Marriott in Disney World

Marriott in Disney World (Disney Swan and Dolphin)

Update: Some credit card offers in this post are no longer available.   Using SPG/Marriott points from credit card sign up bonuses has been my strategy in the past, but this is no longer the best option.   

When SPG and Marriott became one program on August 18, 2018 the cost of a stay at the Disney Swan or Dolphin on points increased.  As a result, my Disney strategy has changed. 

Click here for an updated list of current credit card sign up bonuses.

VERY IMPORTANT UPDATE

You can still earn a free hotel stay for a Disney trip, but Marriott/SPG is no longer the best option if you’re starting with 0 points.

Until last year, the best way to book Disney World was to redeem Starpoints for the Disney Swan or Dolphin.  These are the only official Disney properties associated with a loyalty program.  As Disney properties, guests receive most of the same benefits that are offered to guests of other properties such as the Grand Floridian and Contemporary Resorts.

Both the Swan and Dolphin had redemption rates that often resulted in a good value for your Starpoints.  Those properties are now Marriott properties.  But that’s not the only thing that has changed.  I’ll explain why this is no longer a great option, and soon I will publish some new strategies for Disney hotels.

Starpoints no longer exist

SPG and Marriott Rewards were integrated into one loyalty program beginning August  18, 2018.  At that time, any existing SPG points were converted to Marriott points at a ratio of 1:3 (1 Starpoint=3 points in the new program).  Previous SPG and Marriott redemption charts were eliminated and one award chart was implemented.  

Marriott’s new category assignments that went into effect in August of 2018 resulted in better redemption opportunities at some properties, while others were pretty disappointing.  The Disney Swan and Dolphin hotels fall into the latter.  Both Disney properties are now in a category that results in more points required per night.

One night at either of these properties is now 50,000 Marriott Rewards points.  To compare, the cost used to be 10,000-12,000 Starpoints (equal to 30,000 or 36,000 Marriott points) per night.

In addition to these properties going up in free night redemption cost, credit card changes on the SPG Amex altered my previous plan to earn the points needed for a free Disney World stay.

Free nights at Disney Swan or Disney Dolphin using Marriott points earned from credit cards 

In the past, the sign up bonus from the SPG Amex went much further than it does currently.  In fact, in 2 player mode, the bonus was enough for at least a 5 night stay.

The SPG Amex credit card is still available, but it now earns Marriott Rewards points.  The current sign up bonus of 75,000 points only covers one night (plus you’d have points leftover).  In two player mode (each parent/partner signs up for one card), you would have a total of 150,000 points, which is only enough for 3 nights.

If you’re in 2 player mode, Marriott allows you to pool your points with another household member.  If you can earn a total of 200,000 points, that would be enough for 5 nights since the 5th night is free.  But that will take some time and some spending.

  • Min spend to earn the 75,000 points is $3,000 in the first 3 months on each card.
  • At 2 points per dollar, the $3k nets 6,000 points.
  • Each person earns 81,000 after meeting the min spend and earning the sign up bonus.

If each player opens a card, you have a total of 162,000 points from the sign up bonus.  You need 38,000 more points to get to 200,000.  38,000 points is going to take $19k in spend.  Even if you can spend that much, you are better off putting that kind of spending on other cards that can help with Disney.

Chase also issues a credit card that earns Marriott Rewards, and now is a good time to discuss this.

Current state of Marriott/SPG credit cards

There are 2 banks that issue Marriott Rewards-earning credit cards.

  • Chase issues the Marriott card.
  • Amex still issues the SPG card, but it earns Marriott points, not Starpoints.
  • There are business versions of each card as well.

Currently, each sign up bonus is 75,000 points and earn rates and benefits are mostly the same… with the exception of Amex SPG Luxury, but don’t worry about that card.  Unless the SPG Luxury card gets an increased welcome bonus, it’s not a good option for beginners or for Disney.

Can I have a Chase Marriott and an Amex SPG card?

While you may be able to hold certain versions of both cards at the same time, you will not be eligible for both sign-up bonuses.

These 2 cards are issued by different banks, but recent changes prevent you from earning a sign up bonus on one card if you have or have had the other within a certain time frame.  Translation: you can only get one bonus at a time; there is a waiting period to be eligible for another bonus.

