Bet You Didn’t Know: 3 Ways to Earn the Most Points at Disney

By Julian, author of Devil’s Advocate

 

Last week Greg had a terrific post on Hacking Walt Disney World with some great tips provided by his resident expert in all things Disney. Definitely check it out if you haven’t read it already.

Now, I will admit to having spent some time in Disney parks, as my girlfriend has been a fan for years and is moving towards becoming a Disney-focused travel agent herself. Between her love of Disney and my love of travel (and our never-ending supply of miles and points), we’ve found ourselves visiting not only all the U.S. Disney parks in the last two years but also Disneyland Paris and Tokyo Disneyland. If they ever build a Disneyland Cairo, I suspect we’ll be there pretty fast.

earn points disney

When you take a Disney trip, it can be challenging (though not impossible) to use points on your trip. But there are more than a few ways to earn extra points on practically every expense at a Disney Resort.

Today I’m going to cover three simple tricks for earning more points at Disney, and I invite readers to share others in the comments below.

Tip #1: Earning points on Disney gift cards

Practically everything that can be purchased at a Disney Resort — from tickets to food to hotel rooms to merchandise — can be paid for with Disney gift cards. Last week’s Disney post covered tricks for using Disney gift cards and getting discounts on them, but how can we maximize our points when buying them?

earn points disney

Disney gift cards can routinely be found at stores that fall into standard credit card bonus categories. For instance, many Office Max stores stock Disney gift cards, and we all know Chase Ink cards get 5x Ultimate Rewards points at office supply stores. So if you buy your Disney gift cards at Office Max with an Ink card, you can score 5x points on your entire Disney vacation (or at least the portion that takes place once you get to Disney).

Is this better than using the Target trick outlined in last week’s post, which can get you 5% off Disney gift cards (plus a little more if you buy them with Target gift cards from a reseller)? (UPDATE: Thanks to commenters Pam and Kayla for clarifying that this Target trick works only online at target.com, not in a Target store, and that the REDbird specifically does not work. You need a standard Target Redcard instead). You’re getting a cash discount via the Target method, but Ultimate Rewards points are worth a lot more than 1 cent per point. Even if you think UR points are only worth 1.5 cents per point, that’s an effective 7.5% return per dollar.

But there’s no reason we can’t have both the discount and the UR points.

We can use an Ink card to buy Target eGift cards online at staples.com, then use those eGift cards to buy Disney gift cards at target.com with the Target trick. That will get us not only the 5x UR points at Staples but also the 5% discount at Target.

Not bad… but we can do even better.

Here’s the grand slam — go through a shopping portal to staples.com to also earn a portal bonus. Greg reports that Cartera portals still pay out on merchant gift cards at Staples, though not Visa or Mastercard gift cards — as always YMMV so use caution.

(UPDATE: As of 6/12/2015 it appears there are few if any portals left that are paying out on the purchase of third party gift cards at Staples, which means the next two paragraphs are no longer applicable. Of course, you can still get 5x UR points buying Target eGift Cards at OfficeMax or staples.com with an Ink card. Check the Frequent Miler Laboratory for the most up to date information on shopping portals. You can also get additional discounts instead of points by buying Target gift cards at a reseller — see this update post for more details.)

As it happens, if you’re subscribed to Frequent Miler’s QuickDeals (and if you’re not, you should be!), you already know that the AAdvantage portal is offering 5x points at staples.com through this Sunday (3/15).  The terms and conditions exclude the purchase of gift cards… but AAdvantage is a Cartera portal.  So… (UPDATE: Commenters Dave and Pam have helpfully provided data points that indicate the Alaska portal is confirmed to be paying out on gift cards as recently as a month ago, but the AAdvantage portal is possibly not. The Frequent Miler Laboratory also indicates that the Southwest portal has worked recently for eGift cards from Staples as well. So you might want to stick to those safer options and accept a slightly lower portal bonus).

If you bought $500 in Target eGift cards on an Ink card using the above method and the portal successfully pays out, you’d end up with 2,500 American miles (UPDATE: the safer options would result in 1,000 Alaska or Southwest points), 2,500 Ultimate Rewards points, and another 5% discount when buying Disney gift cards with the Target eGift cards.  That kind of return is my own personal Happiest Place on Earth.

