Take Your Family to Disney World For Free: Step-by-Step Instructions

Disney Cinderalla CastleAs featured in the New York Times, CBS and NBC, here’s our step-by-step guide on how to take a nearly free family trip to Walt Disney World ($4,000+ savings) using credit card rewards points!

To make this trip happen, Laura and I opened a few new credit cards and CK Banner Adused them for our regular spending in order to earn the significant signup bonuses that were offered with those cards. Since we pay them off on time and in full every month, this didn’t cost us anything at all. We are both CPAs, so being financially responsible is essential to us and we thoroughly researched this before getting started.

Instead of using our regular credit card that would have earned us a tiny 1% “rewards” back, we opened these new cards and saved $4,000 on our Disney vacation.

Not bad, right? And the best part is that YOU can do this too!

Important Note: Want to save BIG on your family trip to Disney? CLICK HERE to sign up for our FREE one-on-one coaching to walk you through every detail of this Walt Disney World travel rewards plan.

Walt Disney World Hotel:

Walt Disney World Swan Hotel

The Disney Swan and Disney Dolphin are luxury hotels right on-site at EPCOT; they are Starwood hotels so you can use points to book these hotels. By opening 2 credit cards and putting your normal spending on them, you can get up to six nights at either of these hotels which usually cost over $300 per night.

You will only be responsible for a small ‘resort fee’ each day but the room is entirely free otherwise. Using points you’re still able enjoy many of the perks of being at a “Disney hotel” such as free transportation between parks and extra “Magic Hours” where the park is only available to guests of Disney resorts.

The Swan & Dolphin are Category 4 Starwood hotels that cost 10,000 points per night. Category 4 hotels have a ‘5th Night Free’ perk when you use points, so when you book for five nights you only need 40,000 Starpoints.

As described below, you’ll earn 56,000 of these points, which will be enough for six nights at either the Swan or Dolphin!

You and your significant other will each need to open a Starwood Preferred Guest American Express credit card. The current sign-up bonus is (Limited Time through 9/14/15): 30,000 Starpoints after the minimum spending requirement of $3,000 (of your regular spending) in the first 3 months the account is open. $95 annual fee waived the first year.

Combine Starpoints and Book Hotel: After reaching the bonus spending requirements, each of your accounts will have 33,000 points, so you need to combine them to take advantage of the 5th Night Free promotion. Combining is free and takes about two minutes. Just login to one of your Starwood Preferred Guest accounts and then click “My Account” at the top. In the area labeled “Starpoints Awards”, click on Redeem/Transfer Starpoints and then “Transfer to Another Member.”

Allow a few days for the transfer and then login online to the account with all the points and you can book either the Swan or the Dolphin using “SPG Free Nights!” When you book for five (or more) nights, it will automatically apply the 5th Night Free. If a Starwood hotel room is available for cash, it is available for points, so there are no blackout dates.

Total Savings for Six Free nights: $1,800

Walt Disney World Tickets:

Disney Tickets PicThere are no specific credit cards to earn Disney park tickets, but we found a way to earn credit card bonuses to cover the vast majority of the expense of the Disney park tickets.

The Capital One Venture Rewards credit card allows for flexible “travel” redemptions; you just pay for the travel with your credit card and then log into your account after the fact to redeem your miles to “erase” the expense off your credit card bill!

The current offer is 40,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on the card in the first 90 days of account opening. $59 annual fee is waived the first year. These points are good for a $400 travel statement credit for travel expenses paid for using the Capital One Venture Rewards credit card.

You also earn 2x points for all spending, so an additional 6,000 points for your $3,000 minimum, brings you to 46,000 points which is worth $460 of statement credits

If you and your significant other each open one of these cards your family will have at least $920 in total statement credits available for travel. You would then want to each purchase some of your family’s Disney tickets on each card, so you can redeem the bonus points for statement credits on each credit card account (up to roughly $920 off in total by splitting the expenses this way across the two cards).

Capital One is very specific about what counts as “travel” to be reimbursed as a statement credit when redeeming their miles. Buying Disney World park tickets directly from Disney will not work to get the statement credit, however, our top choice to purchase official Disney park tickets is UndercoverTourist.com and buying through their site will work for your Venture miles! We have already purchased Disney World tickets through them and have received the reimbursement from our Venture miles, so we know this works.

Undercover Tourist Logo

Undercover Tourist is highly recommended by MouseSavers.com and the famous Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, so we know they are reputable and are an authorized official seller of Walt Disney World Tickets.

They also do not charge a shipping cost, so you are able to split your ticket purchase over multiple credit cards and it won’t cost you any additional money.

Note: You can also use the Capital One Spark Miles for Business and Barclaycard Arrival Plus credit cards in the same manner as the Venture card for even more savings on WDW tickets.

Total Savings: $920 on WDW Park Tickets

Airline Tickets to Disney World:

chaseFor most families, the easiest way to get your flights to Orlando will be to each open the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card. The Chase Ultimate Rewards points you earn are incredibly valuable since you can either use them to book travel directly through the Chase Ultimate Rewards online portal or you can transfer them to one of their rewards partners such as United, Southwest or British Airways where they become true frequent flyer miles.

The current sign-up bonus is 40,000 Ultimate Rewards points after reaching the minimum spending requirement of $4,000 (of your regular spending) in the first 3 months the account is open. You also earn 5,000 additional points for adding an authorized user who makes at least 1 purchase during the first 3 months. $95 annual fee waived the first year.

