Hacking our way to Disney World

When Sonya was 6, we went to Disney World. It was magic. I promised the kids we would go again when Viv turned 6. Joke’s on me, when you have kids, 4 years actually only take 22 minutes to pass, and here we are again, staring down the barrel of a Sweet 6 birthday.

I intended to make this trip happen for free, using the plan from RichmondSavers. However, despite having excellent credit, I got denied for a few cards (I guess they think I’m a churner…guilty!). I had planned on getting free tickets, or close, and free accommodations. I was going to have to figure out meals, souvenirs, and gas to get there (so…kind of not free. Even with the free stuff, the meals would have probably been over $1000).

Well, when I got denied for the accommodation card, I decided to focus on the Barclaycard Arrival Plus bonuses. Between the 80,000 points we put on the two cards (one for me, one for my husband) for sign-up bonuses, we ended up with $1600 in “travel reimbursement” value. I put everything else on those cards to get as many points as I could, including much of the bathroom renovation, building up about 40,000 more points.

To get the travel value, you have to make sure that the tickets and accommodations are coded as “travel” and it has to be one big purchase on each card. I looked into UndercoverTourist for discounted tickets, because that’s a workaround to get “park tickets” to code as travel, but eventually decided to go straight through Disney, because their discount on packages was a better deal for us (tickets don’t code as travel, but packages do). It also allows for a meal plan.

For the five of us (two middle-aged adults, a 9-year-old, newly minted 6-year-old, and 2-year-old), the cost for everything came to $3950. I was able to split the cost over three cards, just enough to get reimbursed on the two Barclaycards and put the rest on my Disney Visa for six months no interest (balance on that card: 1900). It worked! I took TWO GRAND off our cost!

Some other things: since I went through Disney, if they offer discounts in the fall for winter travel (they typically do), I can get those discounts retroactively applied. I’m expecting at least $300 more off.

We are going with friends who are shockingly good planners, and very careful with their money. As vegetarians, they didn’t think the meal plan was worth it. My friend kept messaging me with different menu options, and saying things like “if we only get water with our meals…”

I am aware that it is possible to be frugal on vacation, just as I am aware it is possible for an adult woman to learn to do a back handspring. This is not for us. “Just order water” would be running through my head, and then my husband would order some $16 frozen beachy drink and I would be forced to file for divorce, which is way more expensive than $16. The meal plan might be slightly more expensive overall, but it would save me the trouble of pissing on everybody’s picnic for the whole trip.

At any rate, my friend ran scenario after scenario with me and eventually decided that it made sense for them to get the meal plan, too. It makes sense AND they don’t have to nickel and dime every dinner!

I have been wringing my hands about how we can’t afford a washing machine and freelancing every extra minute so we can pay off debt, so a vacation to the most expensive place on earth seems foolish. Except I won’t negotiate when it comes to my kids, and if we wait another three years before we are in great financial shape, Sonya will be a sullen teenager and I have heard that if you are sullen at Disney World you are instantly transformed into a dragon. I can’t have that.

This is the part of the travel hacking posts where I’m supposed to say “don’t do this unless you pay off your cards every month,” but screw that. I was determined to get my kids to Disney World. It was going to happen regardless of our debts (and we have them!). You don’t get a second chance at childhood and I’m not going to wait until I can cash flow it to go, because 27-year-old kids don’t care about princesses anymore.

No, we have debts, and that $1900 would certainly have been more responsibly put toward them. But we are getting a 6-night, 7-day trip to Disney World, with 5 days of park tickets, for 5 people, for $1900. I’m not sad about that.

There will certainly be other costs. We will pay for gas and “food on the road” food to get down there (we are staying at a friend’s house on the way down, and on the way back, we will use up the last of our Choice Hotels free hotel nights from when I fiiiirst dipped my toes into travel hacking many years ago and signed up for the bonus on the Choice Visa). I am building up points on my Disney Visa to pay for tips on meals while there (I’ve got about $40, hoping to have a couple hundred by the winter) and any incidentals. I’ve already purchased t-shirts on clearance for the kids, and a ton of trinkets from Ali Baba for cheap so that we can soothe some of those “but I want a trinket from the gift store” feelings. These things have added up to about $90 per kid, including fancy Cinderella dresses that retailed for $54 apiece. That stuff is long paid off, so it’s taken care of already.

Fancy Cinderella dress

Because the remaining balance is on a 6-month no-interest plan, it’ll be paid off by the time we go.

So. Irresponsible and indulging and “you’ll never get to FI with these habits” and WEEEEEEE ARRRRRRRRRRRRRE GOOOOOOOOOOOING TO DISNEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEY!

6 thoughts on “Hacking our way to Disney World”

  1. 27-year-olds might not be into princesses, but the Epcot beer gardens make up for that! My mom took me and my then fiance (both 25 years old at the time) and my nine year old sister (yeah, she’s a LOT younger than us) to Disney World as a congratulations gift for finishing undergrad and getting married. I think we had more fun than my sister and she *did* the bibbity-boppity-princess boutique thing.

    I love that you’re prioritizing giving your kids the childhood that you want them to have. There was a podcast episode by the Mad Fientist a while back where he describes how he worked mindlessly towards FIRE and was absolutely miserable when he got there. Balance seems to the be the unspoken rule of the game.


    1. I sure hope so! Kids really bring time into sharp focus. I may or may not have had a panic attack when I was walking around in Walmart through the toy section and realized my oldest wasn’t really into toys anymore…I was like “oh shiiiiiiiiiiit it’s too late to fix anything in her childhood now.”


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