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As writers and world travelers, one of the most common questions we get asked is, “How can I save money at Disney World?”
Any way you slice it, a trip to Disney is expensive. You’ll have airfare, park tickets, and lodging to pay for…and that’s all before you walk through the gates. Then, there is food, souvenirs, and more to worry about. Even for the most money-savvy families, a trip to Disney can strain the budget.
But, what if you could save thousands with just a few simple steps? You’d be all over that, right? You’re in luck.
Through a combination of the best travel credit cards and other “not so secret” travel tips, this step-by-step guide will teach you how to visit Disney World for free – well, almost free anyway. We’ll talk about how to get free Disney tickets for your family, find cheap flights, and stay at Disney…all for less than $100.
Sound too good to be true? Trust me, it isn’t. We’ve got a lot of ground to cover, so let’s get started!
Disney for Free: The Basics
As we mentioned above, when it comes to visiting Disney World, there are 3 major expenses that most families have to deal with. They are:
- Flights to Disney World
- Walt Disney World Park Tickets
- Disney Hotels (on or off property)
These items alone can run thousands of dollars. And, if you’re like most families, coughing up that much dough just to see Mickey can be tough.
But, by limiting your out-of-pocket expenses for the “big three,” you could potentially save thousands! So, what’s the best way to do that?
Credit card rewards.
Don’t let this scare you off! They aren’t as intimidating or as difficult to use as you might think. In fact, we’ve used rewards cards to save tens of thousands on trips all around the world – including places like Paris, Rome, London, Grand Cayman, Jamaica, and more.
If you’re new to credit card rewards and need a primer on how they work, check out our “Beginner’s Guide to Rewards Cards” to learn more.
Go ahead, we’ll wait 🙂
Saving Money at Disney World: The Strategy
Alright, here’s the basic strategy for saving at Disney: Over a period of several months, you (and your partner, if applicable) will open several new credit cards. Your goal is to earn the massive signup bonuses offered by these cards. These bonuses translate into thousands of dollars in free travel!
To earn these signup bonuses, you’ll use your new cards for all of your regular monthly spending. Then, you’ll redeem these points to book flights, hotels, and Disney tickets all for free!
Now, this is important: Don’t spend more than you normally would just to earn the bonus! Use the cards for your regular spending only! Your goal is to save money on Disney, not spend more to create the illusion you saved.
Are we clear? 🙂 OK, let’s get to the savings!
Step 1: Earning Free Flights to Disney World
We’ll start with the simplest step – earning free flights to Orlando.
Your best bet for finding cheap flights to Orlando is by booking with points on Southwest Airlines. Airfare is typically cheap, and the amount of points needed to book is directly related to the cost of the flight. They also have extremely flexible policies when it comes to redeeming your rewards. There are no blackout dates for award flights (which is not true for every airline), and the Southwest cancellation policy allows you to change or cancel any upcoming flight at no additional charge.
So, what’s the best way to earn Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards points? Sign up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.
Even if you weren’t traveling to Disney, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card benefits are pretty great. In fact, it’s almost always the first travel rewards card we recommend.
You’ll earn a signup bonus of 60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 on the card in the first 3 months. Then, you can transfer your points to Southwest at a 1:1 ratio, giving you plenty of points to book your flights. (You earn points on your spending as well.) There is a $95 annual fee, but the bonus points waaaay more than make up for it.
If both you and your partner get the card and earn the bonus, you’ll have 200,000 Chase points. Depending on where you live, round-trip flights to Orlando often run about 15,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points. So, a family of four could easily make it to Orlando on that – with points to spare.
Alternative Cards for Flights
Already have this card? You’ll need to search for an alternative. The Southwest Visa credit cards come in a few options that might interest you.
If you haven’t earned a bonus on this card yet, you and your partner should consider the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card. For a limited time, this card offers a signup bonus of 75,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 within the first 3 months. So, if you both earn the bonuses, you’ll have over 150,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points to spend (since you earn points on your spending too).
To put that into perspective, 150,000 Rapid Rewards points is often enough for four round-trip flights to anywhere Southwest flies in the continental U.S. or Caribbean – provided you are flexible with your dates. That is some serious savings!
There is an annual fee on the card of $69 and it is not waived. So, it does cost a little bit to earn your points. However, the minimum spending requirement on this card may be more attainable for some families to hit.
Step 2: Finding Free Disney Tickets
The next big expense to consider is WDW park tickets…and these babies ain’t cheap.
Bought individually, tickets typically run well over $100 per park, per day. However, discounted admission to Disney parks are available by purchasing one of Disney’s multi-day packages. Even then, you’re still looking at a minimum of about $100 per day.
