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How to Make a Disney World Vacation Affordable

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It’s true that a Walt Disney World Vacation isn’t cheap. It’s one of the complaints you hear the most and is a big hurdle for families and individuals eager to experience the magic but must keep to a budget. But a Disney World Vacation may not be as out of reach as some might think! The price tag attached to the ultimate vacation destination can be significantly less if you know a few tips and tricks and money-saving strategies. So read on to learn how to make a Disney World Vacation affordable for you and your family.

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Make Your Disney Visa Work For You

I applied for a Disney Rewards Visa Card from Chase several years ago, and I love it! It was free to apply, there’s no annual fee, and if you accept another cardholder’s recommendation, they get a Disney gift card and so do you. Cardholders also earn 1% in reward dollars and enjoy discounts and perks at a Disney Store, DisneyStore.com, and at the Disney Parks.

A Disney Rewards Visa Card can help you pay for your vacation if you can make the card work for you. For instance, I use my card to pay for the majority of my daily purchases, but immediately pay off what I charge to avoid accumulating debt or interest. Then, throughout the year, I allow my reward dollars to accumulate to apply towards the cost of my resort, tickets, or Annual Pass. It’s great knowing that each tank of gas or bag of groceries is helping to trim down my vacation costs; and of course, the card’s discounts help with those costs too.

Visit During the Off-Season

One of the best ways to save on a Disney World Vacation is to visit during the off-season. When the crowd levels drop, so do the rates for airfare, the resorts, and even park tickets due to Disney World’s new tiered ticket system. Seriously, a Disney World Vacation in the off-season may be half the price of the same vacation in July. But how do you know just when the off-season is? A good rule is to avoid the summer months and holidays; but for the rest of the time, the best source is the TouringPlans Crowd Calendar.

Book Through Orbitz

Of all the travel sites out there these days, I prefer Orbitz. Along with offering Walt Disney World Resorts, there are two huge reasons for why I use Orbitz. The first is the ability to use Orbucks, or reward dollars, users gain from booking with Orbitz. Just like with my Disney Visa, I let them accumulate and then apply them to reduce my resort costs. In fact, I recently used my stockpile of Orbucks and only paid $141.00 for a long weekend stay at the Pop Century Resort while gaining new Orbucks in the process!

Another reason for why I prefer Orbitz is the ability to stack deals, just like you would stack coupons at your local grocery store. If Disney is offering a promotion to the public, that discounted price is typically reflected in Orbitz prices. But Orbitz then allows you to apply their discount codes to further lower the cost!

There is one downside of booking through Orbtiz that I must mention. While Disney World will recognize an Orbitz reservation, just as they would if you booked through them, the confirmation and itinerary number Orbtiz sends guests is not compatible with MyDisneyExperience. If you need to book a Magical Express, personalize or obtain your MagicBand in advance, and complete online check-in, you will need the Disney confirmation number.

What I recommend is to call Orbitz and explain your need for the Disney confirmation number. Sometimes the representative knows exactly what you need; but others may not which may require an extra phone call or two. Yes, it’s a hassle, but the savings are often worth it!

Get an Annual Pass

This tip may not apply to everyone, but for those who visit Walt Disney World more than once a year and prefer the Park Hopper Ticket Option, an Annual Pass can be an economical choice. For example, if an individual visits Walt Disney World twice and purchases a 4-day ticket with the Park Hopper option, the price tag with tax will be around $840.00 But if that individual were to purchase a Platinum Annual Pass, the cost with tax include is just under $800.00! The Platinum Annual Pass includes no blockout dates, free parking, special offers, and a discount on dining, tours, and merchandise. The luxury of being able to visit the four Walt Disney World parks anytime you please is awesome too!

Also, for Walt Disney World’s 45th Anniversary, Annual Passholders are gaining a new batch of benefits such as 20% off food and non-alcoholic beverages at 45 select restaurants and at a number of Disney-owned-and-operated merchandise locations. It’s the best time to become an Annual Passholder too as guests purchasing passes between October 2, 2016 and January 3, 2017 gain an extra month for free! Read all about the current Annual Passholder perks here.