Of course, the downside is having to deal with a large number of Disney gift cards, which tend to come in $25 and $50 amounts. Disney is pretty good about accepting multiple gift cards at once to pay for a single reservation (which will be useful when we get to our other tips below) or you can load them into a Disney Vacation Savings Account as discussed in last week’s post. But it can still be a pain. Plus you’ll have to estimate how much you plan to spend at Disney and then prepay that amount in gift cards. You’ll likely want to be a bit conservative so that you don’t buy more Disney gift cards than you need, but you can still cover a majority of your trip this way.

Tip #2: Disney Resort hotels through a portal

Disney prefers that you book their resort hotels through their own Disney website, but most of those resort hotels can also be booked at the same prices via an online travel agency such as Expedia, Orbitz, or Hotels.com. This opens up the possibility of not only earning cashback through a shopping portal, but also extra rewards such as Orbucks at Orbitz or Welcome Rewards at Hotels.com (which effectively gives you a 10% rebate towards a future hotel booking).

Unfortunately we’ve recently seen most of the OTA’s disappear from the major travel shopping portals, but there’s still quite a few options for cashback. Here’s a look at just the first dozen possibilities for cashback at Expedia as of today, courtesy of Cashback Monitor.  Note that some of these cashback rates apply to different types of bookings at Expedia, such as cars, flights, vacations, and so on. So make sure you double check the terms and conditions of any cashback portal before using it to make sure it’ll pay at the expected rate for what you’re booking.

earn points disney

The good news is that on occasion, Disney resort hotels are eligible for some of the OTA discount codes constantly floating around. For instance, I was actually able to use a 15% off Orbitz discount code on my recent booking for Disney’s All-Star Sports Resort. Not only that, but I also picked up cashback through a shopping portal (which still paid out even with the use of a discount code in this case) and another $11.72 in Orbucks!

earn points disney

The bad news is that when booking a Disney Resort hotel through an OTA, you’ll likely have to prepay the entire amount at booking. Even though most of the time you can cancel for free up until a few days before your stay and get a full refund of the prepaid amount, it still eliminates the possibility of using Disney gift cards to pay for your hotel. Depending on how much you earn for buying Disney gift cards, you might be better off booking direct and paying at the resort. But for folks who’d prefer not to deal in Disney gift cards (or when a high value OTA discount code is in play), booking via an OTA can be a good way to go.

Remember also that a few credit cards (specifically the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the Citi Prestige) include OTA’s in their travel category, which makes these bookings eligible for those bonus points as well.

Tip #3: Getting 2x or 3x on Disney spend with Magic Bands

As with the tricks in last week’s Hacking Walt Disney World post, this particular tip only works at Walt Disney World in Orlando, FL, due to the fact that it’s tied to the use of Magic Bands. Eventually Disney plans to roll out Magic Bands to all their theme parks, but for the moment, they’re only in Florida.

The Magic Band system is not without its detractors in online Disney forums, but I thought they were pretty good when we used them last month during our trip to Epcot and the Magic Kingdom. Disney has designed the system so that if you’re staying at a Disney Resort hotel (as opposed to an offsite hotel) you can charge anything on Disney property to your Magic Band and settle up the bill at the end.

Obviously Disney is hoping the ease of this system will encourage people to spend more, much like credit cards tend to promote higher spending levels. Of course, readers of Frequent Miler are too savvy and disciplined to fall for that old trick — we’re experienced in controlling our spend and not getting ourselves into debt when it comes to credit cards. So Disney won’t get much extra Magic out of us.

But what is useful for us points hounds is that all charges to your Magic Band end up on your hotel bill, which means that if you use a credit card that has hotels as a bonus category to settle up at your resort hotel, everything you charged to your Magic Band will also get that bonus multiplier. Or you can use Disney gift cards to pay the majority of your hotel bill, then use a credit card with a hotel bonus to pay off anything that’s left over.

You can find Frequent Miler’s list of Best Hotel Category Bonuses here to see which credit cards have hotel bonuses. And yes, you can use this Magic Band trick even if you prepaid for your Disney Resort stay via an OTA as discussed in Tip #2. Magic Band charges are treated as hotel incidentals and charged to the credit card you give them when you check in.

By maximizing your points or discounts, you can make your Disney vacation a bit more affordable and even more rewarding. Though is anything more rewarding than the first time your kids meet a somewhat temperamental duck who only occasionally wears pants?

