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Disney World Season Passes Might Become Harder to Use

By Rick Munarriz – Sep 21, 2016 at 9:08AM

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A pass holder survey suggests that Disney is considering blackout periods for seasonal pass holders after new attractions open. That would be a huge mistake.

Image source: Disney.

Things might be about to get slightly more restrictive for Disney World's seasonal pass holders. WFTV is reporting that a survey is asking guests with seasonal passes what they would do if a two-month blackout period would follow the opening of new attractions. The Walt Disney Company (DIS -3.79%) is presumably gauging to see if seasonal pass holders under that scenario would upgrade their passes, pay regular park admission, or just wait out the two months. 

Seasonal passes are a necessary evil at year-round theme parks. They offer cash-strapped guests or those savvy enough to avoid big crowds a way to enjoy attractions during the slow season when parks are hurting for attendance. The passes also shift traffic away from peak travel periods when Disney parks sometimes hit their capacity limits, something that was at the heart of the theme park giant's controversial shift to tier-based pricing earlier this year. Instead of paying a single price for one-day tickets throughout the year, three new pricing levels now make it 18% more expensive to hit the park during the summer or holiday period.

Disney shook up its annual pass plans last October. The prices for passes that offer year-round access experienced double-digit percentage increases, but the world's largest theme park resort also introduced new levels of passes with blackout periods and without complimentary parking.

The leaning tower of Eiffel

This is an odd time for Disney to consider making its annual passes more restrictive. Attendance is experiencing a rare decline, and that was during the first half of the calendar year. Things would in theory get worse during the current quarter with the park being off limits through the first half of the period for seasonal passholders.

Blocking access for seasonal pass holders through the first two months of a major new attraction's opening seems like a challenging proposition. For starters, what would qualify as the kind of attraction that would merit shutting down access to an entire theme park? Disney World only had one park with major additions this year, and that was Epcot with the downtime-saddled Frozen Ever After ride and the Soarin' Around the World update that's getting mixed reviews, especially for the warped views of France's Eiffel Tower and other landmarks from seats on the side. 

These two rides also opened during the summer when the seasonal passes were already blacked out. It was a non-event. 

What will Disney do when attractions open late? Frozen Ever After was originally supposed to open during the first quarter of 2016. It launched several months later. Will Disney penalize a family of seasonal pass holders that plans a trip with the assumption that they would be able to visit all of the parks, disrupted by Disney delaying a ride's debut? One can argue that they would still be able to visit the three other parks, but this still seems like more hassle than it's worth.

This is just a survey. It's not necessarily being implemented by Disney. That's a good thing. Making its seasonal passes less of a value would probably alienate far more people than it convinces to make the upgrade.

Rick Munarriz owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Walt Disney. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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