HomeFinanceHow I Did A $4,000 Disney Trip for Just $1,600

How I Did A $4,000 Disney Trip for Just $1,600

You might imagine you want a Fairy Godmother to afford a visit to Walt Disney World. However, with the assistance of factors and miles, I spent lower than $1,600 money for two individuals (together with cross-country airfare) on a latest journey with my boyfriend, who shares my penchant for each Disney and frugality.

Had we paid for all the things in money, our journey would have value over $4,000. Instead, we did 5 days at Disney World for simply 40% of that in money thanks in main half to redeeming our factors and miles. We valued the factors we redeemed at $700, bringing the entire we “spent” to round $2,300. Here’s how:

The resort

Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista. Photo courtesy of HIlton

Disney-owned resorts have acclaimed customer support, enchanting theming and shut proximity to theme parks. But Disney motels are costly, they usually gained’t take factors. The subsequent finest transfer is staying at a Disney Springs Resort space resort, a lot of which settle for factors.

I selected the Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista, which is adjoining to Disney’s purchasing heart, which means tons of eating and leisure inside strolling distance.

Five nights value 140,760 factors, which I paid with factors I earned by the cardboard’s welcome supply and minimal spend requirement. NerdWallet values 140,760 Hilton factors at $703.80, however get this: The room’s money worth, together with taxes and charges, would have value over $1,700.

So how did I fork over solely $700 value of factors for a $1,700 room?

  • Paying with factors allowed me to skip resort charges: Resort charges inflate your precise invoice, which motels say covers bills like web and phone entry (do individuals nonetheless use the resort cellphone?). This resort’s $35 nightly resort charge additionally lined the theme park shuttle, two every day coffees and water bottles (a pleasant perk however undoubtedly not value $35). With Hilton, paying on factors permits you to skip resort charges.

  • My fifth night time was free: If you’ve got elite standing and e book a five-night keep, Hilton solely costs you for 4.

  • Point values fluctuate: While NerdWallet values a Hilton level at 0.5 cent, it doesn’t all the time imply you’ll get that actual worth. Point and money charges may not align due to components which you can’t all the time predict, together with sudden curiosity in that resort resulting in a spike in money charges. Luckily for me, the worth I received right here was favorable due to the excessive money worth I would have needed to pay, if I had not used factors.

Cost: $0 money plus $703.80 value of Hilton Honors factors


I paid my airfare with two units of separate $98.98 Southwest journey funds from flights canceled in 2020. Southwest has all the time had one of many finest cancellation insurance policies. For this accounting, I’ll depend my flights as $197.96 roundtrip, since that was money I paid out of pocket, albeit pre-pandemic.

I charged the remaining $60 per leg to my Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card because it presents a $250 airline incidental assertion credit score, which was triggered by the remaining $60 stability in addition to my boyfriend’s $5.60 in taxes and charges. Bonus: I nonetheless have $130 left on my airline charge credit score for a future journey. Terms apply.

Other Transportation

Getting to/from the airport: To get from my house in downtown San Francisco to the airport, I’d sometimes take public transit. But since COVID-19, practice hours have been slashed, forcing me to experience Uber to and from the airport. And since there’s no practice from the Orlando airport to Disney, we took Lyft to and from our resort. This totaled $117.46 for all 4 rides.

Getting round: Once on Disney property, it’s straightforward to get round. Disney has virtually any type of transit possible, together with buses, boats and a monorail. Transit on the property takes you between theme parks and resorts. Besides being a handy approach to freely get round,  it typically serves as free leisure (for sightseeing and other people watching).

Photo by Sally French

And regardless that our resort’s $35 every day resort charge could be annoying (we prevented it by paying on factors), the flexibility to shuttle to the theme parks is much cheaper than the price of theme park parking ($25) plus resort parking ($22). That could be $47 in every day parking alone, to not point out different prices related to proudly owning or renting a automotive.

Food and Drinks

Here are my finest eating finds and money-saving ideas:

Go to Epcot throughout a competition

Since we visited through the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival, we ordered from short-term out of doors kitchens serving inventive meals together with a citrus-braised pork stomach and a sugarcane shrimp skewer. This was a main approach to pattern a number of distinctive dishes on a price range.

My favourite dish was the frushi ($6). Photo by Sally French

We tried seven objects ($43.75), that are served tapas-style and are nonetheless giant sufficient to get a strong style.

Look for meals much like high-end eating places, served elsewhere

We discovered the very best deal at Animal Kingdom’s Nomad Lounge bar. Though it’s situated adjoining to the expensive Tiffins Restaurant, we had been shocked by Nomad’s cheap costs. We every received a mocktail (about half the value of boozy cocktails) and cut up the true MVP right here — a plate of ribs — for simply $8. Main dishes at Tiffins, like brief ribs or hen, can simply run over $40 per merchandise. Maybe I’m jaded by San Francisco’s value of dwelling, however this appeared like a deal ($29 for the meal).

Don’t skip free resort breakfast

Don’t overlook whether or not a resort presents free breakfast when deciding the place to e book. In my case, since we stayed at a Hilton and my Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card comes with computerized elite standing, I was entitled to a $30 every day meals and beverage credit score.

We used it on the admittedly common breakfast buffet as soon as. On future days, we used the credit score to load up on fruit, yogurt and packaged sandwiches from the grab-and-go market. That additionally enabled extra alternatives to maximise rides since we weren’t ready in line for meals on the theme parks.

