Sunday, November 10, 2013

Credit Card and Payment Strategies for Disney Vacations

I'm a huge fan of Disney vacations, especially Disney cruises. I've already written about strategies to get the best price on a Disney cruise here. But once you have your vacation booked, there are payment strategies that can help you save even more money on your vacation.

Most of these strategies involve using credit cards, so if you cannot pay off your credit cards each and every month with no finance charges, DO NOT use these payment strategies.

1.  Chase Disney Rewards Visa Credit Card

*  Disney Reward Dollars -- Earn 1% on all purchases with your Disney credit card, which you can turn into Disney gift cards prior to your Disney vacation.

*  6 months No Interest -- Select Disney vacation packages are eligible for 6 months with no interest. Disney cruises qualify for this special no-interest time period, so if you need a few more months to pay off your cruise, you can take advantage of that with this credit card. You can also pre-pay excursions and onboard credit before you sail, and those will also be interest-free for 6 months. However, anything you charge while you are onboard the ship does not qualify for the special no-interest savings. Also, the no-interest offer does not apply to separate charges at the parks, only a vacation package deal. Again, this is not a good deal if you cannot pay off your balance before the end of 6 months.

*  Sign-up bonus --  This card typically offers a sign-up bonus when you first open the card. My husband and I signed up for the card a few years ago when the sign-up bonus was a $200 Disney gift card, so we accumulated $400 in Disney gift cards after our first purchase on each card. The sign-up bonus offer varies over time.

* 10% off purchases of $50 or more at the Disney Store and stores within the parks.

The regular rewards card has no annual fee, but the Premier option costs $49 a year with 2% earnings on some spending.

So if you sign up for a Disney credit card in advance of your trip, and you get a sign-up bonus and combine that with rewards dollars from every-day purchases, you can easily rack up a few hundred dollars in Disney gift cards to apply toward your Disney vacation.

Alternatively, check out some of these other top cash-back credit cards that you can use to accumulate money for your next vacation.

2.  Disney Gift Card Buying Strategies

There are several ways to purchase Disney gift cards at a discount to help pay off your Disney vacation. Be careful with paying for your entire vacation on Disney gift cards, because if you have to cancel your vacation, the money goes back on your gift cards and you don't have that money in your pocket for other uses.

*  Target -- The Target Red Card gets you 5% off Target purchases. This card comes in debit card and credit card format. While Target gift cards are excluded from the 5% off, Disney gift cards are NOT. Disney gift cards are available in most Target stores and at  On top of the 5% off Disney gift cards, Target also offers an additional 5% off coupon after filling 5 prescriptions in the Pharmacy Rewards Program. You can combine these two 5% discounts and purchase Disney gift cards for your vacation at almost 10% off. In addition to the Red Card and pharmacy rewards discounts, for the past two years Target has offered a special coupon in December for a $10 Target gift card with a $50 purchase. Customers have reported successfully using this coupon once a day during the promotion for buying Disney gift cards.

* Discover Card -- If you have a Discover card, now is a good time to buy Disney gift cards. Currently, Discover card is offering an additional 5% cashback bonus on internet shopping up to $1500 (you must sign-up online for the additional cashback). If you shop on through the credit card's ShopDiscover portal, Discover card offers an additional 5% cashback on Target purchases. While you have to buy the cards at regular price, you get 10% back into your cashback account that you can use for your Disney vacation fund. I have not personally used this method, but I will be buying some Disney gift cards this way later this month.

*  Grocery Store Fuel Rewards Promos -- Some grocery stores offer special fuel reward incentives at specific times during the year for buying gift cards. Rumor has it that beginning November 18, Kroger will offer 4X fuel rewards for buying gift cards. That means that if you buy $100 worth of Disney gift cards, for example, your earn fuel rewards as if you bought $400 worth of groceries. This is an easy way to rack up a lot of fuel discounts, and you can use your gas savings to put more money toward your Disney trip.

Once you have Disney gift cards, call Disney to apply them to your vacation balance, or ask your travel agent to do that for you. If you are on a cruise, you can take your Disney gift cards to guest services to apply the amount toward your onboard purchases and excursions.

3.  Credit Card Cashback and Statement Credits

Many times, credit card companies will offer you additional cashback or statement credits to use their credit cards. For example, when I received my Discover card in the mail with an updated expiration date, it came with a $50 cashback bonus incentive when I called to activate the new card and spent $1000. In the same time frame, I also received a letter from Discover card trying to entice me into moving all of our spending to the card over the holidays. The offer gives $200 cashback for spending $1000 a month through February. Since we charge our utilities, groceries, gas and other monthly bills on our credit card, it is easy for us to spend $1000 a month on Discover.  So by moving our recurring expenses to my Discover card, we get a total of $250 that we can put towards our next Disney vacation.

Other credit cards also offer incentives for renewing or opening. Earlier this year when my husband opened a Marriott credit card, he got a $75 credit statement in addition to hotel points and a certificate. We used the $75 credit statement for a cruise payment.

Bottom line: Read your snail mail or email form your current credit cards to see if they offer incentives for you to move your spending to that card. If you can stay organized with your credit cards and stay on top of your budget and payment due dates, credit cards can be valuable tools as part of your strategy to pay off your Disney vacation.

4.  Credit Card Rewards for Airlines and Hotels

Aside from paying for the actual Disney Cruise or Disney hotel and tickets, most Disney vacations also include airline tickets and hotel stays that can add thousands of dollars to your trip cost. Plan ahead by using credit card strategies to obtain free airline tickets and/or free hotel stays before your cruise.

The Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards credit card by Chase is one of the easiest ways to get free airline tickets for your upcoming Disney trip. Million Mile Secrets blog has more details here, and I also wrote about how I earned 110,000 miles and a free companion pass by opening a personal and business card here. Even if you can't open both a personal and business credit card, 50,000 miles from one card goes a long way for flight travel. My family of 5 is flying to Florida next year for only 42,000 miles. Baggage is free, and taxes and fees only amount to $5 per ticket. What a deal!

Also, consider accumulating hotel points for a free stay the night before your cruise or the night before you start your stay at a more expensive Disney resort. Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt and other chains offer incentives to open a credit card that normally includes enough points for several free nights. As I mentioned above, my husband benefited from opening up a Marriott card earlier this year. We have enough points left to stay at a Marriott hotel for 2 nights before our next cruise.

Before you open up a bunch of new credit cards to get free miles and/or hotel stays, consider how many credit cards you can manage. Credit card rewards only pay off if you don't accumulate interest and finance charges. Opening too many credit cards in a short period of time can reduce your credit score. Your comfort level with new credit cards may vary. Before you apply for new credit cards, read this article.

By using one or more of these strategies, you can save money on your next Disney vacation. These strategies take time, organization and discipline. Is the savings worth it? For my family, the answer is yes.

Have you used any of these strategies? Do you have other cost-saving strategies for paying off a Disney cruise or a Disney vacation?