Pre Trip Report or How I Embraced Credit Card Rewards and Learned to Love Them

We’re gearing up for our trip at the end of the month and the time is flying by!

As is typical of most people, we have a lot of house expenses we would like to deal with (appliances, updates), so we weren’t really thinking about going back to Disney yet. When we go down to Florida we visit family in Miami, and this year is my Mom’s 90 birthday, so we really want to be down there for her.

As one can imagine, the temptation of driving past Orlando is strong, and we started thinking about tacking another Disney trip onto the end of the birthday visit. Since the expense of these dual trips really adds up, (even though we drive from NY), I started looking into ways to minimize the costs and see how many perks I could rack up to defray them even more.

Well, with credit card perks and keeping your eye on discounts, it turns out you can do fairly well!
So, I thought I’d share a few steps of the savings journey here in case it helps anyone.

This first post will be background on trip info and overall credit topics - the 2nd post will be a TL;DR, containing the meat and potatoes on how we used the credit card rewards to really bring our Disney costs down. If your eyes begin to glaze over here, I apologize, but you can just skip on to the next post when I get it written.

Credit Where Credit is Due
First, variations on these techniques have all come up in forum threads and chat over the last year. The one things that often also comes up (rightly) is how opening and closing credit cards can affect your credit score.

Well - it does, but if you work it the effect can be minimal or even positive, depending on your initial score and history.

I am not going to go into the details of how to manage the credit score part of the process. I am also going to point out that I am not a financial advisor, nor have I played on one TV. I’ve done my share of homework, but I am by no means an expert on credit cards. Although I do have a good set of spreadsheet skills. :wink:

Also, I have a water jug full of 1909-S V.D.B. pennies to tide me over in an emergency. (ATTENTION CAT BURGLARS: I DO NOT ACTUALLY HAVE A JUG OF PENNIES.)

If you are new to this topic and any of this seems interesting, you might want to use The Google to search for “Credit Card Perks Tips” and “Credit Card Churning” to get yourself started on learning more.

Now - On with the topic at hand.

At least a couple of sites online have outlined various steps to go to The World for free, and it is probably a good idea to read those posts for things I don’t go over here. You can try this one, and then maybe this one.

For example, since we do the double Miami - Orlando trip, we drive. So airfare rewards has not been part of our equation yet. (Although I’ve looked into it just to be aware of possibilities.) Our steps are fairly simple, but I did learn a few interesting tidbits over the last year that upped our game a good deal.

Trip Theory - Hotel
On our first trip with our kids in the summer of 2013 we stayed at Port Orleans and loved it. In the Fall of 2014 we opted for Caribbean Beach to get the Free Dining. This time we priced out the various Moderates and a few Values, and were leaning toward CBR again - we all really liked the ambiance and thought it would be nice to take more resort time this trip and hit the hammocks and pool more.

Just as we were feeling the Disney Mind Meld and actually beginning to think about giving the Disney leg of the trip the thumbs up (ears up?), I began to see the discussions of CBR construction - and the $75 rebates. “Well, well,” I thought, “Couldn’t hurt to book something could it?” (Yes folks, the point of no return has been breached.)

So, I books us 5 nights, Sunday - Friday at a room rate of $202. The $375 in rebate gift cards certainly sweetened that rate: 5 nights Hotel Net Total = $761.

My wife and I started going over variations of getting 3 day park tickets, possibly adding a water park. Then - the room fairy released the room only discounts. I called up within an hour or two of their going live and… nothing. available. sad trombone.

For the next month or so I kept a browser tab open and looked up the dates a few times each day to see if anything opened up. For a long time - still nothing. Then I found that if I took a day off of my trip I could get the room discount applied. As any red-blooded Disneyphile would do, I then started looking into booking a value resort for the last day. Then I thought, why not add another day! I just saved a bundle on the room rate! (Cue GEICO commercial gecko.)

