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This past week, the Disney Parks announced changes to the pricing and structure of their Annual Passports. In this edition of Your Argument is Invalid, Alex will be debating in favor of the changes while our own Devil’s Advocate will argue against them:

Alex
Disneyland and Walt Disney World made a “surprise” announcement last Sunday that introduced new pricing options for Annual Passports at both resorts, causing rage amongst diehard fans. I can understand the disappointment, but I can’t understand all of the flack.

Disneyland has been miserably crowded every time I’ve visited and I felt like this was overdue. I love that they now have an option that includes summer but excludes the weeks surrounding Christmas and New Years when the park routinely turns guests away due to overcrowding. The price increase is definitely steep, but I think the whole point is to encourage fans to choose the less expensive option with more blockout dates to provide those willing to pay more or who are visiting less frequently with a more enjoyable park experience. And the added bonus of parking and PhotoPass makes me pretty happy.

Devil’s Advocate
We all now anticipate the yearly AP price hike which is only slightly offset by our renewal discount, but this round is different. At Disneyland, the Premium AP was most recently $779 meaning that a raise to $849 (the price of the new Signature Passport) would have been about right. However, instead of 365 days of park fun, you are now forced to trade 15 days in exchange for… photos?

What Annual Passholder needs/wants PhotoPass downloads? With iPhone cameras improving every year, it seems laughable to think that photo downloads is an appealing perk in 2015. And if I want those 15 days back instead? $200! But, hey, at least I get those photos, right?

Disneyland can get overcrowded and that’s why it saw the biggest jumps in the AP pricing. But, unfortunately, the photo bonus also makes less sense at Disneyland since ride photos don’t link to PhotoPass like they do in Walt Disney World. But, really, my question is why not raise the lower tier passes more? Aren’t they the reason for the overcrowding? Aren’t some of the busiest days of the year the ones right after a blockout period? The whole thing seems silly.

Alex
I see your point on PhotoPass not being as big of a perk at Disneyland, but here’s my counterpoint: My iPhone takes excellent photos in daylight, but to get a decent picture of me in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle at night takes some work. Using flash runs the risk of making the castle almost invisible. No flash and you can’t see me. But PhotoPass cameras have no problem with night photos and look professional, so I’m excited for the opportunity to have photos like that included with my regular visits. My other hope is that less people will be asking PhotoPass photographers to take pictures with their phones, so the wait to get your photo taken should be shorter. Same should hopefully apply to character experiences where PhotoPass is offered.

For all we know, ride photos at Disneyland could be part of PhotoPass in the near future. It was a slow rollout at Walt Disney World, but it’s to the point now where all of them have it. I think that will also be a great perk and you can watch you and your kids get older through a series of visits to Splash Mountain with that option. Kind of depressing, but also fun if you put them in a time-lapse loop.

I’ve never been a So-Cal resident, so I’ve never had the opportunity to get the less expensive passes that everyone blames for ruining the pleasantness of the park. The prices didn’t go up that much for that ticket, only about $30-$50, but you also can’t just walk up and buy one for the first time today. They are exclusively available only to renewals, so I think Disney plans to phase them out that way. The rest of the passes went up in price quite a bit, and mine went up $350 (Premiere Passport since I visit both resorts enough to make it worth the price). My pocket book has been hit pretty hard by this price increase, but I’m willing to pay it if it means the parks will be less crowded and more enjoyable.

Devil’s Advocate
Even with the probable phasing out of the So Cal passes, it feels like a really mixed message from Disney. A few years ago (probably closer to a decade at this point…), Disneyland began offering monthly payments options but only for Southern California residents. Clearly I’m not privy to the stats, but I’d guess that the vast majority of Passholders utilize this option.

