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Walt Disney World on a Budget (Part 2 – Lodging)

Walt Disney World simplisticsaving.com

 

“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.

Off-Site Rankings

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.

List

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.

Price Match

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.

Cashback 

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.

Blind Pricing

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.

Conclusion

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.

 

 

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Going to Walt Disney World on a Budget (Part 1)

Walt Disney World

 

In February of 2011 my wife and I started discussing taking a trip to Walt Disney World.  This trip would be the third trip for me and the first for my wife and daughter. Our goal was to have a quality vacation while going to Disney World on a budget.  A trip to Disney World will never be cheap, but there are ways to incorporate more value into the proposition.   Initially our interest was sparked by low priced fares to Orlando, but eventually we decided that we had better options.  The biggest part of saving money is taking the time and energy to slow down before making financial decisions.  Spending $350 to fly 3 people to Disney World seems like the obvious best choice.  Then we needed to evaluate all other expenses that exist based on the flight.  In order to get the discounted pricing we had to fly into Orlando’s Sanford Airport which is located further form Disney World, thus requiring transportation.  If we flew we would need to either take a shuttle or rent a car in order to move around the world.

Ultimately, we chose to extend our existing June road trip to Panama City Beach.  In total, this would be an 1,800 mile round trip, compared to 1,200 miles to simply drive to Panama City Beach.  We decided that the extra 600 miles driving would be the more affordable option.  We stopped on the way down and visited my cousin which really worked out well.  With this option we drove our own car, packed everything we needed and spent a little more than $100 in gas.

The most important part of the transportation aspect is figuring out how much each decision is costing you on your trip.  Even if the cost of flying and driving was exactly the same there are other factors that must be considered when making a decision.  Bags may cost extra on some airlines, but as long as your automobile is big enough you can pack whatever you want.  No need to rent a car or rely on shuttles.  One warning about relying on shuttles if you are staying off property at Disney World be sure to check the shuttle schedule.  We had considered taking a shuttle to the Disney Parks every day, but it turns out that the shuttles only run at about 4 am and noon.  So you either need to be the kind of person that arrives at the park super early or super late.  I love to get to the park before it opens, but during our time there I did not find it necessary to arrive too early.

Although we loved driving and found it very convenient for us  especially when we arrived we are still evaluating our options.  Just to drive from our house to Walt Disney World is 1,700 miles round trip.  If we get 17 miles per gallon in the SUV, that works out to 100 gallons of gas or between $350 and $400.  The most interesting way that I am considering for our next Disney trip is to fly Southwest.  They offer flights for about $220 per ticket, which is $660 for the 3 tickets we would need.    Another way to do this is by using Southwest Rapid Rewards for 13,600 points per ticket, which is 40,800 points for the 3 tickets we would need.  Unfortunately for me I have not flown in years, my wife and daughter have never flown.  How would such a limited traveler even consider using frequent flyer miles?  This is where using a credit card bonus comes in handy.  I signed up for a Southwest Airlines card from Chase with a Bonus of 50,000 points!  This means by simply applying for a card my family will be able to take a trip to Walt Disney World.  Sounds like a pretty great trade.

Even if we fly for free we will need to make arrangements.  We will need to rent a car making sure to use a shopping portal and searching for any promo codes.  An inexpensive car can be found for the week and cost less than driving to Orlando.  Another great method is if you stay at a Disney Hotel you get free transportation from the airport.  This includes picking up your bags and delivering them to your room for you!

In Part 2 of Disney on a Budget I will evaluate how we decided on our lodging in 2011 and the ways in which we might change our methods going forward.  Should we stay at the park or out of the world?  Should I buy the dining plan option?

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Cashback, Gift Cards and Cheap Gas

amazon

I absolutely love to shop at Amazon.com (this is an unpaid shout out).  We are Amazon Prime subscribers and also own a Kindle Fire HD.  I continue to be amazed at the fact that I can order something in the afternoon and it is at my doorstep the next day (for $3.99).  The other thing I love about Amazon is that they always have low prices, the only problem with this is that they do not participate in cashback portal programs (Join TopCashBack.com) or offer coupons for large percentages off your total purchases.  Even without these money saving advantages I am working on  getting 6% off my Amazon purchases at minimal.  This strategy does not only work on Amazon, but can be used successfully for most regular purchases.  Dave Ramsey certainly will not appreciate what I have to say, but that’s just the chance I’ll have to take.

My Blue Cash Preferred AMEX card gets me 6% cashback on all grocery purchases throughout the year (First $6,000).  This cashback amount is in addition to the fantastic $250 signing bonus.  Therefore, I can walk into my local Kroger, buy a $100 Amazon gift card and I will get $6 credited to my card.  This is a fantastic deal as it is, but it is made even better by the fact that my local Kroger also has a daily offer of 2X gas rewards on all gift card purchases.  Therefore, my $100 gift card gets me $6 cashback and 200 gas points!  Fuel reward points are good for .10 off per gallon of gas for every hundred points.  Currently, the offer is even juicier!

Last month I went into Kroger and they were offering 4X fuel reward points on the purchase of a gift card!  So here’s what I did.  Knowing that we buy from Amazon.com constantly I purchased a $250 gift card and paid with my AMEX which earns 6% cashback on grocery store purchases for a total of $15 cashback.  This purchase also earned me 1,000 gas points (250 x 4) which are good for $1.00 off per gallon of gas (up to 35 gallons).  Since we buy gas no matter what, this is a real savings!  We will maximize this savings on all 35 gallons of fuel.  So the $250 gift card – $15 cashback – $35 fuel savings basically makes the $250 gift card $200!  This 4X point deal is available until the end of March and the actual points earned can be used through the end of April.

To further increase savings I will use my 5% cashback gas reward card when paying for the gas.  I do not figure this savings into my actual savings because I would use this card regardless.

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