Planning a trip to Disney World can be daunting for even the most seasoned traveler. From hotel stays to park transportation to the daunting FastPass system for park attractions, there are many moving parts to consider.
And it just adds insult to injury that Disney is anything but cheap. Depending on the time of year, standard rooms at some of the park’s middle-of-the-road hotels can be upwards of $300 per night, not to mention the cost of flights, park admission, and food on-site.
That’s why it makes sense to utilize those credit card points or airline miles for your trip to the happiest place on Earth. Here we’ll explore ways you can cash in your points and miles at Disney — including using points to cover the cost of park tickets (yes, really).
Getting to Orlando
You’ll want to fly into Orlando International Airport (MCO), by far the closest major airport to Disney. Since this airport is on the larger side, you’ll likely have many options when booking flights. Airlines that fly domestically into Orlando include:
Sun Country Airlines.
From a miles perspective, this gives you some good options. We found Southwest flights from Cincinnati to Orlando starting at under 4,000 Rapid Rewards points, for example. Pro tip: If you’re flexible on travel dates, use Southwest’s low fare calendar, which allows you to pick arrival and departure dates based on the lowest fares available in a given month.
And don’t forget about the Southwest Companion Pass, which allows travelers to book a free companion ticket on any flight you purchase or book with points — just pay taxes and fees.
We also found comparable JetBlue flights from Pittsburgh to Orlando for between 10,400 and 33,000 TrueBlue points.
Though JetBlue can be a solid option for affordable flights, the process of searching for low-points fares isn’t as intuitive as with some other airlines — for example, it lacks Southwest’s easy-to-use calendar search tool, which can be utilized even when paying for flights with points.
If you’d rather fly a legacy carrier, we found basic economy tickets on Delta for as low as 11,000 miles in the same date range. Similar to Southwest, they have a fare calendar that shows pricing options if you’re flexible — the prices can vary widely, so be aware.
Saving on hotels
Now on to accommodations. There are four levels of Disney-branded, on-site hotels: Value, Moderate, Deluxe, and Deluxe Villas. While most don’t have your standard hotel loyalty program affiliations, there are a few exceptions.
The Walt Disney World Dolphin and Walt Disney World Swan hotels are affiliated with Marriott, so you’ll be able to use Marriott points to pay for your stay. However, note that this property charges a resort fee of $30 per day plus tax, adding over $200 to a weeklong stay.
Want to stay with your favorite hotel brand? You have options — a lot of options. From the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress, to Marriott’s Residence Inn Orlando Convention Center, to the Hilton Orlando Buena Vista Lake near Disney Springs … there’s a choice for nearly every brand loyalist.
We found rooms at several Hyatt properties near Orlando for 12,000 points per night, including the Hyatt Place Orlando/Lake Buena Vista and the Hyatt Place across from Universal Orlando Resort (still close to Disney World).
We found rooms at Marriott’s Residence Inn Orlando Convention Center starting at 20,000 points per night, while the Hilton Orlando Buena Vista Lake near Disney Springs showed points prices between 40,000 and 44,000 per night. Keep in mind that unlike Hilton and Marriott, Hyatt does not offer a fifth-night-free benefit.
Though it may be tempting to pay for your Disney vacation stay solely with points, don’t forget the golden rule of award redemptions: getting a good value for your points. For example, if a hotel room has a relatively cheap rate (less than $200/night), it might not make sense to use a lot of points for that particular stay. Think about saving them for a splurge on a pricier hotel, say $750/night or more.
Back to Disney — there are drawbacks of staying off-site. In addition to paying for parking at the park itself ($25/day), you’ll also miss out on other perks such as extra hours at the parks, transportation throughout the day between the parks and Disney-branded hotels and even a free shuttle to the airport once your magical vacation has ended.
The bottom line? Consider your lodging options carefully and be sure to account for any extras you’ll have to pay for when booking off-site.
Using points for park tickets
One-day admission tickets to Disney World start at $109, though if you plan to stay longer the price per day decreases as you tack on more days. Regardless, you’re probably looking to save money here, too.
Good news: You can utilize some of your credit card points stash to pay for tickets. One good option is the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, which offers the Purchase Eraser feature. Just pay for travel expenses like a hotel stay or rental car with your card, then use the Purchase Eraser feature to redeem your points and receive a credit for the cost. And voila, your cost is “erased.”
And while Venture miles can be redeemed for any eligible travel purchase (like flights, hotels, and rental cars), they key is getting your park tickets to code as “travel.” One strategy is to purchase your Disney hotel and tickets together as a bundle when you book directly with the park. The hotel portion means this codes as travel, and therefore makes tickets eligible for the Purchase Eraser functionality.
Though there are ways to use credit card points for admission tickets, Disney doesn’t make it easy for you.
The bottom line
Many kids dream of visiting Disney World one day. And while the price tag of a Disney vacation may leave you screaming like a deranged Disney villain, using points and miles strategically can help make your trip more affordable.
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
Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice: Find the best travel credit card for you How to budget for a family trip to Disney Earn more points and miles with these 6 strategies