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Ever tried to plan a trip to Walt Disney World? The sticker shock is real. Theme park tickets, meals, hotels and transportation all add up to a vacation cost that may take you years to save up for.
But it doesn’t have to. Here’s how to go to Disney World for cheap.
Flights to Disney World
Plenty of people choose to make a road trip out of their vacations, but if you’re a fair distance away from Orlando, Florida, you may be wondering: Is it cheaper to fly or drive to Disney World? The answer to that question varies, but if you’re committed to flying, there are certain approaches you can take to find cheap Disney World flights.
Remain flexible. Being flexible with your dates can save you hundreds of dollars per person, as can flying from a hub rather than a regional airport.
Travel in a group. If you’re flying as a family, consider paying for Frontier Airlines’ Discount Den program. Although it’s a paid membership, it entitles you and your companions to discounted tickets. More important, it also allows children to fly for free — with a Discount Den membership, one child under 15 can fly for free with each paid adult.
Spend strategically. For maximum savings, snag a travel rewards credit card and use the points to fly at deeply discounted rates. Round-trip flight costs vary, but you can fly off-peak on most domestic U.S. airlines for under 10,000 miles each way — and oftentimes even cheaper. This includes Southwest, Alaska, United, American and Delta.
Disney World tickets
Even though it’s not really possible to find cheap Disney World tickets, there are still ways you can save money.
Discount sites. Websites like Undercover Tourist sell Disney tickets at a slight discount. For example, you can save about $30 per person on a four-day park hopper ticket.
Military discounts. Active-duty and retired service members are eligible for Disney’s military salute tickets, which can cost less than half the price of a general admission ticket.
You may also want to consider visiting during non-peak times. Disney World charges a variable rate for admission based on demand, which means that traveling during a low period can save you some money. For example, a weekday in September will cost you $174 for a one-day park hopper ticket. A weekday in December, meanwhile, can cost as much as $224 for that same one-day park hopper ticket. That’s a difference of $50 per person.
Finally, if you have a credit card that allows you to redeem your points for statement credits, you can do so to offset the cost of your park tickets. Many credit cards feature this ability to some degree, but you’ll want to check the value your card issuer will give you for your points — it isn’t always worth it.
» Learn more: How to purchase theme park tickets with points
Disney World hotels
Orlando is rife with hotels. From modest motels to the Waldorf Astoria, you can find every type of accommodation in the Orlando area. This can work in your favor, as you can reliably find clean and cheap Disney World hotels for under $100 per night.
Seek out special rates. If you’re looking to maximize your time at Disney World, consider staying on the property. It can be difficult to find affordable Disney World resorts, even when you’re booking the cheapest properties, but there are some ways to save money. Look for a time when Disney is offering specials on its room rates. These happen often and can feature substantial savings.
Book with points. Of course, we can’t mention discounted Disney World resorts without talking about the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin — the only two hotels on Disney property for which you can redeem points. Located right near Disney’s Boardwalk and with close access to Epcot, you can book these hotels using your Marriott Bonvoy points at a rate of 40,000 points per night during off-peak times.
Other tips to book a cheap Disney World trip
Beyond points and miles, there are other tried-and-true ways to lessen the financial hit of a Disney World vacation.
Enjoy your character dining off the property: Many hotels around Disney World feature character meals, in which costumed Disney characters come by and greet your family. They often pose for photographs and sign autographs. Disney also offers character breakfasts at its parks and resorts — but they’re much more expensive. Save money by indulging in this luxury at your off-the-property hotel rather than at the parks.
Consider buying an annual pass: Although Disney has temporarily stopped selling its annual passes, when it does resume sales, consider purchasing one for a member of your family. Annual passholders are entitled to additional discounts on hotels, merchandise and food. Depending on how many people are in your party and how long you’re staying, purchasing a pass can actually save you more than you spend for the pass itself.
Look into free activities. Wander Disney Springs, walk along Disney's boardwalk or visit Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge to view exotic animals like giraffes and zebras. There are even more free things to do around Disney World, and thoughtfully scheduling these kinds of activities can help keep your expenses in check.
Make your Disney vacation affordable
A vacation to Disney World can be expensive, but planning your trip with points and miles can lower the price tag. Tickets can sometimes be purchased for a discount, and you can find flights and hotels that are eligible for award redemptions in your preferred travel loyalty program.
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2021, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card