Success! Family of 6 Explored Disney for 12 Days for Nearly Nothing With Miles & Points!

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Welcome to the next installment of our Reader Success Series where Million Mile Secrets Readers share how they booked a trip with miles & points to get Big Travel with Small Money!

Carole is our newest reader success story to show folks it’s possible to travel without spending a lot of money.

Success A Family Of 6 Explored Disney For 12 Days For Nearly Nothing With Miles Points

Carole and Her Family Enjoyed Character Visits, Family Photos, and Attractions at Disney Parks – All on a Budget!

A big thank you to Carole for sharing her story!

Please introduce yourself to everyone and tell us how long you’ve been involved in the miles & points hobby.

My name is Carole Rains and I am the research queen of our family of six. 🙂

We live in Northern California and have always made travel a priority.  I stumbled across a few blogs like Million Mile Secrets only last year, in February 2015. 

What was the goal of your trip?

My eldest daughter is 16.  Last year I suddenly realized our dream of a family trip to Walt Disney World was going to get a lot more difficult once she went to college.  

Success A Family Of 6 Explored Disney For 12 Days For Nearly Nothing With Miles Points

One of the Benefits of Staying On-Site Was Getting a Coveted Dinner Reservation at Boma – Flavors of Africa, an Amazing Restaurant Located at the Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort

My first goal was to cover the plane tickets and hotel stays with points.  But before it was over, I challenged myself to have a net cost of $0!

How long did you collect miles and points for your trip? 

As soon as we returned for our summer trip in 2015, I starting strategizing for a November 2016 trip to Florida.  I met my ultimate goal in approximately 15 months.

Which points did you save to take your trip?

My husband doubled up with 2 Chase Southwest credit cards (Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card and Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card), which covered most of the airline points and saved us one round-trip ticket with the earned Companion Pass.

Success A Family Of 6 Explored Disney For 12 Days For Nearly Nothing With Miles Points

When Fantasy and Real Life Collide!

I opened an AMEX Starwood card to cover 4 award nights at the Sheraton Vistana Resort Villas, Lake Buena Vista/Orlando – which gave us the 5th night free.

My Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature Card bonus covered part of our stay at the Doubletree in Disney Springs, an all-suite hotel.  I made up the difference with a 100% bonus points purchase, which meant we could get the 5th night free at this location, also.

What cards would you recommend to someone starting out with miles & points?

How did you search for and find the award flights?

I made it a habit to check the price of the flights regularly on the Southwest site or app.  

Success A Family Of 6 Explored Disney For 12 Days For Nearly Nothing With Miles Points

We Are Not Properly Frightened of This Bad Guy Because We Are Having Too Much Fun. One of the Perks of Having the Chase Disney Visa Is the Opportunity for Exclusive Character Meet and Greets With Little or No Line

This saved us over 30,000 points over the course of a few months – enough to fund even more free travel!

How did you find your hotel accommodations?

One of the things I learned early was a family of 6 can not stay in standard reward rooms at most hotels.  This made my goals difficult to execute and involved digging for the accommodations options at several resorts and hotels first before rushing to apply for what seemed to be a perfect credit card sign-up bonus.

Success A Family Of 6 Explored Disney For 12 Days For Nearly Nothing With Miles Points

We Arrived at the Art of Animation Resort on a Thursday Evening. When We Woke up Friday Morning, It Was Covered in Holiday Decorations!

Also, when I had to book a standard award night, I immediately called the hotel to make sure we could upgrade somehow, even if it meant a few more points or cash.  

We stayed at the Art of Animation, a Disney resort, our first night at Disney for the perks: shuttle from the airport, magic bands, early access to reservations.  That stay was paid with cash, but I had a coupon for $50 towards any hotel booking through Expedia.

What was the most challenging part about planning your trip? How did you solve it?

Disney does not code as travel.  I had a dilemma.  How was I going to find a way to make a dent in that $2,000+ park ticket cost?  

Success A Family Of 6 Explored Disney For 12 Days For Nearly Nothing With Miles Points

The Girls Dressed up for Dapper Day at Epcot, Then We Park-Hopped to Magic Kingdom for the Rest of the Evening. This Is Close to Midnight After a Long Day at the Parks!

I found an online travel agency selling 7-day hoppers for less than I expected to pay for 5 days/one park per day.  I purchased each of the six tickets as separate transactions, split equally between the Barclaycard Arrival Plus and Capital One Venture.  

It was a quick way to knock out the minimum spend for both credit cards, then turn around and use the bonus (a total of $930) to “erase” some of the ticket purchases.

Give us a few recommendations or tips for what to do at your destination.  Parks, restaurants, hidden gems, etc.

Renting a minivan runs at least $80 a day, not including gas or parking.  Between strategic hotel choices and the Disney transportation system, there are lots of other ways to get around.

Success A Family Of 6 Explored Disney For 12 Days For Nearly Nothing With Miles Points

The Disney Wi-Fi System Was Surprisingly Good. And the Maps, Menus, and Other Features in the Disney App Were Very Helpful

In the end, we were surprised to find that taking UberXL or Lyft Plus was the quickest, most comfortable way to get to the parks.  One-way trips were $10 to $15 to any park and with referrals, codes, and the ability to use our travel credit when charged to the Capital One Venture card, it was “free” most of the time. 

What did you learn about yourself on the trip?

I thought I would be sick of Disney after 12 days, but it turns out we are true fans!

