Personal Finance

Disney Vacation Club Buyers Guide: Is Membership Worth It?

Disney vacation clubThe Happiest Place on Earth. Just one of the many wonderful destinations you can visit with the Disney Vacation Club, a property ownership club that can save you a ton of money anytime you want to take the family on a vacation to visit Mickey Mouse and all of his friends. But it’s more than just amusement parks; the Disney Vacation Club offers accommodations at different Disney resort properties throughout the United States along with a multitude of destinations around the world. Vacation packages include all Disney branded hotels, resorts, cruise lines and non-Disney vacation getaways at a significant discount when you become a member.

Whether you want to spend the day at a Disney Park, go skiing in the Alps, enjoy world-class golf courses, or kick your feet in the sand on a luxury beachfront, the Disney Vacation Club has just what you’re looking for with a variety of resorts that the whole family can enjoy.

So what exactly is the Disney Vacation Club? Glad you asked. There’s a lot to see and do when you become a member and signing up is easy. But some of you may be wondering if becoming a part of this program is really worth the price. Let’s take a look at what the club has to offer, how it works, the costs, and the rental market that has begun to bloom in recent years.

What is the Disney Vacation Club?

The Disney Vacation Club (DVC) is a timeshare program where members purchase real estate interest in one of thirteen Disney operated resorts, nine of which are located at Walt Disney World in Florida, one at the Disneyland Resort in California, and remaining three resorts are located in Oahu, Hawaii, Hilton Head, South Carolina, and Vero Beach, Florida. When you buy into one of these properties you pay an upfront fee and then annual dues for the length of your membership.

The theory behind club membership is that you can ultimately save money on visiting Disney parks, branded resort properties, and a myriad of Disney vacation packages along with various other destinations around the globe. The costs of buying into the program vary based upon the size of the property you wish to have an interest in and the amount of Vacation Points you would like to earn annually. The property you select and the points you wish to accrue will affect your costs.

For example, getting into Disney Polynesian Villas and Bungalows at 350 Vacation Points per year will require an initial purchase price of $58,800 with closing costs of approximately $1,169.54. You will then need to pay monthly dues of $177.63 per month to continue your participation in the Club. Those points may then be cashed in to book vacations at different properties and resorts.

The Points System

As a member, you get DVC points which are good for use at any one of the 13 major Disney Vacation Club resorts, along with Disney hotels in the U.S., France, Japan, and Hong Kong, as well as the Disney Cruise Line and a whole list of non-Disney branded vacation packages. These points are earned annually for travel anytime and the amount of points you wish to use for any one trip is entirely up to you.

Let’s take the same membership package listed above as an example, which comes with 350 annual points to spend. According to the Disney Vacation Club website, some sample vacations you could enjoy with your points would be anything from a three night stay at the Disney Polynesian Villas and Bungalows in a deluxe studio room with a view of the lake for just 91 points to a one week stay at the Aulani, Disney Vacation Club Villas in Hawaii in a one bedroom ocean view villa for 350 points (the full balance of your points allotment for the year).

The choice is up to you on how you wish to use your points but the selling point that Disney uses with the points is the ability to lock in your price on future vacations to avoid any price fluctuations in the future. Your bookings are subject to availability, of course, and there are certain properties that are easier to book than others. But the more points you have, then the more flexibility there is in booking those properties. The good thing about DVC Vacation Points is that each one has a specific value and that value will never decrease, even as the cost of staying at a Disney hotel often rises from 5-10% annually.

Use Yearsvacation written on calendar

The amount of points you purchase annually through your membership are assigned a “use year”, which is determined by the month your points would be recycled if you don’t use them all up.

For example, let’s say the use year on your points begins in May. You then have the entire calendar year to use your allotment of points; we’ll take the previous example of 350. Those 350 points can be applied to one or as many vacations you would like up until the points are used up entirely. However, if the year passes and you still have a balance of, let’s say 85 points left, then those points would flip over into the next use year in addition to the 350 new points you would be receiving through your membership.

Conversely, if you book one or more vacations within your allotted use year and you need to get more points, then you may borrow against the 350 that are coming in the next use year as well. But you must be careful about how you use your points, particularly with respect to the destinations and vacations you wish to book as you receive more value in some cases than others.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Using Points

So you’ve got 350 points for your use year and you’re deciding what vacations you want to book. Sure there are the 13 main resorts at Disneyland, Disney World, Oahu, Hilton Head, or Vero Beach and any one of them sound great. But then you also have the Cruise line or maybe you want to see Japan, and don’t forget the official Disney Vacation Club site has a whole range of non-Disney vacation packages outside of the main resorts as well.

