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Even though Disney parks are notoriously expensive, there are still plenty of ways to save. If you’re on a tight budget, you could visit a Disney park for only one day and spend the rest of your trip at the hotel pool, for example. You could also buy one-park day passes instead of “park hopper” tickets that let you access multiple parks, and you could skip out on extras like character dinners and souvenirs.
You could even stay in an off-site condo or timeshare rental, bring and make all of your meals, and drive to the park instead of flying.
But you’ll still face the inevitable fact that Disney isn’t cheap. Even one-day park tickets start at $109 at Disney Magic Kingdom Park during nonpeak times. Plus, you have hotel stays to cover, meals to pay for, and, well, everything else. And if you need to fly to the park, you can add hundreds of dollars per person to your total bill.
Fortunately, the best travel rewards credit cards can help you plan a Disney vacation that fits within your budget. You may not get your entire trip for free, but the right combination of cards and points can help you save on some of the bigger components of your trip and whittle your total travel costs down.
While you’ll want to plan at least six months to one year ahead if you want to use rewards to cover airfare or hotels, the strategy below is totally doable if you have the right mindset. Here’s how to plan a Disney trip for $1,000 or less for a family of four.
Paying for airfare to Disney
If you don’t need to fly to Orlando at the start of your Disney World trip, then you can restrict your transportation costs to the price of gas. But if you need to fly, you’ll want to make sure you sign up for the right combination of airline or flexible travel credit cards ahead of time.
One of the best options to focus on is Southwest Rapid Rewards if Southwest Airlines flies out of your home airport. You can rack up Southwest miles with a co-branded Southwest credit card or transfer points 1:1 to Southwest from a popular bank rewards credit card.
The tricky thing about using Southwest is the fact that award flights fluctuate based on ticket pricing. This makes it difficult to predict how many points you need for a flight, but it’s also a good thing since lower-priced flights cost fewer points.
You can frequently find flights from many U.S. cities to Orlando for as little as 6,000 miles one-way or 12,000 miles round-trip. If you find a sale or book when prices are low, this could mean getting your entire family’s airfare to Orlando covered for 48,000 miles round-trip. Keep in mind, however, that you’ll also have to pay $5.60 in government-mandated taxes and fees for each leg of your flights.
If your local airport doesn’t offer flights with Southwest, you’ll need to look for a different frequent flyer program to rack up points with. JetBlue is another good option since flights can cost fewer points on certain dates and they are easy to earn. I found round-trip flights from Chicago to Orlando on JetBlue in June for 16,000 miles (plus $11.20 in fees), for example.
You could also consider American Airlines, which will charge 25,000 miles round-trip (or fewer miles if you live within 500 miles of Orlando), plus the same $5.60 per leg in taxes. United MileagePlus is another good option for as little as 20,000 miles round-trip, plus taxes. Last but not least, Delta Air Lines may have good options from your home airport, but you should check online ahead of time before you start racking up Delta miles since the airline no longer publishes an award chart.
Hotels are fairly easy to cover near Disney World in Orlando, and that’s true whether you want to stay in a traditional hotel room or a condo. Most of the major hotel brands offer properties in the Disney area, with some even on park property. Here are some of the best options to consider racking up hotel points with using either a co-branded hotel credit card or a card that lets you transfer points. (See also: Best Hotel Programs and Credit Cards)
Starwood Preferred Guest:
- Sheraton Lake Buena Vista Resort — from 4,000 Starpoints per night
- Walt Disney World Dolphin — from 12,000 Starpoints per night
- Sheraton Vistana Resort Villas — from 10,000 Starpoints per night
- Holiday Inn & Suites Across from Universal Orlando — from 25,000 points per night
- Crowne Plaza Orlando — from 30,000 points per night
- Holiday Inn Lake Buena Vista Resort — from 35,000 points per night
- Fairfield Inn & Suites Orlando Near Universal Orlando Resort — from 30,000 points per night
- Residence Inn Near Universal Orlando — from 30,000 points per night
- DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Orlando Downtown — 30,000 points per night
- Hampton Inn near Universal Studios — 30,000 points per night
- DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel near Universal Orlando — 30,000 points per night
To make any of the above options work, you’ll want to get a co-branded hotel credit card or a card that lets you transfer points to hotel programs. Find out how many points you need for the number of nights you want to stay ahead of time, then strategize credit card sign-up bonuses and regular spending to earn enough points in time. You can also consider having yourself and your spouse sign up for the same card to earn double the sign-up bonuses. And don’t forget that Starwood Preferred Guest, Marriott, and Hilton usually offer a fifth night free when you book with rewards.
Also keep in mind that you can use points to book any kind of accommodation if you’ve got a flexible travel credit card that doles out travel credit instead of hotel points. Cards that fall into this category let you earn points that can be redeemed for any travel purchase at a rate of one cent per point. (See also: Credit Cards With the Best Travel Redemption Value)
What about park tickets?
While hotels and airfare may be fairly easily covered with rewards, park tickets can be tricky. This is partly because Disney seldom has sales on tickets to its parks.
One of the best workarounds is to sign up for a credit card that offers flexible points you can redeem for any travel purchase. Better yet, both you and a spouse or partner sign up and earn double the sign-up bonuses.
There are some cards that offer 50,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 within the first three months of the account opening. Plus, you earn two points for each dollar you spend, meaning you’ll have $560 in travel credit after you earn the sign-up bonus. If both you and a partner sign up, you could have $1,120 in travel credit to spend on park tickets. That’s easily enough to cover four two-day “park hopper” tickets for a family of four with two kids ages 3-9.
The downside here is that, traditionally, Disney purchases have not coded as “travel,” which is the key factor that lets you cover them with flexible travel credit. To work around this, buy your Disney World Orlando park tickets from UndercoverTourist.com. This website does code as travel when you purchase with credit, and it offers similar prices to the Disney website.
Adding it all together
While there are lots of ways to piece together a Disney trip with credit card rewards, this blueprint has the potential to help you achieve a Disney vacation for four for less than $1,000. If you covered your airfare with Southwest Rapid Rewards points, covered your hotel entirely with points, and used flexible travel credit to pay for a few days at Disney parks, for example, you would have the bulk of your $1,000 budget to spend on food and fun.
You can also cover part of your trip with rewards and pay the rest in cash. If you can stay near the parks with a friend or relative for free, for example, you could focus your rewards efforts on covering flights and park tickets and skip over hotels altogether.
If your goal is saving money on a Disney vacation, then more than one strategy will work. The key is planning ahead, reading the fine print, and pursuing credit card rewards with caution and care.