By: Julie Szpira
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Whether you’re 2 or 92, a trip to Disney can be a magical experience for the family to share. What can be not-so-magical is the high price tag of a visit to the Happiest Place on Earth.
Flights, hotels and park tickets can quickly add up to thousands of dollars. Well, we here at 10xTravel want you to enjoy your trip to see Mickey and Minnie, and not worry about the costs.
By maximizing points and miles, you can make your visit, and still have cash left to buy that $11 souvenir cup!
Despite the fact that I am a non-married, childless, 32 year old woman, I love Disney and actually had an annual pass for Disneyland as recently as 2016.
Is it normal for an adult to have multiple solo photos in front of the Disneyland Castle?
The following plan is designed for a visit to Disney World, but with a few tweaks to hotel planning it would also work for a visit to Disneyland.
Disney World is a larger property, with many more hotels from which to choose, including more than 25 Disney owned properties, as well as many hotel chain options.
Disneyland has a much smaller footprint, with only three Disney properties, but the area still provides many excellent hotel chain options.
How To Fly To Disney World
Unless you are living within a reasonable driving distance of Disney (for my family, 1200 miles was considered reasonable… it’s not), you’re going to have to fly.
With a little bit of pre-planning, a family of four can fly for almost free with the Southwest Companion Pass. Check out our complete guide to obtaining the Southwest Companion Pass to learn more.
The Companion Pass allows for the person who has earned the pass to designate a “companion” who can fly with them for only the cost of taxes and fees of the flight. For most domestic one way flights, that fee is $5.60. So, your companion can fly for the cost of a half-caf-mocha-soy latte.
The companion pass is earned by flying 100 Southwest flights in a single year or earning 110,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards within a calendar year.
100 Southwest flights is a pretty lofty goal, and would average out to 1 round-trip flight per week for the whole year, so a better option is to focus on earning to 110,000 Rapid Rewards.
Miles can be earned through flying Southwest, through credit card sign-up bonuses and through credit card spending with one of the Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards credit cards.
Once you earn the Companion Pass, a companion must be selected. The Companion Pass holder can use points to book their flight and flights for the other members of the family, and then add the companion to the ticket.
This round trip flight for three cost 56,577 points and $33.60 for taxes/fees, and the companion can be added with just an additional taxes/fees payment of $11.20.
For a family traveling domestically, using Southwest credit cards and the Companion Pass definitely provide great value.
Southwest also flies to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and John Wayne Airport, Orange County (SNA) if you are interested in a trip to Disneyland.
How To Stay At Disney World Without Breaking The Bank
With flights for a family of four being covered for under $100, Disney is starting to sound much more affordable, but getting there is only half the battle. Fortunately, strategic planning will help you save a lot of money on hotels as well.
As I mentioned earlier, Disney World has plenty of “on site” options, ranging from “value” to “deluxe“, and even has some properties with luxury villas. Disneyland has a much smaller selection, but provides 3 great options while visiting the California location.
Most Disney hotels are not able to be booked with traditional hotel points (I’ll get to the exception in a minute!), but there is a way to reduce the cost of your hotel booking by using credit card points.
Miles earned through the Capital One Venture or a Barclaycard Arrival Plus card are able to be used as “purchase erasers” for travel costs, and can be applied to the cost of your Disney hotel booking.
Both have an annual fee that is waived the first year ($95 for Capital One Venture after the first year and $89 for Barclaycard Arrival Plus) and both cards earn 2x miles on every purchase.
What is great about these cards is that you can actually use the card to book your hotel before you earn your bonus miles, and utilize your hotel booking to meet your minimum spending requirement.
By utilizing this strategy, you could book a five-night stay in a “value” category hotel with just $900 in reward miles from the two cards.
Staying in a Disney hotel provides many benefits that are attractive to those visiting the parks, and can help make a visit to Disney even more magical.
As mentioned above, there is an exception to the “traditional hotel points” booking rule for Disney hotels. The exception is Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resorts.
These are actually Starwood hotels, so they can be booked using SPG Starpoints (or Marriott Rewards points that are transferred to SPG). Fortunately, they still offer many of the benefits found at the typical Disney World resorts.
The Dolphin is part of Starwood’s Sheraton brand and a Category 4 hotel. Free nights are available for 10,000 points per night.
The Swan is a Westin brand Category 5 hotel, and free nights are available for 12,000 points per night.
The SPG program allows for points transfers between household members, so it’s possible to pool points together.
