Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Genie+ Sells Out: Reason For Concern?

Ever since Genie+ rolled out in December of 2021, the complaints from guests have rolled in.  Genie+ is essentially a paid version of FastPass+, a service that had been included with the cost of every ticket.  Paying for something that used to be free will always rankle people.  There were also technical issues, usability issues (some of which are finally beginning to be addressed) and the sense, especially in busy times of year, that you weren't getting your money's worth out of it.

That last one is especially interesting, because Genie+ used to be one set price per person per day ($15 plus tax) but was switched to a dynamic, "date based pricing" approach.  You probably won't be surprised to learn that on the slowest days, the price of Genie+ does not fall below the original $15, but on busy days (read: most of them), the price is actually much higher (topping off at $29 plus tax - for now - seen at the holiday season last year and this current week, which is what we're discussing in depth today).

One of the things that HASN'T been an issue is the availability of the service (which is different than the availability of a given attraction, as that latter has indeed been an issue).  Disney added some "subject to availability" language to account for the possibility of a sell out, but (until this week), that seemed a remote possibility, akin to a park reaching capacity and not letting any new guests in - it COULD happen, but was very unlikely). 

Notice that I said "until this week."  That's because this week is actually one of the busiest weeks of the year at Disney World.  Even though President's Day is only one day, many schools are off for a winter break, so I refer to this as "President's Week."  If you look at crowd levels for all of last year, this week was one of the worst, only slightly better than the week between Christmas and New Year.  (As a side note, I often talk about how many people are trapped into going during a school break, and how those weeks are the busiest weeks.  Even then, there are better or worse times to go.  I always recommend going around Easter break rather than President's or the holidays - it's not good, crowd-wise, but it could definitely be worse).  Adding to the issues this year is that Mardi Gras is taking place this same week, meaning many guests from the not-too-far-away state of Louisiana are visiting.  It's a perfect storm, so to speak.

So on February 19th and 20th, Genie+ sold out for the first times in its short history.  That says a lot about crowds, but I don't know that it tells the entire story.  If you're planning to visit during a crowded time, is this something to be concerned about?  I think in general, the answer is "no" and I'm going to talk about why as we get into the details a bit more.

Originally, Genie+ was offered as a ticket add-on, so you could purchase it for the length of your stay, much like the park hopper option.  Disney did away with this practice, which predictably angered the internet community.  I was down on it at the time as well, stating that the option to pay for something in advance is a key feature of the Disney vacation and is the reason "all inclusive" resorts are also popular.  But I digress.

The reason Disney stopped selling Genie+ this way was so that they had the ability to limit the sales of the product.  At the time, people worried that this would happen regularly but it hasn't been an issue until now.  Having to purchase Genie+ each day you want it is more inconvenient, but there wasn't a mad rush to purchase it before it was gone.  Genie+ technically goes on sale at midnight for the next day, but no one can make reservations until 7:00 a.m.  Most people simply purchase it around 6:45 or 6:50, right after (presumably) waking up and before making their first selections.

Contrast this to both the (free) virtual queue and the (paid) Individual Lightning Lane (ILL).  In many cases, these things do "sell out" (I put quotes around "sell" for the VQ, since there is no cost) immediately, sometimes in less than a minute.  In less busy times and/or with attractions that have been around longer, this isn't always the case.  But it's not at all odd to see no availability for Rise of the Resistance or Flight of Passage, especially during a crowded day.

Even on these two days where Genie+ sold out, it was available for hours before it reached that point, selling out sometime around noon (or later).  In other words, if you were really concerned about getting Genie+ for that day, as long as you purchased it within the first few hours of the day, you would not have had a problem getting it.

Another tangent as it relates to the above - if you're first purchasing Genie+ at noon, you're doing it wrong.  Even if your plan was to have a lazy morning and then stack Genie+ reservations for the afternoon or evening, there would be no reason to wait so long to purchase the service.  Even if you didn't start making selections right at 7:00, you would want to start making them around the time your park opened that day.  Now given the ability to modify, there's really no reason to wait - you can make a selection and then modify it for a later time if you didn't plan to show up to a park until later.  If you purchase it at noon, you've already missed out on the ability to make AT LEAST two selections.  Are you really getting your $29 worth at that point?

Should you panic if you're visiting on a day that Genie+ sells out?  Even if you've already purchased it, hearing that it sold out might make you feel that it's going to be an incredibly crowded day at the park.  But sold out or not, it was going to be busy!  Genie+ has NOT sold out for the last couple of days, and it's still the same week.  Have the crowds been lower for the two days this week Genie+ didn't sell out, as opposed to the two days it did?  Not noticeably. 

If you're visiting this week, you should have already been prepared for high crowds.  No one really knows the capacity for each park on any given day, just as no one knows how many Genie+ purchases Disney allows before it sells out.  If you've purchased it and it later sells out, I would actually say that Disney is doing you a favor - the more people that have Genie+, the worse it is for any individual who is using the system.

Let's talk about that a little bit.  The cynical take is that Disney is charging for a previously free service to part you and your money as much as possible.  It's hard to argue with that!  This same take came back when the price was made elastic (always in an upward direction).  The truth though is that Disney could charge more for Genie+ and guests would still purchase it.  That's just supply and demand in action.

This is one case in which Disney isn't looking to charge the most they can "get away with."  Disney is looking to optimize the amount of people purchasing the service.  They have talked about this on investor conference calls and such - the number often bandied about is around 50%, give or take.  The idea is that Disney is trying to level out the experience for all guests; those who purchase Genie+ are spending their money to have quicker and easier attraction access, and those who don't have to spend more time in line and save their money.  

But Disney doesn't want either of these groups to come back from the park with a negative experience.  For the stand by guest, Disney wants that person to be able to enjoy the park without feeling like all they did was stand in line.  And for the Genie+ users, Disney doesn't want complaints about attractions not being available and long wait times even in the supposed "fast" line (pictures of Rise and Remy's Ratatouille Adventure this week showing the Genie+ queues stretching out to long lengths are not the vision Disney wants to sell you).

The point is that there SHOULD be a cut off for Genie+ sales, much like there should be for the Halloween/Christmas parties, After Hours, etc.  Where that cutoff IS is up for debate and something that Disney is constantly tweaking to try and make as much money as possible without ruining the guest experience.  It's a delicate balance to be sure.  But for Genie+, if everyone had it, there wouldn't be any exclusivity there.  If there's no advantage to your purchase, why would you even purchase it in the first place?  This is the kind of question Disney wants to avoid answering.

If you visit at a busy time, you can expect large crowds.  There are ways to "beat" crowds, including Genie+, Early Entry, Extended Evening Hours, rope dropping and just plain good planning.  The way you use these tools and in what capacity will be what make the difference between having a good trip and a poor one.  Genie+ selling out is not the end of the world, nor should it tell you anything more about crowds than you should have already known going in.

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