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I’ve never been to Disneyland, but that is going to change this year. I recently finalized reservations for a 7-day / 6-night trip to LA with 5-day Disney passes.

I figure… the only thing better than a family trip to Disneyland… is a deeply discounted family trip to Disneyland.

This is how we are planning a “Once in a Lifetime” trip for 2 adults and 2 children for less than $100/day, including meals.

Disneyland for Free (or mostly)

Growing up, a trip to Disney was something my family could never afford. It is not typically a budget vacation.

So let’s make it one. With the main goal of minimizing out of pocket expenses, we need to cover the 4 main parts of any big trip – flights, hotels or Airbnb, entertainment, and food.

In this case it is flights to Los Angeles (LAX or SNA), a hotel near Disneyland, Disney tickets, and meals for the entire trip.

Flights

To get our “free” flights we are going to get a credit card or two, either for a major airline or one that offers transferrable points.

The welcome bonus will provide miles that we can redeem for flights. Which flights provide the best value will depend on where you live. If you are in Denver, United may be the best. Atlanta? Delta. West coast? Southwest or Alaska. Etc…

Disneyland bound – Alaska Airlines

Your typical roundtrip domestic economy class award ticket requires 25,000 miles. For a family of four, that is 100,000 miles.

The most flexible way to get these miles is to employ 2 Player Mode and have each parent apply for their own card_name.

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The combined welcome bonuses will provide well over 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points which can be transferred to numerous airlines.
You now have 4 roundtrip tickets for just the cost of the credit card annual fees, $95 each.)

Now… it can be much much better, schedule permitting.

Domestic US reward redemptions can cost much less than 25,000 points roundtrip. At this exact moment I see options 2 months out from Sacramento on Southwest for 12,258 points, United for 15,200 miles, and Delta for 30k miles. That same flight on Delta is only $187.20 so it could be had for just 14,976 Ultimate Rewards points… (with 25% redemption bonus with the Sapphire Preferred card.) It is important to comparison shop and plan in advance – sometimes it is cheaper to book with the airline directly and sometimes it is cheaper to buy through the Ultimate Rewards travel portal.

For this trip, I choose Southwest. It requires the fewest points and and checked bags are free. Traveling with 2 kids, checked bags are almost mandatory. Plus, this will also allow us to bring some basic food preparation equipment (e.g. a small skillet, a hot plate, etc…)

The beauty of this redemption is it requires only ~50,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points, which can be obtained in a couple of different ways.

Option 1 – Airline card – Apply for the card_name which bonus_miles_full (annual_fees annual fee.)

Option 2 – Transferrable points – Apply for the card_name. This earns Ultimate Rewards points which can be transferred to Southwest for redemption.

Option 1 looks great here, with a low fee and enough points to do the deed. But… I am actually going to go with Option 2 (with 2 player mode) – the reasons will become more apparent shortly.

Hotel

We need up to 6 nights in the area with rooms large enough for 2 adults and 2 kids. Shorter trips are also possible, of course, but I am targeting that “Once in a Lifetime” experience.

There are several great redemption options for hotels within walking distance of Disneyland with Marriott, IHG, Hilton, and Hyatt. Walking distance is important so we can avoid rental cars and parking fees, but also to provide easy access for occasional meals and rest breaks.

To get 6 free hotel nights we need to again employ 2 player mode, with each parent applying for a hotel credit card.

The card_name gets each card member / parent enough points for 3 free nights after spending $3k in 3 months (bonus_miles). There is a annual_fees annual fee which provides a free night certificate each card anniversary, so we are also on our way to providing for next years’ vacation.

The Fairfield Anaheim Resort and the Four Points by Sheraton Anaheim are 2 examples of hotels that can be booked with the Marriott Bonvoy free night certificates. Both hotels are within 10 minutes walking distance, have rooms with 2 queen beds and a microwave / mini-fridge, and a pool and hot tub for soaking a tired body at the end of the day.

Four Points by Sheraton Anaheim 2 Queen Guest room (picture from hotel website)

Disney fireworks and Four Points pool (picture from hotel website)

With his/her copies of the card_name we can also book at least 6 nights in several IHG hotels.

The Holiday Inn Express and Suites Anaheim Resort Area provides a free breakfast. The Staybridge Suites: Anaheim At the Park has a full kitchen.

Full Kitchen at Staybridge Suites: Anaheim at the Park (picture from hotel website)

There are many more redeemable options, look around and see what you like best… but these are the hotels that I had on my short list. I tend to favor Marriott options because I have status and can often get a room upgrade, late checkout, and maybe even free meals, but the IHG options were really tempting (especially with that kitchen!)

Entertainment aka Disney tickets

Disneyland and California Adventure parks are the primary entertainment on this trip (and the biggest single expense.) A single day is over $100/person but can drop to ~$75/day/person if you buy 5 days in one go. For a family of 4 that is ~$1500. More if you want the option to go to both parks on a single day or the ability to skip lines with Genie+. Ouch.

Fortunately, by employing 2 player mode with the card_name we can get a full $1,500 worth of travel credit.

With the card_name bonus_miles_full. (annual_fees annual fee.)

These points can be used to offset any purchases that code as Travel. I’ve seen some examples of purchases directly through Disneyland not meeting this requirement, but that is OK… we can buy tickets from Get Away Today or Undercover Tourist (which routinely offer additional savings, e.g. $100 off 4 tickets.)

Food

Feeding a physically active family of 4 is not cheap, particularly at a place with a semi-captive clientele like Disneyland.

We can save some money here by buying basic groceries and preparing our own meals back at the hotel. Sandwiches are quick and easy, and cost is no more than eating a sandwich at home.

Hotels with “free breakfast” also help, providing the most important meal of the day at no additional cost.

But, we are on vacation… we are going to be eating at restaurants both in and out of the parks.

For those expenses, we can turn to gift cards.

Earlier both parents applied for Chase Sapphire Preferred cards and earned the welcome bonus for a total of 120,000+ Ultimate Rewards Points. We then spent 50,000 of these on flights.

The remaining 70,000+ points can be exchanged for $700+ worth of gift cards.

Prefer making all of your own meals in the hotel kitchen? Get grocery store gift cards

Have your preferred big box dining experience? There are gift cards for every mainstream restaurant you can imagine.

Don’t feel like going to a restaurant after a big day in the sun? There are gift cards for Uber Eats, DoorDash, and Grubhub (currently 10% off.)

Ubers

There will be a few Uber rides involved as well – trips to and from the airport and hotel.

These can also be paid for with gift cards, often bought at a discount through a site like Raise.com ($5 off first purchase with that link.)

Summary / TLDR

Let’s bring a family of 4 to Disneyland for about a week for less than $100/day, meals included. That is less than $25/person/day.

Flights

Parent 1 applies for the card_name.

Transfer points to airline or purchase directly through Chase Travel, whichever is cheapest

Hotel

Parent 1 applies for the card_name

Parent 2 applies for the card_name

Use free night certificates to reserve 6 nights at Disney area hotel

Tickets

Parent 1 applies for the card_name

Parent 2 applies for the card_name

Buy Disney tickets so they code as travel. Use points to offset purchases.

Food

Parent 2 applies for the card_name.

Exchange for grocery store and restaurant gift cards

Total cos

$95 annual fee * 6 = $570

Have a great time at Disneyland!

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