Disney World Rumored to Offer “Free” Dining Card Discount in 2023 – Disney Tourist Blog

For a few years, Walt Disney World released the popular Free Dining promotion in the first week of January. On other occasions, the company used the name recognition of that special offer to rebrand other promos–like “Kids Eat Free” and other discounts that have been touted as Free Dining in different forms.

It appears that the first deal that Walt Disney World releases in 2023 will be the latter. Rumors have been swirling since late December that a free Disney Dining Card (like the one pictured above) would be included with select packages in the second half of the year that include full priced hotels and tickets.

This has really firmed up in the last two days, with embargoed leaks corroborating the prior rumors. This special offer is pretty much an open secret at this point, and has been for a while. Heck, Walt Disney World has been promoting it on Twitter since December 20:

Unfortunately, this will not be the “real” Free Dining promo. Rather, this more closely resembles the “Stay, Play, Dine and Save” deal that we’ve seen repeatedly over the last several years. This, too, has traded on the ‘name recognition’ of Free Dining in order to make a less appealing special offer seem more desirable.

In fact, this is not all that different from the current Walt Disney World 50th Anniversary “Grand Finale” offer for the general public, which touts Saving Up to $100 Off Nightly Resort Rates. With that tiered discount, guests can save up to $20 per night at Value Resorts, up to $40 per night at Moderate Resorts, and up to $100 per night at Deluxe Resorts for dates between now and March 30, 2023.

The twist here is that rather than getting that money in the form of a dollar amount savings per night, guests receive it in rebate form, via a “free” (air quotes) Disney Dining Gift Card. This has two advantages for Walt Disney World: it makes this sound sorta like Free Dining (who doesn’t love FREE FOOD?!) and it also allows the company to maintain its beloved high per guest spending numbers.

For the last year or so, Disney has been proudly touting its ~40% increase in per guest spending over 2019. That has been accomplished in a variety of ways, including Genie+ and Lightning Lanes, higher ticket prices, limited resort discounts, fewer Annual Passholders, and…well, just about everything else. 

In fairness, increased per guest spending is not a new or novel idea piloted by the dearly-departed Bob Chapek. (While gone as CEO, his spirit will undoubtedly live on for the year to come.) That’s a huge reason why Free Dining was launched in the first place–it locked guests into purchasing full price tickets and hotels, thereby increasing overall spending even though they received the Disney Dining Plan for “free” (air quotes, again).

This is a new twist on that same idea. Here, instead of reducing resort rates–thereby lowering per guest spending–Walt Disney World is shifting that savings to a Disney Dining Card. For most guests, this is a distinction without a difference as they’d easily spend that money on meals.

For others, that may not necessarily be the case–especially those who dine off-site or do grocery delivery to prepare meals in their rooms. Which is precisely why Walt Disney World is doing this rather than simply reducing prices. (Well, that and this is probably better from a marketing perspective!)

With that background out of the way, let’s go over the rough contours of this free Disney Dining Card deal.

This offer is set to go live on January 5, 2023 and will be available to guests who book a minimum 4-night stay at select, qualifying Walt Disney World Resort hotels with at least 4-day tickets. It will be available for travel dates between June 25, 2023 and September 14, 2023.

As you can see from the Tweet towards the top of the post, the headline touts that it’ll offer up to a $750 Disney Dining Promo Card. However, that may not be accurate as the maximum. Walt Disney World has been really weird about how it promotes these deals, often (shockingly) underselling them.

In fact, if you go on DisneyWorld.com and look for the same deal that we described as up to $100 off per night, you’ll see that Walt Disney World’s special offer page lists it as “Save Up to $400 on a 4-Night, 4-Day Room-and-Ticket Package at Select Disney Resort Hotels.” However, as we pointed out in our analysis of that deal, it is NOT capped at $400. To the contrary, you could save over $1,000 if you actually max out that discount, rather than the $400 that Walt Disney World advertises. (Why they do this is beyond me. It’s deceptive…but in a way that works to their disadvantage!)

