Why can’t I get my Disney dining credits?

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It seems everyone but Jennifer Holdman and her family are getting “free” Disney dining credits on their next theme park vacation. Is there anything she can say to persuade Disney to comp her meals?

Question: I recently started planning a trip to Walt Disney World to celebrate my husband’s 40th birthday. We picked the end of August because Disney traditionally offers free dining during that time. But when I made my reservations, I learned that we had missed the free dining period.

I was fine with that until I spoke with my cousin, who was also vacationing at the same time. She said she’d received a special pin code for free dining. She also offered to let us use one of her codes.

I called Disney to see if I could use the pin code. I was connected with a cast member who was very rude to me. I got off the phone and called back to complain but was told there were no managers. I was transferred to another department, but after a lengthy “hold” I gave up.

I called back a few hours later and spoke to a lovely cast member who embodied what Disney is supposed to be. She told me I couldn’t join my cousin’s group because we were in different hotels.

Just yesterday, my cousin called Disney reservations and spoke to a supervisor who told her that I could get free dining with my current reservation if they switched to royal guest rooms at a cost of over $800.

Just last week they said there was no way I could get free dining, but now if they pay $800 we can have it no problem? I feel like we are getting the runaround and I am very disappointed in my experience.

Since then, I’ve received offers from friends who received pin codes but who are not planning on going to Disney who wanted me to use their numbers. Unfortunately, the pins are not transferrable.

I feel Disney’s pin distribution system is very unfair because I will be going to Disney and spending $3,000 to $5,000 but will have to cut back on my spending now to pay for meals when many other guests staying during the same time period will have the free dining plan. If a deal is being offered, it should be offered to all guests. — Jennifer Holdman, Cortlandt Manor, NY

Answer: Disney can offer “free” dining to anyone it wants. I might take issue with the semantics of the offer. Technically, the food isn’t free — it’s included in the price of your stay.

But the problem I had with your case is that Disney representatives strung you along, and in at least one case, didn’t take your complaint seriously. That’s not the Disney way. They should have given you a prompt, polite and definitive answer to your dining questions.

By the way, I agree with you that it’s better for Disney to offer a deal like this to all guests. After all, once guests start comparing notes, some of them are bound to be disappointed. You don’t want guests to be disappointed. Not at the “happiest” place on earth.

At the time you made your reservation, Disney was offering a free dining promotion. The terms were clearly spelled out. I didn’t think Disney was under any obligation to extend the offer to you and your family, but I did think the way in which it handled your follow-up questions left something to be desired.

You tried to send a letter to a supervisor, explaining your frustration, but it didn’t respond to your request. That’s when I decided to get involved. I contacted Disney on your behalf. They contacted you to apologize for the rude behavior of the first agent you spoke with and the ensuing confusion, and agreed to apply the dining credits to your reservation.

Was Disney's selective dining credit offer fair?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • Extramail

    However, if she had written about a perceived slight because she was not an “elite frequent flyer” then people would have been on her side. I’ll say it again: this is why I don’t compare notes with my fellow travelers. If I’m happy with the price I paid, then I’m not going to worry about what price you paid.

  • Extramail

    She better not write Chris after the vacation and say that the times free meals were offered didn’t coincide with the times her family wanted to eat so she deserves a refund that equals what her meals cost elsewhere. Just saying . . .

  • mikegun

    But this is in regards to the poll question, not the story, which Chris has stated many times are not related.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    That’s a fair question. My take. In regular language, we often talk in superlatives. But few things are truly 100%. But if we to apply every exclusion, limitation, or qualifier, the conversation would constantly be diverted. I don’t see civil rights as part of this conversation.

    I submit that in this case, although the polls and story lack a firm one to one correlation, the story does provide context for Chris’ polls.

    Thus, when we discuss the story and/or poll, we do so within a certain loose framework. For example, outside of this small thread, of which I admit guilt in poking the bear, the topic of “isms” has not been raised once in the entire discussion. I would opine that it is because it’s not relevant to this discussion of either the poll or the story.

    My $0.02

  • mikegun

    When I see a sing in a store saying “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone for any reason.”, I usually shake my head and think to myself “No, you don’t.” for the reasons stated in the first post in the thread. I though the same thing after reading the poll question.

    I agree with you though, seeing how the poll is going and how the “ism” topic is contained to this thread in the comments, I sense most people get it.

  • Grant Ritchie

    Oh God… don’t give her ideas. :-)

  • TonyA_says

    With people like her, no wonder you ask if consumer advocates might be getting extinct.
    And for all those who complain about rude customer service, how do we know if they are telling the truth?
    I think you need to concentrate on helping people become the smartest travelers and consumers and not the loudest whiners.

