Disney World has quite the reputation as the Most Magical Place on Earth — but it can be pretty pricey to make that magic happen.
It’s no secret that a Disney trip is expensive. That’s why we’re always on the hunt for the best tips for saving money on your next vacation. There are some tactics, however, that Disney uses to get YOU to spend a little more — and you might not even notice that’s what they’re doing! Check out all the ways that Disney World tricks you into spending more money!
Chances are that if you’ve taken a Disney trip you’ve bought or at least considered a vacation package from the Walt Disney Travel Company. These packages bundle your hotel room, park tickets, and sometimes dining all together so that you’re not paying for everything a la carte. Typically, using a package can mean some serious savings.
So you might be wondering: How is Disney getting us to spend MORE money if they’re offering a bundle deal to help us save money? Well, the trick isn’t in the package itself but in how Disney markets the package.
You’ll notice that marketing language for these packages will usually mention that they are available for 6 night/7 day trips. The trick is all in that detail.
In fact, if you read the small print on most of these packages, you can usually apply them to a much shorter trip; the minimum usually comes in at a 2 or 3-night trip. So, yes, you CAN use these offers on shorter trips but Disney will never say this publicly. If a guest doesn’t do their due diligence, they might book a trip longer than they were initially planning based on the marketing material and thinking that’s their only option, meaning more time spending money in the parks, at the resorts, and elsewhere on the property.
So, check out that fine print when you’re looking at a vacation package! You might not need to book a trip that’s as long as you think.
Plus, if you’re hoping for some discounts without committing to a full package, you should check out the Special Offers page on the Disney World website. This kinda-hidden page tends to have smaller seasonal offers as well as special ticket offers for the military, general public, and more.
Sometimes it can be a lot cheaper to buy the components of your trip separately (e.g. hotel room with a room-only discount and separate ticket purchase) than as a package. These also usually have a more generous cancellation date than a package.
If you ever want to make SURE that you’re saving every penny, you can always consider using a travel agent! Travel agents are a totally free service and besides handling all the nitty-gritty aspects of your trip, they will also make sure that you get EVERY. DISCOUNT. YOU. CAN. They might even spot discounts that you don’t even know you have access to! If that sounds good to you, you should check out our friends at Small World Vacations (they seriously know their stuff).
Exit Through A Gift Shop
This next trick is a little bit more conspicuous. You’ve maybe even joked about it to your family while you’re in the parks! You’ll notice that almost every attraction in Disney World has guests exiting through a retail location. That trip through the gift shop can definitely be a sneaky trick!
Without that exit through a shop, a frugal family could potentially avoid the temptation of going into a store altogether. By routing you through a shop, Disney makes sure that you’re subjected to all the compelling merchandise and marketing that might get you to spend a little bit more money.
Sometimes, we want to spend on that perfect Disney souvenir, but sometimes we’re really looking to save. If you’re the type of family that wants to spend on vacation without thinking too much and then wait to get home to handle it, that’s fine! But the exit gift shops can be tricky for those with a tight grip on their wallets.
The tip here is to know your budget ahead of time. Set realistic expectations for what you want to spend on souvenirs in the park and only buy if that retail exit has something that fits into your budget. If you’ve got kids, set boundaries! Tell them they can pick out one souvenir for the trip or per day — whatever is in your means.
We also love using gift cards to help stay on budget! Do the spending ahead of time so that you can’t overspend when you’re actually on your trip! Plus, Disney gift cards allow you to give big kids and teens a set amount to spend so that they can have some independence without breaking the bank.
For some guests, they might notice something pretty interesting while they’re still in Disney World at the end of their vacation. Sometimes, Disney will send out a bounceback offer to guests before their trip is over! This allows you to get a (usually hefty) discount on your next vacation before your current vacation ends.
The catch is that you do have to book your trip before you leave, even if you weren’t planning another trip, in order to get the discount. These discounts can be super compelling, so they can get a guest to do a repeat trip much sooner than they were planning!
Now, these can actually be a great resource if you ARE planning another Disney trip already by the time you’re done with the one you’re on. Just remember, bounceback offers aren’t guaranteed to come your way, so don’t plan on definitely getting one. Definitely be on the lookout towards the end of your vacation, though, or ask at the front desk if there’s a current bounceback offer if you’re interested!
Plus, you’re not locked into these offers! You can, of course, cancel a trip booked through a bounceback offer just like you can any other trip. So, if you can’t resist the sweet prices they offer you and perhaps book a new trip when that’s not what you were really looking to do, don’t fear! When you get home and decide that another Disney trip might not be the best use of your money, you can always cancel.
