Go to Disney World Using Credit Card Points

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Disney World claims to be the Happiest Place on Earth, I’m not qualified to determine if that’s true or not. Either way, I know it’s an experience I wanted to provide for my children. I also know it’s not the cheapest place on earth. From the travel expenses, to lodging, to the park tickets themselves. Disney will cause most cost-conscious parents to wish upon a star to provide this magical experience for their little ones. In lieu of sacrificing your financial goals, it may seem that your best option is to avoid Disney altogether. I’ve mentioned before on this blog being frugal doesn’t mean depriving yourself. I took my family of four to Disney World using credit card points for 5 nights all for under $700 and it really wasn’t that complicated.

Below is a step-by-step guide you can follow to do the same. (This guide assumes the user can responsibly follow the methods outlined below. If you are prone to mishandling credit cards I strongly suggest you consider alternative methods.)

Can I Really Go to Disney World Using Credit Card Points?

Before we get into the ‘how’ of traveling to Disney World using credit card points, we need to establish a few basics. I used a method commonly known as ‘travel hacking’ for our major expenses (lodging, airfare, park tickets).

Credit card companies offer new consumers huge loyalty point sign-up bonuses to sign up for their cards. To qualify, you must spend at least a certain amount on the card within a predefined amount of time. The essence of travel hacking is taking advantage of these bonuses and using points to travel for next to nothing. You will need to keep detailed records of minimum spend requirements, promotion end dates and actual amount spent to do this most effectively.

My wife and I put every eligible expense we can on our credit card each month. This helps us meet spend requirements and get as many points as possible. Because of this, our monthly credit card bill is about $2,500. This guide will assume a similar spend pattern, so be sure to make adjustments to fit your individual situation.

I’m going to assume we will be arriving on October 18, 2017 and departing October 23, 2017.

Let’s Find a Hotel

Most of the hotels at Disney World unfortunately aren’t affiliated with a loyalty point program, as they are owned by Disney. However, two hotels on the grounds are operated by Starwood Hotels & Resorts, The Swan and The Dolphin, this is the sweet spot. We were very happy with our stay at The Dolphin during our trip, so I’ll use that for this guide.

To start, I went to the Starwood website linked above, searched for “Disney” in the Destination field, selected the Dolphin and input my date range.

You can see from the screenshot above this stay would cost $270 per night before fees and taxes. And is estimated to cost $1,659.34 for the entire stay! But don’t fret, it’s only 8,000 Starpoints per night (40,000 total) if we can accumulate enough points. This is where we need the SPG credit card offered by American Express.

The Hotel Card

This card gives you 25,000 Starpoints if you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months. If you are spending close to $2,500 per month like we were, it will take just over a month to reach this spend requirement. The card also offers one Starpoint for every dollar spent, so after you meet the $3,000 spend requirement and get 25,000 bonus points, you’ll have 28,000 Starpoints. Not too shabby for simply changing which credit card you use on a daily basis.

While 28,000 points is great, obviously we aren’t exactly staying at Disney yet. To get the remaining 12,000 points needed, my wife also signed up for this card. We spent $3,000 on her card and she received 28,000 Starpoints.

Booking

Starwood will let you transfer Starpoints to other members in your household, so I transferred 12,000 Starpoints to my wife’s account and we used her points to book our stay. I still have an additional 16,000 Starpoints in my account and will set those aside for later.

Booking with points isn’t entirely free, you will still be responsible for a small fee per night. This stay is estimated to cost $140.65, which is a lot better than the $1,600 quoted earlier. We just have to be sure to plan for the two and a half months needed to meet our spend requirements.

Hotel Cliff Notes

CardCard HolderBonusMinimum SpendDurationTotal Points
50,000 Points$6,00056,000 Points
AmEx Starwood Preferred GuestMe25,000 Points$3,0003 months28,000 Points
AmEx Starwood Preferred GuestMy Wife25,000 Points$3,0003 months28,000 Points

Now that we know where we’re going to be staying, let’s figure out how to get there.

But Can We Get There?

I’m going to use a strategy for travel expenses similar to what we just used for accommodations. You can use any airline you prefer, but when my family and I went we flew Delta. I searched the Delta site for 4 round-trip tickets from my local airport to Orlando (airport code: MCO). I selected the cheapest flights I could find, with no regard to flight times or layovers. Obviously not an ideal situation.

Delta is estimating the total cost for travel at $1,048.40. Yikes! Back to credit cards to help us out, because that just won’t do.

Disclaimer – Delta changed their mileage program since our trip, so the airline savings aren’t as good as what I experienced, but we’ll do just fine. However, this is going to require an additional step, which I didn’t have to do at the time I booked my trip.

The Airfare Card

The round-trip cost to get four seats to Orlando is 76,000 points, let’s get started.

We’ll be using American Express again. AmEx is currently offering three credit cards with Delta mile sign up bonuses. We’ll be signing up for the Gold card. I sign up for the Delta Gold card and spend $1,000 in three months. My wife does the same. We each meet our spend requirement and are awarded 31,000 points apiece (one point for each dollar spent plus the 30,000 bonus). The card offers an additional bonus of a $50 statement credit on each card when we make a Delta purchase in the first three months.

We decide to split the purchase into two. I will buy a ticket for myself and one daughter on my Delta Gold card. She will buy her ticket and our other daughter’s on her card. We already know each purchase will cost 38,000 points, so before doing anything else I’m going to transfer 7,000 points from my account to hers and buy her half of the tickets. When her credit card statement arrives it will consist of a $22.40 charge for the ticket purchase, and -$50 statement credit for a total cost of -$27.60.

