Thursday, June 07, 2012

Universal (Florida) raises ticket prices for a second time this month

Universal raised the price of its one-day ticket to $89, up from $88. The $88 price was itself very new; only a few weeks ago, Universal had raised its rates from $85 to $88, in the process becoming the most expensive theme park in the country. That record didn't last long, though, as Disney last week raised its prices also, from $85 to $89. That made Disney $1 more expensive than Universal.

Much depends on that dollar. Had Universal let it stand like that, the implication would have been that Disney was the "premier" destination, and Universal was a secondary place to visit.

With the addition of Harry Potter, Universal has grown more assertive, even aggressive, in holding itself up as a premier destination as well, fully the equal of Walt Disney World. And if you're the equal, you can't be seen as being cheaper.

It lends new perspective to Disney's decision to wait this year, and let Universal be the first to raise prices. That Disney would price their tickets one dollar over Universal's is petty in a way--a kind of theme park brinksmanship. Wounded by Disney's offensive move, Universal must have mulled long and hard whether they wanted to endure the bad press that would result if they matched the price. They had no good choice. Either they let Disney hold the "premier" spot itself (that would not be ideal), or they could raise prices and risk looking greedy (and ill-prepared, as if they couldn't make up their minds). Also not a good option.

It also makes me wonder what will happen in 12 months. Who will blink first? Will Disney again wait until Universal raises prices, so they could claim the higher cost a month later?

One thing is certain: the formula will change in 2-3 years, when we approach the $100 mark. Perception matters a lot, so both companies will jockey to be the LAST one to that milestone--a complete reversal of what we're seeing now.

Kevin Yee is the author of numerous independent Disney books, including the popular Walt Disney World Earbook series and Walt Disney World Hidden History.