Dining Plan Math (2016 edition, now with 2017 update)

(a/k/a: Applying High School Algebra to the Real Word)

I did something like this over at DISBoards several years back, but it’s a good reference so I thought I’d repeat it here, using 2016 prices.

To determine the average cost per credit for the dining plans, it’s best to represent the entitlements as an a equation that sums up to the dollar cost of the plan. There are four components to consider: quick service credits (Q), table service credits (T), snack credits (S), and the rapid fill mug (M, prorated to per-night basis):

2Q + S + M = 42.84
T + Q + S + M = 61.84

Four unknowns, two equations. Not a good situation. Let’s clean it up a little.

I treat the mug as a souvenir item, and any use you get out of it is a bonus. Plus, it makes the math easier as the retail price of the mug varies based on length of stay. Therefore, the mug value (M) is treated as $0/night.

After that, we’re down to three unknowns but still only two equations. Things get a lot easier if we make one of the unknowns a known. Snack credits (S) have the least potential variability in absolute dollar value, and for the purposes of this exercise, I’m setting it to $4, as most snack items are in the $3-$6 range. The math can be re-run with a different value for S if you think $4 is not an accurate number.

So, let’s re-write our original equations into a form easier to solve:

2Q = 42.84 - S - M
T = 61.84 - Q - S - M

Subbing in our M and S values:

2Q = 42.84 - 4 - 0 = 38.84
T = 61.84 - Q - 4 - 0 = 57.84 - Q

We can now solve for Q directly by dividing both sides of the first equation by 2:

Q = 19.42

And plug that in to solve for T

T = 57.84 - 19.42 = 38.42

Solving for Deluxe Dining is easier, because we don’t have to differentiate between table service and quick service, just deluxe meal credits (D):

3D + 2S + M = 111.73

D = (111.73 - 2S - M) / 3 = (111.73 - 8 - 0) / 3 = 103.73 / 3 = 34.58

You can solve for children’s credits (q, t, and d) similarly, and get:

q = 6.74
t = 10.22
d = 8.17

Ok, now that you have these numbers, how do you use them? Well, they represent the “break even” value of each credit, assuming you’re paying full price for the dining plan of your choice.

So, the first thing to remember about that is that “break even” shouldn’t be treated on a credit-by-credit basis, but as an overall average - it’s okay to go under that value sometimes, as long as you’re going over it often enough to not lose money on the proposition. That said, if paying for the basic dining plan, it’s going to be hard to average much higher than $38 per table service credit, and you may need to “make up for it” by maximizing quick service and snack choices.

Also, remember that when comparing to menu prices, sales tax is already included in the dining plan, so add 6.5% to most menu prices (unless they specifically include tax) for comparison. [I believe some value resorts are in a different tax jurisdiction and charge 7% at their food courts.] For that $38.42 basic TS credit, that’s $36.08 actual menu price and $2.34 sales tax - so you should base your “break even” amount based on the $36.08 menu list price.

Since you’re tipping based on what’s actually ordered, tips should be a wash for comparative items.


thank you.

and my brain hurts. LOL.

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I do the math so you don’t have to. :slight_smile:


Excellent! Thanks!

Awesome, this will be a huge help for planning next year’s trip! Thanks :slight_smile:

I believe the mug is now a constant. If I remember correctly it is now 17.99. Could you take that off the top- 4nights is 4x DP- 17.99?

Oh yeah! Thank you for the math! Numbers are so beautiful!

Love the numbers!! I did something similar but included the mug price (broke it down to $3 a day for the length of our stay) and made the snack $5. The difference was only about $2 from the numbers you posted!!

You just have to repeat the math, replacing “M” with the value you assign to the mug, pro-rated on a per-night basis. So, four nights at $17.99 value would be about $4.50/night (or less, if you personally value it less). Same rationale as making S a constant - the value is low and not particularly variable anyway, so it works better as a constant than a variable.

This is easier with a spreadsheet, where you can actually play around with M and S values if you like and just have the sheet recalculate it.


This is beautiful. I love when people are even more devoted to running the numbers than I am!

Thank you for this, huge help! Even better that I didn’t have to do the math myself :slight_smile:

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2017 Updates

The math changes a bit, not just in numbers, as an extra snack has been added to QSDP and DDP. Our base equations (for adults) turn into:

2Q + 2S + M = 46.34
T + Q + 2S + M = 67.33

New credit values (again, using M=$0 and S=$4):

Q: $19.17 (caveat: this is now entree + beverage only, no dessert)
T: $40.16
D: $31.86

q: $6.09
t: $10.13
d: $9.87


As always, remember that averages matter more than per-credit savings/cost, and that dining plan credits include sales tax, so add 6.5% to cash menu prices to get an accurate comparison (7% at value resort food courts).

I continue to question the value of the QSDP and basic DDP plans; you really have to work hard to do better than break even, and if you have to do that, is the pre-paid convenience really worth it that much? Seems like the plans are heading into the only worth it as part of a “free dining” package territory. DxDP, on the other hand… if it suits your style of dining, it continues to be a good deal, and even better this year with a roughly 10% price drop for adults.

The lower DxDP meal credit price actually makes the California Grill and Narcooses brunches a more clear-cut “win” for adults. In 2016, it was mostly a wash, saving maybe the tax amount on the check. In 2017, two credits clearly cost less than the listed cash price for these meals.


Thanks again for the info!!