How to stay in Disney World for free with Marriott points (2018)

How to get a free 5 night hotel stay in Disney World

Note: Click here for an updated list of current credit card sign up bonuses. Some card offers mentioned in this post are no longer available

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

A few days ago, Marriott released the new category assignments that will take effect in August 2018.  Some new category assignments result in better redemption opportunities, while others are pretty disappointing.  Both Disney properties are going to be moving into a category that results in more points required per night.

In addition to these properties going up in free night redemption cost, there are credit card changes that alter my previous plan to earn the points needed for a free Disney World stay.

It is still possible to earn the points needed for a free stay at the Disney Swan or Disney Dolphin with only 2 credit cards 

The SPG Amex credit card is still available, but the sign up bonus discussed in my previous posts about Disney World is no longer offered.  The current Marriott credit card sign up bonus is enough for a 5 night stay if both parents open the card.  But there are a few downsides to this which I will discuss.

Disney World on points

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

Earn an almost free hotel stay in Disney World

There is a resort fee which is $25 per night.  Super annoying, but that is kind of the norm with many resorts whether they’re paid stays or booked on points.

In August 2018, SPG and Marriott are combining into one program with one award chart.  The SPG award chart will no longer exist.  Since we do not yet know the name of the new program, you will see me refer to it as Marriott/SPG in this post.

Disney World on points

The resort fee includes the use of paddle boats at the Disney Dolphin. My parents took the girls for ride!

If you’re willing to stay in a hotel that is off Disney property, there are many options managed by several different loyalty programs in the Orlando area including Hilton and Hyatt.  These are definitely options to look into if you already have points in a program.  But if you want to stay on Disney property, Marriott/SPG is the program that can make this happen.

In this post, I will discuss the Marriott/SPG resorts that are on Disney property.

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.

Advertisements