The topic of Disney World comes up nearly every week in several online moms’ groups where I am a member. Many times, the discussion starts with a simple question: “How much will it cost me to save up for a trip to Disney World?”
The answers to this question sometimes make me choke on my drink. “I’d plan on at least $6k-$10 for a family of four” or “You need to stay onsite at a Disney hotel in order to have the best experience.”
And then, the mom who asked the question either says “Great, hook me up with a travel agent for that”, OR, “Well, I’m never going to be able to afford to go to Disney World.”
None of my family trips to Disney World have ever cost that much. And no, you don’t have to stay onsite to have the best time at Disney World. I hate to see people give up on going on a family trip to Disney World because they think they can’t afford it, ever.
When I quit my job in the corporate world after our second adoption in order to become a stay-at-home mom, money was really tight. We had used up all our savings for two adoptions, and our budget was sliced in half. I honestly thought that my family would not be able to afford a vacation for many, many years. Thankfully, I got into this miles and points hobby and added in some part-time work, which has enabled us to go on many fun trips in the last few years.
If you want to go to Disney World but think you will never be able to afford it, this post is for you! There are many ways to use airline miles to fly to Orlando, and many nearby hotels you could stay at on hotel points. If you have been collecting miles and points for years, you have several options at your disposal.
However, if you don’t have any miles and points and don’t know where to start, this will be your easiest path to a Disney World trip on miles and points.
Disney World on Miles and Points
The easiest/quickest way to get to Disney World and stay there is by using Southwest Airlines Rapid Reward points and Hyatt points. Your flights would be covered with points, and your family could stay at the Hyatt Place Orlando/Lake Buena Vista for 4-5 nights on points.
Both you and your spouse would need to open up two new credit cards in the span of about a year (or sooner, if you have enough expenses you can pay off). Neither card has an annual fee for the first year.
To make this work, this scenario assumes that:
- You don’t think credit cards are evil, and you are open to using them to collect travel award points
- You are new to the miles and points hobby and you are under 5/24 (you have opened less than 5 new credit cards in the past 24 months)
- Your credit score is 730 or higher
- You have at least $1334 in chargeable expenses each month (groceries, restaurants, activities, gas, etc.)
- You have the organization and discipline to pay off your credit card purchases every month (see this Beginner’s Guide)
- Southwest airlines services your city or one near you
First Step: Apply for Chase Sapphire Preferred (X2)
The first step is for you to apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. The card comes with a bonus of 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4000 in the first three months. There is no annual fee the first year. Add your spouse/partner as an authorized user for an additional 5000 points after the first purchase within three months.
To make the minimum spending to trigger the bonus, you need to spend at least $1334 per month in the first three months. If you spend more than that each month, you can meet your minimum spending more quickly.
After you have met the minimum spending to trigger the 50k bonus plus the 5k authorized user bonus, you will have at least 59,000 points (but probably more, since both dining and travel earn 2X points). Now it’s time for your spouse or husband to apply for the card.
He/she will also need to add you as an authorized user and spend $4000 within the first three months of opening the card. Yes, you can each apply for the card separately and also be authorized users on each other’s cards. If you don’t have a spouse, consider partnering with a parent or adult sibling on this second card.
Second Step: Transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards to Southwest and Hyatt
After the first step above, you should have a total of at least 118,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points. You can easily transfer these points to Southwest and Hyatt. If you don’t already have loyalty accounts at Southwest and Hyatt, set them up online for free.
Before transferring points, check Southwest’s Low Fare Calendar for flight prices during your desired month of travel. Fares usually decrease around three months before departure, unless you are traveling around a holiday. For example, fares from Dallas to Orlando run 4000-5000 points a few months in advance, but months further out run 8000 points or more. Try to be flexible on your departures dates, as mid-week and Saturday flights tend to be less expensive.
I recommend keeping your trip short and sweet to keep down the price while still experiencing the magic. Four to five nights at the Hyatt Place Orlando/Lake Buena Vista should be enough to allow you three to four days in the parks. This hotel costs 12,000 Hyatt points per night and, it sleeps up to six people in a room. It includes free breakfast and a free shuttle to the parks. It gets great reviews on Trip Advisor, but it’s nothing fancy. However, it’s perfect for a place to sleep and swim after a tiring day at the parks.
Five nights of hotel requires transferring 60k points to Hyatt, leaving you 58k points for flights. This may be enough to cover your flights, depending on number of people and the price from your departure city.
If you don’t have enough points, consider opening a Chase Southwest Rapid Reward card. The bonus varies throughout the year, but it’s currently 50k points. The $69 annual fee (Plus version) is not waived.
Third Step: Apply for Barclaycard Arrival Plus (X2) to cover park tickets
Getting free airline tickets and free hotel nights is just half the challenge to a Disney World vacation. Park tickets are expensive!
Update: The following offer is no longer available. Please see our Hot Deals page for the latest offers.
Your best bet is to apply for the Barclaycard Arrival Plus card. It currently has a bonus of
50k 40k points after spending $3000 in the first 90 days. The annual fee is waived the first year, and the card earns 2X points on everything.
You can use the points from this card for statement credits for charges coded as travel. Buying tickets directly from Disney does not code as travel, but purchasing tickets from an online travel site like Orbitz or Undercover Tourist does code as travel.
After meeting the minimum spending, you would have $560 to use towards travel. After your spouse applies and does the same, you would have a total of $1120 to use for Disney World tickets. This would ALMOST cover three-day tickets for two adults and two children. You would have to divide your purchase into separate purchases in order to utilize points from both of your cards.
Note: We do receive a commission if you apply for these cards through our site. See this blog post for more info.
Costs not covered
This trip is still not quite free. There are some additional expense you will need to cover, including:
- Award flight taxes of $5.60 per person per flight
- Transportation from MCO (Orlando airport) to the Hyatt Place (I recommend Uber, or a discounted rental car)
- Lunches, dinners and snacks (breakfast is free at the hotel)
- Additional ticket expenses not covered by Barclaycard Arrival Plus points
- Optional expenses inside the park (photos packages, Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, etc.)
- Expenses at home while you’re gone (pet sitting, airport parking, etc.)
Still, even with these additional costs, this trip can be fun, magical and cheap! (See this post on discounted Disney gift cards to save money on park expenses).
If you really want to get your family to Disney World, don’t believe the myth that you have to stay onsite and spend a lot of money. You can make this trip happen with rewards from a few new credit cards and some responsible planning.
If you are not wild about going to Disney World, don’t go! It’s not for everyone. Use your points to fly on Southwest anywhere, and check out other Hyatt hotels to visit with your points. Category 1 Hyatt hotel redemptions start at just 5000 points per night, and there are some great ones out there!
Who is ready to start planning a trip to Disney World?
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Nancy is a contributing writer for Miles For Family. She enjoys traveling to the beach and is a big fan of Disney. Nancy lives near Dallas, Texas, with her husband and three kids.