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.
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!
Table of Contents
- Disney for Free: The Basics
- Step 1: Earning Free Flights to Disney World
- Step 2: Finding Free Disney Tickets
- Step 3: Booking Lodging at Disney World
- Paying for the Rest
- Final Thoughts
Disney for Free: The BasicsAs 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 is almost always the first rewards card we recommend. You’ll earn a signup bonus of 50,000 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 a little over 50,000 points to book your flights. (You earn points on your spending as well.) Since the $95 annual fee is waived for the first year, this costs you nothing but a few bucks in taxes and fees.
If both you and your partner get the card and earn the bonus, you’ll have more than 100,000 Chase points. Depending on where you live, round-trip flights to Orlando often run about 15,000 Rapid Rewards points. So, a family of four could easily make it to Orlando on 100,000 points.
Alternative Cards for Flights
Already have this card? You’ll need to search for an alternative. Thankfully, Southwest has a few cards of their own.
You and your partner should consider the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Plus card. Currently, this card offers a signup bonus of 40,000 points after spending $1,000 within the first 3 months. So, if you both earn the bonus, you’ll have more than 80,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points to spend.
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.
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 offers a 50,000 mile signup bonus after spending $3,000 within the first 3 months you have the card. These miles are worth a $500 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 signup bonus, you’ll end up with a total of about 112,000 miles. That’s worth $1,120 in travel credits.
Again, there is an annual fee of $95, but it is waived the first year. So, you can essentially earn the bonus for free. 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 $560 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
At one time, this was the most straightforward part about visiting Disney for free. Now, it’s a bit up in the air.
In case you haven’t heard, hotel giants Marriott and SPG merged a while back. Since then, each brand has kept its own loyalty programs active. Well, that’s all about to change as the programs will officially merge in August 2018.
The old school of thought was this: Get the SPG card, earn the bonus, and stay at one of three SPG hotels while going to Disney. Unfortunately, with the loyalty program merger on the horizon, the welcome bonus for the AMEX SPG cards appears to have vanished…so that plan should be put on ice until further notice.
However, once the loyalty programs finally merge, both SPG and Marriott hotels will accept Marriott points. All current SPG points will convert to Marriott points, and everything will be handled under one umbrella.
For now, you have two good options for booking free hotel stays at Disney:
- Transfer Chase points to Marriott and stay at one of the Marriott properties listed below, or
- Sign up for the brand new Marriott Rewards Premier Plus card.
For a limited time, the Marriott Rewards Premier Plus Card is offering a 100,000 point signup bonus when you spend $5,000 in the first 3 months. It also earns 6x points per dollar spent at Marriott and SPG hotels and 2x points on all other purchases. 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? I’m particularly interested in these two:
- SpringHill Suites Orlando at Flamingo Crossing/Western Entrance
- TownePlace Suites Orlando at Flamingo Crossing/Western Entrance
Both of these hotels are Category 5 Marriotts, which means they cost 25,000 Marriott points per night. When you book with points, you also get your 5th night free. So, with 100,000 points, you can stay for 5 nights. Regular room rates for a family of 4 start at about $170 per night, so you save about $755 on a 5 night stay! ($850 – $95 annual fee = $750) How great is that?!?
Additionally, they are located right across the road from WDW Resort. (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!!!
Once the loyalty program merger is complete, you should also consider these SPG hotels:
- Walt Disney World Dolphin (on property)
- Walt Disney World Swan (on property)
- Sheraton Lake Buena Vista Resort (off property)
We don’t know exactly how these properties will be classified yet, so stay tuned on that one.
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.
Final ThoughtsA 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!