Disneyland on a Budget: Magically Using Rewards & Discounts
I am currently at the Disneyland Resort this week for the "Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas" in Disneyland merchandise event. Given the current state of financial affairs at home, you can bet that I had to really get creative in order to afford this 3-day trip. In reality, this is always how I travel to Disneyland. Since the very first time I visited Disneyland in 2002 for my daughter's 5th birthday, I have been on a tight budget. And even when the purse strings are a little looser, I typically don't splurge on travel basics. I would rather save that money for a truly magical dining experience or extra-special park experiences for my family.
Luckily, I always plan ahead! I've been a Disneyland Premium Annual Passholder for 12 years. This means that my park entry fees have already been budgeted, accounted for and paid for the entire year. Additionally, I receive merchandise, tour and meal discounts throughout the entire Disneyland Resort (parks, hotels, Downtown Disney) totaling up to 20% off. This added perk makes eating during my trips very cost-effective. But how exactly did I get here?
Thanks to the SouthWest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Visa and the SouthWest Airlines Rapid Rewards program, I have been earning and redeeming points for almost a decade. With the SouthWest Visa card, I earn points by paying bills with my credit card. I then pay the credit card statement in full each month so that I do not incur interest charges. Points are earned as follows:
- 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest Airlines and AirTran®Airways purchases made directly with the airlines
- 2 points per $1 spent on Rapid Rewards® Hotel
and Car Rental Partner purchases
- 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
For example, the flight to Disneyland was about $59, which I paid for rather than using points because it was such a low fare. By using my SouthWest Visa for this flight, I earned 2 points per each $1 spent, PLUS I earned points just by using the SouthWest Rapid Rewards program. The return flight was much more expensive, so I used points to fly home.
Next in my rewards bag of tricks is my Disney Premier Visa card from Chase. I also use this card to pay bills and to buy groceries and gasoline. I pay the balance in full each month to avoid interest charges. Points are accumulated as follows:
- Earn 2% in Disney Dream Reward Dollars at gas stations, grocery stores and most Disney locations.
- Earn 1% on all your other card purchases.
As the points turn into dollars, I can then redeem them for either airline credits on my statement (that's for Premier cardholders only) or for a Disney Rewards Redemption Card to buy things at Disney. The Disney Rewards Redemption Card is accepted at most Disney locations! Instead of paying with cash, I redeemed the Disney Dream Reward Dollars I've earned by simply paying bills with my Tinker Bell Visa. I used the money on my Disney Rewards Redemption Card to eat and buy a few gifts during this trip without dipping into my cash. Yes, you can use this card in conjunction with the Annual Pass for discounts. It's a great perk!
As far as transportation goes, because I come to Disneyland so often, I wasn't worried about how I would get from John Wayne Airport to the Disneyland Resort. I played it by ear, and hopped on an available shuttle that took me to my hotel for a whopping $11.00. For my Sunday morning departure I did call and reserve a spot on the Disneyland Resort Express which took me to the airport for a $20.00 fee.
I spent a lot of time researching hotels in the area since I am here for 3 nights. I finally decided on the Hilton Anaheim because of its proximity to the Disneyland Hotel, which is where I am spending the majority of my time during the event. I am a Hilton Honors member, and choose Hilton hotels often enough to earn a decent amount of points. I was able to use points to cover one night of my stay, and I used a discount code for the other two nights. This hotel generally has pretty great rates, and the location is fantastic. Plus, since it is a Category 6 Reward hotel, I earn points very quickly!
Using all of the above rewards, points and discounts I was able to spend 3 days and 3 nights at the Disneyland Resort for a minimal amount of money. I also utilized my Starbucks Partner discount to purchase coffee outside of the park. I brought an empty water bottle from home and kept 2 gallons of water in my room that I picked-up at the 7-11 across the street from my hotel. (You are allowed to bring outside food and beverages into the parks so long as they are not in glass containers and do not contain alcohol.) Inside the parks I chose smaller meals and snacks and only splurged on a glass of wine once the entire trip. It helps that I have changed my lifestyle and am choosing to eat healthier, smaller meals.
Disney on a budget is possible! If you'd like more tips and tricks, please comment below or contact me via email. I would be happy to share more money saving ideas!