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

Disney Cinderalla CastleAs featured in the New York Times’ Tips for Travel Savings in 2014, CBS and NBC 12, here’s our step-by-step guide explaining how to take a nearly free family trip to Walt Disney World using travel rewards points!

We’re traveling from Richmond, VA to Orlando but if you’re reading this from anywhere else in the US, the only difference will be the airline tickets, which you can still get using our method if you fly Southwest, United, American Airlines or US Airways.

To make this trip happen, we had to open some specific credit cards and use them for our regular spending in order to earn the significant signup bonuses that are offered with those cards.  Laura and I are both CPAs, so being financially responsible is essential to us and we thoroughly researched this before getting started.

Since we pay our credit cards on time and in full every month we felt very confident that this strategy of opening credit cards to earn targeted signup bonuses would save us thousands of dollars on our family Disney vacation and it worked out great!

If you want some personalized help making this trip a reality for your family, sign up for our free one-on-one travel rewards coaching by clicking here:

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Walt Disney World Hotel:

Walt Disney World Swan Hotel

The Disney Swan and Disney Dolphin hotels right on-site at Epcot are actually part of the Starwood chain of hotels, so you can use your Starpoints to book these hotels.  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 and Dolphin are Category 4 hotels, so they require 10,000 SPG points per night. At this redemption level they have a ‘5th Night Free’ option, so when you book for five nights you only need 40,000 Starpoints.

SPG Card-SmallEach of you will need to apply for a Starwood Preferred Guest American Express credit card. We suggest making the other spouse an “authorized user” on each account, so each spouse will get a card for their own account and one for their spouse’s account.

The current sign-up bonus is 25,000 Starpoints. You get 10,000 Starpoints awarded after the first purchase, and an additional 15,000 Starpoints after spending $5,000 (of your regular spending) in the first six months the account is open.  $65 annual fee waived the first year.

The best way to get to 40,000 total points is:

  • Starwood Amex Account #1: Make initial purchase to earn 10,000 point bonus. Spend $5,000 on this card to earn final 15,000 bonus plus 5,000 points for the $5,000 spending. Total points on this account = 30,000 Starpoints
  • Starwood Amex Account #2: Make initial purchase to earn 10,000 point bonus. Total points on this account = 10,000 Starpoints

We certainly recommend you attempt to spend $5,000 on account #2 in order to qualify for the last 15,000 bonus points. Starpoints are quite valuable and you’ll want these for a free night redemption someday, or you might even want to add an extra two days to this Disney trip.

Transfer Starpoints: One of your accounts will now have 30,000 points and one will have 10,000, so you need to combine them for the 40,000 necessary in one account to earn the 5th Night Free promotion. First you’ll need your SPG account number for both accounts and then 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. At the bottom there’s an option to “Transfer to Another Member.” Here’s what it looks like: SPG Transfer Points You’ll want to transfer all your points to the other account, so you have at least 40,000 in one account. This transfer takes 3-5 business days per their website. After these days have passed, login online to the account that received the transfer and you can book either the Swan or the Dolphin! When you set a booking for five nights, it will automatically apply the 5th Night Free and will ask for payment of 40,000 Starpoints. If a Starwood hotel room is available for cash, it is available for points, so there are no blackout dates!

Airline Tickets to Disney World:

Southwest Airlines flies direct from Richmond to Orlando, which was ideal for our trip.  We were able to open a Southwest credit card that gave us a big bonus of Southwest points to book these flights.  For many people out there, the best way to get your flights will be to open a Chase credit card that awards Chase Ultimate Rewards points.  These can then be transferred to your account at Southwest, United or British Airways (often the best way to fly American Airlines and US Airways in the US because of the distance-based award system).

Chase credit cards such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Ink Bold Business and Chase Ink Plus Business all offer bonuses in the form of Chase Ultimate Rewards points.  These are incredibly valuable since you can transfer these points to their rewards partners such as United, Southwest, British Airways (top value by booking on American and US Airways flights), Hyatt Hotels, and a handful of others.

We recommend opening the Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card which offers a 40,000 UR bonus when you spend $3,000 the first 3 months the card is open.  $95 annual fee waived the first year.  Another added bonus is 5,000 additional UR points if you add an authorized user (like your spouse) and they make at least one single purchase on the card.

So you’d end up with 48,000 UR points after meeting the minimum spending requirements of $3,000 in 3 months (40,000 regular bonus plus 5,000 bonus for authorized user plus 3,000 for $3,000 spending).

You will likely need more than 48,000 points to take your family of four to Disney, so we would suggest the other spouse open an account as well to earn an additional 48,000 points.