Did you know these 3 ways to maximize earning points at Disney?

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Other Recent Posts From The “Bet You Didn’t Know” Series:

Waitlisting for United First or Business Class

Using Hipmunk to book ITA Matrix flights

Original routing credit (and a little extra)

Find all the “Bet You Didn’t Know” posts here.

About Devils Advocate

The Devil's Advocate learned the ins and outs of travel loyalty programs while flying more than 200,000 miles a year as a TV producer and director for World Wrestling Entertainment (and yes, of course it’s all real). He now splits his time between New York and Los Angeles and loathes New York winters only slightly less than Los Angeles traffic.

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  1. I beg to differ. Purchasing merchant egift cards via staples.com with Cartera has not earned me one point in over a year of doing this. I regularly buy Home Depot, restaurant, Sephora egift cards shopping at staples via the American Airlines portal. No miles ever earned. It’s habit to use the portal for everything, and I continue to do so ’cause you never know. I’ve been doing this over a year now. No Cartera points ever.

    I’ve also experienced that Target purchases only earn the 5% on the portion of the purchase actually put on the redcard. I’ve never earned the extra 5% when using gift cards to purchase anything at Target. I buy Disney gift cards regularly and I’ve not seen the methods described work. Single dip, yes.

    But you can not double dip, or triple dip, from my experiences.

    • Pam-In a physical target store, you are correct.
      The Key is using a target gift card online with your redcard loaded to your account. This way will give you the 5% off while still using your gift card.

      • So I was extremely hopeful and just went online and placed an order. The minute I changed payment from the default redcard to a gift card, the 5% went away!

      • Pam, I also haven’t earned AAdvantage miles buying Disney GC from Staples.com, but I have earned Alaska miles (2x) as recently as a month ago.
        I have been able to get the Target Redbird trick to work. I first learned of it by accident when buying headphones in December, and now I’ve done it to buy Disney GC as well.

        • One of my follow-up comments for some reason did not post. I experimented more and found that my redcard does work, but the redcard prepaid version does not! I had my Redcard by Serve prepaid as the default. Don’t know why that would differ, but it did. This is really great to be able to double dip. I buy Disney cards frequently. I haven’t started collecting Alaska miles, but guess it might be time to start if they do pay out for staples gift card purchases.

        • Thank you Pam, Dave, and Kayla for adding your experiences — much appreciated. I’m going to update the post with your data points and I’ll ask Greg if he can clarify the situation for us on the Advantage/Cartera portal.

        • RedBird does work! Purchased a disney giftcard for my SIL and got 5%. Just looked again today and it was giving 5%, I would post a screen shot if I could…

        • I bought several items today and the minute I changed payment from Redbird to gift card, the saving went away. It was there as long as I was paying with Redbird prepaid, but then poof! Gone when I entered the gift cards as payment.

          Then I went back in, changed my default to a standard Redcard and this time payed with a gift card and the 5% remained.

        • Nick, are you saying you purchased the GC with the REDbird? That may work but we’re actually referring to paying with Target GC’s but still getting the Redcard discount at the same time. Perhaps that’s the difference here.

        • I’m headed to WDW soon. So I’d love some more insight on which portal(s) are working for buying the Target e-gift cards via Staples.com. If Alaska is the only one that (likely) works, then I’ll use that one. But if AA at 5x (or even Chase at 2x) works, then I’d prefer to use those. Anyone else have recent experience or insights?

  2. Does anyone know if the Magic Bands system – and specifically, the charge-every-purchase-to-your-room-and-pay-at-the-end works with the Starwood Swan/Dolphin hotels that are on Disney property? I know those hotels come with some Disney benefits, and it’d be pretty great to earn bundles of SPG points this way.

  3. The best perk is that Disney employees are known for their customer service! All Disney magic and smiles (not judge-y eye rolls) when I call up and wanted to pay my bill by 13 different gift cards :-D. One of the few companies that I’ll wait on hold for and give them all 5s on the survey afterwards.

    • Chase has one – it’s not a big signup bonus (and I don’t personally have it), but my understanding is that it’s not a great deal unless you are running low on cards to sign up for, and travel to Disney *frequently* (I think it includes various discount offers and such in lieu of big point earnings, but it takes a while to make up the difference vs. just applying for something like the Arrival card).

