How to get a Deal doing Disney World

As I sat across from my sister at the lunch table in July, she sternly looked at me and asked, ‘Crystal, how do you afford to go to DisneyWorld 2 years in a row!?’.  She asks because, well, while to some it might make sense, but why should it for most?  Although I work full time, my husband only works half of the year and is unemployed the other half.  We are bringing up 2 boys… and well, as part of this amazing Disney World Trip, I just put down a massive entry fee into a RunDisney race that weekend- The Glass Slipper Challenge as part of the Princess Half Marathon Weekend.

What makes this doable?  Being a bargain hunter… but not only for deals in the grocery store, but for vacations as well!

One thing I learned between this last visit and our visit in 2011 (link takes you to my deals then), that there is no ‘deals’ for Disney.  Prices continuously go up.  The hype is all it is.  There is no more AAA discount, etc.  Unless you live in Florida, or are in the Military.

For the rest of us, we are at Disney’s whim.  But there are ways around this.  Here are some of the secrets.

  1. Plan in Advance.  If you book a room 8-10 months out, you can call and rebook if prices go lower, or deals come out.  I’ve noticed in the last several years that in the fall and winter, there are deals available to promote travel in the late Fall, Winter, and Spring.  They revolve around a 10-25% discount (or more) depending on the type hotel you go with (Value resorts get 10-15% discounts, Moderates get 15-25% discounts, Deluxe get a little more).  You can usually make changes or even cancel up to 30 days prior to the trip without much or any fees.
    This year I booked in July for my February trip.  We booked a Value Resort and when prices when on sale in September for the February time frame, our travel agent called and had the discount applied to our room.  15% off.
    A)Sign up for emails from  The email that comes monthly from them has a link to buy tickets cheaper than anywhere else directly.  It is not a massive discount, but it is cheaper than buying on location at Disney World, and using the email link is cheaper than going directly to the site alone.
    B)Watch the sales.  Either find a Travel Agent to help you look and plan, or watch yourself.  Click here to see an example of what Disney offers.
    C)Get lucky.  Although I have never been so lucky, Disney has sent out free Dining plan deals though a method they call ‘pins’ that are directly associated with your name.  You would basically get an offer by email or mail saying that if you travel within certain dates, you would be eligible for a specific deal or free plan of sort.  Its a way Disney boosts its sales during certain time frames.  My understanding, though, is that you can not transfer these to a different person.
  2. The Disney Credit Card.  Watch sites such as, etc and you’ll see Disney offer a deal with their Disney Credit Card, which is through Chase.  The deal generally is as simple as, spend $500 in 3 months, get $200 Disney Gift Card.  Talk about a deal… this is a 40% return.
    This deal is only good as you open the card.  If you close the card after using it, you have to wait several years before you are able to get the deal again upon opening the card.  What’s nice about this is even if you hit your $500 close to your trip and you haven’t had time for the gift card to be mailed to you, you can pick it up at Disney World!  I actually stood in line at a restaurant last year requesting over the phone for my points to be redeemed and added to a blank giftcard I had picked up at customer service.  It was perfect and usable that morning!
    Other benefits of the card include no interest on any purchases at Disney for 6 months, a free photo in Epcot, and other benefits.
  3. The Credit Card Game.
    I will say up front:
    This suggestion is a great one, but if you can’t manage your finances to do this correctly, you will come out worse.  This is also best for someone with great credit scores.
    Why/How it works?  I spent $4000 on a home improvement project that we were going to do anyhow, and I got ~50,000 points that can be redeemed for a ~$400-500 giftcard.
    Many credit card companies offer great sign on deals.  Their offers include bonus points or miles after spending a certain amount of $.  The points can often be redeemed for miles, vacations, items, bill credit, gift cards, and occasionally cash.  You’ll want to look at the list and weigh the pros and cons of each one (look for no or waived annual fees, the amount of points offered to the amount you are expected to spend in the inaugural months, when the last time you opened a card like this up… i.e. Chase vs Amex vs Citicard vs Discover.
    A)Wait until a big purchase is going to be made (ie a home improvement or vacation).
    B) Set aside the money to pay for this purchase into a savings account (you do not want these cards to go unpaid or there will be significant interest applied, and this voids any benefits of the card).
    C) Use the card to make the purchase.
    D) Pay off the card when the bill comes (or set your card up for autopay so you don’t miss).
    E) Wait for the points to be added to your account (this can take several months once you reach the required amount).
    F) Assess your point redemption options and go with the most beneficial one.
    With my CitiCard, I was able to redeem for a Target Giftcard (I’ll tell you how this benefits your Disney Trip below).
    With my American Express, I can redeem for Universal Tickets, LEGOLAND, Certain restaurants, and even American Express GiftCards.  Watch the point value- you want to get the best point value out of  your redemption, however something you’ll use.The key here, is open credit cards that you will reach your amount in the allotted time, choose cards that have none or waived fees, and pay them off immediately.  Once you redeem your points, close the card.
    Also, ONLY PURCHASE ITEMS YOU WERE GOING TO PURCHASE ANYHOW.  This is not a call out to go shopping at the mall to reach that amount.  That will just put you in debt in the long run.
