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The Disney blogosphere is filled with a mix of fact and fiction about buying discount Disney gift cards. While some bloggers praise gift cards as offering easy access to discounted Disney experiences, the truth is actually much more complicated.
You'll notice we're tepid on discount gift cards in our overview of discount Disney tickets, and they don't make our list of ways to save on your Disney hotels. We include using discount Disney gift cards on our list of 53 Ways to Save at Disney (because they can be quite useful) with the caveat that people keep this post in mind.
In this post, we'll explain everything you need to know about discount Disney gift cards including, most importantly: what makes a good discount, when to plan to use Disney gift cards, and when using them actually costs you money.
The Basics of Disney Gift CardsWe'll start by getting everyone on the same page about what we're talking about and why.
What Is A Disney Gift Card?
Yes, this is actually a question that has to be answered. There are actually three different things someone could reasonably refer to as a "Disney Gift Card":
1. An Actual Disney Gift Card
This is what people usually are talking about and what the rest of this post will be talking about. It's the standard Disney gift card you can purchase everywhere from the Disney Store to Jewel and that can be used at most Disney locations in the U.S.
2. A Disney Rewards Redemption Card
This is what points earned from using a Disney Rewards Chase Visa get put onto. That is, they are the primary form of redeeming points in the Disney Rewards program. Like a Disney gift card, it can be used at most Disney locations in the U.S. Unlike a gift card, you don't buy and sell these or give them away, they're simply there to hold the points you've earned using a Disney credit card.
3. A Disney Store Merchandise Credit
Not many people would call this a "Disney gift card" but we want to alert you to the possibility of scams that are selling Disney Store merchandise credits, which come on cards, as "Disney gift cards." These credits can only be used at the Disney Store, which makes them far less valuable to Disney travelers.
Where Can I Get A Disney Gift Card?
Pretty much anywhere that sells gift cards these days sells Disney gift cards.
Where Can I Use A Disney Gift Card?
- To pay for Disney vacations, including hotels and tickets. These include visits to: Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Aulani, Disney Cruise Line, Hilton Head, Island, Vero Beach, and Adventures by Disney
- For pretty much anything else you purchase from Disney at those locations
- At Disney Stores nationwide
- At ShopDisney.com
Are Disney Gift Cards Better or Worse Than Cash?
Dollar for dollar Disney gift cards are (like all gift cards) worse than cash since they can only be spent at Disney locations. That said, there are ways to get discount Disney gift cards, and that's where the value lies. If you're taking a Disney vacation anyways and are able to get Disney gift cards at a discount, there are some good opportunities to save, which we go more into below.
How Can I Get Discount Disney Gift Cards?We consider a purchase of a "discount Disney gift card" to be one of two things. First, you're getting a Disney gift card at a discount when you spend something of value (that is, cash or points, usually) in exchange for Disney gift cards of greater value. A purchase of $50 in Disney gift cards for $45 cash is a purchase of discount Disney gift cards. Using $50 of cash back for $50 in Disney gift cards is not purchasing Disney gift cards. Second, you're getting a Disney gift card at a discount when you earn "bonus" cash back or points back. Roughly speaking, everyone should be able to get 2% cash back, so a discount involves getting more than 2% or 2X points back.
There are a few methods for earning discount Disney gift cards. We're going to start with what we consider the best method before moving on to some other options.
Best Method Part 1: Rotating 5% Cash Back Categories
Different credit cards offer different rotating categories in which they'll give you 5% cash back or points back for spending in those categories. Here's the current Chase Freedom Calendar:
And the current Discover Calendar:
And finally the Citi Dividend calendar:
If you can buy gift cards at any of these places, you'll get 5% back. The Freedom 5% back for using Apple Pay is pretty unbelievable, actually. Remember, for Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholders that is effectively 7.5% back.
|Considering the Chase Freedom? Consider supporting us by using our referral link for a bonus of $150 bonus (in the form of 15,000 Ultimate Rewards Points) for spending $500 in 3 months|
But in pretty much all of the Discover categories (besides restaurants) you should be able to find Disney gift cards. Remember, these categories tend to max out at $1,500 per quarter. (The Citi Dividend maxes out at $300 cash back annually.) If you're going to spend that $1,500 anyways, you're not really saving on Disney gift cards by buying them first. You ideally want to make your Disney gift card purchases in categories you would not otherwise get the bonus in.
