Walt Disney World will soon charge more for one-day visits – up to $124 at the Magic Kingdom – during the busiest times of year.
Starting next week, Disney World will move to a tiered pricing system for one-day tickets. Disney will divide the calendar into value, regular and peak periods. Peak season will include spring break, much of the summer and late December. Disney’s three other parks will cost $114 during those times — $10 less than the Magic Kingdom.
Value days — the least popular ones — will remain the same price Disney has charged for the past year. So visits during late August and almost all of September will cost $105 at the Magic Kingdom and $97 at other Disney World parks.
Disney’s value season will last a few more days. Mid-tier pricing — $110 at Magic Kingdom and $102 at the other parks — goes into effect Friday. Peak season arrives March 11.
“The demand for our theme parks continues to grow, particularly during peak periods,” Disney spokeswoman Jacquee Wahler said in a statement. “In addition to expanding our parks, we are adopting seasonal pricing on our one-day ticket to help better spread visitation throughout the year. Multi-day tickets, annual passes and visiting during non-peak periods also provide our guests with options and savings.”
The new structure will not cover multi-day tickets, although prices for those will rise starting Sunday. Four-day tickets will cost $325, up from $305. Ten-day ones will cost $400, up from $365.
“Dynamic pricing,” as it’s known, is common for hotels and airlines. Theme parks have started using it “in little dribs and drabs,” said Martin Lewison, an assistant professor at Farmingdale State College in New York who specializes in theme parks.
For Disney, the change will likely shift people visiting during mid-tier times into the quietest ones, said Dennis Speigel, president of consulting firm International Theme Park Services. During high-demand periods such as Christmas, he said, it will generate more money but likely create no noticeable attendance drop-off.
“Disney and Universal, they can say, ‘It’s $100? We’re going to make it $120. Those people are still going to come, still going to pay it, but we can raise the pricing because we know they’re coming.'”
Magic Kingdom has reached full capacity during Christmastime, forcing it to turn away visitors.
In its most recent quarter, which included Christmas, Disney’s domestic theme parks reported a 10 percent surge in attendance compared with the previous year. That’s on top of a 7 percent year-over-year increase in 2014. The crowds will likely not ease soon. Work is underway on major new attractions that will open during the next few years, including Star Wars lands at Disney World and Disneyland.
Prices “can’t continue to go up without some pushback,” Speigel said. “But right now, going into ’16, there’s no pushback.”
Visitors will be able to see an online pricing calendar providing information between eight and 11 months in advance.
Mid-price days will make up about a little less than half the calendar. Value tickets will be available during about a fifth of the year, including late August and almost all of September. Peak days — spring break, the winter holidays and much of summer break — will make up 29 percent of the year.
Last year, Disney broke the $100 barrier with its Magic Kingdom tickets, generating talk of pricing out much of the middle class.
The company needs to pay for the investments it is making in the parks, Lewison said, and is following the model of supply and demand.
“I know some people get priced out, but we’re not all born with the right to go to Disneyland or the Magic Kingdom,” he said.
Disneyland in California will also go to a demand-based model. Prices there will range from $95 to $119.
The move toward variable pricing had been expected. Disney World in May sent out surveys asking visitors about a hypothetical tiered structure including $125 Magic Kingdom tickets during Christmas and July.
In October, the resort added to a third type of pass so that guests willing to sacrifice visits during spring break or Christmastime pay more than a seasonal pass that also blacks out summer — but $100 less than an annual pass providing 365-day-a-year access.
Disney World already charges more during the summer at its water parks. The cost of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at Disney vary by date.
Universal Studios in Hollywood has introduced a system in advance of its Harry Potter land’s allowing visitors who book tickets online for low-demand days to save up to $20.
While airlines and hotels have long charged higher prices on holidays and during popular seasons, theme parks have “traditionally been fairly conservative,” Lewison said. He considers one flat price a bad strategy. “You’re charging too little during peak demand and too much when you have flat demand.”