Free Dining vs. Room Discounts: Which Is the Better Deal?
Waiting for free dining to be announced in the next few days ? In recent years, mid-August and early fall has been the period when Disney World has offered free dining promotions for resort guests. It’s a great deal, right? Well, it depends on a number of factors, including how many people are in your party, where you normally stay, and whether or not you can get the advanced dining reservations you want. But the biggest factor is how much rooms are discounted.
Let’s take a look at the numbers assuming an average family of four; we’ll call them the Smiths. For Disney’s accounting, Mom, Dad and the oldest child (over 9-years of age) will count as as adults. Let’s say the other child is under 9-years old, so he’ll count as a child. The Smiths are visiting the World for seven days in late September. Here’s how the most recent discounts work out. Keep in mind, we’re predicting discounts and not all will be available. All prices are without taxes except for room rates.
Regular Free Dining: The Smiths can purchase the regular dining plan for $41.99 per day per adult and $11.99 per day per child ages 3-9. Getting this plan for free will save the Smiths $965.72 for the week. This is a great deal.
Quick Service Dining: Priced at $29.99 for adults and $8.99 for children, the Smiths would pay $692.72 for the week.
Disney Kids Play and Eat Free: This gives your children ages 3-9 free lodging, admission into the parks, and free dining. It also means everyone in your party has to get the dining plan, which can be a problem if you don’t normally buy the dining plan. The Smiths only have one child who fits into the “kid” category, so they’ll save $83.93 for free dining and $201 on a seven-day ticket (no park hopper), for a total of $284.93. Obviously, for parents with two or three small children, this is a great good deal. For the Smiths? There are better deals out there.
Room discounts. Room discounts vary. This summer, for example, a deluxe general public discount was only 25%, but in the spring, even during the lucrative spring break season which lasts about two months, we saw discounts up to 40% off deluxes and up to 25% off values. These discounts were even greater for annual pass holders.
Assume for example, that the Smiths normally stay at the Grand Floridian. A standard room goes for $3229 during this time. With a 25% discount, they’ll save around $807, making regular free dining a better deal. The quick service plan is not a better deal. Keep in mind that historical discounts for September have been around 40%, which would save the Smiths $1291 off of rack rate, which illustrates that the deeper the discount that is currently available, the worse free dining is for you.
Standard rooms at moderates and values will only save you a few hundred dollars even with the best discounts, so free dining is almost always your best bet, whether it’s the quick service or regular service plan. This is particularly true if you are travelling with three or more people. Couples will most often do better with a room discount, even a lower one. Do the numbers or have your travel agent check for you.
Summary: Regular free dining saves you money if you’re staying at a value or a moderate, particularly if you have three or more people in your party. Keep in mind this will change depending on how deeply rooms are discounted. The lower the discount, the better free dining is, although at some point the two will reach parity and then it’s just a matter of getting the travel dates you want. There are two other issues you should be aware of: 1) Free dining is never a good deal if you can’t get the advanced dining reservations you want, so make your ADRs when get to the 180-day mark of your trip. You don’t need to add the dining plan until the discount comes out. And 2) Free dining is not a good deal if the dining plan itself doesn’t work for you. If you’re the type of person who doesn’t want to be tied to ADRs or you’re a light eater, it’s probably a better deal to pay for your meals out of pocket and take a room discount if it’s available.
Searching for discounts is part of the fun of planning your vacation. Do the numbers, check out sites like Disboards or Passporter, where you’ll find every permutation of discount dining discussed and dissected by some really knowledgeable people, and frequent Mousesavers. Best of luck!