Walt Disney World hit with passholder lawsuit, complaints of “predatory business practices”

Once able to frequent Walt Disney World whenever they pleased, annual passholders are now fed up with Disney’s changes to the system.

A class action complaint was recently filed against the Disney Parks Corporation by two anonymous Florida resident Platinum annual passholders alleging “breach of implied contract.” The firm allegedly applied “block out” dates to passes after advertising them as the only ones without block out dates.

This comes on the heels of a $5 million lawsuit filed in December last year against Disneyland Resort in California, alleging the park’s Magic Key program artificially limited reservations for Key Holders in favor of standard admission ticket holders.

In Disney World’s case, the park offered four different annual passes — the Platinum Plus Pass, Platinum Pass, Gold Pass, and Silver Pass. Both the Platinum Plus and Platinum passes contained no block out dates, which are “pre-designated days Disney closes off the parks to certain annual pass holders due to high park attendance,” according to the company. The Gold and Silver passes were subject to block out dates. These dates are usually around holidays and summer, when most people are free from work and school, which makes the Platinum Plus and Platinum passes highly sought after.

Following the COVID-19 pandemic, Disney launched the Park Pass System, which requires guests to make a reservation in addition to having a valid admission ticket to enter any Disney park. Before this change, passholders were allowed to visit the parks without any extra measure.

The plaintiffs in the case, identified as E.K. and M.P., reluctantly accepted this change, thinking it would only be temporary. However, in March 2022, Disney CFO Christine McCarthy announced that the Disney parks “would not be returning to its normal, pre-pandemic capacities,” leaving the Platinum Plus and Platinum passholders frustrated after spending thousands of dollars to attend the park whenever they please, suddenly having to deal with restrictions that they originally did not agree upon.

Platinum Plus and Platinum passholders now also experience blockout dates when trying to make reservations, which is a feature these passholders deliberately bought more expensive passes to avoid. On some days, there are single day passes available for purchase when these passholders cannot even get a reservation. The plaintiffs claim that “Disney appears to be unfairly favoring single ticket or multi-day ticket holders, while restricting Platinum Pass holders, in order to make a larger profit.”

The plaintiffs also said if they knew the Platinum Plus and Platinum passes would ever become subjected to blockout dates, they would have purchased a different pass at a lower price or not even become an annual passholder at all.

Central Florida native Jamison Grant has been a theme park enthusiast his entire life, frequenting Orlando’s parks. He is even an annual passholder at Universal Orlando Resort. He follows theme park news and updates and has a family member who is a financial reporter for Walt Disney World.

Grant speculates that the annual passholder program may begin to phase out soon.

“Many annual pass holders are usually Central Florida tourists who know they can go to the parks for a few hours at a time and can eat beforehand, after, or even bring their own food into the park,” he said. “These people are not typically spending money on hotel packages, food and drink packages, and year-round merchandise.

“Looking at this lawsuit, it is even more abundantly clear that Disney values even the standard one-day park visitor over an annual pass holder. Making the reservation system unfair to them, limiting their ability to park hop, and taking away certain pass perks has only led me to believe being an annual pass holder could be a thing of the past.”

Disney changed the names of annual passes last fall, and along with this change came a price increase and restrictions mentioned in the lawsuit. These passes, the Pirate Pass, Sorcerer Pass, and Incredi-Pass, have been unavailable for new guests to purchase, but current pass holders are allowed to renew in any of the tiers. As of November 2, 2022, the only Disney World annual available for purchase is the lowest tier called the Disney Pixie Dust Pass, which is only valid on weekdays and limited to Florida residents only. A similar story is happening at California’s Disneyland, with their annual pass equivalent, ‘Magic Key’ passes not being available for new guests to purchase, only to renew.

“Disney would rather make the maximum profit on any and everything, like Genie+ and vacation packages, than have their locals and dedicated fans enjoy their favorite experiences the way they used to,” Grant said.

Grant’s sentiment rings true as the Walt Disney Company has claimed this August in a quarterly report that their per-capita ticket revenue grew due to their new Genie+ service and Lightning Lane offerings at Walt Disney World, but was offset by an “unfavorable attendance mix,” at Disneyland in California, where pass holders attended the parks more than single or multi-day ticket holders. This comment led many loyal Disney fans to call out the corporation for not caring about their local customers over out-of-state tourists.

A statement from a Disney spokesperson on the lawsuit reads “Annual Passholders continue to be some of our biggest fans and most loyal guests. We’ve been upfront with Passholders about the updates we’ve made, and we offered them the flexibility to opt-in or opt-out of the program early in the pandemic, including refunds if they desired. This lawsuit mischaracterizes the program and its history, and we will respond further in court.”

The full lawsuit is available to read here.

Kamille Bascus is an aspiring television editor who is pursuing a Bachelor's degree in Digital Journalism at Florida International University. In her free time, she enjoys editing, playing games with friends, and watching reality television shows.