February 9th Update: Because we have been adding information to this post regularly over the past two days, we decided our article needed to be completely restructured to better present everything we know about the recently announced Membership program. Hopefully this version is more user-friendly.
BGWFans learned yesterday (February 7) that the long-rumored, new Membership Plan will be unveiled at 10am today. Dan Dipiazzo graciously offered to answer our questions in advance of the release, so we could break everything down for y’all.
Since we know this is the big question on everyone’s mind, yes, you can keep your current pass at its current rate… at least for now (see the section below on grandfathered passes for a more complete discussion). That said, we strongly recommend crunching the numbers before making a decision.
To help you decide whether you want to switch over to the new program, we have summarized the tiers, including prices and benefits below. You can find more details, as well as information on a limited-time, promotional rate after the charts, so be sure to read to the end!
Additionally, we have created a detailed spreadsheet comparing all of the currently valid ticket options. In my case, the inclusion of Christmas Town balances the increased monthly rate, but I know many of you are paying considerably less than I.
Factors to Consider
- If you paid for your pass up-front, in-full you will not be able to renew it, and will be required to switch to the Membership Program or purchase a Fun Card once your initial 12 month pass expires. Pass holders on EZPay, however, will be able to keep their passes until BGW decides to eliminate them. No decision has been made about if or when that will happen, but the park has guaranteed they will be valid at least through the end of 2018.
- The Premier Membership will be treated like a Platinum Pass when we visit other SEAS parks and vice versa. Platinum Pass holders from other parks, however, will have to pay for Christmas Town at BGW. That inclusion is considered a home park benefit.
- Current pass holders will be allowed to attend the Sneak Peek on March 17. The future Member Sneak Peek days, including Howl-O-Scream and Christmas Town, will only be open to participants in the new Membership Program, however.
- We asked BGW whether Platinum Pass holders and Premier Members will still be able to use the employee entrance to park in the England Lot. Here is their answer: “We have offered entry through the team member entrance as a courtesy to Platinum Pass holders when possible, and will continue to do so. We will extend this to new Premier Members. This is not a guaranteed benefit and may be re-evaluated at a future date.”
- There will be a variety of short-term exclusive benefits for Program Members throughout the year. These may be of higher value for Premier Members.
- The free guest tickets (Unlimited and Premier Memberships) will work at both BGW and WCUSA, as well as Christmas Town. Tickets will be populated in a Member’s account twice a year for Unlimited and three times a year for Premier. According to Dan, “[These] tickets will be good for consecutive periods, meaning all operating days will be covered, including the events. When the park opens March 24, everyone in those plans will have one ticket available. Those tickets will be available and valid for a specified period, and then another one will populate. Free guest tickets may be used on any regular operating day, but would not be valid for Sneak Peak days.”
- Basic and Unlimited Members and 1-Park and 2-Park Pass holders will be able to purchase guest tickets with a $35 discount. Premier Members and Platinum Pass holders get $40 off guest tickets. All Members may also receive larger, promotional discounts, but Pass holders will not.
- For Members on the Basic tier only there are 57 Blockout Dates at BGW and 25 at WCUSA. 28 of the 40 Saturdays that BGW will be open are blocked out, while of WCUSA’s 17 Saturdays 15 are blocked out. Additionally, all Spring Break and many December days are blocked out.
- For $25 Basic Members can visit the park on Blockout Dates. That said, the difference in price between the Basic and Unlimited plans is only $60; and three such visits would cost $75.
- Basic and Unlimited Members and 1-Park and 2-Park Pass holders will get 50% off tickets to all other SeaWorld parks (except Discovery Cove).
- Members will be able to upgrade to a higher-tier plan and pay the difference in price. Downgrades, however, are not available in the first year. If you are on EZPay you will be able to move to a lower tier once you have met your initial 12-month obligation. Additionally, according to Dan, “The introductory rates are available only through March 31. So, if someone joined at the Basic level today and wished to move to Unlimited in June, he would do so at the $17 rate, not the special $15 promotional rate.”
