One year, 4 cards, and 5 (almost) free nights in wdw (Dec. 2016)

In this post, we'll give an example of how by getting four cards over the course of a year and putting a total of $14,000 on them, you can get a five night trip to Walt Disney World, including flights, hotel, and park tickets for a family of four for just under $350.

Four Cards, One Year, and 213,666 points

If you can get approved for the following four credit cards and you spend $14,000 in 12 months collectively on them, you can use the accumulated points to fund 5 nights in Disney World with flights and tickets for about $350 cash. Let’s start with the four cards and the type of points you’ll have after you’ve gotten the signup bonuses.

  1. Chase Sapphire Reserve – 100,000 Ultimate Rewards Points for spending $4000 in 3 months
  2. Chase Sapphire Preferred – 50,000 Ultimate Rewards Points for spending $4000 in 3 months
  3. Marriott Rewards Premier Visa – 80,000 Marriot Points for spending $3,000 in 3 months
  4. American Express SPG Card – 25,000 Starpoints for spending $3,000 in 3 months

You’ll combine your UR points and convert your Marriott points to Starpoints. Including the points you get from the spending that got you to the signup bonuses, you’ll end up with 158,000 UR Points and 55,666 Starpoints.

Step 1 – The Hotel

Step 1 is straightforward. You’re going to book 5 nights at the Dolphin Hotel for 50,000 Starpoints. Your 5,666 Starpoints are just going to be used for a later trip. I've actually seen five nights for 40,000 Starpoints as well, but 50,000 seems easier to find.

Scroll down to “Alternative Ideas” for a different—and perhaps better—approach to the hotel part of planning. I didn’t include it here because it will be tougher, on average, for most households than this Starpoint plan.

Step 2 – Park tickets

Getting maximum value from your cards for the park tickets is the trickiest part. Tickets for two adults and two children costs $1,352.24 on Undercover Tourist. One option is simply convert 135,224 of your UR points to $1,352.24 – BUT DON’T DO THAT. Generally, we only want to convert UR points to cash as a last resort because these are incredibly valuable points.

Instead, we’re going to use the Chase Sapphire Reserve’s $300 annual travel credit twice to bring the price of those tickets down to $752.24 cash. You can do this because the credit resets after your December statement. As of 2016, Undercover Tourist was coding as travel on the Sapphire Reserve and earning the credit. Buy the tickets in two pairs to get maximum value of this credit in the first year of the annual fee. Now we’re $752.24 in the red, but don’t worry, we’ll come back. Just have to book our flights first.

Step 3 – Flights

Using Kayak to search for flight prices from New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, I found that rates for 4 ranged from $880 to $940. Obviously airfare moves around a lot, so these are imperfect. I’ll assume you’re on the higher end of this and round up to $960 to simplify the math. The Chase Sapphire Reserve gives you access to the Chase travel portal and gives you 1.5x cents per point in that portal. So, your $960 flights cost 64,000 UR points. So now you’ve got 94,000 UR points left.

Step 4 – Annual Fees and your Bill

You’ve got 94,000 UR points left, and you’ve got $752.24 in charges from Undercover Tourist sitting on your bill. The Chase Sapphire Reserve also comes with a $450 annual fee which isn’t waived the first year. Likewise, the Marriott rewards card has an $85 non-waived annual fee. That’s a total of $1,287.24 cash out of pocket. Our 94,000 UR points can be converted to a $940 statement credit, though, bringing our final cost to $347.24.

As screenshot of my cash back option for my current 15,288 point balance.

As screenshot of my cash back option for my current 15,288 point balance.

This is by far not the best use of UR points, by the way. If you can use them to book travel that you would otherwise be paying cash for, you easily get $1,410 of value from them, which means, valuing UR points at their true worth, you’re making money on this trip to Disney World.

You’ll want to downgrade your cards to no-fee options, if available, after the first year to avoid the annual fees. If no downgrade options are available, you’ll want to try for a retention bonus, a waiver of the fee for another year, or, as a last resort, cancelling the card.

Step 5 – Incidentals

Okay, this budget doesn’t include incidentals. Five nights in Disney World can get pricey with meals and such. But food is also just a cost of living that you’ll have to pay at home. Pricier at Disney World, no doubt, but if you plan carefully you can keep the extra costs of the trip down somewhat.

Two Alternative Ideas

If you and your partner can both get approved for the Sapphire Reserve and Preferred, those might wind up being a better use of your spending power. You’d get 158,000 UR points instead of 55,666 Starpoints. Those UR points are worth $1,580 in a statement credit (bad redemption option), which is more than enough for 5 nights at the lower-cost Disney resorts. Some of the resorts are bookable through the Chase portal, too, which means your hotel budget could go up to $2,370. All this value might offset your incidentals, making this a more attractive option.

Finally, there are non-Disney options close to Disney World that you might want to consider. We’ll cover these options in depth in future posts, but the key thing to know is that you’ll be sacrificing the Disney touch, extra Magic Hours, and some level of transportation convenience for lower prices and more flexibility in booking.

Planning a trip to Disney World in 2017? Check out our 17 things to know for your Walt Disney World trip in 2017!