Why We Need to Pay Attention to the Possible Disneyland Peak Pricing Plan

Posted by Elizabeth Alton on Friday, June 5th, 2015

Disneyland Tickets

The LA Times recently reported that The Walt Disney Parks and Resorts may be considering a change in pricing structure at Disneyland. The tip off was a survey that was distributed to annual pass holders, asking for feedback on a proposed three-level pricing structure. The price changes would be a tiered pricing plan that raises the cost of admission during peak days of the week and peak times, such as Christmas and Spring Break. The questionnaire came on the heels of the 24-hour launch party at Disneyland for the park’s 60th anniversary, which resulted in two temporary closures of the entryways when the park reached maximum capacity.

While Disney has noted in multiple interviews that they often conduct surveys around these issues, it’s instructive in how the company may be thinking of pricing in the future. According to the survey, there would be three levels of tickets – Gold, Silver, and Bronze. Gold tickets would cost $115 and could be used any day of the year. Silver would cost $105, and could be used anytime except for high-demand blackout dates. Bronze tickets would be $95, and would primarily be for off-peak dates.

A view of Disneyland

The goal of the change would be focused on alleviating some of the congestion in the park, which could result in lower wait times, more availability for dining reservations and VIP experiences, and give guests more flexibility in their itineraries. The real question that the survey analysis would be exploring is this: Could a change in pricing structure encourage people to visit more, if they knew that their in-park time would be less constrained? Or would higher prices dissuade them from going?

Peak pricing strategies have a long history in business. Utility companies often introduce them to balance supply and demand – for example, when demand for electricity goes out of control during hot summer days. More recently, companies like Uber have made headlines for adding surcharges to their services during high demand periods. Ultimately, it’s a tool to help companies better manage the flux and flow of customer demands. The question stands of how this approach will play in the theme park context. A similar approach is already in play at properties in Europe and being well-received.

From a park guest perspective, there are several aspects to consider. One is that theme parks are already expensive, and may quickly be falling outside the reach of larger families or those with lower incomes. For many families, the times of year that they can travel are dictated by the children’s school schedules and if they’re priced out by tiered costs during school breaks they ultimately may end up not going.

Disneyland castle

At the same time, the number one complaint at theme parks tends to be the congestion and the long waits for the rides. Would a significant sub-segment of park visitors gladly pay a premium for shorter lines and more access to premium experiences that require reservations? In fact, would they pay more for the simple feeling of sharing the park with fewer people?

The idea of a multi-tiered pricing isn’t terribly revolutionary. But the application to the theme park context opens up a bigger discussion. Could this be the beginning of rethinking how we pay for theme parks? In the not too distant past, admission covered everything within the park. As parks began to break things up and add in premium features, the cost became more expensive and yet it also became possible to more highly customize your experience. Could a tiered pricing structure extend to other models? For example, would Disney ever charge an Uber-like surge premium during the opening of a popular attraction? Could the tiered pricing offer the chance to lower admission when guests purchase tickets as part of a bundle? One thing is clear: park pricing influences the user experience in numerous ways. If Disneyland does successfully adopt this model, it’s likely that the rest of the industry will be soon to follow.

One response to “Why We Need to Pay Attention to the Possible Disneyland Peak Pricing Plan”

  1. Seth says:

    This reminds me of the fluctuating pricing plan Universal has for their “Express Pass”. The express pass (which allows you to skip sections of lines, FastPass style) is a price per day, which changes depending on the day of week, and time of year.

    I’ve never liked the idea of the Express Pass, as it seems like a system purely designed to benefit Universal, opposed to FastPass, which is designed with Guests in mind, but the fluctuating price is pretty ingenious.

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