This is a guest post from Robert Dwyer, a Saverocity reader and points & miles enthusiast.
For a while there the Citi Prestige credit card was one of the most benefit-laden travel cards available. For its steep $450 annual fee (often whittled down to $350 if you have or had a CitiGold checking account) it included AA lounge access, 1.6 cent per point uplift when redeeming for paid AA flights, 3 free rounds of golf each year, and more. Unfortunately many of those benefits are gone or going away.
Fortunately, the 4th night free hotel benefit isn’t going away. But it is being modified. For reservations made on or after July 23rd, 2017 hotel tax is no longer refunded. And the amount refunded is the average nightly cost rather than the specific cost on the 4th night of the stay.
The best scenarios to use the 4th night free benefit for me are hotels where it’s difficult to use points and/or otherwise get a discounted stay. Four Seasons Hotels are an intriguing option (especially with the free night offers they run and the potential for stacking Four Seasons Preferred Partner benefits with a Citi 4th night free) but this article is about using it at Disney. So let’s get on with it.
Why use 4th night free at Disney?
Disney does a very good job protecting their pricing integrity and is therefore one of the harder vacations to get a discount on. Sure you could sign up for a bunch of credit cards that allow you to erase travel purchases and/or [manufacture] spend enough to pay for a Disney vacation. But there are only so many of those cards out there and cheap/easy manufactured spend has gotten harder.
Another technique for getting discounts on Disney vacations is buying Disney gift cards at a discount. One of the better ways to do this is when there’s an AmEx Sync deal at a merchant that sells Disney gift cards. This can usually get you 20% off, which I indeed do, but I usually use those for meals and/or park tickets. With the Citi Prestige 4th night free we can get 25% off our hotel stay straight away without stressing other resources, and potentially stack it with Disney’s hotel discounts. So for me, Disney hotels are a good use of the Citi 4th night free benefit.
How does it work?
In order to get the 4th night free you have to book the reservation through Citi’s concierge travel agent. Call the number on the back of your Prestige card and select the option for the concierge. The agent I got was very familiar with Disney and was happy to secure the reservation for me. Once you’ve done that you’ve got yourself a proper Disney vacation lined up and all the benefits that come with that.
From there you take the vacation and pay with your Citi Prestige card. Then after a couple statements close, Citi posts a credit to your Prestige card for the 4th night.
What could possibly go wrong?
Disney specific nuances
Disney reliably discounts their hotel rooms or offers free dining depending on demand (or lack thereof) for rooms. Check MouseSavers for historical information on these discounts. It is possible to stack these discounts with a Citi 4th night free reservation. But realize that not all rooms qualify for the promotions. So my advice would be to book early before promotions are released then re-visit the reservation when discounts are announced to see if your stay qualifies for a discount. If not you could book a new reservation which does qualify for a promotion.
Once the reservation has been made, Citi acts as your travel agent. If you need to make any changes, they need to be made through Citi.
Don’t forget to reserve Disney’s Magical Express (the complimentary bus service Disney runs from the Orlando airport) before your trip. You likely won’t have your flight information when making the booking and you need to update your reservation with this information to reserve a ride on the bus.
My experience booking a Disney hotel with Citi Prestige 4th night free
On prior visits to Walt Disney World we gazed longingly at the hotels on the monorail, especially the one within walking distance of the Magic Kingdom with timeshare-sized accommodations: Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort. I wanted to combine that location with comfortable accommodations for my family of four so I booked a 1-BR villa there for a scorchingly high rate of $582/nt.
These “villa” rooms are more commonly rented to Disney Vacation Club members, or those who book them by renting DVC points. I ran the numbers and for us booking it through Disney as a hotel was better because it provided better cancellation terms, daily housekeeping, and thanks to Citi Prestige 4th night free it was cheaper than renting DVC points.
After I made the reservation with the Citi Prestige concierge I waited a couple days and my confirmation email never arrived. I called up and after a few back and forths we determined that my email address was transposed incorrectly over the phone.
A couple of months later Disney released promotional discounts for my travel dates! I was primed to stack those discounts with my 4th night free benefit so I called Disney to ask if they could apply the promo code to my reservation. After waiting a long time on the phone (Disney reservation agents get slammed when discounts are first announced) I was told that I could apply a discount code but I’d have to have Citi call to apply it since they were my travel agent. So I called Citi and asked them to call Disney to apply the code. A day or so later I heard back that Citi called Disney and they actually could not apply the code to my reservation. I think the hotel I selected actually was excluded from the discount but nonetheless I thought it was a nuisance to have to navigate the discount process through a third party this way. Especially since Citi wasn’t providing any helpful travel planning whatsoever in this scenario.
As the date drew near I realized I didn’t have a Magical Express reservation. It was a little clumsy, but it was possible to make this reservation and provide our flight info without involving Citi.
Other than that our reservation went off without a hitch. I was able to book our dining and FastPass+ reservations months in advance. Disney sent us our Magic Bands a month in advance of our arrival. As the certified vacation planner in our family I have to say: Nobody makes vacation planning more fun than Disney.
As we approached the hotel we got a text message from Disney saying our room was ready. We didn’t even have to stop at the front desk since our Magic Bands opened the door to our hotel room. Pretty slick.
While checking out I didn’t want to fiddle with any gift cards or otherwise alter our reservation for fear of messing with our Citi Prestige 4th night free credit. So I never gave Disney a credit card at all. When we got home I was struck by two things: Just how much this vacation cost. And the fact that they charged my Citi Premier card rather than my Prestige card for the 4 nights! How could this have happened? I gave the Citi Concierge my Prestige card for the reservation and I never gave Disney a credit card during our stay at all (remember – we checked in using our Magic Bands and I didn’t give them a credit card at all while checking out).
Best I can figure my Premier card was on file with Disney for securing dining reservations and they charged that. I was honestly fearful that I committed a $600 mistake. I called Disney immediately who refunded my Premier card and instead applied the charges to my Prestige card. Then I waited for the 4th night credit to post. And waited. A couple statement closures came and went so I called Citi. They said the credit had just finished processing [likely story!] and a few days later my credit for $582 + tax was indeed processed.
In the end the 4th night credit indeed posted, but it was a more involved process than I’d prefer. I wish they’d just automatically credit 25% back on any four night hotel stay without needlessly getting involved with the booking process.
If I had to do it again I’d probably try harder to find a Disney hotel eligible for a discount and stack it with 4th night free because Disney’s prices truly are ridiculously high. The location was nice, but the thing with Disney hotels is there is no one ideal place to stay because invariably you’re visiting multiple parks and you can’t be close to all of them without changing hotels during your stay.
Actually to be honest I’d stay at the Four Seasons Orlando (full review). Most of the time it’s cheaper than a Deluxe Disney hotel and for my money so much better. Just be aware that not all Disney benefits convey at non-Disney hotels, even if they’re technically within Disney World.
Question of the Day: Have you ever used Citi Prestige 4th night free at a Disney hotel? If so, what was your experience like? If not, what are some of your favorite ways to save on Disney vacations? Leave a comment below or ping me on Twitter if you’ve got any questions or comments.