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How to save money at Disney so you don't go 'bibbidi-bobbidi-broke'

Oct. 17, 2022
9 min read
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Just like the ride vehicles on Dumbo the Flying Elephant, prices at Disney parks keep going up, up, up. If I had a magic wand, I'd use its powers to bring back all the things that used to be free at Disney like airport transportation, MagicBands and skip-the-line access, just to name a few.

Alas, my fairy godmother seems to have misplaced my wand (or maybe it was lost in transit) so I have no magical powers with which to make Disney more affordable. But I do have the next best thing – a list of tips and tricks that can help minimize the effects of Disney's rising prices so you can do Disney without busting your vacation budget.

How to save money on Disney tickets

The Undercover Tourist site displays how much you'll save off the gate price. UNDERCOVER TOURIST

Disney ticket prices increase nearly every year, usually without warning. If you are planning a trip and don't buy your tickets before the prices go up, you'll be stuck paying the higher price. Just recently, Disneyland quietly raised prices overnight, with the average cost of a single-day ticket going up by $10.

That may not sound like much on its own, but it soon adds up if you factor in the number of people in your party and how many days you plan to visit.

Related: How I saved hundreds on a car rental when combining it with theme park tickets

There is a workaround that allows you to purchase tickets at the old prices, but you only have a short window of time to take advantage of it. Reputable Disney ticket resellers like CityPass, Undercover Tourist and Get Away Today usually have an allotment of tickets that they will sell at the old price until they run out. Savings can run as high as $90 per ticket if you act fast after a price increase. That's potentially hundreds of dollars in your pocket for your hotel, dining, souvenirs and other Disney expenses.

How to get into the parks without paying for MagicBands

I could have spent all day playing Star Wars: Batuu Bounty Hunters at Galaxy's Edge. TARAH CHIEFFI/THE POINTS GUY

I'd be lying if I said Disney's new MagicBand+ isn't a ton of fun to play with at the parks. Like the old MagicBand, you can use MagicBand+ to get into the parks, open your hotel room door, access skip-the-line Lightning Lanes, link PhotoPass photos and charge items to your hotel room bill. And, you can also use it to play interactive games in the parks.

As you might expect, those perks come with a price that runs anywhere between $34.99 and $44.99. You can save up to $10 with a pre-arrival discount, and Disney Vacation Club members or annual passholders can save 20 percent. Traditional MagicBands start at $19.99 before any discounts, which only stings because, until recently, MagicBands were provided free of charge to Disney hotel guests, and they always had been since they were first introduced in 2013.

You can use your phone, a plastic ticket or a MagicBand to tap into a Disney park. TARAH CHIEFFI/THE POINTS GUY

The good news is that you can still use any MagicBands you have lying around from past vacations as long as the battery still works. I have MagicBands that are two or three years old that still work just fine.

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In even better news, you don't actually need a MagicBand at all. At Disney World, you can ask for a "Key to the World" card at guest services or from the hotel front desk if you are staying at a Disney hotel. Key to the World cards look like hotel key cards (but cuter) and perform all of the same functions as the original MagicBands.

The Disney app has everything you need for a day in the parks. WALT DISNEY WORLD

At Disneyland and Walt Disney World, you can use each park's respective app on your mobile phone to do everything a MagicBand does, including charging select food and merchandise purchases to your hotel folio. For any other purchases, you could use the virtual wallet on your phone without ever needing to pull out your physical wallet.

How to (sort of) save money on parking at Disney

Another freebie that disappeared from Disney World in recent years is free hotel parking for overnight guests. Guests of Disney World hotels now pay between $15 and $25 per night for parking, depending on which category your resort falls into.