Best Method Part 2: BJ's And Other Wholesale Clubs
BJ's is a wholesale club that has a standard discount of 4% on Disney gift cards. The final quarter 5% cash back category for Discover is "Wholesale Clubs." You see where we're going with this. In October, you'll be able to purchase $1000 in gift cards from BJ's for $964.98 (shipping is $5). You'll get $48.25 in cash back on your Discover card for this purchase, for a net spending of $916.73, or an 8.4% discount.
This trick works anywhere that has both a 5% rotating category and where you can get Disney gift cards at a discount. Sam's Club is the most notable other popular option. As always, we have to disclaim here that "your mileage may vary." Credit card companies are always trying to find ways to exclude gift cards from these promotions, and sometimes they actually succeed. Let us (and other readers) know in the comments if you try this and it doesn't work.
8.4% isn't a huge discount, but it's a really solid baseline for a really easy method, assuming you have either the Chase Freedom or a Discover card that participates in the 5% cash back program. We don't call this the best because it is always the biggest discount, it definitely isn't. But the combination of ease and discount size is unbeatable.
Finally, if you're interested in digging a little deeper, if you use your Chase Ultimate Rewards points to book travel as a Chase Sapphire Reserve cardholder, you'll wind up with 4,825 Ultimate Rewards points worth $72.38 toward travel, bringing your net spending down to $892.60, or a 10.7% discount.
Discount Gift Card Dealers
Most straightforward, there are gift card merchants who buy and sell gift cards online. They sell these at a discount. You'll typically save 4% buying Disney gift cards this way. Gift Card Granny, for example, lists Disney gift cards (though they confusingly use the term "Disney Store gift card" for several items that are clearly regular Disney gift cards).
Here's the thing about eBay: it is a highly trafficked and thus highly efficient market. You can very rarely get a deep discount from a reputable seller on a genuine product. Discounts usually are about 4%, though you'll see 8% to 10% occasionally. Personally, we'd stay away from this method. You can get over 8% without risk using our best method, so stick with that.
The Two Target Methods
The following two tricks for getting great savings at Target, the department store, have been around the travel hacking community and the Disney community for years now, and Target appears to be clamping down on them. More on that below. First, the Two Target Methods.
Target Method 1. Buying Gift Cards With Your Target REDCard
Target has three cards branded "REDCards" -- a prepaid debit card, a Target credit card, and a Target MasterCard. When you make purchases from Target using your REDCard, you get 5% off. While this discount excludes purchases of Target gift cards, it does NOT exclude purchases of Disney gift cards, which you can purchase at Target. That's an easy 5% to save if you can't access the best method.
Target Method 2. Buying Disney Gift Cards With Target Gift Cards
The second Target method is to use Target Gift Cards to purchase Disney Gift Cards. You can find discounts on Target Gift Cards at a variety of sources. Raise is one example. This method works best if you can find a source with some sort of special deal (10% off today only!) and take advantage.
This works actually at any store that allows you to buy other gift cards with their gift cards. If you can find some off-the-beaten-path outfit where you can get deeply discounted gift cards and they'll allow you to use those to buy Disney gift cards, you're golden. The problem is you need to be sure, because the last thing you want to be stuck with is a bunch of gift cards you can't use. Target is popular for this trick because (1) lots of data points suggest it still generally works there and (2) people won't mind getting stuck with Target gift cards.
The Current State of the Target Methods
So, what is going wrong these days? Well a few things. First, it used to be really easy to combine the above two methods and save even more! Target used to allow you the 5% REDCard discount just for being a REDCard holder. You didn't have to use it for the specific purchase.
