Save big money on Disney: How to book free flights to Orlando

How to score free flights to Orlando and a 6 night hotel stay in Disney World:

This post (part 3) will cover information about booking award flights to Orlando.  If you have not read the introduction post on how to save thousands on a Disney trip, read it now!

I wanted to point out that the order in which you earn your hotel points and airline miles does not matter.  You can earn your airlines miles before, at the same time, or after earning your hotel points.  It all depends on your Chase 5/24 status (for example, if you’re getting a Chase issued card you may want to apply for that before applying for the Starwood Amex card) and how quickly you can meet minimum spending requirements.

Disney miles

This is how we roll through the airport.

Disney on miles and points

Tip: Use this FAA approved child harness on the plane. It folds up to less than 6 inches and weighs less than a pound. Much better than dragging a carseat through the airport!

Child Airplane Travel Harness – Cares Safety Restraint System – The Only FAA Approved Child Flying Safety Device $79.99 on Amazon

How to earn enough miles and points to book free plane tickets to Orlando:

Fortunately, there are many airlines that serve Orlando.  The best airline(s) for you will depend on your departure city.

Once you figure out which airlines are most promising, you will need to figure out which credit cards to open to earn the miles needed.  There is a lot of information in this post to help you decide which credit cards may work best for you.

Southwest flies to Orlando, so if you have the Companion Pass you will definitely want to check the fares/points cost on Southwest first.  Actually even if you do not have the Companion Pass, Southwest might be the best choice if it’s available from your home airport.  I’ll explain why below.

There is no one size fits all credit card, but Chase Sapphire Preferred is pretty close.  Both parents opening this card and earning the sign up bonus points will give you several airline options, including Southwest.  I’ll explain your other options below.

Disney world on points

My brother and Ryan with the girls. Free flights to Disney World=flights on Dumbo with Uncle Brandon and Daddy for our kids!

Cost of an award ticket to Orlando

For most major airlines in the US, it is safest to assume that you will need 25,000 miles per person for a roundtrip ticket to Orlando.

In general, flights to Orlando booked with any of these award currencies will cost 25,000 miles per ticket roundtrip from anywhere in the continental US.*  Remember, this is for the saver level.  If no saver level tickets are available, the cost will be higher.

  • American Airlines AAdvantage miles
  • United Airlines Mileage Plus miles
  • Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles
  • Delta SkyMiles
  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer miles (to book United or Alaska Airlines)
  • AirFrance/KLM FlyingBlue miles (to book Delta)

*There are a few factors that may make the cost less, but if you’re planning to book with these currencies, it is safest to assume you will need 25,000 miles each.

For Southwest, the amount of Rapid Rewards points charged for an award ticket depends on the cash fare for that seat.  Generally each Rapid Rewards point is worth about 1.6 cents.  For example, a ~$250 ticket will cost ~15,000 Rapid Rewards points.

If you happen to live in a city with a direct American Airlines flight to Orlando, you can book that flight with British Airways Avios (a Chase and SPG transfer partner) for as low as 15,000 Avios (points) per roundtrip ticket!  This is the case for DFW, Chicago, JFK, Charlotte, and possibly others. 

Although booking with British Airways or Southwest could get you tickets for less, for this post I’m going to assume that the cost is 25,000 miles/points per person.  So for 4 people, that’s 100,000 miles total.

How to earn 100,000 airline miles for free:

I know 100,000 miles sounds like a lot but it only requires a total of 2 credit card sign up bonuses.  I’ll help you decide which credit cards are right for you.

Three ways to get your flights to Orlando:

  1. Chase Ultimate Rewards– both parents get a Chase Sapphire Preferred card to earn Ultimate Rewards.
  2. Airline co-branded cards-Both parents sign up for airline co-branded cards. 
  3. SPG Nights & Flights– One parent will get a Marriott Rewards card from Chase and the other will get either an Ultimate Rewards earning card or an airline co-branded card. This is NOT an option if you want to book Southwest flights.

To figure out which credit cards are right for your flights, you need to do some simple research to find which airlines might work best for you:

  • If Southwest flies from your home airport, check fares on Southwest.com.  Unlike most other airlines, Southwest’s award availability is not capacity controlled.  In other words, they do not limit the amount of award seats available on any given flight.  Instead,  the amount of Rapid Rewards that Southwest charges for an award ticket depends on the cash price.  Generally each Rapid Rewards point is worth about 1.6 cents.  For example, a ~$250 ticket will cost ~15,000 Rapid Rewards points.
  • Figure out if your home airport is a hub for any airlines.  If so, you’re more likely to find direct flights.  This is especially important if your home airport has direct flights on American Airlines since you can use British Airways Avios (miles) to book award flights on American for 10,000 miles less per ticket than AAdvantage charges!  More on that below.
  • Check award ticket availability on random dates and dates around the time period you’re looking to book on possible airline or airlines you want to use.  This will give you a better sense of which airline might work best for you.  Remember you’re looking for availability at the saver level.

