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If you feel like Disney is too expensive and out of reach, you’re not alone. The average cost for a family of four to go to Disney World is $4,885, as reported by TIME.
That pricetag doesn’t exactly fall into the realm of budget travel or inspire confidence a trip to Disney is realistic, but there is a way to do Disney super cheap. In fact, with a lot of ingenuity and hustle, you can even go to Disney for free. Yep. Seriously, you can go to Disney for free!
This post is pretty detailed, so take a few notes or bookmark it. And these techniques are not for the faint at heart. Going to Disney for free or even going to Disney on a budget takes some work, but it’s totally worth it and results in huge savings. You should also know that there are several different tactics laid out in this article (including one at the bottom if these just won’t work for you), so keep reading and put together a plan that delivers.
Free Airfare to Disney
Airfare can eat up a big chunk of your travel budget but is also one of the easiest things to get for free.
Using credit card bonuses for free airfare is a no-brainer, and can be done relatively quickly. However, I’ve noticed many people are stunned to find out flying for free is not only possible but easy. I once ran into a friend of mine at the airport in NYC who is a pilot for Delta. He seemed astounded I was there using reward points and flew there for free. It surprised me that frequent flyer miles have such a bad rap that even commercial airline pilots think they’re largely unusable. I use them all the time!
But here’s the thing. It will take you forever to rack up enough points strictly from a basic credit card with a partnership with an airline, random shopping promotions that offer miles when you shop at a place like FTD, or while flying. You need those credit card sign-up bonuses to make it work. And the way to get enough of them is to apply for multiple cards on the same day before the credit card companies can see how many inquiries there are on your report. You might still get rejected for some cards, but it’s still worth it.
Here are the cards I recommend for free airfare. I also apply for multiple cards on the same day to maximize my reward point potential:
Gold Delta Skymiles Credit Card – For a limited time, earn 40k bonus points on Delta AND a $50 statement credit after making just $1,000 in purchases on your card. Free Delta tickets with frequent flyer miles are usually 25,000 points, but I have gotten them for 20,000 which is usually enough for two tickets depending on the day I fly. If both you and your partner apply, you could end up with four reward tickets depending on when you fly. There is an annual fee after the first year, so make sure to cancel your card on time.
As a back-up, the Southwest Rapid Rewards card might also work for you with a 50k bonus miles. But take a look at which airlines you already have frequent flyer miles with, and then see how many points it takes to get to Orlando. From there, you can look at which cards make the most sense for you.
Hey, What About Your Credit Report?
If you’re about to buy a home or new car, then you probably want to hold off on a big push on the credit card strategy for a free trip to Disney. Taking out multiple cards will TEMPORARILY impact your credit score. It may go down multiple points and knock you into a different credit category for a few months, but as you make full, on-time payments, it will go back up and usually even improves.
Although I cannot guarantee what will happen with your own credit, this has been our experience over the 10-years we’ve used reward travel cards and is also what travel hackers and travel bloggers swear by. I’ve always come out with a better credit score after about six months while making on-time, full payments and canceling cards after we used the rewards.
Leveraging credit card travel rewards is also a very common way people afford free travel, is perfectly legal, and credit card companies know people do it. These companies are banking on getting some annual fees out of new customers and hope they’ll just decide to keep them.
When we tear through a travel card reward spree, my husband and I cancel them about 6 to 9 months later after using our rewards. Just make sure you read all of the fine print of your credit cards and keep track of what you’re spending, any annual fees (they’re usually waived the first year), and the first year expiration date.
Find a Cheap Disney Hotel (or a Free One!)
Your next big expense will likely be your hotel stay if you want to stay at a Disney resort or somewhere close by for cheap. But before you look off the resort, the Dolphin Hotel at Disney World is a Marriott hotel, which means you can rack up points on a Starwood or Marriott card and pay for your hotel at Disney with your points.
The coveted Starwood credit card bonus usually offers a 25,000 sign-up bonus after spending $3k over a 3-month period. It will take roughly 10,000 points per night or more to stay at the Swan Hotel depending on the season. If you and your spouse or partner both apply, are approved, and meet the minimum spending bonus; you could end up with 5-nights free at the Dolphin hotel at Disney.
I also love that you can use Starwood points on multiple airlines, hotels, and other travel perks.
You should note you will pay a small resort fee for this “free” option, but there are ways to drum up some extra cash to pay for it, or to put towards food and souvenirs. Start with a Discover card and get a $50 statement credit after your first purchase within 3 months of receiving the card. When you get the statement credit, use it to pay your credit card bill, but move $50 into your travel savings account. Discover also offers up to 5% cashback on qualifying categories that change on an ongoing basis but sometimes includes gas and groceries. Put those savings towards your free Disney trip.
If the Dolphin hotel won’t work for you or you can’t get the Starwood card, there are other options that will work for you with the Chase Sapphire card.
I personally think Disney resorts are totally worth it because you know you’re getting that insane Disney quality and can pick and choose your price points and amenities like pool, restaurants, and activities. Your magic bands and parking is also free when you stay at a Disney resort.
