Annual Passes: Buy Now Save Later

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Hello, everyone! I’ve emerged from my underground lair, carefully wending my way through months of discarded Mickey Bar boxes, broken Priceline Express links, and unsuccessful attempts to avoid stepping on my own beard.

You may be happy to know that in between tours of my daughter’s Animal Crossing island and repeated viewings of the King George portions of Hamilton, I have created something that might tickle the Disney savings portion of your brain.

If my third-grade biology knowledge is any help, I believe the savings-brain lives within the parietal lobe and also houses that reflex you have when you walk up to Aloha Isle hankering for a Dole Whip, see a long line, and pull out your mobile order app to bypass all the suckers patiently waiting guests. In any case…

Thesis

If one assumes that Disney will increase the cost of annual passes every year and one buys a fistful of Annual Passes (APs) now at the current price, would one save money?

First, lets get some quick facts out of the way.

Fact One

In case you didn’t notice, Disney tends to increase ticket and/or AP prices each year. In fact, since 2000 there have only been two years where AP prices did not increase – but Disney thoughtfully made up for that with multiple increases in two other years. Most increases were within a few points of inflation, but there have been double digit increases in 3 of the last 4 years. Here is how a summary of increases looks over time.

Fact Two

If you buy an Annual Pass voucher now, they are valid for use until the year 2030*, so you could add several passes to your long-term hoard of investable Disneyana. (I suspect they may be a better bet than a drawer full of Galaxy’s Edge sporks and Apple Dumpling Gang Tsum Tsums.)

*I am conveniently ignoring the fact due to some unusual global matters you may have heard of, APs are not on sale right this very minute. But I assume they will be at some point in the future.

Fact Three

If you spend a bunch of cashola on something now that you plan to use later, it is wise to take into account your opportunity cost. In this case, less money in your bank account means less money earning interest. (Although with the rates these days, interest is hardly interesting.)

Also, please remember that past price increases do not predict future ones, and please please don’t raid your 401k in the pursuit of Disney Nirvana, at least without discussing things over with your financial planner.

Methodology

In these evenings of pandemic silence I have carefully crafted a spreadsheet to help model some scenarios. To begin we need to make some assumptions, then choose when and how to use the APs.

I think a modest purchase of 3 APs will be a good place to start. A 6% annual price increase seems fairly conservative as it is near at the bottom of the historical average. I also think assuming the cash we use would have earned 1% interest per year is a generous one. (By the way, did you know the average bank interest rate right now is a measly 0.1%?! Sheesh.) I think this initial combination will give us a fair idea of what we might save while not overestimating it.

Now, I’m betting some people might make the argument that Disney won’t be raising AP prices any time soon because they really need to get people in the parks. That could end up being the case – but limited travel in 2001 and a bad economy in 2008 didn’t stop them from increasing prices in following years. I’m more of the mind that there will be increases at least to cover additional costs.

One last thing: These scenarios are for one person and assume the vouchers you buy now are each used in different years later. While this tactic would of course still work if you bought multiple vouchers now and then used them all in a single year for you and your family – the calculations would be different than you see here.

Let’s take a look at how these assumptions shake out.

Using Annual Passes Sequentially

In the table above, I chose to start using the AP vouchers in 2022. In this first example, I selected sequential years so we could compare the buy-up-front tactic to simple AP renewals later. The orange and green columns show what the price of an AP or a Renewal would be in each year. The Interest Missed column tallies up returns lost by giving it all to The Mouse.

So, here’s the wrap up on this example: if we purchased 3 AP vouchers now, it would cost $3,885, cash money. (Although you could save more money by using discounted Disney gift cards to buy the vouchers!) If we instead bought these APs in the future years we plan to use them, they would have cost $4,632. If we compare the difference between the two and add in the lost interest, our tactic will have saved us $631, or 16.2% of our initial investment. Not too shabby.

However, you may have noticed an additional table at right: when the years you select to use the AP vouchers are sequential, this table will tell you whether buying 1 AP now and then simply using the renewal discount later would save you more money than buying multiple APs up front. In this particular instance, the renewal tactic would have you ahead about $26. (Which is kind of a wash in my opinion.)

Interestingly, if you pushed your first AP use off just one more year to 2023, the renewal option would no longer be ahead.

As you can see above, the longer you wait to use your AP vouchers, the more you benefit from price increases. In this case, using your first AP one year later increases the multiple AP savings to $870 and *beats* the renewal tactic by $84.

And remember folks: this is all estimated assuming a 6% annual price increase. If you instead used the 7-year average increase of 8.73%, the savings from buying multiple APs in this last scenario would jump up to $1,402.

Using Passes Non-Sequentially

Now, let’s up the ante: If you are like my family, we are often locked in to certain dates because of school and work schedules. Even if we planned to buy APs for multiple years, there would likely be large sections of the vacation calendar with tiny tumbleweeds blowing across them. This takes the possibility of renewals right out for us. So, what if we space out the years we use these AP vouchers?

You can see with the same initial “investment”, spreading out the use years has increased our savings to $887. (That is $256 more than the sequential use savings.) I’m beginning to think this is a viable technique. Do you?

An Informal Poll

I was talking to Len Testa about this, and he had an interesting question:

  • If you had some cash burning a hole in your fanny pack and were thinking of trying this technique, what percentage return on your initial cash outlay would make it worth it to you?
  • Which leads me to ask: How many years out would you be willing to hold on to an AP to maximize your savings?

Let us know in the comments!

A Painful Reward

So, for those of you who have made it this far in the post I thought I’d share another set of AP purchase tables. Over the last 7 years annual passes have increased in price from $779 to $1,295. Ouch.