Target has seemingly entirely eliminated this option, as reports for the past year have consistently been that you will only get the REDCard 5% discount for the amount you actually put on your REDCard. This leaves the second method the better of the two, since you can get discounts up to about 10%.
But (and it's a big one) your mileage may vary greatly with this. Target really does not like when people do this. Most reports indicate you can't even get away with doing it online anymore. In-store seems to work okay, but you shouldn't expect to transact hundreds of dollars without raising eyebrows and possibly getting turned away.
How Can I Use Points To Get Discount Disney Gift Cards?
This is an important, and oft-confused point. Let's say you have a credit card that earns 2% cash back that you can redeem as a statement credit. After spending $1000, you have $50 sitting in your account, so you log online and purchase Disney gift cards for $50 and then redeem your statement credit. These are not discount Disney gift cards. That $50 cash back in your account is as good as any other $50 (you can redeem it for a statement credit, for example). If your card issuer offers you, say, $50 of Disney gift cards for $40 of cash back, then you're getting a discount.
This applies to using points, too. Lots of stores have programs where you earn points for every purchase and allow those points to be spent on Disney gift cards. In general, you should of course spend money at stores that are giving you points back, at least as long as prices are equal. But using those points for Disney gift cards is the same as spending cash, there's no "Disney" discount involved unless the store is offering you a better rate on Disney gift cards than other products you could buy.
Should You Buy Discount Disney Gift Cards?We didn't mean to bury the lede, but this is an important question to ask, and it's what prompted us to write this post to begin with. The truth is that this is a much more complicated question than many writers give it credit for.
The Case For Discount Disney Gift Cards
As far as travel hacking and saving on Disney goes, these methods are are pretty straightforward. At the end of the day, you wind up with a Disney gift card in hand, ready to be spent on your vacation, either for less than you spent to get it or with a nice cash back statement credit sitting on your credit card. That's pretty compelling, we admit.
On the face of it, the math is pretty compelling, too. If your Disney vacation costs you $3000 and you can save the baseline 8.4%, you're saving $252, a good amount of money.
The Case Against Discount Disney Gift Cards
The case against chasing down discount Disney gift cards is simple. Your discount Disney gift cards can only be used at Disney. Disney does not always have the lowest available rates for hotels, and they never have the lowest rates for tickets. If you can get a bigger discount booking through someone other than Disney than you can get buying gift cards, it doesn't make sense to buy the discount gift cards.
|Suggested Reading: Check out our Guide to Discount Disney Tickets|
When you get your hotel using Citi's 4th Night Free benefit or your tickets from Undercover Tourist, you are spending less and Disney is making way less than when you buy directly from them, even if you're doing it with gift cards. That's why they are happy to have retailers selling gift cards at a small discount. They're still winning when someone uses them to pay for a vacation.
Don't Use Disney Gift Cards on Hotels And Tickets
This is the part where we tell you that most of what everyone else has been telling you is wrong. If you take two lessons away from this post, make them:
- Always get at least an 8.4% discount on Disney gift cards
- Almost never plan to use discount Disney gift cards for hotels or park tickets
Let's say you have a foolproof method for buying Disney gift cards at a 10% discount. And let's say that in doing so you also get 2% back on your purchase of gift cards using a 2% cash back card, so your method nets you a 12% discount (actually 11.8%, but we'll round up).
Booking a Sample Vacation with Discount Disney Gift Cards
Here's a sample booking for a four-day, four-night Disney vacation for a family of four (kids both 10+). Let's say that Granny ("G" for Gift Cards) books this trip using discount Disney gift cards (we're going to round our numbers for simplicity):
|Item||List Price w/ Tax||Price after 12% Discount|
|Four Nights at Art of Animation||$781||$687|
|4x 4-Day Park Hopper||$1816||$1598|
With Granny's 12% savings using discount Disney gift cards, she'll spend a net of $2285 on this trip.
