Our wedding is in the early Spring, and we wanted to take our honeymoon immediately after, not only for the obvious reasons but also because we were interested in the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival. This put us squarely in the one of the peak seasons, unfortunately. Depending on the time of year you plan your own Disney trip, you may end up paying less by planning your visit during the off-season. Being that it was our honeymoon, we also want to splurge a little, both by picking a nicer resort and staying for longer.
Once we had our dates selected, the essential expenses for our trip were going to be our airfare, our lodging, and our park tickets. All in all, we were able to get a 10 day/9 night stay in a moderate Disney resort, with 6-Day Park Hopper tickets, as well as airfare and transportation, entirely for free.
This was the easiest part to figure out, as the two of us have been in the airline miles game for a hot minute. Airline miles can be both earned and used rather easily, whether you do so through frequent flyer programs, or credit card rewards. This year, the Southwest Chase products had an insanely good promotion: 60,000 Rapid Rewards points after meeting the minimum spend of $2,000. Keep in mind that there are actually two distinct Southwest Chase cards: Premier and Plus, and you can obtain both of them for twice the rewards!
That sounds great enough on its own, but there’s even more bonus potential here. After earning 110,000 Rapid Rewards points, you earn the Companion Pass, a highly-valuable addition to your Southwest account which allows you to designate a travel companion of your choice. Once you earn the Companion Pass, your travel companion gets to fly with you for free anytime for an entire calendar year!
As I mentioned in my earlier post on the basics of credit card rewards, we did not spend any extra money to earn these points. We simply put our usual spending – bills, everyday expenses and purchases, etc. – on these two cards until we hit the minimum spend ($2k per card for a total of $4k). As you can see, we were able to do this in a matter of months.
With the Companion Pass, we only needed to purchase one round-trip flight using our 120,000 accumulated points. Not only are our honeymoon flights free, we also have another 100k points to play around with over the next year. Not too shabby!
Dollars Saved – Flights: $610
The Lodging & Park Tickets
This one was a little trickier, as there are multiple methods to go about obtaining lodging at Disneyworld through rewards points. We knew we definitely wanted to stay at a Disney resort, so that ruled out using a national chain such as Hyatt or Marriott (both of which have their own rewards systems). Another option we looked at was the WDW Swan and Dolphin resorts, which are curiously enough a Starwood Hotel while still keeping the Disney branding.
Why is this significant? The Starwood Preferred Guest card from American Express typically has a sign-up bonus offer of anywhere between 25,000 to 35,000 Starpoints which would earn you a few free nights at the Swan or Dolphin. After conducting some research on the pros and cons of this experience, we opted to pass on this – however, it still remains a solid option for those who cannot get UR (Ultimate Rewards) points for a given year. If you go this route, consider having your spouse or partner sign up as well, effectively doubling the length of your free stay.
What we ended up using was our Chase Ultimate Rewards portal – specifically, their cruise and vacation packages department. Through them, we were able to book a vacation package using our accumulated Chase points. Over the past year, we had earned over 350,000 points by using the Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Sapphire Preferred, and Chase Ink cards. This includes not only the sign-up bonuses but also simply putting our day-to-day spending on the cards.
We were fortuitous that Disney was running their Gift of Magic Room Offer, which saved us a cool 20% off of our chosen resort. My advice for when you’re booking a Disney vacation is to keep an eye out for any promotions that occur, even after you book. You can get a refund on the difference if you call your booking agent or service if a promotion pops up after you make your reservation.
Through the Chase Ultimate Rewards system, we were able to book our 10-day/9-night stay at the moderate resort Coronado Springs, along with a 6-Day Park Hopper Ticket, for 174,557 UR points, far less than the 350k we’ve earned all year. If you don’t currently have any of these cards, you could easily accrue the 180,000 points to do exactly what we did with the sign-up offers below.
