How To Use Points At Disney World

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To start, I should note up front that this is not an attempt at finding the cheapest trip to Disney World, or how to maximize every potential dollar spent. Those resources are out there, and those folks are hardcore. They make the most passionate mileage collectors look like passive hobbyists, and I’m not nearly smart enough to take that on. So if you want to know every possible trick and loophole, you should head over there.

For the average person though, and certainly for miles and points hobbyists, there are some ways to maximize the perks and programs you’re already used to, so I thought it might be helpful to go through some of those options if you’re planning a trip to Disney World.

In general I find Orlando to be outrageously overpriced, so any opportunity to learn how to save money at Disney World makes a difference.

Hotels / Accommodations

Orlando has hotels-galore, and there are dozens of options for redeeming points, pretty much regardless of which programs you participate in. If you’re going to visit other parts of Orlando then any of those are great, but if you’re focused on the Disney parks there are a few “points-friendly” places to stay near Disney World.

Walt Disney World Swan/Dolphin

These properties are managed by Westin and Sheraton, respectively, and if you are a SPG Platinum member these are a no-brainer. Between the two properties they have over 2,000 rooms, so standard room availability is generally quite good.

Disney-Dolphin

I wouldn’t count on any upgrades, but both are Category 4 properties, so go for 10,000 points per night, and I frequently have found cash and points availability as well.

Keep in mind you can redeem 40,000 points for five nights of accommodations, which is definitely the best value.

SPG Dolphin 5th Night Free

The Platinum breakfast benefit is basically the “cold” options from the buffet, or you can upgrade to the full breakfast for an additional fee. It’s not an amazing breakfast, but is on par with what I’d expect at a domestic Sheraton or Westin, and is certainly reasonable for Orlando. You can use the breakfast benefit at either hotel, and it’s worth noting the Swan actually has a Disney Character breakfast on weekends.

Disney-Dolphin-Breakfast

These hotels are actually on Disney property – Epcot and Hollywood Studios are within walking distance (or you can take a boat), and you can take advantage of Extra Magic Hours and resort transportation. You can’t use Disney’s Magical Express, and there is a resort fee, but the latter is usually waived/reduced for Platinum guests, from what I can tell.

Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista

This would probably be my second pick, or first if I didn’t have Starwood Platinum status (I just assume everyone reading this has Hilton Gold status through the Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card, at least).

This Hilton is “Disney-adjacent,” so while it’s not quite as convenient as the Swan and Dolphin, it’s not too bad. The Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista is right across the street from Downtown Disney, but otherwise uses their own bus system to get to the Disney parks. This is shared with some of the other “good neighbor” hotels, and it can be really hit or miss. I’ve seen a lot of unhappy parents on this bus, so would recommend reading up on the schedule and options to avoid frustration.

The Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista is a Category 6 property, so standard rooms are 40,000 points per night. This is a great place to take advantage of the “fifth night free” benefit for elites.

Hilton-Orlando-Points

Hilton Gold and Diamond members receive continental breakfast in the executive lounge, though you can upgrade to the restaurant breakfast buffet as well. The restaurant has a Disney Character breakfast on Sundays.

The Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista is also the only off-property hotel that offers access to the Disney World Extra Magic Hours, as far as I know. My favorite time to visit the parks is early in the morning or late at night, so this is a great perk.

Theme Park Tickets

This is the killer for most visitors, as these are just expensive, and the options for using points are somewhat crappy. So for me, Disney World tickets are more of an opportunity to maximize the points you earn rather than trying to use points for park tickets.

Using Points

If you happen to have more Hilton points than you know what to do with, it is technically possible to redeem hundreds of thousands of HHonors points for Disney World tickets:

Hilton-points-for-Disney-tickets

These tickets retail for $436.65, but that’s without the “No Expiration” option, if that matters to you. This is a pretty terrible redemption value, even for Hilton, so unless you have millions of points and are short on cash, I’d probably skip it.

The other alternative would be to purchase your tickets as part of a vacation package, or charge them to your hotel room (which I’ll cover below), then put the entire purchase on your Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite Mastercard®, and reimburse yourself on your statement.

