Anyone who has been to a Disney resort, be it Disney World or Disneyland, knows that it comes with a hefty price tag. With some careful planning, though, you can reduce the costs with some strategic moves.
Prior to the pandemic, I wrote a couple of posts on travelling to Disney World on points. This past summer, we spent a week in California and visited Disneyland, California Adventure Park, and Universal Studios Hollywood.
Most of the tips and tricks for Disney World also apply to Disneyland, but we’ll also look at a few additional strategies in the current context. Let’s dive right in.
Diversify Your Points Currencies
Saving for a Disney trip requires the same strategy we’ve been employing all along: credit card welcome bonuses and maximizing earnings on daily spending. Specific to Disney, the difference is in which cards one needs to sign up for, and which points currencies one needs to earn.
Generally speaking, we tend to focus a lot on American Express Membership Rewards, Aeroplan, and RBC Avion for their versatility in flight and hotel redemptions. You’ll still need these currencies when it comes to booking your flights and hotels, but when it comes to other costs, you’ll need to focus your strategies elsewhere.
When booking a family trip to Disneyland, using points from a variety of programs comes into play. For flights and hotels, you can use the usual suspects, while to pay for Disney park passes and other incidentals, you can explore various flexible points programs.
Of course, the bigger the family you have, the more you may need to diversify your point currencies to cover the costs.
Use Companion Vouchers or Points for Flights to Disneyland
Flights to Disneyland are easy to book with cash or points, as Air Canada and WestJet both provide flights into Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). The only thing is that LAX is located up to over an hour’s drive from Disneyland, depending on traffic.
If you’re travelling from Calgary or Vancouver, WestJet runs a direct flight into John Wayne Airport (SNA) in Orange County, which can cut the drive to Disneyland by more than half. Air Canada also flies from Vancouver to Orange County, so if you’re based out of Western Canada, be sure to consider both options.
For most families, flying economy will be the way to go, given that most flights to Disneyland will only be three to five hours in duration.
If you’re booking with cash, then make use of a companion voucher to reduce the cost. You’ll want your partner to get one, too, if you’re travelling as a family of four of more, which cuts down the cost by up to 50%.
CIBC is still offering a Buddy Pass as part of its sign up bonus for the CIBC Aeroplan Visa Infinite Card. With no additional costs other than the taxes and fees for the second ticket, this is essentially a 2-for-1 ticket to anywhere in North America.
Although less appealing, with an Amex Aeroplan Reserve Card, you can earn an Annual Worldwide Companion Pass redeemable on Air Canada flights after spending $25,000 each year. Unlike the Buddy Pass, there is a nominal base fare that is charged to redeem the pass that ranges from $99 to $599, depending on your destination.
Keep in mind the pass is deposited after your annual renewal date, rather than right after meeting the spend.
Signing up for the WestJet RBC World Elite Mastercard will entitle you an annual companion voucher. This companion voucher usually shows up within a month or two of getting the card.
Even with a $119 base fare for a second ticket within North America, you can still find great savings with WestJet’s companion voucher. If you’re travelling during peak seasons, there can be considerable savings.
Keep in mind that you can also apply WestJet Dollars to your booking. Just be sure to keep an eye on WestJet’s taxes and fees, which you’ll be required to pay no matter what.
When booking on points with Aeroplan, the redemption rates for economy flights within North America are usually within the predicted range, even with dynamic pricing. The only exception is if you’re travelling during peak season, or booking really close to your date of travel, where the prices are likely to be high.
When we booked our flights from Toronto to Los Angeles in the summer, we were able to book round-trip for a total of 20,000 Aeroplan points per person, having booked six months out.
Save on Disneyland Accommodations Using Points
Most families will probably opt to stay in a hotel, and most of us in the points game will lean towards a Marriott, Hilton, or Hyatt property. There are at least a couple of options around Disneyland for each brand.
In Canada, Marriott Bonvoy points are the easiest currency to accumulate of the three. I’ll focus on the Marriott properties, as we stayed at two of them.
The Westin Anaheim, Courtyard Anaheim Theme Park Entrance, and the Fairfield Anaheim Resort are the closest Marriott properties to Disneyland. The Westin is around a 20-minute walk to the park entrances, while the Courtyard and Fairfield are only around ten minutes by foot.
