Disneyland suspends new sales of the Southern California AP

by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix, staff writer

Citing a need to balance demand and provide an excellent experience for park visitors, the Disneyland Resort today suspended new sales of the Southern California annual passport until further notice. No other Disneyland annual passports are affected at this time.

In a statement, a Disneyland spokesperson tells MousePlanet, "Our Annual Passes are very popular with guests. We continuously seek the appropriate balance that helps manage demand for our product and allows us to deliver a world-class experience for all guests."

Disney has suspended sales of this same pass once before, in May 2014, and only resumed sales in September 2016. Prior to that, Disney temporarily halted sales of all annual passports before the 2001 grand opening of Disney California Adventure park, but quickly resumed sales when the expected crowds did not materialize.

Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge opens in 2019 at Disneyland, and park managers are already looking at how to manage demand for the new land. Photo © Disney.

As in 2014, this hiatus affects only new sales, and has no impact on existing passholders. Current Southern California passholders can continue to use the pass, and may opt to renew the pass before it expires.

Passholders who recently allowed their SoCal passport to expire without renewing it will be given a grace period during which they can renew the pass at the same level. Disney is today mailing letters to eligible passholders, with instructions on how to renew.

We do not yet know how Disney will handle the expiration date for these late renewals. In 2014, DIsney allowed those who let their SoCal AP expire in the 90 days prior to the announcement to renew during the grace period, but the new pass retained the original expiration date. If this holds true again, a passholder can renew a Southern California pass that expired September 1, 2017 at any time during the grace period, but the new pass will still expire September 1, 2018.

Depending on your actual expiration date, it may be worth upgrading to the Deluxe pass anyway, so be sure to run the numbers once you receive the letter from Disney to see what makes financial sense for you. You can also renew in person at Disneyland ticket booths.

If you do not already have a SoCal passport, or yours lapsed more than three months ago, you're out of luck, with one exception. When this happened in 2014, several readers asked what their options were for children who about to turn 3 and needed to buy their first annual pass. One reader wrote at the time, "I have a two year old who obviously does not have a pass. Our renewal is before her birthday. If we renew as SoCal, will we be able to get the new 3 year old a SoCal pass on her birthday?"

A Disney spokesperson said that, in this type of situation, the parents would be able to purchase a SoCal pass for the 3-year-old. As is often the case with unusual cases like this, front-line cast members at the ticket booths may not be able to assist you. If you have a special situation that you feel warrants an exception, be sure to ask for a manager to take a look at your passholder account.

Paradise Pier will be refurbished and re-themed to Pixar in 2018. Photo © Disney.

The timing of this announcement may seem unusual, especially coming less than a month before the holiday blockout season begins for this pass. However, a large percentage of annual passports are purchased as gifts and/or renewed at this time of year. As we wrote in 2014, this may be a move by Disney to increase its passholder renewal numbers as we go into another waiting year, especially with the reminder that "pass types are limited in quantity," and, "passes may no longer be available for purchase and/or renewal at any time."

There seem to be a number of passholders who are thinking about taking 2018 off, and buying a new pass in 2019 for the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge. Those passholders may think twice about letting their pass lapse when it expires if faced with the possibility of not being able to purchase a new one next year.

For those who still want to give the gift of a Disneyland AP, there are still five to choose from, including the SoCal Select pass for residents of ZIP codes 90000 to 93599. This $339 pass is blocked out on all weekends, all holidays, and during the peak Spring, Summer, and Winter vacation seasons. Disney doesn't seem to be facing any attendance issues as a result of people who only visit on off-peak weekdays, and is thus leaving that pass alone for now.

Also still available are the:

  • Deluxe Passport ($619) – blocked out most holidays, most Saturdays, and two weeks in December.
  • Signature Passport ($849) – blocked out December 18-January 1.
  • Signature Plus Passport ($1,049) – no blockout dates.
  • Premier Passport ($1439) – no blockout dates, valid at Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World Resort.

Each time Disney makes a change to ticket pricing or availability, I point out that pricing decisions are used in part to steer consumer behavior. The Basic—and subsequent SoCal—passes were created to drive traffic into the parks on days that were typically under used: off-season weekdays and Sundays. Those who took advantage of the lower-priced passes (and you can count all of the MousePlanet founders among that number) definitely created new usage patterns at the parks, to where, nearly two decades later, Sundays are often the busiest day of the week.

Coming in 2018, Pixar Fest will feature a new fireworks show at Disneyland. Photo © Disney.

The explosion of the passholder population in recent years, fueled by the monthly payment option for California residents, has completely changed attendance patterns. Now some of the best times for "day guests" to visit Disneyland are on days when all of the annual passports are blocked, or a Saturday where the SoCal passes are not blocked the following Sunday. For recent examples of this shift in visits, you need only look at the opening Friday nights of both Halloween Time and the Holiday promotion, when the parking lots reached capacity due to passholders heading to the Resort after they left school or work. However, after Disney imposed a two-week holiday blockout on all but the most expensive annual passport last year, the parks were downright pleasant during what are normally some of the most crowded days of the year.

Disney uses other measures to nudge people into visiting during less-crowded times of the year, offering "Southern California Residents" discount promotions during the off-season, and last year by implementing seasonal pricing. With Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge scheduled to open in 2019, Disney is certainly looking at ways to refine their ticket, annual passport and promotional pricing offerings to manage demand. While Disney calls this a hiatus for the Southern California passport, we think it will be more than two years before we see it offered again.