When I took my girls to Disney World in September of 2015, I really believed it would be a once in a lifetime vacation. But, I’ve gotten smarter since then and figured out how to do it again through patience and persistence and know-how.
Planning and Building –
So much planning has gone into not only both trips, but my life in general. Financial planning has been a big part of the last 4 years. Let me explain why.
I was married to a man who did not plan financially. Not only did he not plan, we never really talked about money. It’s not all his fault, but he did not do well with his money and, again, did not plan ahead with his money.
So, forward about 8 years after a divorce that included medical bankruptcy and a loan foreclosure on the house in my name and I was finally able to start building my credit worthiness again.
Three years ago, I badly needed a good car. Not a pretty or fast car, but a car that I could feel safe getting into on short notice for those days I had to drive my daughter to school or to her many doctor and therapy appointments. Her school is now a half hour drive away – through the country without places to stop and ask for help if the car quits.
Knowing I had no credit after checking through Credit Karma, I signed up for the easiest credit card I thought I might qualify for. There were no benefits to the card – no points, no miles, and there was even an annual fee. But, I signed up and used it like a debit card. Paying it off regularly – weekly or bi-weekly.
After a year of consistently paying on time or early for that credit card, I went to the dealership and made a deal to buy a newer car. Nothing awesome – it was still a few years old and a low-end car. A Kia Soul. But, it was mechanically and structurally sound.
I did not make a deal the very first night. I walked away when they could not offer me exactly what I needed, which was a set amount of time – no more than a 5-year loan, and a fixed payment amount.
It took a few days, but they ended up giving me what I needed. The car has been great. It’s not my favorite car ever, but it has the room I need and has been dependable without any major issues.
Between the credit card use and the car loan, I’ve built my credit score up to well over 700 which is really good.
Credit Card Benefits –
Credit cards scare the crap out of some people and I understand why. After my ex’s financial issues, I was scared of them too. But, there are considerable benefits to using credit cards if you use them the right way. Hopefully, my explanations below will help you see how and why.
I don’t remember the timing of all the credit cards I’ve started, but I’d like to tell you what they are and why I got them.
Capital One Quicksilver
Capital One card which offered 1.5% cashback on all purchases. I stopped using the first card which offered no benefits and started using this new card for everything.
After using this card consistently in the same manner as I had the last one, I began getting tons of other credit card offers. While I wasn’t really looking for one, I was always paying attention to see which ones might have better bonuses or benefits to using it.
Eventually, I saw the Discover IT card and decided that it made sense to sign up for it. The main reason is that they offer to match whatever you earn in cash-back rewards for the first year. So, I’m slated to earn about $250 extra in April when my first year is up with this card. That’s in addition to the $250 I’ve already earned in cash-back rewards!
So, basically, Discover paid me $500 to use their credit card for a year and I paid them nothing. Not even an annual fee! It should be noted here also, that I did not consistently use this card throughout the year. I’ve moved on to using other cards for months at a time. Discover was used mainly for the Sam’s discount and for about 3 or 4 months when i first got it. However, there are added extra bonuses that helped me pay for a Disney vacation. They are;
This card has mainly been used for the additional % back in certain categories.
- 5% cash back on purchases in different categories every quarter (3 months). Two times this year I’ve been able to earn a total of 10% back on purchasing Disney Gift Cards through Sam’s club. Those cards, I’ve used to pay for the vacation package I reserved. (a family member has a sam’s membership that I’m able to use, so I’m not paying for the membership)
Let me lay that out for you.
Sams offers Disney Gift Cards that can be used on pretty much anything Disney. You can pay for your hotel, tickets, dining and gifts in the parks with these cards. In total, I bought nearly $2000 worth of Disney Gift Cards for this vacation.
Sam’s discounts the cards.
I paid $142.98 for each $150 pack of Disney Gift Cards.
My most recent order was for 3 packs of 3 $50 cards.
150 x 3 = 450 but I only paid
142.98 x 3= 428.94
A savings of 21.06
That may not sound like much, but, I also earned 10% back from Discover on that purchase (5% now and another 5% in April). And, I did this earlier in the year when I bought $1500 in cards. At this point, I figured the cash back from Discover would help pay for the plane tickets, but I later figured out a better way which I share down the page.
Chase Disney Visa
I also decided to apply for the Chase Disney Credit Card which offered a $200 Disney Gift Card after spending $500 in your first 3 months. This card wouldn’t work if you weren’t planning a Disney vacation, but it’s perfect for my plan.
I used the $200 Gift Card to pay for my deposit on the vacation package for our Disney World trip this May. After the initial sign up bonus period, I used the card enough to earn another $20 in Disney Dream Rewards which are basically points that you turn into a gift card. So, I got $220 back on an initial $500 in purchases which I was going to make anyway.
Chase Sapphire visa
- See the travel hacking section for info on this card.
Save cash for a while-
This should be carefully noted, underlined and maybe even bolded, that I did not make these purchases before I had the cash saved up to be able to pay off that purchase amount. And, that I only use one card at a time for the initial bonus purchase earning period which is usually about 3 months.
How did I save up all that money? It took a while.
Shortly after our first trip, I realized that despite the difficulties we ran into, we had a blast and created some fun and colorful memories. I had to do it again, or at least try.
So, I started saving cash out of every paycheck. I went backward, by estimating how much it might cost to do another trip.