If you each open this card you will now have at least 98,000 Ultimate Rewards points and you have two main redemption options for your flights:

  • The easiest and most flexible option allows you to purchase your flights through your online Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. You will get 1.25 cents per point in value this way, which equates to $1,225 in free flights from your 98,000 UR points. That will give you a lot of flexibility to book on the airline of your choice and $1,225 should cover the vast majority of the flight expense for a family heading to Orlando.
  • The second option is to transfer these points to one of the Chase Ultimate Rewards partner airlines to book award tickets through the normal frequent flyer process at that airline. You will want both spouses to send their Chase UR points to one frequent flyer account and consolidate them there. Southwest and United are the two main options, and these will be traditional frequent flyer mile rewards redemptions, which are potentially more valuable than using the Chase UR portal.

Southwest has no blackout dates and the award tickets are based on how much the flights cost, so this was the choice we made. We know many people who booked through the Chase UR portal for simplicity and convenience, as it couldn’t be easier to book that way.

Total Savings: $1,225 on flights to Orlando


Disney Cinderella CastleSo there you have it, nearly a free trip for a family of four to Walt Disney World for up to six nights at the luxury Swan or Dolphin hotels, airfare and park tickets. You will have to pay a small amount for the hotel resort fee and additional WDW park tickets, but this method will easily save you thousands of dollars!

Please note that you do not want to open all these cards at once unless you think you can meet the minimum spending requirements in the appropriate bonus time span. Otherwise you want to open one at a time, fulfill the spending requirements and then open the next card.

You will want to book this trip a number of months in advance, so depending on your monthly spending levels, you probably want to start this strategy a full 12-18 months prior to your anticipated trip.

Important Note: Want to save BIG on your family trip to Disney? CLICK HERE to sign up for our FREE one-on-one coaching to walk you through every detail of this Walt Disney World travel rewards plan.

Comment Disclaimer:

These responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.


    • says

      Thanks Mr. 1500 — I’m glad you enjoyed it!! I still can’t believe we’re saving $3,000 in cash just by opening a few credit cards and using them responsibly. It’s literally a 30% discount on all our spending for a good portion of the year. I really hope others take advantage of this because it’s so easy…

      • Holly says

        Do you cancel the cards at some point? Otherwise you end up with multiple cards that charge annual fees. Just wondering if that messes with your credit score?

        • says

          Hi Holly,
          That is personal preference and it is not my place to advise either way, but you are 100% correct that you would be in a scenario where you’re paying ~$100 annual fees on each card and if you had a number of cards and that is not ideal. I have closed many of the cards I’ve opened for travel rewards purposes.
          My credit score is currently up by ~15 points over where I started 4 years ago and I haven’t noticed a significant impact at all plus or minus. Your mileage may vary of course, so you always have to determine what makes sense for you.

  1. says

    Sounds like a great way to earn a free trip to Disneyland. But then again, I wish there is a similar program where the participant can define the reward so long as it is within certain limits and feasibility-wise, it is achievable. A week of free grocery items for example at a certain dollar amount per day. I don’t know if this is too much compared to a free trip to Disneyland but imagine a week’s grocery for free!
    Jen @ Frugal Rules recently posted…If You’re Starting Your Week in a Cubicle – I’m SorryMy Profile

    • says

      Hi Jen, I know what you mean — this is all well and good if you value travel, but if you’d prefer to save on everyday items, this clearly isn’t your best bet. A rewards card that allows you a true statement credit might work for you then; it doesn’t give you the best exchange rate (usually 1%), but it’s still free money! I’d suggest opening the Chase Sapphire Preferred card to get a 40,000 point bonus. You can turn this in for $400 in statement credit, which is still amazing. You can find this and other cards at CreditCards.com’s Rewards page.

  2. says

    This is a great example of how to leverage rewards points for travel. We’ve unfortunately already churned the Southwest & Starwood cards, but advice is still great because I know many people haven’t tried this strategy yet.

    I’m really glad you put a little disclaimer at the top of the post though. It’s critically important that people are on top of their finances and always pay off credit card balances in full before they try to leverage reward sign up bonuses. I suspect that, despite this warning, a lot (perhaps a majority?) of people signing up for these cards do not take the optimal path, and that is why CC companies continue to offer the deals…
    Done by Forty recently posted…Do It Now!My Profile

    • says

      I’m glad you enjoyed the article! I didn’t realize you were into the whole travel rewards world — that’s very cool. I’m planning on publishing many more articles with examples of trips, so maybe something will strike you as interesting…

      I couldn’t agree more that people need to tread with caution when using credit cards and I’m insistent on mentioning that in every related article. This can be mutually beneficial for the consumer and the credit card companies if you put all your spending on the cards and pay it off in full every month. So there’s no loser in this scenario as far as I’m concerned. But people really must be careful or all the rewards in the world won’t offset the interest and years of pain.

  3. says

    This sounds good…I will definitely take advantage of this in the future. The Disney Swan and Dolphin being a Starwood hotel allowing you to use Starwood points is a great find. I know many people want to stay at a Disney property for all the extra perks but assume that they are much more expensive. Using points will definitely make it doable. PS: pretty cool that you’ll be on TV! PPS: Not as cool as being on TV, but I included a link to an old post of yours in my post.
    Andrew@LivingRichCheaply recently posted…Why Aren’t You Saving for Retirement?My Profile

    • says

      I know you guys aren’t going on many big trips right now with the newborn, but definitely keep this in mind the first time you go to Disney! I just love the idea of staying right there at Epcot for free — it’s so great.

      Thanks for the link, I really appreciate it! We’re really excited about the TV stories and will definitely post the link when they are available for viewing.

  4. Kristen says

    I have used 0% transfer deals and rewards to my advantage ever since I graduated college and it mecame me responsibility. Now 18 years later married with 2 kids the only debt we carry is our house and the rewards card we do have has bought me some very nice things including diamonds!