Also, there were many times that we all had to be flexible – or not very comfortable – when things didn’t turn out the way we planned.  I began to better understand that under the occasional grumpiness and whining, our family’s great attitude is what makes travel adventures possible.

What would you say to folks looking to plan a similar trip? Or to those who haven’t taken a miles & points trip yet!

The thing that made the biggest impact is the willingness to meet SOME goals, a little at a time.

For instance, I signed-up for a Chase banking account for the $300 bonus.  For me, that represented 3 days of meals in the parks!

Also, I cannot stress enough a master tracking spreadsheet or some other way to track your expenditures and earnings toward your trip.  In my case, I used a very primitive method – a draft email.  I found that being able to access my tracking system from my iPhone or computer, without any formatting, was the most effective way to see our progress at a glance.

Want to Share Your Story?

If you’d like to be considered for our reader success story series, please send me a note!  Emily and I would love to hear about how you travel with miles and points!

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14 responses to “Success! Family of 6 Explored Disney for 12 Days for Nearly Nothing With Miles & Points!

  1. Great story. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Interesting that nearly nothing equates to over $2000, to say nothing of opportunity cost..

  3. Most 3rd parties have never coded as travel for me, but when I went directly through Disney it did code as travel!

  4. Great direction for a mom and dad with four kiddos, too 🙂

  5. @Edmaz The total net for our $9K trip was $0. I don’t think anyone wants to see that spreadsheet, so it’s just easier to say “nearly nothing!”

  6. Great story, especially for a family of 6! It is an inspiration to try to strategize any trip

  7. We did a similar trip a few years ago …. for 11 !!!!
    A good vendor not listed here is undercover tourist to purchase Disney park tickets, which code as travel and can be redeemed with Barclay Arrival

  8. Hi Carole,
    Great story! I would love to see the spreadsheet if you are willing to share it. I am planning a trip to WDW for my family of 5 and your story is exactly what we needed. Please let me know if you’re willing to share.
    Thank you!

  9. Hi @Carole. Thanks for sharing this incredible success story!

    Like @Edmaz, I’m still curious how you knocked down the cost of the park passes to $0. I’m planning a Disneyworld trip for 5 and my main concern at this time are park passes. I see in your blog that $930 was redeemed from credit card bonuses. Can you share how were they redeemed? How about the remaining cost of tix?

    Thanks again

  10. How can total spending be zero if she had to buy the Disney tickets using money and not points?

  11. @Keola @Kevin @Melissa The great part about having a diverse “portfolio” of credit cards is that we use very specific CC for each purchase. The Chase Freedom and Discover It are both cash back cards. (We also used cash back cards from US Bank, B of A, Wells Fargo, and amex.) Each quarter we look at each of these cash back cards and make a note of the 5% back category for each one.

    Between these cash back cards (including the sign-up bonus if applicable), our available “free” cash over the 15 months totaled $4K+. If the points or sign-up bonus did not cover a purchase 100%, we were able to use the cash back to truly make that purchase “free.” For instance, I could buy the extra points for our hotel stay by purchasing those points with a Discover card and just redeeming our accumulated cash back on that statement.

    @Kevin In the case of the Disney tickets, I split each of the six tickets between two “travel” credit cards (three on each CC). When you purchase anything that codes as travel, that purchase can be redeemed/erased with your sign-up bonus within 3 months. The remaining cost of the ticket purchase could be covered by continuing the spend on the travel cards to erase the purchase (rather steep at 2% back) or by using the cash back cards reward cash (essentially pay yourself back).

    @Keola Nothing fancy. I just had a column with “earns” and a column with “spends,” along with notations about which of us did the transaction, the credit card used, and other important details. I also kept a running total of each type of earn/spend and color-code when a purchase was “erased” with points or cash. As a side note, I do use shopping portals (Ebates, topcashback, etc.) for all my online purchases and sometimes surveys – that was another $500+ cash towards the non-point purchases.

  12. That’s awesome, so glad you were able to give your family that great experience without going into debt or sacrificing. Just by using your brain, desire and the tools and knowledge available out there to anyone who wants to sit down and figure out how to make it work for their unique situation and circumstances.
    Great story with a great ending.

  13. I’m glad your family had a great trip. But like some other commenters have said, your cost wasn’t $0 or nearly so. All the cashback you earned at the grocery store, or through ebates, etc. is cash that could be used for your family’s other budget items – utilities, clothing, groceries. You can’t subtract it from your travel expenses and say that your travel expenses are zero! Why not subtract it from your grocery budget and say that the grocery expense for the year was $0? The $300 Chase account bonus that “represented 3 days of meals” in the parks could have represented $300 in your IRA. Or a new purse if that’s your thing. It’s $300 cash no matter how you spend it. Money is fungible. You actually spent a lot of money on the trip – you even purchased Hilton points to get a 5th night free, which means the 5th night wasn’t “free” – you paid for it!

    • @Allison Sure! Of course! I totally agree with you. As you mentioned in your comment, everyone’s life situation is different. What makes our trip significant is, although singles/couples or small families could have pulled this off very easily with only points and bonus sign-up opportunities, travel like this is literally impossible for larger families using ONLY points. Whether we chose to use a CC earning points or earning cash, our goal was the same: free travel. I agree — paying for groceries and planning for retirement should be first priorities and I’m thankful we didn’t have to sacrifice those responsible decisions in order to travel!