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Softening a Bit on Free Dining at Disney World after September 2013

By Dave Shute


Confirming there will be no free dining--ever--at Victoria and Albert'sSo I’ve forecast a number of times—most recently here—that I don’t expect to see any generally available free dining in 2013 beyond the current deal for September.

But the possibility that we won’t see Fastpass+ until January 2014 has me re-thinking this a little.

Not much.  Just a little.

There’s several possibilities, all framed around how well bookings for October to mid-December are already going:

  • Bookings for October to mid-December are going fine (which is still my guess, based on how strong attendance has been so far this year): if so, then no more free dining
  • Bookings for then are running a little behind expectations: then expansion of the current individualized pin-code offer, probably around 8/1
  • Bookings for then are running a lot behind expectations: then expansion of the pin-code offer, possibly well before 8/1, and also a limited general public free dining deal, probably after August 6th

Here’s why I think this.


Disney has made it clear for years now that as the economy slowly improves, it will be cutting back on discounts.  We’ve seen this so far in 2013, when in sharp contrast to recent years, there’s been no free dining, at all, for the worldwide general public except for September.

Disney wants to get out of these deals for three different reasons:

  1. With improvements in both the economy and in the appeal of Disney World from the Fantasyland expansion, it doesn’t need to offer so many deals to hit its economic goals
  2. It wants to “train” people to no longer expect such deals
  3. And in a related point, it wants to reinforce to people that the value of a vacation is there, even without free dining

Most of this comes from Pricing 101, but there’s two time-related issues that make me think there may be more to the story.

  • First, and most important, word is that Disney World’s marketing plan for later 2013 was planned around MyMagic+ being in pretty much full launch.  As that looks less and less likely, there may be a concern that Disney does not have enough to talk about to energize later 2013 bookings.  Free Dining could help with that!
  • Second, Disney will be reporting on its third quarter (which ends at the end of June) on August 6.

Disney always reports on its earnings call how hotel bookings and prices per day for the current quarter (at the time of the call, the current quarter will be July-September) are going.  The preparation for this call forces attention on the general topic of future bookings, so I’m sure there are multiple contingency plans for launching various deals to push later bookings if the level at the time of the call is projected to look thin.

Complicating this for the August earnings call is that Q3 2013 will suffer compared to Q3 2012, simply because Q3 2012 had both Easter holiday weeks in it, while Q3 2013 had only one.  You’d think analysts would get the profound impact of this timing on parks profitability, but at least a couple proved on the Q2 earnings call that they didn’t.

So there may be some earnings skepticism purely related to analysts misunderstanding–or mistrusting the explanation of–comparability issues, which Disney won’t want to reinforce with weak booking.

So if Disney really needs to move bookings, and/or needs something more to talk about in later 2013, I could see more free dining in 2013 meeting either need.

However, I’d expect Disney to base any expansion of free dining as much as it can on pin codes.

These don’t give it as much to talk about in a marketing campaign—but that’s kind of the point.

They can be explained to the analyst community as targeted and limited compared to prior years, and because they won’t have as much of a big marketing push behind them, won’t have the same effect in reinforcing deal-seeking behavior or erosion of the sense of what price makes a Disney vacation sensible.

The more it needs to build bookings, the earlier this renewed pin code push would come.

And if bookings are enough behind plan that Disney does need to offer free dining to the general public, my guess is that it won’t come out until after the earnings call. 

This timing would avoid having to explain it to the analysts…a limited set of dates and hotels on offer compared to prior years would in fact be a continued scaling back of discounts, but that’s a subtler conversation than Disney needs to get in to…

My takeaway is still that we won’t see a general public free dining deal for 2013 after the September deal…but I could see a renewed push behind pin codes, and do see more reasons why a free dining deal may in fact come out!

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1 Sharmon Brannen { 06.27.13 at 9:32 am }

We have already made a reservation and I wonder if that means we won’t be given a PIN since we plan to be there anyway. My thinking is that they will not feel the need to do anything for us and are instead looking to get new bookings. I sure would love to be surprised though!

