Tips for planning ahead or last minute trips to Disney World

Disney World Email countdown to trip
Email countdown

Tl;Dr: First and foremost, practicing financial responsiblity is paramount as these tips require credit rewards to be successful. Don’t get yourself in debt just for a vacation (been there, done that.) Using credit rewards, being flexible and seeking out discounts are great ways to do a last minute trip. If you’re looking to plan ahead, you’ll be able to budget wiser, while also taking advantage of current prices. Using gift cards to pay also allows you to get a small percentage off (Targer RED card) while paying essentially in cash so when your vacation arrives you wont have to worry about a big bill later.

Last year I had high hopes of heading to my very first D23 event. I had signed up as Gold Member to get the discounted tickets and was already looking at flights. Then, it turned out, I was told this year I needed shoulder surgery. Since I didn’t know how my recovery was going to go, I decided not to make any plans. When it became clear I could travel, it was too late to buy tickets. It really was for the best: seeing the difficulties folks have had making reservations for panels, I’m glad I didn’t tie up any money into something that might not be all that fun. I haven’t had a good time at conventions as of late: they’ve become overcrowded, logistical messes. Still, I really wanted to get out and revel in all my Disney obsession. Being stuck at home recupirating has me feeling a little like I’m living my own version of Groundhog Day.

Aside from the monotony, my dad’s birthday recently came up. We lost him four years ago and milestone dates tend to be unpredictable on how I’ll deal with them. Some days are easier than others, some punch me in the gut and have me drowning in depression and anxiety. This particular birthday I posted a picture of him and felt the wave of what would become a two day anxiety attack. I’ve been told grief comes in waves, it ebbs and flows. Sadly, I was caught in a rip tide.

Last Minute Trip

So, what does this have to do with planning a Disney trip? August 9th was the 50th anniversary of the Haunted Mansion in Disneyland. August 2nd, Disney Parks Blog announced Disney World was doing their own little event to celebrate. My dad’s birthday fell in that week. I thought hey, maybe I should go down and check it out. It would’ve been my first solo trip. My husband and kids all thought it was a great idea. I called my doctor to make sure I was okay to travel to which he said I was. So I looked at hotels and airfare which, of course, being so last minute was cost prohibitive. Since I knew I had a JetBlue card I checked to see if I had enough points for a flight. I did, but it would’ve wiped me out. I was feeling super guilty about going alone, especially since Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge was getting ready to open. My husband and I are super fans and using points just on myself didn’t seem right. So I searched for the Labor day weekend to see the cost of flights. Amazingly enough, it would be less points for both of us to go that weekend than if I had gone solo in August.

Now , there’s been a lot of talk about how SW:GE in Disneyland is a “failure” which is hardly the case. There were definetly lower crowds (which is never great for shareholders) so Disney began offering discounts at their properties starting September 1st to intice people to visit the parks. I looked to see if we could take advantage of any of the offers. Because the discount was based on the rack rate (the nightly rate without discounts) and that rate was lower than the August rates, it would be cheaper to go for Labor Day. I looked to see what was available. Port Orleans French Quater, a moderate and one of my favorites was available at a discount, while Pop Century, a value and our go to resort, was only available at rack rate. Seeing it was $270 less than the discounted moderate, I priced out the value with a two day base ticket. $933 versus $1203. I love Beignets but not that much. I looked at one more factor before deciding on finalizing any plans.

On the homepage Disney offers their credit card. For new members, you can earn a $250 credit for any purchase of $500 in 90 days. I applied for the card and was approved. So, because there is a $49 annual member fee, we were saving $200 which made our 3 night trip $733. Plus, we would receive reward points towards our next vacation. We also purchased tickets to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party which cost $158 in lieu of spending money on a park hopper, as we knew this trip would be all about SW:GE. So, by using points and rewards, we spent $913 on airfare fees ($22), hotel and park tickets for two adults. We decided on leaving the kids behind for two reasons: first, I really wanted my husband to experience SW:GE for the first time without worrying about the kids (who’s hungry, who’s bored, who’s touching who, etc. etc.) He was working a lot lately and I definetly needed to get away. Second, we had already planned a big family vacation for Christmas.

Cinderella's castle during the holidays

Cinderella’s Castle is jaw dropping during the holidays

Planning Ahead

Christmas is arguably the most expensive time of year to head to WDW. There are usually no discounts or other offers. In spite of this, its the most crowded time of year and not for the faint of heart. We made our plans on a bounce back offer last year (discounts for guests already at the hotel) with Free Dining. At the time that was the best we could get and were fine with it. We even thought we might push the vacation out because of the crowds. We didn’t realize if we did it would cost us greatly.

Disney price increases are as inevitable as death and taxes. This year, they began date pricing (higher prices for busier times), while also raising rack rates. When I considered changing dates I looked at what the same dates, resort (Pop) and tickets (8 day Park Hopper) for four (both my kids at this point would be considered “adults” when it came to cost). The price difference between what we booked last year and what the cost is now was about $1100. I’m not sure how it could possibly that so compare apples to apples and made sure I hadn’t made a mistake. I had not. The increase was substantial. We decided to keep the reservation as moving it would take us into the next year with the higher rates.

Because we booked so far in the future, we were able to take advantage of the Target RED card trick. I originally didn’t like the idea of it: 5% off most purchases which included Disney gift cards. I thought getting a credit card with a high interest rate would negate any benefit of the 5%. Target does have a debit RED card which means you’re essentially paying cash. As in example, if purchasing a $100 Disney gift card, at checkout, you’re only paying $95. If you book directly through Disney, they require full payment thirty days from check-in. If you book out far enough, you could take your time paying using the discounted gift cards. So on a $2000 reservation you’re saving $100, not chump chain in the least. If using the debit card, you’ve paid it off in cash which means you won’t be dealing with a huge bill after your vacation is over.

This point in my life, experiences and not things are what I appreciate most. I’m not ashamed to say I’ve caught the “Disney bug.”

Which is better, credit rewards or cash?

Using credit is a tricky thing. Taking advantage of rewards is always a good idea when and where you can but beware: spending money is how you get rewards. If you over spend just to get points, rewards, etc., you’re not saving anything. Speaking from experience, I didn’t realize until I was pretty deep in a hole that the rewards I was trying to attain were negated by the amount of interest I was paying. Being at Disney World, while magical, has its costs. It will be in the back of your mind the entire time and will ruin the whole experience. Being financially responsible will give you peace of mind when its time to make large purchases. Budgeting to pay in cash is always a good idea, rewards and credit rating not withstanding, as there’s no bill to worry about. The best of both worlds is using credit and paying off the balance at the end of the month, easier said than done, I know. Depending on your goals, (taking more flights and trips) using credit is beneficial. Keeping track of it will help you stay afloat.

We are pretty excited about both trips coming up. An adult only trip its worth its weight in gold, and being able to enjoy our travels to a galaxy far, far away on our own will make our trip with the kids later that much more magical. Being able to save the way we did was the only way we were able to do it. This point in my life, experiences and not things are what I appreciate most. I’m not ashamed to say I’ve caught the “Disney bug.” Sadly, that might be changing. The cost is becoming more than we can bare. Looking at next year’s rates are really scary. I’m hoping the cost will come down via discounts but after this year we’ll wait and see.

Last minute trips are great if you can utilize rewards and are flexible with dates. Planning ahead for larger trips that may have concrete dates, larger parties and busier times make it easier to budget for while also locking in current rates. Either way you choose, never leave money on the table.

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