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How to save money on your Disney World vacation

From park tickets to hotels and food, here's how to make your next Disney trip more affordable.

Aaronp/bauer-griffin | Gc Images | Getty Images

Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers. Visit americanexpress.com to learn more.

Florida’s Walt Disney World is routinely named the most visited theme park in the world. But travel expenses are skyrocketing and prices at Disney World have gone up — park tickets start at $109 for adults and $104 for kids ages 3-10, plus formerly free perks such as FastPass express line access are a thing of the past.

“It’s an expensive trip,” says Richard Kerr, loyalty expert and director of travel rewards at Bilt Rewards, who takes his family to Disney World three or four times a year. “Even with all the cost increases, Disney has seen nothing but increased demand,” says Kerr.

Here, Select gathers experts’ tips and tricks for saving money on your next Disney World vacation.

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Go at off-peak times

Certain times of year make for a cheaper Disney vacation, not only because of less expensive airfare and hotels, but for Disney-specific reasons, say the experts. 

There are no publicly available discounts on Disney World park tickets, says Kerr, but there are still options when it comes to savings. 

Anna Skamarakas, a panelist with planDisney, a Disney-sanctioned resource group, notes that Disney World has date-based pricing on park tickets, with cheaper prices available on days with lower demand.

“It might be a bit more affordable if you go at the end of August instead of July, for instance,” says Skamarakas. "You could save $10 or $15 on a one-day ticket per person."

Going off-peak can also help you avoid crowds, and that could save you from having to pay for Disney Genie+, says Kerr. Last year, Disney got rid of its free-access FastPass+, so now, in order to skip long stand-by lines for certain attractions, park-goers have to pay $15 per person per day for Genie+, while there’s an extra charge to buy à la carte Lightning Lane access to popular rides such as Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. That can all add up to a family of four paying an extra $60 a day or more.

To plan your off-peak trip, Kerr recommends using the site, Touring Plans. “It will tell you the best parks to go to on your travel dates,” says Kerr. “Those guys are amazing data scientists and have saved me hours of waiting in line.” 

Use credit card points and cash back

Most people are familiar with using rewards points for travel elements such as airfare and hotels, but there are a few things Kerr suggests when it comes to Disney trips.

First, you may be able to use credit card points to buy park tickets, adding that you generally just don’t want to buy them directly through Disney.

“Credit cards let you redeem points toward a travel purchase. But ticket purchases from Disney do not code as travel, so you need to buy from the deals site Undercover Tourist,” he says. Tickets are also available through some online travel agencies such as Expedia. “Then you can use points, which are typically [worth] one cent a piece, to cover the cost of a Disney ticket.”

Cards that let you redeem this way and effectively “erase” your recent ticket purchases include the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card and the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card. Just note that these third-party sites may sometimes charge slightly higher prices than when you buy tickets with Disney directly. For instance, purchasing tickets through Expedia will incur a ​​5% convenience fee.

Meanwhile, those with Citi cards, such as the Citi Premier® Card, can redeem their points toward Disney tickets by calling Citi’s third-party travel agency, Connexions Travel. (See rates and fees).

Kerr also suggests using Marriott Bonvoy points to book rooms at the Swan, the Dolphin, or the Swan Reserve, which are considered deluxe on-Disney-property resorts, offering early access to Lightning Lanes, extended park hours and free transportation to and from the parks and to Disney Springs, so you may be able to skip renting a car for extra savings.

“It’s the sweet spot of being on property, getting early access, and paying in points instead of crazy cash rates for your hotel,” Kerr says.  

Kerr’s tip for maximizing Marriott points: Open a credit card with a welcome bonus. “There are several different Marriott cards out there, so my wife will get one card, which comes with a very large sign-up bonus, and I'll get another card that has a sign-up bonus. Then Marriott lets you combine up to 55,000 points per year between spouses.” 

