A Disney Vacation Club Primer

by Steve Russo, staff writer

As I roam our vast online Disney community, I find it interesting how people’s opinions can vary so widely about the Disney Vacation Club (DVC). The mantra from many DVC members is typically of the “best move I’ve ever made” variety, while others might attack it for any number of reasons. Since there’s quite a bit of misinformation presented, I thought I’d use my own particular soapbox to offer up a few of my own opinions. I will attempt to simplify some of the more complex aspects of membership and you will have to decide how successful I am. I should preface this dissertation by telling you that I am a DVC member since 2000, and yes, I consider it the “best move I’ve ever made."

Disclaimer: While the information I offer here is factual to the best of my knowledge, in some cases, I’ve intentionally only given partial information. Trust me when I say that there is no intent to deceive anyone—I just don’t want this column to become larger than a Tolstoy work. I won’t debate the lease-versus-ownership issue because it would take too long and it causes throbbing over my left eye. To get further into the details, I would recommend Disney’s DVC site (link) or Tim Krasniewski’s excellent informational site called DVCNews (link).

[Editor's note: Additional opinions are available from MousePlanet staff Tony Phoenix, who offered his own thoughts on how he decided to join DVC ("Buying DVC," March 6, 2007), which also included a very helpful spreadsheet worksheet that allows individuals to calculate their finances to determine whether DVC was a good deal for them.]

There's nothing like being greeted with a "Welcome Home." Photo by Steve Russo.

One of the most common arguments against DVC refutes its value as an investment. To that, I would say… it’s not. Please look elsewhere for your investments and, given the current economic climate, you’ll need to look long and hard. DVC presents a very interesting program that allows you to pre-pay (kind of) for your future vacations. Others have written analyses representing present-value versus future-value calculations and tons and what-if scenarios that offer countless conclusions that you’d be better off sinking your dough between layers of a Sealy Posturepedic and paying for your Disney vacations via return bottle deposits… and they all make my head hurt. Please feel free to Google up any of those articles and enjoy yourself. For this particular column, DVC represents an investment in a vacation timeshare. That’s it. Let’s not make it out to be any more.

However, I will offer two comments on the value of a DVC ownership:

  • Since joining DVC, I have paid considerably less in total cost than what would have been the out of pocket cost for the rooms in which I’ve stayed. I’ve calculated that assuming full rack rate as well as 20% and 40% discounts so I’m very comfortable making that claim.
  • I could sell my membership today for more than I paid for it. That may not be true in 2035, but it is true today.

OK, so what is DVC? Isn’t it just another timeshare?

By being a "vacation club," DVC differs significantly from typical timeshare arrangements, where owners typically purchase an interest in a resort unit. The right to use this property is held by many “owners,” who are each given a period (typically one week a year) in which they may use the property. There is a degree of flexibility in that owners often have the option of trading with other owners for a change in the date or the property.

DVC is a bit different; providing the flexibility to stay where, when and how often you want—based on your points and availability . However, unlike most timeshares, your ownership does have a fixed length. Current ownerships revert to Disney in the years between 2042 and 2060 based upon the specific property:

  • Old Key West, Boardwalk Villas, Beach Club Villas, Villas at Wilderness Lodge, Vero Beach Resort, and Hilton Head Resort end on January 31, 2042.
  • Saratoga Springs memberships end on January 31, 2054.
  • Animal Kingdom ends on January 31, 2057.
  • The new Bay Lake Towers listings end January 31, 2060.

What does it cost?

With the DVC, you purchase an ownership by buying a specific number of points. The price of each point has risen over time and currently sits at $106 for Animal Kingdom Villas and $112 for the newest DVC property, Bay Lake Towers, at Disney’s Contemporary resort. Depending upon the timing of your purchase, there are often incentives that can serve to lower the buy-in price.

Once you complete the purchase, you pay an annual assessment $3 to $6 per point for the property maintenance (including fees and taxes) via an annual assessment that typically runs between $3 and $6 per point. That number varies based upon the specific resort and the year. While the maintenance assessment typically rises a bit each year, it historically has risen at a lower rate than resort room charges. I’ve even seen a couple of years when the maintenance assessment was lowered.

The only real way to save money on the initial purchase, outside of a Disney offered discount of some kind, is to buy an existing membership through a resale market. There are several reputable resellers on the market but, I’ve never used any of them and don’t wish to appear to endorse them so… Google is your friend.

How do I use a DVC membership?

