Disney Cruise Travel Hacks
Everyone knows Disney Cruises are pricey and normally cost a bit more than other cruise lines like Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Norwegian. The verdict is out on whether the higher cost is justified but those that have been on a Disney cruise before gush excessively about their experience.
Besides paying for the Disney name and brand of hospitality, some of the features like Disney Broadway-like shows, fireworks at sea, character meet-and-greets, Castaway Cay (Disney’s private island), a fantastic kids club and red-carpet treatment, is why people set savings goals to pay for and experience Disney Cruise.
A few months ago, I started looking at 4-night Bahamas cruises departing from Miami in April, 2018. You see, Disney Cruise Lines publish their rates, schedules and allow reservations about 1.5 years in advance and the earlier you book, the lower the price. With Disney Cruise Lines dynamic pricing structure, each cabin category has a starting price. As cabins fill up, the prices increase so it pays to book waaaaaay in advance as Disney Cruises usually sail at full capacity.
We are Disney Annual Pass holders and take our twin girls to Disney a few times a year but for a while now, we’ve been toying with idea of taking the girls on a Disney Cruise. As a self-proclaimed “travel hacker”, I’m not content with paying full-price for a Disney Cruise, even if I do book over a year in advance when Disney releases new dates.
Insert, credit cards rewards.
I began on a cost-cutting mission to reduce our 4-day Bahamas Disney Cruise from the original $3,069 to a lesser price. I knew two principle ways to save on a Disney vacation so I began to look into which credit cards offered statement credits as reimbursement for travel-related purchases and discounted Disney gift cards.
Steps to Travel Hacking My Disney Cruise
My wife had opened this card last year and after spending $3,000 in the first 90 days, she earned the sign-up bonus of 50,000 (plus 3,000 from spend) which equated to $530 towards any qualified travel expense. The $89 annual fee is waived the first year, so you have 12 months to enjoy the sign-up bonus, and evaluate the other card benefits to decide if it’s worth keeping long-term.
Since our goal was to cut down the cost of our Disney Cruise, we used the entire sign-up bonus, which was actually $536, to lower the cost from $3,069 to $2,533, a savings of about 18% the original cost.
I was eyeing this card for quite a while as the sign-up bonus of 50,000 points after $3,000 spend within the first 90 days seemed to good to be true for a card with no annual fee. The sign-up bonus could get me $1,000 worth of airfare for 50,000 points or a $500 statement travel credit.
I knew I could get more ‘value’ out of the airfare redemption but I had a set goal and wanted to lower my Disney Cruise cost even further so I opted to reduce the cost by $500 more. My balance now went from $2,533 to $2,033, for a discount of 34% of the original cost.
3) Chase Sapphire Reserve
Ahhhh, the CSR. By now, you’ve probably grown tired of hearing about this card. I was approved for the CSR last year and despite having a $450 annual fee, the whopping sign-up bonus of 100,000 Ultimate Rewards and two $300 travel credits before the second annual fee is due, made it a no-brainer in my book.
Before Chase announced the 100,000 offer would be reduced to 50,000 on March 12th, I had my wife apply in-branch and she was fortunate enough to get approved. Immediately upon getting the card, I called my travel agent (more on this later) and asked her to charge my wife’s CSR for $300 towards the cost of our cruise. Our balance was now down to $1,733 and at this point, I had already reduced my cost by 44%.
4) My next plan of action was to maximize the return on the remaining $1,733 left on my Disney Cruise balance.
I knew the Discover it card was popular among cash back enthusiasts for it’s 5% cash back (similar to the Chase Freedom) in rotating categories such as gas stations, restaurants and wholesale clubs. Discover also matches ALL the cash you’ve earned at the end of your first year as a cardholder so this card can be extremely lucrative.
I signed up for the Discover it card as I had been wanting a Discover credit card product for quite some time. Not a coincidence however was that I knew BJ’s Wholesale Clubs sold $100 discounted Disney gift cards online for $94.99, without the need to be a member. With the Discover it card, I’d be earning 5x per $1 spent at wholesale clubs in Q1 and Q2 of 2017. See where I’m going with this?
Hold on tight, here comes some MATH…..
Purchased $1,700 in Disney gift cards from BJ’s for $1,614.83 (saved $85.17).
Maxed out Discover it card quarterly spend at wholesale clubs (5% of $1500; 1% of $114.83) and earned $76 cash back.
Discover matches your cash back at the end of the year which means the $76 cash back turned into a $152 return.
With the BJ’s/Discover combination, we saved $237 more and our new and final balance was $1495 for a total savings of 51% off the original $3,069 Disney Cruise price. My new cost for our Disney Cruise vacation was now $373 per person for my family of 4!
Pro tip: Open a free Disney Vacation Account to consolidate your Disney gift cards and pay for your Disney vacation with a travel agent. I always book my own vacations but the exception is when booking a Disney Cruise. Why? Because when hiring an authorized Disney vacation planner, they offer you their commission as an on-board credit to YOU. They’ll also let you pay your cruise little-by-little from your Disney Vacation Account.
I was able to save over 50% OFF on a Disney Cruise for my family of 4 by utilizing credit card sign-up bonuses and maximizing spend on the ‘right’ credit card.
Although Disney Cruises are mightily expensive, with a little strategy and time, you too can turn your Disney vacation dream into reality.