Here’s a quick summary of the current welcome offers for the Marriott credit cards:

  • Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card: 75,000 Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in your first 6 months from your account opening. Plus 50,000 Bonus Points after you stay 6 eligible paid nights at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy® through 1/31/24.
  • Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card: Earn two 85K Free Night Awards after you spend $6,000 in purchases on the Card in your first 6 months. Each award can be used for one night (redemption level at or under 85,000 Marriott Bonvoy points) at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy. Card Members could enjoy a value of up to $1,200 when redeeming each reward. Certain hotels have resort fees. Offer ends 11/1/2023.
  • Marriott Bonvoy Business® American Express® Card: Limited Time Offer: Earn 125,000 Bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points after you use your new Card to make $8,000 in purchases within the first 6 months of Card Membership. Offer Ends 11/1/23.
  • Marriott Bonvoy Bold® Credit Card: Earn 50,000 Bonus Points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in your first 6 months from your account opening. Plus 50,000 Bonus Points after you stay 6 eligible paid nights at hotels participating in Marriott Bonvoy® through 1/31/24.

Make smart budget picks

“This summer is like nothing we’ve ever seen,” says Kerr about airfares. He advises booking with a low-cost carrier that services Orlando extensively, such as Spirit Airlines or Frontier Airlines. Not only can it be cheaper, but those airlines are having fewer issues when it comes to overscheduling and understaffing than many of the legacy carriers, Kerr says. 

As for resorts, if you want to be on property at Disney World, consider staying at its value resorts such as All-Star Movies, All-Star Music, Pop Century and the Art of Animation. There are specials on the Disney website, says Skamarakas. 

“In a lot of situations, you’ll pay the same amount for a moderately priced room that you would pay for a value resort,” she says. The perks include early access to Lightning Lanes, free transportation and 30 minutes of early access to the parks.  

Theme park journalist Megan duBois recommends the hotels in the Disney Springs area — about a 10-minute drive from EPCOT — which often run deals for teachers, members of the military, medical workers and government employees. Her picks include the DoubleTree Suites, which is bookable with Hilton Honors points, and the B Resort & Spa. Just be aware that "In Disney Springs, hotel parking fees can be outrageous,” duBois says.  

Off-property, duBois is a fan of the hotels in the Vineland area, about a five-minute drive from Disney Springs. “There’s a Marriott Village, which has a Springhill Suites and other brands that are usually very budget friendly,” she says.  

Eat more affordably

Food is a big part of the Disney World experience — the experts agree that the biggest money-saving tip is to skip sit-down restaurants and head instead to quick-service counter-service spots. 

Skamarakas recommends the Japan Pavilion in EPCOT, while in Disney's Animal Kingdom, duBois recommends the Satu'li Canteen — “They have a bao fun burger that kids just go wild for” — and Flame Tree Barbecue, where entrees range from $11-$16.

You can also order cheaper kids’ meals for adults at any Disney quick service restaurant, says duBois, which are child-sized but suitable for an adult who isn’t too hungry. They cost around $6-$7, including an entree, a side and a drink. “I’ve never had a [Disney worker] say, ‘Where’s the kid?’" she says.

Note that restaurants within the parks also code as dining, so make sure you're using a credit card that rewards you and lets you earn points for that type of spending.

Another trick? Use pre-purchased Disney gift cards to pay for food and more — retailers such as Target and BJs sell them with a 5% discount.

For even bigger discounts on gift cards, Kerr advises keeping an eye on Facebook groups such as Disney Hacks, Disney Park Magic and Ways to Save for Disney, which often feature other invaluable tips to help you save money on your next Disney World trip. 

Catch up on Select's in-depth coverage of personal financetech and toolswellness and more, and follow us on FacebookInstagram and Twitter to stay up to date.

Information about the Capital One cards and the Marriott Bonvoy Bold® Credit Card, Marriott Bonvoy Boundless® Credit Card has been collected independently by Select and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.

Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.
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