Fly Economy Airlines

If you can’t drive to Walt Disney World, the cost of airfare can be a devastating blow to your vacation budget. This is why I prefer to fly with economy airlines. I personally have flown with Frontier Airlines multiple times, as they fly into the Orlando area, and their cheap rates have played a huge role for how I make my Disney World Vacations affordable. Yes, there are extra fees that can quickly drive up the costs; but if you are willing to forfeit a few comforts, have a flexible schedule, and can travel light, oftentimes the rate is still significantly cheaper than major airlines.

If you can’t fly with an economy airlines, I would suggest Southwest Airlines. I’ve flown with Southwest for years and I’m a fan. Their rates are often cheaper than other major airlines and they are no bag fees! TouringPlans writer, Liz Mangan, recently wrote about Booking and Flying Southwest Airlines. It’s a fantastic read for those flying to Walt Disney World and looking to save.

Pay Out of Pocket For Dining

Through the years I’ve both paid out of pocket and used the Disney Dining Plans; and while every family and vacation is different, I’ve found that paying out of pocket is cheaper. It can be even more so if you choose to split meals, eat off property, or bring drinks and snacks with you.

Mix and Match Airfare

To make airfare more affordable, compare the cost of a round trip flight to the cost of a flight to your destination with one airline and the cost of your return flight with another. Sometimes an airline offers a great flight to Walt Disney World, but not so much for the flight home. Shop around and mix and match to get the best possible rate to make your trip more affordable.

Pack a Carry-On Strategically

Travel fees can be like a hole in the pocket of your vacation budget, especially if you are flying to Walt Disney World. A number of airlines charge fees for baggage; and while there are ways of avoiding such costs, the simplest is to pack light and forgo a checked bag. On economy airlines, customers are allowed a free personal item which is typically a bag that fits under the seat in the front of them; and other airlines allow free carry-ons plus a personal item. A carry-on can contain all you need, with some room to spare, if you pack strategically. Also, thanks to the famous Florida temperatures, shorts and t-shirts don’t take up much space.

Rent Disney Vacation Club Points

This is one of my favorite money-saving secrets! Even if you’re not a Disney Vacation Club member, you can still rent “points” to stay at a Walt Disney World Deluxe Resort. Yes, this is the way to stay at a Disney World Deluxe Resort on the cheap, sometimes for the same price as a Moderate Resort or even a Value Resort! Staying at a DVC Villa with a kitchen can also cut down on dining costs as well. The Disney Vacation Club and the renting process can be intimidating; but there are a number of reliable sites that facilitate the renting process, such as David’s Vacation Club Rentals, The DVC Rental Store, and DVC-Rental. To learn more about renting, check out Tips for Renting Disney Vacation Club Points.

Take Advantage of Magical Express

If you plan to spend your vacation on Disney property, forego renting a car and take advantage of Disney’s Magical Express! This free service transports guests and their luggage from the Orlando International Airport to any Walt Disney World Resort for free! Walt Disney World also offers free transportation throughout the resort in the forms of buses, monorails, and boats.

Renting a car can sound like a great way to save cash, but it’s not always. Be sure to take into account the cost of gasoline, parking, and extra fees. For instance, I once planned on staying off-property and renting a car for a cheap weekend trip to Walt Disney World. However, the costs of renting the car made my trip the same price as if I stayed on property, not counting the cost for parking and gasoline, or the hassle of having to return it before my flight. The moral of the story is to fully compare your options, not just gravitate towards what sounds economical.

Split a Meal

Yes, the Disney Parks are notorious for expensive menu items, but there are ways to reduce those costs to make your Disney World Vacation affordable. One of my go-to methods is to split a quick service or table service meal with someone in your group, especially since Disney is typically generous with their portions. Another way to save cash at mealtime is to order a kid’s meal, especially if you intend to sample a snack or treat later on. Another tip is to only order what you want, especially at quick service restaurants. If you aren’t interested in a side, let the Cast Member know and oftentimes you won’t be charged for it.