Booking a Sample Vacation on Undercover Tourist
Here's another way for Granny's friend, Hilda ("H" for travel "hacking") to book that trip. Hilda books through Undercover Tourist at a discount:
|Item||Price at Undercover Tourist||Discount from List Price|
|Four Nights at Art of Animation||$742||5%|
|4x 4-Day Park Hopper||$1428||21%|
Plus, when we arrived at our 12% discount for Granny, the last 2% was what she got back on her credit card buying the gift cards. Hilda gets 2% back on her card buying from Undercover Tourist. So, Hilda gets $43 back for a net spending of $2127, or an 18% discount from the list price. Hilda has easily beaten Granny in savings!
Using a Combination of Both Booking Methods
Okay, but most of that savings came from the savings on the tickets. What if Granny and Hilda put their brains together and realized they could book the tickets through Undercover Tourist and still save on the hotel using discount Disney gift cards?
Using discount Disney gift cards, the hotel costs a net of $687 after a 12% discount, while through Undercover Tourist the cost is a net $728 (after 2% cash back).
We admit, that means you'll be $41 better off using discount Disney gift cards for your hotel in this scenario. But let's be real and consider that $41 in light of the following:
- You needed a 12% discount on the Disney gift cards to save $40. That is not easy to get. We were trying to be generous to Granny for effect. Our baseline was only 8.4%, remember.
- We got the gap down to $41 without using any other tricks, like booking your Disney hotel with points, Citi Prestige 4th Night Free, or deal hunting at other hotel sites.
- When we made this fake booking, Undercover Tourist immediately offered us a flash discount of $20 to book within a certain amount of time.
- To save that $41, you need your trick to work for buying over $700 of gift cards.
- 2% cash back for booking on Undercover Tourist is sub-optimal. A holder of the Chase Sapphire Reserve, for example, could effectively get 4.5% back.
Many people reading this could probably close the $41 gap. If we are able to use the Citi Prestige 4th Night Free benefit, for example, our hotel will only set us back $585.58, and that's ignoring the Citi ThankYou points we'd earn.
|Suggested Reading: We can show you how to always get the best rate on your Disney hotels!|
There's an even smaller chance that they wouldn't have to put more than $41 of effort into getting all the gift cards. And that's really "the rub" of this whole process. Yes, you can save, but not as much as you think, and it will still take time and effort.
Here's When To Use Disney Gift CardsThere actually are a few situations in which having discount Disney gift cards might be your best option for saving.
Save on Disney Cruise Line and Adventures by Disney
Savings on these Disney Cruise Line and Adventures by Disney are incredibly hard to come by. Since you can use Disney gift cards for these, this is where you'll get the most value using discount Disney gift cards.
Save on Dining at Disney Locations
At many Disney locations, a 10% dining discount is one of the perks of the Chase Disney Visa credit cards. Besides that, this is probably the situation where stocking up on discount Disney gift cards makes the most sense for most Disney travelers. You'll be able to save on snacks and meals that aren't covered by the Disney Chase Visa. This can be a great way to add a little bit of savings when planning your budget Disney vacation!
Save on Disney Merchandise
Again, the Disney Visa's 10% off merchandise perk is probably going to be more helpful here in general. But if you don't have that card, then getting discount Disney gift cards might make sense for you.
|Suggested Reading: Check out our Review of the Disney Chase Visa card!|
Closing ThoughtsThere is way too much hype and way too little analysis out there about using discount Disney gift cards. We get it. Buying a gift card at a discount is a quick win, and we don't offer many of those here. If we really just wanted more subscribers, we would have just written "Save 8.4% TODAY On Your Disney Vacation!" (Well, we'd have to wait until October to write that.) We also get that there are some crafty or lucky ways people stumble into gift cards at deeper discounts. Obviously if you can get gift cards at 50% off through some promotion, do it!
The truth is that Disney gift cards just lock you in to Disney's prices. In areas where you're pretty much in that boat no matter what (Disney Cruise Line, Adventures by Disney, and most purchases at parks) it makes sense to take whatever discount you can get. But when you can beat Disney in other ways, like by buying your tickets and hotels at a discount, you're better off doing that.