For most families, the biggest obstacle for a Disney World vacation is the price tag. But if you use points & miles wisely, you can minimize your travel expenses which will allow you to maximize your Disney World fun! Follow along to learn my tips and tricks to save money on a Disney World vacation with points & miles from travel reward credit cards.
1. Fly to Orlando Using Points & Miles
Getting to Orlando with points & miles is the easiest way to save money on a Disney World vacation. All major airlines, including Southwest, fly to the Orlando International Airport (MCO). As of February 2018, Southwest is still offering 50,000 bonus Rapid Rewards points if you sign-up for either the Southwest Premier or Southwest Plus Credit Cards with a referral link. (You can find my referral links here.) That’s $750 worth of free travel from the sign-up bonus alone!
If you are able to obtain both Southwest credit cards, you’ll be well on your way to a Southwest Companion Pass. The Southwest Companion pass is one of the best deals in the points & miles game. For the duration of the pass, your companion flies free every time you fly with Southwest, including to Orlando. The first ticket can be booked with points which means you only pay $5.60 each way per person. Plus, Southwest allows two free checked bags which makes it easier to pack your Theme Park Essentials. Booking flights with points & miles, especially with Southwest, is a really great way to save money on a Disney World vacation.
2. Book Orlando Hotels Using Points & Miles
Disney World Resorts
Even though everyone wants to save money on a Disney World vacation, the dream is to stay at a Disney World resort, right? Well, you can book Disney World resorts through a rewards portal like the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal or Amex Travel from American Express. Generally, you get more value out of points & miles when you redeem through a transfer partner. But we’re talking about the dream here! So if you’re booking through the Chase Sapphire Reserve portal where your points are worth 1.5 cents, I say, “Go for it!”
Keep in mind, the rates for these properties are still high and you’ll need a lot of points, but, if you’re a Disney person like me, you’ll probably find it well worth the cost in points. Staying at a Disney World resorts comes with added benefits like an extended 60 day FastPass+ booking window, extra magic hours, free magic bands, free parking, and more. These extras are a big deal when planning a Disney World vacation, particularly during the busy season.
Non-Disney Resorts at Disney World
Another option is to stay at a chain hotel on or near Disney World using that chain’s rewards program. The best options are the Walt Disney World Dolphin and Swan. Although the name says Disney, these are SPG properties. As such, you can use Starpoints earned from the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card to book your stay. Dolphin is a category 4 hotel that costs 10,000 Starpoints per night. Swan is a category 5 hotel that costs 12,000 Starpoints per night. For stays at category 3-7 properties like Dolphin and Swan, your fifth night is free when you book five nights. That means five nights will only cost 40,000 Starpoints at Dolphin or 48,000 Starpoints at Swan.
Guests at Dolphin and Swan are eligible for extra magic hours and the extended 60 day FastPass+ window. Keep an eye out for an elevated sign-up bonus like the most recent 35,000 Starpoint bonus. With a bonus that high, you can almost earn enough points for that five night stay with one credit card. If you and your spouse or travel partner both sign-up, you can stay even longer.
Other chain hotels near Disney World include the usual suspects like Hilton (Redeeming Hilton Honors Points), Holiday Inn, Hyatt, and more. Guests at certain hotels in the Disney Springs area are also eligible for extra magic hours throughout 2018. These hotels include B Resort & Spa; Best Western Lake Buena Vista Resort; DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Orlando; Hilton Orlando Buena Vista Palace; Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista; Holiday Inn Orlando; Wyndham Lake Buena Vista; and Wyndham Garden Lake Buena Vista. If you book these hotels through a Walt Disney Travel Company, you also get the extended 60 day FastPass+ window, but you will not be able to redeem points for your stay.
3. Save Money on Disney World Park Tickets with Points & Miles
Erase Travel Purchases
Two credit cards offer points that can be used to “erase” travel purchases: Capital One Venture Rewards credit card and Barclay Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard. Both cards allow you to redeem points by applying a statement credit for travel purchases. We do not have either of these cards, but both make the list of cards to apply for in the future.
