4-6-2023 – the numbers in this article are from 2021, but now that Disney has announced the resumption of Annual Pass sales we’ll be updating them in the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, the major conclusions about how frequently you need to go to make each pass type pay off are very likely to still hold true for your general decision-making.
Figuring out when a Disney World Annual Pass will save you money if you don’t live close enough to make day trips needs an analysis that’s tuned in to less frequent trips with multi-day tickets. We’ll be breaking down what’s cost effective for out-of-staters in this post, but if you’re a Florida resident looking for a tier-based analysis that figures in day trips, stay tuned for a Florida-specific post later today.
Today we’ll be using regular ticket prices from 2022 and looking at the new Annual Pass tiers announced in August 2021. I’ll focus on the Sorcerer Pass ($899) and the Incredi-Pass ($1299) which are the only two tiers you can buy if you’re not a Florida resident. Add-ons for PhotoPass ($99) and Water Parks ($99) are available for both tiers, and there are only two real differences:
- The Sorcerer pass can only be bought by out-of-state residents if they are DVC members
- The Sorcerer pass is blocked out for Christmas and Thanksgiving and surrounding dates.
I’m starting here because all of the things I’m going to talk about in this section might be reasons to buy an Annual Pass (an AP) even if the numbers don’t seem to add up and you’re tempted to quit reading. More specifically, there are a number of AP perks that can be applied to a whole group from a single person’s ticket. Even if it looks like a no-go for the math when you first glance at the chart, give it a second look and see whether it might make sense to purchase an AP for only one person in your group.
If everyone in your group is linked on your Family and Friends list, then only one person needs to have any kind of PhotoPass entitlement. This is the same whether you’ve got individually purchased Memory Maker or an AP with the PhotoPass add-on. Memory Maker is $169 if purchased in advance; the AP PhotoPass Add-on is $99. If you’re only taking one trip and you feel you’re within $70 of the value point, this could tip the balance towards an AP. At two trips, the PhotoPass add on is about $240 in savings. Of course this is only true if you were planning on purchasing Memory Maker to begin with — it’s not a great value proposition to end up with two of something you never would have bought and don’t want, just because it’s on BOGO sale.
All the new Disney World Annual Passes include free parking at the theme parks. Theme park parking is currently $25 per day, so if you’re staying off site and renting a car that can add up quickly. Over a week-long vacation that’s $175 worth of savings.
Dining, Merchandise, and Hotel Discounts
The average merchandise discount is about 20%, meaning that you’ll need to spend $500 in order to save $100 with an AP. The average dining discount is 10%, which translates to a savings of about $20 on dinner for 3 adults and 1 child at Chef Mickey’s. Yes, there are cheaper table service restaurants — and more expensive ones too. If you like to do sit-down meals and you have a big family, you can get to a couple of hundred dollars in savings pretty quickly. Be aware though that the dining discount only applies to a maximum of 3 guests in addition to the Passholder, and doesn’t apply to tax and gratuity.
Disney did not specifically call out hotel discounts in their announcement, but historically most public room-only offers have been accompanied by a Passholder offer worth about 10% more. The wording of the Annual Pass blurb is “Savings of up to 20% on dining, merchandise, and more,” which is sufficiently vague to allow them to offer almost anything and change it at will — ultimately there’s no reason to believe there won’t be hotel discounts for Passholders in the future.
The value of these discounts is going to depend a lot on your individual circumstances. If you don’t buy a lot of merch and you tend to eat Quick Service, there’s not going to be much here for you. If you’re a DVC member, most of these same discounts are available with your membership and you don’t get to double them up if you have an AP too. So I’m not even going to try to guess at your personal vacation style in order to do this math for you, but it’s definitely something to think about.
The Break-Even Charts
Without further ado, let’s break out the numbers.
Fewer Than Five Days
Maybe you don’t live close enough to drop in for the day, but it’s a short enough drive that a hot hotel deal can bring you down for a quick getaway. Maybe you live in Chicago, but you fly all the time for work and have airmiles to burn getting to long weekends in the World. If you’re the type of visitor who comes a few times a year for a short visit, the chart above has you covered.
