My family is traveling to Hawaii for Spring Break in March 2018. That date seems so far away, but we leave in just over five months! We will be splitting our time between a condo in Kapaa on Kauai and Disney’s Aulani Resort on Oahu.
As I detailed in a previous post, we are using miles and points to cover our flights and our condo rental on Kauai. Although we are planning to pay for our Aulani stay with cash/credit cards instead of points, it IS possible to use credit card rewards (i.e. “travel hacking”) to pay for some or all of an Aulani vacation.
Before getting into the details of how to reduce the price of an Aulani vacation, it’s helpful to understand why anyone would want to splurge on the resort and how the room rates work.
Why Stay at Disney’s Aulani Resort?
Some of you may be wondering why anyone would even want to stay at an expensive resort like Aulani in Hawaii when there are plenty of other hotels that are cheaper or free on points. It’s a fair question, especially for people who aren’t big Disney fans.
For my family, the main draw is Aunty’s Beach House, the free kids’ club. When you have three kids and no free family babysitting, staying somewhere with a kid’s club is a major coup. We used it every day on our last trip. My kids got to play games and learn to hula in the club while my husband and I had a few lunches and dinners on our own. Priceless!
But in addition to Aunty’s Beach House, the pool complex is a major draw. The resort has an 8200-square-foot zero-entry pool with two water slides, a lazy river, a grotto pool with an infinity edge, a two-level adults-only infinity hot tub (my personal favorite), a gigantic kids’ water play structure and an adults-only quiet pool. The pool area also has an artificial snorkeling lagoon that is great for kids and beginners!
I love that Aulani offers villas for larger families that include full kitchens and a washer and dryer. The resort is not in-your-face Disney. The calm lagoon beach, architecture, art work and ambiance are outstanding. Meeting Disney characters there is icing on the cake!
How Aulani Room Rates Work
Just like at Walt Disney World resort hotels, the first available room rates at Aulani are the “rack rates”. These are the full price rates that show up when new dates first become available to book. I recommend using a travel agent to book Aulani at the rack rate in order to get the specific room type and view that you want.
Historically, Disney has released special offers/discounts for Aulani closer to arrival dates. See the Special Offers page on the resort’s website for current offers. I’ve seen specials that are 30% off five nights or more, 25% off four nights or more, military discounts, Hawaii resident discounts and discounts for attending a DVC presentation.
If you book on your own, Disney will not apply a new discount to your room if you previously booked at the rack rate. You will have to call and ask for the discount to be applied to your stay. If you booked through a travel agent, most agents will automatically make the change for you.
When we stayed at Aulani in March 2015, we booked at the rack rate in August 2014. By the end of October, we were able to switch to a special promo rate that was 30% off five nights with free breakfast.
For our upcoming visit, we booked at the rack rate a few months ago. Just yesterday, our travel agent was able to switch us to a rate that is 20% off with a $50 daily resort fee. Wahoo!
Using Credit Card Rewards
Ironically, the Chase Disney Visa credit card will not give you the most bang for your buck when trying to travel hack Disney’s Aulani Resort because the sign-up bonus is only $200 (see this post). Instead, I recommend these cards:
Barclaycard Arrival Plus. This card’s sign-up bonus is twice as large as the Chase Disney Visa’s bonus at 40,000 points (worth $400 in travel). The annual fee is waived the first year. You can use the card to pay for part of your Aulani room charge and then you can use your points for a statement credit. If both spouses sign up for this card and meet the minimum spending requirements ($3000 in the first 90 days), you would have over $800 in “free” money to use towards your Aulani stay. Note: Barclaycard will not likely approve you for this card if you have opened 6 or more cards in the past 24 months.
Capital Venture Rewards Card. This card works like the Barclaycard Arrival Plus in many ways. It also has a 40,000 sign-up bonus after spending $3000 in the first three months. The annual fee is waived the first year. I applied for this card this past summer after receiving a targeted snail mail offer for 50,000 bonus points. If you and your partner/spouse each apply for this card and the Barclaycard Arrival Plus, you would have over $1600 total to put towards your Aulani stay.