Long story short (Yeah, right - you’re already eleventy 6 paragraphs into this post.), just as I was about to pull the trigger on the split stay - BOOM, all of my days PLUS ONE opened up for the discount. So, of course now we have 6 days, Sunday - Saturday at CBR at an average room rate of $155 PLUS we get $450 in gift cards. 6 night Net Hotel total = $613.
(If you didn’t catch the math: I added a night and my cost went DOWN $148.)

Once the hotel was out of the way, I returned to the park tickets work. After all sorts of mental mathematical gymnastics related to possibly upgrading to 3 day Park Hopper Plus tickets and spending a couple of days at water parks, we just decided on going for 4 Day Base tickets going to MK, EP, and AK (first time for that one!), then letting the kids choose which park to do on the 4th. (They surprised me and chose EPCOT.)

I then realized that the difference between Undercover Tourist’s 4 day tickets and their 4 day with 1 day free was a mere $34 total, so I made an executive decision and got those at a cost of $1,460.
(Note: I bought them with an Amex deal where they gave me a $30 statement credit, so actual cost was $1,430.)

We’re going out of pocket this trip, but did Free Dining the past trips. We did fine with FD in past, but always knowing that with 2 of us not being big eaters we were really paying for convenience and not value. This time they are not offering FD on our dates, and for this trip value is taking precedence over convenience in any case.

Without going into my mind-blowing dining estimation spreadsheet (soon to be released on BlueRay), I estimate our food costs to be around $1,152.

Below is a section of my spreadsheet showing the cost of the various options.
The green line is the one we decided on - with an estimated Total Trip Cost of $3,675.

Well, that’s too rich for us this year.

Read on soon, dear reader.


Jumping right back in…


Disney Visa
Back before our first trip I signed up for the standard Chase Disney Visa - 1% rewards, no annual fee. (My wife was an authorized user on my card.) With a Disney trip planned, we used it quite freely and racked up a few hundred dollars in rewards. We used them to pay for some meals and give the kids spending money.

However, when compared to our Amex rewards it really didn’t offer the return on points, so we moved back to using Amex as our main card. (Pretty good return on Home Depot cards from them!)

Over the 2 1/2 years since we were last at Disney, we’ve continued to use our Disney Visa when Amex can’t be, but with no great intention and the rewards began to stockpile.

When I began to look into learning more about using credit card rewards, I realized there were two important things I could use in our favor:

  1. My wife could get her own card in her name - using my referral and earning her own sign-up bonus
  2. You can earn a sign-up bonus on a Chase card every 24 months even if you already had a card.

So, my wife used a referral from me to get her own Disney Visa. I get $50. (which was added to my own card’s Rewards points after her 1st use of her card.) We spent the initial $500 within 3 months, and she received a $200 bonus gift card in the mail. (Arrived within a week of the monthly card cycle closing.)

When we received those bonuses, I requested my rewards on a Disney gift card. Once that arrived, I called up to cancel my Disney Visa, opened a new browser tab, used my wife’s referral link and applied for a new card. Approved in minutes.

We then used the card and earned another $50 and another $200 in Disney Rewards.

Between previous referrals, amassed rewards and these new ones, this is how it panned out:

Barclaycard Arrival Plus
Next, I focused on the Barclaycard Arrival Plus MasterCard: They have a sign-up bonus where you get 50,000 (count 'em!) points after you spend $3,000 in 3 months.

Among other perks too numerous to list here, they give you 2x points for every dollar you spend. That means once you’ve spent the initial $3,000 to earn the bonus, you will have 56,000 points ready to use.

Both my wife and I applied for these cards and their approval process was immediate.

While they have all sorts of things you can redeem these points on - most are not a good points to dollars value.

But - there is a really nice feature: Travel Reimbursement. You can use those rewards on your card to get a statement credit for any expense on your card that is coded as travel. Hotel, Car Rental, Airfare - and it turns out tickets purchased from Undercover Tourist!

