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Fans Incensed Over Closure of Disney Club

Entertainment: Firm plans to replace discount program with a credit card. Members say it won't be the same.

October 01, 2002|RICHARD VERRIER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Die-hard Disney fans say they are being shortchanged by the company's decision Monday to shut down a discount club inspired by the company's founder.

The latest dispute between fans and Walt Disney Co.'s corporate managers centers on the Burbank entertainment company's decision to close the Disney Club by next year. The club, which at its peak a year ago had half a million members, gives 10% to 20% discounts off merchandise bought at the Disney Stores, theme park admissions, car rentals and hotel packages at Walt Disney World and Disneyland. Members also get privileges including a subscription to Disney Magazine and advance screenings of movies.

Disney said Monday it would replace the Disney Club with a "co-branded" Disney/Visa credit card with which customers will be able to accumulate points that can be redeemed toward discounts on Disney merchandise and vacations. Although Disney would not comment on the financial terms, such corporate alliances are lucrative and important for Disney as it seeks to shore up its bottom line.

Even so, the decision has incensed the typically passionate Disney fans, who believe the company is relentlessly pursuing the bottom line at their expense.

For them, the club carries special significance because it was a successor to the original Magic Kingdom Club, the storied group Walt Disney created in 1958 to promote Disneyland to Southern California businesses and their employees. And they're still smarting over Disney's decision two years ago to shut down the Magic Kingdom Club and replace it with a similar discount service charging a $39.95 annual subscription fee.

"It's just one more thing they are taking away from guests," said Arlen Miller of Orlando, noting the company's recent decision to raise admission prices at its Walt Disney World theme parks. Although Disney wouldn't discuss details of the planned card, customers will get more and better services and discounts, said company spokesman Gary Foster. Disney does not expect to charge an annual fee for the card, which it will introduce next year. Points will be accumulated based on general credit card purchases.

"We have not forgotten these club members," Foster said. "We do feel like we're developing a program that is going to be much better than the Disney Club."

Disney informed club members that the club will be disbanded Dec. 31 of next year. The company will stop taking memberships by year's end.

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