2 Dave { 06.28.13 at 6:54 am }

Sharmon, go ahead and call–you never know!

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3 Allison - Agent with Destinations in Florida { 06.27.13 at 9:41 am }

You may actually be surprised! We get guests all of the time that get pin codes, event after they are booked and sometimes paid in full. The pin codes from a different department in marketing, so they are completely random. You still may get one!

4 Dave { 06.28.13 at 6:54 am }

Thanks, Allison!!

5 Mary @ Capturing Magical Memories { 06.27.13 at 10:33 am }

I agree that Disney wants to phase out discounts. That makes good business sense. Glad we bought DVC!

But my husband is seeing quite a few of his clients getting pin codes. So there is definitely a strategy there!

6 Dave { 06.28.13 at 6:55 am }

Thanks, Mary!

7 Jaime { 06.27.13 at 2:14 pm }

black562 asked me to message here….I received FD for a trip booked 10/18 thru 10/26 WITHOUT A PIN or GP offer. A call was made and we were given FD.

8 Dave { 06.28.13 at 6:56 am }

Jaime–just to be clear–you called, and got a pin on the phone??

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9 Erin Palys { 06.27.13 at 3:31 pm }

Hi!! I got free dining and did not have a pin Here is how it happened…

I called to see if I had one. We have a landscaping business and have recently lost one of our larger accounts due to a fire. So, it made it possible that we would not be able to afford going without a pin. Anyway, when I called the CM told me I did not have one and asked if we ever traveled with anyone. I said that yes we had traveled with my dad in the past. Well, he had one. But, he was not travelling with us this year, so we could not use it. I just sort of broke down at that point. I was not looking for her to give me anything…and I expressed that. I was just venting that we go every year and spend lots while there. In fact, we could nearly have purchased a house with all we have spent on Disney over the years. Anyway, she transferred me to guest relations and I was given a pin. Only problem, it only saved $200 because we had to move from POR to BWI because of availability. So, not really helping too much. I am hoping a public offer comes out and I can get back into POR. We have 5 and 2 of our kids are Disney adults so it’s a lot. POR will give us about $2500 in savings from BWI

10 Dave { 06.28.13 at 6:57 am }

Wow, Erin! I’m so glad you got the pin! Too bad it didn’t’ cover POR, but you’ll love the BoardWalk Inn…and I’m sorry about the fire!

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11 Jen T { 06.27.13 at 3:31 pm }

@ Jaime, a call was made to who? WDW? I have a trip booked for 12/1-12/7 and have been hoping to get the FD. We are taking a family trip to celebrate my daughters graduation and are a bit concerned about making it work with the food prices. It’s so expensive to eat there after looking at some of the menus online!

12 Ghostlady { 06.27.13 at 6:14 pm }

I was also given free dining without a PIN. We had a trip booked in Sept within the GP free dining dates for our family and a friends family(1st visit for them). We wanted to move our trip to October and had made several calls asking if anyone in our group had a PIN. Each time we were told no PIN but to keep calling back. Last Friday my husband called again and asked the CM to check for a PIN for everyone in our group. He was told “sorry, no PIN but keep calling back”. Instead of just saying “thank you” and hanging up, this time he decided to ask more questions. He asked her if there was anything we could do to get a PIN. She told him to keep calling and calling. He asked her if calling multiple times could help and she said “yes, it definitely helps”. He continued to chat with her about ways to get a PIN and he said he really felt like she was trying to keep him talking and hinting to him. He got the impression that he would be able to get free dining if he said the “right” thing so he kept talking. At some point my 3 year old daughter came into the room and asked who he was talking to and he told her it was Mickey Mouse. She got excited and began talking about Mickey and Disney World. The CM asked my husband how old she was and said she sounded “so cute”. She then asked him to repeat what dates we were interested in so he told her. She said “hold on a minute, I think I can get you a discount for those dates but I’m not sure what it is…it looks like it might be a dining discount, would you like me to give you the details?” At that point he asked her if he could put me on the phone. When he handed me the phone, she told me we could get free dining for our dates in October so of course I booked and cancelled our Sept trip. My husband is convinced that my daughter had something to do with it (that wasn’t planned, I promise. I usually make sure to keep the kids out of the room when he’s on the phone). I personally think HE said something that worked. I think maybe the CMs (or at least certain ones) are given a limited number of codes to give out. I wonder if they get to choose who they give them to or if there are certain words or phrases that “trigger” this gift.

