Hey Friends. So you wanna go to Disney World but money’s funny at the moment. Fear not because I’m gonna show you how to do Disney on a tight budget (we’re talking nearly free!)
So you’re here to find out how to do Disney for cheap and we’ll get right into it. First, however, I need to set a framework for how to do this well and so you don’t lose money elsewhere. The idea here is simple: sign up for certain travel credit cards (I’ll show you which ones), meet the minimum spending, get points or miles and use them to get great deals on travel. My family and I just got back from Disney and did the whole thing for about a quarter of what we would have spent if we didn’t use any miles or points ($4,200 vs. $1,200). And I could have shaved off another $600 from our trip expense but we’d planned other trips I used our points for. So, a few things:
Don’t sign up for credit cards if you plan on carrying a balance. Getting free points isn’t worth it if you have to pay 20% interest rates. Pay off your balance each month or you’ll be the one paying for other’s travels.
Most credit cards that give you free miles and points charge an annual fee of about $95 but waive the first years annual fee. Simply hold the card for a year and then cancel it and you won’t pay a dime. Don’t cancel it right away as the banks don’t like that and you don’t look like a good customer. Keep good records so you know when to cancel.
Make sure you can meet the minimum spending requirements before you get the card. It’s usually $3,000 in 3 months. If you don’t spend that much money you won’t get the valuable hotel points or airline miles. It’s best to stagger sign ups so you have some time to spend the required money.
What about my credit score? – When you sign up for a credit card the bank does a “hard” credit inquiry on your credit report. This results in a drop of your credit score of 3-5 points, very minimal. One thing to keep in mind is that this strategy won’t be possible if you can’t get approved for the credit cards. It seems that if your credit score is below 700 you start getting into areas where the banks will be less likely to approve you but your results may vary.
There are many ways to “do Disney” and it just depends on how much money you can spend, time of year you go, how many people you’re taking, what parks you want to focus on, etc…
I’ve shared my experience with a family of 5 (3 kids and 2 adults) and how it worked for us. So now I’ll share just a few odds and ends from our trip that might be helpful as there is a lot to consider when you’re planning a Disney World trip.
Getting around – Our hotel, Embassy Suites, had a shuttle that went to Epcot each day and from there on to the other parks. We were originally planning on taking it each day to the parks and getting an uber ride home. We decided to just take uber both ways each day as it was not that expensive and was direct without having to wait for others. The cost of Uber in and around Orlando is pretty cheap relatively. We paid on average $20 each way from our hotel to the Disney parks and it took about 20 minutes to get there. Now with 5 people, we had to use uber xl, which gets you a vehicle that holds up to 6 people. It’s typically a mini-van or suv with plenty of room. With our little 4 year old, we bought an inflatable booster seat for him called a bubble-bum. It worked out pretty well for our family and I’d recommend it if you want a quick trip to and from the parks. One note, getting to Magic Kingdom is a little tricky. You can’t be dropped off at the entrance. The quickest way we found was to uber to the contemporary resort and then take the 7 minute walk to Magic Kingdom.
Snacks – Food in Disney World is expensive. We had the big breakfast included in our hotel so we didn’t even need much for lunch. We brought a ton of snacks like granola bars, trail mix, peanut butter jelly sandwiches, etc… and were fine all afternoon. We then bought dinner at the parks if we stayed that late. Can save you a lot of money and you eat a little healthier too.
Rental homes – If we had thought we’d rely so much on uber, we would have considered using airbnb or homeaway.com to rent a place. They are very affordable around Disney and there are a ton of them. If you have a few families or extended families staying together then this is the way to go. Many homes have a pool as well. In my post here on buying Disney tickets for cheap, I talk about using fixed value points for them. Well, if you have extra points from the Arrival plus card or the Venture Rewards card, you can use them for Airbnb stays. Simply charge your Airbnb stay on your credit card and then wipe out that charge when it posts using your points.
A big thank you to Fort Worth Plumbers for supporting today’s post. They are a fantastic plumber Fort Worth residents rely on.
Careful in that hot Florida sun. See here for tips on how to keep from burning and ruining your vacation.
Now a big expense going to Disney World is the tickets. They just went up in price too. When we bought them they were about $330 for adults and $310 for kids. So for our family the tickets totalled about $1,600. You can’t buy tickets with airline miles or hotel points but you can buy them using fixed value points. There are 2 credit card you can get that will allow you to use the sign up bonus to purchase Disney tickets. They are:
Barclays Arrival plus card – Right now the sign up bonus is 50,000 points. After spending the $3,000 dollars minimum spending requirement you’ll have 56,000 points (you get 2 points/dollar spent). Each point is worth 1 cent toward travel so you now have $560 to spend. You simply pay for your travel with the credit card and then you can “wipe it out” or reimburse yourself the money. Now, if you and your spouse got one each you’d have $1,120 toward disney tickets.
Capital One venture rewards card – This card works the same way except right now it comes with 40,000 points instead of 50,000 as the arrival plus does. So after minimum spending you’d have 46,000 points or $460 to spend on travel. Again, you and your spouse/significant other could each get one resulting in $920 to spend on travel.
