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A Disney World vacation is expensive! Add in Universal Studios and Sea World for a total of 10 nights away from home and costs skyrocket. But with rewards from travel credit cards, we saved over $3,000 on our Disney World vacation in January 2018. Here are the strategies we used and some improvements for next time. (Because, of course, there will be a next time!)
We booked three round-trip tickets from Los Angeles (LAX) to Orlando (MCO) on Virgin America through Alaska Airlines. At the time of purchase, the tickets regularly cost about $300 per person. However, thanks to a four hour delay on our flight from Oakland (OAK) to Maui (OGG) in 2017, we each had a $150 discount code good for a future flight with Alaska Airlines/Virgin America. After the discount code, our flights cost about $450 total.
As a holder of the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature card, my baggage fees were waived both ways for a savings of $50. Now this benefit also applies to up to 6 other passengers on your reservation, but Alaska Airlines only allows one discount code per reservation so all of our flights were booked separately. That means Reese and Declan had to pay $25 each per flight for their bags, but they would have been free if we were all on the same reservation.
|3 Roundtrip Tickets from LAX to MCO||$300*3=$900|
|Baggage to MCO||$25*3=$75|
|Baggage to LAX||$25*3=$75|
|Alaska Airlines Discount Codes||$150*3=$450|
|Alaska Airlines Signature Visa Waived Baggage Fees||$25*2=$50|
|Total After Discounts||$550|
Hyatt Regency LAX
We booked one night at the Hyatt Regency Los Angeles International Airport before our trip. When traveling with a toddler, it’s much easier to wake up near the airport rather than travel to the airport on the morning of your flight. At the time of booking, this room cost about $200 per night, but I booked a points and cash rate for 6,000 World of Hyatt points and $75. The value of those World of Hyatt points was about 2 cents.
Lake Buena Vista Resort Village & Spa
We booked a two bedroom villa with a kitchen for 110,044 Chase Ultimate Rewards points at Lake Buena Vista Resort Village & Spa which is located about 5 miles from Disney World. This property does not belong to any hotel loyalty chains so we couldn’t redeem any of our hotel points for it. We strongly disliked this resort, and we would never stay there again or recommend it to anyone. Read our full review here. Since we booked this through the Chase Sapphire Reserve portal, those points had a value of 1.5 cents. We still paid resort fees each night, and we paid for a full cleaning once during our stay. Since our return flight left Orlando at 7pm, we actually booked one extra night so we could stay in the room longer. That caused an additional day’s worth of resort fees.
|Hyatt Regency LAX including Taxes||$87|
|Lake Buena Vista Resort Village & Spa||$0|
|Resort Fees including Taxes||$126|
|Chase Ultimate Rewards Points||110,044|
|World of Hyatt Points||6,000|
The Parking Spot at LAX
Parking is one of those things that often gets overlooked when planning a vacation, but it can seriously impact your budget. We parked in valet at one of the Parking Spot locations at LAX. It’s definitely not the cheapest airport parking, but it’s always served us well. (Read: Our vehicle has never been stolen from their lot.) Parking in valet means your vehicle is pulled up before you even arrive on the airport shuttle. This cost about $234 for 10 nights of parking since we took our vehicle directly to the Parking Spot rather than parking at the Hyatt Regency for our first night.
Disney World, SeaWorld, and Universal Studios all charge at least $20 per day for parking. At Disney World, you only pay this fee once, and then you can move to a different park or leave and return without paying the fee again. At Universal Studios, parking is on the other side of Universal City Walk from the theme parks. This means you have to walk from your car to Universal City Walk then through Universal City Walk to each theme park. Instead, we chose to valet park which cost $40 per day. Valet is right near the entrance to City Walk.
|The Parking Spot LAX||$234|
|Universal Studios Valet Parking||$40|
|Disney World Parking||$20*6=$120|
Rental Car Savings
We used 23,040 Chase Ultimate Rewards points to book a full-size car with National Car Rental. In my experience, cash rates for rental cars through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal are significantly less than booking through the company directly. Sometimes, it’s even cheaper than sites like Costco Travel. Thanks to my American Express Platinum Card, I am an Executive Member of the Emerald Club with National. This means I was able to choose any vehicle from the Executive Emerald Aisle at MCO. We chose a Nissan Pathfinder to fit all of our luggage and baby gear. It was a nice perk on top of a free car booked with points.
|National Car Rental Total||$0|
|Chase Ultimate Rewards||23,040|
Theme Park Ticket Savings
Some people might think it’s crazy to take a two-year-old Disney World. I’ve heard a lot of people say he won’t remember it, but here’s the thing, a two-year-old gets into Disney World, Sea World, and Universal Studios for free! That’s just another way we saved money on theme park tickets.
For Disney World, we purchased 6-Day Park Hopper tickets from Undercover Tourist for $456 each. At the time, American Express had an Amex Offer for Undercover Tourist so you earned a $30 statement credit if you spent $100. We were able to enroll in this offer on my American Express Platinum Card and my husband’s Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card. This was a savings of $60 so our Disney World tickets only cost $426 each. Purchasing tickets from Undercover Tourist rather than Disney World directly also saved us about $60 per ticket.
We also purchased one day tickets to Seaworld from Undercover Tourist for about $85 each. At the time, American Express was offering another Amex Offer for Undercover Tourist. This offer was only a $20 statement credit for a $100 purchase using the American Express Platinum Card. The discounted tickets from Undercover Tourist were a $21 savings per person over the gate price.
