chris Wood

      It’s true, most US guests don’t visit for that long, but it does happen.

      I would LOVE to go for 12 days, but then I clearly have a small obsession with the parks.

      Good points on the water park option and going over to Uni and Sea World.

      Thanks for your comment.

  • StevenW

    I was under the impression that you can get length of stay passes if you’re staying on-site.

    • Chazbo6

      That used to be how it was done. We just came back from a 14 day trip to WDW and the option I was given was a 10 day pass. I could have added more days, but as Chris mentions, that would be based on a new pass at the higher starting price. We opted to buy Universal passes (buy 2 days, get 2 free) which rounded out our time.

      • Chris Wood

        Thank you. And thanks for reading.

    • Chris Wood

      StevenW, no. You can only get up to 10 days. That would be nice though, especially for Canadian guests who tend to stay longer due to higher airfare.

  • Monorailred

    We do annual passes every other year. We do the “overlap” – the first trip, when we get the pass, is in late summer. We will then go again in the fall (Food and Wine) or at Christmas – or both, and then again in early summer the next year. Then we go 12 months without a trip to recharge the bank account. We average going two times a year this way and do not buy a pass each year.

    As a passholder, you also get to purchase Tables in Wonderland at a discount and get 20% off counter service food (and the odd counter service location – like Flame Tree!). We usually do not do dining plan because Tables gives us a good discount on where we want to have meals. If you do go with a meal plan, Tables give you a discount on alcohol and non-plan items. Passes also give you discounts on things like mini-golf as well.

    • Chris Wood

      All good points–thank you.

  • Skimbob

    I love the annual pass. We got the Deluxe this year for Califronia and it has more than paid for itself. I have to get a Premier pass in December so that I can do WDW and Disneyland. I have two 1/2 marathons on back to back weekends one on each coast in addtion to a December trip to Disneyland. Between the parkhoppers and the disounts on food and merchandise I will more than pay for it at a cost of $849.

    • Chris Wood

      I’m doing this as well for 2013.

      Well, minus the marathons. 😉

      Good luck with your races.

  • holierthanthoutx

    Annual passes have many more benefits than what you see on the surface. We’ve had annual passes for more than a decade now, and we’ve never regretted it. Of course, being DVC members, we get a significant discount on the passes. Also, staying only in DVC properties, we don’t ever qualify for free dining, since you only get that when you pay full price for a room.

    But the passes have some exceptional benefits that aren’t necessarily the ones printed in the brochures.

    First and foremost, the pass allows you to get away from the mentality that you have to “get your money’s worth” out of every day of the trip. People who buy a five-day pass will tend to want to maximize their financial expenditure by spending every possible minute inside a theme park during those five days.

    With an AP, you don’t feel like you have to spend every minute in the parks. You can come back any time, as many times as you want.

    Our family averages about 26 days a year at WDW. This is generally broken down into one 12-day trip and two seven-day trips per year. There are days, especially during a 12-day trip, where we spend only a couple of hours per day in a park. We don’t feel like we’ve wasted our money on park tickets when we do this, though, because we essentially feel like we’re getting in for free.

    Another big benefit of the annual pass is that you can buy the Tables in Wonderland dining discount. This is a 20% discount on your table-service dining (including alcohol), and it allows you to buy tickets for special Tables in Wonderland events.

    A little perk is being able to buy special passholder merchandise, like passholder pins. One member of our family is a pin collector, and he loves the passholder and DVC pins. In itself, this isn’t a reason to get an annual pass, but it’s a nice perk — along with the 10% discount pretty much everywhere.

    • Chris Wood

      Thank you! Tables in Wonderland is fantastic as are the other benefits you mentioned.

      Much appreciated.

  • aaronc

    I have a premium pass for Disneyland which expires at the beginning of February. I’m going to Disneyworld for the first time at the end of March. Would it be wise to upgrade to the premier pass for $200 more for the year to take advantage of discounts etc. or am I better off just sticking with my usual disneyland pass?

