If you click a link in this post and make a purchase, we may earn a small commission, at no additional cost to you. Read our full disclosure here.
Is it possible for a family of four (two adults and two kids) to take a four-day vacation to the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida and spend less than $200 on the entire trip?
For the vacation, I am including flights to/from Orlando, 3 nights in a Disney resort hotel, 2-day park tickets, and all food and beverages.
I was inspired by The Frugal Travel Guy to do a travel challenge of my own, so below is my strategy for getting a family to Disney and back again for under $200.
Disclaimer: This strategy will not work for a spur-of-the-moment trip to Disney World. It requires 3-9 months planning time, traveling at particular times of the year, and opening a few new credit cards. Though it may not work for everyone, I can assure you that it does work because I have done this myself. It is totally legitimate and legal!
If it is convenient for you to fly Southwest to Orlando, then getting to Disney for cheap just requires opening a Southwest Rapid Rewards credit card at the right time.
Several times throughout the year, Chase offers an amazing 50,000 mile sign-on bonus for new Southwest Rapid Rewards Visa cardholders. These miles are worth close to a $900 value in airfare. I have had this credit card for years and recommend it highly. It is widely regarded as one of the best travel credit cards available.
The average number of miles needed for a round-trip ticket from Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) to Orlando International Airport (MCO) on Southwest is between 11,000 and 12,000 miles. Many other routes are roughly the same number of miles. So for a family of four, the miles needed would be roughly 4 x 12,000 = 48,000 miles.
In order to get the 50,000 bonus miles from the Southwest Visa, you will need to meet a spending requirement of $2,000 within the first 3 months after opening the card. For my family this is easy to do. I make all of our purchases and pay all of our bills with a credit card and then pay it off at the end of each month. We easily spend $1,500 a month on all of our expenses so meeting the spending requirement was a breeze for us.
The card has a $99 annual fee which will be applied to your first statement and at every anniversary. However you will also receive a 6,000 mile bonus every year for having the card, which is currently worth more than the $99 fee. If you will be flying at all on Southwest or Airtran, it makes sense to keep the card even with the annual fee. Each one-way ticket is also subject to a $5.60 government-imposed fee, so the total in fees for the four round trip flights is $44.80.
Total cost for flights to/from Orlando: $99 + $44.80 = $134.80
Guests at Disney-owned resort hotels receive free transportation to and from Orlando International Airport on very nice coach buses. This service is called the “Magical Express” and is included with your hotel stay. It also includes a very convenient luggage transfer service. You can read more about how the Magical Express works here.
Guests staying at Disney resorts also receive complimentary transportation to and from the theme parks and other locations throughout Disney World. This can take the form of buses, boats, and monorails. As frequent visitors we never have a car with us and we find that using Disney Transportation adds to our relaxation on vacation.
Total cost for ground transportation once you are there: $0
Hotel & Food
There are many opportunities to get discounts on Disney-owned resort hotel stays. However, there is one offer that is the best deal by far for guests staying at value-priced Disney resorts; the Free Dining package offer.
Disney has released this offer for travel dates from late summer into December every year for the past five years. The offer works likes this: you pay the regular or “rack” rate for your room, and everyone staying in the room receives a dining plan at no additional cost. This dining plan includes two quick-service meals and one snack per person per day plus a mug with unlimited drink refills at your resort. Personally, I find the meals at Disney to be HUGE and my husband and I often find ourselves sharing a meal.
I have stayed at a Disney Value resort many times and believe they are perfect for a family with small kids, especially for a shorter visit. To get an idea of what to expect from a Disney Value resort check out my review of Pop Century Resort. Rack rates at Disney’s Value resorts start at $92/night during the late summer “value” season. Stays in the fall and into early December would be only $6 more/night. So a 4 day/3 night late summer stay at a value resort including the hotel room and food for the whole family would come to $311.88 including tax.
(Note: Last year the Free Dining offer was released in May, though its wasn’t released until August the previous year. Once it is released you can book your stay directly on the Disney World website or use a travel agency. In order to not miss out on the next free dining offer, I would suggest signing up to receive email alerts when Disney releases future free dining offers from The Mouse for Less Travel Company.)
Now, most importantly, is how to get this all for free. You can get over $500 in statement credit for travel expenses when you open a new Barclaycard Arrival Plus Mastercard account. In order to receive the statement credit, you will need to meet a spending requirement of $3,000 in the first 3 months after opening the account. I suggest waiting to open this account until after you have met the spending requirement for the Southwest Visa. This card is also a highly respected credit card and is one of Money Magazine’s “Best Credit Cards”. There is an $89 annual fee but it is waived for the first year.
Here is the breakdown for how you earn $506 in travel statement credit:
1. You receive 40,000 bonus miles after you meet the $3,000 spending requirement for the card.
2. You earn 6,000 miles (at 2 miles per dollar) for spending the $3,000.
3. You receive a 10% bonus by applying the miles to travel expenses, earning an additional 4,600 miles.
This brings your total to 50,600 miles which is worth $506 in travel statement credit that you can use to pay for your Disney Free Dining package. Aren’t you glad I was a math teacher!
Total cost for 4 day/3 night Disney resort stay and all food & beverages: $0
Another significant expense involved in visiting Disney World are the park tickets. In order to receive the free dining package offer, a minimum 2-day park ticket purchase is required. Personally, I think 2 full days at the parks is enough to wear out any family with kids. I would recommend spending a whole day at the Magic Kingdom and one at Epcot.
In order to pay for the ticket portion of the package, the other parent will also need to apply for the Barclaycard Arrival Plus Mastercard. This will earn the family another $506 towards travel expenses. You will use these funds plus the leftover from the first parent’s Barclaycard bonus ($194.12) towards to cost of the park tickets. Two adult plus 2 child (under 9) park tickets for 2 days rings up at $773.20.
Total cost of 2 day park tickets for the family: $773.20 – $506 – $194.12 = $73.08
So how did I do on my travel challenge? Well, I was able to get a family of four to and from Orlando, transported around Disney World, room and board for 3 nights/4 days, and 2 days at the theme parks for a grand total of… $207.88. It’s a little more than my goal of $200 but I got pretty close. A family will likely find themselves spending some money on souvenirs, and hopefully parents will treat themselves to an adult beverage here and there, but this is a great way to start with a low cost for the trip itself.
Now of course if your family wants to make a longer trip or stay at a different resort this strategy will still work to save you close to $2,000 on your Disney vacation. To some folks the thought of opening three new credit cards to reap the bonuses might seem scary or crazy, but rest assured I have done this and it is neither. It is simply using the cards on their terms and being smart about how you use the generous bonuses they give. If you are worried about how opening these cards will affect your credit score, each card will drop your score by 5 points for 3 months, at which point your score will usually increase to higher than before you opened the cards due to the increased credit availability.
I hope this helps someone reach their dream of taking their family to Disney World even if their budget is very tight (like my family’s budget). Feel free to ask questions below. And have a magical day!