If a trip to Disney has always seemed out of reach financially, know that a few tricks and some money-saving strategies are how to make a Disney World Vacation affordable. Do you have any budgeting tips or ways to save at Walt Disney World? Share them in a comment below!


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Savannah Sanders

Savannah has been visiting Disney World since she was a year old and has gone back almost every year since. In the real world, she teaches high school history and government and enjoys writing about all things Disney. Savannah can be reached on Twitter @DisneyParkSavvy.

19 thoughts on “How to Make a Disney World Vacation Affordable

  • Just stayed Sun night at POR, and booked on cheap tickets.com(Otbitz) at 18% off. I made a call to Disney guest services an hour after making the reservation to obtain the Disney confirmation code. Easy and quick after a security question or two.

  • We always catch great deals from JetBlue’s email alerts.

    The dilemma in NJ is our homestate’s Newark Airport has become much more expensive than nearby NYC’s LaGuardia & JFK, but the traffic time and cost of going into the city also stinks.

    A great alternative is a cheap & pleasant flight out of Westchester (HPN), just north of NYC. There’s quick access to this small airport from rt287 or the GSParkway, and getting through the security line is usually 5-10 minutes.

  • We use our Disney Visa when my husband travels for work. The company pays for the expenses and we get the points. We are planning our next trip to use the reward dollars for all our food expenses.

    • And the Disney Visa gives you a discount on some restaurants too.

  • Disney Visa at 1% is good for discounts on some meals and merchandise…other cards pay 2%+ so go for the best return. DVC rentals are a great choice and you are staying on property for a bit more than off property with SO many benefits. Snacks and a bag of cereal brought from home is a big $$ saver – buy milk and fruit at your resort or local supermarket. Dollar Tree is a great place to pick up snacks on the cheap. SW was our go-to airline for over 10 years but no longer offers good deals from our local airport so we go JetBlue and this year was $650 less than the SAME package from SW. Shop around!

  • While the Disney Visa is fun to have and sounds like a good option, there are tons of better credit cards out there offering way better rewards. For example, an Amex Blue Cash Preferred Card offers 6% cash back on up to $6K on groceries per year. This includes gift cards purchased at grocery stores. While it does carry a $75 annual fee (most of the good earning cards do), the higher rewards plus the special Amex offers more than offsets the AF. I suggest taking a look at where you spend your money and research to find the credit card that gives you the best return.

  • The cheapest way to do Disney by far is to stay off property. We have taken our kids multiple times and done it both ways. Get a house through VRBO and buy food for some meals and cook at home. Plan on at least 1 meal in parks. You can bring snacks into the parks as well. You can rent a house with a pool. Good option for younger kids, especially ones that need naps.

    That being said, being inside the bubble is worth it if it is within your budget. We did try the Magical Vacations Travel and found the cost savings to be significant. Overall budget ended at the same price, but we got a chance to stay at a more deluxe resort for the same price we would have paid for a budget resort. Definitely worth checking out.

  • We use a TD travel Visa and collect points all year for our trips. We go every couple years. We went to Disneyland this year and are headed to Disney World for our next trip in 2018. We are from Canada so the Disney Visa isn’t an option. Can we book on any of these sites to save on hotels from Canada or are they just for USA again.

  • The Disney Visa is a great suggestion…however, obviously this site is geared for the USA travellers as this card is not obtainable from anywhere outside the USA. Disney should think of ways that benefit travellers from outside their area as most of the business they get is from these people. Being from Canada I for once would like to take advantage of some savings too. You have discounts for people who reside in Florida, a Visa card that earns points but only for the US customers..etc. Time to think outside the Disney box and make offers fair to everyone!

