How To Fund a Trip to Disney World With Credit Card Points

Use credit card rewards to cover flight, hotel, and even rental car costs

Cinderella’s Castle at Disney World, with an illustrated overlay that reads, “Our Money’s on Travel.”

The Balance

Billed as the most magical place on earth, Walt Disney World has something for everyone. Whether it's introducing your kids to their favorite characters, riding various rides for all ages, or exploring the Star Wars Galaxy's Edge area, it truly can be a magical experience.

But between the flights, hotels, rental cars, and park tickets, it can also be an expensive one, especially for families. In this installment of our post-pandemic travel planning series, we’ll guide you through how to save money through credit card rewards. Check out the rest of “Our Money’s on Travel” for more advice on getting to where you want to go without draining your savings account.

Key Takeaways

  • Use transferable points to get more flexibility with your flights.
  • Get free nights and extra perks with a hotel credit card.
  • Use credit card travel portals to book your rental car and purchase park tickets.
  • Get a Disney Visa Debit Card for in-park discounts and benefits.

How To Fly to Orlando on Rewards Points or Miles

Orlando International Airport (MCO) is just 20 minutes from Disney World. More than 30 airlines fly to Orlando, including some well-known domestic carriers:

Orlando/MCO is a hub for regional airline Silver Airways. Orlando Sanford International Airport (SFB) is another option, which serves low-cost carriers like Allegiant Air and Sun Country Airlines. It’s about a 45 minute drive from Disney World.

How Much Do Award Flights to Orlando Cost?

To give you an idea of how much a flight would cost, both in dollars and frequent flyer miles, here's what to expect for an economy class ticket—note that this does not include basic economy or economy plus. Data was gathered two months in advance for a flight in early July. 

Airline Departure City & Airport Mileage Cost Round-Trip Cash Cost Round-Trip Value of 1 Mile Used for This Flight (Cents)
Delta St. Louis (STL) 30,000 $443 1.48
JetBlue Washington, D.C. (DCA) 24,500 $358 1.46
United Los Angeles (LAX) 33,500 $340 1.01
Southwest Orange County (SNA) 22,374 $313 1.40
American Las Vegas (LAS) 24,500 $275 1.12
Delta New York City (JFK) 17,500 $247 1.41
Spirit Minneapolis (MSP) 10,500 $134 1.28
Frontier Atlanta (ATL) 20,000 $132 0.66

These are example flight costs based on the date of research and are always subject to change. Costs may also vary if you use rewards earned with a flexible travel rewards card—we'll cover that in a minute.

The general rule of thumb for redeeming rewards points is to find an option where your points have a value of at least 1 cent per point. If the point value is lower than that, you may want to save your miles and pay with cash instead if you can. You can calculate the value by dividing the dollar price by the number of miles needed. For example, if you redeem miles for the Delta Air Lines (STL) flight above, each mile will be worth 1.48 cents, which is a good value. For the Frontier flight, your miles would only be worth 0.66 cents each—below our 1-cent-per point threshold.

Also, it's important to note that these flights are based on summer travel dates, and summer is the peak season for Orlando. This may result in higher award flight costs. If you want to maximize your savings, consider booking a trip at a different time of the year, preferably one that doesn't coincide with school breaks.

Average Mile Valuations Hint at What To Expect

While looking over award requirements and cash pricing for a flight, it can help to understand how much a reward mile is worth from each of the airlines in general. According to research undertaken by The Balance, you may be able to get more value from Southwest or JetBlue than from other airlines on domestic economy flights.

Also, it's important to note that these flights are based on summer travel dates, and summer is the peak season for Orlando. This may result in higher award flight costs. If you want to maximize your savings, consider booking a trip at a different time of the year, preferably one that doesn't coincide with school breaks.