13 Dave { 06.28.13 at 6:59 am }

Ghostlady, what a great story! Thanks for sharing…

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14 Linda { 06.28.13 at 10:49 am }

I have been on the phone several times with Disney. We have gone for years and never went on the Free Dining Plan and really wanted to give it a try. We had originally booked in the beginning of October at the recommendation of a CM, suggesting that Disney usually comes out with a FDP around that time. Well, this year they did not. I am confused by the feedback. I have gone as far as customer relations, guest relations and PINS are random that go beyond their advertised FDP up through 9/25. Disney advertised the FDP from 9/2-9/25 with your arrival date being key. In other words if you arrived on 9/25 and booked a trip that lasted no more than 14 days from that date you would get the FDP beyond 9/25. We were lucky we ended up getting a PIN and are booked for November. I also know that Disney is very strict on the individual who receives the PIN has to be present and CM do not have the authority to sway from that. We booked our trip 11/10-11/19 with the PIN code covering the “arrival” date of 11/11..Disney would NOT pick up 11/10 and actually told me because it’s a package if we wanted to get into the park on our arrival date we would have to buy a 1 day ticket, outside of if it was an eligible date within the package with which we could just extend our park passes for about 10 bucks per person per day. So, I am questioning that there must be something else going on. CM do not have that kind of authority and Disney takes great pride in telling the public that their systems are not designed that way even if they wanted to give you the FDP. Very frustrating.

15 Dave { 06.29.13 at 10:12 am }

Linda, I’m sorry that this is not working for you as it is for many others. As you can see from the comments, there’s more discretion than you think, but the black-out dates are absolute…That is, there is some discretion within the black out dates, but none outside of them.

No one on the outside knows for sure what the black out dates after September are, but based on pin codes so far arrival dates within the following windows are being considered:

8/25 – 10/2
10/18 – 10/31
11/11 – 11/23
11/30 – 12/4
12/15 – 12/22

Your situation of having to buy another day and night at day one prcies to cover 11/10 is routine..the black out days are inviolate, so far as I can tell…

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16 Jaime { 06.28.13 at 2:00 pm }

No…we didn’t have a PIN, but my DH called and his call was ‘escalated’ (Disney’s words, not ours) to a manager who was able to GIVE us free dining for our trip. I dont know if it helped that we had paid for a trip already and had DME booked….DH made the call, not me. But we DID NOT have a pin and we WERE given FD for 10/18 thru 10/26

17 Dave { 06.29.13 at 10:14 am }

So cool, Jaime!!

18 Tiffany { 06.29.13 at 12:44 pm }

Free dining is NOT over for this year. Free Dining for the general public will be released for the general public around the last week of July. The dates will be almost exactly the same as the pin code dates. Free dining as been around since 2005 and had been nothing short of pure marketing genius on Disney’s part. FD has, and continues, to make Disney millions upon millions of dollars and fill their resorts and parks during previously historically low crowd weeks. Disney knows if they ever completely got rid if free dining or didn’t replace it with a comparably large discount, those resort and park attendance numbers would once again plummet – Disney just isn’t going to shoot themselves in the foot like that. Mark my words, the general public free dining offer for October – December is coming in the next few weeks.

19 Dave { 06.30.13 at 11:49 am }

Well Tiffany I sure hope your prediction is right, but your logic isn’t, since it applies equally well to any number of periods in 2013 when Disney in prior years had offered free dining, and this year it hasn’t.

