BUSINESS

Universal Studios raises ticket prices just before it opens new Harry Potter attraction

Only a few weeks before the opening of its much-anticipated Harry Potter attraction, Universal Studios Hollywood is performing a shrinking spell on your wallet.

Over the weekend, the park quietly raised prices up to 20%, pushing its highest-priced daily ticket beyond that of its sister parks in Orlando.

"The Harry Potter attraction is expensive, and it's the perfect excuse to raise prices because they know they are going to have the crowds regardless," said David Koenig, a theme park expert and author of several books about Disneyland.

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But Universal Studios Hollywood is not alone. Disneyland adopted a new set of ticket prices last month that raised its highest daily ticket by about 20%. And both parks have instituted pricing systems that base ticket costs on daily demand.

The moves shouldn't come as a surprise because both Southern California parks are preparing to open what may be their most popular attractions in years.

Universal Studios officially unveils the Wizarding World of Harry Potter on April 7, although random visitors are getting a preview of the six-acre land before then. And Disneyland has begun construction of a 14-acre expansion based on the "Star Wars" movie franchise.

"A lot of people suspected that a price increase was going to come before April 7," said Robert Niles, editor of the Theme Park Insider website.

Price increases at theme parks are almost certain before the opening of major new attractions. Disney boosted daily ticket prices nearly 9% two months before the opening of its 12-acre Cars Land expansion at California Adventure Park in 2012.

Before a similar Harry Potter attraction opened at Universal's Islands of Adventure in 2010, the Orlando park raised the price of a two-day, two-park pass 36%, to $135 when purchased online. The park also ended a discount offer — a weeklong pass for $99 — that had been in place since 2007.

Theme park experts and fans say the higher prices won't keep them away.

"I don't feel put off by the price," said Adrienne Aipia, a marketing manager from Los Angeles and organizer of a Harry Potter fan club called Dumbledore's Army. "With the expansion for Harry Potter comes significant costs."

Dennis Speigel, president of International Theme Park Services in Cincinnati, said Universal Studios Hollywood may anger a few guests with the higher prices but will still come out ahead with overall higher revenue.

"It's going to be a net plus for the theme park," he said. "They might lose a few people at the low end of the pay scale, but they will more than make up for it."

The Harry Potter attraction at Orlando helped push attendance up 20% in 2010, and Speigel predicts a similar surge at the Southern California park this year.

"From our viewpoint, even taking into consideration the price increase, we are estimating an increase in attendance by double digits, above 20%," he said.

Universal Studios Hollywood may justify the higher prices by noting it has invested heavily into the park in the last few years. It opened the Despicable Me Minion Mayhem ride in 2014 and Fast and Furious: Supercharged in 2015. The park has already announced plans this summer to open a haunted maze attraction based on the AMC television series "The Walking Dead."

"Ticket prices are consistent with our tremendous product offerings," Universal Studios spokeswoman Audrey Eig said.

She added that the park recently launched a tiered-pricing policy that offers discounts to guests who visit on off-peak days, such as Tuesdays and Wednesdays in the fall.

"Our variable pricing introduced earlier this year allows consumer choices to be made at various price levels," she said.

But less than two months after launching the new online pricing program, Universal Studios increased the price of all tickets, even the cheapest tickets for the low-demand days rose to $90 from $75.

On peak-demand days, a daily ticket now costs $115, up from the previous highest tier price of $95.

A daily ticket purchased at the gate costs $115 regardless of the day.

In comparison, a daily ticket to either Universal Studios Orlando or Universal's Islands of Adventure is $105.

Disneyland has also adopted a "demand pricing" policy, with tickets ranging from $95 for low-demand days to $119 for peak days. Before the new pricing policy was launched, daily tickets were priced at $99 every day.

The tiered-pricing programs allow theme parks to raise daily prices and still appease critics by noting that visitors can save money by visiting during off-peak days, Niles said.

"It allows you to get more revenue without ticking people off," he said.

hugo.martin@latimes.com

Twitter: @hugomartin

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on March 23, 2016, in the Business section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Theme park prices rise just like magic - Universal Studios Hollywood quietly jacks up admission costs just weeks before its new Harry Potter attraction is set to open" — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe
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