So if you and another each got both cards you’d have $2,040 to spend on any travel related expense including disney tickets. That covers 2 adults and 4 kids!!
Now, here is an important step – When you pay for travel with these cards, the charge must show up as in the travel category or else you can’t use your points to “erase” that purchase. I don’t know how it would show up if you bought directly from Disney but I can tell you it does show up as a travel category when you buy from Undercover tourist. They are the same price or a little cheaper than directly from Disney and are well known, trusted and respected. I bought from them and was able to use my points after the purchase posted.
So now you know how to get Disney tickets for free, Disney hotel for $75 and flights for $11/person. The only expenses left are transportation to/from airport and parks, food (lunch and dinner- remember free breakfast at Embassy Suites) and gifts for the kids.
I truly hope this helps and allows you to go make some great memories with your kids or just enjoy a vacation for yourselves.
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If you want a little primer on Disney tickets, this video may be helpful.
There are many homes for rent using Airbnb or homeaway.com that are quite cheap. You can get a nice 4 bedroom home for about $100/night so if you need the room or are travelling with other families this can be a very cost-effective way to stay. However, if you want free then check out the hotel scene. There are plentiful amounts of hotels around Disney that you can book with points. You can find great hotels from all the hotel brands but I want to spend this post sharing my experience at one in particular that my family really enjoyed. It is the Embassy Suites in Lake Buena Vista, a short shuttle ride to the Disney parks. There are many benefits to this hotel that I’ll get into but my favorite one is that it was completely free for us. Embassy Suites is a part of the Hilton group so you can use Hilton points to book it.
This hotel is 40,000 hilton points per night but if you stay 4 or more night, the 5th night is free. So if you stay for 5 nights the total is 160,000 hilton points. That is exactly what my family did. Now you may be thinking that that is a lot of points to acquire. Well, it is but fortunately Hilton has numerous credit cards you can sign up for to quickly accrue many points. There are 3 credit cards you can quickly get and meet spending requirements to acquire 165,000 Hilton points all for just $75 in annual fees. That is equal to 5 nights at the Embassy Suites. When we stayed it was about $200/night so you’re saving $925. Now to the perks:
Free breakfast – Many people overlook this valuable perk. This is a legit breakfast folks with all you can eat made to order omelettes, bacon, waffles, cereal, juices. And it’s convenient too. You just walk right downstairs and fill up for the day.
Suites- With a family of 5, a traditional hotel room is tight. Each room has a one bedroom suite to give sleeping space to each person and a little separation for when kids go to bed.
Incredible pool area with huge indoor/outdoor pool, hottub, splashpad for the little kids and bar.
Happy hour – 5-7pm is free snacks and open bar (seriously, all you can drink beer, wine and mixed drinks. Again, an overlooked perk of big value.
So check out this hotel. Again, there are many hotels in the area that offer great value but if you want to use points you can get them and book the hotel relatively easily.
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Ok, so let’s dive right in. An important part of being able to enjoy Disney World is to get there. Of course, driving is the cheapest but for some that just isn’t reality. For others it’s a reality but they simply don’t want to do it. So I’m going to show you how to fly your family there for next to nothing. The secret is airline miles and you can get them for free by signing up for a credit card or two. My good friend Chuck, who happens to be a plumber Palatine, IL. residents love, used this strategy late last year and raved about it. Now if you can go in off-season, do it for numerous reasons: 1. It’s not so doggone hot, humid and uncomfortable. 2. Crowds are a lot less so you can see more and wait in long lines less. 3. Everything’s cheaper in off-season. My family and I just got back from Disney (It’s mid February, 2017). It was 75-80 degrees and sunny everyday and we never waited in line for over 30 minutes (and only that once per day). It was a great experience but it would have looked a lot different in July.
My favorite airlines for domestic travel is Southwest Airlines. You can find some great values, especially if you have a flexible schedule for travel. Let’s say, for example, your family of four lives in Chicago and wanted to go to Disney World in April. Check out this schedule:
It would cost you 47,012 southwest points and $44.80. Now you can go other times but since this is off peak the points required are lower. You can get the Southwest credit card which comes with 50,000 points. Sometimes it drops to 30,000 points so make sure you get the 50,000 point offer. As you can see with just one credit card signup you could take your family of 4 to Disney roundtrip while just paying $11/person in airlines taxes. If you need more points just sign up for more credit cards. Each person can get the premier card and the plus card (total of 100,000 points). If mom and dad each got one they could have 200,000 points to use for the family.
You can also use other airline miles such as Delta, American Airlines, United Airlines, Frontier Airlines and British Airways. My second favorite also offering fantastic value is British Airways. They calculate how many miles (they call them avios) they charge you by the distance you are flying. If Southwest doesn’t work for you for some reason, check out British Airways. You can get 50,000 avios (British Airways miles) by signing up for their credit card.
For a wealth of information about travel, my favorite website is the travel channel. Check it out here.