20 Lesli { 06.29.13 at 5:26 pm }

Hi! I was wondering what you think about the future of “bounce-back” free-dining. My family is going to WDW in September. We go every year by getting the bounce-back for the next year. Do you think this will be the end of the bounce-backs too?

21 Dave { 06.30.13 at 11:51 am }

Hi Lesli! I don’t really have a strong opinion on the FD bounceback, other than to guess it will continue. September free dining is the only consistent free dining offer both before and after the recession, so I’d expect the bounceback for then continue as well.

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22 Tiffany { 06.30.13 at 12:43 pm }

I can almost guarantee you that the October – December free dining dates will be released soon – most likely July 25 or August 1. It’s the exact same debate EVERY year – free dining is dead, they have ended free dining, free dining will only be through pin codes, etc. Disney may play around with different dates or experiment with new promos, I.e. Stay/Play/Dine, but there ZERO industry indications that they won’t release free dining dates for the general public for late fall and early winter dates.

23 Tiffany { 07.24.13 at 12:06 pm }

Hate to say, “I told you so.” 😉 I track these kinds of travel discounts for a living and work for a large Internet travel website where I have countless industry travel contacts and clients, including Disney, and I can assure you there is no end to free dining in sight. Disney may change dates, play with other discounts such as the fairly new Stay, Play and Dine, but they have absolutely no plans to completely discontinue their extremely popular Free Dining discounts. When and IF they ever do, it will be a huge travel industry story and wouldn’t just “happen” one year without warning. In fact, as is the case with Disney, other large travel companies and destinations are trying to copy Disney’s format for success – case in point, Universal Orlando now offering “Free Dining” discounts with their on site hotel packages. The annual free dining ambiguity each year should really be focused on the dates that the offer will be available to the general public, not if it will be offered.

24 Michelle { 07.29.13 at 8:10 am }

Really hoping for free dining in Oct. My hubby and I booked this trip in Jan for our 10th wedding anniversary as a treat for ourselves and 2 kids. We thought if we get free dining, then awesome, if not then OK. Paid for flight, almost all of the trip, bought tickets to MNSSHP, leaving approx. the dining amt still unpaid, waiting to see if our dates get the discount. However we have had MAJOR unexpected turn of events. Called Disney to see if there was a PIN for us since I have been scouring the net for help, he said no, I asked if there was any way to get free dining, as it has pretty much become the keep or cancel on the trip, and the CM said no discount for us. I asked him when the trip needs to be canceled by to keep all our money, because we were involved in the catastrophic May 20 tornado, unforseen and completely life changing, and just really cant afford it without the free dining at this point. He advised me to call the insurance we purchased to see about getting our flight (already paid for) possibly! refunded, that they may! take it into consideration. Its OK though, I am not the type to dwell on this kind of thing anyways, but it was definately saddening after all we have been going through. Not sure I will go back to Disney if we have to cancel this trip, and not keeping my hopes up about even getting refund on our flight, and of course no refunds on the MNSSHP tickets…. 🙁

25 Michelle { 07.29.13 at 8:19 am }

Note to add: My family is very fortunate. It is mildly saddening that we may not get our trip, but pales in comparison to the fact that I still have my husband and son. So really, when I think about this trip, it is nothing in the big picture. I will have more time with my family, Disney or not. 🙂

26 Dave { 07.29.13 at 10:15 am }

Michelle, I have my fingers crossed for you!

27 Michelle { 07.29.13 at 1:16 pm }

Thanks Dave 🙂

28 Julie { 08.04.13 at 11:18 am }

Good job Tiffany! Do you think the FD will be offered again for Jan 2014? I went on the FD promo in 2012, booked around August 10th for Jan 2012.

29 Dave { 08.05.13 at 6:56 am }

Hi Julie. There was no free dining in Jan 2013, so my current forecast is none in 2014 either. See this:

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