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Nearly half of parents take on debt to visit Disney; here’s how to avoid going bibbidi-bobbidi-broke

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Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information and offers.

Just like the ride vehicles on Dumbo the Flying Elephant, prices at Disney parks keep going up, up, up. Disney recently shared that, depending on the length and dates of your visit, you could see ticket prices increase anywhere from $5 to $50 next year.

As the price of Disney vacations continue to climb, a new study reveals that nearly one-quarter of consumers have gone into debt to pay for a trip to a Disney park.

In a survey of more than 2,000 individuals, LendingTree reported that 24% went into debt for a trip. This number represents a 33% increase over LendingTree’s 2022 survey, in which only 18% of individuals reported going into debt for a Disney vacation.

Among the costs that sent their vacation budget spiraling, 65% of surveyed Americans said that higher-than-expected food and beverage costs inside the park were to blame; 48% answered transportation costs; and 47% reported that accommodations ultimately put them in the red.

For parents with children under 18, the number of people surveyed that went into debt for a Disney vacation debt climbed to 45%. That’s a 50% increase from the same category in a similar 2022 survey, in which over 30% of Disney visitors with young children reported going into debt for Disney. Parents with kids under 18 took an average of $1,983 in debt for their Disney vacations.

Related: We saved every receipt — here’s how much it actually costs to go to Disney World

Although 59% of parents with young children say they don’t regret going into debt for their Disney excursion, there are several ways to save money at Disney and avoid overtaxing your budget.

No, I don’t have a magic wand (sadly). But I do have the next best thing: a list of tips and tricks to help minimize the effects of Disney’s rising prices so you can do Disney without busting your vacation budget.

How to save money on Disney tickets

Screenshot of Disney tickets with Undercover Tourist

Disney ticket prices increase nearly every year, usually with little warning. If you plan a trip and don’t buy your tickets before the prices increase, you’ll be stuck paying the higher price.

That may not sound like much on its own, but it can all add up quickly if you factor in the number of people in your party as well as the date and length of your visit.

Related: How I saved hundreds on a car rental when combining it with theme park tickets

There is a workaround that allows you to purchase tickets at the old prices, but you only have a short window of time to take advantage of it. Reputable Disney ticket resellers like CityPass, Undercover Tourist and Get Away Today usually have an allotment of tickets they sell at the old price until they run out. Savings can run as high as $90 per ticket if you act fast after a price increase. That’s potentially hundreds of dollars in your pocket that you can you use on other things like hotels, dining, souvenirs and other Disney expenses.

Even when you aren’t facing a price increase, ticket resellers like Undercover Tourist price their tickets slightly less than what you would pay directly with Disney — sometimes there’s as much as an $85 savings per ticket.

Choose the right credit card

A hand holding the Disney Premier Visa Card

There are several ways that using the right credit card to pay for your Disney vacation can help you save money — as long as you pay off your monthly balance in full.

Earn a welcome offer

If you open a new credit card with an elevated welcome offer, you could earn a points bonus worth more than $1,000 by putting your vacation purchases like theme park tickets, flights and a hotel stay on your new card. While working toward a welcome bonus doesn’t directly help you save on your current trip, it can help you save on future ones. You can also use TPG’s CardMatch tool to determine if you are prequalified for an even higher offer than publicly available.

Earn bonus points

You don’t have to apply for a new card to save money. Some credit cards earn bonus rewards points or cash back on purchases in select categories like travel and entertainment. For example, you can earn 3 points per dollar on purchases that code as travel when you pay with the Chase Sapphire Reserve® (nonbonus category purchases only earn 1 point per dollar). If you purchase your tickets through one of the resellers mentioned above or as part of a Disney vacation package, your purchase should code as travel, and you’ll earn additional points.

Related: The best credit cards for your Disney vacation

Similarly, you could use a card like the Chase Freedom Flex℠ that earns bonus rewards on rotating categories, including entertainment and amusement parks, to cover eligible purchases. Several Disney purchases, including tickets and Disney Genie+ “skip the line” service, should code as entertainment.

Use a travel credit

The Chase Sapphire Reserve also comes with an annual $300 travel credit that you can use to offset the cost of your trip, but you only use it toward purchases that code as travel. The Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card also offers a $300 annual travel credit, but you need to book any vacation expenses through the Capital One travel portal to use this perk. Luckily, several Disney World hotels are bookable via Captial One. Renting Disney Vacation Club points to book your Disney World hotel should also code as a travel purchase, making you eligible for bonus points if you use the right credit card.

