Anyone with kids (and even some people without) has probably thought about taking a trip to Disney World at one point or another – it’s every kid’s dream vacation!
But when I talk to my friends about planning a Disney trip, they respond with either resounding enthusiasm or a look of horror. That’s because planning a trip to Disney World, in some ways, is just as complicated as booking an Aeroplan Mini-RTW. And unfortunately, for most, it comes with a huge price tag.
So for this two-part series, let’s go through the process of booking a family trip to Disney World in Orlando, Florida and break down some of the costs involved to see how we can make it more affordable. I’ll also share some tips and tricks along the way to make your travels smoother.
Current State of Affairs
Now isn’t the time to go to Florida, given its COVID-19 outbreak and the Government of Canada’s advisory against non-essential travel to the US. But it never hurts to start getting your “cards” in order so that you will have the miles ready to redeem when it is once again safe to go.
The Disney experience will be quite different in the near future. The park is currently closed, but is scheduled for a phased reopening beginning July 11, 2020.
Initially, it will only be open to those with existing park tickets, as they are not selling any new tickets at this time. If you have a ticket, you must book a reservation for park entry. Some experiences will be limited or closed, and their FastPass+ system for booking rides in advance will be suspended. For the latest updates, be sure to check out the official Disney World website.
The Best Time to Go
When is the best time of year for a trip to Disney World? This answer will differ depending on your circumstances, but if you’re flexible, there are definitely a few things you should take into consideration.
First are the crowds. Before COVID-19, Disney was a busy place year-round, but there are times of the year that are busier than others. Do a quick search for “Disney crowd calendars” and you’ll get a few sites that will give you their predictions for the coming year. Generally, times around American holidays are the busiest.
Next, consider the weather. If you’re looking for the sunny, dry, comfortable weather, March to May is your best bet. The heat starts picking up in May until late September. And don’t forget hurricane season. My family went in mid-May 2017 and mid-November 2019. The weather in May was quite hot and humid already, but in November, it was very pleasant.
How to Get to Disney World
Now let’s look at how to get there. You could drive for 20+ hours, but if you’re into Miles & Points or can afford it, you’ll probably be flying.
If you’re travelling in peak season, like around Christmas or March Break, the price of a roundtrip ticket from Toronto to Orlando can be over $1,000!
You could redeem 25,000 Aeroplan miles for a round-trip flight during these times, which would be a good deal, but don’t forget the taxes and surcharges can add up to almost $150. If you’re sitting on a stash of Aeroplan miles and aren’t eyeing a premium redemption, then this might be a good option, especially in light of the current 50% Miles Back sale (if booked before July 1, 2020, for travel until October 15, 2020).
However, possibly a better option is to make use of the WestJet Rewards program, and more specifically the benefits associated with the WestJet RBC World Elite MasterCard. For an annual fee of $119, you get a lot of bang for your buck.
Ricky has covered the card in-depth in the past, so I won’t go into the details too much. Instead, let’s look at an example of how to maximize it for family travel.
A flight from Toronto to Orlando over March Break next year currently costs $1,154.75 for one adult, so for a family of four, it would cost over $4,619.
If you sign up for the WestJet RBC World Elite MasterCard, you would earn a sign-up bonus of 350 WestJet Dollars (WSD) and an annual companion voucher that can be redeemed for any flight within Canada or the Contiguous U.S. for $119 plus taxes and fees. If you made a booking for two – yourself and one child – it would come to $1,356.17.
(Note that the below screenshot shows a total of $1,336, as the companion voucher is priced at $99 for those who applied for the card prior to April 1, 2020. If you applied for the card now, you’d pay $119 plus taxes for the companion voucher, increasing your total by $20.)
And don’t forget to apply that 350 WSD signup bonus, which brings the cost for two people down to $1,006.17.
Now what about your partner and second child? Simply have your partner apply for the card too and make a separate booking for the same itinerary. Your total cost for the flights is now $2,012.34, a savings of over 50% off!
