Looking forward to a Disney World vacation is a great feeling, but before you can anticipate, you have to reserve. Some people love the planning and research, some would love to wave a magic wand, and some don’t care as long as they didn’t overpay. What’s the best way to book a Disney vacation? We’ll compare the pros and cons of four different methods so that you can decide what’s right for you.
Book Directly With Disney
One way to reserve a Disney vacation is to go to disneyworld.disney.go.com, enter in some dates right there on the home page, and start searching. When you’ve found what you want, you can either book on the site or call Disney at (407) 939-5277. If you’d like to skip the website, you can call Disney first thing.
To get a feel for the whole process, see Erin’s article: Step by Step: How to Make a Walt Disney World Hotel Reservation Online.
This is how I usually make my Disney World plans. I have to admit, part of the reason I do this is because I feel like I know exactly what I want, and … I’m kind of a control freak. One thing that’s great about doing it myself: I don’t have to deal with anybody else to get the reservations I want. I can make tentative plans and change them 6 times; nobody has to know about it but me.
What’s not great: if I’m interested in rebooking with any discounts that are released later, it’s on me to keep checking for them. And then it’s on me to try to rebook my reservation. The good news: if you make a reservation yourself, you can transfer it to a travel agent within 30 days of booking. So even if I want to be my control freak-y self, I can still get most of the benefits of using a TA.
And those benefits are … right in the next section!
Use A Travel Agent
I’m going to put the disclaimer here up front: yes, when you write for a blog you get to know a number of travel agents personally. But everything I’m about to write also represents my experience with other agencies both before and after I began writing here. It might sound like I put this section together just to rustle up some business for my besties, but travel agents can be so beneficial that I’d be committing blogger malpractice if I didn’t lay it all out.
There are four big wins with using a travel agent:
- They have tremendous expertise
- They often offer swag or perks
- They will pro-actively rebook you if discounts are released
- What they do for you When Things Go Wrong
When I wrote above that I could get “most of” the benefits of a TA by transferring a reservation I made myself, I meant that I’m still giving up the expertise. Onsite or off-site? How long to stay? Park hoppers or a base ticket? A travel agent can learn a bit about your family and use their knowledge of “the product” to help you find a personalized answer to these questions. When you book with a TA, you can be more confident that you are going to get the vacation you are expecting to have.
This story shows how effortless your discount-capturing experience can be. But it also shows how valuable a travel agent can be when something goes wrong. When two hurricanes interrupted Disney World vacations in the fall of 2022, when Southwest Airlines melted down at Christmas of the same year, travel agents spent a lot of time on hold instead of their clients.
Given that there is no cost to you when using a travel agent, you might wonder why we’re only halfway through this article. Both the remaining methods offer the potential to save more money than using a travel agent—sometimes a lot more. But as you might expect, there are some things you’re giving up to lock in those extra savings. Let’s take a look.
Rent Disney Vacation Club Points
Renting Disney Vacation Club points is a popular strategy for saving money on Deluxe-level resorts. It’s one of Becky’s favorite ways to stay on-property at Disney World. How much money? Usually 40-60%, or sometimes more. The result is that you get a Deluxe stay at the same prices you’d pay for a Moderate. (Value, Moderate, Deluxe, Villa: What’s the Difference Between Disney World Resort Categories?)
With that kind of savings you might instantly wonder why everyone isn’t doing it? The quick answer is that DVC point rental is not very flexible. You often need to be able to plan well in advance, and you need to be very confident (very confident) that you’re not going to cancel. This is because you won’t be able to get a cash refund on your vacation unless it’s through travel insurance.
You also won’t be able to reserve these rooms as packages when you book them using point rental. What does that mean? It means you won’t be able to bundle your room reservation with refundable length-of-stay tickets or dining promotions for on-property restaurants. When the Disney Dining Plan is offered you’ll be able to add it, but you’ll have to pay full price.
There are a few companies that facilitate point rentals by serving as a broker between owners and renters. On their sites, DVC point rentals come in two flavors.