In basic practice, those 56,000 points are equal to $560 in travel reimbursement.
HOWEVER, There are a few things to note when using Barclay Arrival points:

  1. Whenever you use points, they give you a 5% rebate of points back in your account. For example, if you have 20,000 points, and use 10,000 points, you will get 500 points rebate (10,000 x 5%) end up with 10,500 in your account.
  2. There is a minimum 10,000 point threshold to redeem a reimbursement.
  3. Most Importantly: You do NOT always want to use the most points possible when redeeming them.

This part might get a little confusing, but here goes. Let’s say you spend $3,000 exactly to get your sign-on bonus and you have 56,000 points burning a hole in your pocket. You then purchase Disney park tickets from Undercover Tourist, and they cost $761 so you want to use your travel reimbursement on them.

On your rewards page you see the UT tickets are eligible, and you have at least 56,000 points to use.

When you click on the Redeem link, you get some options:

Look! you can knock off $550 from your statement with ONE CLICK! BUT - DON’T DO IT! You can get more bang for your points here. Take a look at following chart:

At left you can see you have 56,000 points available. If you use 55,000 points right now, you’ll get a $550 statement credit and have 1,000 points left over. You’ll then get a 5% points rebate of 2,750 so you will have 3,750 points left to use in the future.

Because the minimum amount of points you can use for a reimbursement is 10,000 - you will have to spend an additional $3,125 on the card to use those leftover points.

Still, not too bad - but what if I told you you could get $50 more from those points without spending any more money? (or maybe just a little.)

Look at this chart for a better way to use those points:

Again, you start with 56,000 points, but what if you decide to use just 50,000 of them right now? You’ll get a $500 statement credit, and at the end of the transaction you’ll have 8,500 points left to use. Now look at the bottom box in red: you only need to spend $750 to reach the 10,000 point minimum so you can use them.

That is certainly MUCH better than having to spend $3,125!
BUT WAIT - It gets better! You probably don’t need to spend any more money at all!

Barclay has their own Travel Community where you can post photos and travel stories - and they give you points that post to your card rewards! If you link your community profile to your Arrival card, and create a profile they’ll give you 500 points. That is equal to spending $250 on the card! So many exclamation points!

For every story and photo you post, you’ll get more points. I set up my profile and posted a total of 4 stories and ended up with more than enough points to bring my card rewards up over the 10,000 minimum I needed - without spending another penny.

I plan to redeem the 10,000 points for a travel reimbursement using one of our hotel stay days on the trip. For that same amount of spending and points, I will have gotten $600 in travel reimbursements.

And remember folks - wife and I BOTH have Barclaycard Arrival cards - so we’re going to rack up $1,200 in travel reimbursements.

OK, I think that may be enough for this post - I’ll wrap this all up with a big finish in the next one!


Wow! Thank you for posting this! I am going to have to bookmark it and re-read it about five times!


And here is the complete picture in one image - you can see that by adding together all of the Disney Rewards, Barclay Travel Reimbursements, an Amex UT ticket rebate and the CBR construction rebate has given us $2,641 in rebates to apply to our trip.

The final outcome is that we have brought the expected $3,675 cost of the Disney part of our trip down to a more manageable $1,035.

True, the CBR Room Only Discount is not really a trick related to the credit card rewards, nor is the $75 per day construction rebate - but I point them out here to show that with a little browser refreshing and awareness of the deals that are out there, you can really knock the overall cost. When you are planning a trip or even just thinking about one, it really pays to keep up with TP chat, forums and other Disneyfied sites to catch deals that come and go - sometimes quickly.

In particular, a recent Flash Sale over at Undercover Tourist for 7 day tickets for the price of 4 would have been a huge savings for those going that many days - I didn’t see it on any of the UT media until well after someone posted the info here. Within a day it was sold out.

