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Will Disney World Ever Sell Annual Passes Again?

The theme park has not sold annual passes for months, but that (briefly) changed this week.

Annual passes have suffered during the pandemic at both Disneyland and Disney World. Walt Disney's  (DIS)  California theme park actually cancelled its annual passholder plan early in the pandemic and replaced it with a new system, the Magic Key, many months later. Disney World suspended annual pass sales during the pandemic as well and made changes to its program (albeit less drastic ones).

This happened because covid-related rules and protocols forced the company to manage its crowds more than it ever has. Disney imposed a reservation system and capacity limits at all of its parks. A certain percentage of those reservations were set aside for passholders, but there were still days when demand exceeded supply.

That created a bad experience for passholders because what's the point of paying for unlimited access to the parks then being told you can't actually access the parks on the day you wanted to go?

This forced Disney to cut off sales of most annual passes at its Florida theme parks and all annual passes at Disneyland in California. Basically, the company still has to manage demand and that meant not allowing more people to buy annual passes than than the new capacity rules allowed.

That, as you might imagine, disappointed many fans who wanted to take part in the unlimited magic that comes with being an annual passholder. Disney has been very conscious of that and has put select passes on sale when capacities have allowed it.

The company appeared to do that for Disney World on June 28, but it turned out to be a giant mistake.

Disney Lead JS

Disney World Puts Annual Passes on Sale (Whoops)

While Disneyland cancelled its annual pass program and then replaced it with something new, Disney World never did that. Instead, the Florida parks changed the names of its passes, making them more expensive, while also removing some benefits, but mostly keeping the program intact.

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When Disney World resumed selling annual passes after reopening from its pandemic closure, they sold out quickly and the company stopped selling most of them. Currently, the company has suspended sales of the top-tier Incredi Pass, as well as the Sorcerer Pass, which is only offered to Disney Vacation Club members and Florida residents. It has also halted sales of the Pirate Pass, which only Florida residents can buy.

People who want these passes periodically check the Disney website because the company could bring them back without notice. That appeared to be what happened with the Sorcerer and Pirate Pass on June 28.

The passes were put on sale, but they were not actually available and Disney said that listing them being available was a mistake, WDWInfo.com reported. 

Disney is still selling its lowest-tier most-limited Pixie passes (no weekend access and many weekday blackouts) for Florida residents only. In addition, existing passholders can renew their annual passes.

Why Do Annual Passes Matter?

Before the pandemic, locals holding annual passes were an important revenue driver for Disneyland and Disney World. Back when the parks had higher capacity limits and no reservation system, locals popping in for a few hours produced incremental revenue that helped the theme parks.

Once capacity limits were put in place at the parks, Disney found that it did not have enough capacity to keep an unlimited amount of passholders happy. That forced the company to make drastic changes at Disneyland while cutting off sales at Disney World.

The reality is that the pandemic has taught Disney that it makes sense to cap crowds and essentially raise prices (although ticket prices have not increased) in order to deliver a better experience for guests. That's something the company will almost certainly continue in the post-pandemic world which makes passholders less important.

Disney will still sell passes to drive traffic to its less-visited parks in Florida on its slower days. Its likely, however, that opportunities to buy its top-tier passes will be very limited as the company continues to try to balance capacity and revenue.