My Disney Visa bill for January was much more extensive than usual. My wife and I charge all of our Christmas purchases on it in order to get the 1 percent in Disney Dream Rewards Dollars: the “cash back” you get for using the card. You redeem them by ordering a gift card that can be used at the Disney Store (both physical locations and online) and at Disney theme parks and resorts.
We’ve always charged our Christmas and vacation purchases on the card. Just between these two, we get $50 or so; not a lot, but a souvenir or two. This past year, we started using our Disney Visa in place of our debit card. Now, almost all of our groceries, clothes, gas, and dining expenses are put on the card, and we get in the neighborhood of $20 a month in Dream Rewards Dollars. Combined with our usual Christmas and vacation spending, we’ll have around $500 to use on our next trip to Disney World.
This is a somewhat risky use of the card that I don’t recommend for everyone. It requires a little self discipline. Charging everything on a card that only comes due once a month can make it seem like everything’s free. We’re not touching our checking account, where these purchases typically came from, so there’s an illusion that we have lots of extra money. To ensure that I don’t get a bill that’s more than I can pay, and to make sure I realize how much we’re spending through the week, I check our account online once a week and pay everything that’s posted that week. This way, my account balance doesn’t build up too much, and by transferring money out of the checking account to pay for it, I’m making myself aware of how much we’re spending.
The one thing I definitely don’t want to do is carry a balance on this card. The interest rate on our Disney Visa is the highest of any credit card we have. It’s important that I pay the balance in full every month, or any Dream Reward Dollars lose all their value.
Besides the Dream Rewards cash-back feature, there are other benefits to having the card. You get 10% off of purchases above $50 at the theme parks. The best way to take advantage of this is to put off all of your little purchases, for instance the toys and souvenirs that are only a few dollars, until the end of the day and buy everything at once. You also get 10 percent off of purchases of $50 or more at Disney Store, both physical locations and online. For the Christmas shopping season, cardholders got 15 percent off of purchases above $50 from Disney Store.
There’s an exclusive character meeting for cardholders at Epcot from 1:30 to 4:30, with a complimentary 5 x 7 photo. We’ve never taken advantage of this, because we’re always taking an afternoon break at those times, but it seems like it would be a great way to meet some characters with less of a line.
If you use the card to book a Disney package, you get six months interest-free financing. This could help you spread the costs out, but make sure you have it paid off within six months, or you’ll be paying the large interest charge on the seventh month. Cardholders also get 20% discounts on most (but not all) tours at the theme parks.
Finally, Disney sometimes offers discount codes exclusively to cardholders. Usually, this amounts to the same discount that will be offered to the general public, but cardholders get it a few days sooner. Earlier this year, however, cardholders were eligible for a “Kids stay, play and dine free” offer that was never offered to any other group. When the adults paid for a vacation package including dining plan with their Disney Visa card, kids under 10 got free park tickets and dining plan. If you had several kids in the right age group, this could’ve saved you a lot of money.
Another possible benefit of being a cardholder is that it is another way to get you into the Disney “system” for possible individualized pin codes. How and why Disney targets pin codes to whom is a great mystery. The only consistent advice I’ve heard is to get your name in their system as many times as possible, and having a Disney Visa card is another way to get your name in.
There are other credit cards that offer cash-back programs. Often, the return rate is greater than Disney’s 1%. And usually, the other cards offer a true cash-back option. That is, you get real dollars, not Disney Dream Reward Dollars, that can be used anywhere, including Disney World. Which makes me wonder – is the Disney Visa worth it?
For our family, I’d have to say, “Yes.” While the rewards can only be used at Disney venues, that’s actually a plus for us. It’s a method of forced saving for our vacation. It removes the temptation to cash in the rewards to buy an iPod or something. The other discounts the card offers offset any difference in the amount of the cash back received as compared to other cards’ programs. And by making sure I pay the balance off every month, I negate the high interest rate. Finally, there’s the “Disneyfication” of the card. You can choose from several different designs for your card. We chose Cinderella’s castle. This way, every time I pull the card out to pay for something, I’m reminded that I’m saving for that upcoming trip.
Contributed by: Mark Jeffries (NDD#102) Mark is the DDL Finance Blogger.