  • Your advice for travelers to fly Economy airlines is really bad advice for most casual travelers. Companies like Spirit and Frontier make their money by luring you in with cheap fares and taking on tons of fees. I’m not against this business model- but it takes a lot of planning and responsibility on the traveler’s part to know what they are buying, how much those things cost, and how to avoid different fees. For folks who only travel once a year, this is probably not something they have researched and are libel to be blind-sided by fees to print a boarding pass, for a drink on the plane, and to buy your ticket online vs at the airport counter. In addition, these airlines won’t rebook you on a different carrier in the event of a mechanical delay or weather event- you will have to wait for the next available seat on their own airline. The possibility of loosing a day or 2 of my vacation is worth a couple of extra bucks.

    And Southwest has been proven to not be the cheapest airline anymore. Information can be found in their corporate filings. There is a reason they don’t put their fares on places like Kayak or Google Flights, and it’s because they don’t want you to be able to price compare easily because it would destroy their brand. If you are unsure if you are going to change your flight- then sure, book Southwest. But otherwise, it pays to shop around.

  • With Len’s recent article on Magical Vacations Travel, I’m wondering whether it would be a better deal to go through them instead of renting DVC points. It for sure seems like less work and risk, so even if it’s slightly more it might be worth it for some. Any thoughts on MVT vs. renting DVC points?

    • I only wanted to share what I have personally done to save money, which is why I didn’t mention Magical Vacations this time but most likely will in the future! In regards to whether MVT or DVC Points is best, that just depends on you, the trip you’re planning, and how flexible your schedule is, as well as a number of other factors. I would look into both and compare to see which works best for you. Thanks for commenting!

      • I just booked through MVT and saved $350 off what I thought I would have to pay for POFQ with 5 day base tickets. It was great!! I did this after I saw the article here on Touring Plans

      • Thanks Cheri! I looked at the DVC rental website, and we would be able to a standard room at AK for about $300 less than the POR rack rate for a 6 night stay. However, we’re looking at the same time we usually get free dining, which you can’t get through the DVC so I’m still up in the air. So much to consider!

      • Thanks Cheri! I looked at the DVC rental website, and we would be able to get a standard room at AK for about $300 less than the POR rack rate for a 6 night stay. However, we’re looking at the same time we usually get free dining, which you can’t get through the DVC so I’m still up in the air. So much to consider!

  • Stay off-site. The savings are greater than the cost of a rental and/or parking fees. Many hotels and resorts offer shuttle service to the parks. Uber or Lyft is also a low cost option for transportation.

    Use hotel point systems to get free hotels stays. We earn enough points using the Starwood Amex that we are staying 10 nights at the Swan for free. Well, there is the resort fee …

    Get a timeshare for free or very low cost. There are always timeshare owners looking to get rid of their ownership. We obtained for free a week in a 2 bedroom villa at Sheraton Vistana Villages for which we pay $1100 in maintenance fees per year – that works out to less than $160 a night for a huge luxury villa that we can share with another family. We can switch that to a one bedroom and stay for 10 days. We can also stay in other resorts in the Vistana network, including Hawaii, Cancun, Virgin Islands, Bahamas, etc.

    Rent a timeshare. Again, lots of owners out there who can’t use their ownership for that year, and just want to recoup their maintenance fees. Most all timeshares also have full kitchens which allow for cheaper, “home cooked” meals, and can accommodate a family or two without crowding.

    Watch the discount ticket sites for specials … we snagged 7 day Park Hoppers for the price of 4 via Parksavers for our December trip. (We also snagged 3 days for the price of 1 at Universal via an email offer, so if that park is in your list of things to do, be sure to sign up for their emails)

  • Save money and time by eating breakfast in your room. Bring snacks from home or have snacks shipped to your resort by Amazon.

    • Yes to this! While I love dining at the Parks and the Resorts, eating breakfast in your room is just so convenient. Or, like I do, on your walk to the bus stop. Bagel brought from home in one hand, beverage in those in-room disposable cups in the other! A few snacks for after you get in are good too. Even if I have a nice meal in the park, by the time I’ve made it back to the room after the fireworks and a few miles on the ground hitting rides, I often need a little nibble and having the snacks right there is just so convenient.

    • Great tip! Thanks for sharing!

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