Disney World Finds a New Way Into Your Wallet

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Disney (NYSE: DIS) is tweaking the way it sells theme park tickets for its flagship Florida resort, and it's a safe bet that this means you will be paying more for your next Disney World getaway. The media giant announced this week that it will roll out a new platform on Oct. 16 through which guests can prepurchase Disney World park tickets by the date of visit.

The world's leading theme park operator shifted to demand-based pricing more than two years ago, but that merely broke the admission rates into three tiers based on seasonality. We don't have all of the details of how the new online planning tool will redefine the cost of a trip to Disney World, but an instructional video accompanying Disney's official announcement shows several daily price points in a given month.

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It's a small world

Disney argues that the changes are being made to "simplify the booking experience," but it would be a shock if it doesn't also increase the average vacation cost. The instructional video already makes it seem as if guests will have to pay $50 more apiece for the flexibility that they currently have in which multiday tickets can be used over the span of 14 days. In the clip, someone buying a four-day pass has to use up all of those days within a week of first day chosen.

You can't blame Disney. It has done a lot of things that have bordered on greedy or excessive in recent years.

  • Disney World started charging guests for parking at its onsite resorts for reservations made after March of this year.
  • It rolled out preferred parking in 2016, removing the more convenient parking lot spaces from day guests paying for standard parking or the resort guests and annual passholders that have parking included unless they pay a premium.
  • It's closing parks early on a growing number of nights for premium-priced after-hours events.

We've also seen Disney World boost its ticket prices every year since 1989, and the result of all of these moves is that folks keep coming. Disney World clocked in with record attendance last year. Combined attendance rose 4% across its four parks according to industry watcher Themed Entertainment Association.

Even the shift to introduce park-specific pricing in 2013 hasn't slowed down visitors. Disney World still gets slammed during the peak summer and holiday travel periods, and it's going to get worse next year when Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge opens. Date-specific pricing will be a more effective tool than tossing blocks of dates into three pricing baskets, especially if Disney can adjust them as resort bookings and anticipated demand start to move. If jacking up prices even more during next year's Christmas holiday after the late-2019 opening of the Star Wars-themed expansion helps push visits to the sleepier times of the year, it might be a win-win for park guests -- and obviously for shareholders.

We'll know for sure in a couple of weeks how this new policy will impact vacation pricing, but it won't be a surprise to see another public outcry on social media as the details trickle out. Disney is going too far, again, and it will continue to do so until it stops making financial sense.

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Rick Munarriz owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.