I know, I know, it's another one of those lists! We've put together a list of 53 ways you can save on your next trip to Walt Disney World across five areas: hotel stay, park tickets, flights, food and drink, and other. But as we frequently mention, this isn't just about doing Disney "cheap" (if there is such a thing). We've got Disney travelers of all styles in mind.
Even Disney pros should be able to find some new way to save in this list of 53 (I mean, seriously, how many of you are using #3?). If you're relatively new to Disney, then you should find lots of ways to save in these 53 items.
Did we miss anything? Sound off in the comments below!
13 WAYS TO SAVE ON YOUR HOTEL STAY AT DISNEY WORLD
How many days and at which resort (and for what cost) is likely to be the biggest part of your trip budget while also being among the most flexible as far as savings and travel hacking go.
1. RENT DISNEY VACATION CLUB POINTS (OR DISNEY VACATION CLUB STAYS)
Despite there being dozens of articles out there about this being the best Disney travel hack no one talks about, it remains the best Disney travel hack that no one talks about. Renting Disney Vacation Club points (or renting an already booked stay) is a way to stay at deluxe villas for a significantly reduced price. We recommend heading over to David's Vacation Club Rentals to learn more about (and book using) this strategy.
2. BOOK YOUR HOTEL WITH POINTS
We have a post about the ways you can book your Disney World hotel with points. It is easier than ever to take advantage of generous credit card signup bonuses to save huge amounts on your hotel stays. If you haven't given this option serious thought, you need to. If you're totally new to points and miles, check out our Start Here page.
3. USE THE CITI PRESTIGE 4TH NIGHT FREE
This is my favorite credit card benefit. The Citi Prestige has a "4th Night Free" benefit that allows you to get one night free on stays of four nights or longer. If you split an eight night stay over different hotels (easily done at Walt Disney World), you can get two nights free. We posted about how we saved over $2000 on a trip using the Citi Prestige, and 4th Night Free was a big part of it.
4. Shop Around for the lowest hotel price
Sometimes the Disney website will be the best place to book your stay, but sometimes you'll find better prices at other sites. This mostly is an availability issue - you'll see standard rooms unavailable at Disney's site but available at the other ones. Undercover Tourist recently expanded into hotel discounts, and Hotels.com and Expedia have long been go-to sites for hotel bookings. Just be sure to visit the Disney website and confirm your reservation by linking the hotel confirmation number with your account.
5. GO for the value resorts and campgrounds...
There's nothing cheap about the value resorts at Walt Disney World other than the price. We particularly enjoyed our time at Pop Century. If you're going to spend most of your time in the parks or otherwise off your resort property, there's no reason to ignore the value resorts. You can save even more by camping at Fort Wilderness.
6. ...OR GO for the most premium experiences
This is maybe the most controversial item on this 53-item list, and it might seem like we're just covering too many bases, but if you're the type who is going to spend on deluxe anyways, you may want to consider adding Club Level to your stay or booking at a villa (preferably by renting DVC points). Club Level will get you access to free appetizers in the lounge (that can really be turned into meals) and free beverages. Check out our review of Club Level at Animal Kingdom Lodge. The villas come with kitchens or kitchenettes, which will help you when it comes to saving on food and drink (more below). The villas will also be important to consider if you've got a large group (more below). Villas are often near the standard rooms in price. For an August weekday stay, for example, the nightly rate at the Beach Club Standard View (no microwave) is $414. The rate for a deluxe studio (microwave, kitchenette) is $417.
One takeaway from these two tips (5 and 6) is that moderate resorts occupy a sort of questionable middle-ground as far as value goes. The moderate resorts tend to be a little nicer than the value resorts, but far short of the deluxe resorts, and you lose the transportation options and premium options you can get at the deluxe resorts. Art of Animation is beautifully themed, and we loved our time at Pop Century. If deluxe isn't for you, we'd skip moderate and go straight to these two options.
