For many families, a trip to Disney World is a dream vacation they feel is out of reach. It is a splurge, but it doesn’t have to break the bank. I treat vacations like every other aspect of my life, if there is a way to save money I find it. These are some tips that consistently save me money.
1. Be flexible with dates. If you are able to book a trip during the free dining offers or 20-30% off room packages, you can stay for a lot less. I’ve booked trips and then noticed a new promotion was released that would save more money. I called Disney and made the switch. They are very accommodating and helpful.
2. Stay on property. This does cause a bit of debate since it is technically cheaper per night to stay off property, but I feel staying at a Disney resort is worth the additional cost because they provide the Magical Express to pick up resort guests from the Orlando International Airport and also offer drop off at the end of the trip eliminating the need for a taxi. Also included is the use of the Disney buses to transport resort guests to and from all of the parks. That eliminates your need for a rental car and you won’t have to worry about parking. You get better deals on theme park tickets when you book them with a Disney resort hotel as a package. You also get to chose your FastPass+ times at 60 days rather than 30 days prior to your trip.
3. Never buy the dining plan. Again this may cause another debate, but for my family it was always more affordable to pay out of pocket (unless you book a trip during a free dining plan promotion and of course, free is always best). We find that the dining plan is more food than we really need/want and getting a snack or dessert just because it’s part of the plan never made sense. Yes, we have forced down a cupcake or ice cream when we were already full just because it was included in the plan. The times we’ve paid out of pocket for food, we’ve spent less (compared to if we had purchased the DDP) and only eaten when we’re hungry and only as much as we wanted. We limit table service meals to 1 per trip. We like to feel like we are enjoying more time in the parks than always rushing around to make a meal reservation. Quick service meals were much cheaper and better for grabbing something quickly and being back to enjoying Disney.
4. Get the Chase Disney Visa card. As soon as you start planning (at least 9 months before), sign up for this card. The current offer gives first time card holders a $50 statement credit with their first purchase and you will earn 1% in Disney Rewards for every dollar charged. This card does offer 6 months at 0% interest on Disney vacations booked through the Disney site, but don’t carry a balance otherwise or beyond the 6 months. Chase also offers the premier card that pays 2% at Disney, gas stations, grocery stores and restaurants, but there is a $49 annual fee. The current offer for first time cardholders is a $200 statement credit after your first purchase of $500 in the first 3 months, so you can earn an extra 1% on those specific purchases plus get $151 (less the $49 annual fee). You will just need to stay on top of that. I called to cancel my card because of the annual fee before the card’s first anniversary and Chase waived the fee for the next year. I kept it and am happily earning more Disney Rewards. These rewards can be used on dining, souvenirs, Disney resort hotels, tickets, really anything at Disney. By using this card to buy all of my normal everyday items, I’m able to use those rewards to pay for part of my trip. I usually have around $250 in rewards to use.
5. Bring things from home, not just your clothes. We bring snacks, pop tarts, bagels, whatever can safely be packed in our suitcases and eaten at the room in the morning in place of breakfast. That way we are only paying for 2 meals per day. Even when the free Disney Dining Plan is offered, it only offers 2 meals per person per day so we use those meals for the bigger meals and just eat a small, quick breakfast in the room. Other things to bring from home include ponchos, sunscreen, ibuprofen, and any other toiletries you may possibly need. You can’t even begin the imagine how much deodorant is in a Disney gift shop!
6. We fly Southwest. There are a few reasons why we drive all the way to Portland or Manchester, NH from Aroostook county and they all begin with dollar signs. The first reason is the fact that Chase also offers a Southwest credit card (no, this is not a Chase advertisement, but I realize it could be) which offers 50,000 Rapid Rewards points for new cardmembers when you make $2000 in purchases in the first 3 months. That amount of points can cover 3 round trip tickets if you are flexible enough. There is an annual fee of $69-99 depending on which card you chose, but either way it’s an amazing deal for 3 round trip tickets. Your bags fly free with Southwest so there’s no extra fee like a lot of carriers. It’s so much cheaper to fly out of Portland or Manchester so we drive down the day before and stay at a hotel that offers a Park and Fly package and free shuttle to the airport. We save on expensive airport parking by leaving our vehicle at the hotel for the week. I realize this isn’t exclusively a Disney tip, but it really helps shave a lot off the cost of our trip.