Our Top Tips When Saving Money For A Disney World Vacation
It’s not unusual for people to ask me how often I go to Disney World. The question that always follows the answer to that initial question is, “How do you afford that?” or my favorite, “So does Disney pay you?” As much as I wish someone would pay me to do this, unfortunately that’s not quite the reality of the situation. So, inevitably that leaves the other question unanswered. How do we afford to go to the parks so often? The secret lies in knowing the right ways to save and the right ways to plan for your trip.
One thing and perhaps the main thing to keep in mind with all of these tips is the concept of being flexible. You may not be able to change your travel dates but a lot of other things in the planning equation you can change. There’s no ideal way to explain that without a proper example so we’ll jump right to #1 on our list to further explain.
1. Book Less Convenient Flights
It’s no big secret that airlines are more likely to offer budget friendly rates at times when flights are typically less sought after. On our next trip we’re flying out at 6:30am on Southwest from an airport an hour and a half away. We’ll have to be at the airport before the sun rises but that has two benefits. One, the flights are typically cheaper and two, there are certainly some benefits to arriving in Orlando as early as possible. The main benefit is extra park time!
Another option, while typically the less-preffered option, is to take the late flights when they are available. Late day flights are typically budget friendly but are also typically delayed or canceled more frequently. In either case, the benefits can certainly outweigh the risks to save you hundreds of dollars.
2. Start a Change Jar
3. Stay Where the Pricing Is Right
4. Buy Disney Gift Cards
This tip isn’t quite the little known secret it once was. If you hold a membership card for any of the major bulk discount clubs like Sam’s or Costco, consider buying the bulk packs of gift cards at discounted prices when they are available. They are somewhat rare but can save you a considerable amount of money when they are available. Sometimes 5% or so, but 5% over $300 or more is a sizable savings. If you have extra money on hand one month, head to the store and pick up a couple gift cards. Those cards can be used to pay off your Disney vacation online just like you would with a credit card.
Something else to consider regarding gift cards is black Friday gift card bonus offers. Every once in a while, Target, Lowes, Walmart and others will offer up a bonus $5 when buying $25 gift cards or other similar offers. While $5 free or even a 5% discount doesn’t sound like much, every gift card you buy essentially gets you 5% off your stay in small increments that certainly add up! If nothing else, you can use gift cards to pay for souvenirs or meals in the parks!
Another option that I’ve not personally tried is buying gift cards at Kroger or other grocery stores that offer gas discounts as a result of money spent in the store associated with the gas station. Kroger does this on a point system. If you buy gift cards, it’s no different that buying tons and tons of groceries. If you max out your points, you may not save money on the Disney vacation itself but you could save a huge amount of money over time on gasoline purchases that you’re likely to make anyway! The only trick to this is knowing at what point the given retailer caps your discount. Don’t accidentally over buy gift cards one month and max out your gas points when you could buy more gift cards the following month and max out your savings all over again! You’re not likely to save $1,000 dollars doing this but every penny saved makes a difference as the prices continue to rise at Walt Disney World.
5. Use Credit Card Points
I refuse to give anyone credit card use advice or real world financial advice for that matter, but I will say that certain credit card rewards points can be vastly influential in shrinking your costs in certain situations. Our go-to money saving option for discount vacations is American Express and Hilton Honors points. The Hilton Honors card is great if you travel frequently and stay at fairly reasonably priced hotels when you travel.
It’s no secret that we travel frequently, but we always do so in a relatively budget friendly fashion. We’re not the massively thrifty travelers who stay strictly at super budget motels, but when we travel outside of Disney vacations we tend to split the difference between economical accommodations and upscale accommodations. For the most part, that leaves us in Hilton owned properties like Hampton, Double Tree, Hilton Garden Inn, Embassy Suites, and so on. For us, the rewards card just works out because that’s where we stay the most and the points add up as you stay in their hotels and use their card for everyday purchases. As an added bonus, you typically receive a discount at Hilton hotels and resorts simply for being a card holder.