Gift Cards

Personally, I’d recommend purchasing Disney Gift Cards ahead of time. These can be found at Target, drugstores, grocery stores,  Lowes, and Office Max, and probably some others.

This is not the blog for quadruple-dipping on gift card purchases, but if you think through it there are some great opportunities. At a minimum, you can easily earn multiple points per dollar (plus some fuel points) by purchasing at a grocery store with a card that offers bonus points on groceries, like The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express.

I am busy/lazy, so I purchased $500 worth of gift cards at Office Max to finish minimum spend on my Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card. 5x points works perfectly for me, and this is an easy option if you have the Ink Plus® Business Credit Card as well.

Disney-Gift-Cards
One of the more ridiculous miles/points related things I’ve done lately, to be sure.

You can consolidate your gift cards in a Disney Vacation Account, which is particularly useful if you’re looking at staying at a Disney Resort, or combining your park visit with a cruise.

If you’re just purchasing park tickets, the easiest method is to just call the Disney ticketing department at 407-566-4985 (option 5) between 8:30AM and 8:30PM Eastern. I told the agent upfront that I had 20 gift cards to use, and while she laughed, it was a very straightforward transaction. The entire call took less than ten minutes!

Other Ways Of Earning Points On Disney World Ticket Purchases

Limited Time Bonus Categories

This probably goes without saying for this crowd, but check the bonus categories on your credit card. Both Bank of America and Citi will commonly run targeted promotions for multiple points per dollar, and I’ve definitely seen “Entertainment” and “Amusement Parks” featured in the past.

Hotels

Many of the hotels in the area have a “Disney Desk” where you can purchase your theme park tickets. Some of these accept Disney gift cards, and others will allow you to put the charge on your room. In most cases you won’t earn hotel points on these (MommyPoints was able to earn the 5% OPEN rebate, but not Hyatt points), but this still makes sense if you’re going to settle your folio with a credit card that earns bonus points on hotel stays.

Other Tips

One thing we’ve noticed is that if you’re staying on Disney property, you can charge everything to your room. This is much easier than carrying a bunch of cards around the park, and you can settle your final folio with gift cards, or at the very least a card that earns bonus points on hotels, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.

Since I’m not an expert on Disney World, does anyone have any tips I’ve haven’t covered for maximizing the value of points while here?


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Comments

  1. There are 2 Disney rewards card from Chase…one is 1% in Disney dollars and the other is 2% (at gas and grocery) disney reward dollars. I plan on getting the 2% one to fill in between other cards. After a few years (my kids are 1&3) I should easily have enough for a family trip.

  2. Usingthe target debit card or credit card you can buy disney giftcards for 5% off at target. If you also get pharmacy orders they will give out discount codes that when used can discount the giftcards by another 5% for total of 10% off.

  3. If this is the Tiffany that works for you, you might want to speak with her about turning away easily capturable business (i.e., mine) when I contacted your service in March about arranging a trip for this summer…

  4. There is also the Hilton Bonnet Creek and Waldorf next door to that. I think that Hilton is much nicer than than the Lake Buena Vista property. It is a category six property as well.

  5. Not sure the person who wrote this actually did any research. As Drew pointed out there is the Hilton Bonnet Creek and Waldorf (both technically on Disney property, but not having the same benefits as the Swan and Dolphin). There’s also a Ritz Carlton a very short car ride away and it’s wonderful.
    You can’t easily get a discount on any tickets, but there’s a a multitude of websites to help you decide which ticket to buy and whether.
    And I’m sorry, this might be the first post of yours that I find horribly condescending. We’re spending my husband’s 40th birthday in Copenhagen. Right before we get on a Disney cruise to go to Norway, Iceland, and the British Isles. Yeah, it’s a “round” birthday but there are MANY non kid families and people that spend a lot of time at Disney. Check the condescension elsewhere.

