One of our favorite ways to earn miles and points is through lucrative credit card sign up bonuses. The only thing we love more than that is using credit card sign up bonuses for Disney vacations! (Related reading: our step by step beginner’s guide to saving over $2000 using credit card sign up bonuses).
Of course, applying for credit cards can be intimidating and this method of saving money on your Disney vacation definitely isn’t for everyone. Still, with some good organization and smart sign ups, we can help you use credit card sign up bonuses to your advantage. Here are the basics of what you need to know. This post is pretty long, so we recommend bookmarking it and reading it over time. We will be writing guides to expand on this information in the future as well, so stay tuned!
Make sure you pay your balances off every month
We have two cardinal rules at Miles to the Magic.
- Take the trips YOU want to take
- Pay off your credit card balances
Rewards earned from credit card sign up bonuses can go a long way to saving you money on your Disney vacation. However, if you carry a balance and pay interest on your credit cards, you eat away at that savings. In most cases, you also put yourself in a future financial pickle.
So, without going too deeply into personal finance, we recommend staying debt free (outside of mortgage, car, and education) and not engaging in heavy credit card reward usage until you can do so. As long as you pay your cards off in full, you can use credit card sign up bonuses for Disney vacations. How?
You can use credit card sign up bonuses to earn lots of rewards for your everyday spending
The average family spends about $800-$1600 on their credit cards per month. Let’s assume you pay your bill off every month (see above) and spend $1333 per month ($4000 in 3 months). If you use a 2% cash back card like the Fidelity Visa, over the course of 3 months you earn $80 in cashback that you can apply to your Disney vacation. Even if you have a card you can get 5% cashback on (a rarity these days), that’s $200.
While that money is nothing to scoff out, you can do a lot better with credit card sign up bonuses. Let’s take a simple example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card. Currently, the card offers a 50,000 point sign up bonus if you spend $4000 in the first three months. That sign up bonus is worth at least $500 and up to $625 when applied toward travel. The card has a $95 annual fee waived the first year, but even if you account for that, if you spend $4000 in three months, you will earn over $400 in rewards as opposed to the $200 you’d earn from a 5% cashback card.
Here at Miles to the Magic we love to use credit card sign up bonuses to accelerate our rewards. So we will regularly sign up for credit cards to earn sign up bonuses. Instead of getting 2% back in rewards, we like the 10+% back we can get from sign up bonuses. Which of course, leads to an obvious question.
Will signing up for new credit cards hurt your credit?
Since this is a basic beginner’s guide, the short answer to this question is that in the long run, applying for credit cards likely will not hurt your credit. In fact, in all three of our cases, over the long term our credit score has improved. The one big caveat that we can’t re-emphasize enough is that you must pay off your balances in full every month.
If you’re doing that, you’ll get a slight ding on your credit score when you apply for a new card. However, after a few months, that ding will disappear and your score will go up. Basically, your credit score is a way for banks to determine how risky it is to extend credit to you. If you get a new card, your available credit (how much money banks are willing to lend you) has increased since you have a new credit line. As you pay that off in full monthly, you will prove that you likely will not abuse getting more credit. That makes you look more credit worthy to the banks.
If you’d like to know more about the nuts and bolts of how credit scores work, we recommend checking out this post. Of course, it’s important to know which credit card sign up bonuses make the most sense for your Disney vacation. But before we get there, we need to understand the basics of the different types of credit card rewards.
The three different types of credit card rewards
Although you could probably make a few more nuanced categories, credit card rewards basically boil down to three categories.
The reward type most people know and love, cash back remains a great option for many families. Your rewards come to you in the form of cold hard cash that you can apply as statement credits or deposit into your bank account. The obvious benefit of cash is you can use it for non-vacation (aka, real life) purchases. Obviously, you want to save cash for your Disney vacation, but when using your hard earned cash back you’ll need to pay whatever rates Disney gives you.
We’ll lump airline and hotel rewards together because they operate similarly. When you earn these loyalty program rewards from credit cards, you generally can use them at set rates for flights or rooms, respectively. So a flight might cost 25,000 miles round trip or a hotel room might cost 20,000 points. Some airline and hotel points can be used on partners, though those partners would be too in depth to cover here.
The great thing about airline and hotel rewards is you can use them to get outsized value for your points sometimes. The challenge with airline and hotel rewards is you’re at the mercy of these companies deciding to actually release award space. If they don’t release space for the trip you want to take, your miles may be orphaned.
When it comes to Disney, we love using airline rewards to fly down to Orlando when we get the chance. Hotel points can be useful for finding savings on hotels, though most point options are off site hotels. (A notable exception is Marriott’s Swan and Dolphin, ideally located between Epcot and Hollywood Studios. While not technically on site, it’s location makes you feel much closer to the action).
Flexible bank points
For our money, the most useful rewards you can earn with credit card sign up bonuses for Disney are bank points. The three big players in the flexible bank points realm are Citi, American Express, and Chase. The name of the flexible bank point rewards currencies you can earn with these banks are Citi Thank You Points, American Express Membership Rewards, and Chase Ultimate Rewards.
Each of these flexible bank points can be redeemed like cash for travel, lodging, or park tickets. They also can be transferred to airline and hotel point programs to help you book flights and hotels if you’d like. That flexibility can really help you save money on your Disney vacation.
Another benefit of bank points is what we call “uplift”. Oftentimes, bank points can be redeemed for more than one cent per point. This provides you even more value when using these bank points for Disney vacations, where discounts are few and far between.
Why is it important to understand the different types of credit card rewards? Because that will help you sign up for the credit card bonuses that will save you the most money on your Disney vacation.
Find credit card bonuses that make sense for the Disney vacation you want to take
Since we recommend taking it easy as you’re getting started, you’ll want to focus on credit cards that make sense for the vacation you want to take. At Miles to the Magic, we break down our Disney planning into different compartments:
You can use credit card rewards to save money in all these areas. However, if you’re starting out, we suggest you focus on just one or two. That way you can pair credit card sign up bonuses with your family’s needs.
Looking to save money on getting to Disney World? You might sign up for credit card sign up bonuses for the airline that offers the most flights from your home airport. Don’t mind staying off site? Maybe you will earn some hotel points through a credit card sign up bonus.
Why we focus on flexible bank point sign up bonuses for Disney vacations
If you’re starting out, you might only work on one sign up bonus at a time. How do you make sure you are signing up for the right ones? While there are no hard and fast rules, in generally we recommend going for a sign up bonus in a flexible bank points program. As we hinted above, we prefer flexible bank points because they can be used to save money in all five areas! Let’s take Citi Thank You points as an example.
If I signed up for the Citi Thank You Premier and can spend $4000 in 3 months, I’ll receive 60,000 Thank You points. What can I do with these points?
- Transfer to Jetblue, Singapore Airlines (for United Flights), or Virgin Atlantic (Delta flights) to pay for flights to Orlando (Getting to Disney World)
- Use my points at a rate of 1.25 cents per point (see above on uplift) to pay for $750 of my Disney hotel reservation. I could even add a dining plan if I wanted to (Ground Transportation via Magical Express, Lodging, Dining)
- Use my points to pay $750 towards my park tickets by calling the cruises and tours department (Park Tickets)
The beauty of flexible bank points is that I can apply them to whatever area saves me the most money. It all will just depend on where I can get the most value when I’m booking.
We recognize that all this can be confusing for many people. Still, as you gain experience, using credit card sign up bonuses for Disney savings quickly can become second nature. If you have any questions, please e-mail us or leave a comment below. Also, to make things easier, we’ve posted a simple guide to some easy savings for beginners to the credit card miles and points game. Stay tuned!