At Traveling Mom, “We’ve been there” are words we live and breathe. No where are they more true than Disney World. The Traveling Moms collectively have spent years planning and taking Disney Vacations. Along the way we’ve learned a thing or two about how to maximize the fun and minimize the expense. Today we’re going to share our expert tips for using miles and points for a Disney Vacation.

No worries! With Traveling Mom's tips you'll be using miles and points for a Disney vacation.

No worries! With Traveling Mom’s tips, you’ll be using miles and points for a Disney vacation. Photo by Dia Adams, Travel Hack Traveling Mom

Ask most miles and points experts about Disney trips and you’ll get a blank stare. Using miles and points for a Disney vacation is supposed to be notoriously difficult. However, as Walt himself put it, “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible!”. Here are our favorite tips and tricks to use miles and points at Disney World.

Getting There: Using Miles and Points for a Disney Vacation

In general, we don’t recommend cashing in your hard earned miles for a trip to Orlando. Sales are frequent and you’ll likely do better using them for longer trips. However, the two exceptions to the rule are Southwest Airlines and JetBlue.

The reason? Southwest and JetBlue both operate revenue based miles programs, meaning the cost of the flight is based on the cost of the ticket.

Southwest  is our favorite due to its generous baggage policy, lack of change fees, and ability to rebook at a lower fare if costs go down. If you don’t have Southwest Rapid Rewards points handy, you can transfer them from Chase Ultimate Rewards at a 1:1 ratio.

Lodging: Using Miles and Points for a Disney Vacation

I won’t go down the “is on-site or offsite better?” rabbit hole but will just give you some tips for each option.

Disney Owned

Onsite flexible currencies are going to be your best bet. Consider Barclay’s Arrival, US Bank Flexperks, or Chase Ultimate Rewards. Chase and USBank require booking through their portal but offer between 1.25-1.5 cent in value which can be a great deal.

With Arrival, you can just take a travel related charge (over $100) off of your bill. This makes Barclay’s the logical choice if you’re using a site like Priceline. Be sure to take a good look at cancellation policies, though, as they can be a deal killer.

Official Disney Resorts (not Disney Owned)

The most famous of the official Disney resorts are the Swan and Dolphin, both SPG properties. I’m not a fan but Desert Traveling Mom Karen shares a different view.

Better points options are the Disney Springs hotels. Our favorite is the Wyndham and Wyndham Garden Lake Buena Vista for its combination of location, service, and price. It’s the closest hotel to Disney Springs and has dedicated buses to the parks.

Other Disney Springs points options include Hilton, Holiday Inn, and Best Western, but I’d save their points for other uses.

Orlando can actually be a prime points earning opportunity- if you get a great cash rate you could maximize any number of promotions to rack up points quickly. Just keep an eye on your favorite chains for promos- IHG has had particularly lucrative ones lately.

Offsite

You’re tripping over offsite options right outside Disney World property. However, for some strange reason, Orlando area hotels tend to be a terrible value on points. I’d save them for other trips and think about a condo rental through a site like Vacatia. For less than $100/night most seasons you’ll get room to spread out and will still be within striking distance of the parks. You could then use Arrival points towards your bill.

Even a barrel of monkeys can learn to use miles and points on a Disney Vacation.

Even a barrel of monkeys can learn to use miles and points on a Disney Vacation. Photo by Dia Adams, Travel Hack Traveling Mom

Tickets: Using Miles and Points for a Disney Vacation

While you can’t use points (except Arrival points discussed above) for tickets you can use credit card programs to your advantage:

  • American Express offers frequent promotions with Undercover Tourist where you can save an extra amount off your already discounted Disney tickets.
  • You can use your category bonuses to buy discounted Disney gift cards to pay for your tickets. Road Warrior Traveling Mom Nasreen combines her grocery store category bonuses with gift card grocery store coupons to really watch the savings add up.
  • You can use the Target Red Card to get 5% off Disney Gift Cards. You’ll also see them at Sam’s Club or Costco from time to time.
Earn points on your Mickey Waffles - Using Miles and Points for a Disney Vacation

Earn points on your Mickey Waffles. Photo by Dia Adams, Travel Hack Traveling Mom

Food: Using Miles and Points for a Disney Vacation

Category bonuses are your best friend here. Cashing in points (besides on gift cards, which is not a great value) isn’t in play but earning a ton of points is. Credit Card Traveling Mom Yvonne is a fan of the American Express Simply Blue Cash card for Disney. With a whopping 10% back on your first $2000 in dining, I don’t blame her!

More typical category bonuses are in the 2-3% range, with an occasional 5% quarterly bonus. Take a look at your cards before coming to Disney and figure out which one will earn you the best return.

The Disney Chase Visa: Using Miles and Points for a Disney Vacation

I’d be remiss not to mention that Disney has its own credit card that earns rewards you can spend at Disney World. However, in general, I don’t think it’s a great value because the earning rate is equal to or less than that you can earn from a cash card. A cash card will give you much more flexibility in the end.

Frequent Flyer Traveling Mom Leslie has a detailed write-up about the Disney Chase Visa options.

What are your favorite Disney miles and points tips? Please share in the comments.

Using miles and points for a Disney vacation: Traveling Mom's top tips!