Stack Amex Offers
Amex Offers from American Express are another great way to save money on Disney World park tickets. Amex Offers frequently pairs with Undercover Tourist to provide a statement credit when you use an Amex Offer enrolled card to complete your purchase. In the beginning of 2017, we saved $30 on each of our Disney World tickets by using Amex Offers on two different cards. Later in the year, a similar offer returned and we saved another $20 on SeaWorld Orlando tickets booked through Undercover Tourist.
Use Credit Card Travel Credits
Finally, Undercover Tourist codes as travel for Chase Sapphire Reserve so you can use your $300 travel credit to negate your purchase. That’s how we paid for our Universal Studios Orlando tickets. If none of these strategies to save money on Disney World park tickets work for you, consider finding ways to maximize the points & miles earned on Disney World park tickets instead. Then use those points to book your hotel or your flight!
4. Maximize Points Earned on Disney World Park Tickets
Travel Bonus for Park Tickets
As previously mentioned, Undercover Tourist codes as travel so use your credit card with the best travel category bonus to purchase park tickets. Then you can use those points to offset other travel costs.
Bonus Category Spending on Disney Gift Cards
Alternatively, pay for Disney World park tickets with Disney gift cards purchased as part of an elevated category bonus. Currently, Chase Freedom offers 5x the points on mobile pay purchases including Chase Pay, Apply Pay, Samsung Pay, and Android Pay. Best Buy is a great place to use mobile pay apps to purchase Disney gift cards. (Chase Pay and Best Buy have actually teamed up twice since December 2017 to offer 10x the points on Chase Pay transactions, but they’ve currently expired.) When bonus categories include places that sell gift cards like office supply stores or department stores, this is a great way to purchase Disney gift cards for cheap. You don’t even have to use them for tickets since you’ll save more money with Undercover Tourist. Instead, use the gift cards to pay for food or souvenirs at the parks.
Discounted Disney Gift Cards
Another great way to purchase discounted Disney gift cards is Target’s holiday gift card sale. Remember, Disney World planning is a long game! Once a year, about two to three weeks after Thanksgiving, Target sells discounted Target gift cards. In 2017, this occurred on the third Sunday after Thanksgiving. On that day, you could purchase up to $300 in Target gift cards. Once the Target gift cards were activated, you could purchase Disney gift cards. That means buying $300 worth of Disney gift cards for only $270. (At the same time, Discover It was offering 5% cash back on Target purchases so card holders could buy $300 worth of gift cards for $270 and earn 5% cash back on the transaction!) Year round, use your Target RedCard to save 5% on Disney gift card transactions.
Hot Tip: If a cashier won’t allow you to buy Disney gift cards with Target gift cards or REDcard, use self-checkout instead.
Bonus Tip: Consider the Chase Disney Visa Cards
Chase offers a Disney Visa card and a Disney Premier Visa card. Rewards earned with these cards can be redeemed for park tickets, resort stays, Disney dining, Disney merchandise, and Disney and Star Wars movies. Honestly, the redemption rules are pretty complicated like requiring you to request a redemption card in advance or requiring a $50 minimum purchase to use a redemption card on merchandise. But cardholders do get dining discounts at Disneyland and Disney World plus Disney Premier Visa card holders also get merchandise discounts. There are also cardmember exclusive character experiences at Disneyland and Disney World.
If you spend a lot of money or a lot of time on Disney, these cards might be a good fit for you. According to this article from Doctor of Credit, they don’t fall under Chase’s 5/24 rule. Honestly, I think the best thing about either of these cards is 0% interest for six months when booking a vacation package. Otherwise, you’re probably better off using more flexible rewards cards with more general bonus spending categories like Chase Freedom, Chase Freedom Unlimited, and either Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve.
Final Thoughts on How to Save Money on a Disney World Vacation with Points & Miles
It may be difficult, but it’s not impossible to save money on a Disney World vacation. Points & miles play a large role in offsetting flight and hotel accommodations for an extended stay. And if you know how to use them or how to maximize them, you can even save money on Disney World park tickets. The less money you spend getting to Disney World, the more you will enjoy the magic once you’re there.