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Should you buy an Annual Pass for your next Disney World trip?

If you plan on visiting Disney World more than once a year, an annual pass might be the way to go. Non-Florida residents pay around $650 for unlimited access to all four parks and free parking, but they also get resort and merchandise discounts throughout much of the year. Of course, the one problem with having an annual pass is that while it can save you money, the opposite is also true: It can make going to Disney more often than you probably should make perfect sense!

Here’s who an annual pass works for:

1. You take at least three short trips, for a total of 10 park days. Because of the way ticket are priced more expensive on the front end, even if you go just three short weekends a year, your pass will have you come out ahead.

2. You go once a year but you can space out your trips to use your pass twice. So say you go February 1, 2013 and that’s when your pass starts. Your 2014 vacation would be sometime at the end of January, getting in all those last few days on your pass

3. You don’t intend to participate in promotions like free dining. Keep in mind that discounts like free dining require you to purchase a 2-day park ticket for everyone in your party. Having an annual pass doesn’t preclude purchasing a 2-day ticket, of course, but it does mean you have to keep that ticket until you upgrade your pass or you can use it in the future. If you don’t mind that financial outlay, it’s not an issue.

4. You’re taking one long family trip and one short “grownup weekend” and you use the hopper option. Again, just as in scenario 1 above, your pass will pay for itself.

The one reason I don’t recommend buying an annual pass is for the discounts. Sure, they’re nice. Getting 10% off merchandise at most locations helps. But room discounts for passholders at Walt Disney World are rarely no better than general public discounts, although sometimes they cover periods when general public discounts are blacked out. You’ll want to shop around and compare when you buy your pass if you’re using possible discounts as part of your reasoning. I think of discounts associated with my annual pass as an extra bonus, not part of the rationale for buying a pass.

How did you do the math on your annual pass? Or did you do the math and decide it didn’t work for you?