For many going on their Disney vacations one of the largest expenses for vacations is the flight to and from Orlando. Most of us live far enough away from Florida that driving would take just too long, especially with a car full of kids so flying is the only option. The only problem is the high cost of flights today makes it cost prohibitive to fly a family to Florida even on budget carriers.
Depending on where you live, flights can range from $150 to $300+ round trip which means that for a family of 4 flights alone could be running you $600 to $1300+!
That’s just the base fare too – add in all of the additional baggage and other fees that airlines like to tack on, flying your family to Disney will do a number on your wallet. I know that because of the high cost of flights many turn to driving to Disney – but for your and your family’s sanity, if you have over a 6 hour drive it’s so much worth it to fly, especially using the methods we’re going to detail coming up.
When I was a kid my family decided to drive to Florida….from Philadelphia. We loaded up the station wagon and the four of us were headed down to Florida. About 18 hours later we finally arrived, uncomfortable, tired and all around miserable. The drive home was even worse!
Southwest offers a great frequent flier program called Rapid Rewards for domestic travel along with having good availability to Orlando from many cities around the country. In order to travel on Southwest for free we’re going to gather enough frequent flier miles to be able to fly our family of four to Orlando for free.
You’re probably thinking that you don’t fly enough to earn miles or what’s the catch but I’ll explain how you can get tens of thousands of miles without setting foot on a plane.
Step 1 – Find Your Credit Score
Your credit is one of the most important assets in your financial life – having good credit will open up doors (such as credit card sign up bonuses) as well as save you lots of money in the long term in the form of better interest rates.
See my full post on why your credit is so important.
Lenders, like credit card companies, mortgage companies and car dealerships want to make sure the money they lend out is paid back. The main way that they can judge if you’ll actually pay them back is your credit score – a high score means that you pay your bills and take care of your finances.
If you don’t know your credit score, you can check it here at MyFico.com. If you’re a first time member you can check your score for free.
We’re looking for a credit score of 700 or better to be able to apply for the travel credit cards that will get us free Southwest frequent flier miles. If you’re above 700 congrats – you have good credit and can move onto step 2.
If you’re under 700 you’re not quite ready to move on in this process, you need to get that score up! Use the tools at the MyFico site to see why your score is under 700 – is it late bills? Too high credit utilization? Any accounts out for collections? Is there a mistake on your credit report?
When you get your score back over 700 you’ll be able to to continue with this process but you need to have a credit score of above 700.
Step 2 – Credit Card Sign up Bonuses
Congratulations – if you’re on this step you have good enough credit (higher than 700) to begin the next step to getting to Disney for free!
Our goal is to accumulate enough frequent flier miles so we’ll be able to get 4 round trip tickets to Orlando on Southwest. Since we’re not going to actually fly to get these miles we’ll use the much easier option to get loads of miles – credit card sign up bonuses.
Airline branded credit cards give away large sums of airline miles to give some incentive to people to sign up for and use their credit cards. In return for hitting spending limits you are rewarded with a number of airline miles – each card varying in the bonus and spend amount.
I’m a huge fan of Southwest airlines for a number of reasons, especially when using them to get to Orlando for a few reasons:
- No baggage fees – bags fly free on Southwest – this can save you hundreds of dollars alone when compared to using other airlines
- Good Route Network – From just about all major cities you can get to Orlando and they recently acquired Airtran airlines which further enhances their network especially when flying through Atlanta.
- Simple Frequent Flier Program – Rapid Rewards is a very easy program to understand and use to redeem miles on. Unlike other airlines you can use points on any flight, no blackouts or lack of low level awards like other airlines.
- Cheap Award Mile Redemptions – Related to the last point, the points needed for an award flight is tied to the price of the ticket. All other airlines charge 25,000 points per person, you can get to Orlando for many less Southwest miles.
I’ve always had positive experiences on Southwest flights – flight attendants are always friendly, planes are newer and clean and you get to choose your own seats. It’s definitely a no-frills airline but it gets you to Orlando so you can get your vacation started.
The current sign up offer for the Chase Rapid Rewards credit card is 50,000 points after spending $2,000 on the card within the first 3 months. The annual fee of $99 is not waived for the first year so that is a cost that we’ll have to pay on this card.
But There’s a $99 Annual Fee!
Yes there is a $99 fee which is no fun to pay – the fee will be included on your first statement. Paying the $99 annual fee will allow you to get points that will save you hundreds of dollars on flights after all is said and done. The 50,000 sign up bonus is worth about $743 in free Airfare so subtracting out the annual fee you’re still $644 ahead.
Starting on March 31st, 2014 Rapid Rewards points are worth 70 points per dollar of the fare. For example if a round trip fare is $250 it will be 17,500 Rapid Rewards points to redeem for a free flight ($250 x 70=17500). The mandatory $2.50 9/11 security fee is not included in the point redemption so you’ll have to pay that out of pocket.
This is a great deal in the airline miles business because most other airlines charge 25,000 points for a round trip economy fare within the US. With other airlines that would mean that a round trip flight of 4 to Orlando would cost 100,000 miles!
