How We Took a Family of Five to Disney World for $200
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I’ve shared in detail before about my dislike of all things Disney. Just being honest, but I’d choose to do almost anything besides step foot in the Magic Kingdom. There are just too many people and everything is drastically overpriced.
That being said, there’s no denying the draw it has on children or my lovely wife. To them it’s like another world and their eyes light up at the mention of Disney. This begs the question of how do you balance the crazy prices and visit Disney without taking out a second mortgage?
Well, we were able to take our family of five to Disney for a total of $200 this past November. This included tickets, a two-night stay (which included two rooms per night) and airfare for our family. I’ll share exactly how we did it and how you can do much of the same to drastically lower the cost of your trip to Disney.
Getting Tickets to Disney
A one-day ticket to get into one Disney park (so NOT a park hopper) is either $97, $102 or $114 depending on whether the day you want to go to the park is considered “value,” “regular,” or “peak.”
Since we planned our trip on a supposed off day or low attendance time at the park, we were able to get a one day pass to the Magic Kingdom for our 4-year-old for $97 plus tax.
I know it’s cheaper per day to get a multi-day ticket. That wasn’t an option for us on this trip, nor do I really want to spend multiple days in one trip at Disney.
Anyway, that still left four tickets to get us all into the park. I found out about this cool hack my wife and I could both use to get two free park hopper tickets to Disney (good for one day only). If you work in public relations, Disney gives out these tickets for free, once per year.
So, if you work in the print or broadcast media or are a blogger you can qualify. Here’s a link to the terms and conditions for what it takes to qualify. It was relatively simple to take advantage of and this scored us four free tickets. As I mentioned earlier, we bought the final ticket at $97 so we could all get into the park.
Now, I know, you may not have the ability to be able to score such tickets. With that in mind, can you still score free tickets to Disney? The answer is yes. Anyone can get free tickets to Disney, specifically if you use credit cards rewards points to do so.
To make any trip to Disney lower-cost, you’ll need to use travel rewards credit cards to make it possible.
You could use a cash back card to make it happen, but that wouldn’t be the best for redemption purposes. You’d want to use a card like the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard that allows you to redeem rewards for most any type of travel purchase when you use the card to make the purchase.
The trick is to get it coded as a travel purchase. My blogging friend Brad at Richmond Savers has written an in-depth guide on how to do this. If you’re thinking you want to hack your way to a cheap Disney trip, I highly recommend checking out his step-by-step instructions.
Total cost to get into Disney = $97 + tax
Staying at Disney
If getting into Disney wasn’t expensive enough, you’ll be horrified at how expensive it is to stay on Disney property. Disney has plenty of hotel options to choose from, all more expensive than the next.
Thankfully, there are other options to help lower the cost dramatically. Our hotel of choice when visiting Disney is the Sheraton Lake Buena Vista Resort. We’ve stayed at this SPG property several times in the past and find it to be a great value.
The hotel itself is about five miles from the Magic Kingdom and they provide a free shuttle to all the parks throughout the day to help keep costs down.
The hotel has two large pools, a large outdoor bar area and multiple restaurants, not to mention a variety of other features. We were able to book rooms (we need two rooms with having three kids) before it was upgraded to a Category 3 hotel – making the rooms 4,000 points each per night.
If you’re planning a trip to Disney, make sure to check hotel rates to get the best possible price. You can get 10 percent or more off your stay when you book through Travelocity.
Every little bit helps to keep down the cost of your trip to Disney, so don’t overlook finding discounts on lodging.
All totaled, it cost us 16,000 points to stay for two nights, which is quite a steal given the value. The Sheraton does charge a $20 per room, per night resort fee so that’s important to keep in mind.
However, they comped us the $80 in gift cards to use in their shop. We were able to use that to buy breakfast and lunch to take into the park so we only had to buy dinner at Disney.
There are plenty of hotels around Disney and some that offer services like a free shuttle. My recommendation is to find one you like and use a hotel rewards card to help defray the cost.
Total cost to stay at Disney = $0
Getting to Disney
Plane tickets to Orlando aren’t always the cheapest. When you have five you’re buying for, that can add up quickly – easily to $1,500, or more. Thankfully my wife and I both had Companion Passes through Southwest so we were able to purchase our respective tickets on points, name two of our children as companions so they could travel for free and bought the final ticket on points.
Each of the three tickets cost us 16,928 points and $11.20 in taxes and fees for a total of 50,784 points and $33.60. But, we also had to pay the taxes for the companion passes, bringing our total out of pocket cost for airfare to $56.
You can do something similar through a variety of methods. We obviously used our Southwest cards, which you can get too by taking advantage of a 40,000 point signing/opening bonus (requires spending $1,000 in the first 90 days). Those points can be used to purchase tickets.
You can also use a card like Chase Sapphire Preferred, which gets you 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 in the first 90 days after getting the card. Those points can then be used either in the Ultimate Rewards portal to purchase a plane ticket or you can transfer the points to a partner airline.
Regardless of which route you choose, it’s possible to get points that can be used towards free airfare to Orlando, or any other place for that matter. If you’d like to look at possible airline rewards cards, here’s a list of options.
Total cost to get to Disney = $56
Other Expenses and Things to Keep in Mind
We spent $56 to get to Disney World. We spent an additional $81 to eat dinner in the park, bringing it to a total cost of $234 for the trip. Compare that against what it costs out of pocket to get to Disney and you can see the real winner – this becomes even more striking as you increase the size of the family as that adds more cost.
Here are some other things to keep in mind when considering a trip to Disney:
- You’ll have a cost to get from the Orlando Airport to your hotel. You can use Uber to keep costs down. We had a rental car as we were visiting family after Disney so that wasn’t a part of the cost.
- If you plan on using rewards points to knock down the cost of a trip to Disney, be prepared for it to take some time. This will depend on your spending patterns and the amount of points you need.
- Don’t do this if it’s going to cause you to spend more money that you normally would. That should go without saying, but it’s not worth the possible debt.
- Disney allows you to take snacks into the park. This can be a huge money saver, so don’t overlook it as spending $10 per person on a snack adds up quickly. We typically like to take Kind bars and mixed nuts into the park. Make sure to use Amazon to get ideas and a decent price.
- This is not difficult to accomplish. I know it may sound difficult; its really not. You just need to follow a simple plan and you can be on your way to that cheap Disney trip.
While Disney may not be my cup of tea, seeing the looks on my kids’ faces was well worth it. We created family memories we’ll have for a lifetime and that’s priceless.
What are your thoughts on Disney? Do you use rewards points to travel for free or cheap? Where’s one place you’d love to go but think you can’t afford?
John is the founder of Frugal Rules, a dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry whose writing has been featured in Forbes, CNBC, Yahoo Finance and more.
Passionate about helping people learn from his mistakes, John shares financial tools and tips to help you enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. One of his favorite tools is Personal Capital , which he used to plan for retirement and keep track of his finances in less than 15 minutes each month.
Another one of John's passions is helping people save $80 per month by axing their expensive cable subscriptions and replacing them with more affordable ones, like Hulu with Live TV.
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