I found that the easiest way to make the two bookings is to call into WestJet. Let the agent know you want to book for a family of four, and both you and your partner have a companion voucher you want to use. The agents can make both bookings for you and seat your whole family together. In my experience, if you are travelling with kids, they will help you select seats over the phone free of charge.
WestJet’s Member Exclusive fares would’ve been another good option to book one-way flights for a base fare of 125 WSD, in the case of purchasing that fifth ticket, and so on, if you have more than four in the family; however, WestJet has temporarily paused these fares for the short-term as of June 25.
You can read about that development here, and we’ll be updating this section with the latest information when the Member Exclusive fares return.
In addition to the WestJet RBC World Elite MasterCard, WestJet Dollars can also be converted from RBC Avion points, RBC’s reward currency. Lastly, don’t forget the free baggage allowance that comes with the card, which will save you an additional $30 per checked bag.
If you’re travelling off-peak, keep in mind that there are often flight sales in which you can score a roundtrip flight for under $300, in which case, it may make more sense to buy a cash fare and use your WestJet Dollars to offset the cost at a 1:1 ratio (while saving the companion voucher for a more valuable use in the future).
As a matter of fact, at the time of writing, a quick search on WestJet shows that most dates into next year, excluding March Break, are indeed at this price range.
Booking Disney World Admission Tickets
Probably just as expensive as your flights, or maybe even more so, will be your Disney World park tickets.
Discounts are hard to come by – Costco in the States used to sell them online, but they no longer do, and there are a few reputable websites like Undercover Tourist that will sell Disney tickets at a small discount (usually in the range of a few dollars).
The easiest way to buy tickets is directly off the official Disney website. They typically run a Canadian resident sale in the fall that used to offer up to 30% off 4-day+ tickets, but the most recent one was only 20%.
The site sells the tickets in US dollars, so unless you have a US credit card or a Canadian credit card that doesn’t charge foreign exchange fees, you’ll be paying an additional 2.5–3% more.
One way to get around this is buying Disney gift cards to pay for your tickets. These can be found at the Disney Store or at grocery stores in Canada (and if you have a credit card that offers multipliers at grocery stores, like the Amex Cobalt Card, even better).
Disney gift cards purchased in Canada are loaded in Canadian dollars when you buy them, but once they are used on the Disney website or in Disney parks, the exchange rate will be calculated based on the market-close exchange rate of the day prior. You can also register them online and merge balances up to $1,000 so you’re not carrying a wallet full of cards on your trip.
Aside from tickets, Disney gift cards can be used to pay for:
Almost everything in the Disney parks or downtown Disney: souvenirs, food, etc.
Stays at official Disney hotels
Disney’s PhotoPass service
Merchandise from the Disney Store
Air Miles is another rewards program that can help save some money at Disney. When you collect Air Miles, you have the choice of collecting Dream Miles or Cash Miles, or a mix of both (e.g., 40% Dream Miles and 60% Cash Miles).
Dream Miles can be redeemed for event tickets, including multi-day tickets at Disney World or Disneyland. These tickets aren’t always available and I haven’t found a pattern as to when they offer them, but it’s worth checking the Air Miles site if you’ll be spending more than a few days at Disney and have some Dream Miles to burn.
If you happen to have a stash of Cash Miles instead, you can also redeem 95 miles for $10 at select grocery stores that can go towards the purchase of Disney gift cards, as discussed above.
Although Air Miles can be difficult to earn from regular spend, there are often bonus offers and events that can boost balances significantly. There are also a few credit cards that can give you a good starting balance, like the Amex Air Miles Platinum or the BMO Air Miles World Elite. Sign up for one or more of these, and you’ll be well on your way.
We now have our dates, our flights, and our park tickets for your family trip to Disney World. We’ve looked at how WestJet Rewards can reduce the cost of your flight significantly, and how Air Miles, a program often overlooked by many, can be leveraged to reduce the cost of those pricey admission tickets.
Stay tuned next time as we look at the numerous accommodation options near Disney, and how to use a few other rewards programs to choose one that meets your needs and budget. We’ll also look at how to get around the area, how to plan your itinerary, and other attractions worth checking out as a family while in Orlando.