If you’re looking for cheap hotels at Disney and other accommodations, my suggestions are:
1) Disney Value Resorts – All-Star Movies Resort, Pop Century Resort, Art of Animation, All-Star Sports Resort, and All-Star Music resort are examples of value resorts at Disney World that (depending on the season) retail for $200 or less. Use this link to get 28% off Disney resorts and hotels.
2) Airbnb (pick a place nearby with a pool for the kids) – Use this link to get $40 off if you’re a first-time Airbnb guest.
3) Off-site hotels in the Orlando area with free shuttle (usually inexpensive to the tune of $75 or less, but not at all glamorous as a Disney resort or as spacious and homey as Airbnb) –
Get the reward cards for a free a Disney hotel:
Starwood card – Get 25,000 in points when you sign-up and spend $3,000 over the first 3-month period. You can use Starwood points for multiple airlines and hotels. Or save both you and your spouse or partner’s Starwood points and stay free for 4 to 5 nights at the Dolphin Hotel.
Chase Sapphire Rewards – Get 50,000 travel points when you sign-up. When you spend $4,000 on purchase in the first 3 months and book through their travel portal, you could end up with $625 toward travel when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards. If both you and your spouse or partner sign-up at different times and meet the spend, you could end up with $1,250 towards a hotel or tickets.
Getting Disney Tickets for Free
Tickets can often soar above the cost of your hotel stay if you’re traveling with a larger family. So here’s the scoop. No, there are technically no free tickets to Disney World (but you can make it free, keep reading) unless you’re part of a press or media trip.
Discount Disney Tickets + Reward Points
So that’s the only real way to get free Disney tickets, however, you can make it free by using your travel points on your reward cards. Combine that strategy with discount Disney tickets, and you’re in business. But here’s the thing. Discount Disney World tickets are difficult to come by and are often sold by shady distributors who buy them in bulk and then resell. Unfortunately, they often come with hidden fees and taxes and you risk buying bad tickets. That’s why you need to use a reputable company that is Disney authorized.
Undercover Tourist is an authorized Walt Disney World Resort broker and boasts an A rating from the Better Business Bureau. If they sound familiar, it’s because they’re featured everywhere from the Wall Street Journal to Smart Money and ship tickets free, plus their ticket prices include all the taxes and fees. I highly recommend them, they rock.
Get the card to reward yourself with free Disney tickets:
Chase Sapphire Rewards – Get 50,000 travel points when you sign-up. When you spend $4,000 on purchase in the first 3 months and book through their travel portal, you could end up with $625 toward travel when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards. If both you and your spouse or partner sign-up at different times and meet the spend, you could end up with $1,250 towards your tickets
You can also use the Chase Sapphire Rewards card to pay for your airline tickets. Of course, if you use the Chase Sapphire rewards card to fund your hotel stay or airfare, then you need to come up with other options for your park tickets. The Venture One card is also super flexible and can pay down your travel expenses with points.
What If You Still Can’t Go to Disney for Free or Need Pocket Money?
The above strategies have worked for hundreds of people, but I get that it is not replicable for everyone. Not everyone has the spending power to make the minimums or has the credit score to command these travel cards. And that’s okay.
Here’s what you do instead. Use the strategies you can above whether you’re using the $40 Airbnb credit for first-time guests or the discount tickets at Undercover Tourist, or maybe just one credit card Those things will at least knock a few hundred to a thousand dollars off your list.
Next, your best bet is to start a side hustle and budget slashing strategy.
Turn your Disney side hustle into a challenge by getting your entire family involved. Even your kids can start a side hustle or budget slashing strategy and put it towards your family vacation to Disney. And as an added bonus put all of those Disney dollars into an account you can’t easily get to like a separate savings account or online account.
Side Hustle & Savings Ideas to Help Fund Your Disney Trip ASAP
Here’s where to get started side hustling and budget slashing, with many of these immediately put money in your pocket.
Surf the Web and Take Surveys – Swagbucks gives you $5 to $10 just to sign-up and then continues to give you bonuses as you play online. Do fun stuff you already like to do like watch online videos, surf the web, take surveys, and find discounts.
Get cash-back at grocery stores – I’m not much of a coupon clipper, but use Ibotta to shop for things I already use and get cash back after uploading my receipt to their app. They also offer bonuses of $5 to $10 just to sign up!
Launch a Lucrative Side Hustle – Side hustling is now the norm to get on top of finances, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to figure out how to identify and monetize your skills. This super handy side hustle workbook can help you re-focus and narrow it all down.
Sell Your Junk – I frequently sell stuff on Craigslist or Nextdoor for hundreds of dollars including broken smartphones that people wanted to fix and flip, old instruments, baby clothes, toys, furniture… you name it.
Get Cash Back with eBates – The popular eBates app offers a sign-up bonus from $5 to $25 just for signing up. Even though eBates has been around since 1998, they weren’t on my radar until recently. When you shop through their site, you can earn cash back at over 2,000 stores and put it towards your Disney fund.
Offer Virtual Assistance Work (in 30 days or less) – I’m a freelance writer and social media marketing consultant by trade, but also offer virtual assistance work from time to time by leveraging the skills I already have right now. Here’s a recommended course that shows you how to use the skills you already have and find clients to land work as a virtual assistant and start charging thousands each month.
