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In this post we provide a roadmap for planning a budget Disney World vacation without using points. If you want to use points (which we recommend), check out our post on how to visit Walt Disney World for almost free. This isn't a full trip planning guide for Walt Disney World, as the options for a budget trip are more limited in scope.
Unless you have a memory in the top 0.1% of people and math skills to boot, you can't track the best deals in your head. You need a method for tracking your options. We suggest Google Sheets, Microsoft Excel, Apple Numbers, or a similar program.
Consider this. If you start with the fixed point that you need four park days, you still need to evaluate the following options:
Four full park days with travel days on either side (5 nights, 6 days off of work)
An early flight with a park on day one, three days full of parks, and travel on day five (4 nights, 5 days off work)
A travel day, three full park days, and a park day followed by a light flight on day five (4 nights, 5 days off work)
An early flight with a park on day one, two full days of parks, and a park day followed by a late flight on day four (3 nights, 4 days off work)
That's four options right off the bat, each complicated by the seven steps we offer below. No, you can't do this in your head. You can't even do it with a bunch of tabs, because trust us that the cookies from all those searches will not play well together.
There's no right order to do things when it comes to picking a hotel, picking dates, and picking flights. Saving most requires a combination of right hotel, right dates, right flights, and right booking method. Unfortunately, there is no way to search the universe of booking sites for "lowest combination of flights and three-to-five night Disney World hotel stays." We're suggest starting with dates here, as you can at least narrow your options down somewhat.
Disney's Lowest Rack Rates
You'll want to book during the days that Disney has the lowest rates (these would usually correspond to the lowest rates at the Disney Springs hotels, too). You can check the rate table over at The DIS. As of this writing it only has value resorts, but that's what we're advising you book anyways (see below). The lowest prices for 2018 are available:
January 8-10, 15-31 (Mon - Wed)
February 1-10 (Mon - Wed)
If these are too soon for you, bookmark this time period for 2019. Otherwise, the second lowest priced dates appear on various dates in August through December, as well.
Checking for Current and Expected Disney Offers
Disney's current offers can be some of the best ways to save. Especially when you're planning far into the future, though, there might not be current offers for your dates. Mousesavers has a great table of historical Disney discounts. Things change, but many of these deals have been around for 5+ years around the same times.
|Suggested Reading: Check out our Guide to Walt Disney World Hotels|
Let the debates begin! We think as part of your budget trip to Disney World you should commit to one of three hotels: All-Star Sports, Pop Century, or Art of Animation. Those are three resorts owned and operated by Disney as which you'll get the maximum level of Disney perks. We disfavor All-Star Music and All-Star Movies because buses stop at Sports first, but they're fine backup options if necessary.
If you want to expand your options, consider the Disney Springs hotels. In 2018 (at least) these hotels have access to Extra Magic Hours. But you'll only get the 60-day Fastpass window if you book as part of a vacation package through Disney. You also won't get Disney's Magical Express service to and from the airport. We'd mostly suggest a Disney Springs option if you can get a kitchen (or at least a refrigerator and microwave) and use that to save.
|Suggested Reading: Check out our post on How to Get the Best Deal on Your Disney World Hotel|
When it comes to hotels and flights, ask 10 sites and you'll get 11 best prices. Kidding, of course, but you should check a variety of sources for the best price. These include:
Whether it's low or peak season, whether Disney has deals or not, whether your hotel is showing availability on one site or not, the prices across these sites will vary. It's always good to check these (and any sites you favor) to find the best prices.
Finally, if you already have or have good reason to get the Citi Prestige, use the Citi 4th Night Free perk to save 25% on your first four nights. As our post on that perk details, you'll often find the savings include whatever discounts Disney is offering.
|Suggested Reading: Check out our post on How to Book the Cheapest Flights|
As we said earlier, there's just no perfect order in which to do these things. If you look at flights for your selected dates and they're crazy expensive for every combination you can consider, look into shifting your hotel dates around. Our guide to always getting the lowest rate on flights is a good accompaniment to this post, but here's a quick run-down.
Be Open to Flying Low-Cost or Basic Economy
We know, there are lots of horror stories about low-cost flying and basic economy. But you can really limit the risk of these options with some basic steps. On some days, low-cost flights can be $50 less than legacy carriers (United, American, Delta). That's $200 for a family of four. There's just no reason to ignore this option because you don't understand it. With some simple tips for surviving low cost airlines, you can beat their system.