Unfortunately, you can’t transfer credit card rewards directly to Disney to purchase park tickets. So, here’s the workaround: You and your partner should sign up for the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card.
The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card provides a 75,000 mile welcome offer after spending $4,000 within the first 3 months you have the card. These miles are worth a $750 statement credit toward travel expenses. You’ll also earn 2 miles per dollar on all of your spending.
So, if both you and your partner meet the terms for the welcome offer (including the 2x miles you earn on your spending), you’ll end up with a total of about 166,000 miles. That’s worth $1,600 in travel credits.
There is an annual fee of $95, but earning the bonus more than makes up for that. Once you earn the miles, use your cards to pay for your Disney park tickets. (Spread it across both cards because you only have about $800 in credits each!) Then, apply the travel credit and get the tickets for “free.”
Important: Where Should I Purchase Disney World Tickets?
If you purchase your Walt Disney World tickets directly through Disney, the tickets may not “code” as a travel expense. Thus, all your work earning the signup bonus will be for naught.
However, purchasing Disney tickets through Undercovertourist.com – an officially authorized seller – does code as a “travel” expense. Plus, tickets are typically a bit cheaper.
I ran a little pricing experiment on 3-day (1 park per day) tickets for 2 adults and 2 children. Here’s what I found:
- Direct from Disney – $1,260.98 (tax included)
- Undercovertourist.com – $1,205.96 (tax included)
That’s a savings of $55.02, plus the tix should code as travel on the Capital One Venture Rewards card. So, if you spread the purchase across both cards, your $1,120 in travel credit means you can enjoy 3 days at Disney parks (1 park per day) for just $85.96.
You’re welcome 😉
Step 3: Booking Lodging at Disney World
So, this is maybe the most straightforward part about visiting Disney for free.
The Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card offers 3 Free Night Awards (valued at up to 50,000 points each) when you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months. That is a lot of points.
Additionally, you’ll earn 3x points per dollar on the first $6,000 in combined spending each year at grocery stores, restaurants and gas. And, for every $5,000 you spend on the card, you’ll earn 1 Elite Night Credit toward Elite Status.
The card also earns up to 17x points per dollar spent at Marriott Bonvoy hotels and 2x points on all other purchases. You’ll also earn a free night award (valued at up to 35,000 points) each year on your account anniversary. There is a $95 annual fee, so – like most of the best rewards cards – it does cost a little to keep it.
So, what hotels near Disney World accept Marriott points? Here are a few options:
- SpringHill Suites Orlando at Flamingo Crossing/Western Entrance
- TownePlace Suites Orlando at Flamingo Crossing/Western Entrance
- Sheraton Lake Buena Vista Resort
- TownePlace Suites Orlando Theme Parks/Lake Buena Vista
- SpringHill Suites Orlando Theme Parks/Lake Buena Vista
- Residence Inn Orlando Lake Buena Vista
- Courtyard Orlando Lake Buena Vista in the Marriott Village
- SpringHill Suites Orlando Lake Buena Vista in the Marriott Village
- Fairfield Inn & Suites Orlando Lake Buena Vista in the Marriott Village
- …find more Marriott hotels near Disney World here
All of these hotels are Category 4 Marriotts, which means they cost 25,000 Marriott points per night. When you book with points, you also get your 5th night free!
Additionally, these hotels are all located within minutes of the WDW Resort. In fact, the first two we listed are right across the road. (Seriously, the western entrance to the resort is right there.) Since they aren’t actually on the resort, you don’t even have to pay a resort fee. Bonus!!!
You can also consider these “on property” resorts:
- Walt Disney World Dolphin
- Walt Disney World Swan
Both of these properties are Category 6 hotels, meaning they cost 50,000 points per night.
Paying for the Rest
Of course, this isn’t all you’ll have to pay for while you’re at Disney World. There is still food, souvenirs, and more to consider.
So, even if you use credit card rewards to pay for most of your trip, you’ll still want to start a travel fund to help pay for the rest. Keep in mind that Disney no longer offers their own savings plan, so you’ll need to do it yourself. Here’s a step-by-step guide to building a Disney savings account of your own.
A family trip to Disney World is one you’ll never forget. Yes, it can be extremely expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. Just follow the plan above and your Disney World dreams could come true in no time.
One final note: It is super important that you do not overspend to meet the signup bonus requirements. Put your regular spending on the cards and no more. Doing so can help you score free Disney tickets, hotels, and flights. Fail and you may end up spending even more to visit Disney than you anticipated.
We hope this guide has been super helpful as you plan your Disney vacation. Thanks so much for reading! Have fun and happy traveling!
Have you saved money at Disney? We’d love to hear about it. Leave your tips and tricks in the comments below!