When you buy into DVC, you’re actually buying an ownership interest in a specific resort, called your Home Resort. That does not preclude reserving rooms and staying at any other DVC resort worldwide. It does, however, tell you when you can make a reservation. You can reserve up to 11 months in advance at your Home Resort, and seven months in advance at all others. That can be a big deal for some resorts at specific times of the year.

For example, due to their proximity to Epcot’s World Showcase, the Epcot resorts (the Boardwalk and Beach Club Villas) are in high demand during the annual Flower and Garden and Food and Wine Festivals. If neither is your Home Resort, you’d have to call for a reservation at the seven-month window and, by that time, the two Epcot resorts could already be at capacity.

It’s still to be determined, but I’m betting there will be similar demand for the new Bay Lake Towers—mainly due to the fact it’s a short walk or monorail ride to the Magic Kingdom.

What do rooms cost?

One of the beauties of DVC is that there is no out-of-pocket expense for your resort room. Your DVC points take care of that and there’s not even a sales tax or hotel tax charged. Assuming you don’t ring up any dining or shopping charges, you will have a zero bill for your DVC stay.

However, you are charged points for each stay. How many? It depends, and this is where many people become confused. The points charged for a room varies (much the same way the cost of a room varies), based on:

  1. The room type – DVC room types include a Studio, 1 Bedroom, 2 Bedroom and a Grand Villa
  2. The day of the week – Friday and Saturday nights cost more in points than Sunday through Thursday
  3. The time of year –a year is broken up into several Seasons (for example, a room during Christmas week costs more than the same room in January)

Got all that? Really, it’s not significantly different from the pricing structure for cash rooms at Disney World.

Will the cost of a room ever go up?

This is a much tougher question because the real answer is “yes and no."

Let’s start with the premise that each DVC resort has a fixed number of points allotted to it for each year. That number of points is based on the number of rooms in the resort and the room types. Contractually, that cannot change unless there are additional rooms constructed and added to the resort. An example of this is the recent addition of the new Tree House Villas to Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa. Even though Saratoga Springs DVC had been sold out a while ago, they were able to offer more points for sale due to the addition of the Tree Houses.

What about the points per night? Let’s use a real world example here. My home resort is the Boardwalk Villas and I typically stay there in a Standard View Studio room in January. Since joining in 2000, and through all of 2009, the cost of that room is 9 points per night for a weekday (Sunday-Thursday) and 20 points per night for a weekend (Friday or Saturday). The cost of a full week is 85 points (two nights at 20 points plus five nights at 9 points = 40+45=85).

I’m guessing that quite a few people would book Sunday through Thursday night and spend Friday and Saturday staying for cash at another resort. I’ve done that myself. In an apparent attempt to smooth the demand, DVC recently announced a change in point “costs” for 2010.

In 2010, the cost of that room will be 10 points per night for a weeknight (Sunday through Thursday) and 16 points per night for a weekend (Friday or Saturday). The cost of a full week will be 82 points. The cost of a Weeknight went up by 1 point while a Weekend night went down by 4 points. The weekly rate dropped by 3 points. There are similar changes at the other resorts as well.

So will the cost of a room ever go up? Yes, as long as it also goes down. Is your head starting to hurt?

Managing your points

You might ask how many points you get, when you get them, and can they be managed so you can vary your length of stay, room type, etc. The answers are it varies, it varies, and yes.

Disney had originally set a minimum number of points for a membership at 150, then grew it to 160. Now  it appears they are rising to 200 for the Bay Lake Towers. The maximum available for your purchase is limited only by the points available for a resort and your budget. For the sake of argument, and because it’s easier to deal with round numbers, let’s say you purchase 200 points at Animal Kingdom Villas. Also, because it will be easier to deal with, let’s assume you bought in so that your “Use Year” begins in January. The “Use Year” refers to the 12-month period within which you can use your points. At the beginning of your Use Year (in our example, each January 1), you will receive 200 points in your account for use by the end of the Use Year (the following December 31 in our example). You can make reservations using those points before you get them so forward planning is still allowed (and encouraged). What that means is that you could call in March 2009 and make a reservation for the following February 2010 and use the points you won’t receive until January 2010.

You’re reaching for the Excedrin bottle now, aren’t you?

Banking points

Let’s assume that the reservation in February 2010 is for one week in a Studio Villa and will cost 99 points (that’s an accurate rate for a Standard View Studio from February 1–15 at the Animal Kingdom Villas). You will receive 200 points on January 1and, after this stay, you will have 101 left (200 minus the 99). You can choose to use those points for stays in the remaining months of 2010, or… you can “bank” them.