    I just wantto know what this kind of reward leveraging and multiple cards within the household does to our credit rating? Say for instance we will also shopping for a new mortage or moving soon.

    • says

      Isn’t it amazing to earn so much from the rewards cards just for acting responsibly? I love the concept of that!

      It’s a great question about the credit rating: I have seen very little change in our credit rating over the past 3 years and 8 different credit card accounts opened. I think our credit rating has dropped about 5 points, which is really nothing at all to earn well over $15,000 of free travel.

      That said, we had a decently long credit history, so small items like opening a few credit cards weren’t going to impact us much, and we weren’t planning on making any major house or car purchases in the next few years. If you’re planning on buying a house, I wouldn’t suggest opening 5-10 credit card accounts because it might just look odd and raise questions. But you certainly can open a few if you find a specific offer or two you can’t resist.

  5. Jill C. says

    What a great article! We definitely need to use reward cards more to our advantage. Actually headed to WDW next week (saved for 5 years to be able to afford to go). Wished I’d read this a year ago. I noticed many of the cards have annual fees. Once you’ve gotten the points and used them, should you go ahead and close the account? If you do and down the road they offer new incentives for the card, can you apply and receive the new incentives? Is there a timeframe that you would have to wait or do they always recognize you as having had an account so you can’t qualify for new account rewards? Hope this makes sense.

    • says

      Hi Jill — I’m glad you enjoyed the article so much! Your questions are fantastic ones, so let me try to address them:

      As far as closing the accounts go, that’s definitely your personal preference. Some of the credit cards offer annual bonuses, like Southwest, which offers 6,000 Rapid Rewards points each year. These are worth about $100, so that offsets the $99 annual fee. Others don’t offer you much of anything. Many people have success calling up and asking for the annual fee to be waived in successive years and often they’ll do that or maybe give you free points as an incentive to stick around. If they offer you nothing, then you need to judge whether it makes sense for you to keep it open. Maybe people would close an account at that point. I have left some open, closed some, and it just depends on the circumstances. I do hate paying annual fees though!

      If you close the account and reopen one a few years down the road there is a high likelihood that you’ll qualify for the card bonus at that point. I think it differs based on the card issuer and the specific card, but my understanding is that there’s usually a 2-3 year window where it essentially “resets.”

      I do plan to do more research on this and will try to write a post at a later date.

      • Nick says

        I want to do this with my family, but I called Barclays customer service, and they told me that Disney tickets are NOT considered “travel,” and that was after speaking to 2 different customer service reps. I live in the Richmond area. Thank you.

        • says

          Nick: Thanks for the comment, I updated the article to reflect the fact that Barclays cannot confirm whether Disney tickets will count as travel. It seems ridiculous to me that there isn’t an easy answer, but since they can’t answer it, I strongly suggest not buying through Disney. You’ll get a better price from UndercoverTourist.com anyway and I confirmed that their credit card merchant account number ties to the ‘tour agencies’ code with Barclays, so I think we’re set with this now!

          • Aaron says

            Has anyone actually completed the purchase from undercover tourist and verified that is qualifies as a “travel” purchase on your barclays statement?

          • says

            I have not yet completed this ticket purchase, so I am not 100% sure. I did spend 3+ hours researching this and spent time dealing with execs at both Barclays and Undercover Tourist who assured me that it would work based on the exact coding of their business. I am therefore 99% sure at this point that it will work.
            I will have a definitive answer for you within 2 weeks and will update it here.
            Thank you for the great question!

          • Aaron says

            I can confirm that undercovertourist.com is indeed eligible for the travel cash back reward. A couple of data points; (1) my bonus points posted after meeting the spend requirement but BEFORE the statement closing date. (2) The 10% bonus miles for redeeming on travel purchases posted to my account immediately upon completion of redeeming the reward. Barclays says this will take 1-2 weeks, it was for me instantaneous. Thank you Brad for doing the research and finding that undercovertourist would indeed code as travel.

          • says

            Thanks for the confirmation!! Both your data points are incredibly helpful (and good news), so thank you for passing them along. Thanks for the kind words — I’m really happy to help :) This is such an amazing concept, and I’m glad others out there can benefit from these articles. It’s wild to save literally thousands of dollars just by opening the right credit cards.

            We just booked our July 2014 trip to Bermuda and we have most of the November 2014 trip to Disney booked, so this is going to be a good year of completely free travel!

  6. says

    My dad lives right outside Orlando and has year-long passes to Disney (in-state rates are pretty great for Florida residents). He and my step-mom have stayed at all of the hotels at Disney. He showed me some “swan” photos and they were pretty impressive. It’s a beautiful hotel and well worth the cost for a special trip-in his opinion (even better if you can book there for free with travel rewards).

    • says

      Great to hear!! We’ve seen pictures and it looks amazing, and we know that since it is a Westin brand hotel the beds will be those “heavenly beds” and all the amenities will be top-notch. Tough to beat since it is so close to Epcot’s front door!

    • says

      Glad you liked the article Ryan! If you want to get some free one-on-one advice, be sure to sign up for our travel coaching program. No catch, no gimmicks — it’s just free. I’m helping a whole lot of people learn, and it is really a lot of fun!

  7. John says

    Just a comment, there are multiple versions of the SWA card, it would be ideal if one Southwest account holder applies for 2 of these cards for 100,000 points. Why? Because of the Companion Pass, which you earn after you earn 110,000 points on your account in a calendar year. After your spending requirements, you are only a few thousand points away to getting the pass for the current year as well as the following year. Doing it right now ensures that you have the pass for almost 2 years!

    What’s so special about the Companion Pass? Every time you fly Southwest, you can take a companion with you, for free! With the recent news of how much airlines have hiked fares over the past year, it is worth even more now to get a free ticket each time you fly.