    • Chris Wood

      It depends. I think that if you can’t get any other discounts (including free dining, which is a huge savings if you’re staying in a value or moderate), consider getting the AP. Just remember that WDW’s general public discounts are pretty good, so you may not need it.

      If you’re traveling in the last week of March be careful. That week may be blacked out for discounts due to EAster. In that case, just skip the AP because the merch and food discounts won’t equal $200 unless you buy a lot of stuff!

      Have fun in WDW!

  • Susan Hughes

    An annual pass is more of a no-brainer decision here in Southern California. First off, we’ve had the monthly payment plan for years. So that turned the number of passholders from 107,000 in 2008 to over one million and counting. That’s an indication of how easy (and tempting) it is to just go ahead and buy one.
    The Disneyland Resort is also much smaller. So going there is not much different than going to the mall. Which is why you’ll see many solo drivers heading into the parking lots, who stay for a couple of hours then head home.
    Unlike Walt Disney World, where the majority of guests are visiting from out of town, The Disneyland Resort’s attendance is fueled by locals. The Orlando Metro population is about 2.2 million. The L.A. metro area is over 16 million…all within a one hour’s drive. So they court those millions more than the out of towners.
    And that’s why Cast Members always ask for your pass when making purchases or buying food. They know it’s those passholder locals who bring in the cha-ching. So the incentive of a discount helps fuel the resort’s economy.
    Of course the downside is, the easy monthly payments and passholder discounts galore (and maybe even the hard plastic pass compared to WDW’s card stock pass) have created the problems of overcrowding, parking problems, and quite frankly, an influx of rowdy low life types.

    • Chris Wood

      I really loved how Disneyland felt like a “family” park and I think part of that is that you have so many passholders. I would LOVE a payment plan for WDW to be extended to non-FL residents.

      Thanks for your insight. I can’t wait to get back to “your” parks in January.

      • Susan Hughes

        January is my favorite time of year, starting January 2nd. Everyone is “holiday-ed out” and no one goes to the parks during that month, with the exception of a spike in attendance for Matin Luther King weekend. There is this overwhelming feeling of “calm”. It’s wonderful.

  • victoriaskitten

    For my family an annual pass for DR is a must. I travel from Montana and they come from Southern Ca. Last year we got the Deluxe passes for the three of them and I got the Premium for the bigger discounts. With the block out dates we decided that they just didn’t work for us and our travel days needing to be so flexable. This year we all got the premium passes a cool $2000. for four. We got them before the rate hike. Yes, I will get them again when they expire in April 2013.
    We park hop all day when the parks get to crowded in one or the other. We always use the passes for food discounts as well as souveniers. With us going to the parks at least four times a year and staying an average of four days each trip I really feel that we come out ahead of the game. Getting the passes on a monthly payment plan (except for mine since I don’t live in CA) is a real help.
    We also take advantage of the discount we get for the Holloween nights that require a special ticket.
    What I really like for us is the fact that we don’t have to come up with additional money each time we visit to buy thefour day park hopper tickets for four people. That really adds up to a big chunk of change each time and would mean we could’nt go as often as we do.

  • GreeneBean

    As a person who just bought and booked their first DVC vacation, I see that getting a discounted AP, vs 2, 7-day MYW tickets is a better deal ($100 per person). From my pricing, a 10 day trip breaks even. Two 7 days trips, 11 months apart, looks to be a great deal. That does mean my next trip might be 13 months away.
    However, I might check out Aluani in the meantime, then start over.

  • leedavidt

    My Son And I Are Arriving Nov. 7 And Leaving Nov. 18 2012
    We Could Buy A 10 Day Park Hopper But We Actually Will Be At Disney 11 Days.
    I Want To Go Back To Disney Feb. 2013.
    I Also Want To Go To 2013 Epcot Food & Wine Festival So If I Do My Math…
    Yup … I’m Buying An Annual Pass For Sure !

    • Chris Wood

      Have a wonderful trip–enjoy those passes!