- The vacation package = $2000 -3000
- Flights – $700 -1000
- Spending money (food on flights, extras, gifts) $500
You can see that adds up! I divided that by what I thought I could put back out of each paycheck. I figured I could save about $90 per check and I have. But, not every week. There’s been a few where I couldn’t put anything back, and a few where I did more or less.
Let us look at the math.
3000 +1000 +500 = 4500 /90 = 50.
So, technically, I could have saved enough in less than one year. Well, it’s taken longer than that to save up, and I’m not actually spending that much money out of pocket either!
Travel hacking –
My bedtime routine is to look through Pinterest on my tablet while I’m in bed at night. I have a Disney board and constantly save articles about saving money on a Disney vacation. I also joined a couple groups on Facebook that are specific to Disney.
It was through one of those places where I came across travel hacking for Disney. Basically using credit card points and sign up bonuses to pay for your hotel, plane tickets, park tickets and car rentals.
I really dug in and thanks to Richmond Savers plan, was able to do part of their plan to pay for our plane tickets entirely (or mostly) out of rewards points from my Chase Sapphire Reserve card. Their plan will teach you how to pay for nearly (or completely) your entire Disney Vacation with rewards and nothing out of pocket. I found the information too late to use it for a free vacation this year.
Here’s how the points for flights work for me. I signed up in November 2016 for the Chase Sapphire when they were offering 50,000 bonus points after I spent $4000 in the first 3 months of having the card.
On top of the bonus, I earn points for all my purchases (so whatever I bought to get to the $4000 earned me points too). Some purchases are worth more than others. You get 2 points for restaurants, for instance, and we eat out a lot!
Whichever card I’m working on at the moment is what I use to pay for all my bills every month, plus, groceries, gas and dining out. Anything else pretty much goes on the cards too, but my paycheck is cashed and saved in an envelope in the safe at work where I don’t have easy access to it. Once a week or every couple weeks, I deposit the cash to my bank and pay off the credit card.
I will have earned about 62,234 in points by next week (Jan. 20, 2017). That includes my bonus for signing up and meeting the minimum spend.
Remember when I said I didn’t have to spend as much as I calculated for on the vacation fund? Those Chase points are why. Those points are going to pay for our round trip tickets to Orlando in May! There will be a $22 charge that can’t be paid for with points, but otherwise, my flights are paid for entirely out of rewards for using a credit card that I’ve not paid anything for yet.
Before Christmas, I had already earned enough points to transfer them to the Hyatt hotel rewards program and pay for one night in Kansas City to visit my oldest daughter. This stay included complimentary breakfast buffet that my daughter’s roommates got to enjoy with us! You can see our two little dogs in our room which had two beds, and a pull-out sofa.
How amazing is that?
There are a couple reasons I chose Southwest airlines as part of the travel hacking plan. The first is because of the points transfer between Chase and Southwest. But, another great reason is that we won’t have to switch airlines mid-trip. Last time, we went from Delta to American and had to traips across a huge unfamiliar airport with an autistic kid and anxious teen. Not the most fun I’ve ever had.
This flight will be about 4.5 hours with one stop where we switch planes, but it’s just to another Southwest plane. No exploring a huge, scary, loud and crazy airport hoping to find what you need and not be late or having to sit for hours waiting for the next flight.
Another benefit is that Southwest includes 2 checked bags per person! I had seriously looked at Allegiant airlines, but with paying for seating, bags and a car to get from Sanford airport to Orlando, the cost and complications just weren’t worth it.
Be flexible with timing –
I used a Disney certified travel agent for our first trip and this upcoming trip. She was able to check for discounts, make all my reservations (including dining at character meals) and help explain other important things.
Originally, I had planned to go from Friday to Friday, but reward flights (flights used with points) on Southwest have consistently shown as less expensive to go from Thursday to Thursday. So, we switched our plan.
Originally, I let her know when I hoped to book our vacation and she was able to let me know if there were any extra special discounts. I was actually sent a discount code from Disney for room booking because we are previous guests and that saved us the most compared to the other discounts being put out for the public in general. The dates on that sale helped us settle into the week we reserved.
One last way to save on a Disney Vacation –
I found out about the Disney Vacation Account service just a few months ago. It’s not exactly a savings – but you do get a reward if you use it.
You send them money to deposit in your account. You can use;
- Credit card
- Disney Gift cards
When you’ve saved up at least $1000 in your account, you can use that money to pay for your Disney package. You’ll have to call in to do this, but I’m told it’s easy. I’ll be finding out soon enough.
For each $1000 that you use to pay for your Disney package, you get a $20 Disney Gift Card back! So, for my $2000, I’ll get $40 in gift cards that we can use in the parks during our vacation.
Now, you have to have the account open for at least 120 days before you can use it. While it might be an extra couple of steps, it’s free money.
Lets see if I can add up all the savings.
- Travel – $933.76 (chase sapphire points)
- Deposit – $200 (bonus from Disney Visa signup)
- Vacation account rewards- $40
- Chase disney card rewards – $20 (in Disney Dream REward Dollars)
- Discover rewards – $250
- Sam’s discount – $210.60
That’s all either free money or money saved through discounts.
Now that I know what I’m doing, and how to use points from different cards to pay for travel, hotel, tickets and more, I’m planning on a nearly free trip in the next couple of years.