    • says

      Great comment John! The Southwest Companion Pass is the ‘holy grail’ of rewards travel because you basically get ~$3,100 of free Southwest flights for opening two credit cards. If you time it right as you suggest, this can be yours for over a year and a half until 12/31/2015.

      If anyone is interested in learning more, just email me…

  8. says

    This is definitely some really great stuff, but I know my wife is a little reluctant to manage additional credit card accounts. With all the rewards programs out there, you could end up opening and closing a lot of credit card accounts over time.

    • says

      I completely understand the hesitation Mark, especially if you and your wife don’t like dealing with a number of cards and payment dates, etc. You definitely can open and close many accounts, so there is a bit to track, but I am able to do it in a fairly simple excel spreadsheet. If you ever want to discuss, just sign up for the free travel rewards coaching and we can jump on a phone call to chat about it.

  9. Amanda says

    I’d like to do this for our family’s trip to Disney in one month! I am considering applying for the card and using it to purchase the 10 day no expiration tickets through the Barclay Mastercard. If I used my first purchase for 2 10-day no expiration tickets, I would get the statement credit plus an additional 2.2% cash back because it’s considered travel? That sounds really good!

    • says

      Hi Amanda — thanks for the comment! As we discussed via email, yes, you can make the very first purchase on your card the two 10-day no expiration Disney tickets and that would trigger the bonus points (40,000 bonus points when you spend $3,000 in the first 90 days. $89 annual fee waved the first year).

      You can then retroactively apply the bonus against the ‘travel purchase’ of the Disney tickets through UndercoverTourist.com

      Barclays is great that they allow you to go back and apply the points even though you didn’t have them at the time of purchase! You have up to 90 days after your purchase to apply the points, so you can theoretically keep using the card to earn more points to take off your ticket purchase.

      Glad this worked out to save yourself some money :)

  10. says

    This was the exact plan we used last summer, but we got into Disney for free through a family member.

    But man, what a find on the Barclaycard! That puts a $800+ dent in your ticket price, making it affordable for most any family!

    I am currently trying to find a condo in Hawaii on AirBnB, because it is classified as travel, but VRBO is not. The subtle difference can means HUNDREDS in savings!

    • says

      That’s really cool you guys used the same method at Disney! Saves thousands, right??

      I did a whole lot of research on those Disney tickets using them at Undercover Tourist and putting it on the Barclaycard, and I’m really glad I did. I know it helped a lot of people through the site and it sure saved us $800!

      I think the Barclaycard Arrival is one of the best cards around, but it is frustrating not knowing 100% if you’ll get to use your points for “travel” like in your VRBO situation.

  11. says

    Excellent article! We do this, and this year are going to get many SW plane tickets for free – love my companion pass! Also Barclay, Sapphire, and United. Next going to try Marriott – can’t wait. My wife is a little leery, but so far we haven’t found a down side!

    • says

      Hi Heidi,

      That’s fantastic you have the companion pass! It certainly sounds like you know what you’re doing with travel rewards :)

      I agree with you — I have still yet to find a downside, so I’m going to keep on rolling with this strategy…

  12. Erinn says

    As a former loan underwriter, one caveat on this method – rapidly opening and closing accounts can negatively impact your credit. It can greatly decrease your average age of credit accounts.

    • says

      Hi Erinn,

      Thank you for your comment — I appreciate you reading the article and sharing your expertise.

      I tell people that I work with through my Travel Rewards Coaching program that this method is not for everyone. Most specifically, if you are thinking about getting a mortgage in the next 1-2 years, or if you do not have a significant credit history (let’s say you’re fresh out of college), or if you have a credit score below 700, then this is probably not something you want to consider.

      I never try to talk anyone into it, as this is a completely personal decision — just as anything that relates to your financial life is. But I do want to point out that I’ve been doing this for about 3 years now, with what most people would consider a significant number of credit cards, and I just checked my credit score and it has INCREASED by 13 points since I started!!

      So I’ve probably earned $15,000 – $20,000 worth of completely free travel and not only has it not hurt my credit score, but it has helped!

      We made the determination a few years ago that even if it did slightly negatively impact our scores that it wouldn’t matter to us one bit, and we therefore decided to move forward. Our scores were around an 800 when we started, and we had a mortgage and it just didn’t matter to us if the scores dropped 5-10 points as most people reported they would. Once you get above a certain threshold, it just is all for show.

      I have read dozens of websites with thousands of comments and I have yet to hear one horror story of this decimating someone’s credit score. I feel comfortable with my family and friends taking part in this strategy, and as a CPA who has a website built around personal financial advice, that should speak volumes about how comfortable I am with what I describe in this and other travel rewards articles.


  13. Sherrie says

    Thanks for this article.
    These are the kind of deals I always take advantage of!
    Do you know if the $400 travel credit with Barclays would be good on a package (room and tickets) from WDW, or would it only apply to the room portion of the package?

    • says

      Hi Sherrie,
      I’m glad you liked the article so much!
      My understanding of the Barclaycard Arrival points is that it is tied to the ‘merchant category code’ that the company uses to code their expenses. So a hotel would clearly count for “travel” under this system, and if you were able to get the tickets through the hotel then I have to assume they would count as well.
      It is a bit frustrating that you don’t know beforehand, but I’ve spoken with a number of people at Barclays and that’s the best they can give me.

      • Ashley says

        Thank you so much, Brad, for all of the helpful tips! We have our Disney trip planned for the end of the year so I don’t think we have enough time to take advantage of ALL the tips this go-around. But, we are taking advantage of the Barclaycard. We live on a budget (doesn’t everyone!) so we only want to put the minimum amount of purchases on the card to trigger the $400 credit. If I am reading this correctly, can I make $2600 in regular purchases and then $400 on travel purchases, then earn the $400 credit, and then retroactively apply it to my bill. IE I am only spending $2600 on the card?

