The obvious first step in enjoying some time in the World is to get there. Basically, your choices come from the classic Steve Martin/John Candy movie—“Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.” Our family usually drives. We’ve only taken the plane twice. And we’ve considered, but not yet taken, the Amtrak Auto Train.
Many people live outside of a reasonable driving distance of Walt Disney World. For those folks, flying is really the only option. And your choice of air carriers may be limited by which airlines operate out of the airports near your home. The main way to save money on airfare is to stay up to date on any discounts the airlines are offering. Check the websites of the airlines that service your area. Sign up for the airline’s e-mail notifications. It will probably be beneficial to sign up for the airline’s frequent flyer program, possibly tied in with a credit card that offers points for money spent. Also, if your job requires frequent air travel, see if you can get trips paid for by the company applied to your personal frequent flyer account.
The problem with relying on airlines’ special discounts is that any particular discount may not correspond with your travel plans. And it’s difficult to plan in advance without knowing whether there’s going to be a discount or how much it’s going to be. However, if you’re flexible, a short-notice airline discount can be the catalyst for a short-notice trip. This happened to us last year. Airtran was offering fares as low as $44 one-way during the summer and fall. We took advantage of a low fare to take a quick, parents-only trip over Labor Day weekend.
More realistically for the typical planned family vacation, you’ll book your airline tickets for when you plan on going, and then stay on the lookout for discounts. Many airlines will let you rebook at the lower fare. However, there may be a small fee—make sure the fee doesn’t offset any savings from the lower fare. Airtran, for example, charges $75 to rebook. This makes rebooking an Airtran ticket practically impossible.
You can save on airfare by thinking outside the box, too. You may save significantly by driving an extra hour or two and flying out of a different airport from the one you normally do. There may be better fares flying into Sanford instead of Orlando. Sliding the planned arrival and departure days of your trip by a day or two (if you’re able) can result in significant savings.
Don’t forget to check discount travel sites, like Travelocity, Expedia, and Kayak.com. These sites work especially well if your travel dates are flexible. Just make sure you’re aware of any restrictions the sites impose. With most websites like these, once you book, you’re committed. Any cancellation or modification will result in the loss of your money.
Another way to save while flying is by avoiding checking any bags. Travel light, as lightly as possible, so that you can get by with only a carry-on bag. If you simply can’t carry all of your stuff in carry-on bags, try at least to get by with as few checked bags as possible. For example, maybe a family of four can get by with one checked bag and three or four carry-ons. If you’re going during most of the year, Orlando weather is warm enough that all you’ll need are shorts and T-shirts, maybe a light jacket. It may be worth it to only pack enough clothes for 3-4 days, along with some laundry detergent. You’ll have to take some time out of the trip to do a load of laundry, but that may be worth it to you, in order to save $30-$50 dollars in checked bag fees per person. Shoes take up a lot of space, so if you can get by with only the pair you wear on the plane, that’ll save you a lot of room in your suitcase. My wife has told me that it’s impossible to get by for a week with only one pair of shoes, however, so the alternative would be to wear the bulkiest pair of shoes (maybe a pair of running shoes) and pack the least bulky (flip-flops, sandals). Many of your fellow travelers are avoiding checking bags, too, so space in the overhead bins may be limited.
Recently, Spirit Airlines announced that it was going to charge for carry-on bags, too. That would mean either wearing the same clothes for a week and carrying your toothbrush in your pocket, or coughing up the fees no matter what. Spirit’s fares would have to be awfully low to make me put up with this. Personally, I’d rather spend a little extra money on tickets if required than fly with an airline that has such a ridiculous policy. But I’m a grumpy old man these days.
Finally, there’s the issue of getting from the airport to your resort. If you’re staying in a Disney resort (not including the Swan, Dolphin, Shades of Green, or Downtown Disney Resorts), and you’re flying into and out of Orlando International, Disney’s Magical Express is free. Some people knock this service, but hey, the price is right! We’ve used it twice, and really had no problem. Sure, we could’ve gotten to the resort quicker with a rental car, but we saved significantly by not having to pay for the rental. Plus, our typical vacation style is to park the car upon arrival and not get back into it until we leave. We prefer to let Disney do the driving.
It is true, though, that your bags will arrive at the resort hours after you do. In our case, it was about three and a half hours later, at around 10:30 pm. So if you decide to take advantage of Disney’s Magical Express, pack your toiletries and a change of clothes in your carry-on, so if there’s any delay in getting your checked bags, you can still hit the parks the next morning. This is also another reason to avoid checked bags altogether.
If you’re not eligible for Disney’s Magical Express, or you simply insist on a rental car, it’s probably beneficial to you to join the rental car companies’ frequent renter programs. Most (if not all) of them are free. This is another area where frequent travel in your real world job can help pay for your Disney World expenses. When renting a car for a work-related trip, apply the rental to your personal membership with whatever company you’re renting from. Mousesavers.com also has a lot of discount codes for most rental companies which can save you a few bucks. Finally, consider how much time you’re actually going to be in the car. Rent the smallest car that will fit your party and its luggage (Yet another reason to travel light). There’s always the possibility of a complimentary upgrade once you arrive, especially if the company doesn’t have the type of car you requested.
These are just a few ideas to get you in the budget frame of mind. Please share your own experiences and tips in the comments board. Next time, I’ll take a look at ways to save on ground transportation options.
Contributed by: Mark (NDD #102). Mark is our resident “how to save money while living the Disney Driven Life” expert.