Use $5 Meal Plans (put your monthly savings directly towards Disney) – This budget slasher is a huge game changer. I struggle with meal planning but highly recommend $5 Meal Plans to create meals that can be put together for just $5. If you could shave $300 off your grocery and meal budget (or more!) just think how fast you could save up for a trip to Disney.
Drive for Lyft – This is a fun side gig that’s totally flexible for you or your spouse or partner where you can drive when you want with no set schedule. Lyft drivers also earn a reported average of $17.50 an hour. Sign-up now.
Rent out a room or basement on Airbnb – Becoming a host on Airbnb does take some skill in providing a pleasant environment for guests, but you can turn a spare room or basement into a money-making machine by leveraging Airbnb.
Become a Paid Freelance Writer (in 30 days or less) – I’ve been a paid freelance writer (primarily for travel and small business publications) but went about it all wrong. It took me forever to figure it out and start earning a full-time income in 15 to 20 hours of work a week. Had I taken this course that has turned thousands of novices into paid freelance writers, I would have done it in a fraction of the time and learned to use the skills I already have to land work in 30-days or less.
Become a Birthday Party Entertainer – Got teenagers in the house? I know two teenagers here in Atlanta who invested a few hundred dollars in a folding table, some craft supplies, and high-end Anna and Elsa costumes. They charge $200 to come to your house for 4-hours for a birthday, set-up, bring the craft, do the girls’ nails, and clean-up. They’re fully booked and crushing it!
Earn Money for Tweeting – Are you a blogger with a social media following of at least 2,500 across two or more social media channels? You can earn to write about products you love and Tweet about them by signing up for Linqia. Some users report earning $50 to thousands on a single campaign.
Get Paid to Use Pinterest – I love this one. I get paid to Pinterest for some of my clients by creating Pinterest business accounts, creating pins, and scheduling. Although I was already doing social media for clients, I personally bought this course to teach myself the ins and outs of Pinterest for businesses and immediately landed a client.
Save $720 or more – This huge money saving strategy can put Disney within reach. I switched our phone plan from AT&T to Republic Wireless and saved over $720 a year (plans start at $20 a month!) Depending on where you stay at Disney, $720 could cover your entire hotel stay!
Tips for Your Free or Cheap Disney Strategy
Now that you’ve got a plan that relies on credit cards or just sweat equity and side hustling, it’s time to buckle down and get started.
But first, you should know it’s likely you will get denied for some credit cards. My credit falls in the excellent category (yes, even after taking out multiple cards), and I still get rejected for cards. The reasons are usually vague like I have multiple inquiries or not a long enough credit history even though I’ve had credit for nearly 20-years. It really doesn’t matter. There are multiple cards out there and they introduce new cards and offers all the time.
Apply to Cards the Same Day
In my experience, and as advised by many travel hackers, applying for multiple credit cards on the same day is key to avoid credit card companies from seeing the multiple hard inquiries on your report. It is likely you will still get some rejections as not all credit cards approve you instantly, but the chances for approval across multiple cards are higher.
If you’re worried you can’t make all of the minimum spends and don’t want to apply to multiple cards on the same day, then try applying for one or two cards every 4 to 6 months instead and plan ahead for a free trip to Disney.
Don’t Add Authorized Users to Your Travel Reward Cards
This is also important. DO NOT add your spouse or partner as an authorized user on your card. It will create an inquiry on their credit report and reduce their chances of getting their own reward cards. And remember that you will likely need to take turns applying. For example, you apply for the cards and make the minimum spends and then once you earn those rewards, your partner does the same thing. Otherwise, you may have too much to spend on multiple cards.
Watch Your Spending
In order to keep travel hacking your way to a free trip to Disney, you need to be careful about how you’re using your cards. Always pay your cards in full and pay attention to when you hit those reward points. Track everything carefully.
If you need help, here are some ways to make your minimum spending:
- Pre-pay your utilities like power, gas, Internet, phone, and anything else you can think of.
- Buy gift cards at the grocery stores you frequent and use them once your spend on your travel credit card is fulfilled. In the travel hacking world, this is called manufactured spending.
- Ask trusted friends or family if you can put a large purchase on your card and have them write you a check. Obviously, use this tactic with caution and with someone you trust.
Stay Obsessively Organized
Going to Disney for free is well within reach, but it takes some real sweat equity to keep all of the details straight. That’s why it’s absolutely crucial that you stay incredibly organized through this process. Create a spreadsheet in a free system like Google Docs to keep track of:
- What You’re Applying For
- The Date You Applied
- Minimum Spending Requirements
- Bonus Reward Incentive
- Expiration Date
- Approval Date
And if you’re going to side hustle, you can use the same spreadsheet to meticulously track your hours worked, money earned, and stock it away in a savings account just for Disney. Get your whole family involved to encourage each other and track the results. Soon your family-focus on that trip to Disney will turn into a bonding experience that gives your kids a sense of accountability and pride in the hard work everyone is doing.
These credit card and bonus reward offers were valid at the time of writing this post. Always double check the offers, annual fees, and terms before signing up.