The redemption rates for the coming year are as follows:
- The Westin Anaheim costs between 52,000–70,000 Bonvoy points.
- The Courtyard Anaheim Theme Park Entrance costs between 52,000–70,000 Bonvoy points.
- The Fairfield Anaheim Resort costs between 31,000–42,000 Bonvoy points.
If you have a few Free Night Award certificate from your Marriott Bonvoy American Express Card or your Marriott Bonvoy Business American Express Card, you can burn them at the Fairfield. Recall that award certificates can be topped-up by up to 15,000 points, effectively making your annual certificate worth up to 50,000 points.
The Westin will cost on average $300 (USD) per night before taxes. It’s harder to justify redeeming points if you find rates around $300 (USD).
Since it’s a Fine Hotels & Resorts (FHR) property, if you hold an American Express Platinum Card, you can get pretty good value paying the cash rate when considering the perks that come along with it.
The Courtyard costs on average $300–500 (USD) before tax, and tends to be the most expensive of the three. As we found out, this was for a good reason, for its ever-so-popular onsite waterpark.
The Fairfield is the most economical option, costing around $200–300 (USD) before taxes. As a Fairfield property, breakfast is complimentary for all guests.
We stayed at both the Westin Anaheim and the Courtyard Anaheim Theme Park, so stay tuned for upcoming reviews.
Amex sometimes offers transfer bonuses to Marriott Bonvoy, or offers statement credits for Marriott stays through Amex Offers, which can help knock down the cash cost even further.
Redeem Points for a Disney Resort Stay
Disneyland has three official Disney Resorts, which are located right beside the parks. Some even have direct entry into the parks, which can be very convenient for reducing transit times.
You can expect the cost to be on average $600–800 (USD) a night, though, which is quite steep.
I have yet to stay at any of the Disneyland resorts, as I find I can get better value out of my elite status with hotel programs. However, if convenience is a priority and you want to experience Disney hospitality at its best, there are a few ways you can book them at a fraction of the cost.
The trick here is to use a points currency that can be redeemed as a statement credit to offset the cost. This is when programs such as HSBC Rewards, TD Rewards, or Scotiabank Scene+ come into play.
- HSBC Rewards points can be redeemed towards travel at 0.5 cents per point (cpp).
- For travel booked through the Expedia for TD travel portal, TD Rewards points can be redeemed at 0.5cpp. Disney Resorts can be booked through Expedia for TD, allowing for a slightly more favourable redemption.
- Scotiabank Scene+ points can be redeemed for travel at 1cpp.
Each bank has a few cards under their portfolio that earns their respective reward currencies. Based on the redemption rates above, here are a few examples of how much you could offset your stay by:
On Expedia for TD, you can book a room for five people at Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel for $644.01 or 129,000 TD Rewards points. If you don’t have the full amount, you can apply a partial redemption to the booking, effectively reducing the overall cost of your stay.
If you play the Miles and Points game in two-player mode, you can sign up for one, two, or more of these cards to cover the cost of your stay.
Lastly, Amex Membership Rewards points can also be redeemed at 1cpp for travel purchases. Note that this isn’t the best use of these points, so I’d suggest focusing your efforts on the other points currencies we’ve discussed above.
Book Theme Park Tickets with Points
One of biggest costs on a trip to Disneyland are the actual theme park tickets. Luckily, two Canadian loyalty programs allow you to redeem points against theme park tickets: Air Miles Dream Miles and TD Rewards.
For TD Rewards, you can purchase the tickets through Expedia for TD under the “Things To Do” category. To see what dates are available, enter a longer date range in the search field.
The caveat is that both programs typically only allow redemptions against multi-day tickets of three days or more. Since availability may not be consistent, play around with your park dates to increase your chance of finding ticket availability.
If you aren’t looking for a multi-day pass, then perhaps you can use your points towards a single day admission to Universal Studios Hollywood, Legoland, or Knott’s Berry Farm instead. I mean, if you’re in Anaheim already, you may as well visit a few other parks, right?
Air Miles allows redemptions for Disney tickets through redtag.ca. After you sign in to your account, you can find US theme parks under Travel, and then US Parks.