    Will this affect your credit score?  If so, very temporarily.  If you already have good credit, this won’t be an issue.
  4. Save $ on your grocery bills, or something else you’re overspending on.  Look at your budget.  Find where something can be cut.  Take the $ you save from making the change and put it into an account, or purchase a Target or Disney giftcard with it.  Stock up over time to pay for your vacation.  Great sites like Southern Savers will give you tips on saving money.  I have blog posts on how to save $.  I average $250/month on groceries for my family of 4.  This doesn’t include the dog food, but it does include the cat food 🙂 ) So just think, if you spend $600/month on groceries, and you could drop that in half, or even by $200 less/month, just think how quick you could save up for Disney!
  5. Get Disney Giftcards at a discount.  What many people forget, is that Disney giftcards can be used to purchase anything at the Disney World Resort.  Food, Hotel, Tickets, Giftshop are all included.  So any discounts you can get to purchase your Giftcards is an extra discount or percent off of whatever deals you snagged from the website or your Travel Agent.
    How do you get Disney Giftcards at a discount?
    A) SAMs and likely Cotsco and perhaps BJs (I only have a SAMS in town) have a small discount on Disney giftcards ~5%.  They sell them in $150 card value amounts I believe for a price less than $150.
    B) and will occasionally sell Disney Giftcards at a discount.  You have to watch these sites regularly for this, however the most I’ve ever seen a discount on these cards due to their popularity is 1-3%.
    C) Churn Target giftcards into Disney Giftcards.  This one is huge!  Target is one of the few stores that allows giftcards to be purchased with a Target Giftcard, but I’m pretty sure you can only do this online.  However there is a great no-shipping cost policy on giftcards.
    So how does this become a deal?  Get your Target giftcards on discount.
    Over Christmas the last 2 years, Target  has had a flash day-sale where they sold Target Giftcards at 10% off for up to a $300 total.  So you paid $270 for a $300 Target GiftCard.  Turn around and purchase Disney Giftcards online with them.  Target also had a sale where you purchased 2 $25 or $50 Disney giftcards and you could get a $5 giftcard in return.  If you purchased $25 cards, you would have seen a 10% discount value with that.
  6. Watch for Special offers with credit cards you already have.  To my surprise this October-December American Express Cards (all cards including SERVE Cards) put a deal on their accounts that if you purchased $150 from (recall link above to buy tickets) with their card, you received a $30 credit statement.  The deal was 1 use per card.  However by purchasing 1 3 day ticket for me (cost around $300) ended up costing $270, or for the kids took a $270 ticket to $240.  If you have multiple cards in your home, you definitely want to purchase each ticket separately.  There was a little work involved…
    A) Watch the offers
    B) Accept specific offers you want
    C) Place the purchase as indicated with the card
    D) Watch for the rebate to be placed back into your account
  7. Watch the Disboards.  I have learned a ton about wheeling and dealing Disney, Decisions to make, etc by watching this forum site.  Disney-Goers from all over the country and nation post here to talk about how to do Disney the best in their opinions, give tips, $ making ideas, Resort pros and cons, off-site stays, Touring plans, Restaurants, Races with RunDisney, etc… Take it all in.  Apply it to your situation, and go with it.
  8. Stay on vs off resort.  This is a pros and cons that you have to make.  However here are the benefits of staying on resort.  Price compare these.
    A) Staying on resort will often cost more in your hotel stay price (there are deals to be had however for my princess weekend our 5 night stay cost was quoted at $884 including tax at All Star Sports).  I will be paying for most of that will Disney giftcards and at an average of 10% off on them… meaning essentially I’m paying closer to $800 for our hotel.
    B) I do not have to pay to park anywhere.  Disney transportation will take us anywhere on the resort we want to go for free.  Including if we flew in, there’s a free shuttle from the airport to the hotel.
    C) You do not have to use gas $ once you arrive… because Disney transportation takes you everywhere
    D) You have options to stay longer in the parks (there are Extra Magic Hours for resort guests to stay longer, and come earlier to the parks on certain days).
    E) You can book  your fast passes 30 days sooner than non-resort guests.
    F) You can choose to eat food at the resort, in the parks, or drive off-resort into Orlando to eat if you wish
  9. Dining Plan.  Looks so awesome right?  There are pros and cons to this.  I feel there are more cons unless you just eat a lot of food.  Here are a few blogs that talk about the pros and cons and explain Disney Dining.
    So you ask, what do you eat then??
    A) Dining Plan-costs are set and higher, are your kids really going to eat it, however you’ll feel your meals are already pre-paid this way… and you’re getting the 10% Giftcard discount if you have enough of those as well…? (unless you get a lucky deal with discounted or free dining plan- don’t assume you’re getting a deal unless your TA can show you the #s though). Here’s a comparative site that you can look at and enter your meal plans to determine if this is the right course for you.
    For our Family of 4,  doing a 5 night stay (Thursday night-Tuesday a.m.)
    Quick service plan (no character meals here and includes 2 quickservice meals per day plus 1 refillable mug per person and 1 snack) would cost us $603.
    The Disney Dining Plan (1 Character Meal per day and 1 quick service meal plus 1 refillable mug per person and 1 snack)- cost $828.
    The Deluxe plan (3 meals (can be quickservice or tableservice per day) plus 2 snacks and 1 refillable mug)- cost $1442. 