Point Deficit

I only have 24,000 points after transferring some. So I’ll need another 14,000 points to buy my half of the tickets. I have a few different options:

  • continue to use this card until I spend another $14,000
  • consider getting the Platinum card instead for the larger sign up bonus
  • buy the points from Delta ($526.75)
  • figure out some other method to obtain the points, like another card that allows me to transfer points to Delta

I could be wrong, but didn’t we already accomplish one of these?

Remember those 16,000 Starpoints? It’s about time we put them to good use. Those in the travel point community are likely losing their minds right now. I expect this next suggestion will catch some criticism, as Starpoints are largely considered some of the most valuable. But I don’t care, the memories are worth far more than a few silly points (see picture below).

Starwood will allow you transfer points to a ton of different travel partners, of which, Delta is one. I log into my Starwood account, navigate to the Transfer to Airline Partner section, enter my Skymiles account number and transfer 14,000 points. It can take a few days for the points to show up in my Skymiles account, but once they’re there I’m free to buy my half of the tickets. (Note – to ensure we’re all on the same flight, my wife and I buy our tickets simultaneously, even though this may not read that way.)

When my credit card statement arrives it will look just like my wife’s; $22.40 for the ticket purchase, and -$50 statement credit for a total cost of -$27.60.

Airfare Cliff Notes

CardCard HolderBonusMinimum SpendDurationTotal Points
50,000 Points$2,00076,000 Points
AmEx Delta GoldMe30,000 Points$1,0003 months31,000 Points
AmEx Delta GoldMy Wife30,000 Points$1,0003 months31,000 Points
AmEx Starwood Preferred GuestMeN/AN/AN/A14,000 Points

Total cost for airfare: -$55.20, we just got paid to fly! And it took less than a month to meet the spend requirement. Now, we just need to get into the park.

Getting Through the Gates

We’re so close.

Disney World doesn’t have a reward point system to capitalize on in order to get park tickets. We’re going to need to get creative.

Rather than purchasing park tickets directly from Disney, we’ll buy our tickets from a travel site, like Expedia, with a card that offers statement credits for travel purchases. These cards don’t categorize Disney World charges as travel purchases, hence the need to buy the tickets through Expedia.

We get to Orlando early enough on the 18th to visit a park, so I’ll need a 5 day package. I’m also going to be buying tickets with the “park hopper” option, because we’ll be visiting multiple parks in a single day. Expedia is going to charge us $1,767.92. You could reduce your ticketing costs by not visiting a park on your arrival date and sticking to a single park per day. When my family and I went we only visited multiple parks once, so it’s definitely not a necessity.

The Ticket Card

Enter the Barclaycard:

Just like the SPG card, the Barclaycard has a massive $3,000 spend requirement to get the 50,000 bonus points. Again, my wife and I will both be applying for these cards for a total of 100,000 points. A unique feature of the Barclaycard is that it offers two miles for every dollar spent, so after the spend requirement we’ll each have 56,000 points.

Similar to the airline tickets, my wife and I will split the park tickets into two separate purchases of $883.96 (half of the $1,767.92 previously quoted). The nice thing about the Barclaycard is you’ll be using your points for statement credits as opposed to purchases. This means you can purchase your park tickets and they will be counted towards the minimum spend requirement. This effectively reduces the spend requirement to just over $2,100.

Once each card is within the $883.96 park ticket cost, we’ll go ahead and purchase our tickets. After the points are awarded, I go into my account and redeem my 56,000 points for travel credits at a 1% redemption rate, which is equivalent to $560. Then something amazing happens! Barclaycard credits 5% of the points I just used back to my account, so instead of zero points I now have 2,800. I immediately redeem these points for travel credits and received another $28 towards my bill. I do the same on my wife’s account.

When my credit card statement arrives it will show the $883.96 purchase of park tickets, -$560 travel credit, and -$28 second travel credit. Total owed: $295.96. My wife’s statement is identical.

Park Cliff Notes

CardCard HolderBonusMinimum SpendDurationTotal Points
100,000 Points$6,000112,000 Points
Barclay Arrival+Me50,000 Points$3,0003 months56,000 Points
Barclay Arrival+My Wife50,000 Points$3,0003 months56,000 Points

We paid a total of $591.92 for our 5-day park passes. It took under two months to meet our minimum spend requirement.

Great, but what’s the damage?

So what does it cost to take a family of four to Disney World using credit card points? I was able to do it for $677.37, about 15% of what it would normally cost. I’ll admit, $700 is nothing to sneeze at, but compared to the $4,475.66 retail cost I can’t complain too much. Besides, freaking Merida taught my little girl how to shoot a bow and arrow! Pretty much worth it right there.

Keep in mind this guide only walks you through getting to the park. You’ll still have other miscellaneous costs (pictures, food, souvenirs, etc.) to consider. It also assumes a bit of required planning. If you were keeping track it took about 5 months of normal spending to meet the spend requirement on all the cards we used.

All-in-all I was extremely happy with my savings and felt the total cost of the trip was well worth it. How often can you stay on the grounds of Walt Disney World for 5 nights for less than $700?

Now it’s your turn. Has anyone had a similar experience? Or if you use this method please leave a comment and let me know how it turned out.