Disney World can be expensive…but it doesn’t have to be. You can take a trip there on the cheap or splurge like you’ve got Scrooge McDuck kind of money. A few choices can help you save big.
How expensive your Disney trip is depends on a lot of factors. Are you staying on or off property? How many people are in your party? What level of Disney resort (value, moderate, deluxe) are you paying for? How many parks and days are you doing? Do you have any kids under three years of age (they’re free under three)? Are you doing character meals or bringing food into the park?
The cost of your trip might also include factors unique to where you’re coming from. One nice thing about flying out of Indianapolis is we get great rates on flights to Orlando. Southwest, Spirit, and Frontier all have regular non-stop flights to and from Indy at great rates. There are flights from Indy to Orlando with Spirit or Frontier for $45 roundtrip, but not every city has that benefit. (So tip #1 is live near Indianapolis!)
While there are many ways you can save on a trip to Disney, here are three big ways to save money.
Disney Visa Credit Card
My top tip is to sign up for the Disney Visa Credit Card several months before your trip. *Here’s the warning to not sign up for a credit card if you can’t or won’t pay it off without incurring penalty fees or debt.* We’ve used our Disney credit card to help cover big chunks of our Disney trips and saved a lot of money (which can make the difference in how quickly you make it back to Disney).
When you sign up for the Disney Visa card, you get a signup bonus of $300, which essentially could cover one of these: three tickets to a park, one night at a moderate resort, or two nights at a value resort. As you spend money on everyday expenses or pay bills, you also earn money back each month. When you combine your signup bonus of $300 and the redemption rewards saved up over several months, it can cover a significant portion of your park costs.
Here are a few other ways the Disney Visa card will help you out on your next Disney trip. You always get 10% off at shopDisney or when you shop at the Disney parks & resorts (including the massive World of Disney store at Disney Springs). There are also several restaurants where you can get 10% off your meal.
One of our favorite perks is unique photo opportunities only for cardholders. Character meetings are one of our daughter’s favorite things about going to Disney. But the lines can often be long. At Epcot and Hollywood Studios, there is a designated character meeting and photo location limited to Disney Visa cardholders. When we visited Epcot, we had almost no wait to take pictures with Minnie and Pluto (which are then free, unlike the other character photo opps in the park).
Get a Deal on Your Resort
The cost of your hotel or resort is likely to be the biggest factor in your overall Disney cost (alongside how cheap/expensive flights might be). Costs can add up depending on the size of your group. You can go big and pay for rooms that cost hundreds of dollars a night but you can also find great deals on resorts, on and off property.
If you want to stay at one of the Disney resorts, there are a couple of ways to find a deal. Disney World does regularly offer specials on their resorts. We’ve gotten as much as thirty-five percent off our room before. Always check the Special Offers page. I’ve found Value Resort rooms, in the All-Star resorts, for as low as $130 a night. (We’ve also been upgraded to a complimentary suite before when we arrived at Art of Animation!)
If you’ve never stayed at a Disney resort, this is part of the overall experience that makes Disney what it is, especially if you have kids. Build in at least one rest day for enjoying the resort and making your way to Disney Springs. Though the food at some of these resorts is mediocre, there’s plenty to do and see, and kids will love swimming in the many pools. Some of the theming is so good you’ll just want to walk around and see all the details (or eat the beignets).
Many people don’t know it, but you can also stay off property and get many of the benefits of a Disney resort but at a lower price. There are a handful of hotels that have partnered with Disney (or are “Disney approved”) and offer the same perks: early access to the park, complimentary shuttles to and from the park, and early access to Fast pass reservations. Some of them are within walking distance to a park while several others are located right next to Disney Springs.
And if you really want to save money, you can capitalize on credit card bonuses or Hotel chain rewards. If you already have points piled up with Marriott, Hilton, IHG, or Best Western (as examples) through their rewards programs/membership, you can cash those in for free nights. Or, you can sign up for one of their credit cards and get a big sign-up bonus to cover part or all of your stay.
We went with the IHG Rewards Club Credit Card (which gives you access to all of the hotels owned by Holiday Inn). Here’s how this can save you big. One of the official “off property” Disney hotels is the Holiday Inn Orlando Disney Springs. It’s a great hotel with Disney theming and it’s located at Disney Springs (which you have to visit at least once every trip). And as I stated, it also includes free transportation to the Disney parks.
If you sign up for IHG Rewards Club Credit Card, you currently get 125,000 bonus points. When you use your points, every fourth night is free! Let’s say after your sign-up and spending money on the card for three months you have 140,000 rewards points. I’ve seen a lot of nights at the Holiday Inn Disney Springs where you can stay for 28,000 points. So you could stay for four nights and only use 84,000 of your points, or you could stay for six nights (the fourth night being free) if you wanted to use all your points. That’s right, you could do a six-night stay at Disney Springs, with most of the benefits of a Disney resort, for free!
This is only recommended for those good with their money, who pay off cards each month, and don’t overspend, but these credit card bonuses can obviously save you big cash. I signed up for the Disney Visa Credit Card one year, and my wife signed up for the IHG Rewards Club Credit Card the next year. If a couple did this, you could use your sign-up bonus through IHG to cover your resort and the combo of the sign-up bonus and earned rewards/cash by using the Disney Visa to cover your park ticket.
Another great option is the Marriott Bonvoy Card. You not only get a great sign-up bonus, but you can use your free reward nights at one of the Swan and Dolphin hotels. These non-Disney Marriott resorts still provide the Disney benefits (like extra hours) and they’re located within walking distance of Epcot and Hollywood Studios.
Use the Magical Express (While You Still Can)
The Magical Express truly is magical, and not just for kids. This is one of the ways Disney helps take the stress out of your vacation. The Magical Express is a transportation service that takes you directly from the Orlando (MCO) airport to your Disney resort. No you need to rent a car if you’re staying at Disney.
You’re not only in a luxury bus taking you to your resort but the buses play Disney cartoons and give you information about the parks and resorts during the ride. Most of the buses also have some kind of wrap or design on the outside with Disney theming. It’s truly a wonderful way to start your vacation, and it certainly beats the normal routine of going to the rental car counter, finding your car, and driving yourself to your destination.
But here’s the bad news. Starting in 2022, the Magical Express will no longer be free. Mears Transportation Service has been running the Magical Express for years, and they will continue to do so, but it will no longer be a complimentary service. Prices were recently released, and round-trip costs will be $32 for adults and $27 for kids. While this change is unfortunate, you’re likely to still save money by choosing the Mears service in the future as opposed to renting a car.
These are just three ideas but they show how you can save big on a trip to Disney World! I can’t promise the trip will be as magical as the commercials (though it likely will be at times), but I can help you save some money, which I think is pretty magical.
(Note: by using the links above or here for the Disney Visa Credit Card or the IHG Rewards Club Credit Card, I benefit from a “refer friends” program, so if you decide to go this route please use the links!)