We’re going to have 52,000+ points which will get us about $743 in free airfare on Southwest. That will give us about $178 a person which probably won’t be quite enough for most so we’ll have to get some more through spend. I would spend a little extra on the card to get up to about 56,000 points which will get you $800 in free airfare on Southwest.
Another option is to have your significant other apply for the same card – that would give you a combined 104,000 Southwest Rapid Rewards points worth $1485 in free flights and getting you close to the companion pass.
Before we apply for the credit card you need to sign up for your Rapid Rewards account which you can do here. Keep your Rapid Rewards number handy, you’ll provide that on your card application.
You can apply for the Chase Southwest cards here.
If you aren’t instantly approved for the card, you can call the reconsideration line right after you apply at 888-245-0625 to get your application approved.
Once you’ve spoken with a customer service rep and are approved, your cards will be on their way! When the cards arrive, activate them by dialing the number on the cards – I recommend setting up your online accounts so you can easily pay your bills.
Now should be set – we will have our Southwest card shortly in hand so now we need to get started towards that $2000 spend requirement.
Step 3 – Hitting That Spend Requirement
Now that we have our card in hand we need to make sure that we hit the spend requirements of $2,000 within the first three months.
This is very important – you have to be sure to pay off each credit card statement in full each month. We don’t want to be paying any financing charges or fees with the cards, be sure that you are responsible with spending on your cards.
Hitting spend of $2000 over 3 months shouldn’t be too difficult for a family of 4. Every penny you spend can be placed on the card then paid off each month. You can put all of your spending on your cards:
- Cell phone bills
- Dining out
- Mortgage/car payments
Another strategy which I have done is to purchase Disney gift cards using the cards – basically you’re pre-paying for some of your Disney expenses and at the same time helping you meet the minimum spend requirements.
When will I get my Points?
The first statement that you get after passing the $2000 spend mark you will see on your statement the points awarded to your account. If you provided a Rapid Rewards account when you signed up for the card they’ll be in there.
If you didn’t sign up for a Rapid Rewards account before opening your card you’ll be assigned an account.
How to Get More Points
Another strategy to get even more Rapid Reward points in addition to spending on the card is to use the Rapid Reward Shopping Mall. If you shop online a lot it’s worth it to go through the Rapid Rewards mall to earn even more points on your purchases online.
Fore example right now if you shop on Nike.com through the Rapid Rewards Shopping Mall you’ll earn double points on all purchases at Nike.com.
Say you purchase a $100 pair of sneakers from Nike.com. You’ll earn 2x Rapid Rewards points which will be 200 then you’ll earn another 100 by putting that chard on your Southwest card for a total of 300 Rapid Rewards points earned on your $100 shoe purchase. Not bad!
Step 4 – Finding Award Flights
Fast forward 3 months – now you should have 52,000+ frequent flier miles with Southwest and look you never even left the ground! Think about it – if you were to actually fly 52,000 miles you would have to fly across the country over 17 times!
Now that we have the points in hand it’s time to start spending them! You will use the same search that you do for regular paid flights but instead of paying cash you’ll use your Rapid Rewards points instead.
Head over to Southwest.com to find flights to Orlando. For this example we’re going to use flights from Philadelphia to Orlando International (MCO) for a hypothetical trip in May.
One thing that you need to have with redeeming points for flights is flexibility. Certain days will have cheaper flights which means less miles needed for free flights. I would recommend booking your airfare first during your planning then making those dates work with hotels.
Let’s take a look at the search results for our flight from Philadelphia to Orlando.
It looks like on this day all flights are going for 6,418 points at the lowest level. Just to be sure I always check Southwest’s low fare calendar to find the lowest fares which will equate to the lowest number of points needed.
Based on the low fare calendar that our best bets are to fly down to Orlando on a Sunday-Wednesday which is pretty common to see. Flying on Thursday-Saturday which are more popular days to travel will cost us more points, but not too many more. Just a note that this is the outbound flight only as well, you will select the inbound flight on the next screen.
I always make sure to start with non-stop flights to reduce the travel time and possibility that you’ll miss a connection. If your city doesn’t have any direct flights this option won’t be available. I want to get down to Orlando nice an early so I would go with the 7am or 8:40am flights which get us down there for just 6,418 Southwest points.
You’ll also see Business Select and Anytime point options – I would avoid them because they’re very expensive with very few perks to make it worth it.
I follow the same process for the return flight – luckily I was able to find flights for the same low point level as the outbound flight. The grand total for the round trip flights comes to 12,838 per person x4 = 51,352 – just under our points total of 52,000!
Add in the mandatory fees which total $20 and annual fee of $99 your total cost per person to for a family of 4 to fly to orlando is $29.75!
Just how much money did we save?
The cash cost of these flights would be $733.60 so if we subtract out the $99 we paid for the Southwest card and the $20 in fees we have a grand total savings of $614.60.
Shaving over $600 off the cost of a vacation puts it in reach for many families, allows you to stay longer, have the kids get a few extra souvenirs or go back more frequently. I hope that you are able to use the Chase Southwest credit cards to fly your family to Disney for on the cheap.
If you have any questions about how to use Southwest points to fly to Disney post them in the comments and I’ll be sure to respond! Make sure you sign up for the Frugal Mouse Newsletter too – I always share a lot more money saving tips on there as well.