Once you’ve decided on your most likely airline, look at partnerships to determine which award currencies you need to collect.  More on that below.

disney on miles and points

Hiking in Canada. Epcot Canada.

Which credit cards do I need for my flights to Orlando?

Here is a simple answer:

*The exception is if you want to fly AA and they have direct flights to Orlando from your home airport, you can book those AA flights with British Airways Avios (which is a Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partner).  So technically you can also book American Airlines flights with Ultimate Rewards.

Here is the more detailed answer for each airline:

American Airlines flights to Orlando

To book an American Airlines flight, you will want either AAdvantage miles or British Airways Avios (their name for miles).

Both parents open should open AAdvantage cards from either Barclay or Citi.  OR both parents open Chase Sapphire Preferred cards IF your airport has direct flights to Orlando on American Airlines.  

AAdvantage credit cards:

There are 2 banks that issue AAdvantage credit cards: Citi and Barclaycard.  Benefits are very similar for both cards, including a free checked bag, better boarding group, and 10% rebate of redeemed miles.

  • Currently, the sign up bonus on the Barclaycard AAdvantage Aviator Red is 60,000 miles and there is no minimum spending requirement!
  • There is an annual fee of $95, but all you have to do to get the 60,000 miles is pay the annual fee and make one purchase in any amount (even a pack of gum counts!).
  • If both parents sign up, that’s 120,000 AAdvantage miles for $190.
  • 120,000 miles is more than enough for 4 tickets at the saver level from anywhere in the continental US to Orlando.
  • The other option is the AAdvantage Platinum Select card from Citi bank.  This also comes with a 60,000 sign up bonus.
  • On this card, the $95 annual fee is waived the first year, but there is a minimum spending requirement of $3,000 to get the bonus.

So you have to decide if you would rather pay the annual fee on the card (Barclaycard AAdvantage Aviator Red) or if you would rather not pay an annual fee but spend $3,000 in 3 months (Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select).

Chase Sapphire Preferred:

This only works if your airport has direct flights to Orlando on American Airlines.  

  • Ultimate Rewards points can be transferred to British Airways.
  • British Airways Avios (miles) can be used to book American Airlines flights BUT it gets a little complicated since BA has a distance based chart.  
  • BA charges per segment.  So if you’re flying from Houston and have to stop in Dallas before flying to Orlando, you would be charged for the Houston to Dallas segment plus the Dallas to Orlando segment.  This will likely cost more miles than it would AA miles since AA charges a fixed rate (25,000 roundtrip at the saver level) regardless of how many stops on your route.
  • So using British Airways to book is really only a good deal if AA flies direct to Orlando from your airport.
  • But also keep in mind that if you get this card, you can also transfer your points to other airlines, so this gives you good flexibility even if you cannot book an AA flight with your points.
Alaska Airlines flights to Orlando

Alaska Airlines in not in an alliance, but it has several non-alliance partnerships including American Airlines and Singapore Airlines.  This means that you can book AA and Singapore Airlines flights with Alaska Airlines miles.  Likewise, you can book Alaska Airlines flights with Singapore Airlines miles and American Airlines miles.

If you want to book an Alaska Airlines flight, you will need Alaska Airlines,  American Airlines, or Singapore Airlines miles.

Both parents should open Chase Sapphire Preferred cards

  • Chase Ultimate Rewards points do NOT transfer to Alaska Airlines or American Airlines.
  • But Ultimate Rewards points do transfer to Singapore Airlines and you can book Alaska Airlines flights with Singapore Airlines miles.
  • You can also use American Airlines miles to book Alaska Airlines flights, so the Barclay or Citi AAdvantage cards are an option.
  • I suggest Chase Sapphire Preferred over an AAdvantage card because if Alaska doesn’t have availability when you go to book, Ultimate Rewards has partnerships with other airlines so you still have other options.  In other words, you have more flexibility with Chase Ultimate Rewards.
Why not open the Alaska Airlines credit card from Bank of America?
  • Well, currently the sign up bonus on Chase Sapphire Preferred or either AAdvantage card is better than on the Alaska Airlines credit card from Bank of America. 
  • The current sign up bonus for the Alaska Airlines card from Bank of America is only 30,000 Alaska Airlines miles each.
  • Depending on your departure city, 60,000 miles (the total if both parents open this card) is probably only enough for 2 roundtrip tickets.  But, you can pay cash for one of the tickets and use the annual $99 companion fare that comes with the credit card, so you would still save money on the other 2 tickets.   
  • Since the goal of this post is to save money, Chase Sapphire Preferred or AAdvantage credit cards are the better option here because they come with a high enough bonus to cover 4 tickets on miles. 

