As we head into the weekend, rsts11travel’s Robert Novak is here with an apology to Terry Brooks and a tip sheet for finding great deals or saving money in general with your trips to the Disney theme parks and facilities.
I (Robert) worked for the Walt Disney Company for three years, and in that time I had the best deal you can get without being on the board or executive staff of TWDC: a magical device formerly (and generally) known as the Silver Pass.
Given to full-time salaried employees after two weeks, and hourly staff after a substantially longer time, the Silver Main Entrance Pass gave cast members (inside and outside the parks) free entrance for themselves and their registered/benefitted dependents, or for a fixed number of guests if one didn’t have spouse or dependents to report. The pass was valid for something in the neighborhood of 300+ days per year.
This made me pretty popular when I was at events near the parks, and I also got some free passes every six months to give to friends or family. But since I didn’t live near the parks, I didn’t use these benefits very often.
People would often ask me to get them discounts, but the discounts for outright purchase of tickets were pretty light (similar to the discounts Apple gives on current products to employee purchase programs–not very much at all). So I surprised friends by telling them to go outside the company. Now that I don’t have the pass anymore, I too go outside the company, and I’ll share some guidelines that will help you make the most of your efforts and funds.
MouseSavers. Nuff Said.
MouseSavers is one of the oldest Disney fan/travel newsletters in existence. Since 2001, they’ve provided travel tips, discounts and deals, and the latest news on Disney properties and policies. Think of them like one of the Disney guidebooks you see in bookstores, but with daily/weekly updates and less space taken up in your pack or purse.
You can see what the current deals and promos are, both from Disney themselves and from third party providers (like hotels near the theme parks). You’ll also get guidance on where to get the best, most reliable deals on park passes and other related needs. And finally, they’ll point you toward the travel providers who have been the most consistent over the past 16 years. Like…
Small World Vacations
Small World Vacations is a national travel agency focused on Disney vacations and adventures. I’ve used them twice, for the big family trip before I joined the Mouse, and the big family trip after I left the Mouse.
The first trip I worked with SWV on was probably my 8th visit to Walt Disney World, so why would an experienced traveler go with a travel agency? Well, that’s a very apt question. The agents at SWV have a much broader experience around the parks than I do, and if you have special needs (i.e. a family of 5 needing a single room/suite, or maybe a property with special features that you haven’t been to before, or a very specific budget), they will be very well positioned to provide expertise to make the best arrangements possible.
Now there is a caveat, that if you’ve ever eaten at In-n-Out Burger before you might be able to guess. Small World will not always be able to save you a lot of money. But you won’t pay more for their services, so at worst you get some free expertise and a travel planner who will give you tips and resources to use before, during, and after the trip. They can also give you alternatives to consider (i.e. a type of room at Villas at Wilderness Lodge Resort vs another type at, say, Animal Kingdom Lodge).
The first time we went on a Small World trip, it was a substantial discount (effectively a 6 day meal plan for free plus some other freebies, as well as coordinating our Disney Magical Express transportation). The second time, we ended up within 2% of what it would have cost to book the same arrangement ourselves, but not having to dig through hundreds of blogs to find whether a given room type would work was the big benefit of Small World’s involvement.
If you’re planning a trip and need some expert support, reach out to Small World Vacations through their website.
Points And Miles, Oh My
You’ll see a link to Travel Miles 101 on the sidebar of this site. I’ve viewed their course and participated in their Facebook forum for quite a while now. While you can piece things together on your own, the folks who started TM101 also have a Disney-specific site and forum that can help you optimize credit card benefits to make your trip less expensive, if not free.
It’s called “Take Your Family To Disney World For Free” and, if you have the credit and the patience, it can work. Worst case, you can get some tips on how to make the most of credit card signup bonuses and points redemptions, and you can check out TM101’s travel rewards course for more general instruction.
Points and Miles, A Shortcut
If you don’t want to go through a video course or a checklist site or a web forum, here are some high level pointers based on what I’ve seen and done myself.
- Travel reward cards, before and for the trip.
Cards like Chase Sapphire Preferred (CSP) and Chase Sapphire Reserve (CSR) offer extra points for any purchase coded as travel, and dining. So if you spend $1,000 on one of these cards, you get 2000 Ultimate Rewards points on CSP, which would be worth $25, or 3000 UR points on CSR, which would be worth $45, toward travel booked through Chase’s portal. CSR also has a $300 annual travel credit, which is more broadly interpreted than most bank cards, so you might enjoy that way to take a big chunk off your travel bill.
- Membership Rewards from Amex
Prepaid airfare through American Express Travel will earn you 5x MR points with certain Platinum charge cards. If you have the Small Business Platinum card, you can redeem those with a (now much-delayed) 35% rebate, resulting in even deeper savings. Check your Amex cards for other promos to optimize Membership Rewards point earning, and keep that in mind for your redemption options as well.
- Grocery and Warehouse Clubs
Many grocery, warehouse, and even office supply stores sell Disney passes or gift cards. Look carefully into what they can be used for before investing this way, but if you have a card with either a quarterly promo or an ongoing benefit, you can get extra points for later use this way. Discover CashBack Q2 2017 for example gives 5% back on warehouse clubs, Chase Freedom has 5% back on grocery stores this quarter, and Amex Premier Rewards Gold and Total Rewards VISA offer a 2x benefit on groceries all year.
- Ebates and other instant rebate sites
While checking links for this post, I had a number of notifications that sites offered modest cash-back through Ebates, an online aggregator for cash-back outside of credit cards. For example, Undercover Tourist shows “up to 1% back” which doesn’t sound like a lot, but four 4-day (plus 1 bonus day) passes come to $1,500 or so, which would give you up to $15 back from Ebates in addition to whatever credit card bonuses and points you get. And every little bit helps.
Those are my main tips for planning and paying for your Disney vacation. Next time I plan a trip, there may be some new ideas to share, but this should get you started.
Do you have any tips and tricks for optimizing your Disney spend, before or during your trip? Share in the comments below.
Disclosure: Except for the Ebates referral link, which is also available on our Support Rsts11travel page, any links, reference, or coverage is independent on our part, with no prior feedback or compensation from the companies and sites referenced. Robert’s comments and recommendations are based on his own experience and as with any advice, your mileage may vary.