How We Traveled to Disney World Three Times in 2017 for less than $4,500.00
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So you want to take your family to Disney World this year, but it seems impossible. You’ve allotted yourself a vacation budget, and after perusing Disney’s website you quickly realized these prices aren’t matching up like you’d hoped. You realize it’s going to take a lot of pixie dust to make this work.
Our family was in a similar situation. We had been to Disney World before and quickly decided this was in fact the Most Magical Place on Earth, but now things had changed. We still wanted to take our annual trip, but now we were a one income family. Where last time we simply picked a date for our trip and bought our tickets with little thought, now it was time to do some research.
After scouring the web, here’s how we saved money on our Disney vacations this year:
- Disney Vacation Club Members
This is Disney’s version of a timeshare for Disney resorts. Though this may seem counterintuitive for families on a budget, hear me out. We took a leap with this one, and knowing our love of Disney we agreed we would be spending a good amount of time on Disney vacations for years to come. If you find yourself returning to Disney World year after year you may want to look into becoming a Disney Vacation Club Member. Yes, it is a considerable upfront expense. However, it can save you a ton of money on your Disney vacations in the long run – and it helped us visit three times this year. Plus, you get tons of other perks and discounts. I’ll be adding another post specifically about the Disney Vacation Club soon.
Side Note: You will hear me say this many times in this post, but Disney Vacation Club is only worth the price if you can purchase the timeshare outright. None of these ideas are good ways to save money if you are going to go into debt. We were able to purchase our Vacation Club Memberships without a loan, and this is the only way I would recommend them. We’re trying to save money here, not spend it now only to pay for it later.
- Disney Visa Credit Card
I’ll add the same note here: do not go into debt in an attempt to save money for your Disney vacation! The credit cards I mention in this post are great ways to save money, ONLY if you can pay them off responsibly every month. We have never been tempted by credit cards or struggled with debt, so we knew we could handle the responsibility. If you can say the same for your family, there’s no reason why you can’t benefit the same way we did.
The Chase Disney Visa Rewards Card is awesome. I can’t say enough good things about it. Chase offers two types of cards: regular and premier. I’ll add another post outlining the differences between the two, but you’ll really want to consider which one is best for your family before you pick one. The premier card offers more rewards (2% in select categories instead of 1%), but it also has a $49 annual fee. We made the mistake of starting with the regular card, and quickly realized the premier would have been the better choice. Unfortunately, when we called to make the switch they told us we had to wait a year to upgrade.
The regular card gives you 1% back in Disney rewards (sent in a Disney gift card) with no annual fee. Though that may not seem like much, you’ll quickly see your rewards add up. AND this is basically FREE money. Since you’re making your payments on time and you have no annual fee, the card company is making nothing off of you. For us it was a no brainer. This Disney gift card can then be spent on park tickets, Disney resorts, or almost anything inside the parks during your trip. Card holders also get added perks and discounts while at the parks that I’ll go into further in my other post.
- Annual Passes
A huge selling point for us when we purchased our Disney Vacation Club Membership was the added bonus of getting discounted Annual Passes. This saved us a ton of money considering we went to Disney three times in one year. There are different levels of passes; we bought the Gold level, meaning we would be able to travel to Disney almost 365 days a year (minus a few blackout dates). If you’ve ever been to Disney World before you know park tickets are a huge chunk of your vacation expenses, so we had to take advantage of this opportunity.
- Discounted Gift Cards
Ok, this one you’re going to think I’m pulling your leg, but I promise this is a real thing. I hope and pray no one from Disney ever looks too intensely at how much money they are losing here because we have saved a TON of money this way.
Wholesale clubs like BJs and Sam’s Club offer discounted Disney gift cards for members. That’s right. If you are a member you can save 5% on EVERYTHING Disney with this one trick. Here’s how I did it:
I went to BJs website and found their $100 Disney gift card that they offer for $95. I then used my Disney Rewards Visa Card to buy 18 gift cards. That means I saved $90 on the gift cards, PLUS I got 1% back in Disney rewards with my card. I had the cards shipped to my house, the shipping was free. Then I paid for our Annual passes with the gift cards. SO easy and it cost me nothing to save that money. I used the same trick to pay for our Disney Vacation Club dues, AND I bought gift cards at a discount to use as our spending money while we’re inside the parks. In the future I plan to purchase a few gift cards every month to save for trips and pay for our Vacation Club dues to spread out the expense.