Delta flights to Orlando

For Delta flights, you will need Delta SkyMiles or AirFrance FlyingBlue miles.

  • SPG points transfer to both.
  • Chase Ultimate Rewards points do not transfer to Delta but they do transfer to AirFrance/KLM.

Each parent should open a Chase Sapphire Preferred card and transfer miles to AirFrance/KLM.  You can book Delta flights with AirFrance FlyingBlue miles.  

Southwest Flights to Orlando

Southwest is not in an alliance and has no airline partners.  So you need Southwest Rapid Rewards points to book.

  • You can earn Southwest Rapid Rewards points with the Southwest co-branded cards from Chase
  • You can also transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Southwest.

Each parent should open a Chase Sapphire Preferred unless you’re trying to earn a Companion Pass.  Then you would maybe consider ONE parent opening TWO Southwest co-branded cards.  You can read more about the Companion Pass here.

Why not open a Southwest credit card? Because unless you’re trying to earn a Companion Pass (for which points transferred from Chase Ultimate Rewards DO NOT count), you’re better off with a Chase Sapphire card since Ultimate Rewards can be transferred to Southwest OR to other airlines.

United flights to Orlando

For United flights, you will want United miles or Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer miles.

Both parents should open Chase Sapphire Preferred cards and transfer miles to United to book flights.

  • United is a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards but not SPG.
  • You can transfer SPG and/or Chase Ultimate Rewards to Singapore Airlines.
  • Then you can use Singapore Airlines miles to book the United flights.  This would be the way to go if you’re using SPG points to book a Nights & Flights package.
disney on points and miles

Flik is one of our favorites!

Chase Ultimate Rewards points give the most flexibility for flights to Disney World

If you’re unsure, your best bet is for both parents to get a Chase Sapphire Preferred card.  This will yield over 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points total.  Ultimate Rewards has at least 1 transfer partner in each of the major alliances plus Southwest.  

Translation: you can book AA, Delta, United, Alaska Airlines, and Southwest flights with Ultimate Rewards points.

The annual fee of $95 is waived for the first year on the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, so this costs nothing!

  1. Open a Chase Sapphire Preferred card.
  2. Earn 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points when you meet the minimum spend of $4,000 in 3 months
  3. If your partner also opens one, they will earn an additional 50,000 points bringing the total to over 100,000 Ultimate Rewards points.  Remember, you do not have to open these at the same time.  Opening both of these cards at the same time would require a total minimum spend of $8,000 in 3 months and I realize that may be difficult! You can open all credit cards (including the SPG cards) one at a time to spread out the amount of minimum spending required.
  4. After you earn your points, figure out which airlines have availability for your dates.  DO NOT transfer any points to airlines until you’ve confirmed that award tickets are available for your dates!
  5. You will usually get a better value out of your points by transferring to airline partners, but if you have trouble finding award space, you can also book your flights through the Ultimate Rewards booking portal at a rate of 1.25 cents per point if you have the Chase Sapphire Preferred and 1.50 cents per point if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve.

Need help transferring Ultimate Rewards to airline partners? Click here.

Total points earned: 108,000 Ultimate Rewards points after both parents meet the minimum spend.

Total cost: $0 since the annual fee is waived the first year

SPG Nights & Flights

If you’re going to book a Nights & Flights package, you only need 50,000 more miles rather than 100,000.  Nights & Flights is not an option if you plan to use Southwest for your flights.  But if you plan to fly with another airline, Nights & Flights can save you miles and points! 

Nights & Flights is a good option if you have other travel goals.  For example, you could save one parent’s Ultimate Rewards sign up bonus for another trip if you book Nights & Flights.  I’ll make another section for Nights & Flights. I’m trying not to confuse anyone but there’s just so much information!  

Availability for award flights to Orlando

I touched on this earlier in the post but I feel like it needs its own section.

Most airlines limit the amount of award seats available on any given flight.   For most airlines, the amount of miles that an award ticket costs is a fixed amount from any city in the continental US.  Southwest is different because you can book any seat with Southwest Rapid Rewards points and the amount of points charged depends on the cash fare.