What we also know is that the nightly Disney Dining Card guests receive will depend upon their resort tier. Value Resorts are set to receive Disney Dining Cards ranging from $35 to $50 per night, Moderate Resorts will get $75 to $100 per night, and Deluxe Resorts will receive $125 to $150 per night.

In another critical distinction from the real Free Dining, the Disney Dining Card amount will not vary based on the number of people per room. This is a huge blow for larger parties who crammed into a single room–the demo that typically loved Free Dining. It’s a win for couples or solo travelers–the group that routinely called Free Dining a “bad deal.”

Just as subjective assessments of Free Dining being “good” or “bad” were not true across the board, it’s premature to assess the quality of this special offer. It’s really going to depend upon a mixture of resort/room availability, party size, and the total package pricing that DisneyWorld.com spits out when searching for your dates.

As we’ve all probably experienced in the past, there’s often a difference between the official deal details that Walt Disney World touts, and the actual savings that are observed by guests. The above $100/night v. $400/trip is a good example of that, but we’ve seen it countless times even outside of that.

If you’re wondering why this is being offered instead of Free Dining, it’s pretty straightforward: Disney doesn’t need to get that aggressive in order to meet resort occupancy targets (yet). As always, discounts are dictated by supply and demand and not by corporate benevolence. The simple (and unfortunate) fact of the matter is that demand has been so high the last 2 years that Walt Disney World has not had to offer aggressive deals in order to incentivize trips or fill rooms.

That same sentiment could be applied beyond Disney. For pretty much everything, prices have gone up across the board and discounts are less commonplace. That’s due to a mix of pent-up demand, supply chain woes, and worker shortages that exist throughout society right now, from hotels to grocery stores. (If you haven’t already read it, we’d recommend What’s Up with Sold Out Hotels at Walt Disney World?)

The good news is that this is almost certainly going to be a better discount than was offered for the same timeframe last year. On top of that, this also follows 4 discounts that run through March or April 2023 that were released earlier than normal by historical standards. If weak discounting and late releases were a sign that pent-up demand had still been running strong, all of this is a sign that the opposite may no longer be true as of early 2023.

As we’ve written several times in the last few months, we’re optimistic that there will be better Walt Disney World discounts in 2023. There’s a chance this past holiday season was the “last hurrah” for pent-up demand. As that starts to fizzle out, household savings decrease, inflation stings more, and the economy slows down, it seems increasingly likely that Walt Disney World will experience its own slowdown.

The bad news is that this discount will NOT be as good as it appears for many of you. Specifically, anyone who already booked their 2023 Walt Disney World vacation, but did so before December 8, 2022. If that describes you, and you’re planning on applying this special offer retroactively, you might be in for an unpleasant surprise.

This Disney Dining Card promo requires the purchase of park tickets–and prices went up pretty much across the board on December 8. Meaning that if you booked before then, you locked-in cheaper ticket prices. However, if you take advantage of this promo, you lose that lock, and pay the current ticket prices. The end result is that your package price will actually INCREASE (!!!). While most of you should still come out ahead when factoring in the gift card, some of you will not (depends on party size, ticket options, resort, etc.). Confused yet?!

With that said, our hope is that other discounts drop simultaneously with this “free” Disney Dining Card deal. If past precedent is any indication, we will almost certainly see room only discounts for Annual Passholders and Florida residents (albeit possibly with a gap between the two) for roughly the same dates.

What remains to be seen is whether there’s a general public room discount encompassing the same travel dates. My guess is that if there is one, it only encompasses a subset of the Disney Dining Card deal dates. (This would be par for the course and consistent with historical discounts–it’s way too early to release room discounts for August and September 2023.) It also might only be offered to Disney+ subscribers, but it’s easy enough to qualify for that.

With the known details, unknowns, and other assorted commentary out of the way, let’s turn to some quick recommendations for those who want to start preparing for the drop of this “free” Disney Dining Card deal.

First, if you’re looking for the very best dates to take advantage of this, they are probably as follows:

  • August 20 to 31, 2023
  • September 4-9, 2023
  • September 10-30, 2023

Although these will fall under the lower level of Disney Dining Cards, these are when resort rack rates are lower by an amount that typically more than offsets the added gift card amount. Again, how this actually plays out could differ from the official details–so you’ll want to price things out when the deal drops. (We’ll be doing exactly that tomorrow!)