Another side note: Disney offers Disney gift cards as well as Disney Store gift cards. Make sure when you’re doing your research that you don’t purchase a Disney Store gift card. You’ll only be able to use those at the Disney stores in the mall, etc. and not to purchase park tickets or most things at Walt Disney World.
- Disney Vacation Account
This is something I only recently discovered, and is another way to get you free money for Disney. The Disney Vacation Account is Disney’s version of layaway. You sign up for an account for free, then you can add one-time deposits or set up automatic withdrawal from your bank account. That money can then be used to purchase things for your Disney vacation like tickets, Disney resort stays, cruises, etc. If you have money leftover after you’ve bought everything for your vacation you can then ask them to send you the remaining balance in a Disney gift card.
Here’s where the savings start. Once you’ve had your account for four months, every $1,000 you spend on your account gets you a $20 Disney gift card. Here’s how I made this work for me:
I bought my gift cards from BJs’ website. I loaded all my gift cards into my Disney Vacation Account. Then, I used my account to purchase our annual passes. So you get the 5% savings from BJs, the 1% savings from the Disney Visa (2% if you have the premier card), AND a $20 gift card for every $1,000 you spend. What??? Genius.
This is also a helpful little tool when you want to use a ton of Disney gift cards to purchase something. Oftentimes Disney will only let you use a limited amount of gift cards on a purchase. Luckily, you can load as many gift cards as you want onto your Disney Vacation Account, and then just use your account number at checkout in place of a gift card. Essentially it combines all your gift cards into one.
The Disney Vacation Account can ALSO be used to pay your Disney Vacation Club dues. So you’re again saving 5% with your gift cards, 1% with your Disney Visa and getting $20 back for every $1,000 spent for dues you were going to have to pay anyway. Savings on top of savings on top of savings.
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card
This one might seem a little scary for some people. Again, you’re benefiting from credit cards. If you’re like me, people have been telling you your whole life how scary credit cards can be and how you should never own one because you will immediately be sucked into an endless blackhole of debt always associated with such evils. And I wholeheartedly agree with this idea. Don’t spend money you don’t have to go on a vacation. In this scenario, you are simply benefiting from your regular expenses, not accruing more expenses.
That being said, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card currently has an amazing bonus offer for new card users. For signing up and spending $4,000 in the first three months, you receive 50,000 rewards points, with an additional 5,000 points when adding an authorized user. There is an annual fee, but it is waived for the first year. 100 points equals $1.00 towards cash back and $1.25 towards travel purchases. Though we usually drive down as a family, this year for the first time my daughter and I are venturing out on our own because we have extra vacation time that Daddy does not. Since I didn’t want to make the drive to Florida by myself, I decided to fly. By signing up for this card I am able to purchase 2 tickets to Orlando for our trip for free AND still get $400 cash back. When you’ve used your bonus points just make sure to cancel the card so you don’t get stuck with the annual fee next year.
This is obviously not something you would be able to do every year (this offer is not available if you have been a cardholder within the last 24 months, and you may not want to continuously open and cancel cards to possibly damage your credit score), but if you have a vacation planned and want to fly for free or even just get a few hundred dollars for spending money, this is an excellent option.
- Discounted Restaurants
As I mentioned before the Disney Vacation Club and Disney Visa offer additional perks. One of those perks is discounts at select restaurants at Walt Disney World. Annual Pass holders also receive discounts at restaurants. However, they are not all the same restaurants meaning the restaurants that give discounts to Disney Visa holders are not necessarily the same restaurants that give discounts to Annual Pass holders.
Before our trip my husband and I sat down and looked up all the restaurants that offer discounts for all three categories. Then we looked up the menus for each and decided where we would like to dine during our stay. This took a little time, but there’s no way we would have been able to figure this out on the fly while we were in the parks.
As with everything Disney, the magic is in the planning. If you don’t plan you will not visit The Most Magical Place on Earth. You will visit a crowded, overwhelming theme park with massive lines and inflated prices and you will leave jaded and disappointed. Plan ahead and you will find Disney really is everything you ever dreamed it could be.