A great perk is that SPG has a 5th night free on award stays, so a five-night stay at the Dolphin would cost 40,000 points and a five-night stay at the Swan would cost 48,000 points.
The hotels share many amenities, and the decision as to which hotel is best depends on each individual family.
One major difference is that the Dolphin allows for 5 people to share a standard room, while the Swan has a maximum occupancy of 4 people per room. Each hotel requires a resort fee of $25 per night, so you’ll have to factor that into your planning
Fortunately, if you pay the resort fee with a Capital One Venture or a Barclaycard Arrival Plus, that charge can be erased, as it would code as a travel expense.
Other great points hotel options in the Disney World area include:
Hyatt Place Orlando/Lake Buena Vista: 12,000 World of Hyatt points a night. This is a great option for family because the room includes a sleeper sofa and every guest receives a free breakfast.
Embassy Suites by Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista Resort: 30,000 to 40,000 Hilton Honors points per night. Embassy Suites have large rooms and the daily breakfast buffet is free for all guests.
Holiday Inn Club Vacations At Orange Lake Resort: 35,000 IHG points per night. The room is actually a 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom villa that can sleep up to eight guests. The resort is full of amenities that are sure to keep kids occupied including a lazy river, water slides, and mini golf.
TownePlace Suites Orlando at Flamingo Crossings/Western Entrance: 20,000 Marriott Rewards points per night. The studio suite room includes two queen beds or a king bed, a sofa bed, a fully equipped kitchen and includes free breakfast.
SpringHill Suites Orlando at Flamingo Crossings/Western Entrance: 20,000 Marriott Rewards points per night. The suites include two queen beds or a king bed, a sofa bed, a kitchenette. All guests also receive a free hot breakfast and there is a complimentary shuttle to the Disney Parks.
This is by no means a complete list of hotels bookable with points in the area, but the hotels above are a good value and are located near the Disney Parks.
At this point, I hope you’re feeling confident that a trip to Disney is well within your budget. There is only one task left to tackle, and it’s the whole reason you’re going to Disney in the first place: Park Tickets.
Getting Park Tickets to Disney World
Let’s be honest, Disney World park tickets are not cheap. No matter how you rationalize how much you love The Mouse, park tickets are pricey.
Park Hopper tickets for five days for two adults and two children (ages 3-9) cost $1,853.12 when purchased through the Disney World website. Just typing that number made my bank account hurt a little.
I could say “I’ve shown you how to save so much on flights and hotels, just buy the tickets and be done with it”, but I’m not someone who likes to do things halfway.
If you’re going to return home after your trip to Disney and brag about how much money you saved, you’re going to want to save A LOT of money.
Earlier, I discussed how the Capital One Venture and Barclaycard Arrival Plus cards can be used to erase travel costs. When booked directly through the Disney World website, park tickets are not coded as “travel”, so you wouldn’t be able to use these cards to erase the cost.
Also, booking through these travel sites provides a little bit of a discount, with the Park Hopper tickets for five days for two adults and two children (ages 3-9) coming out to $1,767.92 on Orbitz!
If you don’t have enough points to pay for hotels and park tickets, you would have to choose what travel costs you want to erase.
However, both adults can earn points with cards of their own which could nearly double the points you have to use..
If grandma and grandpa have points from the Capital One Venture or Barclaycard Arrival Plus, they could treat the kids to park tickets. There is nothing that prevents other people from using their points to make purchases that benefit you!
Finally, I wanted to briefly discuss the Chase Disney Rewards Visa Card and the Chase Disney Premier Visa Card. While the cards are adorable, and you can choose from a bunch of different card designs, the rewards earned on these cards are not all that great.
The rewards are redeemable for Disney items, and while it seems like it may be a great card to have while visiting Disney, the reality is that the card isn’t a blockbuster (unlike Frozen, which was incredible).
Having a Tinkerbell card would be cute, but the rewards that come with the card aren’t very attractive.
Perks like a “Disney Character Experience at our private Cardmember location” sound very enticing, but what that really means is that during certain time periods, cardmembers get to take a picture with a character that isn’t available to the general population.
With so many other credit cards with dazzling rewards, applying for a Disney Credit Card just isn’t worth the spot in your wallet.
I want everyone to be able to visit Disney World or Disneyland. I really do find it to be the Happiest Place on Earth, and even a bad day can turn into the best day after you take a ride on Space Mountain.
What I don’t want is for people to spend thousands of dollars to take the trip. Using points and miles to save money and book trips always reminds me that “It’s A Small World” after all.