Banking these points will place them into the next Use Year so, in January 2011, you will receive your normal 200 points plus the 101 you have banked and will have 301 points at your disposal. You must use (or lose) those banked points within the 2011 Use Year so for any reservation, DVC will use those points (the 2010 points) before using any of the 2011 points.

Do I see a slight twitch over your left eye?

Borrowing points

Borrowing points works pretty close to the exact opposite of banking them. Let’s use the same example where we have a one-week stay in February 2010 and use 99 points. You have 101 left but… let’s assume you would like another vacation in October, and this time you will be bringing friends for the Food and Wine Festival and want a week in a two-bedroom Villa at the Boardwalk. A two-bedroom with a Standard View will run 236 points.  You have 101 so you can borrow the balance, 135 points, from your 2011 allotment. Now, when you get your 200 points in January 2011, you will only have 65 remaining (200 minus the 135 you borrowed). Got all that? More Excedrin?

Some other frequent questions

Q: Can I use DVC points to stay at Disney’s non-DVC resorts?
A: Yes; these resorts are collectively known as the Disney Collection. In my opinion, there’s little value here. It would cost more in points to stay at a Disney Moderate resort (Caribbean Beach, Port Orleans, etc.) than a DVC resort.

Q: What are the current DVC resorts?
A: The current Disney Vacation Club Resorts include:

  • Disney's Animal Kingdom Villas
  • Disney's Beach Club Villas
  • Disney's Boardwalk Villas 
  • Disney's Hilton Head Island Resort
  • Disney's Old Key West Resort
  • Disney's Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa
  • Disney's Vero Beach Resort
  • The Villas at Disney's Wilderness Lodge
  • Bay Lake Towers (Contemporary Resort)

Q: Are there more coming?
A: There certainly are. MousePlanet recently covered the groundbreaking for the Ko Olina resort in Hawaii. You can read that here (link). The new Tree House Villas are being constructed as part of the Saratoga Springs Resort. Additionally, the left coast will be getting their first DVC resort when the Villas at the Grand Californian open in late 2009.

Q: What’s next?
A: There are some rumors about Myrtle Beach but we’ll have to wait and see. There are always rumors.

Q: Where else can I stay with DVC?
A: You can stay within the Disney Collection (mentioned above) and use your points for the Disney Cruise Line, other resorts at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, Disneyland Resort in California, and Disney Destinations Around the World (Paris, Tokyo and Hong Kong).

DVC members can also take advantage of the World Passport collection by trading out with similar timeshare facilities. You can arrange accommodations at Club Intrawest Resorts, Club Cordial, or with exchanges through RCI.

Members can also reserve stays in some very prestigious properties within the Concierge Collection and the Adventurer Collection for those special experiences offered with Adventures by Disney. Again, for details see Disney's DVC site (link).

Q: What other benefits do DVC members get?
A: There’s an ever-changing list of member benefits that can be tracked via a members-only Web site. These are also presented to you in a Members’ Perks pamphlet at check-in. The benefits normally involve dining and shopping discounts at select restaurants and shops around the World. They also include discounts on boat rentals, salon visits, etc. A significant discount on an Annual Pass has also existed for some time. In addition, DVC members staying on their points are provided with free wired network access during their stay.

So what’s the bottom line? Do I recommend DVC to everyone? No, I don’t. For some folks like me, it’s a wonderful program, but I’d be the first to tell you it’s not for everyone. In my opinion (where have I heard that phrase before?), these are the questions that can determine if DVC is a fit for you:

  • Will you vacation at Disney World (or one of the other DVC locations) annually or at least every other year?
  • Would you prefer staying in deluxe resort accommodations rather than off-site, value or moderate resorts?
  • Can you plan your vacations in advance?
  • Is the concept of prepaying for your vacations attractive to you?
  • Do the various sized villas available hold an attraction for you and your family?
  • Do you like the concept of a timeshare but prefer the flexibility of staying when, where and as often as you want?

If you can answer “yes” to one or more of those questions, you should look deeper into DVC ownership. Sign up for and take the DVC tour. Unlike most time-share presentations, it is extremely low key with almost no pressure to buy. I think most people would feel it’s a good investment of time just for the educational aspect. And have I mentioned how nice it is to hear “Welcome home?"

That’s my opinion. What’s yours?