Opening both a Marriott and SPG card to earn more Marriott points to receive 2 bonuses isn’t possible for one person. At least not without a waiting period.  The whole point of this original post was to earn points as quickly as possible for a Disney stay!

For those reasons, I no longer suggest opening SPG or Marriott credit cards if your goal is a free stay in Disney.

So, which credit cards should I open for Disney World hotels?

This deserves its own post, which I’m working on.  A free hotel stay in Disney is still possible, but the credit card strategy is different.  Furthermore, there isn’t a one size fits all credit card plan that I can give like I did in the past.  If you want to stay at an official Disney Resort, the strategy will be different than if you are okay with staying off-property (but still close).

Again, I’ll publish a post soon, but for now, I’ll try to sum it up:

If you want to stay on property, you’re probably better off with cash-back credit cards.  I normally suggest NOT using cash-back credit cards, but in this scenario, it’s pretty much your only option.

If you’re okay with staying off property, there are plenty of hotels you can book with points.  I would focus on Hyatt.  There are several reasons, but the main reasons are:

  1. The cards needed for Hyatt points are Chase 5/24 cards.
  2. Hyatt points usually go further than Marriott points.  In fact, Hyatt points are generally more valuable than points in most hotel loyalty programs.

Important: If you’re a beginner, it is very important to plan your strategy around Chase’s 5/24 rule.  I generally suggest holding off on cards from other banks until after you’ve filled your 5/24 spots.  If you have no idea what I’m talking about, stop reading now and read this post first.  

Disney World on points

The girls weren’t too sure about the characters on the first day!

That is the end to my update.  I’m going to keep the old post up, because if anyone already has lots of Marriott points they’re looking to use for Disney, there’s lots of info about the Swan and Dolphin.  Plus, I want to keep it for archive purposes.

Just keep in mind that these credit card strategies are no longer possible.


Marriott/SPG in Disney World

There’s only one hotel loyalty program that will get you a free stay at a hotel that is considered an official Disney hotel.  That program is Marriott/SPG*.  If you happen to have a Starwood loyalty account and have Starpoints either from hotel stays, the previous signup bonus offer on the SPG Amex, or from spending on the SPG Amex, those points will automatically be converted to the new program’s currency in August.  Instead of Starpoints, they will just be called points.  The conversion rate is 1:3.  So 1 Starpoint equals 3 Marriott/new program points.

*Note that until August 2018, SPG and Marriott Rewards continue to operate as separate loyalty programs.  But you can already transfer SPG points to Marriott and vice versa. As a result, you can book the Disney Swan or Disney Dolphin now if you have the SPG points or the Marriott equivalent of the SPG points needed. The transfer ratio is 3 Marriott Rewards points for every Starpoint.  For example:

  • 10,000 Starpoints=30,000 Marriott Rewards points
  • 30,000 Marriott Rewards points=10,000 Starpoints

If you already have a Marriott account, you can go ahead and link it to your SPG account.  You can click here to read more details about the merger.

If you’re starting with zero SPG Starpoints or Marriott points, there’s still a little hope!  The points needed for a stay at the Disney Swan or Dolphin can be earned from the sign up bonus from the Marriott credit card from Chase as well as everyday spending on the card.  

Disney World on points

Hanging out at the Boardwalk

Disney Swan and Dolphin Hotels

The Swan and Dolphin hotels are located in Epcot.  You can walk to Epcot or take the boat.  You can also take the boat to Hollywood Studios.  The Swan and Dolphin are situated in close walking distance to the Boardwalk, which gives you lots of dining and entertainment options.   These properties also offer bus service to and from all Disney parks.  I love the location of these properties.

disney dolphin on points

We left the kids with our parents and drank champagne and watched fireworks in Epcot Paris. Disney World isn’t just for kids.

disney dolphin on points

Take me out to the Dance Hall

Disney Dolphin is a Sheraton property and Disney Swan is a Westin property.  Although owned by Marriott/SPG rather than Disney, the Swan and Dolphin resorts are considered official Disney “deluxe” properties and give you most of the same benefits as other Disney resorts.   These benefits include:

  • Ability to book Fastpass+ 60 days in advance (this is 30 days if not staying at a Disney hotel).  This is huge because if you want some of the popular rides such as the Frozen ride or the new Avatar ride, you can pretty much guarantee you won’t be able to find Fastpasses once the 30 day window opens up for non-Disney Resort guests.
  • Extra Magic Hours Benefit.  Each day Disney opens one park an hour early or keeps one park open up to two hours later than normal.  Only guests of official Disney hotels (including the Swan and Dolphin) receive this benefit, so it’s a great way to enjoy the parks without long lines!
  • See more below:
SPG Disney World

Disney World Benefits for Dolphin and Swan guests

disney dolphin on points

The Dolphin left balloons and a voucher for ice cream in our room on Jack’s birthday! There is a great ice cream shop in the Dolphin!

Redeem SPG/Marriott points for free nights at the Swan or Dolphin

Disney World on points

Stay at the Disney Dolphin hotel for free with only 2 credit card sign up bonuses!

The Disney Dolphin and the Disney Swan are both SPG category 5 hotels until August 2018.   SPG category 5 is 12,000 SPG points per night.  Note that during peak dates that prices may go up to 16,000 SPG points per night.  SPG gives a free 5th night on category 3-7 properties, so 5 nights at the Swan or Dolphin is 48,000 Starpoints.

Since we can transfer Marriott points to Starwood at a 3:1 ratio, the cost in Marriott points would be 36,000 points per night.  For 5 nights, the total would come to 144,000 points.

I know that number is intimidating but some points are easier to earn than others.  First of all, the sign up bonus on the Marriott credit card is currently 100,000 points.  Also, Marriott points are easier to earn than some other award currencies.  For example, the Marriott credit card earns 2 points per dollar on most purchases.  Many credit cards only earn 1 point per dollar.  But it is also important to remember that not all miles and points are equal.

Using points to book either of these hotels can be a very good value, especially during peak times and holidays when rooms tend to be more expensive.  We went for our son’s 2 most recent bithdays.  Since his birthday falls around Thanksgiving, hotels tend to be more expensive.  Both the Swan and Dolphin were available for those trips.

Epcot Walt Disney World

This is from Jack’s 4th birthday last year in Disney World

For dates around Thanksgiving last year, rates at the Swan were at least 310$ per night.  A free night at the Swan is 12,000 Starpoints but since the 5th night is free it averages to 9,600 Starpoints per night.

Disney world SPG points
Rates at the Dolphin were at least 351$ per night.  A free night at the Dolphin is 12,000 Starpoints which averages to 9,600 per night since the 5th night is free.

Keep in mind that rates may be higher or lower depending on your desired dates, but the amount of points required will not change.  That’s why it’s such a good value to use points if you’re visiting during dates when rates are higher!  By the way, these rates do not include the extra $25 per night resort fee.

For a 5 night stay at either hotel during dates with similar prices, using points saves over $1,500!

New Cost of the Disney Swan and Dolphin with the combined Marriott/SPG program

new marriott award chart 2018

The new cost will be 50,000 points per night at both properties.  50,000 points in the new program is the equivalent of ~16,667 SPG points (if you earn them prior to August 2018).

The cost is going up by 14,000 Marriott points and ~4,667 SPG points per night.

A 5 night stay will cost 200,000 Marriott/SPG points in the new program.  That is equal to ~66,667 SPG points (if earned prior to August 2018).

So this means 2 things for those who already have Marriott and/or SPG points:
  1. The cost is going up by 14,000 Marriott points and ~4,667 SPG points per night
  2. If you have the points needed, book your stay prior to August!

How can I earn the points needed for a free stay at the Disney Dolphin or Swan?

I know 144,000 (current rate for 5 nights in Marriott points) or 200,000 (new rate for 5 nights in Marriott points) sounds like a lot, but it’s actually much easier to earn those points than you may realize.  All it takes is 2 credit card sign up bonuses (1 from each parent).