Credit Cards That Can Help You Earn Miles

Opening a new travel credit card and getting a bonus can be a great way to cover some or all of what you need for a round-trip flight to Orlando. Here are just a few examples of airline credit cards:

  • AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard: Earn 60,000 bonus miles (worth $774 on average when used for domestic economy travel) when you make your first purchase and pay the card's annual fee in full in the first 90 days. You'll also earn 2 miles per dollar spent on eligible American Airlines purchases and 1 mile per dollar on everything else. Annual fee: $99.
  • Delta SkyMiles Gold American Express Card: Earn 70,000 bonus miles (worth $1,120 on average when used for domestic economy travel on Delta) when you spend $2,000 in the first three months (plus a $200 statement credit for making a Delta purchase during that same period). On an ongoing basis, you earn 2 miles per dollar spent on dining at restaurants (including takeout and delivery), at U.S. supermarkets, and on Delta purchases. You’ll earn 1 mile per dollar spent on everything else. Annual fee: $0 the first year; $99 thereafter.
  • JetBlue Plus Card: Earn 60,000 bonus points (worth $876 on average when used for domestic economy travel) after you spend $1,000 in 90 days. Plus, earn 6 points per dollar spent on eligible JetBlue purchases, 2 points per dollar at restaurants and eligible grocery stores, and 1 point per dollar spent elsewhere. Annual fee: $99.
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card: Through July 14, 2021, new cardholders receive 65,000 bonus points (worth $975 on average when used for domestic economy travel) when you spend $2,000 in the first three months. Ongoing rewards include 2 points per dollar on Southwest purchases and 1 point per dollar on everything else. Annual fee: $99.
  • United Explorer Card: Get up to 65,000 bonus miles (worth $689 on average when used for domestic economy travel)—that's 40,000 miles when you spend $2,000 in the first three months and another 25,000 miles when you spend $10,000 in total during the first six months. Cardholders also get 2 miles per dollar spent on dining (including eligible delivery services), on hotel stays booked directly with hotels, and on United purchases. You’ll earn 1 mile per dollar on all other purchases. Annual fee: $0 the first year; $95 thereafter.

The cards above restrict you to redeeming only with the co-branded airline and its partner airlines. If you want more flexibility, consider a general travel card that allows you to transfer your points or miles to multiple airlines. These cards also allow you to use points or miles on any airline by booking a flight through their travel portals or, in some cases, “erasing” any travel purchase by requesting a statement credit. Some options include:

  • American Express Gold Card: Get 60,000 bonus points (worth $960 on average when used for domestic economy travel on transfer partner Delta) after you spend $4,000 in the first three months. You'll also earn 4 points per dollar on up to $25,000 spent annually at U.S. grocery stores and on dining, 3 points per dollar on flights booked through Amex Travel or directly with airlines, and 1 point per dollar on everything else. Domestic airline partners of Amex’s Membership Rewards program include Delta, Hawaiian, and JetBlue. Annual fee: $250.
  • Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card: You can get up to 100,000 bonus miles (worth $1,095 on average when used for domestic economy travel on transfer partner JetBlue), including 50,000 miles when you spend $3,000 in the first three months and another 50,000 when you spend $20,000 total over the first 12 months. The card offers 2 miles per dollar on every purchase you make. Annual fee: $95.
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred: Earn 80,000 bonus points (worth $1,000 when used for travel booked through Chase’s portal) when you spend $4,000 in the first three months, plus up to $50 in statement credits toward grocery store purchases during the first year. On an ongoing basis, you'll also earn 2 points per dollar spent on travel and dining, and 1 point per dollar on everything else. Chase’s Ultimate Rewards program allows you to transfer points to JetBlue, Southwest, and United, among others. Annual fee: $95.
  • Citi Premier Card: New cardholders will earn 60,000 bonus points (worth $876 on average when used for domestic economy travel with transfer partner JetBlue) when they spend $4,000 in the first months. Additionally, they'll earn 3 points per dollar at restaurants, gas stations, and supermarkets, as well as on air travel and hotels. Besides JetBlue, airline partners for the Citi ThankYou program include Virgin Atlantic and Singapore Airlines. All other purchases net just 1 point per dollar. Annual fee: $95.