Related: The best credit cards to maximize your entertainment spending

Consider a Disney Visa

Finally, it should come as no surprise that the Disney® Visa® Card and the Disney® Premier Visa® Card can also help you save. Both offer a welcome bonus as a statement credit after spending a certain amount on purchases in the first three months. In addition, you can earn a percentage back in the form of Disney Reward Dollars on all card purchases, which you can use as a form of payment at Disney.

Related: Are the Disney Visa credit cards worth it?

The Disney Visa cards also offer discounts on select Disney merchandise and dining purchases, which can help you save money on meals and souvenirs while on vacation.

Use points and miles to cover a portion of the cost

There aren’t many ways to directly use points and miles to cover Disney costs, but we do have a few tricks to share.

With Bilt Rewards and the Bilt Mastercard® (see rates and fees), you can earn points that can be redeemed for Disney tickets directly in the activities section of the Bilt travel portal. You can also redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards points for Disney tickets, hotel stays and vacation packages booked through the Chase Travel℠ portal, though availability is sporadic and limited based on our searches.

Related: How to use points to buy Disney tickets

Other cards, including the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card, allow you to redeem Capital One miles at a fixed rate of 1 cent each toward travel purchases made using the card. Remember, this only applies to purchases that code as travel, so be mindful of how you make your purchase if you want to use this method.

Of course, if you have a stash of airline miles or hotel points, you can use those to offset your flight or accommodations. There are several points hotels near Disney World, and there are even a few on the property. While not technically “Disney hotels.” The Walt Disney World Swan, Dolphin Resort and Swan Reserve hotels are located on Disney property between Epcot and Hollywood Studios and participate in the Marriott Bonvoy program.

Save with discounted Disney gift cards

A hand holding a Disney gift card

You’ve probably seen Disney gift cards near the checkout counter at Target, but you might have yet to realize their potential beyond Christmas or birthday gifts.

Related: How to save money buying discounted Disney gift cards

Target Circle™ Mastercard cardholders receive a 5% discount when using that card to pay for most items in-store and on, including gift cards. That means a $100 Disney gift card will only cost you $95. That saving may sound insignificant, but it adds up if you purchase gift cards periodically throughout the year to cover the cost of your vacation.

The information for the Target Circle™ Mastercard has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Pack your own snacks and drinks

A person unscrewing the lid off of a reusable water bottle

You can lessen the sticker shock of in-park food and beverage purchases by packing along some of your own. Disney doesn’t allow you to bring in a full-size food cooler, but you can bring snacks and drinks in your bag or backpack. I always bring a reusable water ball to refill throughout the day, but you can also pack soda or Gatorade.

Related: The best restaurants at Disney World in 2024

I usually place a grocery order for cereal, yogurt and fruit to eat in the room before I head to the parks, and I take granola bars, crackers and other small bites for myself and my kids to snack on throughout the day. By doing this, we can get away with purchasing only one or two meals each day.

How to get into the parks without paying for MagicBands

Tarah Chieffi showing MagicBand
I could have played Star Wars: Batuu Bounty Hunters at Galaxy’s Edge all day. TARAH CHIEFFI/THE POINTS GUY

I’d be lying if I said Disney’s MagicBand+ isn’t fun to play with at the parks. Like the old MagicBand, you can use MagicBand+ to get into the parks, open your hotel room door, access skip-the-line Lightning Lanes, link PhotoPass photos and charge items to your hotel room bill. You can also use it to play interactive games in the parks.

However, those perks cost between $34.99 and $54.99. A prearrival discount can save you up to $10, and Disney Vacation Club members or annual passholders can save 20%. Those prices sting all the more because, until recently, MagicBands were provided free of charge to Disney hotel guests, and were always free since they were first introduced in 2013.

A person using a MagicBand to tap into a Disney park
You can use your phone, a plastic ticket or a MagicBand to tap into a Disney park. TARAH CHIEFFI/THE POINTS GUY

The good news is that you can still use any old MagicBands you have lying around from past vacations as long as the battery still works. I have MagicBands that are two or three years old that still work just fine.

In even better news, you don’t need a MagicBand at all. At Disney World, you can ask for a “Key to the World” card at guest services or from the hotel front desk if you are staying at a Disney hotel. Key to the World cards look like hotel key cards (but cuter) and perform the same functions as the original MagicBands.

The Disney app
The Disney app has everything you need for a day in the parks. WALT DISNEY WORLD

At Disneyland and Walt Disney World, you can use each park’s respective mobile phone app to do everything a MagicBand does, including charging select food and merchandise purchases to your hotel folio. For any other purchases, you could use the virtual wallet on your phone without pulling out your physical wallet.