Pack prepackaged snacks

Bring snacks from house. Load up on jerky, nuts and protein bars that match simply in your suitcase and fill you up so that you keep away from shopping for an overpriced popcorn bucket you didn’t need anyway.

Sharing is caring — and budget-friendly

A key money-saving issue was splitting meals with my journey companion. We all the time consumed our personal entrees, however so far as these tasty but less-than-nourishing snacks — like donuts and churros — we lower prices by sharing.

It’s straightforward to get intoxicated by the scent of waffle cones and purchase a person serving of Dole Whip nachos for everybody in your loved ones. Yet each my pockets and waistline are completely satisfied that I didn’t strive consuming a whole one myself.

Plus, your Dole Whip will in all probability soften earlier than you possibly can end it anyway.

The Kakamora Float model of the Dole Whip ($7.45) comes with a cake pop and is giant sufficient to share. Photo by Sally French

Use bank card offers

For instance, Grubhub had a $5 coupon at Disney Springs’ Earl of Sandwich, which I stacked with my $10 month-to-month eating credit score on my American Express® Gold Card for free lunch. Terms apply.

Get free airport meals

My Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card will get us right into a bunch of airport lounges by Priority Pass, together with a pair at Orlando International Airport. There, we loaded up on hen tortilla soup, veggies and hummus. They tasted simply OK, however I gained’t complain about free meals.

Other Spending

On the airplane: I bought Southwest’s inflight Wi-Fi, which prices $8 per gadget. My Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card got here in clutch as a result of it presents free Wi-Fi, doled out as 365 $8 credit per yr (slightly than one per day per account), so my boyfriend received free Wi-Fi, too. That’s $32 in worth for each legs between us.

The flight there was longer than I remembered (I haven’t carried out a cross nation flight in a yr!), so we opted to buy upgraded boarding for the flight house. While I’m 4’10” and don’t truly thoughts the center, the choice to improve was straightforward as a result of my Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card presents 4 complimentary seat upgrades per yr (in any other case $30 per individual).

Theme park tickets: We bought four-day tickets on-line from a journey agent, which was barely cheaper than shopping for straight from Disney ($477.29 per individual).

Souvenirs: I purchased one memento for myself: an Orange Bird salt and pepper shaker ($10.64). It’s utilitarian!

We did get souvenirs for pals, which Hilton paid for. Remember that $30 every day meals and beverage credit score? The resort’s grab-and-go market bought Disney-themed jelly beans. Most days we nonetheless had about $10 remaining of our credit score, which allowed us to buy just a few baggage per day. The plant-sitter, our neighbor and my niece all received items.

Credit playing cards used

  • American Express® Gold Card: $250 annual charge

  • Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card: $450 annual charge

  • Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card: $199 annual charge

How a lot we spent: A breakdown

In complete, we spent slightly below $1,600 in money plus factors, based mostly on NerdWallet journey valuations, value round $700. Here’s how that broke down by expense class, in complete for two individuals:

By utilizing factors, I not solely saved money prices round $800 per individual but additionally saved over 40% off the precise journey worth. That’s due largely to advantages like Hilton’s fifth night time free, not paying resort charges and the Southwest Companion Pass, which shaved an enormous chunk off my journey prices in a single fell swoop.

Not to say, these playing cards earn excessive spending rewards. I earned a further $73.64 in rewards from the spending I did on this journey.

Factor within the worth of bank card factors

We do need to additionally issue within the “cost” of utilizing factors and miles. Why? The brief reply: alternative value. We solely spent $1,600 money, however we felt it was essential to acknowledge that we truly spent nearer to $2,300 given the worth of rewards factors.

Every level spent here’s a level that may very well be spent elsewhere. Sure, Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen gained’t acknowledge factors as an actual foreign money, however journey corporations do.

Two advantages we didn’t issue into the fee: There had been two bank card advantages I used which have strong worth, however that I didn’t think about: TSA PreCheck and Priority Pass. PreCheck requires an $85 software charge, which my bank card lined. But because it sometimes lasts 5 years, I didn’t really feel it truthful to think about right here.

I additionally didn’t issue within the worth of Priority Pass, because it didn’t value me something to start with (beside my bank card software charge), and its worth fluctuates relying on the lounge.

The backside line

I’ve lengthy thought that it’s simpler and extra stress-free to make use of a cash-back bank card and pool these cash-back rewards into my trip fund. But I’ve realized — and this journey is proof — that it pays off to make use of a journey bank card.

If you play your playing cards proper, you’ll fork over even fewer factors than their precise worth. Had I paid for my journey totally in money, it might have value over $4,000. Instead, it “cost” me simply over $2,300 in mixed money and factors worth ($1,600 was chilly, onerous money and $700 was the approximate factors worth).

My mother nonetheless balks that I pay for annual charges on bank cards. But the financial savings right here already far exceeded the playing cards’ annual charges, and there are many different priceless perks I get from these playing cards exterior of this single journey.

Even with out a royal-sized price range, you possibly can nonetheless have your dream Disney trip, so long as you’re inventive and versatile. Stretch your price range by not simply maximizing bank card factors, however being open-minded about what you eat, the place you keep and the way you get there.

After all, if the Fairy Godmother turned a pumpkin right into a glass carriage, you possibly can flip $1,600 and a few bank card factors right into a $4,000 trip.

How to Maximize Your Rewards

You need a journey bank card that prioritizes what’s essential to you. Here are our picks for the finest journey bank cards of 2021, together with these finest for:



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