Take some time to determine which card is the best fit for you. While some general travel rewards programs give you more flexibility with redemption, they typically don't offer airline-specific perks like free checked bags, priority boarding, and in-flight discounts.

How To Pay for a Hotel in Orlando With Points

As a major tourist destination, Orlando has a lot of options for hotel stays. You can stay in a hotel on Disney World's property, virtually next door, or even farther away if you also have other plans in mind.

You can get the points you need from a hotel credit card or a general travel rewards credit card. Here are some hotels in the area and what you can expect to pay for a five-night stay with two adults, in dollars or points:

Hotel 5-Night Stay Cost in Points 5-Night Stay Cost in Dollars Tips
JW Marriott Orlando, Grand Lakes Resort 240,000 Marriott points (and $225 in resort fees) $1,963 Your fifth night is free when you book five consecutive nights.
Walt Disney World Dolphin 240,000 $1,338 Your fifth night is free when you book five consecutive nights.
B Resort and Spa See note $827 No rewards program. Use flexible travel rewards points or a general travel rewards card for a statement credit.
Hyatt Place Orlando/Lake Buena Vista 60,000 $780 You can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards Points to Hyatt at a 1-to-1 rate.
Candlewood Suites - Lake Buena Vista 100,000 $727 You can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards Points to IHG at a 1-to-1 rate.
Homewood Suites by Hilton Orlando at Flamingo Crossings Town Center 136,000 $644 Your fifth night is free when you book five consecutive nights.
Quality Inn & Suites By the Parks 50,000 $437 Choice Privileges loyalty members earn a $3 Uber credit, $5 Starbucks gift card, or other perks for each weeknight stay.
Country Inn & Suites by Radisson 140,000 $395 Poor use of Radisson points. Consider instead using flexible travel rewards points or a general travel rewards card for a statement credit.

Like the flight examples above, these are example costs based on summer travel as of the research date and are always subject to change.

The Hyatt Place Orlando/Lake Buena Vista example offers the best value because the points you’d use to book it are worth around 1.3 cents, which is above the 1-cent-per-point bench mark for a travel booking. The Country Inn & Suites by Radisson offers the least value, at 0.28 cents per point, well below the 1-cent-per-point bench mark.

You can get more context about the points prices you see when you’re booking by understanding what a particular hotel chain’s points are usually worth. According to The Balance’s research into the average value of hotel points, here are the point values you can expect in general to get when booking a low-tier or mid-tier award room:

Credit Cards That Can Help You Earn Points for Hotel Stays

Getting a credit card bonus can be an excellent way to rack up a bunch of points to pay for some or all of the cost of your Disney World trip. Here are some top hotel credit cards that can help you get there:

  • Hilton Honors Surpass Card: Get up to 180,000 bonus points (worth $864 on average when used for a low- or mid-tier room)—that's 130,000 after you spend $2,000 in the first three months and another 50,000 points after you spend a total of $10,000 in the first six months. You'll also earn 12 points per dollar spent on eligible purchases at Hilton properties; 6 points per dollar at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets, and U.S. gas stations; and 3 points per dollar on everything else. Annual fee: $95.
  • IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card: Earn 125,000 bonus points (worth $1,300 on average when used for a low- or mid-tier room) and one rewards night when you spend $3,000 in the first three months. You'll get an additional 10,000 bonus points when you spend $20,000 in total and make an additional purchase each account anniversary year. Ongoing rewards include 25 points per dollar spent at IHG hotels; 2 points per dollar at gas stations, grocery stores, and restaurants; and 1 point per dollar everywhere else. When you redeem points for four or more nights, this card gives you one of those nights free. Annual fee: $89.
  • Marriott Bonvoy Boundless: Earn three free nights (worth up to 50,000 points each) when you spend $3,000 in the first three months. On an ongoing basis, you'll also get 17 points per dollar spent at Marriott hotels and 2 points per dollar on all other purchases.
  • World of Hyatt Credit Card: Earn up to 60,000 bonus points (worth $1,110 on average when used for a low- or mid-tier room)—that's 30,000 points when you spend $3,000 in the first three months, plus up to 30,000 points by getting an additional 2 points per dollar on your first $15,000 spent during the first six months. Cardholders also get 9 points per dollar spent at Hyatt hotels; 2 points per dollar at restaurants, on airline tickets purchased directly from the airline, on local transit and commuting, as well as on fitness club and gym memberships; and 1 point per dollar on everything else.

