In Part 4 of my series on planning for a Disney trip I turn the focus to booking flights to California or Florida. Once you’ve got a handle on park admission and accommodation, you have to figure out how to get there. So, if you’re not just going to hop in your vehicle and hit the road, it’s time to sort out plane tickets.
Whether you’re heading to central Florida or southern California, you should have an idea of what constitutes a reasonable airfare. Obviously, flexibility will have a significant bearing on the cost.
My thinking is that any fare in the $400s to Orlando is great and I would bump it up to the $500s for a non-stop. For a flight to California, I’d hope to find something in $500s, if possible, but I’d expect to pay more for good departure and arrival times along with decent connections.
I took a few minutes to search for sample fares assuming total flexibility with travel dates.
Here’s a non-stop airfare Halifax to Orlando (MCO) in early December, when the parks could possibly be slightly less busy:
This fare was available returning on Saturday as well.
Turning to California, here’s a fare to Los Angeles (LAX) in late summer:
And here’s an autumn option to Anaheim (SNA):
If you’d like to include a few days in San Diego, search for open-jaw or multi-city fares. Play around with Google Flights or matrix.itasoftware.com to see what you can find. For example, you could fly into SAN and out of SNA for a pretty low fare:
It’s interesting that airfares from Halifax to southern California currently tend to be in the same ballpark or perhaps even lower than airfares to Florida.
Creative Flight Itineraries
A good starting point is to check the prices for one-way flights and see what you can put together. I once found it actually cheaper to fly non-stop Halifax to Fort Lauderdale, stay a couple of nights, fly to Anaheim, then home from Los Angeles – all on separate tickets. Other times, we’ve flown Air Canada in one direction and WestJet in the other. Look at all the options.
If you find a really cheap one-way flight, it might be worth using miles for the other direction.
Flights from Maritime airports to Florida are 3100 Air Miles in low season and 4000 in high season. In other words, double the number of miles required to fly somewhere like New York, Washington, DC or Chicago.
California flights are 5200 miles in low season and 6700 in high season, which is disproportionately high in my opinion. However, if airfares are really expensive and you can take advantage of a 15-25% discount, it can still potentially be a decent use of miles.
A disappointing aspect of Air Miles reward flights is that one-ways require more than half the miles of a round-trip redemption.
If you’re booking a return flight you can benefit from occasional redemption promos. Having Onyx status or being the holder of the BMO Air Miles World Elite MasterCard are especially useful for discounts.
Searching flight ability on the Air Miles website is quite a hassle. There is no calendar display and no way to know if a negative availability result reflects the outbound or inbound flight.
I found a few flight options in May where an Air Canada discount for Onyx collectors brought the reward rate down to 2325 miles plus taxes. Most of these produced an error but I noticed one that did not:
The cash fare for those exact flights was an awfully high $750. Google Flights says that fare is “typical” though so what do I know.
Aeroplan requires the same number of miles to fly to Florida or California – 25,000 miles in economy and 50,000 in business class. A one-way is half the number of miles.
It’s occasionally possible to save on the taxes/fees and get a modest discount on the required miles by booking a “market fare” instead of a regular fixed mileage reward. I’ve booked one-way market fares back to Canada from Phoenix and Los Angeles where the taxes were only about $11 per ticket. As always with these, check the airfare to see if it’s better to pay cash and save those miles for a future use.
If you really want to go all out on Disney, Aeroplan lets you include a free stopover so you could actually visit both the “Land” and the “World” on one trip, like so:
I chose an itinerary where all segments but one were on United and the taxes and fees came to $176. Unfortunately, a multi-day Disney ticket is not valid at both parks.
A great way to save on airfare in continental North America is to book a “Member Exclusive Fare” with your WestJet dollars. A flight to either California or Florida would be 125 WSD + taxes in each direction. You’ll likely need to book well in advance as only 4 of these fares are released per flight. Remember that these 125 WSD fares must be paid entirely with WestJet Dollars and you cannot use a companion ticket.
Alaska Mileage Plan
With Alaska Airlines’ recent announcement about joining the oneworld alliance, it will continue to be possible to fly to Florida or California using American Airlines’ seasonal service out of Halifax – at least theoretically. Availability is very scarce. I did find an example using Alaska miles to Orlando in October at the lowest rate of 25,000 miles for a return ticket but there was an overnight layover in each direction. No thanks.
My Trip Update
A week ago my brother and I booked our Disneyland trip. I’ll do a separate blog post about all the different point currencies utilized and why we chose to go west.
We redeemed Aeroplan miles for our flights. We had fixed dates and needed to coordinate our flights so we’d be on the same plane from Toronto to Los Angeles and back. It made sense to use miles to get the exact flights we wanted which were prohibitively expensive otherwise.
Who knows what exactly will happen with COVID-19. We may end up having to cancel our trip but hopefully it won’t come to that.
With the steep price of Disney park tickets, flights are somewhere you can potentially save some cash. Weigh all your options. Like any trip you’re attempting to do on a budget, you’ve got to assemble the puzzle pieces carefully. It takes effort but the magic is worth it. It’s the happiest place on earth, dammit.