We only planned to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, but in order to see both Hogsmeade Village and Diagon Alley and to ride the Hogwarts Express between the two parks, we had to purchase 1 Day Park-to-Park – Value tickets from Universal Studios. Again, we used Undercover Tourist and paid $176 each. There was no discount in purchasing tickets from Undercover Tourist rather than Universal Studios directly. However, Undercover Tourist purchases code as travel for Chase Sapphire cards. I waited until after January 1, 2018 and used my Chase Sapphire Reserve for the transaction. Days later, my $300 travel credit posted to my Chase account.
We also rearranged our schedule so that our visit to Universal Studios would coincide with a value day. When purchasing single day tickets, value days are slightly cheaper than anytime tickets. This meant visiting the park on a Sunday, but the extra savings as worth it.
We also purchased Universal Express tickets to skip the line on rides. These are not sold by Undercover Tourist, but they can be added to Undercover Tourist tickets. They cost about $85 after taxes. Tickets purchased from the Universal Studios website DO NOT code as travel for Chase Sapphire cards. With that in mind, even if there is no savings on purchasing tickets from Undercover Tourist, I would still purchase tickets from them using ether Chase Sapphire card to get the bonus Ultimate Rewards points for travel purchases.
|Theme Park Tickets|
|Disney World 6-Day Park Hopper tickets from Undercover Tourist||$456*2=$912|
|SeaWorld Orlando Single Day tickets||$85*2=$170|
|Universal Studios 1-Day Park-to-Park Value tickets from Undercover Tourist||$176*2=$352|
|Universal Express tickets||$85*2=$170|
|Total for Tickets||$1604|
|Undercover Tourist Amex Offer for Disney World Tickets||$30*2=$60|
|Undercover Tourist Amex Offer for Seaworld Tickets||$20|
|CSR Travel Credit for Undercover Tourist Universal Studios Tickets||$300|
|Total After Credits||$1224|
|Additional Savings from Undercover Tourist over Gate Prices||$162|
Total Cost for our Disney World Vacation
The total cost for our 9 nights (10 booked nights) in Orlando and 1 night in LA was $2,431, 133,084 Chase Ultimate Rewards points, and 6,000 World of Hyatt Points.
This does not include dessert parties, food, Memory Maker, or souvenirs. To offset the costs of these extra, we utilized opportunities to purchase Disney gift cards like the post-Thanksgiving Target gift card sale. And the 10x Chase Ultimate Rewards on Chase Pay purchases from Best Buy which was offered in December 2017. The total also does not include our stroller rental since I left ours in the Executive Emerald Aisle at National Car Rental. (The travel curse strikes again!)
Total Savings for our Disney World Vacation
We saved over $3,000 on this trip! Plus, we saved another $162 by purchasing our tickets from Universal Studios as opposed to the theme park gate prices. But we could have saved even more by using a few different strategies.
How We Could Have Saved Even More
Now that we have the Southwest Companion Pass, we could have flown three people for the cost of two. And, we could have used points from the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus and the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier card to pay for those two tickets. Using the base price of $300 per person, we would need about 40,000 Rapid Rewards points to book two Wanna Get Away fares with Southwest. The Companion Pass provides the third ticket in this scenario regardless of whether you use cash or points for the booking. This also would have saved on baggage fees since your first two checked bags fly free with Southwest. And, it’s likely we all would have been able to sit together since passengers flying with a child under 6 get to board between Groups A and B.
Alaska or American Airlines with British Airways Avios
British Airways Avios is our favorite currency for domestic U.S. flights. We used them for Maui and Oahu. (Yes, the tickets that earned us those $150 discount codes were booked with Avios.) Since British Airways is a distance based system, it costs 25,000 Avios to fly directly from LAX to MCO on partner airlines like Alaska and American. Without the discount codes, we would have used this option.
Booking a Disney World Resort Hotel with Chase Ultimate Rewards
My number one regret is not booking a Disney World Resort hotel. Many Disney World Resort hotels can be booked through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. In fact, there are some resorts that would have cost as little as Lake Buena Vista Resort Village & Spa. As I said before, we strongly disliked Lake Buena Vista Resort Village & Spa. However, we booked a two bedroom with a kitchen and a washer and dryer for about the standard cost of staying at a Disney World value resort. When traveling with a two-year-old, these amenities are PRICELESS. But, honestly, we were so tired after each day in the parks, that we didn’t use the kitchen very much. A refrigerator and a microwave would have been enough. Those are available even at Disney World value resorts.
I’ve previously discussed the perks for staying at a Disney World Resort in my Ultimate 5 Step Disney World Vacation Planning Guide. One of those perks is free parking at Disney World Theme Parks. This would have saved is $120 in parking fees. We still would have rented a car since we wanted to visit other theme parks, but, if you’re only visiting Disney World, staying at a Disney World Resort hotel also includes free airport and park transportation.
Not Buying Park Hopper Tickets
As I’ve discussed in Disneyland vs Disney World: 10 Big Differences, Disney World is huge! Each theme park has more than a day’s worth of activities. As such, park hopping is not necessary. We didn’t park hop at all so that feature of our tickets went to waste. We would have spent $120 less if we purchased one park per day tickets instead.
Not Buying Universal Express
It turns out that Universal Studios has single rider lines at all the major Wizarding World of Harry Potter attractions. That means Universal Express was completely wasted on us. We would have spent $170 less without this extra ticket.
Final Thoughts on our Disney World Vacation Savings
I really can’t complain about saving $3,000 on a Disney World vacation! There’s no way our family could have afforded such an incredible vacation without the strategies I’ve discussed on this blog for earning points and miles from travel credit cards. To get started, read 5 Things to Do Before You Can Travel (Nearly) Free with Points & Miles, and my recommendations for Best Travel Reward Credit Cards for (Nearly) Free Travel.