While Disney is much more hackable than people think, there are times when your hacking options are seriously limited. One significant such limitation is trying to booking the actual Disneyland hotels (Grand Californian, Disneyland Hotel, and Paradise Pier Hotel) with points. Unlike the Disney World hotels, these hotels are not in the Chase portal. You can book neighboring hotels (which many would claim are the best option for a Disneyland trip), but if you're set on the Disneyland hotels, you'll have to make the best of a bad situation.
1. Check for Disney Discounts
First, you'll want to see if Disney itself is offering any discounts. You can do this by visiting their offer page here. Recently for example, Disney had a 25% discount on Sunday through Thursday bookings. Not the most appealing offer, but worth keeping in mind.
2. RENT Disney Vacation Club POINTS
Disney's Grand California has Disney Vacation Club villas, which means you can rent DVC points to stay there. If you've never heard of this option, you're really missing out. You have to book months ahead of time, but if you can make this work, it can be great savings. For example, David's Vacation Club Rentals quotes $1088 for a stay in a studio at Grand Californian from October 6 to October 9. That same stay booked in a standard room at the Disneyland website is $2299.05 - more than double the cost of renting points.
3. USE THE CITI PRESTIGE 4TH NIGHT FREE
I don't get a commission for the Citi Prestige, but that doesn't make me any less of a fanboy. If you have to pay for a 4-night hotel stay, the card is almost a no-brainer. We saved over $2000 on a recent trip using the Citi Prestige. Just book through the Citi Concierge, and your fourth night free will post a couple weeks after checkout. Beginning June 2017, 4th night free is going to become 25% off your first four nights, which is better, worse, or the same, depending on your booking. This perk is also a nice way to shift your travel schedule. Maybe you planned four full days and three nights with an early flight in and a late flight out. Using the 4th night free, you can add some flexibility by switching to a night flight in or morning flight out without paying for that extra night.
4. Check Other Hotel Sites
I always advise checking third-party hotel sites, but you won't always beat Disney's price. For example, on a random, three-night booking, here's what the average nightly rates looked like: Disney - $508 Hotels.com - $589. You might think this is because taxes are included at the non-Disney sites, but here's how the final booking prices, with taxes, compared: Disney - $1783.55, Hotels.com - $2022.80 Even looking at the individual nightly rates, the Friday and Saturday nights (that Disney did not have an offer on) were lower on Disney than Hotels.com. This is just another reminder to always shop around, the best deals might not be where you expect.
5. Use Disney Vacation Account
I'm generally not a fan of Disney Vacation Account (DVA), but it can work as an option in this case. DVA offers a $20 Disney Gift Card for every $1000 you use out of your DVA account for trip purchases. This comes out to between a 1% (if you spend $1999.99) and 2% (if you spend right at a $1000 increment) discount. You can fund DVA with credit cards or Disney gift cards, and anecdotal evidence indicates credit card funding gets treated as a purchase, not a cash advance, and as a travel purchase (see #7 below). Note your account must be open for 120 days to get this $20 benefit. This works even better if you can stack it with our next tip...
6. Use Target Red Card
(Note: Your mileage may vary a lot on this one. Target frequently changes whether this works or not). You need to weigh a lot when deciding whether to get a Target Red Debit or Credit card, but once you've got one you can use it to get 5% off Disney Gift Cards. You don't have to use your Red Card for the actual purchase, which allows you to take advantage of our next tip as well...
7. Book with a High-Earning Awards Card
There are lots of options for earning 3x points per dollar spent on travel, including the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Citi Prestige, and the American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card. If you're paying for your hotel or your DVA with a card, these are great options (though I can't guarantee DVA will code as travel on each of these).
An alternative, more cumbersome, but more profitable strategy is to use a card that gives you 5% on Target. This can be tough, as Target is often excluded from 5% bonus categories. If you were able to find such a deal, your total stack for a $1000 hotel stay would look like:
- Buy $1000 in Disney Gift Cards for $950 from Target as a RedCard holder
- Earn $50 in points with 5x cash back
- Put the $1000 into a Disney Vacation Account
- Redeem for a hotel stay to get your $20 Disney Gift Card
You've spent $950 and gotten $70 back, which totals to $880 spent for a $1000 hotel stay.
8. Book with Cash Back or a Statement Credit
I really don't like this option, but if you're committed to using points for your booking, you can almost always convert any program's points to cash (or a statement credit) at a rate of 1 cent per point. Some cash back cards offer only cash back (and not any other sort of points) so this might be your only option. Besides those cards, you'll almost always be able to get better than 1 cent per point value out of your points, so this is unlikely to be a good redemption.