How to Book Disney Trips With AMEX Membership Rewards Points

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Ken and his wife Emily write about using points and miles (and saving money) on Disney trips at Mousehacking.com.  So I’ve asked them to share their tips on booking trips to Walt Disney World and Disneyland using AMEX Membership Rewards points.

Ken and Emily:  American Express Membership Rewards points are valuable because of their great flexibility.  And you can transfer them to 20 airline and hotel partners.

If you’re planning a trip to Walt Disney World or Disneyland, getting the most out of these transfer partners can be the key to saving Big Money!

In most cases you’ll get more value from transferring AMEX Membership Rewards points to airline partners than to hotel partners.  You’ll want to keep this in mind to avoid using your AMEX Membership Rewards points now on a hotel stay if you could get much better value out of them in the future.

Disney World With American Express Membership Rewards Points

You Can Use Your AMEX Membership Rewards Points to Stay at the Walt Disney World Swan or Dolphin!

We’ll show you the best ways to visit Disney with American Express Membership Rewards points!

Disney World With American Express Membership Rewards Points

Because AMEX Membership Rewards points are so valuable, it’s important to make the most of them when you book travel.

For example, before transferring Membership Rewards points to airline or hotel partners, you’ll want to compare to the cost of booking flights and hotels through AMEX Travel and paying with your points.

AMEX Membership Rewards Points for Flights to Disney

One of the best ways to use AMEX Membership Rewards points is to transfer them to partner airlines and redeem them for flights.

And occasionally AMEX has transfer bonuses, so check your account for current offers.

Note:   American Express charges an excise fee of 0.06 cents per point, up to a maximum of $99, when you transfer points to US airlines.

Disney World With American Express Membership Rewards Points

Transfer Your AMEX Membership Rewards Points to British Airways to Book American Airlines Flights!

The most important trick to using AMEX Membership Rewards points to book flights is knowing which transfer partners can book flights on which airlines.  For example, if you’re flying JetBlue, Delta, or Virgin America, you can transfer your points directly to that airline.

But just because your airline of choice isn’t a transfer partner of AMEX doesn’t mean you can’t use your AMEX Membership Rewards points to fly with them!  For example:

Check out this post on the best ways to use AMEX Membership Rewards points for flights in the US.

And don’t forget, you can also get 1 cent per point when you book flights through the AMEX Travel Portal and pay with points.  If your schedule isn’t flexible or award flights aren’t available, this might be the best option for a given flight.

For a trip to Walt Disney World, you’ll want to fly into Orlando International Airport (MCO).  And for Disneyland, your best bets are John Wayne Airport (SNA) or Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).

AMEX Membership Rewards Points for Hotel Stays at Disney

Using AMEX Membership Rewards points for hotel stays is often not a great use of points.  While there are ways to get value of over 1 cent per point (and we’ll cover some), you’re generally only going to get between 0.5 and 0.8 cents per point using your AMEX points this way.

There are 2 ways to book hotels with AMEX Membership Rewards points.  First, you can pay with your points when you book travel through the American Express Travel Portal.  Second, you can transfer your points to an AMEX hotel partner, and then use hotel points to book your stay.

1.   Pay With Points Through the AMEX Travel Portal

For many families, the dream is to stay at a Disney resort.  To stay at a Disney resort with AMEX Membership rewards points, you’ll have to book it through the AMEX Travel Portal.

Disney World With American Express Membership Rewards Points

Book a Room at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge Using Your American Express Membership Rewards points!

Even if a Disney resort isn’t your top choice, the AMEX Travel Portal can be used to book a wide variety of hotels.  Plus, it will often be better to book a hotel through the AMEX Travel Portal than to transfer points to that hotel’s chain.

The AMEX Travel Portal can be used to book hotels at most chains, but here are some sample redemptions for Disney resorts:

At most hotels, you can expect to get a value of ~0.7 cents per point when you pay with points. This is obviously less than the 1 cent you get by booking air travel through the portal (and way less than some international business class flight redemptions), but it will sometimes be the best value you can get using AMEX Membership Rewards points to book hotels.