7. Get the Suite Experience at a (More) Standard Rate
If you're really into your hotel room but don't want to spring for a deluxe resort, there is a great option in between - the suites at Art of Animation. These are amazingly themed suites that go for far more than your standard value room but less than many deluxe rooms. They also come with microwaves, which can help you save on food costs. AllEars.net has a great video overview of the Lion King Suite.
8. BOOK DURING DEAL SEASON
Disney World typically has anywhere from one to five different deals posted that will allow you to save on your hotel. The best place to check will always be the Walt Disney World offers page itself. These discounts can be as high as 30% for some rooms.
9. TRY FOR A FREE Or discounted UPGRADE
As Ashley S. Cooke finds out over at the DIS, sometimes you just have to ask (and it helps if you're celebrating something, anything) for a free or reduced-cost upgrade. If you're not comfortable asking for free things, then mention your celebration and ask how much an upgrade would cost. Obviously you'll want to be your most charming self when you try for this, so if you've had a long day of traveling, take a moment to compose yourself.
10. CONSIDER OFF-SITE AND AIRBNB
We don't love this option because we consider the value you get even from Disney's value resorts to be worth the on-site stay, but larger parties especially might find significant enough savings at off-site hotels or Airbnb. Just keep in mind the things you'll be losing (Magical Express, free Park Parking, Extra Magic Hours, and a bit of magic) in making this decision. Here's an example of an Airbnb with a decent rate for up to six people and some stellar reviews.
11. GROUP YOUR PARTY PROPERLY
The larger your group, the more options you'll have to split them up, so take advantage of that. For example, a recent family trip we did with eleven had Grandma, Grandpa, Mom, Dad, Two Kids, Couple 1, Couple 2, and the Single Brother. There are lots of ways you could group these to maximize or minimize privacy. We wound up in three rooms because Couple 1 and Couple 2 didn't mind sharing a room. The smallest rooms as Disney fit two people and a child under 3 in a crib. The largest fit TWELVE and a child under 3 in a crib. Compare different options (and different resorts) to figure out the best way to group your party.
Here's a quick example. Three couples are heading to WDW for a trip in August, and they'd like to stay at Beach Club. They could get squeeze into two standard rooms for $830 each night, be comfortable in three standard rooms for $1245 each night, or be almost as comfortable in a two-bedroom villa for $890 each night. Renting that same villa stay from David's Vacation Club Rentals would cost about $670 per night.
12. REVISIT YOUR RESERVATION PERIODICALLY
You can generally re-book your Disney reservation at a lower price if a discount pops up after you've booked. We suggest checking on your travel dates monthly (if not weekly) after you've booked. If a discounted rate appears, call Disney and ask to re-book at the lower rate.
13. TAKE MAGICAL EXPRESS
There aren't many people who don't know about Magical Express, but if you're staying at a Walt Disney Resort, you'll get free transportation from Orlando International Airport to your Disney Resort. You have to let them know you'll be using it ahead of time, but it's usually easy to book either when you book your stay or by calling Disney afterwards. If your itinerary allows for it, you'll even get special luggage tags so that you'll check your bags at your home airport and they'll arrive in your Disney room sometime after check-in.
10 WAYS TO SAVE ON YOUR WALT DISNEY WORLD TICKETS
Unquestionably, Disney World tickets are the hardest part of your trip to save on. Even so, we've come up with ten ways you can save either by finding discounts or through effective time management on your trip.
14. BUY MULTI-DAY TICKETS
This might be obvious to some people, but others are sure to miss it. Multi-day tickets to Disney World don't have to be used on consecutive days, they just have to be used in a 14-day period. This means that if you're planning Day 1 at Magic Kingdom, Day 2 at Universal Studios (not a Disney Park), and Day 3 at Animal Kingdom, you buy a two-day ticket, which will be cheaper than two one-day tickets.
15. USE UNDERCOVER TOURIST
Undercover Tourist is an authorized seller of discount Disney World tickets and our recommended place to buy your Disney World tickets. You'll not only see standard deals off Disney World tickets, but you'll occasionally see great offers like an extra day of park hopping for free!
