Disney-A Free Stay And 1st In The Park!

IMG_7846_1_1When planning a trip to Disney, many people have tips & strategies to try to get an edge.  These may come in the form of minimizing lines, securing the best parade and prime fireworks spot, or booking that impossible dining reservation.

The first time we went to Disney, back in 2007, I started reading and planning more than a year in advance.  I had all of our character meals booked on the requisite 180th day prior and knew exactly which park we were going to each day, which section of each park and which ride we were hitting first and at what time!  My planning paid off!  This picture above of Jessie, in front of Cinderella’s Castle, should not be admired because of how adorable she looks :-), but rather because of how alone she looks.  My family was the VERY FIRST FAMILY in Fantasyland on our very first day at Magic Kingdom.  Rob and I still brag about this today.

Since that initial trip in 2007, we have returned to Disney three additional times.  We were lucky to go back a mere 6 months later on my brother-in-law’s boondoggle.  During a third visit, we combined a day in Disney with a Tampa spring training trip. The most recent time, back in 2013, we did a Universal Studios/Disney combo trip.

On those subsequent trips, my planning efforts were more focused on saving money.  Let’s face it, all things Disney are EXPENSIVE!  From the theme park tickets, hopper passes, character meals, Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique experiences to the Mickey shaped ice cream bars and massive smoked turkey legs, a visit to a Disney theme park is a small fortune, especially with a family.  Therefore, let me offer some suggestions on how to at least save some money on your flights, hotels and even at the parks if you are planning a trip to Disney.

As for flights…whether you plan on purchasing flights or even better, using miles for flights, consider flying into Tampa as an alternative to Orlando.  Orlando is only about 80 miles from Tampa.  I have often found flights into Tampa to be a better value.  Obviously, you would need to get from Tampa to Orlando, so make sure you factor that cost into your equation as well, but Tampa is definitely worth a look.

Many airlines fly to both Orlando and Tampa.  Just as an example, JetBlue has multiple routes to both destinations, and as I have indicated in the past, I have often found many reasonable redemptions using JetBlue TrueBlue points.  Remember, if you are short on TrueBlue points, there are some new Barclays JetBlue credit cards available with sign-up bonuses.   Also don’t forget, JetBlue is an American Express transfer partner.

In terms of hotels…there are a number of hotel chains in Orlando, so it is easy to stay in the Disney area on points.  Not everyone stays at a hotel on the monorail!  Starwood offers resorts on and off the Disney grounds.  Marriott, Hyatt, Hilton IHG and Club Carlson offer accommodations off the Disney property as well.

DisneyIf you want to stay on points, but you are one that must be on the actual Disney property (this used to be me), you can stay at either the Dolphin (10,000 SPG points per night) or the Swan (12,000 SPG points per night).  Both of these Starwood resorts are a boat ride away from Epcot.  From Epcot, you can catch the monorail to the Magic Kingdom.  We stayed at the Dolphin with Rob’s family after leaving Yankee spring training in Tampa and we were very happy.

Starwood has other resorts off the Disney property.  In 2013, with my kids being older, I did not feel that it was IMPERATIVE to stay on the Disney grounds.  We had a 1 bedroom villa at the Sheraton Vistana Resort Villas. (10,000 SPG points per night).  We had breakfast in the suite each morning, drove to the parks, found parking relatively easy and passed out at about midnight each night.  This plan was perfect for this trip.

There are other hotel chains in Orlando with accommodations that can be booked on points.  You can look up each chain’s Orlando properties on each hotel website.  I will highlight a few:

The Orlando World Center Marriott is one of a number of Marriotts in the Orlando area.  It is a Category 7 Marriott and can therefore be booked for 35,000 Marriott Rewards points per night.  That 80,000+ Chase Marriott Rewards bonus offer is still out there!

The Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress is a Category 4 Hyatt.  A standard room can be booked using 15,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points per night.

Playing around, I just did a search to stay at the Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista Christmas week.  That came in at 50,000 Hilton HHonors points per night.  However, booking this should be easy if you took advantage of some recent lucrative Hilton HHonors bonus offers.

If you are looking for more budget friendly accommodations on points, consider looking into an IHG hotel or a Club Calrson hotel.  Both chains have a few options.  If an IHG property interests you, note, there is currently a 70,000 bonus point offer for the Chase IHG Rewards card.

As for saving money once in the Disney area, that is a taller order.  Chase issues two main Disney credit cards in which you can earn Disney Rewards Dollars when you use the card.  These Rewards Dollars can be redeemed for Disney purchases such as theme park passes and dining at Disney restaurants.  The Premier version of the card offers incentives to earn 2% at gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants and most Disney locations. This equates to 2 Reward Dollars for every $100 spent on purchases.  You will need to do A LOT of shopping with these cards to earn enough Disney Rewards Dollars to actually make a difference.  You can learn more about both of these Chase Disney cards, here, on my site.

If I wanted to use rewards for my Disney expenses, I would probably start spending heavily on a cash-back credit card and build up a surplus of cash to apply to my trip expenses.  Unfortunately, cards like the Capital One Venture Rewards cards and the Barclaycard Arrival cards, do not consider theme parks as “travel” purchases that qualify for statement credits.

So, accepting the fact that you will most likely be spending a lot of $ while at Disney, let me at least make some recommendations as to how you can maximize your rewards while doing so.

If you have a Citibank card that earns ThankYou Rewards, you can earn bonus points on “entertainment” purchases.  Amusement parks are specifically mentioned in the terms defining entertainment.  With the Citi ThankYou Premier, Preferred, and the Prestige card, you earn two (2) ThankYou Rewards points for every $1 you spend on entertainment.

You can also consider using a card that offers bonus rewards on every purchase.  One of my favorites is the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard which allows you to earn 2 miles per dollar on every purchase.

Although Rob does not see another Disney trip in our future, the kids and I see at least one more.  I also can’t help thinking about all the trips to Disney that I will take when I have grandkids, yikes!  Hmmm, maybe I should start planning now for our future Disney trips.  That’s going to require A LOT of points and miles.  :-)


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