When it comes to travel, everyone has a different idea as to what their “perfect vacation” would be. For some it’s laying on a beach, for others it’s endless sightseeing. However, for many people, couples and families alike, it’s spending a few days at a world-renowned theme park like Disneyland resort or Walt Disney World resort. Disney parks are often considered the “happiest place on earth” and rightly so.
Disneyland is an awesome vacation for couples and families alike – you absolutely don’t need to have kids in tow to enjoy all it has to offer. One thing though: once you start pricing out flights, hotels, and theme park tickets, it’s a quick realization that your future Disney trip is EXPENSIVE!
Most people would lean towards saving for this trip for a lengthy period of time or simply accrue more debt. At Frugal Flyer, we have the viewpoint that there is always a better, more efficient, and usually cheaper way to travel; this is no different for Disney vacations.
For an upcoming April 2020 trip with my girlfriend, we only paid $190 CAD each all-in for round-trip WestJet Premium flights from YEG, a five-day hotel stay 10 minutes away from the park, and two 3-day Park Hopper tickets.
A Disney Vacation Using Miles & Points is Within Reach
Believe it or not, credit card rewards through a variety of rewards programs can be used to heavily reduce the cost of airline tickets, hotels, and Disneyland park tickets. These will undoubtedly be your biggest expense during a Disney vacation, so taking the time to learn and understand some of the options available to you will pay off in spades; lowering the cost of the “essentials” will leave you with a healthier budget to enjoy the parks.
I’ll cover each section separately below, including the best options and other alternatives so you can determine what would work best for you or your family.
Flying from the western coast of Canada, the best “bang for your buck” will be flying with WestJet, preferably into John Wayne Airport (SNA). SNA is significantly closer to the park when compared to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and will result in a much easier, shorter, and cheaper commute to your hotel. SNA is also a smaller airport which results in a less hectic and more streamlined experience when compared to a behemoth like LAX.
That being said, there are two different paths that you can take when booking your flights through WestJet. Both involve using WestJet Dollars (WSD) which are the primary currency of their rewards program. WestJet Dollars are worth the same as real Canadian dollars, so if you have 250 WSD you can redeem those for $250 against a WestJet flight (excluding mandatory fees and taxes). Let’s take a look at those options:
WestJet Dollars + Companion Fare
The most value that can be extracted out of the WestJet Rewards program is through the combination of applying WestJet Dollars with a companion fare. The companion fare is a voucher that is earned as part of the sign-up bonus on the WestJet RBC World Elite Mastercard.
This voucher, when applied, makes it so your second passenger on your itinerary only has to pay $99 base fare + any applicable fees and taxes when flying within North America. Even better is that WSD are able to be redeemed against the $99 base fare which results in significant savings.
Let’s take a look at a basic example – a round-trip from Edmonton (YEG) to Anaheim (SNA) in economy class for two people:
Total cost of $1422 CAD – $711 per person. This would cost $1033 in WSD and $388.40 in cash. On the other hand, if we apply the companion voucher to this booking, the math is as follows:
|ATC divided by 2 + $99 for Companion Voucher||$615.97|
|Taxes, Fees, and Charges||$388.40|
|Total Cost for Flights w/ Companion Fare||$1,004.37|
Total cost of $1004 CAD – $502 per person. This would cost $615.97 in WSD and $388.40 in cash. This results in savings of $418 CAD or $209 per person on the booking which is significant. Keep in mind, that this is just for an economy fare. Companion fares are also valid on all Premium bookings, meaning you can have a companion premium fare for $99 – which scales up the savings even more.
For those who are traveling as a family, consider the scalability of the WestJet companion fare. If two adults each hold the WestJet World Elite card, they will both receive $250 WSD and a companion fare. If you were to have two kids, each adult could complete their own booking with one child as their companion fare. Couple that with the $250 WSD you also received as the bonus and the savings really start to stack up.
For your reference, WestJet has an excellent guide on how to book with a companion voucher.