        My second question is did anyone ever confirm whether WDW travel (hotel/tickets) counted for the $400 travel reward?

        Thanks so much for your time!

        • says

          Hi Ashley,

          I’m glad you liked the article so much!

          You are correct about the Barclaycard Arrival that your tickets can be a part of the $3,000, so your example of $2,600 of other spending and $400 of tickets works for sure. Put another way, you can retroactively apply your points up to 120 days after the travel purchase, so you can put the travel on there as part of the $3k, get awarded the bonus and then apply the points. That is a nice feature!

          One little tip if you’re going to use UndercoverTourist.com like we did: They charge $0 shipping, so I actually checked out in multiple orders to take advantage of the 10% dividend Barclays offers with your redeemed points. This allowed me to use all the points, as I redeemed the first time for the vast majority of the points, got the dividend and then redeemed them against the 2nd ticket in its own distinct purchase.

          Depending on how quickly you make it through the Barclays spending, you can theoretically open the Starwood card and use those points since with hotels if there’s at least one standard room available for cash, you can use your points. So unless you are going at Christmas/New Year’s, there will likely be availability, so you would have a lot of time to take care of that. Just a thought, but I wanted to pass it along.

          To answer your 2nd question, nobody has confirmed for me if Disney tickets through Disney count. I assume that anything put through your hotel bill would count, since it would be coded through the hotel which would come up as a “travel” expense from Barclay’s perspective. But I simply don’t know if you order the tickets through Disney if they will count as it all relates to the “merchant category code” that Disney would be coded under for credit card purposes.

  14. Mary says

    Brilliant ideas! We go to Disney every year in September and, even with free dining or 30% off the deluxe villas, I kept thinking that there had to be a better way. Dear husband has platinum status through SPG and we discovered that we could use points and his suite upgrades to get an awesome suite at the Swan or Dolphin, which is what we’re doing this year! Using the 5th night free promotion, we’re staying at WDW for 10 days this fall…which brings me to my point. For people staying this long at WDW, it might make sense to look into purchasing an annual pass and Tables in Wonderland card. In our case, we’ll be traveling with my parents and, since we always dine together at the parks, only one of us (in this case, me) needs to have the AP/TIW card (it will cover up to 10 people at the same table under one check). How it works is this: I have my AP, which allows me to purchase a TIW card (and, right now, gives me a $25 discount if I purchase the TIW card!). This costs about $350 more than my 10 day parkhopper ticket. However, the TIW card gets me 20% off meals + wine at most Disney restaurants (including counter service and some snack carts) and the AP gets me 15% off WDW tours, 10 – 15% off at Disney-run retailers at the park, 50% off at the Disney miniature golf place, and 20 – 25% off spa treatments at WDW hotels (there are more perks – look them up at the Disney website). Because we’ll be doing character meals/table service dinners around the parks, taking a Discover the Magic tour around Disney and playing mini golf, in our case, this will pay for itself.
    **While there is an 18% gratuity automatically added to all meals, this is done AFTER the 20% discount is taken (which is why this is not merely a 2% savings, as I’ve heard some people suggest).

    Our preliminary numbers suggest that people who stay around 10 days or more (doesn’t have to be consecutive) at WDW per year may benefit from at least getting the annual pass…and those who like character or signature meals (with wine!) and/or like to use the extras offered (like spa, tours and so forth) may find the TIW card to be a better deal than the dining plans offered. Unlike the dining plans, wine and liquor is included and one can choose just how much or how little s/he wants to eat (not tied to app, entree + desert). Personally, we got tired of tipping on outrageously large meals we couldn’t come close to finishing.

    Hope this helps!

    • Mary says

      One thing I forgot to add:
      If someone is doing the Tables in Wonderland and staying at the Swan or Dolphin, in addition to the 20% off, you can also use your SPG rewards credit card to earn double SPG points when dining at the resort restaurants…and quadruple points (4 points per dollar spent) during certain promotional periods. Currently Shula’s Steakhouse, Il Mulino New York Trattoria, Kimono’s, Bluezoo and Garden Grove (this is a character meal!!) qualify for both the TIA discount AND double points when using your SPG card.

      Currently, SPG is running the quadruple points on hotel restaurants promo through April 30.

      **This information is courtesy of the SPG representative I spoke with by phone this morning. Please call SPG to verify what promotion(s) will be available during your stay.

      • says

        This is all fantastic information and I thank you so much for posting it here! This will be a big value for our readers now and in the future…

  15. Steve says

    Thank you for this information, we just signed up for 2 cards. Does anyone know if you are able to book a room other than the Traditional room for Swan or Dolphin?

    • says

      Hi Steve — I tried to reach out to you via email to discuss personally, but to answer your question: You are able to upgrade to a suite for a cash fee each night. The Executive Suite which essentially triples your square footage costs $200 per night in addition to the points.

      Or there’s a really nice Sheraton outside the Disney complex that is only a Category 2 hotel, so you could easily get 2 rooms instead of 1 at the Swan/Dolphin.

  16. says

    I am a kid at heart and I hope to visit Disney World again and this time, bring my kids and have the best time of our lives. I just love disney and taking a visit to this place for free? Wow! That’s just perfect. I can’t wait to experience this soon and share it with my kids. Thanks for sharing!

    • says

      Sure thing April — I’m glad you enjoyed the article!! This really is an amazing concept and I hope you can make it work for your family. I’d be happy to help, so just shoot me an email anytime you have a question!

  17. Ryan Hively says

    My family and I are looking to go to Disney LAND. Is there an UndercoverTourist.com equivalent to buy Disney Land Tickets that you would recommend using the Barclay card.