Discounts for Longer Stays
This next one is a discount that’s available to guests all the time and might be a pretty obvious way that Disney gets you to spend money that’s still flying under your radar. We’re taking a look at the ticket discounts for longer stays. If you’ve looked at ticket pricing, you know that “the longer you stay, the less you pay, per day!”
For instance, if you take a look at the park ticket pricing for Disney World right now, you’ll notice that a one-day park ticket starts at $109 while a 10-day park ticket starts at $52 per day. That’s more than 50% cheaper per day when you go for a longer time.
So, why does Disney mark down the price SO much for a longer trip? To entice you to BOOK that long trip! The more days you have in the park means the more days that you’re spending on Disney food, Disney merch, and Disney resorts. All those extra expenditures really outweigh the loss that Disney is taking on discounting those park days for you.
Disney Vacation Club and Annual Passes
This next tactic is a BIG one. Disney loves to get you to spend more money by getting you to commit to THEM for your vacation options, either by buying an Annual Pass or by joining the Disney Vacation Club. Both of these options have a way of locking guests in for the time being so that Disney is the first thing they think of when they’re planning a vacation.
The Disney Vacation Club is a bigger commitment. When you get DVC you’re telling Disney and yourself that, “Yes, I do want to take a Disney-operated vacation for the next 50 years!” and that very well may be true! Still, DVC guarantees that you’ll choose Disney as a vacation destination almost every time instead of just some years. Plus, those annual dues mean that even if you DON’T vacation at Disney, you’re still spending money with them.
An Annual Pass has a similar effect. When people buy the Annual Pass they tend to think that they need to get the best use out of it to make the (v. expensive) purchase worth it, so they find ways to go to Disney parks more often. If you don’t live in Florida, this means more days in hotels as you take more trips, and you therefore likely spend more on dining and merch.
Remember though, these options aren’t necessarily BAD things! Both DVC and Annual Passes will net you big benefits like discounts, early bookings, and free Memory Maker. Pretty much EVERYWHERE has some sort of Annual Pass.
We renew our Passes again and again because, for us, they are worth it! But we do suggest that you do your homework! Find out if an Annual Pass is right for you and keep in the back of your mind that it IS a marketing tactic.
Also note that not everyone in your party has to have an annual pass in order to get the benefits. If just mom has an annual pass, you still get the hotel and restaurant discounts, memory maker, and more, that would be used by the whole family.
Limited-time Food and Merchandise
We here at DFB always end up spending some extra money on this one! We’re talking about limited-time food and merchandise. Honestly, splurging a little bit to grab those holiday treats or special edition pins is pretty darn hard to pass up!
Disney does SO many of these limited-time promotions. In fact, there’s pretty much always SOMETHING being sold “for a limited time only” in the parks. With Epcot Festival merch like the coveted Orange Bird Sipper, holiday treats like anything peppermint, special anniversary items like the Haunted Mansion eats and merch, or collectibles like souvenir popcorn buckets, there are lots of things that we feel the urge to get our hands on before they’re gone.
The reason this stuff is compelling is that it makes you feel, “I gotta get this right now or I won’t have the chance to get it if I want it later.” Limited-time merch gives us less time to decide if we REALLY want the thing we’re buying!
The tip here is to keep that budget in mind. If you’re feeling tempted by that cute sipper, think about whether it fits in the budget or not. You may not want to edge out a souvenir you’ve been eyeing for a limited-time option that you feel urgent about right now.
Epcot Festivals don’t only get you with limited-time merchandise. There’s a really fun, typically free, activity at some festivals that could have you spending more than you normally would. We know, we know. How can we be spending more money on a FREE activity? Just because it’s free to start, doesn’t mean it’s free to finish! We’re referencing, of course, those fun scavenger hunts.
Disney uses scavenger hunts at various times throughout the year. Think of the Cookie Stroll at Epcot International Festival of the Holidays, the Garden Graze at Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival, and other foodie scavenger hunts.
Though it’s free to grab a map for these hunts, you have to pay for a food item at every location in order to complete it and claim your prize! Ultimately, you’re spending much more than if you only got one cookie 😉.
We’ve even seen pin hunts like the PinQuest in 2016 that required you to pay to START the hunt and then again for each pin you collected! That adds up! But, the sense of accomplishment and want of a special prize at the end is enough to keep us coming back for more — even as we spend more money than we might have otherwise.