16. SKIP PARK HOPPER...
Look, I love park hopper, and I never envision doing a lengthy Disney World trip without it, but it isn't for everyone, and Disney World can definitely be done without it. Park hopper can be a pricey add-on, and especially with kids, it can be a waste of energy to try and fit in even two parks in a given day. For a four day trip for a family of four (two adults, two kids under ten), the park hopper addition will run you about $276.
17. ...OR Plan a Non-Park Day
If you're going to get park hopper, consider cutting a day off your ticket. If you're hopping effectively, you definitely don't need as many days as you otherwise would. Even doing 4 parks in 3 days is pretty easy. Anything more than 3 days and you'll be golden. Get rid of that day and move onto our next suggestion...
18. KNOW THE BEST NON-PARK ATTRACTIONS
Whether you're park-hopping but setting aside one free day, or you only get one park per day and want to fill your day with some other activities as well, you'll need to know what you can do around Walt Disney World without a park entry.
Mini-golf at Fantasia Gardens. Ride the monorail and check out all (or, without kids, bar crawl) the monorail resorts. Walk along the Boardwalk and check out the restaurants and resorts over there (also a bar crawl option). Grab dinner, drinks, and movie at Disney Springs. Eat at Chef Mickey's. Check out Animal Kingdom Lodge's Savannah. Stay at Yacht or Beach Club and use their amazing pool. Head over to Trader Sam's. Watch Wishes and the Electrical Water Pageant from the beach at the Polynesian. Roast marshmallows at your resort. There is plenty to do at Disney World that doesn't require setting foot in a park.
19. MASTER FASTPASS+
Part of saving on tickets is saving time, be sure you've mastered Fastpass+. You'll really want to take some time before your trip to learn everything you can about Fastpass+. The last thing you need is to miss a must-do ride, have to come back the next day because you promised the kids you'd do it, and now your schedule is all messed up. And keep in mind, the fun of Fastpass+ doesn't stop on booking day, that's only the beginning!
20. BUY YOUR TICKETS NOW
The price of Disney World tickets only goes up, and while Disney World tickets now have expiration dates, it still makes sense to buy now rather than later, just in case the price goes up. Especially since for tickets bought from Disney:
Tickets purchased after February 28, 2016 must be used by December 31, 2017, but the amount paid for an unused, expired ticket may be applied towards the purchase of a new ticket at the current price so long as the new ticket purchase price is equal to or greater than the amount paid for the original ticket.
More importantly, if you buy from Undercover Tourist, as we suggest, you'll get a 365-day refund policy.
21. CONSIDER AN ANNUAL PASS
Disney World's annual pass is an attractive option if you're planning multiple multi-day trips in a year. It's also attractive on a single, longer trip if you can take advantage of all the discounts it offers (especially room discounts). Definitely do a price check and review the perks of the annual pass if you've got multiple trips in a 365-day period or if you've got one trip of seven or more nights.
22. CHECK THE DISNEY WORLD WEBSITE For New Deals
Disney is getting more creative with luring people in, which often means more discount opportunities. For instance, right now they have a 4-Day Magic Ticket that allows you four days with one admission to each park. Keep in mind, though, that these types of tickets will limit (or eliminate) the savings you can get from park hopping or cutting out a park day in the middle of your trip.
23. USE A CREDIT CARD TRAVEL CREDIT
This isn't just a Disney-on-the-cheap site, and we wouldn't be going our job if we didn't highlight a card perk that can be used for tickets. I was surprised last year when I put my Disney World tickets (purchased through Undercover Tourist) on my new Chase Sapphire Reserve, only to see my annual $300 travel credit immediately post! Not all travel credits can be used toward Undercover Tourist expenses, but apparently Chase's can.
11 Ways to Save on Getting to Disney World
Like hotels, the savings you get on flights are often going to be related to the energy you put into the search. If you just go to AmericanAirlines.com and pick the flights that look best, you're not going to save at all. If you know how to search, pick, plan, and pack, you'll find there's room for lots of savings.