      • That’s correct. I personally have a Disney Rewards Visa card and while it does have some useful benefits such as discounts and exclusive character meetups, earning points is not one of them.

  4. One more data point– I tried to double/triple/quadruple dip by using the Target GC to buy Disney GC at target.com by going through the Amtrak portal about 2 weeks ago– still no Amtrak points. I don’t know if I just need to give it more time or if it simply won’t pay out.

    • I doubt the portal will pay out on buying gift cards. I bought several hundred Disney Gift Cards, went through different portals each time, and paid with my Arrival card and Target egift cards. No points from any portal have posted. I initially purchased my gift cards through a shopping portal for 7% off, and ended up getting Disney gift cards for about 12% off.

  5. Or…..if you happen to have a 5x grocery store CC and buy Disney GC at a those stores you will get an effective 17-19% discount maximizing the fuel points redemption (at least in my case) YMMV where you live of course…

    • Yep, fuel points at a grocery store can definitely stack on savings via that route. Thanks for mentioning it!

  6. FYI if u are active duty or veteran u can get 3 day park hopper tickets for 132$ instead of 465$ up to 6 tickets ,bad thing is they don’t allow Disney GC so better buy VGC with category bonus card n use it .YMMV

    • Nope, they don’t have Disney GC’s on staples.com — you need to buy Target gift cards and do the Target trick if you want to go that route and end up with Disney gift cards. On the other hand, OfficeMax does have Disney GC’s in store if you just want to get 5x on your Ink card.

  7. Will this target trick (paying with target gift cards and get 5% off with the redcard online) work to get other gift cards that Target sells online such as Southwest, starbucks etc. If so, this isn’t just a hack good for Disney and would be certainly more useful.

    • In my experience it works on most merchant gift cards sold online by Target, but not Visa or MC gift cards. Personally I don’t find Target’s online merchant gift card inventory to be terribly robust, but if you do find a merchant that’s useful to you such as the ones you mentioned, it should theoretically work the same way as the Disney cards.

  8. Ahhh, I’ve only been earning 5 points per dollar by buying my Disney Gift cards at staples with my ink card- like a sucker. All those wasted points 🙁 Thank you so much for these tips! You guys rock!

  9. Thank you a bunch for sharing this with all people you really know what you are speaking about!

    Bookmarked. Kindly also consult with my website =). We may have a link change agreement among
    us

  10. You can stack the 5% off via Target Red Debit card and the 5% pharmacy one day shopping pass (earned after filling 5 prescriptions).

    Also there is a Disney Debt card that you can get with their free checking accounts that will give you the various in park perks. If you attend the F&WF the Chase lounge can be a valuable perk, a place to recharge your phone midday if nothing else, and you can get priority seating for the most popular Eat to the Beat concerts.

    • Chase Lounge, priority fireworks areas, and priority seating at Eat to the Beat during the Food and Wine Fest is accessible with ANY Chase card, you do NOT need the Disney card for these events. Just a Chade card. I use my Freedom or my Ink.

      The normal everyday character photo events are Disney card only though.

  11. Tokyo and Paris? No love for Hong Kong Disneyland?

    The newest* and most charming Magic Kingdom of them all!

    Besides, being located in Hong Kong doesn’t hurt either.

    *Until the eventual opening of Shanghai Disneyland at any rate.

  12. I ordered $100 Target eGiftcard on Staples.com yesterday. The invoice says expected delivery: April 2. Is this common to take 2 weeks to recieve the Target eGC?

    Thanks

  13. Did Target stop allowing the 5% off discount for Disney gift cards altogether? Today when testing online, a 5% discount shows for general merchandise that’s in my cart, but NOT the Disney gift card. I’m talking about just the regular credit card REDCard 5% discount, not the “pay with Target gift cards switching payment methods” part.

    • Just tested out your comment and it appears you are correct that Target is not allowing the 5% anymore on purchasing gift cards online. Darnit!!

  14. Just wanted to mention that if you have multiple Disney gift cards, you can transfer them all to one card (up to $1000 per card, I think) at disneygiftcard.com. There’s a place to do this under the “Manage Cards” menu. You have to register on the web site, but helps keep track of cards and transfer balances to one card. 🙂

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