Disneyland is magical any time of year, but it really comes to life around Halloween. With the parks decorated in fall decor and many of the rides redone just for the season, this is one of my family’s favorite times of the year to visit Disney.
While Disney is never an inexpensive vacation, credit card tricks can make an autumn escape to Mickey’s home in California a more affordable treat.
Here’s how the pros (and my family) use credit card rewards to cut the cost of airfares, hotel stays, Disney tickets and even, in some cases, food, drinks and souvenirs inside the theme parks.
Halloween fun at Disneyland
If you love Halloween, like my kids and husband do, Disneyland really puts you in the spirit, going all out from decorations to seasonal foods to special events.
We loved the Halloween version of the Haunted Mansion, which features characters and scenery from Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” The classic “Space Mountain” also gets a Halloween retake as Space Mountain “Ghost Galaxy” with thrills that pop out of the darkness accompanied by screams and music.
This year the Halloween theme extends to the newly opened “Guardians of the Galaxy” attraction, which will be a spookier experience at night than during the day, and the “Cars” land of Disney California Adventure gets a seasonal makeover with pumpkins, spider webs and creepy songs.
For example, Radiator Springs will transform into “Radiator Screams,” and all of the cars will be in Halloween “car-stumes” and ready for “trunk or treat.”
Frequent-flyer points, sign-up bonuses add up to free flights
Using frequent-flyer miles earned with any U.S. airline credit card or by transferring points from flexible travel programs such as American Express Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards can cover or take a chunk out of the costs of airline tickets to Anaheim.
Ben Luthi of Eagle Mountain, Utah, says he only spent $437 on a February trip to Disneyland for a group of four. To pay for their airfare, he transferred points from his American Express Platinum card to his Delta Skymiles account.
Credit card sign-up bonuses are a quick way to get a load of points for flights. Sign up for the card, meet the minimum spend and plan how you will use your points.
Three Southwest Airlines cards (the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Visa Signature card*, the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier card* and the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier business card) are all offering 60,000 points as a sign-up bonus.
While the sign-up bonus offer for the consumer cards runs through October 4, the 60,000 points with the business card does not currently have an end date.
Signing up for two of the cards is a direct route to a Companion Pass, which includes free travel for a companion through 2017 and all of 2018, too.
Southwest points paired with the Companion Pass is how my family flies for almost free all around the U.S. We used both to book our flights to visit Disneyland this October.
While a new card sign-up bonus won’t help you get to Disneyland before Halloween this year, it can be an easy way to cut your cost for a future trip.
Before signing up for any rewards card, it helps to have a vacation strategy in mind. Where will you go? How easy is it redeem points for flights? What airlines fly most to that destination (giving you more options for flights)?
To that last point, Brad Barrett, who shares tips on how to use credit cards to save on Disney vacations on his TravelMiles101.com website, notes, “Southwest has the largest footprint at the John Wayne Airport (SNA), which is the closest airport to Disneyland.”
Tricks to save on park tickets
Disney Park Hopper tickets for several days can costs hundreds of dollars, depending on the size of your family. That makes finding ways to save on park tickets one of the more challenging tasks planning your Disney vacation.
While many rewards credit cards will provide you with a statement credit to offset travel expenses, park tickets purchased directly from Disney are not categorized as travel, explains Barrett.
He recommends purchasing park tickets from a reseller called AResTravel.com, which does “code” as “travel” on rewards credit cards.
Another option? Buy your Disneyland park passes at local grocery stores once you fly to Anaheim.
Ernest Shahbazian, owner and founder of Trip Astute, likes to purchase his tickets at a store such as Ralphs using a credit card such as the American Express Blue Cash Preferred or EveryDay Preferred that provide a cash back or points bonus for groceries.
“This can be a great way to offset the high cost of tickets, while also allowing you to bypass the ticket line at the park, so you can spend more time enjoying the rides and attractions,” he says. Find a local store that sells tickets at Grocerystoredisneylandtickets.com.
Disney credit card packs exclusive perks
Stephen Juliano, president of Extra Magic Tips, prefers to use the Disney Rewards Visa card* to pay for a Disney vacation.
“Using this card provides a ton of perks inside the parks, and you can even redeem cash back rewards for Disney gift cards that you can use to pay for snacks and souvenirs during your trip,” he says.
For example, new cardholders can earn a $200 Disney gift card after spending $500 in the first three months. That can take a bite out of tickets, Disney hotels or food costs once you’re inside the theme parks.
Another bonus: Cardholders can book exclusive character meet-and-greets, save 10 percent on select merchandise purchases more than $50 and save 10 percent on select Disney resort dining.
Scaring up hotel deals
For Barrett, the No. 1 card that covers many different types of expenses handy for a trip to Disneyland is the Chase Sapphire Preferred*, which earns Chase Ultimate Rewards points, including 2 points per dollar on dining and travel expenses.
“These points transfer to become points/miles in 11 different programs, and of those programs, Hyatt and Southwest can be useful for Disneyland,” he explains. There are multiple Hyatt hotels near the Disney parks, including Hyatt House Anaheim Resort Convention Center and Hyatt Place at Anaheim Resort.
If you want to stay at a Disneyland Resort hotel, which includes the Disneyland Hotel and the Grand Californian, which opens right into Disney California Adventure, you’re going to pay a higher price. Flexible cash back cards like the Barclay Arrival Plus, which gives you a statement credit for travel expenses, can take help defray costs.
Marriott is another good hotel option with the Anaheim Marriott just two blocks from Disneyland, and offering oversized guest rooms and rooms with views of the Disneyland fireworks. The property requires 35,000 Marriott Rewards points per night, but you can easily earn several free nights by applying for the Marriott Rewards Premier credit card*, which is currently offering an 80,000-point bonus.
Marriott Rewards also has a special promotion through January 15, 2018, that allows you to earn a free night after two paid nights. Plus, you can now transfer Starwood Preferred Guest points to Marriott Rewards to book your stay.
Whether you stay at the resort or nearby, using these money-saving tips for a trip to Disneyland at Halloween will bring plenty of fun and lifelong memories, without sending your budget into a fright!
* The content on this page is accurate as of the posting date. Please see the bank’s website for the most current version of card offers.
See related: Video: Ways to save money on a Disney vacation, Best times to book your trip to score a deal, Use miles, points for last-minute leaf-peeping tour