Know How to Pack for Low-Cost and Basic Economy
Chief to flying low-cost or basic economy is packing. On domestic flights, this is really 90% of the game of your versus them. We've written before on tips for packing for low-cost airlines. Children with tickets get personal items on low-cost carriers as well, so keep that in mind when distributing your luggage. Remember, too that for one person the difference between a low-cost airline and a legacy carrier might be outweighed by the cost of a carry-on or checked bag, but if a family of four can use one carry-on or checked bag (plus personal items, of course), they'll often wind up saving.
Always Remember to Tinker With Your Dates
One last time: don't be afraid to add or subtract a night and see if it makes sense. A $25 difference in a flight price can be enough to add or remove a night at a Disney hotel for a family of four.
|Suggested Reading: Check out our post on Where to Find Discount Disney World Tickets|
Here are two easy ways to save on tickets:
Don't buy the park hopper option. Budget trips require sacrifices, and this is a fine one to make. One park per day can be plenty of fun, and it simplifies your planning a bit.
Buy discount tickets from authorized sellers. We recommend Undercover Tourist.
Disney has tight control over the ticket market. You shouldn't by tickets from someone not authorized by Disney to sell them, you bear all the risk in that transaction.
Dining is probably the area where people spend the most effort to save the least. Honestly, to save on dining at Walt Disney World, you can just avoid going crazy or having any table service meals. If you eat to hunger at quick service locations, you'll do just fine on your food budget. That said, some of you may want to get a little more creative.
Get A Disney Dining Plan
Generally, we don't care for Disney dining plans. We think they require a lot of effort for not huge return. That said, we're just two people who don't care much about food. There's no doubt families can save using the dining plan. We recommend WDW Prep School's dining plan guide.
Prepare Your Own Meals
If you get a room with a kitchenette staying at Disney Springs, or if you're willing to go to your Disney resort's microwave (they all have them, usually in the store or food court), you can plan to buy groceries and/or frozen meals and eat those. Again, we file this under high-effort low-savings.
Use Discount Disney Gift Cards
If you're not on a dining plan, dining is one of the few ways we advocate using discount Disney gift cards. The savings won't be huge, but with a little effort you can cut 8% to 10% off your food budget!
Use Your Disney Chase Visa Credit Card
Another way to save on dining is to charge meals to your Disney Rewards Chase Visa credit card. At select locations, you'll save 10% on your meal when you use your Disney Chase Visa credit card. The list of locations can be found here. Note that none of these are cheap options to start. Since the Chase Disney Rewards Visa (no the "Premier") has no annual fee, this is a free way to save 10%.
Congrats, you've planned your budget vacation and there's room for improvements! What upgrades should and shouldn't you consider?
Consider Adding Park Hopping
Park hopping is a Disney travel hacker's dream, and with a good Disney World Fastpass+ strategy you can put together a perfect roster of Disney attractions.
Consider Adding A Resort or Party Day
A Disney World resort day is an awesome way to see more of Walt Disney World. Spend most of it away from the value resort. This especially makes sense if adding the day helps you save on flights.
Not into the full resort day? Combine it with a party day! Buy a ticket to Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. With that ticket, you can arrive at the park at 4PM without using one of your regular ticket days. Spend the rest of your as a resort day. This will wind up costing you overall, but it’s a good way to fit in the party without also using a regular ticket day.
Consider A Park Tour
We were bigs fans of both the Magic Kingdom Key's to the Kingdom Tour and the Animal Kingdom Backstage Tales tour. Though a bit pricey, these are great ways to see an entirely different side of Walt Disney World. Note you need park admission to do these tours. You can save on these tours with a Chase Disney Visa credit card (referral link).
Don't Consider Going to a Moderate Resort.
Again, let the debate begin! We just don't think the moderates are worth considering if you're at all planning to stick to a budget.
All Your Other Disney World Planning Questions Answered
Don't be overwhelmed by Disney World planning! Take a second to check out our most important content and you'll not only be an expert, but you'll save big $$$ along the way. If you're still picking dates, we've got everything you need to know about Disney crowd calendars. For picking your hotel, check out our Walt Disney World hotels guide.
Don't forget to master your Disney World Fastpass+ strategy a few months in advance. We'll keep you out of long lines so you can maximize the magical time in the parks! Know what to ride with our guides to: Magic Kingdom rides, Hollywood Studios rides, Epcot rides, and Animal Kingdom rides!
Finally, before you head out, be sure to check out our to-the-point packing list, 10 essentials you forget to pack for every Disney trip. And if you're interested in saving, there's no better list than our 53 Ways to Save on your Disney trip from start to finish.