Look for hotel and ticket discounts

Fuentes del Morro pool at Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort
Fuentes del Morro pool at Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort. TARAH CHIEFFI/THE POINTS GUY

Disney regularly releases discounts that can help you save hundreds on your hotel stay, such as on Disney dining plan and theme park tickets. We have a list of Disney World discounts to help you stay up-to-date on current offers. You can also apply most of these offers retroactively.

Even if you’ve already booked your vacation, you can usually still apply any discounts you are eligible for. This rule is one of the reasons we recommend booking your vacation through an authorized Disney vacation planner; they will keep an eye out for any applicable discounts up until the beginning of your trip.

Know the cheapest times to visit Disney

disney ticket price board
Disney ticket prices. TARAH CHIEFFI/THE POINTS GUY

Disney ticket prices can vary wildly based on when you visit. If you go during peak demand times (like over a holiday season), a one-day Magic Kingdom ticket can run as much as $189 per person. If you visit in August or September, you can pay as little as $109 for the same ticket.

Related: These are the best times to visit Disney World

You may have little control over when you visit, but check Disney’s pricing calendar to help you choose the cheapest, most convenient dates.

How to save money on transportation to Disney

Mears connect busses

Getting between Orlando International Airport (MCO) and Walt Disney World used to be free to hotel guests via Disney’s Magical Express (may she rest in peace). In its place, a handful of alternatives have popped up, but they sadly all carry a fee.

Of those, I’ve seen the best pricing from Mears Connect. The cost is $16 one-way for adults and $13 one-way for kids (or $32 and $26, respectively, round-trip). You can pay an additional fee for express service that will take you directly to your resort with no stops. It also runs occasional promotions where kids ride for free with a paying adult.

Depending on the number of guests at your party, this service may be less expensive than taking an Uber or Lyft from the airport. During busy times, an Uber or Lyft can cost more than $70 for a one-way trip.

How to enjoy the parks without spending money on Disney Genie+

Disney Genie
Disney Genie is a free service available to all guests. DISNEY GENIE

It still pains me to think about the days when skipping the line at Disney World was free using FastPass+. Yes, there was some anxiety around waking up at 6 a.m. 90 days before each trip to get the most coveted FastPasses and then refreshing the Disney app throughout my trip to snag a few more.

Unfortunately, FastPass+ has gone the way of the dodo and was replaced in late 2021 with a paid, skip-the-line service called Disney Genie+.

Lightning lane entrance at Disney
Lightning Lane entrances let you breeze to the front of the line. TARAH CHIEFFI/THE POINTS GUY

At Walt Disney World, the cost of Disney Genie+ varies by park and day. The service starts at $15 per person, per day, but it can go as high as $39, especially likely during holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas or spring break. You can purchase Genie+ for one of Disney World’s four theme parks or get a “multiple park” option, which is valid at all four parks when you buy it through the My Disney Experience app.

At Disneyland, you can snag the service in advance for $30 per person, per day. If you purchase Genie+ on the date of your visit, the starting price is $30, but it can fluctuate on busier days. The highest price on record is $35.

Big thunder mountain railroad entrance at Disney
Most Disney rides still have a standby line, but be prepared to wait. TARAH CHIEFFI/THE POINTS GUY

While it certainly can save you time in line, you don’t have to purchase Genie+ to enjoy your Disney vacation.

Along with Genie+, Disney also rolled out a free service called Disney Genie that helps you plan your day by displaying rides with low wait times, creating a personalized itinerary based on your preferences and more. You may not get on Disney’s most in-demand rides unless you are willing to wait, but it does present an opportunity to check out rides with lower waits that you usually skip over. You may find a new favorite.

If you are going the free route, you also must utilize rope drop. “Rope dropping” means arriving at the park at least 30 minutes before it officially opens (or 30 minutes before the start of Early Theme Park Entry for Disney resort guests) and heading straight for your first attraction the moment the rope drops. By arriving early, you can usually knock out one or two popular attractions before the crowds descend on the parks at the busiest part of the day.

If you find the parks so crowded that you don’t want to wait in line, there are many things you can do at Disney outside the parks (even without a park ticket).

Bottom line

As with most things, there’s no getting around the fact that visits to Disneyland and Disney World are getting more expensive. Sometimes, you have to get creative to make your travels affordable, and these tips are a great place to start so you don’t go into debt for your magical vacation — you may even have a few bucks left over to treat yourself to a Dole Whip (or two).

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