For more on timing your trip to coincide with the lowest prices, see When’s Cheapest to Visit Walt Disney World in 2023? That covers price increases and other variables that impact the cost of a vacation beyond just room rates.

Another hot topic of conversation will undoubtedly revolve around what this means for the Disney Dining Plan. As of January 2023, that is still “temporarily” suspended at Walt Disney World despite assurances that it would return soon back in mid-2021. In When Will the Disney Dining Plan Return? we forecast timing for its comeback, as well as our rationale. It’s a good read that explains why the Dining Plan is integral to Walt Disney World and offers our prediction as to when it’ll return.

In our view, this discount has absolutely no bearing on the return of the Disney Dining Plan. These cards are nothing new, and certainly are not a replacement for the Disney Dining Plan. At the end of the day, both the DDP and these cards serve the exact same purpose: to lock people into spending $X on their vacation, thus buoying per guest spending numbers. (They also keep people on-site, another key purpose.)

Right now, it’s more advantageous for Walt Disney World to offer something straightforward like this Disney Dining Card. However, this will almost certainly not supplant the Disney Dining Plan long-term for one simple reason: it’s too simple and straightforward. The convoluted nature of the Disney Dining Plan is a feature, not a bug.

The Disney Dining Plan has better “breakage” than gift cards by virtue of the simple fact that the vast majority of guests will not use it to full advantage. Not ever guest drinks alcohol, eats steak, loves snacking, etc. Very few people eat in ways that comport with maximizing the Disney Dining Plan’s value if left to their own devices. While breakage certainly exists with gift cards, the Disney Dining Card is far more flexible and malleable to natural eating behavior. It won’t be as wasteful for guests and doesn’t have the same all-inclusive feel.

All of this has been discussed to death in other posts about the Disney Dining Plan, so we’ll spare you further analysis. This is actually one of the big reasons why the Disney Dining Plan has proven so polarizing. Some cannot or will not use it to full advantage, and “see through” the Disney Dining Plan as a result. Then there are diehard fans–many of whom also see through it–have found ways to “hack” it and come out ahead. Finally, some simply want convenience and be able to budget ahead of time, and don’t really care whether they “win” or “lose.”

Regardless, the point still stands that this is not a replacement for the Disney Dining Plan. That very well might change when it returns, but this special offer has almost no bearing on that or its timing. What it does impact is Free Dining. It was already pretty safe to say that there would be no Free Dining in 2023–this all but guarantees that.

Ultimately, this is all a long-winded way of saying that a “free” Disney Dining deal for 2023 is going to be released, but you should really temper your expectations. This is not the real Free Dining, and is really more like a dollar-off discount, but in the form of a rebate that can only be used on dining at Disney-owned restaurants. It could end up being a solid deal for some, but won’t work well for others.

That’s pretty much the nature of the beast with Walt Disney World discounts in the current environment of historically strong demand and hotel occupancy. As always, plan on being flexible with your hotel choice, room category, and even travel dates if this Disney Dining Card is a must-have for you. Even though it’s going to be inferior to (real) Free Dining for most, this is going to garner a lot of attention and will likely be an incredibly popular deal thanks to the way it’s marketed. For many people, the first WDW deal drop day of 2023 is going to be like Christmas morning. Unlike Christmas, though, this is a day on which many of you will just get lumps of coal. We’ll be back bright and early tomorrow morning with details about all of the promotions, sample bookings to illustrate actual savings, and more commentary.

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!

YOUR THOUGHTS…

What do you think of this “free” Disney Dining Card for Summer and early Fall 2023? Disappointed that it’s a flat rate gift card instead of dollars off or a percentage savings like normal, or just happy that something, anything is being offered? If you’re trying for this Disney Dining Card deal, what travel dates are you aiming for? Are you ‘sitting out’ Walt Disney World this year, not wanting to deal with the headache and stress? Any questions? Hearing your feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!

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