The thing to keep in mind here is that the DVC points are best when being used at Disney branded properties. First things first, however – think about why you’ve purchased this membership. Are you looking for the best discounts on going to Disneyland or Disney World in order to ultimately save some money on these trips, or was your membership more for the conveniences of advance planning and that warm and fuzzy feeling you get knowing you own some property at one of the two parks?

There are plenty of hardcore Disney fans who purchase just because they go to the parks at least once a year, maybe more, anyway. If the money saving aspect is the most important part to you, then you may want to use your points strictly at the 13 main resorts. If you’re the latter consumer who likes the convenience of the Club and the many perks and benefits that come with it, then you may feel more encouraged to spend the points along the entire spectrum of opportunities that the Disney Vacation Club has to offer. Applying your points at various locations at certain times of the year requires some serious homework on the part of the frugal points spender.

Weeknights over weekends is another smart thing to consider when you’re deciding which places to stay during your trip. You may even need to change properties based on the points charts that are applicable for the vacation you want to take. One thing members stress not to do is use your DVC points for travel on the Disney Cruise Line or Adventures by Disney because you just don’t get the same maximum bang for your points buck. However, if you’re just in it to have a great time and you don’t really keep a keen eye on the amount of points you need to spend for a certain trip, then this doesn’t necessarily apply to you.

The Benefits of Disney Vacation Club Membership

If you have a family with children, you absolutely love the Disneyland and Disney World parks, and you can visit them every year or two, then the Disney Vacation Club may just be a great deal for you. Becoming a member can offer some incredible value for travel to the main branded properties along with a whole host of additional perks and benefits that you can enjoy.

For starters, there are loads of great discounts at Disney World restaurants, recreational programs, and tours, discounts at Disney’s Pleasure Island property and Disney Water Parks, and of course, a $100 discount on Annual Passes as well as $125 off of Premium Level Annual Passes. So, in addition to the value you’re getting with your accommodations, you’re also saving money on admission to the parks and a whole list of amenities for the duration of your stay.

There is also the convenience factor of membership, offering you the ability to book a property at the resort where you purchased into the program up to 11 months in advance. So with our current example still in place, you can book a spot at the Disney Polynesian Villas and Bungalows nearly one year in advance of your desired check out date. Depending on the home resort where you have purchased your interest, this can be very helpful in getting a room at certain times of the year in a popular property. For any of the other main resort properties, that advance booking is available 7 months ahead.

Besides the value that the Disney Vacation Club can offer, many consumers opt into the program for the convenience of booking properties. However, if you are not someone who has the luxury of planning their vacations with so much advance notice, then the Club may not be as beneficial. Maximum occupancy of even the least popular resorts can be reached quickly during certain busy seasons throughout the year, with the summer months, spring break, and popular seasonal holidays such as Halloween and Christmas being some of the more sought after booking dates. So the advance booking capacity certainly helps to ensure you get into the property you want at the time of year you choose.

Knowing the cost of your vacations up front, for the next few decades theoretically, is of great benefit to many long-time Disney Vacation Club members. The length of your contract will vary, of course, but it’s important to note that the program is slated to expire on January 31, 2042 for four of the resorts: Old Key West, Boardwalk Villas, Villas at Wilderness Lodge, and the Beach Club Villas all of which are located at Walt Disney World in Florida. Membership at The Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa is set to end on January 31, 2054 while the Animal Kingdom Villas are scheduled to expire January 31, 2047. All ownership will then revert back to Disney in perpetuity.

The Rental Markettimeshare rentals road sign

One of the ways consumers can enjoy the benefits of Disney Vacation Club membership is through the points market. We’ve already discussed how Vacation Points work for current members enrolled into the Disney Vacation Club program, however some individuals and families have found a better value in the capability of buying points from members who “rent” their unused points to non-members.

This mutually beneficial relationship lets members get paid for points they’re not using or have no intention of using and it gives non-members the opportunity to enjoy many of the same deep discounts on accommodations that members receive from the program. Like any such arrangement, there are certain restrictions, advantages, and disadvantages for both parties, but in most instances the rental market is a smart way to do Disney.

How the Rental Market Works

Let’s go back to the sample membership at the Disney Polynesian Villas and Bungalows with 350 Vacation Points per year. Those points can be offered to prospective non-members at a certain set price per point. If you happen to be someone who is interested in renting those points, then you can enter into this arrangement through one of two ways, either contacting the member directly about using their points or going through a broker.

Some prospective renters may feel comfortable with the latter because a third party is involved in the equation, which offers some form of consumer protection, but may also cost additional fees. But whichever option you choose, it breaks down simply as you paying a member to book a reservation at one of the 13 main resorts for you, using the appropriate number of points necessary for the resort and type of room you prefer. The reservation is made in your name and you get to enjoy a great room at a lower price than normal. You will be treated just as if you were a member and your stay at a Disney Vacation Club resort can be a much more enjoyable experience then if you chose to pay full price at a hotel.