    • says

      Hi Ryan — thanks for stopping by and commenting!

      I am not 100% certain about the Disneyland Tickets, but I believe this site will work: http://www.arestravel.com/ I found them through MouseSavers.com so they are reputable and the only question is their “merchant category code” when their credit card transactions are processed. It has to line up with one that Barclays considers travel and I can’t be sure of that until I confirm it with them or have them run a test transaction. I’ll call them on Tuesday and see if they can answer or if they could just charge me $1 to see if it comes through on my Barclays card. I’ll get back to you.

    • says

      Hi Ryan,

      I had a great experience dealing with the team at http://www.arestravel.com/ and we 100% definitively confirmed that buying Disneyland tickets through their site will be coded as travel for purposes of the Barclaycard Arrival points!! I am really happy this works for Disneyland as well!

      If you want to sign up for the Barclaycard Arrival Plus card, I have the direct application link above. This will get you ~$500 off your tickets (40,000 bonus points = $400; $3,000 in spending is 6,000 Arrival points for another $60 and you get a 10% dividend on miles redeemed for travel, so that’s worth at least another $40 when all your points are used).

      And if you want to sign up for our completely free travel coaching program, fill out the form on this page and I’ll work with you one-on-one. Thanks!

  18. Anna says

    Hi, this sounds fantastic, but I live in Italy. Do you know if any type of hacking is possible from overseas?? I’d really like to take my son to Disney (we have enough miles for a free trip to the US from Italy) but I’d really like to save on hotels. Thanks in advance!

    • says

      Hi Anna,
      Glad you liked the article so much! Are you Italian, or an American living in Italy? I know my wife’s sister and her husband are Americans living outside the country and they are able to open these rewards cards quite easily.
      I’ve heard it is much more difficult to find credit cards with massive bonuses outside the US.
      I’d love to help, so let me know if you need more assistance…

  19. HD says


    Do you have any suggestions for buying tickets for Universal Studios at Orlando? Or I suppose it is the same strategy used to buy Disney tickets? Thanks.

    • says

      Definitely the same strategy through UndercoverTourist.com! That is coded as “travel” so it would count for a full statement credit in the case of the Barclaycard credit card mentioned above.

  20. Mike says

    We just comleted the Chase Sapphire VISA promotion, and the wife and I both have about 49000 points in our accounts!

    Next, we will be applying for the SPG Amex cards, but I have a question……..do the Bonus Points really take 8-12 weeks to post to the SPG member accounts? That’s 2-3 months AFTER reaching the $5000 spend during the first 6 months. This may make booking a trip for next summer difficult….

    • says

      Hi Mike — thanks for stopping by!

      I personally have never seen the bonus points take anywhere near 8-12 weeks, so I would be quite surprised if that was the case. They generally post anywhere from a few days to maybe 2 weeks after the statement close where you hit the bonus spending requirement.

      So it definitely is not the full 6 months plus 8-12 weeks in this case! It would be whatever month you hit the $5k plus 1-2 weeks for posting.

      If your plan was summer 2015 you have a lot of time to make that happen I would think…

  21. Christine says

    Is it possible for someone to ‘gift’/transfer starwood points to another person not in their household? Specifically, my parents are interested in transferring their points to my family.

  22. Tara says

    One suggestion if you’re Canadian, we have Airmiles here and you can get free DisneyWorld and Disneyland tickets through them. We redeemed in May this year for a 3 day park hopper :)
    Now onto opening credit cards for next years trips ! Thanks for all the great info.

  23. Jodie says

    We are almost done with Amex#2 and Chase #2 spending. We’ll be opening one of the Barclay cards in the next couple of weeks. Once we spend the $3000 on each of those, do you recommend switching to another card to either earn cash rewards for spending money while we are on the trip or begin earning rewards for our next trip? We began in April.. I am guessing we’ll be done with all of these steps in October or November. We will likely travel next fall. I want to get the most out of our spending, but don’t want to cause any problems with our credit by opening and closing so many cards.

    Thank you so much for explaining all of this. We would not have been able to afford Disney otherwise!

  24. Donald says

    Does anyone know if there is a maximum single purchase/transaction limit on any of these cards? I am looking to buy a used vehicle and would be able to satisfy the $5K Starwood purchase requirement (and maybe the Chase Sapphire as well if the dealership lets me split the transaction!) and save a lot of time and headaches instead of reaching the reward levels with smaller transactions. I know a lot of times it will depend on your personal finances and credit score (both of ours are over 800) but thought maybe someone will know a baseline. Thanks for the great info.

  25. Mike says

    I’m a little confused about this statement …. “It is important to note that you only get a full-value statement credit when redeeming these points for travel-related expenses, so that’s why we say you must spend at least $500 on tickets on each credit card”

    If I have $400 in rewards and $410 in travel/ticket purchases can I apply the rewards against the ticket expense? ($410-$400= $10 balance)

    • says

      Hi Mike — great question and I’m sorry for not being clear. I just updated that entire section of the article.

      You only get the full value of the statement credit if you redeem the miles against travel expenses. That part is absolutely true.

      In your scenario if you had $400 in rewards and had a $410 travel purchase, you would be able to apply the $400 in rewards leaving you with $10 on your card.

      Alternately, let’s say you had the same $400 in rewards and had a $1,000 travel expense, you could still use your $400 in that scenario to offset that portion of the larger expense.

      Barclays is great because of this flexibility. Final note is that the travel expense must be $25 for it to register, but other than that it is really straightforward and intuitive.


      • Mike says

        Thank you sir, your experience with undercover tourist has saved me potential loss of use of the Barclay rewards.