WestJet’s Member Exclusive Fares
On the other hand, WestJet Rewards members can redeem their WSD against “Member Exclusive” fares. Depending on the amount of WSD you have or if you are traveling solo, this might be the better option. These fares tend to be significantly cheaper overall however there are a few constraints: only a few seats are opened as Member Exclusive on each flight and you must have the complete amount of WSD in your account in order to book them. For example, take a look at this round-trip itinerary:
As you can see, it is significantly cheaper overall than even booking “Basic Economy” which one should never do (due to the restrictions imposed on that fare type). It is worth it to compare the member-exclusive fare versus applying the companion voucher to determine where you can extract the most value. Keeping in mind, WestJet only releases a few seats as member-exclusive fares for each flight (usually 4), so it can be harder to find availability as your travel date comes closer.
Booking a Member Exclusive fare is quite easy – simply check the “Member Exclusive Fares” box located on the WestJet flight search tool, as highlighted below. As you proceed through the booking process, you will be required to sign in to your WestJet account to redeem WSD.
It may also be worth running a variety of combinations of companion fares and member-exclusive fares (on different bookings) to determine where the most value lies, which will often depend on the size of the party you are trying to book.
How to Quickly Rack Up WestJet Dollars
These tricks work exceedingly well because WestJet Dollars can be earned quite easily through a variety of credit cards in Canada:
- WestJet RBC World Elite Mastercard: 250 WestJet Dollars & companion voucher on the first purchase; $120 CAD Annual Fee; $80k minimum personal income or $150k minimum household income
- RBC Avion Visa Infinite: 15,000 Avion points on first purchase (transfers 100:1 WSD – worth $150 WSD); $120 CAD Annual Fee; $60k minimum personal income or $100k minimum household income
- RBC Avion Visa Platinum: 15,000 Avion points on first purchase (transfers 100:1 WSD – worth $150 WSD); $120 CAD Annual Fee; no listed minimum income
It is always worth doing some quick research to see if there are any higher offer links out there as new ones pop up often; Frugal Flyer’s credit card comparison tool is a great starting point.
Similarly, product switching between different RBC cards can be a great opportunity to maximize the return on one application, as you will often receive a prorated annual fee credited to your card upon switching.
Location, location, location. If you are going to Disneyland, you want to be as close to the parks for it to be a quick Uber, Lyft, or walk in the morning. Not to mention, it is super convenient to be able to get back to your room in a timely manner after being on your feet all day.
Luckily, the Disneyland area has a smattering of hotels to choose from, including some Marriott Bonvoy hotels that you can redeem points for. That being said, there is a significant spectrum of price surrounding points and cash rates in the immediate area – I recommend picking something that is clean and close to the park while foregoing some of the other amenities. After all, you will most likely be spending the majority of your time at Disneyland!
Located a 10-minute walk or $6 Uber/Lyft away, the Four Points by Sheraton Anaheim is more motel-like with outdoor entrances and long hallways to navigate. The rooms are clean and big enough; it was an average place to rest after a long day at the parks. The highway is right beside the property, so I highly recommend requesting a room away from the highway or facing the pool – you know it could be problematic when they provide earplugs in the room!
That being said, I did have a five-night stay here back in September 2019 and it was good enough for a Disneyland trip. The pool area is open 24 hours and quite nice – I definitely wandered down there with a drink in hand most nights!
A slightly more expensive Marriott option nearby would be the Fairfield Inn Anaheim Resort. This hotel is located across the street from Disneyland and has a nice pool area. This might be a better location for those with younger kids if you wanted to walk to the resort; it is less of a trek and you don’t have to cross over the freeway as you do if you are at the Four Points by Sheraton Anaheim.
It is important to note that while free breakfast for all guests (regardless of status) is a typical amenity at most Fairfield Inns, this benefit does not apply to this location.
Earning Marriott Bonvoy points in Canada can be accomplished through a couple of American Express branded credit cards:
- American Express Marriott Bonvoy Personal Card: $120 annual fee; no listed income requirement; 50,000 Bonvoy points after spending $1,500 in the first 3 months
- American Express Marriott Bonvoy Business Card: $150 annual fee; no listed income requirement; individuals can apply as a sole proprietorship; 50,000 Bonvoy points after spending $1500 in the first 3 months
- American Express Business Edge Card: $99 annual fee; no listed income requirement; individuals can apply as a sole proprietorship; 40,000 Membership Rewards points via referral after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months (click the link above and scroll to the bottom to access the Business Edge referral offer)
- American Express Cobalt Card: $10 monthly fee; no listed income requirement; 2,500 Membership Rewards points when spending $500 in a month for the first 12 months (up to 30K MR-S total); 5x points on groceries and dining out
Note: You can also refer your significant other/partner to the Bonvoy card. This results in an increased minimum spend requirement of $3,000 in the first 3 months for 51,000 Bonvoy, but the person referring also receives a bonus of 10,000 Bonvoy points.