2.   Consider AMEX Hotel Transfer Partners

You can transfer American Express Membership Rewards points to 3 hotel chains:

  • Hilton (1,000 Membership Rewards points for 1,500 Hilton points)
  • Starwood (1,000 Membership Rewards points for 333 Starwood points)
  • Choice Hotels (1,000 Membership Rewards points for 1,000 Choice points)

Because you can convert Starwood points to Marriott points at a 1:3 ratio, Marriott is an indirect transfer option as well at an effective rate of 1,000 Membership Rewards points for ~1,000 Marriott points.

Even if you’re set on using your points for a hotel stay, it can be difficult to find sweet spots transferring points to hotel partners.  When you’re evaluating your options for hotel bookings, you’ll always want to compare against paying with points.

Use Starwood Points at Walt Disney World and Disneyland

AMEX Membership Rewards points transfer to Starwood points at a 3:1 ratio. That means for every 1,000 AMEX Membership Reward points you transfer, you’ll get 333 Starwood points.

Disney World With American Express Membership Rewards Points

Bad Deal Alert! You’ll Only Get 333 Starwood Points for Every 1,000 AMEX Membership Rewards Points You Transfer

This tough ratio can make it hard to get great value using your AMEX Membership Rewards points this way, but you’ll occasionally find Starwood hotels that make it worth it.  A better option will usually be to transfer AMEX Membership Rewards to Starwood and then from Starwood to Marriott.

Additionally, Starwood offers a Cash & Points option.  This allows you to pay for some of your stay with cash and some with points.  With this option, you’ll sometimes be able to get great value from your points, so you’ll definitely want to look into whether this makes sense for your stay.

Starwood operates 2 resorts on Walt Disney World property, the Walt Disney World Swan and the Walt Disney World Dolphin.

Disney World With American Express Membership Rewards Points

The Walt Disney World Dolphin Has a Great Location, and a 5-Night Award Stay Costs 24,000 AMEX Membership Rewards Points per Night!

The rates for the Dolphin start at 10,000 Starwood points per night, while the Swan starts slightly higher at 12,000 Starwood points per night.  With the 3:1 transfer ratio, you’ll have to transfer 30,000 or 36,000 AMEX Membership Rewards points per night booking these resorts.

At low season, rates at the Dolphin will be ~$140 per night, so you’ll only be getting a value of less than 0.5 cents per point.  At peak times, however, you’ll see rates over $260 per night, allowing you to get a more reasonable value of ~0.9 cents per point.

Starwood operates 3 hotels very close to Disneyland.  They are:

You can expect to get a value of between 0.6 cents and 0.8 cents per AMEX Membership Reward point when you transfer and book these hotels with Starwood points.  Because the AMEX Travel portal offers ~0.7 cents per point pretty consistently when you pay with points for hotel bookings, you’ll need to carefully compare these options depending on the specifics of your stay.

Disney World With American Express Membership Rewards Points

The Hotel Ménage Is Conveniently Located Within Walking Distance of Disneyland!

Use Marriott Points at Walt Disney World and Disneyland

Since early in the Starwood-Marriott merger, you’ve been able to transfer your Starwood points to Marriott points at a 1:3 ratio. This means by transferring from AMEX to Starwood to Marriott, you can effectively transfer your AMEX Membership Rewards points to Marriott at a 1:1 ratio.

Marriott has some great locations near Walt Disney World, allowing for some of the better redemptions we’ve seen:

With these award nights, you’ll be getting a value of between 0.7 and 0.9 cents per point.  This means transferring AMEX Membership Rewards points to Marriott for Walt Disney World stays is often better than paying with points!

Disney World With American Express Membership Rewards Points

The Gaylord Palms Is One of the Better Marriott Options Near Walt Disney World!

Marriott has a large number of hotels around Disneyland, but you’ll get less value per point than at Walt Disney World.  Here are three of the better options:

You’re only getting between 0.5 and 0.7 cents per point booking these with AMEX points transferred to Marriott, so you’ll usually be better off booking through the AMEX Travel Portal.

Marriott has a Cash + Points option as well, and you’ll want to consider this option to get more out of your points or as a way of bringing down the cash cost of your trip.