  • Travelnut

    Thanks, Emanon! ;) Y’all crack me up too.

  • backprop

    I wish this comment would show up at the top for everyone to see. Well said.

  • Judy Serie Nagy

    AAArggh … next time I miss an opportunity to get something free, I’ll contact Chris and get it anyway. This kind of ignorance and greed makes me sick.

  • Bill___A

    Chris, I don’t see how you expect to get any credibility with vendors or readers over issues like this. Several of the comments are showing that the readership is quite fed up with this sort of thing, and I concur.

    I am certainly no fan of Disney but don’t see how this has been productive at all.

  • PsyGuy

    I applaud Disney for maintaining their blue eyed princess service reputation, but that’s why they accommodated the writer. People (and moms especially) have a tendency to want everything for nothing, and want at least as much as everyone else if not to be treated as a princess.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Excuse me, but *this* mom is not a princess. Far too low on the food chain. ;-)

  • omgstfualready

    I’m a princess but not a mom. ;-)

  • Mel65

    “Just last week they said there was no way I could get free dining, but
    now if they pay $800 we can have it no problem?” Um…. if you’re paying an additional $800 you aren’t getting free dining. Use the $800 and pay for your meals… and STOP WHINING. This isn’t a run around from Disney; this is you asking for something to which you aren’t entitled. Your cousin couldn’t share her PIN because she was staying IN A DIFFERENT HOTEL… why on EARTH do you feel entitled to get the same privileges when you aren’t purchasing an equivalent package? Seriously, Chris… this one you should have put in the “OhDearLord” file!

  • omgstfualready

    I think I’m going to give it to a person on my staff as a thank you. The money is already spent so I’m okay not getting it back. Unless Chris takes my cause up and I want my money back and a credit for a future event. :-)

  • omgstfualready

    Yep. I’ve been known to upgrade for a reduced price (usually the night before, or at, check in) so I can get the concierge lounge. Mostly when I’m in small cities with a lot of boring chains. So I use the lounge for breakfast and snacks/appetizers. The cost offsets/reduces my expenses on food. It’s a close wash depending on the city and I’m not sitting at the bar at some dingy Applebees. I don’t expect to get to that floor without paying for it.

  • disqus_wK5MCy17IP

    My guess is that she booked Port Orleans Riverside hoping that it would be included when free dining was announced, but because it was so full, and because so many people did the same thing, it was not included. After all, Disney offers the dining plan to sell rooms. Either that or she had a room only discount and her sister didn’t, making only her sister eligible for free dining. I would hope that if it’s the latter that Disney didn’t cave and give her a room discount and free dining.

  • LFH0

    I think how one perceives the actions of businesses in picking and choosing who are the people favored to received special benefits depends on one’s experience. In the neighborhood where I live, I am a minority who regularly experiences discrimination in public accommodations. The majority population in my neighborhood is constantly solicited with special deals and offers, while I am excluded and ignored. When Chris Eliot made the statement that “Disney can offer “free” dining to anyone it wants” the first thing that came to my mind was that Disney could be doing the same thing that goes on regularly here. And that’s the problem when a business starts to pick and choose who may benefit from a special offer, even if doing so is on a facially-benign basis: the excluded feel unfairly discriminated against, and the jist of the entire story.

  • LFH0

    I think it is one thing for a company to say that you’ve qualified for a special offer because you’ve done a certain amount of business with the company in the past. And in that respect I agree that it is unfair to give away such offers to persons who did not undertake the prerequisites for qualifying for the special offer. But it is another thing for a company to say that you’ve qualified for a special offer because you possess some type of immutable personal quality (or some closely-correlated surrogate therefor). The problem here is that we don’t really know the basis for Disney “qualifying” some people but not others.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I certainly agree that, “the excluded feel unfairly discriminated against” Honestly though, I can’t get worked up if the business has a perfectly benign, neutral, legitimate business reason for it’s actions, particularly if the opportunity is equally and properly available to anyone who is willing to pay for it.

    I read the context of the story and the poll in the same way I see targeted loyalty programs promotions. The fight is over the fact that different people get different promotions. Different members get different promotions and it rankled many that newbies were getting better promotions than people who’d been with the program for years. Many felt it was unfair. That was the tension.

    But, I simply do not believe that either the story or poll envisioned invidious discrimination based upon one’s membership in a protected class.

    Having said that, I am sorry that you are discriminated against. That is simply unacceptable.