“Confirmed reservations” means that the DVC owner has already booked the stay. You get the dates and resort that you see. The biggest upside of the confirmed reservation is that you can book it as soon as you see it, and the savings can be even more than the 40-60% I referenced above.
The biggest downside is that almost 50% are for stays of only 1-2 nights, and there often isn’t a lot of lead time. I asked John Tierney, our resident DVC Deals guru, to run some numbers from his database of deals. The chart below compares the number of deals to length of stay for about 10,000 deals. You can see that they are heavily skewed towards shorter stays.
Another downside is that DVC confirmed reservations are largely studios. If you’re looking to spread out a little in condo-style rooms, you’re less likely to score that with a confirmed reservation.
You can take a look at our subscriber-only DVC Deals page to get an idea of some of the reservations you’d be looking at, or you can see some groups of these deals in John’s DVC deals posts even if you are not a subscriber.
With a bespoke reservation, you say what you’re looking for and the broker matches you with an owner who can make the reservation. Pricing is per point, so your cost will depend on how many points the owner needs to spend. The upside here is that you get exactly the resort and dates that you want.
The downside is that there’s no guarantee. A longer lead time increases your chance of success, but that means you need to be prepared as much as 11 months in advance. It’s not for everyone.
Book On a Third-Party Website
Third-party sites also come in two flavors. There are transparent sites where you can see what you’re booking like Expedia and Orbitz. Sites with “blind bidding” deals like Hotwire and Priceline require a little more risk tolerance, but can offer more savings. Both types have a few things in common.
Refund and cancellation rules are whatever the site you booked with says they are. You won’t be able to call Disney directly about your reservation for any changes you might need. Nobody likes to think about canceling, but if you do need to, you’ll have to work through the same site you reserved on. (FAQ: Canceling a Walt Disney World Vacation) Travel insurance can reduce your risk, but it will also cut into your savings.
You’ll need to manually link your confirmation number in My Disney Experience to access on-site perks like dining reservation windows and online check-in. You may need to go back and forth with your booking site a few times to get the correct number.
As with DVC rentals, you won’t be eligible for any package features such as refundable tickets or dining promotions. And although it’s rare for Disney to turn away guests with confirmed reservations when inventory snafus leave hotels overbooked, those who booked direct with Disney will be given priority when sorting things out.
Discounts tend to be less than you can get with a PIN code, a Disney Special Offer, or an Annual Passholder or DVC-member offer. If you qualify for one of those, you’ll usually be better off taking that discount and booking directly with Disney. But if you don’t, third-party bookings can be a good way to get a Disney World room at a reduced rate. When there is a particularly good crop of Priceline or Hotwire hidden deals available, we will often publish an article highlighting them.
What To Take Away
How should you book your Disney vacation? The answer to this partly depends on you.
Booking directly with Disney is good for those who are confident about exactly what they want. They’ll need to monitor for discounts and rebook on their own. I should note that when I told a travel agent that my reason for doing it myself was that I didn’t want to bother an agent with multiple changes, she laughed at me in the nicest possible way. They’re used to it, she said, and they don’t mind.
Travel agents have a well-deserved reputation for taking away the stress of vacation planning, which can be especially helpful if you’re a first-timer. Agents can help with decisions, find great deals, be proactive about rebooking to catch discounts, and they really shine if there’s a problem when you’re already on your way. Plus, they’re free to use! If you’re set on making the initial reservation directly with Disney, you can transfer it to a travel agent within 30 days of booking.
Disney Vacation Club point rentals offer huge savings if you want to stay in a Deluxe resort. The trade-off is that you may not find what you want. You’ll also definitely want travel insurance because cancellations and changes are Not A Thing in the point rental world.
Third-party sites are limited to room-only bookings, and cancellation policies can be less flexible than Disney’s. But if it’s dry season in Disney special-offer world, they can be a good way to find a reduced rate on lodging.
What’s your favorite way to book a Disney vacation? What has worked and not worked for you in the past? Let us know in the comments!