If you’re not dead set on staying on Disney property. The DoubleTree at Disney Springs tends to be our “go-to” Hilton destination near Walt Disney World. While you can read our full array of thoughts on that resort in our DoubleTree Suites by Hilton – Disney Springs Area – Resort Review, it’s worth noting that we’ve never had a bad experience at that particular property. It’s not quite the same experience as staying at a Disney resort, but on certain occasions and certain times of year it can save you a ton of money. It’s worth noting that American Express did not ask us to say that and we are not affiliated with them (however… that would be cool lol). It’s simply what we’ve used in the recent past.
Another card to consider would be an airline miles card. We were just offered a fairly interesting card when booking our Southwest flights that would have saved us over $200 if we chose to get a Southwest Airlines card when checking out. I honestly don’t know the details of the offer and we did inevitably pass on it but similar airline miles cards exist for basically every airline with many of our closest friends utilizing the Delta Skymiles card. Credit cards aren’t the end all be all solution to saving money on airfare and accommodations but sticking to the right card that works for you can prove beneficial in the end result.
6. Consider External Websites
Oftentimes guests (including myself) tend to look at Disney’s website as the end all be all booking site for Disney planning. You’re not wrong in doing that and it is by far the simplest option, but others do exist that many guests entirely overlook. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been looking for resort accommodations and found myself wandering over to Kayak or Priceline to compare costs.
Most of the time, Priceline will have a better offer for at least one resort. These aren’t different resorts or even different rooms. The room you book is the exact same room Disney offers up but Priceline, or whatever retailer you choose to utilize, simply buys the rooms in bulk (for lack of a better word) and sells them off at a rate at which they consider to be profitable. That rate is often different that what Disney has available. If you’re booking last minute, these types of sites can be incredibly beneficial and you can catch some incredibly cheap rates on rooms that the booking site is about to get hung with if they don’t unload them.
If you try this, you do have to be careful about cancellation policies and take the time to learn how to book other aspects of your vacation. Namely ticket buying, dining plans, etc. on your own. Disney wont touch these reservations because they’re ultimately not their reservations to deal with until you arrive at the resort. They won’t match prices and can rarely answer any questions about the rates these third party sellers offer up.
7. Think Through “Add-Ons”
Add-on special events and benefits are becoming more and more popular at Walt Disney World and the Disney Parks as a whole. Some add-ons are relatively unnecessary in my opinion while others may be worth it one way or another. As with anything in the planning process, before you go all in on a VIP tour guide (if you plan on doing that you’re probably not reading my money saving post anyway) or a paid hard ticket event for an extra 2 hours in the park at a cost of $70 a person, run a cost benefit analysis. Everything in the “add-on” offering equation falls on a continuum of saving time or saving money in the majority of cases. Honestly, our family falls somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. We’ll be the first to pay for a Very Merry Christmas Party ticket to enjoy that experience, but at the same time we’re not going to spend $70 to enter Magic Kingdom two hours early to ride a small selection of attractions. One is worth the time and money and the other isn’t (for us).
For this particular continuum most guests fall into one of three categories. 1. The guest that is booking the dream vacation and places a priority on saving time and spending whatever is necessary to build their dream vacation. 2. The guest that is saving every penny and maximizing their experience in other ways. 3. Lastly, the guests like us that wants to split the difference and not spend large amounts of extra money but who also enjoys the perks of select special events or deluxe tier accommodations when it can be done affordably. The key to it all is knowing where you fall and what’s important to you. We’ve done Disney vacations with big budgets and we’ve done Disney vacations with very very small budgets.
If you’re looking to save time and do as much as you possibly can no matter the cost, you’ll end up paying more for it. We’re never going to to buy a cabana (no matter where they decide to put them next… if they ever do that again) for hundreds of dollars to take a break in at the Magic Kingdom, but other add-ons we’re more that willing to pay to experience. It has to be your decision and you have to figure out what works for you! That’s the key to any Disney vacation. Plan the vacation you want to experience and if you want something, find a way to make it happen. These tips may not work for you and that’s okay, other options do exist if you take a moment to think it through and get a little creative along the way.
As always, if you have thoughts, concerns, questions, or even some tips of your own to share, don’t hesitate to reach out to us on Facebook or your favorite social media platform. Give us a follow while you’re there, and we’ll keep the conversation going in the future. We’re not the largest Disney community, but we’re one that’s there and one that listens. Thanks for reading and have a wonderful day wherever you are!
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