If you've vacationed at Disney, I'm sure you're familiar with their dining plans. If not, it's not too difficult to figure out. Two popular and common Disney deals are room rate discounts and free dining. Sometimes only one is offered. Other times, you can choose between the two. You can never take advantage of both at the same time though. We've vacationed at Disney with free dining before and while free dining is certainly fantastic, nothing in life is really free. You'll pay rack rate for your room and the cheap rooms are never part of the deal. If free dining isn't offered, you can always tack on a dining plan to your vacation package.
Will purchasing a Disney Dining Plan save you money?
Maybe, possibly but most likely no. It will cost you just about the same or in some cases, less to pay for those meals out of pocket.
And how do I know this? Well, during this last trip, I saved all our receipts and calculated how much we spent on food. I'm an accountant. I like numbers.
I ran some numbers through Disney's website and determined that the package price for our September/October 2014 seven days/six nights vacation would have increased $1,438 if we had added the Disney Dining Plan. That is the cost for three adults and three children. Under the Disney Dining Plan, each person is entitled to one snack, one counter (or quick) service meal and one table service meal per each night of our package stay. We would each receive a refillable mug as well.
The downside to the Disney Dining Plan is that most people eat three meals a day so unless you plan to eat a meal in your room or share meals, you'll be stuck paying for some of your food out of pocket which will add to your cost. We frequently meal share so for us, we would have been able to spread out some of the quick service meals.
So how much did we spend in total on food. $1,628. BUT you can't compare the $1,628 to the $1,438 just yet. As a party of six, an 18% gratuity was automatically added to our tab. If you are using the Dining Plan, tips are not included. So before you compare the $1,628 to the $1,438, you need to deduct what we paid for tips. That amounted to $156. So now our total cost is at $1,472. Next, I tallied how many meals and snacks we ate and compared that to what we would have had under the Dining Plan. Of course, we ended up with more meals/snacks than would have been allowed under the Dining Plan so we need to deduct that from our total as well because if we had been using the Dining Plan, those would have been out of pocket purchases. Those meals/snacks amounted to $106. So now our total to comes to $1,366.
Adding the Disney Dining Plan to our vacation package would have increased our cost by $1,438.
We paid $1,366 out of pocket for the same amount of food.
Now, there are ways to get more for your money, or maximize your use of, the Dining Plan. For example, ordering a $5 snack instead of snack that cost $2.50. Or ordering the most expensive items on the menu. Or eating at the flat rate buffets that cost the most. To me, this would just add an additional time consuming planning layer. Plus, the kids aren't going to eat this way. I also want to note that there are several different dining plans available at Disney but I've focused on what appears to be the most common.
I want to end by adding that we didn't pay for our meals completely out of pocket. Well, we did but we didn't. Through our Disney Visa credit cards, we had accumulated $800+ in Disney rewards points, which is equivalent to cash at Disney, and we used that to pay for a good chunk of our dining experience. I'm not a credit card rewards expert so I'm sure there are better deals through other credit cards (such as those offering airline miles) but this is working for us right now. Also, I feel the need to say that we pay our balance off in full each month. Be wise if using credit cards, please.