    These prices do not include tips.
    B) Disney is not particular about bringing in coolers.  They make so much $ off of use already, they will search  your cooler, but they will not tell you to not bring it in.  We routinely pick 1 meal a day to eat in the park, and 1 meal to eat on the go.  My kids will eat a PB&J sandwich everyday of the week if I let them.  It is their happy place, consistent food for them.  I will pack a bag with PB&Js, goldfish, fruitcups, snacks every day to get us through a meal.  Then splurge for a character meal for the other.  Granola bars, etc for breakfast are great.  Oatmeal.  If you are staying in a Value resort that doesn’t have a microwave, then run to the breakfast location at your resort and get hot water.
    Also take note in my calculations, although we are only going into the parks 3 days, I assume 4 days.
    For our family of 4, I calculated 1 table service meal and 1 quick service meal for 4.5 days .  Assumed worst case that we ate breakfast at the hotel and 1 table service and 1 quick service meal each day, no snacks.  Our meal total out of pocket is $735 (includes tips and tax)…assuming the pricing is correct on the link I used.  Some things may change as well, like sandwiches instead of meals.  Plus giftcards to use at some locations.
    C) Eat as you wish in the parks.  I’ve not done the math, so I’m not sure if this falls more expensive or less expensive than plan A.  Use the link to assess how you’d assume you eat.
  10. Driving vs Flying.  All Day driving can be a bear, but $100 gas $ with 3+ people in your car for 10 hours may be much cheaper than $300/person flights.  Once you take into account the time it takes to get to the airport and back, layovers, etc…take all into account.  Also account for a rental car if you’re staying off site and parking costs for the park.

Disney Hotel (All Star):  $884 (10% off plus $500 from a Credit Card Reward)=$300 oop
(Assume you stayed off site- using the credit card reward may potentially make
hotel free)
3Day Disney Tickets: $290+$290+$270+$270-3AMEX deals and 1 w/Target GC=$990 oop
(There is minimal haggling you can do here)
Gas to Drive:  Per Fuel economy Trip calculator, $50 each way= $100 oop
(Assuming gas prices don’t change)
Food:  ~from the calculation above, I’m going to assume around $700 from leaving the house, to getting back home. But could be less!  Actually looking at this # I’ll get it down.
Princess GSC Race:  ~$300
OOP $2400 for this racecation.

Let me know what you did to get better deals?




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