After you’ve earned these points, you’ll log into your Chase credit card website and go to the Ultimate Rewards section.  You will see a menu option that says, “Transfer Points to Travel Partners.”  At that screen you’ll just pick your transfer partner and enter your frequent flyer mile account number at either Southwest, United or British Airways (for American or US Airways flights) and transfer the necessary points.  You then book the flights through your account at the airline frequent flyer program like you normally would.

A great benefit of the Chase UR transfers is that you can send the points to your spouse’s frequent flyer account to pool all the points together for one reward booking (so you can all sit together on the flight).

Southwest has no blackout dates and the award tickets are based on how much the flights cost, so this was a simple program for us to use.

Using any of the other airline rewards programs you should be able to get a family of four to Orlando from the continental US for 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points as it normally costs 25,000 miles for a round-trip in the US.

American Express also has their transferable point system called Membership Rewards, and you can get their points from a card such as the American Express Platinum Card which offers a bonus of 40,000 American Express Membership Rewards (when you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months the account is open; $450 annual fee applies) which you can transfer to British Airways points.

If you could use some one-one-one assistance, sign up for our completely free (no gimmicks!) Travel Rewards Coaching program and we’ll help you get started.

Walt Disney World Tickets:

Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCardThere are no specific rewards 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 Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® is one of the top travel cards and in fact it was named to the “Best for Travel Rewards” list by Money Magazine in their October 2013 issue. Click here to apply for the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®

The current offer is 40,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on the card in the first 90 days of account opening.  $89 annual fee is waived the first year.  These points are good for a $400 travel statement credit for travel expenses paid for using the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®.

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.  You also get a 10% dividend on miles redeemed for travel expenses, so this is another $46 bring to the total value of this bonus to over $500!

If you and your partner each open one of these cards your family will have at least $1,000 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 $1,000 off in total by splitting the expenses this way across the two cards).

It is important to note that you only get a full-value statement credit when redeeming these points for travel-related expenses (you get 1/2 value if you decided to redeem for non-travel expenses so the bonus would only be worth $200 in this case).  We advise that you put at least one ticket on each credit card account so you can redeem the miles on that account to effectively “erase” this ticket expense.

Barclays is very specific about what counts as “travel” to be reimbursed as a statement credit when redeeming their miles.  Their fine print says it is good to “pay for travel” in the following categories: “airlines, travel agencies & tour operators, hotels, motels & resorts, cruise lines, passenger railways and car rental agencies.”

Barclays cannot confirm for us if you can buy Disney tickets directly from Disney and get the statement credit.  However, our top choice to purchase official Disney park tickets is UndercoverTourist.com and we have already purchased Disney World tickets through them and have received the reimbursement from the Barclaycard Arrival miles, so we know this works.

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.

Transportation tip:  If you want to save some money on your trips to and from the Orlando Airport, you could use the ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft instead of renting a car:

Uber: New Uber passengers get $30 off their first ride when they sign up using this link:  https://www.uber.com/invite/uberRichmondSavers

Lyft: New Lyft Passengers get $25 off their first ride when they sign up using this link:  https://www.lyft.com/invited/BRAD789678

Summary:

So there you have it, nearly a free trip for a family of four to Walt Disney World for five 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, depending on the length of your visit, you might have to spend a few hundred dollars more on 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

Sign up for our completely FREE one-on-one Travel Rewards Coaching program and we’ll personally work with you to make this Disney trip a reality for your family!

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We've figured out how to avoid blackout dates and actually make this work for a regular family like ours and we want to help you do the same.

We’ve earned over 1,000,000 miles using this strategy and have upcoming trips planned to Disney World, Bermuda and Europe, so this has worked amazingly well for our family!

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"I couldn't believe that Brad was willing to get on the phone with me and walk me through understanding the complexity of travel rewards... I kept thinking, there's got to be a catch! But, there wasn't! Brad made it easy to understand and helped me develop a simple, focused strategy that wasn't overwhelming and could be implemented with my current budget."

-- Kendra Wright, HeyKendra.com

"With Brad's help my wife and I have earned hundreds of thousands of miles (and cash back as well!) over the last few months. Having Brad as a resource has been nothing short of incredible in our quest to travel cheaply."

-- Joe O., Las Vegas, NV

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.

Comments

    • 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…

  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

            Aaron,
            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.

      Thanks,
      Brad

  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.
      Thanks,
      Brad

      • 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!
        Ashley

        • 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

        Mary,
        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…
      Thanks!

  19. HD says

    Brad:

    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.

      Thanks,
      Brad

      • 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

          Merchant Category: AMUSEMENT PARKS, CIRCUSES, CARNIVALS, FORTUNE TELLERS

          • 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.

    Thanks
    Ronen.

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