Use Hilton Points at Walt Disney World and Disneyland

AMEX Membership Rewards points transfer to Hilton points at a 2:3 ratio.  So for every 1,000 AMEX Membership Rewards points you transfer, you’ll get 1,500 Hilton points.  American Express offers a calculator to help you with that math.

Disney World With American Express Membership Rewards Points

Use American Express’s Calculator to Figure Out How Many Points You’ll Have to Transfer

Hilton no longer offers a fixed award chart, so the only way to find out how many points a trip will cost is to actually search your selected dates on the Hilton website.  Hilton claims their nightly rates will not exceed the former rates, and they offer a handy tool for checking what those rates were.

One of the perks of the recent Hilton changes is the introduction of a “pay your way” points and money option.  As with Marriott and Starwood, this is a good way to save on cash or extend your points, but you’ll need to make sure you’re getting good value for the points you save!

Hilton has a variety of hotels on or near Walt Disney World property.  You can check out some of our favorites in this post about using credit card free nights at Disney.

Here are 3 to consider, along with estimated nightly rates:

Disney World With American Express Membership Rewards Points

The Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista – Disney Springs Area Is Right Near the Buzz of Dinner and Entertainment at Disney Springs!

We also talked about some of Hilton’s Disneyland hotels when we talked about credit card free nights.  Three to consider are:

Since the Hilton nightly rates vary by hotel and date without a published table, it can be challenging to find sweet spots.

If you’re staying at one of the six hotels we’ve listed, you’ll be getting a value of between 0.5 cents and 0.7 cents per Membership Rewards point when you transfer points to Hilton to book Disney trips.  This means you’re usually going to find better rates for Hilton Hotels by paying with points through the AMEX Travel Portal.

4.   Get the Most Value on Hotel Stays With 5th Night Free

It’s always worth taking a few minutes to do the math to see if a transfer to a partner is a better option than using pay with points.  However, you’re going to get the most value out of a transfer on stays of at least 5 nights at Hilton, Marriott, and Starwood hotels.

Hilton, Marriott, and Starwood all have “5th Night Free” programs where you’ll get your 5th night free when you book 4 nights using points.

Disney World With American Express Membership Rewards Points

You Can Use Starwood’s 5th Night Free at Disney’s Swan and Dolphin resorts!

Marriott and Starwood’s 5th night free programs are available to anyone booking with hotel points. To get a 5th night free at Hilton, you have to be a an elite member.

Remember, you don’t get the 5th night free when you Pay with Points at AMEX Travel!  You have to transfer your points to the hotel chain!

Consider a sample stay for 5 nights at the Walt Disney World Dolphin, a Starwood resort in October. The cash total for that stay would start at ~$1,455 for 5 nights.  Using Pay with Points, the best rate is 208,195 AMEX Membership rewards points.  That’s a value of less than 0.7 cents per point.

Disney World With American Express Membership Rewards Points

Paying With Points Requires Over 41,000 Points per Night! But Booking a 5-Night Starwood Award Stay Would Require Only 24,000 AMEX Membership Rewards Points per Night!

Using Starwood points with 5th Night Free, however, the stay only requires 40,000 Starwood points (10,000 Starwood points per night X 4 nights plus 5th night free).

With the 3:1 transfer ratio, you’d need 120,000 AMEX points for this redemption.  That’s a lot of points, but you’d be getting a value of over 1.2 cents per point!  That’s actually better than booking air travel and paying with points!

Bottom Line

Transferring AMEX Membership Rewards points to airline partners is often a great option for flights to Disney.

But you won’t get consistent good value when you transfer AMEX Membership Rewards points to hotel partners.  You can get a minimum of ~0.7 cents per point when you pay with points.

If you’re looking at a longer stay, though, using 5th night free perks can be the key to getting the most value out of your points for hotel stays.

Do you have a favorite use of AMEX Membership Rewards points for Disney?

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One response to “How to Book Disney Trips With AMEX Membership Rewards Points

  1. Hi Darius,
    I love all of the trip reports, etc that others are posting. I wonder if you could add, in your line of questioning, a request for a detailed report of what the writer spent (points and dollars). There have been a few who did but I was hopeful for more detail, as I am a newbie to the points game. Again, these articles are terrific, please keep them coming.