There are some risks involved in these transactions, although they are rare. Aside from outright scams and fraud on the parts of members trying to take money from unsuspecting individuals, the bigger concern lies with a non-member paying a member to book a reservation only to have that purchaser show up to discover their reservation has been canceled because the owner defaulted on their mortgage payment or didn’t pay their monthly dues. These are unfortunate circumstances that don’t often happen, but represent the biggest risk to a prospective points renter.

With a broker in the picture, there are guarantees and protections in place in the event such a thing occurs, but under no circumstances is Disney a part of a resale market transaction. So, in the event something does go awry and you did not go with a broker, don’t expect to contact Disney and ask them for help; they won’t offer you any and they can’t do anything about what happened, anyway.

Savvy consumers know how to protect themselves before walking into any potential transaction of this magnitude, and doing your homework is the smartest way to make sure everything is done above board. The cost for using these points can vary depending upon the member, the property, and the time of year, so you can expect to pay anywhere from $12-17 per point in most cases.

But, if you’re looking to stay for a week at the at Aulani, Disney Vacation Club Villas in Hawaii in a one bedroom ocean view villa (which we already know can run up to 350 points), then you’re looking at a potential cost of $5,950, on the high-end, for the week. Compared to the price of that room offered to non-members at certain times of the year, you could be saving a considerable amount of money over booking it directly through Disney.

What You Don’t Get

If you’re still considering the rental market, then there are certain things you need to keep in mind before you enter into an agreement with a current member in good standing. Those points only get you so much, and that starts with the types of properties that are available to you.

Disney got wise to these points arrangements that members were offering to non-members, so in 2011 they imposed some restrictions on points use in the resale market. For the most part, prospective renters are only eligible for accommodations at the 13 main resorts. A member may not rent out points or make reservations for non-members at any non-Disney Vacation Club hotels near either of the main parks nor the international parks. Disney Cruise Lines and Adventures by Disney vacations are also ineligible.

Don’t expect to get all of the same discounts and amenities while you’re staying on the property, either. You won’t have daily maid service but they do come in once or twice for basic towel exchange, trash emptying, and one cleaning based on the length of your stay. The discounts at restaurants, shops, tours, etc. also aren’t extended to non-members, but you may get lucky at a few places. The usual perks of staying on-site, like additional hours at the park and the Magic Express DO apply for non-members, however.

You may not have some of the luxuries of canceling or changing a reservation with a member’s points than you would had you booked with the resort directly, and you may need to pay a larger deposit or pay the full sum in total much earlier than you would with the property. Keep in mind, this is a resort property, not a hotel room.

Finally, anything you require can be done only through your Disney Vacation Club member. Calling the front desk of the resort will yield no results with just about anything. You can’t call to confirm your reservation, and they won’t book anything for you during your stay as all member services are essentially off limits to anyone other than the DVC member. So, if you need something booked or arranged during your stay, it can only be done by the member from whom you are renting points.

For some consumers, this can be a deal-breaker, but for others it poses a negligible extra step to save a ton of money on a terrific Disney vacation. Two of the most popular and trusted brokers for Vacation Points are David’s Vacation Club Rentals and The DVC Rental Store. Both have been in business for years and hold positive ratings with the Better Business Bureau.

The Disney Vacation Club Resale Market

There is a difference between the rental and resale markets for Disney Vacation Club members. So far, we’ve been talking about non-members renting points from current members so that they may enjoy some of the discounted benefits of ownership, even if they can’t access all of the perks. But there is also another option: resale.

Sometimes a member realizes that they are holding on to a membership that they just aren’t getting value from anymore and it might be time to explore the resale market. It gives these members the opportunity to sell off their property ownership to non-members who are looking to get into the Disney Vacation Club at deep discounts.

Resale in this regard refers solely to a member selling off their entire membership instead of selling off (or renting) just their points to non-members. However, there are some restrictions that have been implemented on the part of Disney for these transactions, much in the same manner as those that are currently imposed upon the rental of points. Non-members can save a lot of money by getting into the Disney Vacation Club through the resale market, but if they really want to enjoy every privilege that comes with membership, then they would be better off buying direct from Disney.

No More Membership Extras

In an effort to maintain what the company calls “a premium advantage”, Disney extended similar perk restrictions that are currently applied for rental of points by non-members to buying ownership through resale. These include limitations on where resale buyers can use the points that come with their membership.

If you assume a timeshare membership from a current member who wants to sell their stake in the program, then you will be subject to these restrictions which limit your use of points to the 13 main properties, RCI exchanges, Club Cordial properties in Austria and Italy and Club Intrawest at Mont-Tremblant in Quebec, Canada. That means you cannot apply them for use on the Disney Cruises or other Disney Collection, Concierge Collection, or Adventurer Collection reservations.

