This post is by Summer Hull of Mommy Points.
At first blush, you’d think a trip to Orlando should be relatively inexpensive and it can be — sometimes. However, the cost of airfare fluctuates throughout the year and can get quite pricy during the holidays and school vacations, which is — of course — when it’s most convenient for many to travel.
There are a wide variety of accommodations that match every budget, but properties located near the theme parks — or right on park property, like the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotels — can be more expensive than other options. And, don’t even get me started about theme park tickets. If you’re traveling with a family, you won’t believe your eyes the first time you calculate how much cash you’ll drop for entry into Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, SeaWorld, and all of the other attractions located in and around Orlando.
So, what can you do to save money and still plan an awesome trip to the theme park capital of Florida? Use frequent flyer miles, hotel loyalty points and bank points like Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards to help defray the cost of your entire vacation. Here’s how.
Saving On Airfare with Frequent Flyer Miles
Nearly every airline offers a frequent flyer program in which you earn miles to redeem for a nearly free flight. I say “nearly free” because you will pay cash for the tax on your ticket, which is currently $5.60 per flight segment per person. Your only other cost for the flight will be airline miles that you can earn sometimes for very little effort. Some airline programs offer fantastic values for travel to Orlando. Here are two of them:
- Spirit Airlines: This low-cost airline runs the Free Spirit frequent flyer program and there’s a special deal for anyone who carries the Free Spirit-branded MasterCard. If that’s you, you’re entitled to redeem off-peak one-way flights for as few as 2,500 miles. That’s an amazing value! That means—if you can find available off-peak award seats—a family of five can travel to and from Orlando for just 25,000 miles. You can spend 25,000 for one round-trip ticket on many other airlines. Spirit offers nonstop flights from many cities, including Atlantic City, Chicago O’Hare, Dallas/Fort Worth, Detroit, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, Latrobe, and Minneapolis.
- British Airways: You’re right. British Airways doesn’t fly to Orlando but its OneWorld alliance partners, American Airlines and U.S. Airways, do. That’s why you can use British Airways Avios points to book award seats on these other two airlines. Well, you’re probably asking, “Why is that valuable to me?” British Airways utilizes a distance-based award chart so that presents a sweet spot for people living in the eastern part of the United States. For example, you can fly up to 650 miles, say from Charlotte, North Carolina, to Orlando, for just 4,500 Avios points each way. It costs 7,500 Avios for one-way trips between 651 and 1,151 miles, and 10,000 Avios for one-way trips between 1,152 and 2,000 miles.
The key with British Airways’ distance-based award chart is that it is most lucrative if you book a nonstop flight. If you add a connection onto the routes listed above, you’ll need to spend more points. If you don’t have British Airways miles, you can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points or American Express Membership Rewards points to your British Airways account and then book your award flights.
Those are just two excellent ways to use miles to get to Orlando, but there are others. I cover all the options in my latest ebook, Orlando for Nearly Free. It’s part of the Frequent Flyer Toolkits series.
Where to Stay?
Here’s some terrific news: you’ve got your choice of 30 hotel brands under the auspices of 11 different loyalty programs when it comes to finding accommodations that accept points or a combination of points and cash as payment.
- Stay on Site: There are so many fantastic places to stay in Orlando, but if you plan to spend most of your time at Walt Disney World, you’ll probably want to stay right on site. And, you can do just that while paying with hotel loyalty points instead of cash. That’s the case with the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin hotels. Both participate in Starwood Preferred Guests’ loyalty program. You’ll need 10,000 points per night or you can opt to pay 5,000 points plus $75 per night.
- Opt for a Luxury Resort: When you want to treat yourself, check into the Ritz-Carlton-Orlando, Grande Lakes. It costs 40,000 Ritz-Carlton Rewards or Marriott Rewards points. You can also transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Ritz-Carlton Rewards on a 1:1 basis.
Where to Find Discounted Theme Park Tickets
There are a few ways to purchase discounted theme park tickets. Two Walmart locations in Orlando — 3250 Vineland Road and 4444 West Vine Street — near Walt Disney World have an in-store kiosk offering discounted theme park tickets. Some AAA (American Automobile Association) and CAA (Canadian Automobile Association) offices sell discounted Disney passes. Not all offices sell them though so call your local office to determine the options. Finally, you can purchase theme park tickets from Undercover Tourist. This reputable ticket broker sells admission to Walt Disney World, Universal Studios Orlando, SeaWorld Orlando, and Legoland Florida.
These are just a few ways in which you can save some serious cash on your next trip to Orlando. I discuss these redemption strategies—as well as many others—in my series of Frequent Flyer Toolkits ebooks, including Orlando for Nearly Free, Hawaii for Nearly Free, and Paris for Nearly Free.
Readers of Orlando on the Cheap can sign up for the Frequent Flyer Toolkits email list to receive four free resources to help you earn and redeem your next nearly free flight or hotel stay. You’ll receive The Mommy Points Beginner’s Guide to Earning Nearly Free Travel, a podcast about the best flight redemption values available today, a miles-and-points tracker, and an award flight-planning calendar. Sign up now!
Summer Hull is one of America’s foremost experts when it comes to planning affordable family vacations with frequent flyer miles and hotel loyalty points. She launched the Mommy Points blog in spring of 2011 and has successfully helped her readers earn nearly free flights and hotel stays ever since. While her site was born out of her family’s desire to find a better way to travel for less, anyone can benefit from Summer’s sage advice, which ranges from selecting the best frequent flyer program for your needs, to making the most out of elite benefits, to maximizing your frequent flyer miles to get you to your destination for almost free—and often in first class. She is the co-author of the Frequent Flyer Toolkits series. These ebooks—like Hawaii for Nearly Free, Orlando for Nearly Free, and Paris for Nearly Free—help travelers plan an inexpensive vacation to a specific destination.