Regardless of what your trip will cost, paying for it is a completely separate matter. Depending on your choice of vacation (Parks, Resorts, Travel, Food, Cruise), you will have to pay at least part of your trip at the time of booking with the remainder due at some point either before your trip or at time of arrival.
The breakdown between down payment/deposit and final payment isn’t completely irrelevant. Even for something as costly as a cruise, Disney doesn’t expect you to pay the entirely up front (assuming you’ve booked your trip at least some number of months in advance). So that means that you’re going to have some time to earn the cost of the trip (if need be). And even if you don’t, giving your money to Disney isn’t earning interest. So I always advise holding onto your cash for as long as possible.
What I want to discuss here in more detail, however, are the actual methods of payment (cash, credit, gift cards, etcetera), as there are discounts to be had and savings to be found. So unless you are rolling in it, I can definitely save you 5% on your trip with minimal effort. Maybe more.
Ok. That’s cruel of me to start with this because there aren’t any. Not really. Especially not now. If anything, when Disney says they’re giving you a discount is when you really better start paying attention – because chances are, they’re handing you a $100 bill while picking your pocket for $500.
I discuss this in more detail on the packages discussion in Booking Your Trip. But the crux is that Disney never discounts Park Tickets. And they very rarely offer a package where you’re actually spending less on the Room. Instead, they’ll advertise a “5-night free” offer or a Free Dining offer. And while it’s true that you’re getting that extra room night for free, it’s at a time when they know they have open rooms already. So ensuring you’re around for another day of paying for $5.00 bottles of Coke or a $5.00 pretzel (and many of such items), not to mention $25 stuffed animals, well, it’s an easy choice for them.
Ok. So a Disney Visa is your first way to save money on a Disney trip. But let’s start with the obvious downside: you have to apply for and obtain the card in order to get this savings. I am a financial guy at heart and telling people to knowingly get a credit card hurts my soul. But if you can handle paying off a credit card every month (so you’re not paying finance charges), and you’re a huge Disney freak like me… this could be the best card for your wallet. It is NOT the best savings available – but it’s the most pervasive in terms of opportunities to get cash back on your everyday purchases.
As of July, 2021, there are two different Disney Visas available (depending on your credit score): the standard Disney Visa and then the Disney Premier Visa. The benefits of each as follows:
Standard Visa: earn 1% on every purchase
Premier Visa: earn 2% on gas, groceries and restaurants, and at most Disney locations. Earn 1% on everything else.
Rewards are then redeemable for a Disney Gift Card (discussed more below).
Non-Disney Credit Cards
If, however, you have a credit card that is already giving you 1.5%+ as a reward for every dollar your spend, regardless of location, and you can redeem this in a way that doesn’t further discount the redemption (ie: not “spending” points on over-valued merchandise), then buying your trip on that card could give you the best amount of savings.
Capital One’s Venture Card, for example, offers 2% on every purchase. And then they offer a “purchase eraser” that is essentially a dollar-for-dollar credit for prior purchases. So if you spend $10,000, you’d earn enough points to erase a $200 purchase.
There are dozens of credit cards that offer a variety of rewards programs. And there are plenty of websites out there that explore the credit programs available and help you figure out what could work for you. Again, the key is that you NEVER pay a finance charge. At a minimum of 6% interest (and an average of 15-25% depending on the brand and version of card), you’d eat your savings (and then some) in a single month.
Disney Gift Cards
So if credit cards can get you 2% back, how do we get to 5%? Simple. Disney Gift Cards. Disney Gift Cards are the real hidden gem. You can purchase Disney Gift Cards (DGC) at most national retailers: Target, Walmart, and from all the big box clubs: Sam’s Club, Costco, BJ’s, etc. They’re the same as carrying cash (and need to be guarded as such).
The big box clubs will be the easiest for most people as many folks already have a membership. And the default offer is a $500 DGC for $484.98 – a 3.1% discount. (Most of the clubs offer the same discount for smaller card values online – you just have to wait and get them in the mail.) Not a bad discount.
But. If you are a Target Red Card holder (either the credit or the debit card), Target gives a 5% discount on virtually everything they sell – including Disney Gift Cards. The downside is that they only sell the lower denominations: $25, $50 and usually the $100. But 5% is 5%. And it’s worth buying dozens of $100 cards and consolidating them and paying for your trip that way to get the guaranteed savings.
Using Disney Gift Cards
If you go down the DGC route, you need to know how to best use them. First, as I stated, you can use them for nearly EVERY online Disney-related purchase: at the Park reservation sites, the Cruise reservation site, in the Disney Stores, and within each Park and onboard the Disney Cruise ships. But playing the DGC game involves knowing two more things: knowing where/when to use them and consolidation.
First, the where/when. For reservations, you can use the 16-digit number on the back of the card to make a payment like a credit card. You’ll see that Disney Gift Card is a payment option on each payment page. They’ll tell you the balance that is on the card when you enter the number, but they will NOT tell you the remaining balance on the card after the purchase. You will also be able to use several cards to make a purchase greater than the value of any one DGC you have. At a retail location (not at a Resort Hotel or on the Cruise ships), you simply swipe the card on the credit card machine. And at Resort Hotels (for paying for things tied to your resort reservation and Magic Band) and Cruise ships (paying for things tied to your shipboard account), you simply need to go to the Guest Services desk and have them add the DGC to your account. Both at Resorts and Cruises, they generally charge your credit card after you incur $300-$600 of charges to your account (depending on your resort type – yes, they’re a little biased based on their perception of your ability to pay). BUT, you actually have the ability to retroactively apply the DGC values even after they charge your credit card… and they’ll refund back to your credit card. Just do it before you check out (if possible) or disembark the ship (best to do it the night before you return to Port).
Consolidation of card balances is also essential, especially for paying for the bulk of your trips. If you ever have to get a refund, Disney gives it back to the method of payment. http://www.disneygiftcard.com allows you to group smaller value cards onto a single card, up to a maximum value of $1000. Use a sharpie to mark the back of the consolidated card and DO NOT LOSE IT. Make it your permanent card for paying for Disney trips and keep it somewhere safe. When you need to pay for something online or over the phone, use that one card and pay it down to nothing. Then reload it from the smaller value cards. I’ve paid for DOZENS of Disney Resorts and Cruise vacations using only 1-3 card numbers (I have two cards that travel with me to cover incidentals on the trips, and one card that stays at home for paying off the bulk of the trips).
This can get a little tricky. But it’s worth the discount. And if you save the cards, you’ll eventually build a large stack:
See that tiny stack on the left? Those are the cards that actually pay for the trips. If Disney ever needs to refund the cost of a trip, it’ll all come back to one card (or they’ll give me new card numbers).
Why is this important? Because unless you’re as anal retentive as me and keep every card, Disney refunds to the specific method of purchase. If you pay a $3000 trip with 30 $100 DGCs, they will refund to those same 30 cards. If you didn’t keep the card and don’t have both the card number and the security key, you could lose your money. But it’s totally worth the 5%.
So, how do you save money on your Disney trip? By combining things that work for you and your family. People who don’t want more credit cards might like the Target Red Card Debit program. People who have big box memberships might want to use their existing high-rewards credit cards to purchase the DGC’s, stacking the discounts of the cheaper DGC’s with the cash back offers from their credit card company.
Others might not want the hassle of managing hundreds of DGC’s and prefer the simple route of getting cash back with the Disney Visa that then becomes a DGC that they can bring on their trip. The key is to never pay full price. Find the strategy that works for you and make use of it.