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Monday Morning Miles Talk is a regular series that has some smaller, more quirky ideas to kick off the work week.  These are essentially random ideas that I wanted to share with you.  Here are the previous entries.

How To Go To Disney For Free

Shawn said in our Facebook Group live Q&A session that he thinks the biggest myth in travel hacking is probably that everything is “free”.  While I agree with what Shawn says I do think it is possible to take specific trips for “free”.  I decided to give it a try for this week’s installment.  Since Disney (either Disneyland or Walt Disney World) is on pretty much every family’s list I decided to use that as my test subject.  This is actually more difficult than a regular vacation because park tickets are EXPENSIVE!!! This is simply a guideline on what is possible.  You can easily make adjustments where it is needed depending on your budget or needs.

Introduction

I decided to base this simulation on a family of four flying from Detroit (since it is my home airport) to Walt Disney World for a 3 night trip.  I assumed two parents and two smaller children. The plan was for one full day at The Magic Kingdom, which is bookended by two days relaxing a the resort. This would give the family time to relax after the flight down and the day after visiting The Magic Kingdom.

I planned this trip for this May but it would probably take someone 6 months or so to get all of this set up.  It would be best to start this probably a year before your trip unless you are able to generate large amounts of spend.

I will give the best option available for each portion of the trip.  I will also give a secondary option for each portion as well.  By the end of this faux booking the family will have it’s flights, hotel, and park tickets completely free and some walking around money to boot.

The Flights

Detroit’s airport is a Delta hub so I started there.  They have the most direct flights to Orlando and offer decent reward prices most of the year.  I was able to find 4 flights May 23-26th for 17,000 Delta miles a person.

How To Go To Disney For FreeNow that we know we need 68,000 Delta Skymiles for our family to get from Detroit to Orlando how do we go about accruing the miles.  The American Express Platinum Delta Skymiles card currently has an increased offer of 70,000 Skymiles as the sign up bonus.  You need to spend $3,000 within the first 3 months.  It also comes with a $195 annual fee.  The current offer comes with a $100 credit when you spend any money on Delta Airlines.  This brings the fee down to $95.

The cash price on these tickets was = $1013.60

Total out of pocket cost for the flights – $44.80 in taxes and the $95 Annual Fee = $139.80

If you would like more info on this card CLICK HERE

Secondary Option

The best secondary option for the flights would be the Southwest Business card which offers 60,000 Rapid Rewards points after $3,000 in spend. The card comes with a $95 annual fee.  You can find 4 flights from Detroit to Orlando for under 60,000 points.  You must be under 5/24 to get this card though and that is why it is the secondary option.

The Hotel

How To Go To Disney For Free

I decided to book this imaginary family in the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress.  I have personally stayed there and it is a great resort.  It has a ton of pools, a free golf course, free bike rentals, a rock climb wall, a fire pit, nightly s’mores by the fire etc.  You get the point it has a lot to offer. The resort also provides a free bus to the Disney and Universal parks.  You just reserve your seat on the bus the day before at the concierge desk.

The Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress is 15,000 World of Hyatt points per night.  The Hyatt credit card from Chase comes with a 40,000 point sign up bonus after spending $2,000 within 3 months.  You can get another 5,000 points by adding an authorized user and having them make a purchase.  There is also a $75 annual fee which is not waived the first year.

If you signed up for the Hyatt card, added an authorized user, and finished the spend you would have at least 47,000 Hyatt points.  That is enough for three nights at the Hyatt Grand Cypress.

How To Go To Disney For Free

Cash price for 3 nights at the hotel = $869.23

Total out of pocket cost for the hotel = $75 annual fee

Pro Tip – if you only stayed two nights book the Regency Club Double for 21,000 points per night.  This will allow you to get breakfast and evening hors d’oeuvres for free in the lounge.  It will help control your food costs.

Secondary Option

If you are under 5/24 then you could get the Chase Sapphire Preferred (CSP) card and get 50,000 Ultimate Rewards (UR) points after $4,000 in spend within the first three months.  The annual fee is waived the first year which would save you the $75 you pay for the Hyatt card.  UR points transfer to Hyatt so you could transfer 45,000 and book the same hotel for 3 nights.  Another way to use the CSP sign up bonus is by going through the Chase travel portal to book a less expensive area hotel.  You could book a $100 hotel in the area for 8,000 Chase UR points since they are worth 1.25 cents a piece when going through the portal.