        On another note I’m within days of purchasing special Disney’s Very Merry Christmas party tickets, which are available only through Disney. I will report back on how these post to my Arrival card

        • says

          Glad to help Mike! Those Arrival points really are nice — glad you could make use of them.

          That would be a great piece of data to add to the article, so I’d greatly appreciate if you could report back!

        • Mike Swantek says

          For the record, this is how the Disney’s Very Merry Christmas party tickets (bought through Disney World) posted to my Arrival account. They are not redeemable for rewards credit:

          Description: WDW DISNEY TICKETS
          Merchant Location:*

          LAKE BUENA VI FL


          • says

            Thanks Mike, that’s helpful information! This shows that Disney park tickets bought through Disney would not be available to use your Arrival Plus miles against, so that lends further credibility to the UndercoverTourist.com method I describe above. That is a great work-around, from a very reputable site, to be able to purchase Disney tickets and still offset the expense with your Arrival Plus miles.

  26. Ronen says

    Hi Brad,

    Thanks for the excellent blog. I have a question which I would appreciate if you can answer. I applied for the Chase Sapphire card 2 months ago & have already met the minimum expending amount & received the sign-up bonus. Now, I am thinking of signing up the same card for my wife. I would like to merge points from her account to mine before the annual anniversary & would downgrade her card to something with no annual fees.

    1) Do you recommend this approach?

    2) Do you think there is any downside if we keep repeating the same strategy for other card? In all cases we would downgrade wife’s card before the anniversary. The reason I am afraid of this is because I feel Credit Card companies would eventually find out that we as a couple keep doing it over and over. May be this is the correct approach , or this is completely illegal & I will run into problem with credit card companies I am not sure.


  27. Frank says

    Thank you so much for this article…I saw it a while ago, and have been working on it since April. I was able to book 5 nights at the Swan for $125 (resort fees), and as soon as the points post, I will have about 100,000 points towards a flight from Chase Ultimate Rewards. One other tip people may want to try is the Hyatt card, when you spend $1,000, you get 2 free nights at any standard room Hyatt in the world. We used that to add two days near Universal. Free breakfast is included in our hotel, and there are NO fees at all. We used our other free nights somewhere else and it was so easy.

    I also am getting ready to buy my park tickets w/ Barclay points through undercover tourist. (I hope this works)! Have you heard from anyone who has done this recently? I tried to contact them to see what merchant code they use, but they have not written me back. : – (

    Do you have any recommendations on cards to get to use to purchase Disney gift cards, or that offer statement credits on dining? I am thinking we will spend $1000 plus on dining for the week. I’d be happy to use you as a referral if you have any good ideas. Thank you!!

  28. Aaron says

    I would just like to confirm Barclay’s is still the best way to pay for tickets. I have not signed up for Barclay’s credit card yet but will be doing so soon to start working towards the $3000 in purchases. I have gotten my 100,000 points on Southwest (in conjunction with Chase) to pay for the flights. My last hurdle is achieving 10,000 more points on the SPG Amex. I will get my bonuses for my card equaling 30,000 points but my wife can not get approved for the card so I will probably have to spend some money on it to earn those points.

  29. Laura says

    I am confused on the The Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®, what is a statement credit? Do they give you cash back?

    • says

      Hi Laura,

      Thanks for the question: This is essentially cash back or probably more precisely, it “erases” the travel expense on your credit card statement.

      So let’s say your regular expenses on the card that month were $1,000 and your Disney ticket purchased on that credit card was $350. Assuming you had no points, you’d owe $1,350 on your card at the end of the month.

      What you’d do in this case is log in and redeem 35,000 points to offset that $350 travel expense and your credit card bill would be $1,000.

      I hope that helps, but please follow up with any questions :)


      • Karen says

        How long does it take for the purchase to show up as “redeemable” in the rewards part of the site? I purchased my first ticket from Undercover tourist but it hasn’t shown up yet.

        • says

          Hi Karen,
          The charge usually takes 3-4 days to show up as redeemable. Once it goes from a temporary charge to a completed charge on your credit card account you should see it in the rewards section.
          Here’s a video Barclays made to explain redemptions:
          We personally used Undercover Tourist for our tickets and the expense was coded for travel and I know many others who have as well, so you should have a problem.
          Please confirm for me once it shows up!

  30. Czingo says

    This is a great explanation how to book the DW travel. I’m a rookie in this CC game. The 4 of us would like to go there for Thanksgiving 2015, but not sure we’ll accumulate enough points. So, a few questions:
    Was the room you booked for the 4 occupants? I just want to make sure it’s not like in Europe where room are usually for 2 people and need to pay extra for extra persons.
    Is AmEx the only CC that offers SPG or can I transfer from some other CC like Chase UR card?
    Does AmEx post the 10k bonus immediately after the 1st purchase and then 15k after spending the $5k? Does the 1st purchase count towards the $5k?
    How far in advance should we book the hotel with the Starpoints?
    Since $10k spend on AmEx would be steep for us, but would it work if we apply for the 2nd card after 6months, do the 1st purchase to get the 10k and then take the CC to DW to spend on food towards $5k?
    I’m guessing Starpoints never expire? Where else can I use Starpoints if we’re not into fancy hotels unless they’re located exactly where we travel?
    You didn’t address the food costs at DW. Did the hotel offer breakfast? Any tips about saving for food there because I heard nothing edible is allowed to carry into any DW park.
    So, no shuttle bus to the hotel, right? Either taxi or Uber? I guess we’d need a taxi because we don’t have iPhones or any smartphone for that matter.
    We live in Charlotte, NC. We might even drive to DW. Would we need to pay for parking on the Dolphin’s or Swan’s property? Sounds like you didn’t need a car at all there and you were offered free (?) to the parks by the hotel?
    Thanks so much.

