How to Travel to Orlando on Points and Miles

Whether you're going to Orlando for the theme parks or the sunny weather, you can save cash by booking with points.
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The Theme Park Capital of the World is home to Walt Disney World Resort, Universal Orlando Resort, SeaWorld Orlando and Legoland Florida Resort. It also has numerous water parks, shopping malls and theatrical dinner shows.

Beyond the tourist attractions, Orlando is a world-class city with excellent food, culture and nightlife. Plus, there’s the natural beauty of the Central Florida Everglades beyond the city’s more developed areas.

If you want to go to Orlando for free or cheap, here's what you need to know about getting there on points and miles:

Flying to Orlando

Orlando International Airport, MCO, is the city’s primary airport and ranks as the 10th busiest in the country in terms of passenger traffic with more than 50 million travelers in 2019. MCO is located east of the city’s main attractions. Downtown is about 12 miles northwest Universal Resort is around 15 miles west, and Walt Disney World resort is just over 20 miles west. All are about a 20-30 minute drive from the airport by car.

You might also fly to Orlando Sanford Airport (SFB). That airport is much smaller than MCO, which can be a good thing for travelers seeking a more relaxed airport experience. Plus, you might find a better flight route. But SFB sits far northeast from MCO, putting it much farther away from the attractions like Universal or Disney that sit west of MCO. For Orlando's theme parks, budget about an hour drive from the airport — which is about twice the driving time from MCO (and likely a higher price tag should you take a ride share or shuttle).

Major airlines flying to MCO

Most major domestic carriers fly to and from MCO, but Southwest Airlines transports the most passengers annually. After all, MCO is a Southwest hub. MCO is also focus city for JetBlue Airways and Frontier Airlines, and also serves as a hub for small, Florida-based carrier Silver Airways.

It’s possible to fly domestically into Orlando on:

There are also more than 20 international carriers that service the airport, including Virgin Atlantic, Aer Lingus and Emirates.

Flying to Orlando on points and miles

Given MCO's position as a hub or focus city for Southwest and JetBlue, the two airlines tend to offer the best, cheap flights to Orlando. That's both whether you pay in cash or points and miles.

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Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines flies nonstop to Orlando from more than 50 domestic destinations and offers many good redemption opportunities using Rapid Rewards points. Since these points are pegged to the cash price of the ticket (valued at 1.5 cents per point in our most recent calculations), the best time to redeem is during Southwest’s fare sales, as well as during off-peak dates and times.

For travel in May 2021, for example, we were able to find fares to Orlando for as low as 2,510 Rapid Rewards points from Detroit and 3,815 points from New York-LaGuardia. If you’re flexible on travel dates, consult Southwest’s low fare calendar to search for dates with the lowest points fares.

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JetBlue flies directly to Orlando from 20 domestic destinations and also pegs its TrueBlue points redemptions to the dollar cost of the ticket (estimated value of 1.5 cents per point according to recent analysis). Since the lowest fare class bookable with TrueBlue points is “Blue” (one level above the airline's economy basic ticket), flyers get to choose their seat free of charge. This added perk is unavailable on Southwest, though the tradeoff is that you won’t get two free checked bags like on Southwest.

For flights in May 2021, we found many dates with one-way fares at 4,500 TrueBlue points per passenger, even on long flights between Los Angeles and Orlando.

Other airlines

Though most legacy carriers no longer publish official award charts, pricing tickets in miles is easy due to award calendars on their respective websites. We found economy tickets on American Airlines for as low as 10,000 miles for every single day in May 2021 for flights from New York-LaGuardia to Orlando. On Delta, we found tickets as low as 4,500 in basic economy and 6,000 in main cabin for flights between New York (either JFK or LGA) to Orlando.

Planning your Orlando trip with points and miles starts with flights, and hotels follow.

Orlando airport lounges

Orlando airport lounges are spread across all three terminals at MCO, offering a reprieve for weary travelers.

