Disneyland Ending Its Annual Passport Program Makes So Much Sense

A view of Disney California Adventure, part of the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, CA.
A view of Disney California Adventure, part of the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, CA.
Photo: Disney Parks

Disneyland just discontinued its Annual Passport program, and as an annual passholder myself, I must admit it’s a brilliant move.

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Did I love having the ability to go to Disneyland any day I wanted, at any time I wanted? Of course I did. That’s why myself and, reportedly, hundreds of thousands of other Southern California locals paid upward of $1,000 per year for passes (some cost more, some less). But Disneyland has been closed for close to a year and with covid-19 cases in the area still rising months later, there’s really no date in sight for the parks to reopen.

When and if they do though, odds are the reopening will be slow and contained, sort of like what the company did with Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. There, capacity at parks and hotels has been drastically limited to make sure guests have plenty of room to socially distance while enjoying the attractions. The difference is, Disney World doesn’t have the volume of annual passholders Disneyland does because more people live in relative proximity to Anaheim than Orlando.

So, if and when the parks reopen with limited capacity, Disney would then face the issue of having to deal with innumerable loyal customers who may have assumed they had some kind of priority as passholders—perhaps that they deserved to cut the line in terms of reservations, or whatever Disney decides to do to limit attendance.

Those people might have a point too. Certainly many Disney fans would understand, wait their turn, and be team players. But there would undoubtedly be people who raised a fuss about not being able to go to the park anytime they wanted, as they’d been used to doing. By eliminating Annual Passports altogether, Disney also eliminates any sense of superiority or elitism for guests. No one has more right to be there than anyone else, since everyone’s equal in the eyes of the Mouse.

Oh, that’s another thing: Disney wants people to pay full price. Full price is good for Disney. In an ideal world for the company, every single person who goes to the park would pay full price. Families from out of town buying full-price tickets are much better for Disney than the people who buy an annual pass and go so often the pass pays for itself, and then some.

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When parks reopen, though, annual passholders will almost certainly pay full price to go back. Disney is an addiction and park attendance is the cure. Diehards will go again and again and spend all the money they saved this year from their annual pass refund. Then they’ll buy a new pass as soon as it’s available.

That’ll happen too. A few years down the road, when the parks can operate at full capacity, Disney will bring back the program with great pomp and circumstance, charging any rate it wants to. And people will happily pay it. The demand will be there and so is the precedent. In the several years I’ve been a passholder, the cost of annual passes has consistently, sometimes drastically, increased every single year. Do you want to know what else has gone up? The number of guests at the park. The prices don’t matter. It’s almost as if Disney is raising the prices to keep people away but it doesn’t work. Disney fans, myself included, are so crazy they just pay and pay and pay. They’ll do the same even without an annual pass.

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And so, while much fanfare has been and will be made about Disneyland “sunsetting” its annual pass program, it’s not that big of a deal. With no park to go to, people paying for tickets only complicates things. Now, no one has tickets, and everyone can patiently wait to see what happens next.

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Entertainment Reporter for io9/Gizmodo

DISCUSSION

When parks reopen, though, annual passholders will almost certainly pay full price to go back

I wouldn’t be too hasty in saying that. They might pay once, maybe twice. But I think more APs are addicted to going to Disney “casually,” i.e. going for an afternoon or even just an hour or two and hanging out. I know that for myself and a TON of other APs I know, we wouldn’t be going to Disney more than once or twice a year, if that.