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We recently visited Disney World for six days and five nights. The happiest place on earth, or as some like the call it the most expensive place on earth. It was a trip to celebrate our son and daughter turning eighteen. If you have been a reading of the blog for a while you might recall we took them on a trip when they turned sixteen.
We are really setting the stage for our youngest son who will be fifteen this coming summer. We certainly value travel and family experiences over a big party. These family memories are invaluable and will be talked about for years to come.
When you consider the cost of a family of five travel anywhere it can get expensive quickly. So, we are always on the looking for the best ways to reduce cost. Brad at Richmond Savers has an amazing Disney guide which we used to help cut our travel cost.
Now the methods we used involved several credit cards, so if you are averse to using them you might want to stop right here, but they are the basis for many good travel hacks.
The best travel hacking advice I’ve received is to deceived on the types of trips, destinations, airlines you plan on using and then target the credits cards that will maximize the saving towards them.
Southwest is the most flexible airline in our immediate area. We have a local airport that is fifteen minutes from our home and a major Southwest hub. We enjoy resident parking at the airport for two years at a cost of $35.
We used our Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Visa Card points and some previous credits to cover the cost of our airfare. Currently, the cards offers a bonus of 50,000 Rapid Rewards miles when you spend $2,000 in the first three months for new sign ups. There is a $99 annual fee.
When using rewards points with Southwest you are still required to pay taxes/Government fees. Our total cost of five round-trip flights from New York to Orlando was a total of $56.
With airfare covered out next target was a hotel. This is where we followed Brad’s information very closely. As he points out the Disney Swan and Dolphin are luxury hotels on Disney property, but not run by Disney. So, you get the benefits of staying on property like Disney shuttles and extra magic hours, but can use hotel points to book your stay.
Both hotels are owned by Starwood, so you can use your Starwood Preferred Guest points to book both of these hotels. Prior to making our trip, we were not a member of this rewards program. In order to gain the points needed we applied for the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express.
View from our Hotel Room
The current promotion is a 25,000 Starpoint bonus when you spend $3,000 within the first three months. In order to meet the point requirements for a multi-day stay, you and your significant other will each need to open a Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express.
At the time we opened our card the bonus was larger, so we did not have to open two cards. One of the additional benefits of the Starwood program is the “5th-night free” perk.
The Dolphin is a Category 4 Starwood hotel that costs 10,000 points per night. Category 4 hotels have an incredible “5th Night Free” perk when you use points, so when you book for five nights (or more) you automatically get the 5th night for free and therefore only need 40,000 Starpoints for 5 nights.
You are responsible for a small “resort fee” each day, but the room is entirely free otherwise. We stayed for a total of five night at the Swan. Our total bill was $443.10. This was higher than most because we charge room service for breakfast one morning, and also need a rollaway bed in our room because we had five people and that was an additional charge.
There are no specific credit cards dedicated to earning Disney World park tickets, but there are a number of credit cards with flexible travel redemptions that can be used. We decided that we did not want to add another credit card.
Instead, we just focused on shopping around for the best deals on park tickets. We searched sites like Undercover Tourist. We landed on PlumBenefits. PlumBenefits is the leading travel and entertainment corporate benefits program that offers exclusive discounts for a variety of things including theme park tickets.
It happens to be offered through my employer and was the best price we could find. We purchased 4-day park hopper tickets and received 3-days free. So a total of 7-day park hopper tickets for all of Disney Worlds four parks. Total cost $1800. Ouch!
Buying theme park tickets without a discount is like facing an AT-AT without a blaster.
We knew going in that this was going to be another possible big category of expense for our trip. We wanted to plan ahead and avoid paying for convenience while at the Disney. Overall, we did an okay job. We were disappointed to find out the local grocery delivery service does not deliver to the Dolphin or Swan hotels. It is available at all other Disney hotels.
We could have taken Uber to a local store to pick up items once we arrived, but we decide to go another route. We packed snacks and brought them with us. We used a small full suitcase packed with granola bars, kind bars, goldfish, crackers, etc.
We also purchased filter Britta water bottles on Amazon for each of us and avoided paying $4 a bottle for water as Disney. Anytime we did eat at Disney we asked for a cup of ice and added to our water bottle. I also noticed a large number of people carrying coolers in the parks. So, if you want to pack a lunch you can do that too.
We tried to use the snacks to cut our meals down to two a day to try to avoid over eating as well. We certainly did grab some midday ice-cream a few times and paid way more than I would have liked but was difficult to avoid.
We also planned a special Birthday dinner for our son and daughter. So, overall, we did our best to reduce cost, but it could have been done better. $826.16
We had an amazing time. It has been close to twelve years since the last time we visit Disney. We spent a total of $3125.26 for a six-day, five-night trip that the entire family will not soon forget. It could have easily cost us another $3500 if we didn’t take some of the above steps. We could have reduced our even more if we took further advantage of some of the travel hacks available or were more disciplined in our approach.
If you are planning a trip to Disney soon, look up Brad’s step by step guide. Since we have visited by Disney and Universal Studios over the last two years. I must give you my unscientific opinion on the theme parks. Keep in mind my three teenagers are thrill seekers. Each park does some things better than the other, but in general, Disney is great for the younger crowd say 4-12 and Universal plays great to a bit older crowd say 8-18.
You won’t be disappointed in either park, just travel hack your way there to save a bunch of money.
Which theme park is your favorite? What travel hack tip your best?