A third option would be to get a card like the Barclay Arrival+ that comes with a 40,000 point sign up bonus after $3,000 in spend within the first 3 months.  The annual fee is waived for the first year.  These points are worth 1 cent a piece when used towards travel. You could use the Arrival+ points to book a cheaper hotel for the three nights, an Airbnb, or a timeshare etc.  You would be able to book up to a $150 a night room going this route for the three nights.

The Magic Kingdom Tickets

Park tickets make this trip’s planning a little more difficult.  This adds an extra step to the process.  If you wanted to use this theory to go somewhere else you can just skip this step and move onto the 4th step.

Tickets to The Magic Kingdom are pricey.  There are ways to get them free using credit card points but it takes a little bit of effort.  You need to buy the tickets through Undercover Tourist.  Undercover Tourist is a ticket broker that offers the best prices on multi day tickets for all of the Orlando theme parks.  Their daily tickets are actually a little bit higher than buying them direct but we need to bite that bullet in order to get them free.  This is because buying them direct from Disney does not code as travel for the credit card companies, where as Undercover Tourist does.  This is very important.

The current offer for the Venture Card from Capital One is 50,000 points after $3,000 in spend within 3 months.  The 50,000 points are worth $500 towards TRAVEL (important word there).  Undercover Tourist counts as travel in their system!

How To Go To Disney For Free

The price of two children and two adult tickets for May 24th, a regular price ticket date, would be $494.50.  You could use the 50,000 points to cover that cost.  You would still have $65.60 left in points that you could use at the hotel ($500 for the sign up plus $60 for the $3,000 in spend). We will discuss how to use the left over points at the hotel a little bit later.

Cash price for 4 park tickets = $494.50

Total out of pocket cost for the tickets = $0

For more info on the card CLICK HERE

Secondary Option

The Barclay Arrival Plus just reduced their sign up bonus from 50,000 points to 40,000 points.  When the offer is increased again that would be another great option. You could also use this option to purchase a second day’s worth of park tickets if you wanted to hit more than one attraction.  Undercover Tourist is the only place to purchase the tickets to make this work though.

Bridging The Gap

We are currently at $2377.33 in value for an out of pocket cost of $214.80.  That is an amazing deal but I promised you free plus some walking around $$$ so let’s get it done!

Bank Of America just released their new Premium Rewards Card.  It comes with a sign up bonus of 50,000 points after you make $3,000 in purchases within 3 months.  It has an annual fee of $95.  You also get $100 towards domestic airline incidentals like bags, drinks, seat upgrades etc. The points are worth 1 cent a piece so it is a $500 cash bonus minus the $95 annual fee.  You would also have at least $45 in rewards from the $3000 in spend done on the card (earns a minimum of 1.5 points per dollar).

Total money gained = $545 – $95 annual fee = $450

Secondary Option

The Capital One Spark Cash card comes with a $500 cash bonus after you spend $4500 within 3 months. It earns 2% cash back for every purchase.  I put this as the secondary option because it is a business card and the spend is higher.  This route would bring you a better return though.

Final Tally

So let’s look at the numbers.  You have $2377.33 in free travel.  Your costs totaled $214.80 before getting the BOA card.  The $450 you gained from that would leave you with a positive cash balance of $235.20.

You would also still have $65.60 left in travel credits on your Capital One Venture card.  If you bought food at the hotel and billed it to the room it would count as a travel cost on the card so you could wipe it off your monthly statement.  This brings you up to $300.80 you can spend on food, drinks, gifts, transportation etc.

Don’t forget you would also have $100 in airline incidentals on your BOA Premium Rewards card which would cover food and drinks on the plane or checked baggage etc. This gives you to a total of $400.80 to spend on your vacation.  A grand total of $2778.13 saved on your vacation!!!

Conclusion

I realize this is over the top and most people would stop after step two or three and get a severely discounted vacation.  The goal was to prove that it can be done for free with some effort and proper planning.  Also remember that Walt Disney World tickets add an extra step.  If you wanted a family beach trip to Fort Lauderdale etc. you could skip one of the steps. Or, you could still complete all four steps and have $500 in room charges available for your trip.

