How to Potentially Get More Than Half-Off at Walt Disney World Hotels
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here.
I'm not a Walt Disney World pro, but when I found out about the nifty tactics I'll discuss today, I was pretty excited. When looking to stay on Disney property in Florida, my usual booking method has been redeeming Chase Ultimate Rewards points through the Ultimate Rewards travel portal to book Disney resorts. But with the abrupt removal of Disney properties and tickets from the Chase portal at the end of last year, I was left facing retail prices for these hotels.
There are still other options for using points at Disney, with many of them ring in at redeem points at 1 cent each toward cash back. I didn't have enough miles available on my Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard to redeem for both park tickets and hotels, so I went on the search for a way to book on-property Disney hotels at a discount.
While there may be some good near-property options where you can use traditional hotel points, we prefer to stay on Disney property and enjoy all of the related perks. Luckily, I found a killer combination consisting of a browser extension and Priceline.com that resulted in scoring Disney's Pop Century Resort for $88/night all-in for a recent family trip to Florida. In fact, you can potentially save more than half on Disney hotels via this method of booking.
Hotel Canary Chrome Extension
Disney properties are listed from time to time as Priceline Express Deals, which keep the name of the hotel you're booking hidden until after you pay. You can search these deals from the Priceline.com home page. As an added savings reminder, before we even start, don't forget hotel bookings typically can earn cash back through a portal like Ebates. I have the Ebates Chrome extension installed, which recognizes when I visit a participating cash back site like Priceline shown below.
My friend recently opened my eyes to a strategy she read from Touring Plans, discussing the Google Chrome browser extension "Hotel Canary." This browser extension works to uncover the hidden hotels of Priceline Express Deals and displays an estimated guess for the property in the top right corner of Chrome.
There are a few nuances and strategy here, so let's run through how to use Hotel Canary. First, you need to head to the Chrome Web Store and install the browser extension.
Before you expect a lot of instant magic, the extension only works on the final checkout page of a single Express Deal that you are trying to decode. Once the extension is installed, head to Priceline.com and search for Express Deal hotels.
In order to filter Express Deal results down to those that are most likely to be Disney properties, filter the search results by selecting 3- and 4-star hotels (more on this below). Touring Plans recommends searching the "Walt Disney World - Bonnet Creek" area to find most Disney properties. Note that Express Deals does not count the Magic Express bus as an airport shuttle, so don't filter with that.
After search results populate, I typically look at the map view of the neighborhoods in which potential Disney properties reside, select a candidate and go to the final checkout screen of that property. At that point, you can let Hotel Canary decode the result.
Here's an example of Jan. 27–29, filtering Express Deals to the Bonnet Creek neighborhood. This is a result shown:
On the next screen, a few more details are given and you again have to click "book" to proceed to the final checkout page where Hotel Canary can reveal its magic. Once on this page, click the bell icon at the top of Chrome representing the extension and Hotel Canary will give you the guesses for the hotel you've chosen:
In this case, Hotel Canary has narrowed down the $86/night Express Deal to one of three Disney Value Resorts and gives you the Priceline.com available rates. If you want to skip the guessing game, you can click on the All-Star Sports Resort option and confirm that property for $76/night plus taxes, saving you 40% versus the Disney direct rate shown below. Checking Disney's own site, Pop Century isn't available for these dates, All-Star Sports is $125.50 per night and Art of Animation is $330/night.
This is where you roll the dice and either get Pop Century for less than $100 pre-tax or score an incredible deal at Art of Animation. I'm pretty confident you wouldn't get All-Star Sports in this case as Priceline's own price is cheaper than the Express Deal. As Express Deals are strictly non-refundable, I couldn't book this to find out which property it was — but this certainly adds a bit of excitement to the process and, no matter what you do, you're likely getting a great deal.
A few things to keep in mind when using Hotel Canary:
- This is just an educated prediction of what hotel you're actually going to book. Nothing is guaranteed. You could end up (un)pleasantly surprised.
- It is sometimes very easy to find a Disney property as an Express Deal, and sometimes they're almost nonexistent. If you search for a single night stay, a property may not show. But if you extend it to a multiple date stay, a property could then show up so play with the options if your dates are flexible.
- Value resorts are 3-star properties, moderate resorts are 3.5 stars and deluxe are 4- and 4.5-star properties on Priceline.
- Once you complete enough Express Deal searches, you'll be able to rather quickly spot the Disney properties shown in the search results.
Find Disney Hotel Deals Without Hotel Canary
If you aren't up for searching endlessly to find the non-guaranteed deals, I've found the usual Priceline.com hotel search engine often offers Disney properties with significant discounts within six weeks of check-in date. I conducted searches on Jan. 9, and below is an assortment of prices I've found for a test check-in on Jan. 23 from Priceline.com versus directly from Disney (all prices are pre-tax):
Beach Club Resort:
Port Orleans Resort — French Quarter:
Don't forget, if you use the cash back site Ebates to get to Priceline.com, you can save even more off the Priceline advertised price. Often that amount is 5% cash back, but right now it is (very) temporarily increased to 10% cash back. It's also interesting to see that the crossed out rates that Priceline.com is advertising often don't match up precisely with the Disney website, so always do your comparisons. Note that the further you move out your booking date, and the more you get into Disney's busy season, the less you are likely to save significant amounts.
Be sure and pay for the Priceline booking with a credit card that awards a bonus on travel, such as 3x on the Chase Sapphire Reserve or 3% cash back if you select travel as your monthly category* on the Bank of America Cash Rewards credit card (up to 5.25% with the Bank of America Preferred Rewards program).
One concern I initially had when booking a Disney property through Priceline were any potential differences compared to booking directly with Disney. I was relieved to find out there is almost no difference as Disney hotels do not have a loyalty program or any unique perks for booking direct. If you book through Priceline, you are able to link your reservation to your Disney account online, order Magic Bands, reserve the Magic Express bus and anything else you'd be able to do if booking direct. In fact, unlike when we have booked via Hotels.com and had to call to track down the information, the Disney confirmation number was included in the Priceline.com booking email.
The only downside I see of not booking directly with Disney is the inability to pay for the hotel with discounted Disney gift cards. However, the savings above far outweighed the amount you can save when using Disney gift cards.
After experiencing the savings possible with Priceline and Hotel Canary, and losing the ability to book Disney hotels with Chase Ultimate Rewards, I don't anticipate booking directly through Disney any time in the near future.
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*3% cash back on your choice of one of five other popular categories, 2% at grocery stores and wholesale clubs, up to $2,500 in combined choice category/grocery store/wholesale club quarterly purchases