While using points might be the better option, always look at cash rates in the area to determine if there is better value to be had. When redeeming Marriott Bonvoy points, the minimum value you should place is 1 cent per point. If the redemption is less than that, consider paying cash as you can extract more value on a different future redemption.
That being said, always look at cash rates for other hotels in the surrounding area – there are times when paying cash just makes good financial sense. There are some deals to be had depending on when you are traveling and how far out you are booking!
Disney tickets are priced similarly to other theme parks – they become cheaper on a per-day basis for the more days you purchase on a ticket as seen below. Disneyland does seem to often offer a 20% discount if you are a Canadian resident which will be listed on the main ticket page of their website here (this offer comes and goes).
It is worth checking for Disneyland tickets far in advance of your trip as if you find a discount, the tickets will be valid long past the final date that they are available for purchase. For example, as of February 2020, you can receive 20% off park admission for 3 days or more if you purchase them by February 28th. However, they are good for use until January 2021. There is no risk if you buy tickets in advance and I recommend locking in at a good price if a promotion is available.
It is also worth checking if your workplace or any organizations you are a member of have a membership to Perkopolis (such as Fido Xtra), as there is often a small discount on Disneyland tickets available.
However, you can also apply loyalty program points to reduce the cost of tickets, or even make them free. There are two main options: Air Miles or redeeming points against travel expenses.
Air Miles is a program that many Canadians may be familiar with due to their exposure at many grocers or gas stations across Canada. They can be collected as cash miles to be redeemed against everyday expenses or dream miles to be redeemed against flights, merchandise, or attractions. If you are collecting Dream Miles with the intent of redeeming for Disneyland tickets, you can see the current prices on the Air Miles – USA Fun & Attractions redemption page.
Initially, it can seem like it will be near impossible to accrue enough Air Miles as the usual earning rate is 1 Air Mile per $20 spent at many retailers. As usual, let us turn to credit cards and see if we can accelerate the normal earning rate. The BMO Air Miles World Elite Mastercard currently awards 3000 Air Miles upon spending $3000 in the first three months with no annual fee.
This card is a great tool to accumulate Air Miles as a result of the bonus and the accelerated earning rate of 1 Air Mile per $20 spent anywhere. With no initial cost for the annual fee, this is an excellent card that both you and your significant other could grab and really start racking up the Air Miles. Even better, you can use the same Air Miles number for both credit cards to accumulate all of your miles in one account.
Another way to earn Air Miles quickly is through the Air Miles Shops Portal. This is an online shopping portal that rewards you for clicking through to various online retailers before completing your purchase, such as Amazon, Apple, and Hudson’s Bay. While the usual earn rate here is 1 Air Mile per $20 spent, there are often bonus events that can see the mile earning rate increase significantly, even up to 20 Air Miles per $20 spent (1 Air Mile per dollar)!
This can significantly accelerate the earn rate and you don’t have to go out of your way – just make your usual online purchases and reap the rewards! It is worth keeping an eye on the Air Miles Shops Portal during many holidays as most of their promotions seem to be centered around them. For example, Black Friday & Cyber Monday in November 2019 saw bonuses of 20x on all retailers on the site while Christmas saw bonuses of 15x on all retailers. For some context, between these two special events I was able to accrue over 19,000 Air Miles – the Air Miles shopping portal can be incredibly lucrative.
If you don’t have either of these options available, you are also able to redeem WestJet dollars through a vacation package for attraction tickets.
Now that you know some tips and tricks, it’s time to make the magic happen and start working towards reducing the cost of your future Disneyland resort vacation. As is typical with anything that is rewards points related, it is always worth the time to sit down and map out your goals and a plan to reach them, including what credit cards to apply for and how you will reach the minimum spend (if required). With credit card churning and rewards points, a little planning goes a long way.
The strategies in this post also can be applied to other theme park destinations, such as Universal Studios.