Furthermore, resale buyers won’t be able to enjoy the Membership Extras of other Disney Vacation Club benefits for deep discounts on dining, shopping, Member events, and other Member offers. Yes, that also includes merchandise and Annual Pass purchases.

Individuals who purchase a membership directly from Disney won’t be subject to these restrictions. Of course, this is all imposed on purpose as Disney would prefer new members buy through them instead of purchasing a current member’s ownership.

Purchasing through the Resale Market

If the restrictions that come with buying through resale over Disney don’t faze you, then you have a number of options to initiate a purchase through a reputable resale broker.

There are online agencies such as DVC Resale Market and the TimeShare Store that specialize in facilitating transactions between people looking to buy and those looking to sell their Disney Vacation Club membership. Buyers can turn in an offer on a property by providing their current information and submitting their proposed price per point and then working out a deal on who will be paying closing cost and commissions. In most cases, the buyer assumes closing costs as the seller typically pays the sale commission on the property, but not every deal is worked out in this manner.

The two parties also must determine who will be taking over the dues for the current year. Buyers can search these websites for current listings of available properties and then submit a bid on the listing they prefer. There can be multiple offers on the same listing as certain properties are more desirable for ownership than others. But remember, purchasing at one property allows you to enjoy the 12 others as well. Prices on some listings are negotiable, so you don’t necessarily have to pay the asking price on the listing either.

Additionally, the costs associated with the transaction are entirely upfront – there are no hidden expenses once you initiate. You’re going to pay a purchase price, closing costs, and any outstanding dues. Nothing more. Closing costs usually run somewhere between $350 and $775, but the true cost is dependent on the purchase price. Most transactions take about 8 weeks to close but that could be longer or shorter depending on the transaction itself.

There is a protocol that must be followed to close each deal, which first requires signed contracts from both the buyer and the seller once a price has been agreed upon by both parties. Then it’s up to Disney to decide on exercising their Right of First Refusal.

The Right of First Refusal Option

Disney has 30 days to review every contract that is initiated between a buyer and a seller. The option puts the company in a position to step in and buy the property from the seller if they determine the purchase price to be too low by their standard. Every transaction is subject to review by Disney and, if they are unhappy with the negotiated price, then they will buy the property back at the current terms, making them the new buyer.

Once Disney exercises its right of first refusal, the transaction is completed. The property is then off the market and no longer available for bids. Since buyers are required to put down a deposit on a property as part of the bidding process, that deposit is returned to the buyer if Disney prevents them from purchasing it.

There are steps that prospective buyers can take to prevent Disney from intervening, which is one of the advantages to buying through a broker on the resale market. They can advise prospective buyers on prices that may cause Disney to step in and assist them on making offers that will clear the company’s internal transaction audits to ensure that the transaction closes without them losing the property altogether. Though Disney has 30 days to come back with an answer, some of the brokers advise that they usually take about three weeks to decide on whether or not to allow the deal to proceed.

Our Final Thoughts

So, is membership with Disney Vacation Club worth it? That depends on how much you love going to Disneyland and Disney World. For some consumers, the Club can offer tremendous discounts for families who visit the park on a regular basis and want to take advantage of the many opportunities for staying at international parks or the resorts in Oahu, Vero Beach, and Hilton Head. Membership is best reserved for those who absolutely love the Disney brand and enjoy the company’s award-winning, world-renowned hospitality.

Those other families who like to keep their options open with respect to where they plan on spending their recreational vacation budget each year may want to explore the resale market route so that they can take advantage of the discounts of membership without the high costs of purchasing a timeshare property and monthly dues that can run well into the hundreds of dollars. So the answer is yes…and no. Only you can make that determination for yourself.

2 Comments

  1. I enjoyed your article, but really could use an explanation about something. I’ve taken my family (six in total) three times for around 3 days each time, and spent about $5,000 on each trip between hotel and park admission. So even if there were no annual dues, we’d have to go twelve times to have the membership costs break even. When you add in the $2,124 ($177 x 12) yearly, that break-even point jumps to around 17 years. And I’m going to guess that the 350 points would not be enough for six people; so I imagine the upfront and monthly costs for me would be higher.

    So how is this a cost savings?

    Truly, I would appreciate your insight.

    • bankingsense says:

      Hi Michael,
      A lot of this depends on time of year, room type, as well as the property that you are trying to stay at. This is is definitely an investment that will take some time to recoup costs. To keep costs down even further I would recommend buying the membership on the secondary market. For what you give up on certain privileges, it is more than made up with the membership savings.

      In the long run if you and your family are avid Disney fans that will continue going to the parks past your kids school age, it should be well worth it.

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