Instead of raising the pricing structure so dramatically to seemingly price people out of the market, why not just eliminate the monthly option? No such option exists for the heftier Premier pass (OK, technically you could finance a Disneyland top-tier pass monthly and pay a one-time upgrade free for the rest) and those still seem to sell. It seems like such a simple option that I almost question Disney’s real motives.
Maybe it’s not the lower Passholders they want to shake; it’s the diehards. Why else would you reward your biggest fans — Premier Passholders — with a near 30% price increase? Not to mention it’s the only Disneyland pass that you have to pay tax on. It doesn’t make any sense.

Alex
I think eliminating the monthly option would be cruel, although it is weird that they offer it for some pass levels and not others. While it seems that Disney is indeed trying to price people out of being a passholder, they aren’t monsters. The monthly option is the only way that many can afford a pass and it would seem extra cruel to revoke that payment method. Disney still gets their money by the end of the annual pass’ life, so the way they get it shouldn’t matter all that much. I would be more in favor of seeing the SoCal Select and SoCal Passport options disappear than seeing them do away with the monthly payment plan.

I don’t think Disney is trying to shake any one group in particular, which is why they’re spreading it across the board. It’s clear that Sundays became so miserable because it’s the only weekend day that the SoCal Passport is not blocked out. That problem will fix itself over time because that pass is only offered as a renewal for those who currently have it. The number of guests with that ticket should reduce to a reasonable level as the years go by. The SoCal Select excludes all weekend days, so I think the biggest upset is simply that the next ticket option for them is $270 more to have weekend flexibility.

The Deluxe ticket is not a bad deal at $599. It includes weekends and is only blocked out on peak days. I don’t like to visit Disneyland when it’s too crowded anyways, so I don’t mind having blockout dates during times I don’t care to go. Since I need parking, I would instead choose the next level, Signature for $849, if I lived in SoCal. Your discount increases from 10 to 20% and Disney values parking at $199 if you wanted to add it to the Deluxe pass. That’s basically just a $51 difference for less blockout dates, a bigger discount and PhotoPass.

The only ticket that I think is unreasonably priced is the Signature Plus, which increases another $200 and only offers two extra weeks to visit. You couldn’t pay me to spend a day at Disneyland that close to Christmas or New Years and I would never pay for this particular pass. Coincidentally, it’s essentially the pass I currently  have since the Premiere Passport provides the same level of access.

If you think about the cost of visiting Disneyland and the amount of entertainment you get out of it, I think it’s still a great deal. A movie costs almost $15 per person for two hours of entertainment. If you visited Disneyland twice per month and spent five hours there each of those days, you’re paying the following per hour on the different pass levels:

Signature Plus: $8 per hour
Signature: $7 per hour
Deluxe: $5 per hour
SoCal Passport: $3.65 per hour
SoCal Select: $2.74 per hour
 
Your argument is invalid.

Devil’s Advocate
So you’re for raising prices overall but against scrapping the monthly option. You want it to be less crowded but also make is affordable for everyone to own a pass. It seems you really just want things both way and Disney is the same way.

This price increase is one we’d expect to happen when Star Wars openings but that’s still years away. That means that are are even larger price hikes coming down the pipeline. How long are they going to pretend that this is just inflation (which, right now, is below 2% annually, by the way)? What are we going to do when the Deluxe price hits $1000 in 2019 or 2020?

It’s not that this price hike on the surface is a bad idea but they’re being wildly inconsistent on the matter. If they want to pretend like adding PhotoPass makes up for the hike, fine. If they want to say that 350 days is equates to $850 but another 15 days add up to $200, fine. If they want to steal some of your rough math to compare apples to oranges, fine.

They say this pricing structure is in place to alleviate, but it only serves to aggravate. I see little change coming from these hikes and, yes, that includes few fans actually dropping their passes as they claim they will. That’s exactly the problem — people will keep begrudgingly pony up their passes, flood the parks, and take up extra parking, but they’ll return the favor the Disney by buying even less when they’re in the parks. Great plan, guys!

At least all these crowds can be eaten up by the Mark Twain, the Disneyland Railroad, and Fantasmic!, right? Oh… (but that’s another debate).

 

Your Laughing Place Podcast Crew – Doobie, Rebekah, Alex and FanBoy.

 

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