Back when I planned our quick trip to visit my grandparents, I mentioned that a couple more trips were in the works. Well, it’s time to let the cat is out of the bag: we’re going to Disneyland next month!

The trip is one of the gifts we decided to get the kids. As Kels and I have sought to prioritize experiences over material things, gifting a trip for Christmas is much more up our alley than buying the kids a lot of stuff (but they did get a lot of stuff, too).

But given that Disneyland is an expensive destination, so how are we able to afford this so quickly?

Travel hacking a Disney trip

Scoring discounts on Disney is not for the faint of heart. The general consensus is that you really can’t get better than 10-20% off on Disney hotels and admission. And the cost of entry is ridiculous. Entry for our family of 5 to one park for one day would cost approximately $485. And we’re looking to go for 2 days on a Park Hopper pass, which will set us back at least twice that. No matter how you slice it, this isn’t an easy trip to take for cheap. Forget about free.

A strategy I would employ is picking up a couple cash-back cards with a decent bonus to offset the enormous cost of taking your family to the Magic Kingdom. If you’re new to the points world and haven’t applied for many cards, pick up a Chase Sapphire Preferred card if you haven’t (SEE: 5 Reasons the Chase Sapphire Preferred is the Best Starter Travel Credit Card) and then look into a Capital One Venture and/or Barclaycard Arrival+. I don’t typically recommend these cards out the gate, but they will get you most of $1,000 in flexible points you can use toward Disney tickets.

Some warehouse clubs offer Disney gift cards at a slight discount. Factoring in the use of a cash back card, you probably can’t do better than ~5% off using this strategy. It’s something, but it’s still not much. In all honesty, there is no easy way to hack Disney like airfare, where you can get a couple sign up bonuses and fly to Europe in business class for less than $200 out of pocket.

But there are ways. You’ll just need to search a bit harder for them. Disney will never be my forte. When I attended the Family Travel 4 Real Life conference this past May, one session was completely dedicated to hacking Disney. It’s is own world.

If travel hacking Disney is of interest to you, let me point you to a few other resources:

So…how are we able to take our family of 5 to Disneyland next month?

It’s who you know

As is the case with many things in life, sometimes it’s more about who you know than what you know. Turns out that I have a coworker whose sister works for Disney corporate. She can walk most of us in for free for one day (possibly all of us if she can have a coworker meet her at the park, which she is trying to make happen). This means our tickets will either be free or heavily discounted. If we don’t all get walked in for free, the remaining two that we need to buy will be ~50% off.

Since my mother-in-law loves Disneyland, we invited her along. My one and only time visiting the park in Anaheim was with their family, long before my wife and I were married. They used to go annually. We got them tickets last year as their Christmas gift.

I’m not sure how she put it all together, but my mother-in-law managed to work some magic for all of us. She has had a Disney Visa card for as long as I can remember, and the tickets for the second day are part of a package she booked in conjunction with a Disneyland hotel. Apparently now was the time to put the points to good use. I’m not complaining.

So now that we will be out at most a mere $150 for tickets for two days, we just have to put the travel together.

Flights south

This part is cake. We had a number of options, so it was all a function on convenience, timing, and maximizing point redemption. Since there were so many of us, it makes the most sense to fly out of the Bay Area rather than Arcata or even Santa Rosa. Alaska has reasonable nonstop flights to John Wayne Airport (Santa Ana), which is the closest to Anaheim and Disneyland. I’ll happily avoid the pit that is LAX.

For the 6 of us I spent a mere 19,600 Amex Membership Rewards (before my 50% back perk dies!), a $75 Alaska voucher, and $28.40 cash. Not much out of pocket. Cash prices would have been $470 for all six of us.

Thanks to a promotion, the kids will each be earning a bonus 5,000 Alaska miles as new Alaska MileagePlan members. This means our family will earn a total of 20,000 Alaska miles for our quick trip. It’s basically like trading our MR points for Alaska miles. Totally, totally worth it.

What about hotels near Disneyland?

There are a number of hotels available near Disneyland, but I quickly focused on a couple options for the six of us. The one that made the most sense was the Homewood Suites about a mile from the park. The points redemption rate was reasonable, and it could fit the six of us.

I also eyed the Howard Johnson across from the park, as we have a good number of Wyndham points, but it would tougher to swing for 6. For 5 I’d do it in a heartbeat, and request a crib. The Best Western right across the street also seemed like a decent option, but I don’t have enough points to swing it. Since we are going to be in the park all day for 2 days, the hotel is little more than a place to crash and sleep, so staying at a more budget place was an option on the table.

But all my ideas got tossed out the window with my mother-in-law’s plan.  Now we’ll be staying on-property, just a quick walk from the park. I’ve never stayed at a Disney hotel (and never planned to!), so this will be a whole new experience for us.

Our one night of airport hotel is at the Embassy Suites SFO for 42,000 Honors points. I wish San Francisco airport hotels were cheaper, but they are in line with the rest of the area. The advantage here is free breakfast for all of us.

Conclusion

Disney is high on many families travel lists, and with the cost of tickets so high, it is often a vacation that they must save long and hard to make happen. Fortunately, thanks to family and friends, we have a nice shortcut. If not for these, we’d be saving for a Disney vacation for at least a year.

Images courtesy of Tuxyso and Norberak Egina under CC 3.0 license