For Priority Pass holders, The Club MCO offers two locations with comfy seating, complimentary food and beverages, and even Wi-Fi to stay connected. Airline frequent flyers can find solace in carrier-specific lounges like the American Admirals Club and the United Club, offering similar amenities tailored to their loyalty programs. For a luxurious escape, the Plaza Premium Lounge boasts premium drinks, relaxation areas, and even shower facilities to help you freshen up before your flight.

Do you need a rental car in Orlando?

Annoyingly, public transit is not Orlando's strong suit, so plan on getting around either by car or shuttle. Since Orlando is quite spread out geographically and there’s so much to see and do, some visitors choose to rent a car.

However, if you plan on sticking to just one resort area (e.g., Walt Disney World Resort or Universal Orlando Resort), you might not want a rental car. After all, parking prices can be steep. Plus, there’s often free, intra-resort transportation between theme parks, hotels and resort restaurants. In this case, it might make sense to use rideshare services, which are readily available at MCO, for getting from the airport to your hotel.

Hotels on points in Orlando

There are hundreds of hotels in Orlando. In fact, there are 130,446 hotel rooms in Orlando as of the end of 2023. Hotel room rates can vary wildly depending on the date and the actual hotel itself — after all, Orlando is home to fancy brands like the Waldorf Astoria and Ritz-Carlton. But, it's also possible to book value-oriented hotels — upon which there are hundreds. In 2023, the average daily room rate in Orlando was $192.98.

But whether you're staying at a ritzy, luxury hotel or a more budget-friendly hotel, you might even be able to stay for free if you have points or hotel free nights certificates. Because Orlando has so many hotels, it also means tons of opportunities to book hotels that offer loyalty programs — meaning opportunities to book hotel rooms on points.

Hilton hotels in Orlando

Hilton has more than 60 properties across greater Orlando. Some fall under value-friendly brands like Home Suites and Hampton Inn brands, but the portfolio also includes several upscale options. Hilton even runs some official Walt Disney World hotels, meaning additional perks for Disney theme park guests.

While we can't possible name every Hilton hotel in Orlando, here are some highlights:

Best, luxury Hilton hotel near Disney World: Waldorf Astoria Orlando

Photo courtesy of Hilton

Surrounded by Walt Disney World Resort, this stylish 502-room property is part of Orlando’s hotel elite. Amenities include about a dozen restaurants and lounges, a full-service spa and fitness center, an 18-hole golf course, and plenty of lounger-lined swimming pools for basking in the Florida sun. As an official Walt Disney World hotel, a stay here includes continuous transportation to and from theme parks and the Disney Springs retail center. Soon, a stay will also come with new special Disney benefits, like early theme park entry.

Cost to book in points: Hilton doesn’t have a set award chart, but a standard room here costs 80,000 points per night. NerdWallet values Hilton points at 0.5 cent per point. Hilton typically waives the resort fees on award stays (in this case, both taxes and fees are waived), making the value of booking on points that much more lucrative.

Best, cheap Hilton near Universal Orlando: DoubleTree by Hilton at the Entrance to Universal Orlando

The splash pad at the DoubleTree by Hilton at the Entrance to Universal Orlando. (Photo by Sally French)

The DoubleTree by Hilton at the Entrance to Universal Orlando stands out for its unbeatable location across the street from Universal's property. Rooms are not memorable — but you probably didn't book this hotel for a fabulous room. You came for easy access to the theme parks.

Still, the hotel has some nice touches beyond walkability to the theme parks. Its breakfast buffet is hearty, and the pool is family-friendly with features including a fenced-in splash pad.

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How to earn Hilton Honors points

Quickly add to your Hilton Honors points balance by applying for a Hilton-branded credit card. Some currently come with large welcome bonuses of 150,000 points, others with free night certificates, others with both. Some even fast-track you to Hilton’s top elite status.

If you want status or the ability to book on points but don’t want to commit to a Hilton-branded credit card, consider The Platinum Card® from American Express, which is currently offering this welcome bonus: Earn 80,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $8,000 on eligible purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. Terms Apply. It also comes with automatic Hilton Honors™ Gold Status (enrollment required). Terms apply.

Hyatt hotels in Orlando

With only about a dozen hotels in its portfolio, Hyatt’s Orlando footprint is small relative to the other big hotel brands. Here are some standout Hyatt hotels in Orlando.