The Marriott Rewards® Premier Plus credit card from Chase is key to a free hotel stay in Disney World

Marriott Rewards® Premier Plus credit card from Chase

  • Bonus: 100,000 Marriott Rewards points
  • Minimum spend for bonus: $5,000 in 3 months
  • Annual Fee: $95
  • Bonus Categories: 6 points per dollar at Marriott and SPG properties, 2 points per dollar on everything else
  • Notable benefits: Annual free night worth up to 35,000 points per night (this can be more valuable than the $95 annual fee) if you keep the card after the first year, Marriott Rewards silver status
  • Bonus: 75,000 Marriott Rewards points
  • Minimum spend for bonus: $3,000 in 3 months
  • Annual Fee: $99, waived for first year
  • Bonus Categories: 5 points per dollar at Marriott and SPG properties, 2 points per dollar on everything else
  • Notable benefits: Annual free night worth up to 35,000 points per night (this can be more valuable than the $99 annual fee) if you keep the card after the first year

The signup bonus alone on the personal card is enough for 5 nights at the Swan or Dolphin if you and your partner open the personal Marriott card.   The problem is, the minimum spend is high.  More on that below.

If each parent opens a Chase Marriott personal card and meets the minimum spend, they will each earn 110,000 points.

If you have zero Starpoints or Marriott points, you can still earn the points needed for a Disney stay with 2 sign up bonuses, but there are a few limiting factors
  • We’re running out of time to book at the current SPG rate!  This means you’re most likely going to need the amount required for the new redemption rates.
  • Minimum Spending requirements
  • There is an annual fee that is not waived the first year
  • The Chase 5/24 rule
It’s probably too late to earn the points needed to book at the current rate

Even if you applied for the cards today and met the minimum spend by the end of the week, points probably will not post in time. Points earned from a signup bonus usually do not post until the after statement in which you meet the minimum spend closes.  This is likely going to put you into August after the new chart takes effect.

High minimum spend

It’s $5,000 in 3 months.  So I understand that it may be difficult or both parents to take advantage of this bonus before it goes away, because that would mean $10,000 in 3 months.  $5,000 is hard enough for some people.  The second parent may need to wait, but by waiting, they are missing out on the 100,000 bonus.

I have no idea what the bonus will be after the 100,000 offer goes away.  Historically this card has offered 75,00-80,000.  So even if the second parent held off, if the bonus goes to 75,000 or 80,000, you’re going to be within range of 200,000.  In the past, the minimum spend hasn’t been as high, so you aren’t likely to have to spend that much when the second partner applies.

If you’re worried about being able to meet minimum spending requirements, read this post.

The other option is the business cards.  The spending requirement is less but so is the bonus.

There is an annual fee that is not waived the first year

It’s $95. You can cancel before the end of the first year to avoid paying the annual fee again if you do not want to keep the card.  And, if you cancel the Marriott credit card, you WILL NOT lose your points!  So for 2 cards that would be $190.  But considering you’re potentially getting a room worth $300 or more per night, it’s not a deal breaker.

The fee on the business card is waived the first year, but remember the signup bonus is lower.

That Chase 5/24 rule strikes again!

The Marriott card is a Chase 5/24 card.  Since the other part of my Disney strategy (for most people) is using Chase Ultimate Rewards for your flights, this means you’re going to be after a Chase Sapphire card.  Chase Sapphire cards are also subject to the 5/24 rule.  So each person is going to be applying for 2 Chase cards that fall under the 5/24 rule.

This should not be a problem if you are a beginner, because you should be well under 5/24.  But I do suggest waiting about 3 months between your applications.  Waiting 3 months will also make your minimum spend spread out so that you aren’t trying to spend so much all in a 3 month period.   Remember, both parents can apply for these cards at the same time, but that doubles your minimum spending requirement.

In this post about 5/24 cards, I encourage most people sign up for a Chase Sapphire card that earns Ultimate Rewards points before signing up for any other cards.  But if you’re wanting to do Disney World with Marriott points, I’m going to make a huge exception. Get the Marriott card first. This bonus is going away very soon.  In fact, I saw that it ends July 12 at one point, but now I cannot find a date anywhere. So they may or may not extend it.  Once the 100,000 point bonus ends, I have no idea what the new bonus will be.  It could be 80,000 or it could be 50,000.  Get the 100,000 bonus while you can!

