With over 10 trips to Disney World in the last three years I’ve become an expert at how to save money on Disney World resorts. I’ve shared whether to book Disney World resorts on or off site and let you know which Disney World hotels I don’t recommend but realized we never talked about the actual booking process. Booking Disney World hotels is a very different process than what most of us are used to- and the best way to book Disney World hotels is not the same as the best way to book almost any other hotel you book.
How is Disney World Hotel Booking Different?
With most of our hotel bookings we want to earn points or stay credit. With rare exception (such as American Express FHR) this means you have to book through the hotel site directly if you want to guarantee the hotel will honor your status and award points. Most hotel chains will not honor 3rd party booking site reservations (like Orbitz, hotels.com, etc.) for points promotions. You might get lucky from time to time but can’t count on it.
Booking a Disney World hotel is more like booking an airline ticket- you can book a Disney hotel at any site and just input your reservation number into their system to get the benefits. Disney treats 3rd party booking sites like any other travel agent. You’ll still get extra magic hours, still get to use the magical express, still get the magic band with your room key and tickets attached. You’ll also still get extra 30 days with to book your fastpass- which can be the difference between walking onto the Mine Train or waiting two hours in line.
Why Shouldn’t You Book Directly with Disney?
- Prices at 3rd party sites and Disney are usually identical, even with Disney promotions. Disney shares promotions with the big sites the same way they share them with travel agents. You might not see packages with tickets or meal plans, but those programs generally aren’t great deals. For straight room bookings the prices on 3rd party sites are competitive- and in some cases less than Disney’s site. I’ve even seen prices lower than targeted Disney promotions on Orbitz.
- 3rd party sites offer coupons and loyalty programs that Disney doesn’t. Orbitz has both the Orbitz Rewards program which earns 2-5% back for future bookings and frequent coupon codes for 10-20% off. Hotels.com offers a rewards program that offers a free night after 10 at any hotel. You can also use any rewards already earned towards your Disney purchase.
- 3rd party sites offer cash back and miles portals for double dipping. Disney doesn’t show up on Ebates or other portals, but most 3rd party sites do.
- 3rd party sites offer best rate guarantees. Disney doesn’t.
A real life example on how to save on Disney World Resorts
I’ll be at Disney World for Traveling Mom and then for FT4RL in April. Here’s what April 20th looks like at the Caribbean Beach Resort, a hotel in my recommended mid-level category, for 4/20/16 including tax in a standard room with free cancellation:
- Disney.com: $181.42 using “Spring Offer”. Pool view, no standard available on this promo.
- Disney.com: $161.17 using “revisit and save” targeted email promo code for standard room.
- Hotels.com: $161.33, earning 1/10 free room in rewards and $4.84 on Ebates, net $156.49
- Orbitz: $141.10 using 15% off promo code, earning $4.86 Orbucks and $2.44 on Ebates, net $133.90
How to connect a 3rd party reservation to your Disney account
You connect your Disney reservation just like you would an airline booking: the 3rd party site will send you a six digit “hotel confirmation number” that looks like a PNR record locator from an airline. To link it to Disney you just create a My Disney Experience account. You’ll see a “link your reservation” option where you input your confirmation number. Once it’s in you can buy and link tickets, make dining reservations, and complete your trip just as if you’d reserved it through Disney’s own site.
It’s still best to check with Disney first
If you’re a Florida resident, member of the military, or annual pass holder/DVC owner you’re going to get special rates that may beat the 3rd party sites. You might also get lucky and get the mother of all targeted email codes. Once you’ve visited a Disney hotel you’ll get special offers emailed to you at least quarterly. DON’T DELETE THEM until you’ve compared the rates as occasionally Disney REALLY wants you back and will throw out a crazy low price. Another option is to stock up on discount Disney gift cards as they can be used to pay for the room if you book through Disney. Most times, however, you’re going to do better with a 3rd party site.
I’d be remiss not to remind you to check out resident Disney expert Haley’s presentation on Disney World hacks for more tips and tricks. I’m also purposely leaving out renting DVC points . While it’s a useful option, you can’t cancel once you’ve bought the points- risky unless your plans are set in stone.
What’s your experience booking Disney World hotel rooms through 3rd party sites? Do you agree with me or have I missed anything? Do you have a favorite 3rd party site? (Mine is Orbitz.) Please share your thoughts in the comments.
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