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Universal Orlando sheds light on how theme parks discount admission

Every year when Florida theme parks jack up prices, a familiar groan is heard around the breakfast table. How can a family afford this?

Most tickets for theme parks are sold at a discount, so perhaps a better question is: Why do people wait to pay full price of up to $85 a day at the gate?

A recent Securities and Exchange Commission filing from Universal Orlando's owners offers a rare glimpse into widely practiced theme park ticket pricing and distribution strategy.

While Universal tries to tighten discounting this summer, thanks to its new Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction, the filing shows where the park has been.

Universal got $45.67 from its average daily ticket sale in '09, up from $43.16 in '08. A cautionary note: That's deflated somewhat by tickets wholesaled to other sellers and for night-only events like Halloween Horror Nights.

The average one-day ticket sold in 2009 for one Universal park went for $63.03. For a two-day ticket, it was $91.13 and $91.72 for a full seven days.

Parks get about half their revenue from admission. Universal added an average $17.60 more per person last year from food, beverage and merchandise sales, down from $18.82 in 2008. Parking inched up to $14 a day, double a decade ago.

Theme parks sell tickets like hotels fill rooms. The parks have the same capacity day in and day out, so they are willing to swap some profit margin for the certainty of a steady crowd flow.

Discounts are dished out in many ways. They include special offers exclusive to Florida residents, multi-day passes, multi-park passes, group sales, bargain-priced travel packages, plus time of year and in-advance deals through travel agencies like AAA.

About 25 percent of Universal visitors invest the time online to wade through the resort's multitude of customized pricing options that bundle such extras as meals, character breakfasts, no-line privileges and hotel rooms into one price.

One other surprise: 9 percent of Universal's ticket revenue came from timeshare companies. Those are the telemarketers and sales folks who set up shop in hotel lobbies and shopping centers. They dangle free or reduced-price park tickets as a lure to sit through a pitch to buy into one of the 24,000 timeshare units in the Orlando market.

That's more time shares than Hillsborough County has hotel rooms. It's also become a vacation alternative to the 112,000 room Orlando hotel market.

Mark Albright can be reached at albright@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8252.

Universal Orlando sheds light on how theme parks discount admission 06/17/10 [Last modified: Thursday, June 17, 2010 11:22pm]

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