Keeping You on Property
The way that Disney dupes you into spending a little bit more money is by enticing you to stay on property. Though you might be able to save a little money staying off property in Disney World, Disney seriously ramps up the benefits of staying at a resort hotel.
Think about it. On property you can use Disney transportation, get room delivery from stores in the park, use extra magic hours, and make your Fastpasses a full 60 days out instead of 30. Those are some good perks.
But Disney has a good reason for doing this. Not ONLY do they get the money from your hotel room when you stay on-site, but you’re also more likely to spend on Disney food, merch, and experiences when it’s all readily at your disposal. Staying offsite can mean that you look elsewhere at dinner time, and Disney doesn’t want that.
In fact, there have even been some developments to keep you on the property even MORE recently. You might think the overnight parking fee for resort guests is just a measure to make sure the lots don’t fill up, but it has another purpose, too. By charging for parking, Disney is encouraging you NOT to have your car at your hotel — making it harder to get anywhere except other places on Disney property. We see you, Disney! Very sneaky.
Of course, the fact that this is a tactic shouldn’t deter you from staying in the resort hotels if that’s your jam. The benefits of being on property are awesome and, in our opinion, totally worth it.
Weigh the options for your family. If you’re doing an all Disney trip, then the on-property resorts might be a no brainer. Consider off-site if you’re on a steep budget, or are looking to experience the other things Orlando has to offer too!
Disney Dining Plan
You know we couldn’t write this list without including the Disney Dining Plan. This one is pretty sneaky. Of course, the Dining Plan is the right decision for a lot of Disney guests, but for many, it is NOT and could mean that you’re spending more money than you need to.
Think about it — why would Disney promote something this much that isn’t a profitable endeavor for them? They’ve done their research and know how much the average family eats while on a Walt Disney World vacation. And they’ve structured the Dining Plans to provide a bit more food — and cost a bit more money — than what the typical family would consume and spend. That’s why, in order to actually SAVE money on the plan, you have to make sure you’re sticking to a few rules.
The Disney Dining Plan is kind of similar to an Annual Pass in that when you have it, you want to make to most out of it. So, maybe you would typically not eat breakfast or only eat one snack a day. But on the DDP, you’ll want to use ALL of those credits — on the most expensive items — to make sure you get your money’s worth.
Now, if you DO eat as much as the plan supplies, and purchase the most expensive things possible for those credits, then it tends to work out equally to what you would spend for that food out of pocket.
On the other hand, if you don’t use all your credits, or if you purchase less expensive items with your credits, you really can be losing out on money spent. Folks who head home with unused credits are a big reason that the Dining Plan is such a moneymaker for Disney. You paid for food you never ate! P.S. If you do find yourself in this sitch, check out our tips on how to spend those unused credits!
That’s not to say that the DDP isn’t right for you! But you really need to do your homework. DFB has a TON of great resources on how to decide whether to go Dining Plan or out of pocket. And we have a whole chapter in our DFB Guide to Walt Disney World Dining where we break down the Disney Dining Plan — and the Disney World Free Dining Offer — to show you the comparison amounts to buying your food out of pocket.
Think about your family, and make the decision that you think will keep money in YOUR pockets!
Finally, we’re going to talk about how Disney can get you to spend a little more with that MagicBand on your wrist! We’ll start by saying that we love MagicBands. They make everything super convenient. No more carrying your park ticket, your room key, or even your credit card!
Still, you’ve got to be careful when you link this functional accessory to a payment method.
Using the MagicBand to pay for purchases effectively separates you from your money. Purchases are just a touch of the band to the scanner. They’re so quick and simple, it’s easy to stop thinking about how much you’re spending!
The solution to this is to keep tabs on your cash flow. Check-in on that credit card statement in the evenings so that you get an idea of how much MagicBand paying you did in a day. This is another overspending possibility that can easily be avoided with a smart budget — and by sticking to that budget once you make it!
In most cases, we recommend disconnecting kids’ and teens’ MagicBands from any connected payment methods, and instead use that gift card trick from before! That way, your kids can do a little spending without you having to deal with an unpleasant surprise when that bill comes.
And there you have it! Disney really is using some interesting methods to get us to spend more money. Remember, these are pretty standard types of marketing across many large companies! None of this is particularly down and dirty — it’s just good marketing. But it’s good to know these tactics are a thing so that you can avoid any crazy spending — unless you don’t want to!
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What do you think of these sneaky tactics from Disney? Let us know in the comments!