For this hypothetical situation I would suggest each person apply for two cards.  I would suggest one person get the Delta card and the Bank Of America Card.  The other person, whichever one has better credit, should apply for the Capital One Venture card first, since Cap One is the toughest approval.  Then that person should apply for the Hyatt card.  You could stagger the apps to spread out the inquiries and the minimum spend as well.

Remember that this was a hypothetical situation to show you what is possible.  You can use these tips and ideas to travel somewhere else. You could also use these ideas to extend your Disney trip and to visit more of the parks Orlando has to offer.

Do you think it is possible to get 100% free travel?  Let us know what you think in the comments.


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17 COMMENTS

  1. You didn’t take into account the person would need to spend $11,000 on those credit cards to get all of the bonuses. Not always that easy to spend that amount a money over a short period. Also the person needs to be approved for all of those credit cards. Yes you can travel for Free if you have the means to acquire the cards but for someone who doesn’t have have the income, Free is not Free!

    • Brain – true it is a lot of spend and that is why I said you should start this at least a year ahead of time and that you could space out the applications to make the spend more manageable. I think a 4 person family can put $1500-2000 on their credit card a month pretty easily. Between gas, childcare, groceries, utilities, car insurance, cable, internet, clothing, dining out etc. they should be able to hit one of these sign ups every month and a half to two months.

      You definitely need to have better credit for this to work. If you don’t have good credit then you probably shouldn’t be involved in travel hacking in the first place until that is taken care of. This isn’t a one size fits all solution but it will work for a lot of people out there.

    • That’s very true. But, and this is a big but, CCs are the primary way to build point balances these days. Even when airline miles could be had from mileage runs, you’d still need the income and time to make the trips. I should note that our example below includes a legitimate small business that easily hit the spending cap, and putting EVERYTHING we could on the personal cards. Our income is enough that we made it, but there’s always pre-paying bills and authorized user bonuses/spending to help (if you trust that person).

      So all things come with a trade off; for travel hacking it’s some level of income (which doesn’t have to be insanely high, necessarily), financial discipline, and the effort to trade free time for time spent searching for deals. plus, say you start looking for Spring 2019 vacations now; you have multiple 3-month periods to spread out card spend to hit minimums without going crazy or adding spending to your routine.

  2. Here’s the example we use for friends who ask what wer’e doing.

    SPG AMEX cards: 3 x 35,000 bonus (2 personal, 1 business) from earlier this year = 105K pts
    Minimum Spend points: 5K + 5K + 8K= 18K pts
    Total: 123K SPG, transferred to Marriott for 369K

    Category 8 travel package: 120K miles and 7-nights at Marriott category 8 hotel

    2 r/t tickets North America to Hawaii: 2x 40K AA miles = 80K. Cash price from our home airport ~$600 each = $1200 total. Out of pocket cost: $22 taxes

    7 nights Marriott Wailea Beach Club this Spring. Cost: $30 daily resort fee. Cash price: $3400+. Out of pocket: $210. Alternative is Renaissance Maui just up the hill, which includes free breakfast and no resort fee.

    So we are getting $4600 travel at $230 out of pocket. If we chose to use cash back we’d have that covered easily plus spending cash, but we already used that to pay for airfare, hotel, and trains in Italy this fall. 🙂

  3. If you’re looking to do Disney for free, here’s another suggestion. I’d use 70,000 SPG points to purchase a nights and flights package. Your 70,000 points would get you 50,000 airline miles at any of the 1:1 Starwood transfer partners and 5 nights at the Dolphin hotel in Disney World. The Dolphin is within walking distance of Epcot. Guests at the Dolphin hotel have access to most of the same perks that guests at the Disney resorts receive. The Dolphin hotel gives you access to extra magic hours and has access to the Disney transportation system around Disney World. You can also book your fast passes 60 days in advance just like the Disney resort guests. The only perk that I know of that you don’t get at the Dolphin is the ability to charge purchases in Disney World onto your magic band.

    • That is another great option Barry.