  • Travelnut

    Me too! The problem is getting people to recognize this.

  • PsyGuy

    Every city mom, under 40, that I have met has “royalty” issues.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Dang, I have *kids* approaching 40! Have to admit, I’ve observed a number of people who fit the description you offered. But that’s a conversation to be had over an adult beverage or two, not here. :-)

  • WG

    Frankly, the entitlement mentality in this country isn’t helped by people enabling it– the author of this article getting the dining credits added to this reservation without any proof other than their claim here that they were treated “rudely” is exactly why that mentality is so prevalent. And it’s also we are seeing prices raised while services are reduced across the board. Bad enough the complainer feels entitled, but much worse that the author used their weight to make enough noise that they would get their way. There is actually a reason they offer the dining credits this way, they are trying to get specific rooms filled that wouldn’t be otherwise. They aren’t just bestowing gifts on favorite customers. Would have been nice if you would have spent the time to explain that, Mr Elliot, rather than use your weight to get them something lots of other people will not be receiving because they didn’t complain to you.

  • WG

    You said it yourself, you didn’t have all of the facts. You took the word of this complainer, without any proof that she was treated poorly, and you acted on her behalf. You could have just offered her advice on how to proceed with a complaint, but instead you contributed to the consumer entitlement mentality that is invariably resulting in higher prices and less services for all of us. You obviously know that your influence is the reason Disney added the dining to her reservation, so it’s more than a little disingenuous to say you didn’t advocate for her to get anything free.

  • Annie M

    Many of us are travel agents who advocate for clients when something goes wrong and this is where we see how ridiculous some claims are. In all the years I have worked with Disney (and I am not a big Disney fan) I have yet to come across a rude cast member over the phone. In fact I have often complimented them for having to listen to Disney music all day and having to use Disney characters to confirm booking numbers with (M as in Mickey, P as in Pluto).

    However, perhaps Mrs. Whiner was demanding on the phone and the agent had already explained to her 10 times they couldn’t give her a pin code. So maybe she was hearing what she wanted to hear. If she whined on the phone like she whined to you,she is lucky Mickey himself didn’t ban her fro pm Disney

    Please stop with these kind of articles. There are plenty of people with legitimate problems that you can help with. It doesn’t help your reputation with some of these travel companies when you try to advocate for them.

    It would be better for you to simply educate these people by contacting the company, asking for their side and simpky explain

  • Crissy

    I think what happened is that they tried to add someone elses pin code to their existing reservation. A couple issues with that – one, pin codes are sent out selectively to people on their mailing lists. Disney does this in part to test how different pin codes will work and will it lure someone to take their vacation there. Passing a pin code on defeats the purpose of that, though they do allow people to add it to an existing reservation and they can honor it for a friend too.

    The next issue is that free dining often only applies to specific hotels, so depending on how they were phrasing their questions it is possible that the reason they got a different answer each time is because of the questions asked. Can I add this pin code to my existing reservation? is a very different then How can I change my reservation to use this pin code? It sounds simple, but nothing free every is simple.

    Finally, Free Dining isn’t really free. You have to pay a higher room rate to be eligible for the promotion – hence the $800 offer. Two elements of this – they need to have a room in a specific hotel, in a specific class (may be their most expensive room at that hotel) and they have to pay rack rate for that hotel room. In exchange they get “free dining.” They’re probably not booked in a room or room class that is eligible for the promotion already and they probably already had some other discount applied to their existing reservation – hence the room and price change.

    I do NOT agree that Disney should offer free dining to all guests. By doing that they make it harder for EVERYONE (free or not free dining) to make reservations and getting into on-site restaurants. There isn’t enough dining reservations on the property for every guest to make a dining reservation. This way they can use some sort of algorithm to determine how many free dining offers they can actually provide to visitors and make the dining experience good for everyone. Instead of giving it away to everyone and half the people having a bad experience with it.

    As for the rude agent, the more I read of this person I wonder if they were rude because they couldn’t give them what they wanted and didn’t at least act like they were trying to. I have had MANY interactions with Disney and yes, a few cast members have been below what I would expect from Disney. But, it’s so rare that I wonder what the OPs definition of rude actually is.

  • Crissy

    I wonder if the OP discussed the difference in the prices they each paid for their reservations?

  • Crissy

    I believe they actually offer the dining plan for all resorts, BUT, they offer different plans for different levels. The Value Resorts only get the plan with quick service meals. I think the Moderates and Deluxe rooms have the plan with a sit down meal each day. The OP might have booked a Value, but wanted the better plan and would have had to upgrade the hotel.