24. Be realistic about your flight schedule
I bumped this up on the list because it will play into the prices for your flights, hotel stay, and park tickets. On a recent trip, flying from O'Hare departing at 7AM central time (8AM eastern), we arrived at the Magical Express line at 11AM (eastern), the Animal Kingdom Lodge at 12PM and Hollywood Studios (our first park) at 1PM. That's five hours of travel, with two hours from Magical Express to a park. Trust me when I say we are quick, efficient travelers who do not waste a second at the start of our trips (and we don't have kids to constantly corral).
Keep a realistic estimate of your travel time in mind when booking your trip. Don't book a 10AM flight that arrives at 2PM eastern and plan to get a full day at a park. Cut a day off your park ticket, or consider an earlier flight, maybe even fly really early the next day if the rates are better.
25. Consider Driving
If your family is large enough and the drive is short enough, driving may be the most cost-effective way to get to Walt Disney World. You'll have free self-park at your Disney Resort and free standard parking at the parks if you stay at a Disney resort (though you'll probably favor the resort transportation options). Keep in mind, though, that you'll be costing yourself some vacation time, and you might wind up paying for extra nights at a hotel (either during your trip, when you arrive late at night, or both).
26. Bookmark and Follow the Best Flight Deal Sites
I use Secret Flying, the Flight Deal, Airfare Watchdog, and All the Flight Deals to catch discount rates. The best way to stay on top of these is to follow them on Twitter or to set up custom alerts. On our twitter feed, routinely retweet flight deals to Orlando that we see. Remember, most airlines have a 24-hour cancellation policy where you'll see a complete refund if you cancel within 24 hours of booking. It's often better to book these deal flights when they pop up and take those 24 hours to reconsider (just don't book during work and then forget to talk to your partner when you get home).
27. Use Sky Scanner to book
One of my favorite sites for booking flights is Sky Scanner. It typically produces the lowest fares. If you want a cleaner search interface before booking, head over to Google Flights. You might be surprised that this popular search engine is the best for finding flight deals, but it really is.
28. Book your flight with points or miles
The Chase Sapphire Preferred has a signup bonus of 50,000 points, good toward $625 in travel. Multiple Citi Aadvantage cards have bonuses of 50,000 Aadvantage miles, good for up to 6 round-trip flights on American. There are plenty of ways to get enough points or miles to significantly dent your flight costs. Booking flights with miles earned through credit card signup bonuses is typically a five-step process:
- Sign up for the frequent flier program at the appropriate airline or airlines
- Sign up for the card
- Earn the points by spending the minimum required about (tips here)
- Transfer the points to the airline (if they don't appear there automatically)
- Book your flight(s) with the airline's program
If you're totally new to points and miles, check out our Start Here page.
29. Fly low-cost airlines
People shy away from low-cost airlines for a variety of reasons, the most common two being that (1) they just aren't their "regular" airlines or (2) they don't want to fall prey to assorted fees and charges. These are both valid concerns (the latter, especially), but if you take the time to learn how to fly low-cost, you can save a lot of money.
30. Pick the right seasons, days, and times to fly
It's going to be more expensive to visit Disney World during Spring Break or Christmas than Summer or February. It's usually cheaper to fly on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Flights in the middle of the day are often cheaper than those at the start or end of the day.
31. Skip the checked bag (and use your kids to save on baggage fees)
There's a surprising amount of debate about how much people can really cut down on baggage costs, and while I think much of it has merit, it won't often hurt to try. I'll sometimes pack multiple pairs of pants and a pair of shorts for my Disney trips, only to wind up wearing only the shorts. Worst about this, the pants take up the most room! Besides just "packing light", learning to pack efficiently (we're fans of the KonMari method of folding) is also important.
Moreover, if you have kids, equip them with full-size personal items or carry-ons. They don't have to actually carry them (or get them the maximum size they can carry). No airline that I'm aware of charges for a "personal item." We've done ten days in Europe on a small Jansport each (a personal item). (Disclaimer: We've also done ten days Disney World and struggled to get by with two backpacks and an Away Carry-On). Since every ticket gets a personal item or, on some airlines, a personal item and a carry-on, make sure you take advantage of every seat you buy.
