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Checks & Balances: Thinning the herd

Checks & Balances: Thinning the herd

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Based on what's being said over on various Disney discussion boards, you'd think that the world was coming to an end.

And maybe for a small select group of WDW annual passholders, the world actually is coming to an end. As in: That world where -- on a whim -- these people could call the WDW reservations center and book a last-minute trip to Disney World. Where -- thanks to their annual passes -- these folks could then count on getting a significantly reduced room rate during their on-property stay.

Well, thanks to WDW's new "Passholder Best Rate" program (Which officially rolled out back on June 17th), those days of annual passholders getting significant discounts for on-property rooms that are booked at the last minute appear to be gone for good.

"So what's the problem with WDW's new "Passholder Best Rate" program?," you ask. Well, for starters, it virtually eliminates the chance that a WDW APer will save much of anything on spur-of-the-moment travel to WDW. From here on in, in order to get a half-decent discount on your next Disney World vacation,  annual passholders must first:

  • Book their reservation on-line.
  • Book that reservation at least 120 days in advance.
  • Place a nonrefundable deposit (I.E. The cost of one night's lodging at that WDW resort, plus tax) on a major credit card at the time of booking.
  • Should they have to make any sort of change to their reservation, Disney will then automatically charge a $50 change fee to their credit card.

As you might expect, all these new rules and regulations have a number of WDW APers up in arms. "Why am I paying for a premium pass when I'm no longer getting premium perks?," groused one WDW annual passholder in a recent e-mail to JHM. "You know, I have a half-a-mind now to just let my annual pass lapse. Not renew the thing next year when the bill comes due."

Which is exactly what the management of the Walt Disney Company is hoping that you'll do.

Say what?

I hate to break it to all you APers out there. But -- if you could just see the forest through the trees here -- you'd realize that Disney is deliberately doing something here to annoy its annual passholders. With the hope that some of you people will then opt out of the system.

"But why would Disney do something like that?," you sputter. "Isn't this a company that has made a name for itself out of giving  great guest service? Why would they do something that deliberately runs counter to that reputation?" Because -- to be blunt -- the Walt Disney Company currently has too many people enrolled in its annual pass programs. The system has become unwieldy, unmanagable. Which is why the Mouse has decided to thin the herd.  

"But what could Disney hope to accomplish by doing that?," you continue. Well, for starters, if there are fewer APers (Which Disney's own surveys show make over 80% of the complaints that are filed at the theme parks each year) ... Well, that then makes the Guest Relations staff that much more available to deal with the day visitors. You know, those people who actually paid full price to get into the theme park? Those folks who won't be getting any discounts on their meals and/or merchandise purchases?

It's these people (I.E. The day visitors) that Disney management has now begun to think of as their top priority. After all, these are the folks who spend money much more freely during their visits to DLR & WDW. Unlike many annual passholders, who are constantly looking for new ways to cut corners, save time & money during their Disney vacations.

However, in order to have the resources necessary to give the day visitors the attention they deserve, that means that the Guest Relations staff will have to spend significantly less time dealing with APers. And the easiest way to do that (At least according to Disney Company management) is to reduce the number of people who are currently enrolled in Disneyland and/or Walt Disney World's annual pass program.

"And how exactly is the Mouse going to do that?," you ask. By deliberately putting measures in place that -- over the next few years -- will make it seem less & less attractive to have an annual pass. In Orlando, the way that Disney intends to do this is by slowing pruning away many of the privileges that WDW's annual passholders now enjoy.

This is honestly the reason that the "Passholder Best Rate" program got rolled out last week. I mean, why else would Mickey deliberately cut back on a perk that Disney World annual passholders currently enjoy? <H>The obvious long-range goal here is to make it seem less & less desirable to own a WDW AP.

And -- as for the Disneyland Resort -- what the management team out there has decided to do is make that pass's ever-increasing pricetag the major deterent toward renewals. As in: Over the next four-and-five-years, they'll deliberately raise the price for a DLR annual pass by $25 - $30 each year. Until a premium annual pass for the two Anaheim theme parks will wind up costing guests somewhere between $400 - $450.

At that price point, a lot of current annual passholders will just say: "To hell with it. I'm not going to renew." Which again is exactly what Disney wants.

Because -- after all -- the corporation's long-range goal here is to thin the herd. Eliminate a significant number of annual passholders from the system. So that the company's AP programs can then get down to a more managable size. So that the Guest Relations staff can then turn its attention back to the theme parks' most important (Read that as "profitable") customers: the day visitors.

Of course, the beauty part of this scenario is that there will always be a diehard group of Disney fans who -- no matter how high the price gets -- will still insist on buying Disneyland and/or Walt Disney World annual passes. So -- even though there'll obviously be fewer bodies in the AP system -- the money that the Mouse takes in each year from annual pass sales will actually remain about the same.

"So what's Disney's end-game here?," you ask. Well, after the Mouse gets the number of people enrolled in the DLR & WDW annual pass programs down to a more managable level (I.E. I've heard that Disney World is looking to whittle about 50,000 people out of its program, while Disneyland's long-range goal is to take 150,000-200,000 out of that system), the Walt Disney Company hopes to begin creeping up the number of perks that it will make available to its annual passholders. Who (at that point, anyway) will now be paying top dollar for the privilege of having an AP.

But -- for now -- if you're a Disney annual passholder, you'd best get used to the idea of paying a whole lot more for a whole lot less. Because that's what you're honestly going to get for the next four or five years.

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