Best, cheap Hyatt near Universal Orlando: Hyatt Place Across from Universal Orlando Resort

A pedestrian bridge offers easy access to the Universal parks. (Photo by Sally French)

The Hyatt Place Across from Universal Orlando Resort sits not far from the DoubleTree by Hilton at the Entrance to Universal Orlando. And much like the DoubleTree, it offers a solid, value-friendly option with a strong walk score given you can access the parks via a pleasant walkway that starts with a pedestrian bridge over the highway. And if you don't want to walk, the hotel also offers a complimentary theme park shuttle.

As a Universal partner hotel (which entails theme park ticket discounts), it's an ideal choice for groups coming to Universal Orlando Resort. Standout features beyond resort-related perks include a sofa-sleeper in every room and free Wi-Fi. The sofa-sleeper means accommodating families of four is not a problem in king rooms or families of six in rooms with two doubles, a tremendous value for those with larger families.

And unlike the neighboring DoubleTree, this hotel offers free breakfast daily to all guests — whether or not they hold elite status.

Cost to book in points: This property is a Category 3 Hyatt property (rooms start at 9,000 points per night for off-peak stays). NerdWallet values Hyatt points at 2.3 cents per point. There are no resort fees at this property and prices are currently hovering around $150, including tax. While this may not be the best value for a points redemption right now, it’s worth keeping in your back pocket if prices rise once again.

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How to earn Hyatt points

You can up your World of Hyatt points balance by applying for World of Hyatt Credit Card. The current sign-up bonus is: Earn 30,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening. Plus, up to 30,000 More Bonus Points by earning 2 Bonus Points total per $1 spent in the first 6 months from account opening on purchases that normally earn 1 Bonus Point, on up to $15,000 spent.

Hyatt is also a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate RewardsⓇ. If you want the ability to book on points, but don’t want to commit to a Hyatt credit card, consider the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. It is currently offering this sign-up bonus: Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 when you redeem through Chase Travel℠.

Those points can typically be transferred to the World of Hyatt program at a 1:1 ratio, which means 1 Ultimate RewardsⓇ point can be turned into 1 Hyatt point.

Marriott hotels in Orlando

Marriott has the largest number of hotels of the major hotel groups in Orlando, with more than 100 nearby properties under its umbrella. Unlike Hyatt and Hilton, Marriott has numerous properties in the downtown area, in addition to those near theme park areas.

Best, luxury Marriott in Orlando: The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grand Lakes

This 582-room hotel, which was completely renovated in 2019, asks one of the highest price tags in Orlando. Its collection of show-stopping amenities justify it, like a 40,000-square-foot spa, an 18-hole Greg Norman-designed golf course, 11 food and beverage options, a colossal swimming pool, and even a lazy river.

The cheapest rate found during low season in May for a 1 King Bed Lake View Room is $493 (including taxes), plus a $40 per night resort fee, which includes bicycles, Wi-Fi, pool floats and two welcome drinks.

Cost to book in points: Rates will vary based on demand, but we found nights starting in the 60,000-point range. Marriott doesn't waive the nightly resort fee on award stays, but it does waive the taxes.

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How to earn Marriott Bonvoy points

It’s currently quite easy to get free nights with the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card. The current sign up bonus offering is: Earn 3 Free Night Awards (each night valued up to 50,000 points) after spending $3,000 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening with the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card!

If you don't want to commit to a Marriott Bonvoy-branded credit card but you still want to collect points for a Marriott stay, consider The Platinum Card® from American Express. Those points can typically be transferred to the Marriott program at a 1:1 ratio, which means 1 American Express point can be turned into 1 Marriott point. Terms apply.

Maximizing points and miles in Orlando

Orlando, the theme park capital, can be a magical getaway, but it doesn't have to drain your points and miles reserves. Consider budget-friendly airlines like Southwest for great redemption rates and free checked bags.

Don't forget to explore credit cards that offer bonus points on travel purchases to rack up points even faster for your next Sunshine State adventure.

To view rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, see this page.

How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are some of the best travel credit cards of 2024:

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