  6. There are various Rezidor properties in the Orlando area, three of which are very near Walt Disney World. With the Club Carlson Visa, it’s possible to cash in points and maximize their value by getting the BOGO benefit. My family stays at the Park Inn near Animal Kingdom which has a per-night cost of 15,000 points for a basic room. Splitting this over two nights makes the per-night cost just 7,500 points. A 10-day vacation is just 75,000 points for us, and we couldn’t be happier with that value.

    That said, we’re not a family that seeks to stay at top tier properties. If a hotel has free WiFi, a pool, cable TV, and is clean, we will definitely consider it as a possibility for a stay. Since none of our stays are for business and 100% of our stays are for leisure, we consider it a blessing to have any amenities other than what are listed above.

    Not all followers of this great blog are business travelers. Families enjoy maximizing point values just as much as the business elite, sometimes even more. It has become a family hobby for us to spreadsheet possible ways to use points on vacations and for other leisure stays. I do credit Ben for getting us hooked on the hobby, though, and all of the tremendous input that is received from others who comment is something from which I have personally gleaned many valuable things.

  7. @ jen – Absolutely, and as I mentioned there are dozens, if not hundreds of options offsite, many of which might be better for some people. I place a pretty high premium on the Extra Magic Hours benefit though, which is why I highlighted the properties I did. I would be more than happy to put together a more comprehensive post if people would find it interesting though.

    And totally agree with you that Disney is something people of all ages enjoy. I caught Ben singing on Pirates of the Caribbean today, so he may be coming around as well 😉

  8. You forgot to mention the best value to maximize your points at the swan and dolphin would have to be the nights and flights package that SPG offers. I just recently took a trip to Disney World this past July and redeemed 70K worth of starpoints at the Disney Swan and Dolphin for 5 nights and 50K points transferred to your airline of choice. So essentially you’re paying only 30K worth of SPG for 5 nights instead of 40K.

  9. Check with your Human Resources Depts. as many employers have some connections with work.life balance and ticketsatwork.com. These sites can be good for at least 10% discount, but sometimes 20%. Undercovertourist.com also is very good. AAA also sells discounted tickets. Buying your admission tickets in advance is an easy time saver. But also buying tickets way in advance, helps to avoid the almost annual Disney price increases. Multiple day tickets do not have an expiration, until they are used once. Then the 14 day clock starts. Or, you could buy “no expiration ever tickets”, but these are way more expensive. Traveling to DisneyWorld requires just as much research as any other trip, using miles and points.

  10. If you are a Florida resident you can also buy season passes pretty cheap. My 65 year old brother has season Disney passes. They spend about 30 days a year at Disney.

  11. Extra Magic Hours can be completely overrated, so for the casual vacationer to WDW, if they want to use points and aren’t SPG, I wouldn’t book at the Downtown Disney Hilton. There are FAR better uses of points than there (however, the Swan and Dolphin are great hotels and if we weren’t Disney Vacation Club members, we’d be racking up points there).
    EMH parks (the day that park has EMH) are insanely busy, it’s not worth it for many to have very full parks, when not everything is up yet for an hour, instead go to another park that doesn’t had EMH that day. That park will be MUCH better to go to. Much.

  12. Went to Magic Kingdom in June and stayed offsite at a Residence Inn. We used points and we really only did the one day at MK as opposed to the full-on WDW-oriented trip. We also got the extra hour b/c a storm had rolled through earlier in the day, causing rides to close for about an hour. All in all, the kids (6 and 8) lasted 16 hours at MK, from 830am to 1230am. We went early June after school was out in IL, but apparently kids in the SE/East were still in school, so it was pretty good.

    Agree that admission is really a point EARNING opportunity. Using any kind of points to get tickets is largely a waste. Great tips for those who want to stay on site, though, with the SPG connection.

  13. If you have earned free “nights” through Hotels.com’s Welcome Rewards program, you can redeem them while booking Walt Disney World’s onsite hotels through the site.

  14. I am curious if anyone has used a credit card to load the Disney Vacation Account in order to meet the minimum spend. Is there any reason to believe that this will be coded as a “cast equivalent”?

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