The first column is the regular ticket-type we’re comparing to. The second column is the number of days before the ticket expires, beginning on the start date you picked. The third and fourth columns are the cutoffs; this is the number of tickets where you’ll come out ahead by choosing the Annual Pass. As an example, a 3-day hopper costs $453. Two of them are $906, so if you’re taking two trips with a 3-day ticket on each then you should buy a Sorcerer Pass instead if you are eligible. (Unless one of those trips falls during the blockout dates.) The remaining columns show the price of the specified number of tickets. If it doesn’t make the cut that the AP is a no-brainer, this is where you can start thinking about whether you’ll make up the difference on perks.
Some of you are probably wondering why there seem to be two prices for a 1-day ticket. The “-S” ticket prices are for visitors whose short trips routinely fall on weekends. Such visitors may arrive on Friday evening and eat dinner in Disney Springs, then spend the day in the parks on Saturday with a 1-day ticket, closing out their trip on Sunday with a relaxing morning by the pool. So the “-S” ticket price is based only on the median of tickets with Saturday dates. For a single-day ticket, the difference between the general price and the price specifically for tickets with Saturday start dates is almost $10. That can add up to $50 or more before you get to the point where you might buy an AP instead.
At 4 days the Sorcerer Pass is ahead on the second trip for all ticket types, and the Incredi-Pass is ahead at 3 trips. This is a pattern we’re going to continue to see as we take a look at longer ticket lengths.
Five to Ten Days
The chart on the right shows the value of a single ticket. In general, no matter the length of ticket we see the same thing we saw at four days: twice a year to save with a Sorcerer pass; thrice for the Incredi-Pass. The exception is the tickets with bolded prices, where even the top tier pass comes out ahead if you’re going to make two trips in a year.
One thing to consider if you’re buying longer tickets is the Park Pass reservation system. If you’re staying on Disney property you can make a reservation for every day of your stay in addition to the five days of reservations that you’re entitled to hold at any time. If you’re staying off-site, you may not be able to make a reservation in advance for every day of your vacation. In practice this is very unlikely to be a big deal, as pre-pandemic capacity limits were high enough that the parks only turned guests away on three or four days a year. Still, it’s something to know if you plan to visit at crowded times of the year.
Ten Days or More
What if you’re coming for a reaallly long vacation? Like, two weeks. And you just need to be in the parks, every single day! Even if you’re only going to use it on one trip, how many days does your visit need to be before an Annual Pass will be your ticket to savings?
If this is the point at which you’re going “Hey, now she’s just being ridiculous” — well, I wouldn’t blame you. Still, I really like to be thorough, and there are some useful observations to be made here.
- In every ticket class, a 10-day ticket and a 1-day ticket combined are cheaper than the Sorcerer Pass
- Quite a lot of the time, two long tickets — even a 10-day and a 10-day! — are cheaper than the Incredi-Pass. This is because after the first four days, the price for each additional day drops precipitously.
- For more than 10 days there are lots of different tickets you can combine for your target number of days; 10+1 = 11 and 9+2 = 11 too. But your best price is always going to belong to the option that has the 10-day ticket; 9+2, 8+3, etc. are more expensive.
What to Take Away
If you visit for two trips of 4 days or more within a year and you can purchase the Sorcerer Pass, you should. If you visit for three trips of 4 days or more, the Incredi-Pass will pay off; if your regular ticket would just be a hopper then this pass might pay off on the second trip so double-check.
If you regularly visit Disney World once a year for a week and you time your trips to get a second one in right before the Pass expires, you won’t save money doing this unless can you buy the Sorcerer Pass. At every tier, two 7-day tickets are cheaper than the Incredi-Pass.
If you do a lot of dining or buying, or you plan to drive to the parks, an AP might make sense even if it’s not saving you money on tickets.
Don’t forget that you can always upgrade a regular ticket by adding days, add-on options, or converting it to an Annual Pass, right up until the end of the day when you use the last park entry on that ticket. (If you have add-ons to your ticket and you’ve used it then you’ll usually be required to purchase those same add-ons to the Annual Pass; if unused you should have more flexibility — so make sure to do it before entering a park if you can.) If you’re already on vacation and wish you had thought to buy an AP because you suddenly remember that you have a conference in Orlando later that year, it’s not too late. See Guest Relations, they’ll fix you up and apply the price of the ticket you already purchased towards the cost of your AP.
After all those numbers, are your eyes glazed over? Do you think you might buy an Annual Pass? Let us know in the comments.