To pay for Aulani with the above credit cards, you can ask your travel agent to pre-pay your room charges on multiple credit cards to utilize all of your reward points. See our Hot Deals page for more information about the above cards.
Bank of America Premium Rewards Credit Card. This is a new credit card that just launched this month. The bonus is 50,000 points (worth a $500 statement credit) after spending $3000 in the first 90 days. While the $95 annual fee is not waived, the card does come with a $100 annual airline credit and a $100 TSA Pre-check/Global Entry credit. See this post on Doctor of Credit for more info.
Citi Prestige. This credit card has a unique feature that is great for expensive resorts—the 4th night free benefit. If you book through Citi concierge, you can get 25% off four-night stays excluding taxes and fees (see this post for more details). This can represent a great discount as long as the rate you book through Citi includes the special Aulani discounts mentioned in the beginning of this post. This card comes with 75,000 bonus points but only after a hefty $7500 minimum spend in the first three months and a hefty $450 annual fee. It does have a $250 annual airline credit and $100 global entry credit that help offset the annual fee. Note: you will not be approved for this card if you have opened or closed this card or the Citi ThankYou Premier card within the past 24 months.
Do the math first. Before you start applying for any of the above credit cards to travel hack for your Aulani vacation, make sure it makes sense to travel hack your hotel stay instead of your flights. For example, flights for my family’s upcoming Spring Break trip cost $5500. My husband and I each applied for two credit cards (4 credit cards total) to obtain airline miles for free flights. We got more bang for our buck by travel hacking for our flights than we would have by applying for two of the above cards to offset Aulani expenses. If you don’t have enough time to travel hack both flights and hotel, do the math and figure out which route will save you the most money.
Using Disney Gift Cards
In addition to using credit card reward points, you can also buy discounted Disney gift cards to pay for your room and onsite purchases. I wrote an entire post devoted to ways you can purchase discounted Disney gift cards. You can also follow this disboards post for the latest deals.
On our previous visit to Aulani, my family used a combination of credit card rewards and Disney gift cards to maximize our discounts.
Renting Points at Aulani
A completely different way to pay for an Aulani stay is to rent DVC points from a member or from a points consolidator like David’s Vacation Club Rentals or the DVC Rental Store. I’ve done this successfully for two separate Disney World resort stays. Use this calculator to determine the price and then compare it to Aulani’s cash rates (but don’t forget to factor in potential Aulani promos).
Depending on the length of stay and time of year, renting DVC points could be cheaper. When you rent DVC points, you don’t have to pay the $37 daily parking fee. However, renting points is usually non-refundable and comes with a slight risk of the owner canceling your reservation. Also, you can’t use discounted Disney gift cards to pay for your point rentals. Most of the above credit card hacks won’t work to pay for point rentals either.
For our stay in 2015, paying for Aulani directly was cheaper than renting points. For our upcoming stay, the two rates will be very close. I would rather use the Aulani cash rate so that we have the freedom to cancel without penalty.
More Ways to Save at Disney’s Aulani Resort
If you are planning to sightsee around Oahu, stay a few nights in a hotel in the Waikiki area first. Use points or cash to stay at Hyatt Place Waikiki Beach, and don’t waste your money on a night at Aulani if you won’t be around to enjoy the benefits of the resort.
To spend less money while you are at Disney’s Aulani resort, pick up some food at a nearby grocery store. There is a small grocery store across the street from the resort within walking distance. Plus, a Safeway and Costco are just down the highway.
Feed your kids lunch and dinner in the room and then drop them at Aunty’s Beach House while you have a romantic dinner for two. The restaurant bill will be cheaper for two than for a family of four or five. And of course your kids will be having a blast!
If you plan to remain at Aulani during your stay, skip the rental car and take Charley’s Taxi to the resort. Flat-rate rides from the airport to Aulani are $55. Call to request a mini-van for larger families for an extra fee. This saves you the $37 daily parking fee at Aulani. You can always do a one-day car rental directly from Aulani if the need arises.
Are you considering a vacation at Disney’s Aulani Resort? If you have been to Aulani, please share your tips and tricks for saving money in the comments!
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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.