Dollars Saved – Lodging: $2,732.57
Dollars Saved – Tickets: $948.00
We pursued one additional card specific to our Disney vacation: the Disney Premier Visa card. This is a completely unnecessary pursuit, but as we knew we would be planning to both shop and dine during our vacation, it was a worthwhile one for us. The sign-up bonus for this card was a $200 statement credit after spending $500 on purchases – small fry compared to the other cards mentioned in this post, but still a great ratio overall. This card also gives you 2% in Disney Reward dollars on all Disney-related purchases, 10% off Disney merchandise and dining at the resorts, and 15% off park tours.
Signing up for this was a no-brainer, as we would definitely be planning on some dining and shopping while we were on our honeymoon. The discount on guided tours was a particularly nice bonus for us as we’ve been wanting to do the Keys to the Kingdom tour, along with a few other events. All in all, we were able to save an additional $285 just on this card, and that’s not including the dining and shopping savings we’ll enjoy during the honeymoon itself.
Dollars Saved – Statement Credit: $200
Future Dollars Saved – Guided Tour Discount: 15% (around $85 for us)
Future Dollars Saved – Disney Merchandise and Dining: 10%
What’s Not Included
Rental Car: Staying at a Disney resort gives us access to the complimentary resort transportation, including to and from the airport. If you plan on staying off-resort, or renting a car to leave the Disney resort area for sightseeing, you’ll need to factor in this cost.
Shopping: You can find one-of-a-kind souvenirs and other experiences by the boatload at Disney, so set aside some spending money for yourself or your family to take home some memories. Using the Disney Premier Visa is just one way to set aside a few hundred dollars for spending money.
Meals: We already account for dining and food costs in our monthly budget, but this is something you will need to plan out as well. Like many attractions out there, dining out at the resorts and/or parks can be quite costly. I’m not quite sold on the benefits of purchasing a Disney Dining Plan, but free Dining Plans are often offered as a periodic promotion usually offered in the fall.
Most of the cards mentioned in this post come with annual fees, which is something you will need to take into consideration. Typically, the first year will be waived (or you can call to ask for it to be waived), but even if you aren’t successful in doing so, the rewards are worth keeping the card open for at least one year.
Opening a handful of new credit cards within a short time frame will also have a temporary negative impact on your credit score. If you are looking at a major loan within the next six to twelve months, you may not want to pursue this method.
Finally, you’ll want to plan out the timing of your applications wisely. If you were to apply for the five key cards mentioned above (the Disney card is optional), you would need to spend around $15,000 in total over the course of three months – whoa! You definitely do not want to apply for all five cards at once, unless you’re secretly a millionaire (in which case, you probably don’t need my advice).
As of the date of this post, the current minimum spending requirements for each card are as follows:
|Southwest Premium||$1000||3 months|
|Southwest Plus||$1000||3 months|
|Chase Sapphire Reserve||$4000||3 months|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred||$4000||3 months|
|Chase Ink Preferred||$5000||3 months|
The best way to build a strategy around meeting the spending requirements on each card is to calculate your total monthly expenditures, and then subtract the ones where you cannot use a credit card. As an example here, most student loans require an ACH payment or debit from your bank account, so counting on those when calculating your spending will cause you to come up short.
Gas, groceries, phone/TV/internet, entertainment, dining, and shopping expenditures are all typically credit card eligible. Using a ballpark estimate of ~$1500/month per household for these expenditures, it would take you about ten months to accrue all of the points in the table above. Your mileage may vary depending on your personal budget, so adjust as needed!
Total Savings: $4,575.57
We are SO excited to have our honeymoon at Disneyworld! Planning it out and knowing it would cost very little out of pocket made it all the sweeter. When the weight of stressing out about paying for it all was gone, we could focus on the fun part of planning our vacation guilt-free.
Consider my experience here a blueprint. Credit card promotions, flight and hotel prices are always subject to change, but even if you can’t replicate these steps exactly, you should be able to do fairly well using a similar method. You can adapt this strategy for any vacation destination, as well – Disney just happened to be our focus here, but the premise is the same across the board.
Got questions or need advice on pulling this off? Let us know in the comments!