Depending on the size of your family and the distance to the Disney destination you’re planning to visit, getting to Disney World can be a significant expense.
It’s difficult to get discounts on airfare when paying with cash, but airline loyalty programs and banks make deep airfare discounts possible.
We recommend using Google Flights to get a baseline for paid fares that meet your requirements. The ability to quickly search fares with parameters important to you across a wide variety of dates is helpful. Note: Southwest flights don’t appear on online search engines.
Once you’ve established a baseline price for the flights you’d like to take, we’ll try to beat that using a combination of bank points and airlines miles. If you don’t have these currencies already, we discuss how to earn them without setting foot on a plane – through signup bonuses and spending – in our credit cards area (link later).
Depending on flight options from your home airport, the most cost-effective way to get to your Disney destination will vary.
And depending on your dates of travel and airline award availability, the optimal currency to use will vary.
Airline loyalty programs have been one of the most effective marketing strategies in America. But the balance has shifted from accruing airlines miles through flying to miles earned through co-branded credit cards. More recently there’s been a shift to flexible bank points that allow you to book any flight you want with “bank points”.
There’s no such things as great credit cards; just great credit card programs. If there was a single credit card you could sign up for that would pay for all your airfare to Disney we’d be all over it. Alas, it takes more work than that, but it is possible to pay for your airfare to Disney entirely with spending on credit cards and signup bonuses.
The best flexible bank point program, all things considered, is Chase Ultimate Rewards. This is due to multiple cards in the Ultimate Rewards program that have generous signup bonuses, cards that handsomely reward spend in a variety of categories, and a useful variety of redemption options. Points can redeemed for 1 cent a piece towards cash back. Or 1.25-1.5 cents a piece towards travel depending on the cards you carry. They can also be transferred 1:1 to air travel partners associated with all major airline alliances, including Southwest, United (Star Alliance), and British Airways (OneWorld). With these options, Ultimate Rewards have you covered for air travel.
The next best flexible bank point program, especially for flights, is Amex Membership Rewards. Although they’re a little trickier to work with than Ultimate Rewards, Membership Rewards can be great for air travel. A variety of cards with rich signup bonuses can be combined and redeemed for up to 1.5 cents per point towards air travel depening on the cards you carry. Membership Rewards can also be transfered 1:1 to airline partners, though they’re not as straightforward as Chase.
Lastly, Citi ThankYou Points can similarly be reemed for flights. Depending on the ThankYou Point card you carry, you can redeem them for up to 1.25 cents a point towards airfare, cashback at 1 cent a point, or transfer them to air travel partners. ThankYou points can also be redeemed with towards hotels so in most cases we’d conserve them for something they’re uniquely useful for.
Wells Fargo is a lesser known program worth looking into for airfare. They have multiple personal and business cards that earn points which can be co-mingled between spouses with 1.5-1.75 cents per point of uplift towards air travel.
Beyond these programs are credit card points which can be used to “erase” travel purchases, including airfare. These programs include Barclay Arrival points, CapitalOne points. Programs like these earn high marks for their simplicity, but they’re limited in their utility since there are few cards whose signup bonuses can be funneled into the program.
Head over to our Credit Cards page for more information on how to earn bank points.
And visit out Redemption Center for step by step instructions on how to redeem points.
You’d think airline miles would be the most effective way to book airfare, but legacy carriers like American, Delta, and United can be stingy with award availability. Increasingly airlines are tying the number of miles required for a ticket to the price of the ticket. At that point, you may as well use bank points or cash to pay for airfare.
That said, you might get lucky and find favorable award availability. Especially if you’re travelling off-season.
To check award availabilty on major carriers, go to their website and perform award searches. If you find situations where you get more than 1 cent per point of value out of your airline miles it’s a fine redemption so long as you don’t have other trips your miles are earmarked for.
Newer carriers like JetBlue and Southwest have rewards schemes where the value of a point is relatively constant. While these programs are easier to work with, it’s difficult to get ousized value out of your airlines miles.
For these reasons, we prefer flexible bank points for domestic airfare to Disney. That said, there are a lot of credit cards you can sign up that earn airline miles exclusively. They’re fine – we’d just prioritze flexible banks points over airline cards.
Southwest Companion Certificate
One wild-card in the mix is Southwest and its Campanion Certificate. If you live in a Southwest hub and travel several times a year with a companion where Southwest is the best option for you it could be worth considering.
If you earn 110,000 Southwest points a year through qualifying activities, a companion can fly with you for just the taxes and fees. Credit card signup bonuses and spend are considered qualifying activities so by signing up for a personal and business Chase Southwest card and adding a little spend you can earn a Companion Pass.
It seems like the longest-running scheme in the game, but I sense it’s been sustainable because people don’t actually fly with a compaion as much as they think they would and Southwest comes out ahead in aggregate. But if you’re in a Southwest market and can take advantage of the situation it could be worth prioritizing.
Finally, there’s cash for airfare – the ultimately fungible asset.
We’d recommend conserving cash for aspects of a Disney vacation that are difficult to pay for through other means. Like merchandise, meals, and ground transportation. One angle to consider is purchasing airline miles to book award tickets. The effectiveness of this approach is contingent on airline miles being on sale and favorable low-level award availablility. In other words: Good luck!
With Internation Airfare vs Domestic the equation is often flipped. Airline miles become more effective than bank points.
Premium Cabins also become more important to take the edge off long flights.
For those travelling internationally for your Disney vacation (either from the US to points abroad or vice versa) you’ll want to build up airline miles and/or flexible bank points that can be converted into airline miles. You’ll also want to become familiar with the most effective airline miles for the countries you’re trying to get to/from.
Getting to your Disney destination via a good old fashioned road trip can make sense depending on distance and the number of people in your party.
Try to realistically approximate the total cost of the journey including wear & tear on the car, gas, lodging/meals along the way, and parking fees at your Disney hotel. Plus the time it takes, and your personal travel preferences. Especially since air travel is one of the more readily discounted aspects of a Disney vacation you’ll want to make sure you’re making the right decision for your family.
Some more unusual ways of getting to Disney World include the train with or without your car.
At certain times of year rental car companies run incredible one-way rental deals where they charge rock bottom prices for you to help transport their cars from regions of high to low seasonal demand.