      50k in miles won’t get 4 airline tickets most of the time (unless you live in the south like Atlanta etc.). That is why I decided to go with the Amex Delta card. But it is a great option for a lot of people! Thanks for the suggestion and for reading.

    • It is still at 60k – the personal ones have dropped to 40k but the business one is still at 60 for the time being.

  4. Click bait, I hope none of your readers actually read this as advice because it is about the worst use of 4 CC sign ups I have ever seen.

    • How is this the worst use? If the family wants to go to Disney on a budget this is a way to do it.

      Using the cash bonus on a trip is a poor use? Use venture points at one cent a piece is poor use?

      Getting 1.9 cent per Hyatt point is a poor use? That is above the valuation of 1.8 cents most people go with.

      The Delta points may not be the best redemption. But flying 4 people round trip on one sign up is pretty good in my book. And you are still getting 1.4 cents per Skymile which most people value around 1.25 cents a piece.

      So since every redemption is equal to or above the average value of the points please explain to me how it is a terrible use of credit card sign ups?

      • No one who wants to go to Disney on a budget is aiming at a 3 day 1 park trip. Virtually no one, at least. You made it a 3 day 1 park trip so you could put the word “free” in the title. There is really no other reason to suggest a 3 day 1 park trip to WDW. Be honest with yourself, would you recommend this to a friend? That is why I called it click bait.

        As for poor use, there are many value propositions in this hobby. And many ways to value a redemption, but the very least honest way (and most common) is to compare a points booking to a cash booking at the same hotel without considering all the cash options available. Going somewhere where the only hotel options are expensive and paying with points is a great use, getting nicer accommodations for points than you can afford to pay for otherwise when all options are considered is a good value, using points to stay at a so-so resort in an area with some of the very cheapest accommodation options available is a poor use.

        Last time I stayed off property in the WDW area I paid $250 for a week in a 2-bedroom 2 bathroom timeshare unit. Full kitchen, washer dryer, parents in a private bedroom. So yes, that was a terrible use of 45K Hyatt points. Those same 45k points could get you a much more valuable 3 nights at the Andaz Peninsula Papagayo Resort, for example. Where the cheapest cash option in the area is between $380-$600 a night depending on the season.

        • I actually did a weekend trip to Disney and only did one park with my small children since it was their first trip and they were still small and I didn’t want to overwhelm them. Most people suggest taking a break in between visiting parks and some people may enjoy being in the warm weather and hanging out by the pool too.

          If you wanted to do a second park then you could always get the Spark cash Barclay Arrival+ or similar card to pay for a second round of tickets. Like I said above this is not a one size fits all this is just a hypothetical situation to show what can be done. I could have made it so you could spend a month in Orlando if I wanted to but that would be too much detail for a starter level entry post.

          The family could have stayed at the airport Hyatt for 5k per night too but what fun would that be? The Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress is a great property with a lot of amenities. And, who is to say someone wants to go to Costa Rica etc. -maybe Disney is the only trip they want to do. I gave them what I thought to be a great points hotel in the Orlando area based on personal experience.

          And you are not taking into account that the flights to Costa Rica would be more costly by points and by taxes. It is a much more difficult destination to get to – does that calculate into your comparison…you probably want to leave that out of the equation.

          And sure you could do Airbnb or a time share etc. but then you are probably renting a car, driving to the park, needing to park there, paying for gas etc. And I would assume it doesn’t come with the same type of amenities that the Grand Cypress has. If they want the trip to be special and more seamless which way would be the better way to go?

          I do take your point that you can find good deals on hotels in the Disney area and that should be something that I add in. They could sign up for the Barclay Arrival Plus instead of the Hyatt credit card and book a 3 night stay at a less expensive hotel. I will add that into the post in the morning.

          But to say my suggestion is terrible advice because you would do it a different way seems childish. It seems like your whole belief on why it is foolish is because of the Hyatt redemption. That does not take into account the thousands of dollars they can save from the other advice. I guess you throw away the baby with your bath water.

          Anyway I appreciate the discussion and the response and if you would have started with your hotel suggestion then it would have been a lot more productive.

  5. The Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress is a great redemption option. We stayed onsite a couple of days and did not get bored. Plenty to do and club lounge was nice. Saved significant money on food costs.

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