As 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 used 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!
Walt Disney World 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:
There 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 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:
For 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
So 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.