  • To be able to book a flight on AA, Delta, United, Alaska Airlines, or any partners, there must be award space available at the saver level.  Otherwise it’s not worth using points.  In short, many airlines limit the amount of award space they will release.  Once those seats are gone, you’re out of luck unless you want to fork over a large amount of miles.   You can read more about saver availability in this post.  That post focuses on American Airlines, but the same principles apply to Delta, United, and Alaska Airlines.  Also, if you’re using a partner to book a flight (such as British Airways to book American Airlines or Singapore Airlines to book United) there must be flights available at the saver level.
  • But on the other hand, Southwest’s program is structured in a way that if a seat is available, you can book it with Southwest points.  The lower the cash fare, the lower the amount of points required.

No matter what airline you choose, booking far in advance and having flexible dates is helpful.

As always, NEVER transfer Ultimate Rewards points to an airline until you’ve confirmed that your dates are available.

Tip: If you have trouble finding roundtrip availability, try searching for one-way tickets.  All of the programs discussed in this post allow you to book one-way award tickets for half of the miles of a roundtrip ticket (so assume 12.5K each way per person).  For example, Delta has availability for your flight to Orlando but not your return flight.  United has availability  for your return flight.  So you can book your flight to Orlando on Delta and you can book your flight home on United.  Another reason why having transferable points such as Chase Ultimate Rewards is so nice!

Summary

With as little as 2 credit card applications per parent, you can book flights to Orlando for your family, plus 6 night stay in Disney World for free!

Each parent opening an SPG Amex and a Chase Sapphire Preferred card (or AA credit card, if that is your preferred airline) earns enough points and miles to accomplish this.  Since the annual fee on many of these cards is waived for the first year, this costs you as little as $0!

For the past few years I’ve put up a Mickey tree for Jack.  Taylor is loving it.

Now that the girls are old enough to know Mickey and Minnie, I added a Minnie tree!

Maybe next year I’ll add Goofy or Donald

Start planning your free flights and hotel in Disney for next Christmas!

Feel free to contact me with any questions.


Starwood Preferred Guest credit card from American Express
  • Bonus: 25,000-30,000 Starpoints
  • Minimum spend for bonus: $3,000 in 3 months
  • Annual Fee: $95, waived for first year
  • Bonus Categories: 2 points per dollar at Starwood and Marriott properties
Chase Sapphire Preferred

If you’re torn between Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Sapphire Preferred, click here for more information and a comparison.

  • Bonus: 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points
  • Minimum spend for bonus: $4,000 in 3 Months
  • Annual Fee: $95, but waived the first year
  • Bonus Categories: 2 points per dollar on travel and dining
AAdvantage® Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard®

This offer has been extended through January 31, 2018!

  • Bonus: 60,000 AAdvantage miles
  • Minimum spend for bonus: none!! You just have to make one purchase.  Even a pack of gum counts.
  • Annual Fee: $95, not waived for the first year
  • Bonus Categories: 2 miles per dollar on American Airlines purchases
  • Notable benefits: first checked bag free for cardholder and up to 4 companions on the same reservation, 10% redeemed miles back, preferred boarding group
Chase Sapphire Reserve
  • Bonus: 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points
  • Minimum spend for bonus: $4,000 in 3 months
  • Annual Fee: $450, not waived for the first year
  • Bonus Categories: 3 points per dollar on travel and dining
  • Notable benefits: $300 travel credit per calendar year, $100 reimbursement for TSA or Global Entry enrollment, airport lounge access
Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®
  • Bonus: 60,000 AAdvantage miles
  • Minimum spend for bonus: $3,000 in the first 3 months
  • Annual Fee: $95, waived for first year
  • Bonus Categories: 2 points per dollar on AA purchases
  • Notable benefits: first checked bag free for cardholder and up to 4 companions on the same reservation, 10% redeemed miles back, preferred boarding group
Marriott Rewards® Premier credit card from Chase

Although I do not generally collect Marriott points, this deal could give me more than 25,000 Starpoints thanks to the Marriott and Starwood merger!

  • Bonus: 80,000 Marriott Rewards points
  • Minimum spend for bonus: $3,000 in 3 months
  • Annual Fee: $85, not waived for the first year
  • Bonus Categories: 5 points per dollar at Marriott and SPG properties, 2 points per dollar at restaurants, airfare purchased directly from airlines, and car rentals booked directly from car rental companies
  • Notable benefits: Annual free night at category 1-5 properties (this can be more valuable than the $85 annual fee), Marriott Rewards silver status

 

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