One hazard of raising kids as a travel hacker is that you raise the bar of surprise. While we try to keep the Deal Kids grounded for Deal Girl’s birthday this year we went all out.
As you may know our family is well versed in Disney World: enough so that I’ve written a book on the subject. However, Deal Girl has never been to Disneyland and I haven’t been since I was her age. I thought it would be a fun exercise to see if we could visit Disneyland on points. Let’s see how I did, shall we?
Disneyland on Points: Getting There
Since we’re coming from the East Coast flying is the only option. One great thing about Disney World is that I can utilize one way car rentals to save. In fact I just rented a Cadillac XTS for $5/day from DC to Florida through Hertz. We drove down (spending 15K Club Carlson points on a hotel enroute) and kept the car for the entire trip.
To get to California I utilized Southwest Airlines’ companion pass. I achieved the pass last year via three credit card signup bonuses (Southwest personal and two Marriott) and still have a bunch of Rapids Rewards points left over. NOTE: The Marriott 7 night package loophole has since closed but two Southwest card bonuses- a personal and a business- will achieve the companion pass.
Three southern California airports serve Disneyland but the best by far is Santa Ana (SNA). Fortunately I found a flight from Washington Dulles to Santa Ana routing through Denver for 7,600 points each way.
TIP: be sure to search all of your gateways both coming and going. In my example DCA is the far more common Southwest gateway but connections made getting to Santa Ana difficult. IAD had both the best routing and the lowest price.
Disneyland on Points: Hotel
Here’s one area where the Disneyland experience varies from Disney World: staying offside at Disneyland is no big sacrifice. Disneyland is much more compact and urban so options within walking or easy shuttle distance abound. The extra magic hours benefit exists at Disneyland Hotels but you get a similar benefit on one morning with a 3+ day ticket so I don’t value it as highly. In fact I’d pick the opposite park of the EMM to visit.
After some research I chose the Hotel Indigo. A number of readers recommended it both due to the hotel’s proximity to the parks and the cleanliness/service. Two IHG card signup bonuses covered the 150,000 points needed for five nights. Fortunately, I had a bunch of points left over from last year’s priceless surprises promotion so only needed one new IHG card.
Since it’s a points reservation, I have the option to change it if either prices drop or another more attractive option appears. Please let me know if you have any thoughts.
TIP: Be sure to check your exact dates before assuming you can use points. Many hotels blacked out days or had minimum stay requirements in order to use points. For instance, the Indigo requires four nights minimum on a points booking.
Cash prices on off-peak times might also make using points less appealing. However, we’re visiting during Disneyland’s Chinese New Year celebrations so prices on even basic rooms top $300/night, making points a bargain.
Disneyland on Points: Tickets
As with Disney World, tickets are the most expensive part of the trip. I decided on five day park hopper tickets as days four and five are only about $15 once you buy the first three. I know five days is a bit much for most people but Deal Girl and I are both sufficiently Disney-obsessed to enjoy the luxury of a slower pace.
The best deals for Disneyland Tickets are through Get Away Today. Utilizing a Black Friday special I bought two five day park hopper tickets for $670 total. I offset that cost using Barclay Arrival + points: 50K from a signup (since reduced to 40K) and the remainder from Barclay Travel Community points.
Disneyland on Points: Summary
I’m not going to tell you that we’re getting to Disneyland for “free”. Travel is not free, even with signup bonuses, as there’s always an opportunity cost involved. I also don’t sell credit cards so don’t have an incentive to push one program over another.
However with points I am able to make the impossible possible and make an 11 year old girl’s birthday magical.
And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?
I’d love to hear your Disneyland tips as we’re headed there in less than a month!
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