32. Pack food, and Buy drink after security
Chances are you're going to be between airport security and your Disney resort for at least one, if not two, meals. Buy food (or pack it) and drink (don't pack it, per TSA regulations) after security at the airport rather than buying it on the plane or at the Disney resort. Depending on how you travel, you might not even have it in you to enjoy a dinner the first night you arrive.
33. Schedule transit-friendly flights (or use Uber)
One mistake that is really easy to make is to book flights without thinking about how you're going to get to the airport. If you always drive or you always taxi because those are always the best options, that's fine. But in Chicago, to get to our two airports we can take the train, drive, take a taxi, Uber, or stay with family near the airport and get a ride with them. We're not going to take the train at 11PM, so a cheaper flight that arrives then can wind up costing us more after the cost of a cab or Uber. Speaking of Uber, see if your airport allows it and how the prices compare to taxis.
If you're going to be paying for parking at the airport, consider seeing if hotels around the airport do "Park, Sleep, Fly." The idea here is that you pay for a night at the hotel the night before your flight, get free (or reduced) parking the duration of your trip, and get a shuttle to and from the airport.
11 Ways to Save on Your Walt Disney World Food and Drink
Food and drink is one of the more flexible areas of Disney spending (unless you let Disney lock you into a dining plan, see #37). A lot of factors determine how much you'll spend on food, from what discounts you have access to, to which restaurants you have to eat at, to what type of room you book. Here's how to save on food and drink at Walt Disney World.
35. 10% off dining with Disney Visa
The Chase Disney Visa card gets you 10% off certain restaurants (including some great ones like Jiko, Biergarten, and Narcoossee's). The full listing can be found at Chase's site here, and we've got a post about the card here.
36. Do the "scenic" restaurants for breakfast or lunch
There are lots of Disney restaurants to try. Some of them (Biergarten, Be Our Guest, and the Sci-Fi Diner are three that come to my mind) are really more about the experience and the scenery than the food. If you want to experience those restaurants, try and get a reservation (or just stop in) for a meal other than dinner. Dinner will be more expensive than the other meals, but you wont be blown away by the food.
37. Don't get the dining plan...
If you were going to eat exactly what the dining plan provides with no interest in taking advantage of some of the other hacks, then the dining plan will save you money. But if you're in the 99% who are going to actively try and save money or who like any measure of freedom in dining, skip the dining plan. My rule of thumb is that if you care enough to ask whether the dining plan is really a good saving, it isn't for you.
38. ...Or GET THE DINING PLAN FOR FREE
If you have to have a dining plan, or you're willing to stick to a dining plan when you can get it for free, keep your eyes open for a Disney World package that comes with a free dining plan. These packages are usually offered in the late summer or fall.
39. Ask for cups of water
This one is pretty obvious on hot days when they're lining the cups up, but you can go to any Disney quick service location and get a free cup of ice water. Don't pay for bottled water.
40. Split a meal
This works better at some places than others. Pecos Bill's, for example, gives you decent portions and access to an awesome condiment bar. Two adults can easily split an order of fajitas by taking advantage of that condiment bar.
41. ORDER THE DOUBLE AND TAKE YOUR DRINKS TO GO
Hat tip to Disney by Age for noting that if you're getting cocktails at Disney, the double is always better bang for your buck. If you're more into beer, like me, then get your beer to go. You can bring it pretty much anywhere (except on buses, in pools, or in photos with characters, notably). Save yourself having to finish off one beer right before your meal just to have to order another.
42. Get a refillable mug
Not for everyone, but the refillable resort mug is a good option if you'll definitely be having one or two beverages at your resort daily. You can find more on the mugs over at Disney Food Blog here.