- Driving over Flying
I mentioned this before, but credit card sign up bonuses aside, driving typically saves us quite a bit of money. If your car is gas friendly and can make the trip, you might want to consider driving. We get everything packed and ready and leave in the evening, driving through the night and we arrive at Orlando in the morning. This can be risky as it means a 15-17 hour car ride with a preschooler, but so far it has worked out great for us. Our daughter has slept through the night on the ride down only waking up when we stopped for gas and luckily falling back asleep. Instead of paying around $500 for flights, we pay around $200 for gas. If you are not staying in a Disney resort then you also save the money of renting a car when you’re in Florida.
- Dollar Store/Cheap Souvenirs
If you have been to Disney World before, especially with kids, you will know that souvenirs are EXPENSIVE. And if your children are like ours, they will ask for every toy in every store they see until you cry uncle. Disney knows this about your children, and has taken advantage of this fact by forcing you to go through a gift shop every time you get off a ride. Evil geniuses.
One way that I’m trying to combat these potential meltdowns this trip is by purchasing some cheap Disney souvenirs from the dollar store or Amazon ahead of time to surprise my daughter with on our trip. There will be Disney toys and activities for the car ride to keep her entertained, there may be a few when we get to the hotel, and maybe one or two as the trip progresses. Hopefully this will distract her from wanting every single thing she sees in the parks.
One of my favorite Disney hidden gems is The Pick-A-Pearl store in the Japan Pavilion in Epcot. It’s this adorable store where you can choose an oyster to buy out of a tank. The store clerk opens the oyster and inside is a unique pearl for you to keep. It’s really cute, they have a whole ceremony they perform while opening the oyster and it’s pretty cheap for a Disney souvenir. Where they get you is they then present you with a plethora of necklaces you can purchase to display your pearl. The necklaces are incredibly expensive.
I knew I wanted to get our daughter one of these pearls, and with a little research I found one of the necklaces on eBay for 1/5th of the price. I had it shipped to our house and brought it with us on our trip so my daughter could get her pearl and have her necklace ready without the huge expense. I got her the Cinderella carriage necklace; here’s one for sale now.
I’m also particularly excited to try these out while waiting in line at the parks: Wikki Stix Neon Colors
- Gift Card Budgeting
Really this is just an added bonus that comes with getting the discounted gift cards. By purchasing a set amount of gift cards to use for our spending money, I inadvertently set a budget on what we could spend during our vacation. We decided we were allowed to spend what was on our gift cards, but nothing more. This can help to limit your spending, as long as you can stick to it.
- Free Parking
Another benefit of being an Annual Pass holder is you get free parking at all the Disney parks. Normal parking costs $20 a day, so if you are going multiple days this can add up quickly. If you stay at a Disney resort you also get free parking in the parks, but as we stayed offsite for 2 out of our 3 vacations, this saved us over $200.
- Bring Your Own Food
As with everything at Disney World, the food can be pricy. However, Disney makes up for this by letting you bring your own food into the parks. Take advantage of this! We usually try to limit ourselves to eating at most one meal in the park per day and we bring sandwiches, fruit, granola bars, protein shakes, water bottles, and anything else we feel we might want in our bags. Make sure to pack more than enough; you can easily walk 8 miles a day navigating the parks so you’ll definitely be hungry. We have run out of snacks before and been forced to buy food at the parks because we didn’t pack enough.
One great way to get groceries without the hassle is through Prime Pantry. You can order all your snacks and meals for the week from Amazon and have them delivered right to your resort.
- Generous Family Members
This obviously may not apply to you, but one of the ways we have saved a ton of money on our Disney vacations is through our incredibly generous family members. My parents also have a timeshare (though not with Disney) and whenever we stay off site (as we are doing with two of our trips this year) they always let us use one of their timeshare weeks.
Knowing we were going to Disney World this year, we also used our birthdays and Christmas as opportunities to ask for more Disney gift cards. I know you love presents, but if you’re trying to save money this is an easy way to do it. Some people may not like to give gift cards as presents, but just let them know they are really giving you your dream vacation. You can use these for extra spending money while you’re there, or just add them to your Disney Vacation Account to pay for tickets and/or your resort stay.
That’s it! You’re ready to plan your Disney Vacation like a budgeting pro and save tons of money while still having the Disney experience. No pixie dust required. If you’re interested in hearing more about what exactly we spent on our Disney vacations this year vs. the cost of a retail Disney vacation, click here.