Now, how much is this really saving me? Well, the flights (as priced today) are around $900 for the four of us. The hotel would be about $300 a night, but I also do not have to pay the tax since there is nothing to tax. So, that’s between $1600 and $1700 in hotel savings right there. Note: we do have to pay a resort fee and parking (for our rental car), but to save that much for that hotel? It’s a no brainer. All totaled, that’s around $2500 in savings, which for us working families is a life saver. But as I always say…when I have saved this much on the trip, I will put some of that back into the other aspects of the vacation, e.g. dining, souvenirs, and tickets. I’m not looking to be a cheapskate…I am looking to live large without spending large! And so can you!
When Marci and I took the kids to DC this Summer (free flights using Southwest points, always nice), we agreed afterward that we would never, never take our kids on a “vacation” again. The fighting, bickering, name-calling, pouting, sulking, “I’m too cool for this” vibe just got out of hand. Wait, you guys never experience that? What’s your secret? But, upon arriving home, we realized that our soon-to-be 9 year old daughter last experienced Disney at age 4, and she does not remember much of it. So, this may or may not be our grand finale with said rugrats: Disney World in the Spring, and then it’s just Marci and me on future vacations. FYI, if the kids come with you, it’s merely a “trip”, not a vacation.
Being the cost-minded guy I am, the first thing I thought was “the tickets are going to absolutely slay me, and there are no awesome discounts on those, so what can I get for free?” Air and hotel instantly leaped to my mind. And this is where having a diversified points and miles strategy really comes into play. Let me explain.
The two cards above (Chase Sapphire Preferred and Starwood American Express) both earn flexible points, which are the best kinds of points to earn. I can redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards points for a fixed rate of 1.25 cents per point toward travel (through the Chase website), but I can also transfer my points to the loyalty programs of Chase partners such as Southwest, United, Hyatt, and others (hence the “flexible” part). When I transfer my points, I get greater value out of them (for example, Southwest is typically going to yield somewhere between 1.4 and 1.6 cents per point). For my example, we will fly Southwest to Orlando from Atlanta, and we won’t need a ton of points to do so (since Atlanta to Orlando is a low fare and Southwest bases the points required on the fare), Since I use the Chase Freedom, Chase Ink, and Chase Sapphire Preferred (which all earn Ultimate Rewards points) on an ongoing basis, I always have points to use toward Southwest flights (though I can also save them for Hyatt stays or trips to Europe via United). For the four of us, we are probably looking at around 45000 – 50000 Southwest points to get there and back. So, our airfare is covered with Chase points. Incidentally, Starwood points can be transferred to over 30 different airlines, hence their placement in the “flexible” category. They can be used both at Starwood hotels or for flights. For this Disney trip, Marci and I wanted to stay somewhere fairly nice and close to the parks without having to a) spend a ton of money or b) commit to Disney’s “Deluxe” hotels, which easily run $300-$500 a night during busy seasons. As many of you Disney aficionados already know, Starwood owns the Dolphin and Swan hotels, which are on Disney property and are incredibly close to EPCOT and Hollywood Studios, but they are not actually owned by Disney. As such, I can use Starwood points toward my stay at either of these two hotels. Now, I love Starwood points, but they are hard to come by on a day to day basis. Starwood gives you 1 point per dollar you spend on everything except their hotels, so they are painfully slow to earn in any meaningful quantity. The Swan and Dolphin hotels are Category 4 hotels, which means they cost 10,000 points per night. If I had to rely on just my points earned from my everyday spend, I would not have enough. But, when I signed up for the card, I got 30,000 points after meeting the spend requirement. After putting $10,000 on the card, I have 40,000 points, and that is enough for 5 nights…wait, I thought you just said it was 10,000 points per night Jim! Ah, the even better part. With Starwood stays paid with points, your fifth night is free! So, 40,000 points gets me 5 nights rather than just 4.
My tip for couples who want to duplicate what I am doing (assuming you have read my seminar on this whole hobby): first, only one of you needs to sign up for the Starwood card. The other person, or both of you, can sign up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, assuming you can meet the combined minimum spends on the cards. If you can’t meet the spend on these cards simultaneously, then get the Starwood card first since room availability will get tougher as time goes on. Then move on to the Sapphire card. Southwest will always let you use points for their flight if a seat is available, and that is one of the reasons I love them. Note: when you meet the minimum spend, you could have up to 35,000 Starwood points (30,000 bonus + 5,000 in spend to get it) and 88,000 Chase points (40,000 bonus points + 4,000 in spend to get it multiplied by two people doing it). One last note: if Southwest is not a great option where you live, you can transfer Chase points to your United account (if that airline works better for you) or simply use the Chase points through Chase’s travel portal for slightly less value, but unlimited flexibility. If you want to stay on Disney property at a non-Disney hotel, then the Swan and Dolphin are just about the best you can get. With regard to the flights portion of your trip, I am merely using the Chase Sapphire Preferred as an example of how to get there. There are lots of other cards that can help you get there, and I usually prefer to hold my Chase points until I am ready for international travel. So, feel free to ask if you want other options. So, what do you think? Would you like to save a bundle on your Disney vacation? If you enjoyed this post, please share it with your friends!
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