Walt Disney World on a Budget (Part 2 – Lodging)
“You HAVE TO stay on site!”, “You’ve GOTTA get the Disney Dining Plan”, “If you do not buy a souvenir at every shop you hate your kids”
As soon as you express plans to visit Walt Disney World you will get a myriad of advice on how to have a great trip. If you follow every piece of advice you are obviously quite wealthy and I would suggest that you bring me along next time. While many of these tidbits are excellent on an unlimited budget, they are quite unproductive when planning a trip on a realistic budget and salary. My brother recently got the insider advice to stay at the “W” when visiting Washington D.C. While this advice may be excellent I would assume that a $500 per night hotel room would be pretty good. I can only assume that this local preferred the accommodations found at the “W” to what you might find at “The Lincoln Bedroom”.
Keeping in mind when reading advice that every family is different and we all enjoy different things. Stating an opinion on lodging is even more divisive than most opinions. While some people might think a $20 motel is a great value another family would refuse to stay in such a place even if they were paid $20 (or $2,000) per night. As I have stated before, I feel that maximizing value based on your own valuation is most important. This also goes for time spent in planning such a trip. I enjoy putting time into the planning stage and minimizing costs while maximizing my value. Sometimes I have trouble pulling the trigger for fear of a better deal passing me.
Disney Resort Hotels
In 2011 we went to Orlando and I did all of the research online. I first looked to stay onsite because the accommodations at Disney’s lodging options are excellent. I visited my cousin staying at the Wilderness Lodge and it is gorgeous. All of the options staying on the property are fantastic. If money is no object we would stay at Disney World, in the future we will also likely stay at one of the resort options. I think that staying at the resort is much more valuable when you fly to Orlando rather than drive. Staying at a resort allows you free transportation to and from the airport, which also means no rental car is an option. I have not done this myself, but the minimal research I have done thus far this seems like a viable option.
The first thing I did was to take a look at all of the hotels in the area. I found many different “deals” around the area, but it’s really hard to evaluate a property that you have never seen. One of my favorite ways to check out a property is Trip Advisor because their rating system is based on actual experiences by hotel guests. Other rating systems sometimes have a vested interest in ranking certain properties higher than reality. One problem with all of the available discount sites such as Hotwire, Priceline, etc. are the huge price differences between each hotel guest. The price you pay on a hotel room will definitely influence your ranking. If I pay $300 per night for a room my perspective will be different than if I only pay $300 for the week. So even on Trip Advisor it will seem like some people will have higher or lower expectations. Another flaw is that sometimes ratings might be different if there is a recent renovation.
On my list of things I needed in a hotel was pool, high ratings and free breakfast. I figure if all other things are equal and one place offers breakfast I will pick that place. Since we are going to eat in the morning anyway, if we can get it included in the price of the room that’s added value. For 3 people that saved at least $8 per day if we just went to McDonalds. I then evaluated all of the hotels that met our needs. After that I checked out which one had the lowest price. After narrowing them down is when the fun begins. I did not pick the cheapest hotel on my list of acceptable hotels because I estimate value differently than lowest dollar amount. I like to get the most bang for my buck. I finally decided on a Country Inn and Suites – Calypso Cay, the pictures online made it look like a five star destination resort. I searched around and found the room for $55 per night through EasyClickTravel.com.
When you find a great price online there are often ways to make the price better. I found the discounted price of $55 per night online, but when I went to countryinns.com I found that the same room was going for $75 per night. However, I saw on their site that they guarantee that booking through them will get you the lowest price or else they will match it then discount the lower rate 25%! I called the hotel and let them know that I had found the lower rate and they told me that I had to book through them first and it would be adjusted. Much like mail-in rebates I am skeptical of offers like this, but I believe the best protection is backing up any claim. So I took multiple screenshots of the discounted rate through every step. I then booked the room and then immediately put in the price match request. The first time I sent over a basic email stating that I had found the lower price and been told it would be matched. I received an email saying, “Unfortunately we are unable to process your request”. I then sent over another email with the direct link to the page and about 10 screenshots. I got an email back saying “We have confirmed your lower price and have beat it by 25% your new price will be $39.90 per night”. That was about as easy as possible. Took just a bit of time and minimal negotiation. Not only is booking with the hotel superior because they beat the price, but I was also able to get 6,600 Club Carlson Gold Points. I still have not used them, but if I get the Club Carlson Visa card, which currently offers an 85,000 point bonus, These points might be nice.
If I were booking this hotel right now doing the same method I would save even more money. Using Cashback portals is so easy and can be quite lucrative especially when used in conjunction with a cashback credit card. First you would click through TopCashBack then type in Country Inn and Suites, then simply click through there and get 5% cashback on the booked rate of $526.50 so I would have gotten $26 into my TopCashBack account. Even if I did not get the extra cashback, it would be worth it. I also booked with a Discover Card which had travel as a 5% cashback category so I saved another $26 in Cashback. Basically those two cashback amounts paid for at least one night. It is possible that they would catch on that the cashback was calculated using the higher amount, but either way it’s a nice bonus.
Priceline famously has a “Name Your Own Price” option which can be very good or very bad. I have had both experiences and it goes back to the rating systems I spoke about earlier. In my experience it appears that Priceline inflates some of the substandard hotel ratings in order to offer a really low price on a hotel. If you take a bit of time it’s sometimes possible to figure out which hotel is being offered by either Priceline or Hotwire. You can also go to BetterBidding.com and get some help on how to purchase a hotel.
Credit Card Sign Up Bonus
There are some very lucrative hotel sign up bonuses that can really help in paying for your trip. You can get a credit card such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred which gives a 40,000 point signing bonus. Then use the $400 as a statement credit to cover your travel. You could also sign up for different hotel reward cards. For instance, if you plan on staying at a Starwood hotel you can sign up for a SPG card which gives 25,000 bonus points. A husband and wife could both apply for the card and have 50,000 points by simply hitting the minimum spend amounts.
Take your time when booking a hotel and make your decision based on things important to you. Keep looking for deals and remember that many hotel chains offer to beat a price offered by an online booking agency. Take advantage of reward programs, reward credit cards and shopping portals to add more discount to your prices.