Additionally, you can earn points or miles with a flexible rewards program and transfer them to the hotel brand of your choice. For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the Chase Sapphire Reserve partner with Hyatt, IHG, and Marriott rewards programs. If you have a card like the American Express Gold Card or The Platinum Card from American Express, you can transfer your points to Choice Privileges, Hilton, and Marriott.

What About Rental Cars?

There aren't any co-branded rental car credit cards, but you can typically use general travel rewards points or even airline miles or hotel points to book a rental car. 

With Chase Ultimate Rewards credit cards, for instance, you can book rental cars directly through the Ultimate Rewards travel portal—the same goes for American Express with the Membership Rewards portal. With Capital One, you can book through the card issuer's travel portal or you can book the car through a travel agency website or directly with the rental car company, then use your miles to get reimbursed for some or all of the purchase amount.

Orlando International Airport has 10 rental car companies, including:

  • Alamo
  • Avis
  • Budget
  • Dollar
  • Enterprise
  • Hertz
  • National
  • Payless
  • Sixt
  • Thrifty

For a five-day rental, we found the following rates using different booking methods and a variety of rental companies:

Method of Booking Car Type Cost in Points Cash Cost
Rental Car Booking Site Compact 43,100 $431
Chase (Using the Chase Sapphire Preferred card) Mid-size 43,533 $544
Chase (Using the Chase Sapphire Preferred card) Standard 44,100 $551
Amex Membership Rewards Full Size 69,894 $489
Amex Membership Rewards Mid-size SUV 137,123 $959
Amex Membership Rewards Minivan 118,093 $826

If you don't use rewards to book a rental car, make sure you at least earn extra points on your rental car reservation. The best credit cards for car rentals earn at least 2 points per dollar spent on rental cars, plus rental car insurance.  If you book it through an airline or hotel loyalty program, you may earn rewards with that rewards program.

Check your credit card terms before you book. Some cards, like those from American Express, offer secondary car rental collision insurance when you pay for a rental using the card. These policies don’t help you until you’ve exhausted other options (like your own policy). Cards that offer the best car rental insurance provide primary car rental insurance. That means in the event of an accident, you may not need to involve your own insurer at all.

While You’re in Disney World 

There are a few additional steps you can take to maximize your points with a trip to Disney World.

Buy Your Park Tickets Through a Travel Portal

If you have a card like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, you can buy your tickets through a travel website like Undercover Tourist, and it'll allow you to use your points to get a statement credit.

Check Your Credit Card Rewards Program for Other Perks

Some rewards programs offer deals on dining experiences or extra rewards on ride-share trips. 

Get the Disney Debit Card

With the Disney debit card through Chase, you can get some great benefits while you're in the park. Perks include complimentary photos at private locations; discounts on dining, merchandise, select guided tours, spas and salons; and much more.

There is a Disney co-branded credit card, but the low earnings rate and the annual fee make it an underwhelming choice. It does offer some Disney-specific discounts and perks—nearly all of which are also available with the debit card.

The Bottom Line

Disney World can be a magical experience for you and your loved ones, but it can break your budget if you're not careful. Through careful selection of the right credit cards and strategy, you could save hundreds or even thousands of dollars on your trip.

Also, take advantage of your vacation to start earning more rewards for your next trip by using your credit cards to make your purchases.