Unlike Expedia for TD, which offers tickets to a variety of theme parks and attractions, Air Miles Vacations only offers tickets to four US theme parks. Luckily, Disney World, Disneyland, and Universal Studios are included.
Keep in mind that only Dream Miles can be redeemed against travel. So before you start earning, you’ll want to make sure you have selected your Air Miles earning preference to Dream Miles, as opposed to Cash Miles.
Air Miles can be relatively easy to accumulate. Amex has three different Air Miles credit cards, and Bank of Montreal has two.
Personally, I’d opt for the BMO Air Miles World Elite Mastercard, which currently has a welcome bonus of 2,000 Air Miles and a waived annual fee.
If you’re still short on a ticket or two, buying tickets from a trusted third party site like Undercover Tourist will save you a few dollars off admission tickets. Sometimes, they run promotions for an additional $5 off.
Maximize Earning with Disney Gift Cards
You can also buy tickets directly from Disneyland’s website, and most of the time, the tickets are at cost. Sometimes, there are promotions for Canadians that have offered up to 35% off.
If you’re buying tickets directly from Disney, consider buying a Disney gift card from a grocery store on a credit card that earns 5x the points on grocery purchases to pay for them, so you can at least maximize your earn. There are a few credit options here, including the American Express Cobalt Card, the Scotiabank Gold American Express Card, and the BMO eclipse Visa Infinite Card.
You can also buy Disney gift cards to use while at Disneyland. Almost everything in Disneyland can be paid for with them, including meals, souvenirs, and even Disney Resort stays.
Balances on Disney gift cards can be combined online, up to a maximum of $1,000 per card. This is great, as you can just consolidate your cards.
Putting It All Together
So, what will it take for a family for four from Toronto to visit Disneyland next March Break?
Let’s assume you and your partner currently hold the following credit cards with the following perks:
With some planning, you decide to sign up for the following credit cards and promotions with the following perks at least six months prior to your trip:
To help reduce the cost of flights, you could then make use of your points and vouchers. An example of what it might look like is:
- 2 × $119 annual companion vouchers + 2 × $700 base fare + 4 × $170 in taxes = $2,318, with $500 WestJet Dollars applied to bring the total cost to $1,818 out of pocket on WestJet.
For accommodations, you’d make use of Free Night Awards and American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts, which could look like:
- Four nights at the Fairfield Anaheim Resort using Free Night Awards = $0
- One night at the Courtyard Anaheim Theme Park Entrance at $624 per night after taxes booked through Amex Travel, applying the $200 annual travel credit with the Amex Platinum Card = $424 (or redeeming 59,000 Bonvoy points)
To book your actual Disneyland park passes with Genie+, you could approach it with the flexible points currencies as follows:
- Ticket 1: $525.45, bought through Expedia for TD with 100,000 TD Rewards points for $500 on your account = $25.45
- Ticket 2: $525.45, bought through Expedia for TD with 100,000 TD Rewards points for $500 on partner’s account = $25.45
- Ticket 3: Redeem 4,828 Air Miles = $0
- Ticket 4: Buy from the Disneyland website with Disney gift cards bought from Sobeys using your American Express Cobalt card = $525.45
To sum it all up, the total cost of trip before reward redemptions would be $3,480 for the flights, $2,632 for the hotels, and $2,101.80 tickets. This results in a total cost of $8,213.80.
By using Miles and Points to offset the cost, the total cost of trip reduces the price to $2,818.35, or a discount of 65%.
Once you factor in the annual fees for the credit cards, the total cost jumps to $4,415.35, or a discount of 54%. On the upside, not only have you cut the cost in half, but you’d still get to enjoy the suite of benefits from your credit cards for the remainder of the year.
Disneyland doesn’t have to cost a fortune, and you can easily save on flights, accommodations, theme park tickets, and more. As with any trip with points, it comes down to planning.
The key is to diversify your points strategy, and perhaps focus on points currencies you may normally overlook, like TD Rewards, Air Miles, and Scotiabank Scene+.
This is just one example of how to take advantage of different reward programs to offset the cost of a family vacation. There are definitely many other combinations of cards and points currencies that can be used that may give you an even bigger discount.
It goes to show that by having just a few cards per adult in your household, you can wind up savings hundreds, if not thousands of dollars on a trip to Disneyland.