The business card is not a 5/24 card.

Speaking of Ultimate Rewards…

You can transfer Ultimate Rewards to Marriott at a 1:1 ratio, but I do not suggest it

As I stated in this post, not all miles and points are equal. I value Ultimate Rewards a lot higher than Marriott Rewards.  Even the earning rate reflects this.  On a Chase Sapphire card, all non category purchases earn 1 point per dollar. On the Marriott card, the earn rate on non category spend is 2 points per dollar. But remember, 2 is not necessaily always better than  1.  My advice is to earn the Marriott points needed for your Disney stay with the sign up bonus from the Marriott credit card, NOT from transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards.

This may confuse you considering I usually suggest transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards.  Chase Ultimate Rewards are great to transfer to airlines and to Hyatt.  But transferring to the other hotel partners of Chase Ultimate Rewards such as Marriott is usually not going to be a good use of your Ultimate Rewards points.

disney dolphin on points

Have you already earned the Marriott credit card sign up bonus?  Good news and bad news…

You cannot receive the bonus if you’ve received a bonus on this product in the past 24 months.  But since the business card is a different product, you should be able to receive that bonus. Remember, the business card is not subject to 5/24.

Those of us who appreciate the potential value of using SPG Starpoints to book the Disney Dolphin actually suffered 2 blows this year!

First, the Disney Dolphin moved from a category 4 SPG property (10,000 SPG points per night) to a category 5 SPG property (12,000-16,000 SPG points per night) in March.  This meant that the price went up by 2,000-6,000 SPG points per night (6,000-18,000 Marriott points per night).   The Swan remained a category 5 property.

Then just last week, Marriott’s new category assignments for when Marriott and SPG combine into one program in August were released.  There are definitely some bright spots in the new list.  But this is not one of them!  Both of these properties will cost 50,000 Marriott points per night, which is the equivalent of ~16,667 Starpoints per night.

In less than a year the Disney Dolphin will increase in redemption cost by ~6,667 SPG points per night.  That’s an increase of over 50%.  Ouch!

Summary

You can still earn the points needed for a 5 night stay in a Disney World hotel with the sign up bonus of only 2 credit cards.  But due to all of the hurdles mentioned in this post such as the high minimum spending requirement, this method isn’t going to be for everyone.

This may not be your best move if you have other travel goals.  In other words, there may be other credit cards that should take priority over the Marriott credit card.

As I mentioned earlier in the post, there are other hotels in Orlando and near Disney that you can get on points.  They just will not have some of the Disney benefits that the Disney Swan and Dolphin provide.  Maybe it’s time for me to do a post on some other Disney hotel options.

Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
Sweet bonus offers on Starwood cards are back!! BUT, this is no longer an ideal card for everyday spending.  It is a good card to open for the sign up bonus and possibly the benefits. This card now earns Marriott points, not Starpoints.

Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

  • Bonus: 75,000 Marriott points
  • Minimum spend for bonus: $3,000 in 3 months
  • Annual Fee: $95, but waived for the first year
  • Bonus Categories: 6 points per dollar at Marriott and SPG properties, 2 points per dollar on everything else
  • Notable benefits: Annual free night (beginning at your anniversary) at properties that are 35,000 points or less per night. This can be more valuable than the $95 annual fee, so many people choose to keep this card even if they do not use it on a regular basis. Also, you will receive automatic Marriott Silver status, but other than earning extra points on paid stays, it’s not that great.
Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express

Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express

  • Bonus: 100,000 Marriott points
  • Minimum spend for bonus: $5,000 in 3 months
  • Annual Fee: $95, but waived for the first year
  • Bonus Categories: 6 points per dollar at Marriott and SPG properties, 4 points per dollar at US restaurants and gas station, 4 points per dollar of cell phone services and shipping services, 2 points per dollar on everything else
  • Notable benefits: Annual free night (beginning at your anniversary) at properties that are 35,000 points or less per night. This can be more valuable than the $95 annual fee, so many people choose to keep this card even if they do not use it on a regular basis. Also, you will receive automatic Marriott Silver status, but other than earning extra points on paid stays, it’s not that great.
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