    • Aaron says

      I got a room with 2 queen beds and told them it was for four people, with two of them being for kids (five and fourteen).

      I looked a while back and did not see any other cards to get SPG points. I signed up twice at different periods, one for my small business and one personal. My wife did not get approved because she does not work.

      Chase does not transfer to SPG, and most cards other do not either.

      I booked my hotel 6 months early, but I am not sure how much earlier I could have done it.

      AmEx did post my first 10k pretty quickly, with the rest coming a couple of weeks after I hit my goal.

      Parking for Swan is $18 per day for registered guests
      Self Parking Fees
      Non-Registered Guest* $18.00 for each exit
      Registered Guest ** $18.00 + tax per day


      Hope this helps.

  31. dydra says

    Can you confirm that purchasing gift cards (at Home Depot, Target, etc.) for later spending do not qualify for the $5k spend in order to get the SPG bonus points? My husband called to confirm the benefits after he got his new AmEx SPG card. When he asked if he can buy gift cards, but was told that he can buy them but they will not qualify for the SPG points. I’m kind of confused. So, I’m guessing that if $5K spend includes a $10 gift card, that’s it, you don’t qualify for the 15k SPG points?? It will be hard to spend $5k within 6mo. considering that we have other CC to tackle along the way.

  32. Aaron says

    Thank you for this wonderful site. As of today I received my last set of points needed to get my flight completely purchased with reward points. So far I have 7 nights at Disneyworld and roundtrip trip tickets for my family of four, all purchased with reward points. Soon I will have enough points on my Barclay card to pay a good portion of the WDW ticket price. I thought I might be short on rewards points with Southwest but I changed my dates of travel from Sunday to Saturday, and saved over 20,000+ points with the difference. Enough to pay a good portion if not all of a rental car if I choose to do so.

    Very useful article and comments. Thank you.

    • Aaron says

      Also, with the 5th night free through SPG I had enough points to get upgraded to a nicer room. I could not be happier.

    • says


      That is such fantastic news!! And thank you for all the extremely helpful comments — it is much apppreciated :)

      If you’re looking for additional ways to pay for your WDW tickets each adult can open a Capital One Venture which operates the same way as the Arrival Plus (without the additional 10% dividend).

      That was a really smart move with changing the SW flights! Do you have any Chase Ultimate Rewards points to transfer to Southwest by chance (from Sapphire Preferred, Ink Plus, etc.)?


  33. Jan says

    Thank you for your article. Do you have to be a U.S. resident to apply for the Starwood/Barclay credit cards?

    We are not from U.S. but would love to be able to reduce costs for a Disney vacation.


    • says

      Hi Jan,

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting — I’d love to help you save money on your Disney vacation!

      My understanding is that you do have to be a US resident to apply for these credit cards. I guess the easy way to prove this out would be to attempt to apply and see if they even allow you to put in your foreign address.


    • says

      Hi Maggie,
      I’m not sure what you mean exactly being “with visa”, but if you follow up I’d be happy to help. Anyone can apply for these cards, regardless of what prior cards you have.

  34. says

    Great ideas. I have not yet been a travel hacker to any great degree. I spend a lot on credit cards, and lots of maintenance items for my rentals, but I opt for the cash back cards.

    Great ideas for me to think about.

    • says

      If you can put a significant amount of your rental spending on credit cards, then this concept is IDEAL for you! If you do any traveling, the signup bonuses on these travel cards will absolutely beat the 1-2% cash back you’re getting from your regular spending. Something to consider for sure :)

  35. Greta says

    Hi Brad – Do you have to keep the credit cards open once you reach the minimum spending requirements in order to redeem the rewards?

    • says

      Hi Greta,

      Great question! There isn’t a blanket answer unfortunately, but I’ll do my best to answer. Also, look at this post which talks about the 3 types of cards:


      Co-branded cards like the Starwood Amex (or airline cards, etc.): those points end up in your hotel/airline account and from then on they are no longer related to the credit card. Technically if you closed the card within a few weeks of getting the points they could claw them back, but realistically these are yours to keep.

      Fixed value like the Cap One venture/Arrival Plus: These points are tied to your credit card and you MUST use them before closing the card.

      Transferable points like from the Chase Sapphire Preferred: These points reside in your credit card account, but you can transfer them out before closing the card.

      I always keep my cards open for the first 12 months. Then I decide if it is worth keeping and paying the annual fee…

  36. Donald says


    Thank so much for this site and information. I’ve already used these methods to book our room and flights, but does anyone know if a Navy ITT office is considered a travel agency for the Capital One Reward card redemption purposes? I tried contacting Capital One directly and they were no help, they wouldn’t even tell me which MCC codes were covered under the Purchase Eraser benefit. Does anyone know what Undercovertourists MCC is so I can compare to ITT? Thanks again,

    • says

      Hi Donald,

      Glad you enjoyed the site so much! One of the great frustrations of the Venture and Barclaycard Arrival Plus is that you aren’t 100% sure if it is going to count as a “travel” expense beforehand. With the help of Undercover Tourist I was able to find out that they are MCC #: 4722 and listed as a “travel agency.”

      You can always message Cap One after the fact if it wasn’t originally coded as travel and explain to them that it was in fact for travel, etc. That does work more often than you’d guess! It is a higher risk strategy than just booking through Undercover Tourist though…

  37. says

    That plan sounds workable. I think I will try it out and see whether I will make it to take my family to Disney world. In fact, what amazes me if the fact that you can save as much as $1800 which would be spent for six nights at Disney world.

  38. says

    Disney is way expensive but after reading this article, I feel like I might after all afford a holiday with my kids very soon. Anyway, I liked that article. It was quite informative.

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