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As a parent, Disneyland has always been a top destination for my small kids. But visiting the theme park is an incredibly expensive endeavor, especially for large families.
According to the Mercury News, Disney has increased prices at the flagship park by an eye-watering 5,060% since it first opened its doors 64 years ago—and its 2019 increase was one of the biggest in the park's history.
Fortunately, with credit card rewards, you don't have to worry about saving up for years to make a Disneyland trip happen. Here's how I took a family of four to the park for next to nothing.
How to Use Credit Cards to Visit Disneyland for Free
Disney has a co-branded credit card, but it's not the best one to use if you want to rack up rewards quickly. What's more, you can only use points earned with the card on Disney-related redemptions. While that includes tickets to Disneyland, it does nothing for the rest of the trip's expenses.
Here's how my trip breaks down and which cards I used to make it happen.
General travel credit cards offer a lot of flexibility with rewards redemption. Some of them allow you to use your card to book travel anywhere, then use your points or miles to get a statement credit for the purchase. But because Disneyland isn't a travel merchant, I purchased tickets through a travel agency called Get Away Today.
The agency not only offers discounts on multi-day tickets, but it's also a travel merchant. So I used my Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard to pay for two days at Disneyland and one day at Universal Studios for $580, then used 58,000 miles to get a statement credit for the purchase.
Also, it helped that both my kids were under three, so their entrance was free.
Because we were visiting both Disneyland and Universal Studios, we booked two separate hotels—one room near Universal the first night and a second room near Disneyland for three more nights.
The first hotel cost $229. But using the Hilton Honors Card from American Express, I redeemed 30,000 Hilton Honors points to cover the cost. The second hotel cost me 21,000 Starpoints (the currency for Starwood Preferred Guest, which was absorbed into the Marriott Bonvoy program when the two hotel brands merged), which saved me $507 in cash.
A flight for three—my daughter qualified as a lap child at the time—would've cost me $780, but I managed to use 55,000 Delta SkyMiles to book it instead. I had 25,000 SkyMiles in my account from flights I had paid for in the past, and then I transferred 30,000 points to my Delta SkyMiles account to make up the rest.
As with the park tickets, I used the Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® to cover the cost of our rental car. It cost $180.58 in cash for five days or 18,058 miles. I was also able to use miles to get a statement credit for a $150 deposit the car rental company added then refunded when we returned the car, giving us $150 extra to use for the trip.
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Should You Get Into Credit Card Rewards for Disneyland?
If you're considering getting into credit card rewards to pay for a trip to Disneyland, here are some things to consider:
- It takes a lot of credit cards: If you want to use travel rewards to cover your full trip, you may need to apply for multiple credit cards, which requires discipline and organizational skills.
- It won't be completely free: In total, we still paid roughly $440 during our five-day trip on food, gas, parking and trip insurance. But paying $110 per person for that kind of vacation is much better than the $700 per person it would've cost without rewards.
- Credit cards aren't for everyone: It takes a lot of discipline to use credit cards responsibly, and no amount of rewards can make up for high interest charges. If you've had credit card debt in the past or you think it'd be too tempting, credit card travel may not be worth it.
- Get on a budget: Even if you haven't had issues with credit cards in the past, it's still a good idea to get on a budget to make sure you're not overspending just to earn rewards.
Credit Cards I Used For Discounted Travel to Disneyland
Credit card rewards can make a Disneyland vacation not only possible but also affordable. Before you start applying, though, consider your spending habits and how much effort you want to make. Even if you just get one card to cover one aspect of the trip, it can still save you hundreds of dollars. Choose the right strategy for your situation, and you'll be one step closer to the happiest place on earth.