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by Military Diva

Tips for working with a travel agent and getting the best deal.

Free dining ahead! Proceed with Caution!

Quick!  Show of hands, how many of you played the Disney World  Free Dining Game of 2017?  Did you come out a winner or did you fail miserably?

This year’s announcement of Disney’s World’s famous-fall-discounts created quite a stir on social media.  Major changes to the Free Dining plan, limited availability and smaller savings sparked post after post online. Sites like Facebook and Twitter were flooded with commentary. But too often these comments included negativity towards Travel Agents that were spending hours trying to accommodate their clients.  In fact, I thought my phone was going to blow up in protest of the constant notifications!

Tips for working with a travel agent and getting the best deal.

Free Dining makes everyone, well almost everyone, happy!

So what makes this year so much different from previous years? And why all the negativity?

Well, when Disney World first began offering Free Dining, guests were required to book a Magic Your Way package with base park tickets only. The offer typically included a minimum stay and/or minimum ticket requirement. Guests staying at a Disney World Value Resort received complimentary Quick Service dining; guests staying in a Disney World Moderate or Deluxe Resort were eligible for free Standard Dining plans.  The savings from this discount could be quite significant! In fact, the promotion has become so popular that the fall travel season, historically the least crowded travel dates, have become the most crowded.  And what follows popularity in any type of market?  Promotion changes, fewer offerings and smaller discounts!

This years “Feast on a Delicious Offer” was quite a surprise to most Disney followers.  Here’s what Disney World’s 2017 Free Dining promotion includes.

Disney World’s Feast on a Delicious Offer, 2017

  • To qualify for this offer, guests must check in to a Disney World resort on one of the following dates: August 23-September 30, 2017; November 14-November 20, 2017; November 25-November 27, 2017; December 8-December 23, 2017.  (*Disney Visa Cardholders are eligible for additional check-in dates from August 13-August 22, 2017.)
  • Disney World guests must purchase a Magic Your Way package that includes Park Hopper or Park Hopper Plus Passes.  Packages with base tickets only do not qualify.
  • Guests with a MYW package for a Value or Moderate Resorts may be eligible for free Quick Service Dining.
  • Guests with a MYW package that includes Deluxe or Deluxe Villa accommodations may qualify for free Standard Dining.
  • Minimum purchase of  two-day Hopper/Hopper Plus passes is required.
  • “Feast on a Delicious Offer” does not apply to guests staying at Disney World Campsites, 3 bedroom villas, Art of Animation Little Mermaid Standard Rooms, or Polynesian Villa Bungalows.

The major changes to be noted this year are the shift in the Moderate category to Quick Service dining and the exclusion of all October dates of travel.  Overall, the number of rooms available in every resort seemed to be very limited as well.

The popularity of the Free Dining promotion has moved many potential guests to book packages well in advance. They hope a great promotion will be released and their package will qualify for a modification.  While this has worked for many guests, the plan in general seems to be backfiring.   Disney World no longer sees the need to offer huge promotions to draw in guests.  Their rooms are already full!

So why are so many people getting frustrated with Travel Agents?  From what I have been reading, many people feel their agents should be working harder to modify reservations or obtain packages under these discounts.  I have read comments such as “lazy” or “failed to do their job” over and over. I honestly feel this is so far from the truth in most cases. I would like to clarify a few points I have learned during this journey.

Notes from My Travel Agent

  • Travel agents typically do not receive advance notice of promotions from Disney. Most agents receive an official email notice about a half hour before the promotion hits Disney’s booking engine.  Agents rely on rumors from cast members and past history to try to gauge the release day.
  • Agents lose hours of sleep waiting for the promotion announcement. The promotions usually hit the computer systems between 4 and 6 am EST.  Many agents spend days, waking every half hour, watching for the promotion.
  • Disney’s travel agent booking engine often freezes during promotional periods.  The high volume of agents trying to book at once often freezes Disney’s Travel Agent site.  As a result many agents spend hours on hold attempting to call in their bookings.
  • Disney Travel Agents lose commission during promotions. Agents’ commissions are based on the total price of a client’s package.  When the package price decreases, so does the commission.

As you can guess, the free dining promotion period is not an easy time for Travel Agents.  Most agents want to obtain the best pricing for their clients, despite the days of lost sleep and decreased profits. But many guests believe their agents should be able to work magic!  The reality is that agents cannot provide you with discounts on rooms or packages that Disney does not offer.  They do not control pricing, availability or even the order with which their call is taken.

Tips for working with a travel agent and getting the best deal.

Disney World’s refillable mugs, included with your dining plan!

So here are some tips to help you work with your Travel Agent for the remainder of this promotional period (and maybe prepare you all for next year).

  • Consider a realistic budget for your Disney World vacation.  Plan your vacation around this budget, without discounts.  You will not be overly disappointed if a discount is not offered and may even be surprised if you are able to move to a better resort if you do receive a discount.
  • Speak with your Travel Agent about priorities for your trip. Is your heart set on a particular resort or dates of travel? Or are you willing to move resorts or dates to obtain a discount?
  • Ask your Travel Agent how they prioritize their clients.  Some attempt to apply discounts in chronological order based on Travel dates while others work in order of booking dates (first booked, first discounted). If you are not happy with your place you may speak with your agent about booking your own trip and then transferring to the agent for the remainder of the planning.  They may even be willing to show you exactly what to look for and what to book.
  • Inquire as to whether your agent will be watching and working on the day discounts are announced.  Or, do they wait a few days for the hysteria to die down before attempting to apply discounts.
  • Will your agent continue to watch for discounts prior to your travel? Remember many agents and solo guests alike put holds on discounted packages the first few days they are announced.  Within three days a large number of holds are dropped, opening packages back to the public.

As with most things in life, communication is key when working with an agent and hoping for a Disney World discount.  The more you ask in advance, the less surprised you will be with the outcome.  And the more information you provide your agent, the better equipped they will be to serve your needs.

Disney World’s Free Dining season is a high stress period of work for all Disney specialized Travel Agents.  Most work days and nights, harder than the general public realized.

Please be kind, be considerate and proceed with caution.  Remember your Travel Agent holds your vacation in their hands!!