When it was announced that Disneyland and Walt Disney World would be opening a new “land” all about Star Wars, I knew that my brother and I would likely take a trip to see it. Our parents took us to Walt Disney World in Orlando many times during our childhood and my brother was a big fan of the Star Wars movies. The goal then was to accumulate the right points and miles to make an eventual trip as inexpensive as possible.
Early last week we booked our trip when the coronavirus appeared to be a distant concern. In light of recent events, who knows if we’ll actually be able to go. Although COVID-19 looms as a potential threat to our travel plans, perhaps some of the information in this post could be helpful to those looking for ways to put together a Disney trip on points in the future.
Why We Chose Disneyland
The main reason we chose Disneyland in Anaheim, California was because this trip is really aimed at experiencing the new Star Wars attractions. Walt Disney World in Orlando is much larger than Disneyland and involves a lot more planning. Fast passes open 60 days in advance for onsite guests and popular table service restaurants get booked up months ahead of time. Disneyland requires much less preparation which allows for more flexibility.
Another big factor was all the construction that’s happening in Walt Disney World in advance of the 50th anniversary celebrations in 2021. Epcot is currently undergoing a major transformation so we’d rather plan an Orlando trip at some point in the future when many of the new attractions are open.
Hotel – TD Rewards and RBC Avion
For lodging we mainly used a combination of TD Rewards and Hotels.com gift cards we obtained via RBC Avion redemptions. Our 7 night stay will be comprised of 3 separate reservations for 1 night, 4 nights and 2 nights.
When planning trips in North America my initial focus is finding reasonably priced accommodation. We looked over the rate calendars to find a stretch of days when hotel rates around Disneyland were conspicuously lower than the norm. The middle of May looked promising. This was a particularly nice discovery because we could combine it with the Victoria Day long weekend to save a vacation day.
From the beginning, we had chosen TD Rewards points from the TD First Class Travel Visa Infinite to cover some of the hotel cost. Last spring there was a sign-up bonus of 80,000 points upon spending $1000 in the first three months. With some regular spending on the card after triggering the bonus, we had just over 100,000 points redeemable for a $500 credit when booking through TD For Expedia.
Normally I avoid booking a chain hotel through a third-party travel site. I prefer to earn the loyalty points and take advantage of a good bonus points promotion, if any. However, using Expedia For TD was our only option to redeem the TD Rewards points at their best value. Interestingly, I noticed that the lowest rate for the Fairfield Inn Anaheim Resort was actually cheaper when booking through Expedia for four of our nights.
Booking directly on the Marriott website, the rate was $165 USD + tax per night.
Booking through Expedia For TD, the rate was $178.61 CAD + tax per night for the same room type.
So we booked through Expedia For TD and got the lower rate with a $500 discount in the form of a credit on the Visa statement.
The rates for the last two nights were quite a bit higher but it worked out to just short of the amount left on our Hotels.com gift cards. The total was $569 CAD with tax and there was $563 left on the Hotels.com gift cards so we only had to pay $6. A while back there was a bonus promotion when redeeming RBC Avion points for gift cards. We had also redeemed some Great Canadian Rebates credit for a Hotels.com e-gift card that we added to the balance.
The night that remains unreserved is the most expensive at $207 USD. It’s the night of our arrival and the plan is to use a 35,000 point free night certificate from the Marriott Bonvoy Amex. If a reward night is not available, or if it moves to the “peak” rate of 40,000 points, we’ll just use Best Western points at one of the two properties right nearby. Worst case scenario we’ll use some IHG points for the Candlewood Suites which is still walking distance but not so close.
I expect there will be people cancelling trips to Disneyland but it remains to be seen how much of an effect that will have on hotel rates.
Flights – Aeroplan
Flight availability with Aeroplan can be hit or miss but fortunately there were multiple options for this trip. I selected flights that would have me departing and arriving back in Halifax at my preferred times of day, along with a reasonable connection time in Toronto where I’ll meet up with my brother before we continue on to Los Angeles.
The flights were 25,000 miles per person plus taxes and fees. Although we could’ve booked fares in the $500s on our dates, my chosen itinerary with optimal departure and arrival times out of Halifax was a crazy $900+.
When to redeem Aeroplan miles for a flight is a subjective determination. My redemption represented more value than my brother’s since his flight out of Toronto would have been much cheaper than mine if paying cash. And we could have gotten extra value for our miles if we had included a free stopover, such as a couple of nights in San Francisco.
Disneyland Tickets – Air Miles
This part was slightly worrying because I did not have quite enough Dream miles to redeem for park tickets before the Canadian resident discount was set to end. But, I knew from previous years that the Air Miles tickets with the corresponding discount tend to stick around beyond Disney’s sale deadline. In fact, there are Canadian resident discount tickets still available for both Walt Disney World and Disneyland on the Air Miles website as of today. It states “Limited quantities. While supplies last” on the product details page for the Walt Disney World tickets.
After a few more miles posted, we redeemed 4100 Air Miles each for 5-day park hopper tickets. They were sent Xpresspost and arrived on Monday after a shipping notification on the previous Thursday. The driver’s truck got stuck and my father had to pull him out. As is common in rural areas, a friendly chat ensued asking if we were related to so-and-so.
Five days at a theme park might be a lot for some folks but you can also redeem miles for 3-day tickets. My hope is that having 5-day tickets will mean a more relaxed vacation. With our hotel only a short walk away, it should be easy to incorporate some down time into the daily agenda and thus avoid the tiring sort of trip where you feel like you need a vacation when you get home. Our only other plan is to see a bit of the Pacific coast and maybe go to a baseball game.
Food – Air Miles
The plan to cover the cost of food inside the park is to use Disney gift cards. By redeeming Air Miles in the Cash category we can get free groceries at Sobeys and then turn around and buy the gift cards with the savings. It’s not possible to redeem Cash Air Miles for gift cards directly so it’s necessary to use this indirect method.
Using Disney gift cards also means you avoid the foreign exchange fee on your credit card, if it has one. As well, there is a sort of psychological value, as a frugal person, to have allocated funds for dining when you otherwise might scrimp.
Disney gift cards can also be found at Superstore so you can do the same maneuver with your PC Optimum points. Buy $50 worth of groceries and a $50 Disney gift card, redeem points for the groceries but tell yourself you redeemed them for the gift card. Then combine your Disney gift cards into one online.
It’s a great feeling being able to cobble together a cheap trip with the help of various point currencies. It’s not so great when a virus interferes with your plans (and of course, the health of human beings globally). I hope that we’re able to go, but if not, we can easily cancel the hotel reservations and flights and find a way to move our Star Wars adventure to some future date, assuming the force is with us.