43. Use your mini-fridge
All rooms at Disney resorts have mini-(or full-size) fridges. These are great for storing leftovers! Most rooms won't have microwaves, but you can use the resort microwave (usually located in the store or at the quick service restaurant) or only keep cold food (salads and dessert, for example). Alternatively, look into a studio villa or a suite at the Art of Animation for rooms that are reasonably priced and have microwaves.
44. Get Groceries
How you manage your groceries will depend on the type of room you have, but there are options for getting groceries at Disney World. Remember that you don't have to cook a five-course dinner to save money. Just having the groceries to throw together quick lunches can result in big savings over paying for meals at the parks.
45. If you qualify, consider tables in wonderland
Tables in Wonderland is an awesome restaurant discount program for Florida Residents, Disney Vacation Club members, and Walt Disney World Passholders. Those limitations, and the up-front cost ($150 DVC and AP, $175 Florida Residents) take away some of the magic from the program, but the 20% discount on meals, including alcohol, at a long list of restaurants can make this program more than worth its cost.
8 Other Ways to save at Walt Disney World
Savings can be found in other nooks and crannies of Disney planning and the Disney experience. Here's 8 final ways to save on your trip!
46. 15% off tours with the Chase Disney Visa
The Chase Disney Visa card gets you 15% off most park tours, like the amazing Keys to the Kingdom tour and Backstage Tales tour. The full listing can be found at Chase's site here, and we've got a post about the card here.
47. Save 1% to 2% With Disney Vacation Account
Disney Vacation Account is a pretty good way to save 1% to 2% on the cost of your trip. The way it works is that you head over to the Disney Vacation Account website, open and put money into a Disney Vacation Account, and then use that money to pay for your Disney vacation. So, where is the 1% to 2%? You get a $20 Disney gift card for each $1000 of your Disney Vacation Account that you use for a Disney vacation. Your account must be active for 120 days to get that perk. Anecdotal evidence indicates that payments made by credit card into your vacation account are (1) charges, not cash advances and (2) will code as travel (so you'll earn more points with some cards). Your mileage may vary depending on your card, though, so consider testing it out with a small deposit before committing. We talk more about this hack in our 8 Ways to Save on Disneyland Hotels.
48. Borrow Disney's Photographers for personal use
Disney's Photopass photographers will take photos using your own camera if you ask. You won't get any of the magical effects, and their cameras are probably a little better than yours, but you're still getting professional shots at the more desired angles in the parks, and you'll save over $150 by skipping Memory Maker (note you will be missing out on ride photos this way).
49. Pack whatever you'll need…
Head over to WDW Prep School and work backwards from their amazing list. Obviously how much you can pack will depend on how your family is allocating your baggage, but on recent Disney trips we've had to purchase ponchos, Ibuprofen twice, and dramamine. Nothing in Disney World is cheap, and the longer you'll be there, the more likely you'll need some things you might consider non-essential.
50. …Including things for the kids
We don't have kids, but one of the favorite tips I heard a while back was to bring little Disney things a kid might want, rather than buying them at the park. Think discount Mickey or Minnie ears, glow in the dark toys for night time at the park, simple Disney toys, and a new t-shirt or two. Give these to your kids as a part of the "Disney experience" without having to actually buy them at Disney prices.
51. Subscribe to Mousesavers
Mousesavers is the best Disney discount website out there. They've got the most updated deals from all sources, including off-site hotel information. They've also got saving tips and their very own trip reports.
52. Plan one longer trip
Because of how Disney park tickets are priced, and because of the travel costs, planning one longer trip to Disney World is going to be cheaper than planning multiple shorter trips. I miss Walt Disney World when I'm not there, too, but if you're gone for a few years, you'll find the sensation of arriving back "home" even more magical than you remember.
53. Follow us!
Our mission is to help our readers get awesome experiences at Disney World using points, miles, deals, discounts, and hacks! The list of ways to save on your trip to Disney World doesn't stop at 53. It changes daily as new deals are announced, new credit cards debut, and the brilliant Disney community comes up with new tricks. Follow us on Twitter or bookmark our site for the latest in Disney travel hacking.