What if we had this idea back in 2015 and bought the same 3 passes, but didn’t start using them until this year? You may have noticed I had an AP Cost Override column in my spreadsheets – I can use that to start the same model back in 2015 and then enter the actual AP costs for each year.

How well would we have done?

Well. We would have done very well. With an initial outlay of $2,337, we would have saved $1,884, or 80.6% of our initial investment! Now, we had to have the patience to wait 5 years to use your vouchers, but man, I need to have my ideas earlier.

If you know that you won’t be visiting Walt Disney World for a few years, would you consider buying Annual Passes now to save money in the future? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

John Tierney

Security. Genealogy. Dad. Husband. Securigenealodadsband. Also: Disney fan who likes deals. and numbers. and churros. You can find his tweeter @JJT and his Instagram is @johnjtierney

18 thoughts on “Annual Passes: Buy Now Save Later

  • July 30, 2020 at 4:14 pm
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    Can Florida resident AP vouchers be bought and used in the same way as the regularly priced ones as described above?

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  • July 30, 2020 at 4:57 pm
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    Um… can’t we not buy APs right now?

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  • July 30, 2020 at 5:42 pm
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    @TK Yes, you are correct and I asterisked that info in the post. πŸ™‚

    “*I am conveniently ignoring the fact due to some unusual global matters you may have heard of, APs are not on sale right this very minute. But I assume they will be at some point in the future.”

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  • July 30, 2020 at 5:57 pm
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    @TwoBits I am not a Florida resident, but everything I see referenced online points to the same 2030 expiration date on resident vouchers. Of course, I would recommend calling in to the Annual Passholder support line to verify just in case. I believe that number is (407) 560-7277 (-PASS).

    Assuming that is correct, the same technique I outlined should work, but the math would be different since Florida resident passes have different price points.

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  • July 30, 2020 at 6:33 pm
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    Can you sell an AP voucher? I think there may be an investment opportunity here.

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  • July 30, 2020 at 7:36 pm
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    Dean, You know I’d have to go look at the Terms and Conditions on that. I do know they have limitations that do not allow you to use the discounts to buy and resell items, but I am not sure if there is one on the pass itself. (It would be my guess Disney would frown upon it.)

    But I do know that when unused Annual Passes are assigned to people in your My Disney Experience account you can reassign them in the app.

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  • July 30, 2020 at 10:11 pm
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    This is an amazing idea for DVC owners- you know you’re going to be back to Disney, You might as well save some money!! We are not DVC but have been over 30x since 2001. This definitely would have saved us some money over the years!!! If APs go back for sale & still have an extended expiry we will definitely be doing this! Thanks so much JJT!!

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  • July 31, 2020 at 9:25 am
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    Melissa, Glad you liked the idea! πŸ™‚

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  • July 31, 2020 at 9:35 am
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    “Some unusual global matters” is the name of my next studio album.

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  • July 31, 2020 at 9:58 am
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    *insert rock n roll hand sign gif here*

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  • July 31, 2020 at 10:54 am
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    I agree with Melissa, that this is a great option for DVC members who go every other year like my family.

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  • July 31, 2020 at 1:41 pm
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    Another layer to this onion would be to look at how many days it takes in the parks to ‘break even’ using an AP. If we go every other year for only 7 days, with a 6% increase in ticket cost (I am sure they escalate more than that but say 6% for consistency sake), an AP might be cost effective. Or another question; does the days in the park to ‘break even’ go down in the out years? Say for instance this year it takes 12 days in the parks to equal the cost of paying for park tickets vs an AP, does that number go down to 10 days or less in 3 or 5 years? Good article. Thanks for engaging the parietal lobe. BTW, I think you owe us a Dole Whip now though πŸ˜‰

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  • July 31, 2020 at 3:07 pm
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    Good thoughts, William – You may not be surprised that I have another spreadsheet that figures out if buying an AP in the current year is worth it compared to the combination of tickets prices and AP discount savings.

    But, I haven’t tried applying that to this future AP use idea. Hmm…

    I’d gladly head down and spring for mobile ordering you a Dole Whip, but that 2 weeks of quarantine each way puts a cramp in my vacation time. πŸ˜€

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  • July 31, 2020 at 6:37 pm
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    I am not be surprised to hear you have another spreadsheet because I have been using your spreadsheets for over 2 years. I have “Disney, Is it worth it for me to upgrade to an AP?” and “AP Upgrade Bridge Estimator” on Google sheets. They have saved me mucho $$, so I owe you a Dole Whip! Your a right about the quarantine though, such a cramp. Thanks!

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  • July 31, 2020 at 7:06 pm
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    Is the AP “use until 2030” new for this year? I had this idea in the past, maybe 2018, and the CMs looked into it and stated they voucher had to be used with in the year of purchase.

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  • July 31, 2020 at 7:07 pm
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    And yes, this being the case we would consider buying more passes now. Though a few sets of four passes will be expensive..

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  • August 2, 2020 at 1:57 pm
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    Hi Giovanni, I suspect when people are told they have to use the voucher in the year of purchase, the CMs they are confusing the voucher expiration date with the 1-year term of an activated pass OR the process when you buy a pass at the park – as opposed to a voucher. (I’m assuming buying the pass at the park includes immediate activation?)

    I happen to have an inactivated AP voucher on my own MDE profile right now. I purchased it online last year thinking I would begin using it this summer. An “Exchange Certificate” card arrived in the mail with a letter.

    While the card does not have an expiration date listed on it, the letter specifically says “You pass will be valid for one year from the date of first use.” Once I added it to my MDE profile, it is listed as “Platinum Plus Pass, Expires: December 31, 2030.”

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  • August 2, 2020 at 1:59 pm
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    William, Glad the spreadsheets have helped you out!

    Writing those helps me keep the dream alive in between trips and it is nice to know others benefit from my Disnerdiness.

    Reply

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