You’ve probably heard that you should book your Walt Disney World vacation as far in advance as possible. In some situations, that’s great advice . . . but that’s not always the case. In fact, there’s a whole school of thought that convincingly argues that booking in advance actually works against you.  Here’s what you need to know to make the right decision.

When To Book A Disney World Vacation?

Basically, there are only a few types of situations where you should book your vacation in advance. Going Christmas week or Easter Break? By all means, secure your room as far out as possible. For one thing, you’re not getting a discount anyway, but I’ll talk more about that in a bit. Another important factor is room availability.  Some resorts book up very quickly.  Two-bedroom villas at Bay Lake Tower are virtually impossible to get based upon how Disney Vacation Club properties are allocated. Book that in advance. Same with Treehouse Villas and the Campsites.  But if you’re looking at a two-bedroom villa at Animal Kingdom Lodge where there’s a ton of availability, you can wait until to closer to travel, say 3 to 6 months out depending on when you’re going.  Finally, if a certain resort or room category is a must-do, then book your trip as far out as possible so you’re not disappointed later.

Now here comes the reason why it might not be a good idea to book in advance: Discounts.  The bean counters at Disney determine what type of discounts to offer based upon projected availability and current bookings.  For example, based on historical data, they know they almost never have to discount two-bedroom villas at Bay Lake Tower because they know that some grandpa is going to come along and pay $10,000 to stay that week because he needs to see his little princess meet Cinderella and he wants to do it in style. But they also know that they need to put literally thousands of heads on Disney pillows each night, and that’s just at the value resorts. To do that, they’re going to have to offer incentives for unfilled rooms.

We never know how many rooms Disney will discount. What you tend to see is that all resorts will have some sort of discount applied, but they vary by category.  It used to be that you could count on a straight discount across each level of resort. For example, deluxe resorts would be 35% off, moderates 25%, off and values around 15% off. That’s not the case now. With “graduated” discounts, you might find that your savanna view at Animal Kingdom Lodge is only discounted 15%, whereas the Arusha view is 35%. Or maybe the only rooms that get free dining at Port Orleans Riverside are the Royal Rooms (which are harder for Disney to book than the regular rooms). All of these decisions are made based on what their numbers tell them they can expect to sell, nothing more. Disney isn’t your benevolent Uncle.

Based on the above information, it stands to reason that if you book early, you’re telling Disney’s bean counters they don’t need to offer those discounts. Sure, one person booking a year out isn’t going to effect whether or not Disney offers free dining in the Fall, but in the aggregate? You can bet those bookings make a difference.  Just look at what happened with the Little Mermaid rooms at the Art of Animation Resort. Those rooms booked up so quickly, Disney didn’t even consider offering them for discounts for the October through March time period.  It’s almost unheard of for value rooms not to be discounted during that time, at least in the last 7 or 8 years.

I’ll be perfectly honest, as a travel agent, I want you to book early. It’s easier for me to change your reservation over to free dining on the day it comes out if you’re already a client than it is for me to book a new client on that day.  It’s also better for me because I know that clients who book far in advance tend to make payments, and those clients tend to travel because they’re not looking at a $4000 credit card bill a month before their Disney trip. And Disney hopes you’ll book early too, because they know that you’re going to become emotionally invested in the idea of your trip, making it harder to cancel if a discount isn’t announced.

There’s something to be said about solidifying your travel plans far in advance. It feels like the first step towards the happiest place on earth and that feels good. But in the long run, you might be able to hold on to your money a little bit longer by waiting.  Next time you think about booking a Disney vacation, ask yourself how flexible you are. Do you care if you stay at Port Orleans or Coronado Springs?  Do you need to make payments?  Are you traveling during a busy time of year? The answer to these questions might help you better determine when to put down that deposit.

What would you do? Do you book early for best room availability or do you wait to see what discounts pop up?