When you park your car at Disney, you don't have to wait for the bus or Monorail. GENE DUNCAN/WALT DISNEY WORLD

If you park a car overnight at a Disney hotel, there's really no way around this fee, but what you may not know is that hotel guests can park at Disney theme parks free of charge. On occasions when I do have a car on property, I usually opt to drive my car to the park rather than wait for Disney transportation. When I am traveling with kids (and a double stroller), it can be more convenient to load up the car than lug everything onto one of Disney's buses.

Related: It’s a changed world after all: 9 things you must know if you’re heading to Disney World

It doesn't change the cost, but the convenience of parking for free at Disney World's theme parks makes the pill a bit easier to swallow.

How to save money on transportation to Disney

The Sunshine Flyer transports guests between Orlando International Airport (MCO) and Disney World. SUNSHINE FLYER

Getting between Orlando International Airport (MCO) and Walt Disney World used to be free to hotel guests via Disney's Magical Express (may she rest in peace). In its place, a handful of alternatives have popped up, but they sadly all carry a fee.

Of those, I've seen the best pricing from Sunshine Flyer. Its adult pricing is the same as its competitor, Mears Connect: $16 one-way or $32 round trip, but Sunshine Flyer's children's pricing is considerably less. Mears Connect charges $13.50 one-way for kids and $27 round trip, while Sunshine Flyer charges only $10 and $20, respectively. It also runs occasional promotions where kids ride for free with a paying adult.

Depending on how many guests are in your party, both services are typically less expensive than taking an Uber or Lyft from the airport, which can run higher than $70 for a one-way trip during busy times.

How to enjoy the parks without spending money on Disney Genie+

Disney Genie is a free service available to all guests. DISNEY GENIE

It still pains me to think about the days when skipping the line at Disney World was free using FastPass+. Yes, there was some anxiety around waking up at 6 a.m. 90 days before each trip to try and get the most coveted FastPasses and then refreshing the Disney app throughout my trip to snag a few more.

Unfortunately, FastPass+ has gone the way of the dodo and was replaced in late 2021 with a paid skip-the-line service called Disney Genie+.

Lightning Lane entrances let you breeze to the front of the line. TARAH CHIEFFI/THE POINTS GUY

Disney Genie+ is available at Disney World and Disneyland for a fee. At Disneyland, it'll cost you at least $25 per person per day to use Genie+ (FastPass was free at Disneyland, or you could upgrade to MaxPass for $15 per day, which included photo downloads). When Genie+ was introduced at Disney World, guests paid $15 per person per day. Disney World recently moved to a variable pricing structure with daily prices ranging between $15 and $22. Keep in mind, these prices don't include the additional cost of individual Lightning Lane access for Disney's most popular rides.

Most Disney rides still have a standby line, but be prepared to wait. TARAH CHIEFFI/THE POINTS GUY

While it certainly can save you time in line, you don't have to purchase Genie+ to enjoy your Disney vacation. Along with Genie+, Disney also rolled out a free service called Disney Genie that helps you plan your day by displaying rides with low wait times, creating a personalized itinerary based on your preferences and more. You may not get on Disney's most in-demand rides unless you are willing to wait, but it does present an opportunity to check out rides with lower waits that you usually skip over. You may find a new favorite.

And if you find the parks are so crowded that you don't want to wait in line, there are lots of things you can do at Disney outside the parks (even without a park ticket).

Bottom line

As with most things, there's no getting around the fact that visiting Disneyland and Disney World keeps getting more expensive. Sometimes you have to get creative to make your travels affordable and these tips are a great place to start. You may even have a few bucks left over to treat yourself to a Dole Whip (or two).

Featured image by TARAH CHIEFFI/THE POINTS GUY
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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10xEarn 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
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  • Intro Offer
    Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

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Why We Chose It

If you are looking to take your premium rewards to the highest level, this card is really a no brainer in our eyes. Chase's Ultimate Rewards make points easy to redeem, with a wide range of 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. Despite the high annual fee, Chase is consistently adding new benefits to keep the card competitive in a fierce premium rewards field.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Access to Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel and airline travel partners
  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more