Details About Switching
It is worth noting that the current rate will be locked in for at least 12 months. The cost will remain the same, until the park decides to raise the price of everyone’s Membership simultaneously, so there is no established annual price increase. In fact, Dan confirmed that there are no current plans to increase the Membership rates for the foreseeable future. You will still have the option of either using EZpay or paying-in-full for an entire year at once, if you prefer.
In light of that system, it is especially important for people to make a decision about switching over soon. From now until March 31, all three plans will be discounted $2 per month ($24 per year). For some people that special, introductory rate will be lower than the cost of their current annual pass. Obviously, it is worth locking in that lower price, since it could last well beyond the first 12 months of the program.
The next important question is how people can sign up for the Membership program. If you are not currently an annual pass holder, you can go online starting today and purchase one of the three tiers. Anyone with a current annual pass will need to call customer service or visit guest services in person to switch.
If you purchased an annual pass within the past 12 months and want to upgrade to the Membership program, you will be allowed out of your current contract. When you make the switch, you will restart your initial year-long obligation. Obviously, if you are beyond your initial 12 month EZpay commitment, you can call the park and cancel anytime. In fact, as one of our forum members pointed out, this could be a better choice than simply upgrading straightaway.
Pass holders who already paid for an entire year (a one-time payment, not EZPay) can apply the balance of the remaining months to the new Membership program. This will require a visit to Guest Services.
Recognizing that the lines will likely be very long, BGW has decided to allow current pass holders to visit before opening day to switch over to the new program. Guest service agents will be available for pre-processing at BGW on March 1st through 4th and 8th through 11th.
Keeping Your Old Pass
There has been a lot of concern and confusion about how long the old pass structure will remain in place. For those who paid in full for their annual pass, the answer is fairly straightforward. Your pass will be valid for the full 12 months, unless you choose to convert earlier to the new Membership program.
Unfortunately, things are a bit less clear for people using the EZPay system. Your current pass is good at least for the full 12-month contract. We all know, however, that most pass holders locked in rates years ago, and have since met their initial year-long obligation. Despite an earlier version of the park’s FAQ stating otherwise, no date has been set for when (or if) current pass holders on the EZPay plan will have to switch to Memberships or Fun Cards. So, you can use your current pass through the end of the 2018 season, and may be able to keep it after that, as well. There are, however, no guarantees at this time. Hopefully, BGW will release more information, after they have had a chance to evaluate the Membership program.
There are some additional implications to keep in mind if you plan to keep your legacy annual pass.
- Because the Memberships include Christmas Town, there will no longer be a Christmas Town Pass for pass members. There may be a Fun Card, but decision has not yet been made. Additionally, according to a reliable source, Christmas Town ticket prices will increase significantly this year. This variable is what made the switch cost-effective for me.
- Current pass holders will still be entitled to all of the benefits listed on the park website as of this week. This includes discounted Christmas Town and guest tickets, in-park discounts, etc.
- Only Unlimited and Premier Members will receive free guest tickets. That promotional perk was never included as an official pass benefit.
Why This is Happening
Some people have wondered why BGW decided to overhaul their pass structure, especially since the rest of SEAS is still using the old system.
Dan said the motivation was not “exactly” financial. Apparently, Williamsburg has the highest percentage of pass holders, and they wanted to reward that loyalty. Additionally, for about a year BGW has been wrestling with how to incorporate Christmas Town into the annual passes. They decided on a membership program, where guests will pay a monthly fee for access to all of the attractions available through the Williamsburg parks.
I know many people are unhappy with the idea of giving up their very low monthly rates. Looking at the pass programs with a wider lens, however, I believe this new structure re-establishes a level of equity among members. Under the current system there are Platinum Pass holders who pay less than Single Park Pass holders, simply because they started using the EZpay system sooner. That is on its face absurd. Additionally, the current system is unresponsive to either inflation or BGW’s legitimate financial needs. While none of us love paying more, I think the park has found a fairly reasonable way to level the playing field and normalize their revenues.
As always, we are happy to track down answers to additional questions you may have. Please feel free to reach out via the comments below, on the ParkFans Forum thread dedicated to the new Membership structure, or via one of our social media channels (primarily Facebook or Twitter).