Demand pricing is a staple of certain industries such as the airline and hotel business. Prices for flights and hotel rooms frequently change based on total demand. High demand naturally drives prices up, while discounts may be needed to increase demand at less popular destinations and times.
This pricing concept is now being introduced at major theme parks. Parks are attempting to spread out the flow of customers and direct traffic from the overly crowded weekends and holidays toward times with lower usage. Lower-demand times correlate closely to when most children are in school: weekdays during the school year (excluding Fridays). Weekends, summers, and holidays are typically either at regular or peak pricing.
For example, Disneyland in Anaheim, California now offers "value pricing" for off-peak hours with single tickets at $95, regular pricing at $105, and a peak rate of $119. Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, has a bit less of a spread with $97 value tickets, $102 for regular tickets, and $114 at peak rate for several of their parks. However, Disney's most popular park, the Magic Kingdom in Orlando, maintains the highest prices. Value tickets are $105, regular tickets cost $110, and peak tickets are worth $124. An online calendar is available showing the pricing designation per day eight to eleven months into the future.
In both Orlando and Anaheim, almost half of Disney's operating days are regular days. The Disneyland breakdown is 27% value, 46% regular, and 27% peak; Walt Disney World skews higher with only 22% value days, 49% regular, and 29% peak.
Demand pricing is also applied at Universal Studios Hollywood. "Anytime pricing" remains at $115 for adults and $109 for children, but online purchases for specific advance dates can save anywhere from $5 to $16, with $10 savings through September and $16 savings available on weekdays during October. Universal Orlando does not yet apply demand pricing, sticking with $105 for a single-day base ticket.
Other parks are inching toward demand pricing as well. Legoland in Florida offers flexible date pricing beginning at $84 but provides a $13 discount for purchasing tickets two to six days in advance. The SeaWorld parks do not have demand pricing across the board but they do offer discounts for low demand days at Discovery Cove. Expect any theme park with sufficient demand to explore the concept.
Taking advantage of demand pricing requires a delicate combination of advance planning and flexibility. Spur-of-the-moment deals exist, but most families cannot take advantage of them. Planning a visit in advance allows you to pick a low-demand period and plan a holiday around it, as long as you are flexible in how that holiday is arranged. With a package deal for multiple days or multiple parks, you can check weather conditions and the availability of special features closer to the time of arrival and rearrange your itinerary to maximize your enjoyment.
Package deals are almost always a great way to save, especially during high-demand times. Deals are usually available for multiple attractions, several days, or other combination options. When considering package deals at lower-demand times, look over them closely to make sure discounts for low-demand visit times are being passed through to you and not being absorbed as profit for the deal provider. Demand pricing typically does not apply to multi-day or multi-park tickets.
By using demand-pricing options wisely, you can save some money on your vacation and also have a better experience by cutting down on long waits and overcrowding (unless the price drops so low as to attract larger crowds). Lower prices and shorter lines? That is a win-win.