Well, that ended up a much longer post than intended, so living up to my Homeric title here on the forum once again. I hope the info above helps out someone thinking about using rewards on their trip!


Thanks a ton for posting this and several more tons of thanks for doing it with image references! Makes it far easier to follow and understand. I’m going to reread this several times as I’m trying to mimic this. The canceling/opening of the card I had no idea you could do!


Wow, I love your trip cost tracking! Now that is a person after my own heart! I have similar spreadsheets set up right now, but not as beautifully colored.


This is good stuff! One thing I would caution about the Disney Visa card; once you get your bonuses satisfied, it’s a pretty poor card in terms of rewards EXCEPT for purchases with Disney that give you an additional discount. We saved quite a bit on souvenirs and dining with our Disney card on our trip.

Our go-to cards right now are the Citibank Double Cash Mastercard and Costco Visa cards. The Double Cash MasterCard gives us back 1% when the charge hits and another 1% when the bill is paid. The Costco Visa gives us 3% back on hotels, restaurants and airlines. Granted, these cards can’t be used to directly pay your vacation bill, but if you keep track of it on your spreadsheet, you can account for it that way.


Does the Costco card give you 3% when you book any hotels/airlines or only through Costco travel?

Any hotel or airline, as long as they code they code the transaction with Visa as travel. I usually book everything direct with the company…which presented an issue when I booked Cinderella’s Royal Table. You’d think that Disney would book it as a resort or restaurant purchase, but no. They recorded it as “Direct Marketing”, so I only got 1% on that. :sob:

And the Costco rebates come at the end of the year in the form of a Costco certificate. I used mine for tires in February, but now I’ve got over $500 so far for 2017. I suspect it’ll take more than a few weeks to spend that whole amount next year.

I have an executive membership so I get rewards every year. I may think about this. Do you know how it works in store? Would it be executive points plus visa?

I’m not familiar with the executive membership, but from what I understand, you’d essentially be “double-dipping” on the rewards. You’d get the 2% reward on Costco purchases for being an executive member and then also get the 2% reward on the Visa. The timing of the two rewards would be different, but you’d get them eventually.

Looking at the executive membership, you don’t get the executive rewards on gas purchases, but the Costco Visa gives you 4% back on gas purchases.

Oh, and I also have the Discover IT Card as well; they have rotating groups of categories that give you a 5% bonus. Right now, it’s restaurants. And for the first year, they are going to double my cash back…so essentially, I’ll be earning 10% on restaurants now until the end of September.


Thanks so much! Great detailed post. I churned a few for my upcoming trip. Sure helps! I’m $1400 to the good. Do you ever listen to the Backside of Magic podcast? They have lots of great ideas on how to save including sign up bonuses, discounts, and buying Disney gift cards at Target with the “red card” for a 5% discount.


You’re welcome!

Yes, I do listen to them! They have some really good tips on there. I even sent them a link and info for my AP upgrade - discount tickets spreadsheet in case they might find it useful.


Thought I’d post some additional roundup:

I agree with mikeandkelli that the Visa is not the best for maximum rewards. That’s why we focused on our Amex, but there’s a few places we frequent that don’t take them, so that’s pretty much when we flip over to the Disney Visa. (It happens that the cheapest same price credit/cash gas station near my office is non-Amex, so that’s how our rewards really jumped over 3 years.)

An aside on another Visa: While there are no Disney rewards points connected to it, if you are an LL Bean lover, their Visa has no annual fee and they give you LL Bean vouchers from accumulated purchases. We keep that one because it gives you free shipping on orders AND returns (which happens a LOT with my wife’s orders.) I find LL Bean clothes for the most part are my Go To place for business casual and casual casual.

An Aside aside: I’ve gotten to the point in life where I break out in hives at the mall. Which reminds me of the time I took my then 5 year old daughter Christmas shopping. When we got back to the car and were all buckled in she asked, “Daddy, How do you spell ‘shopping’?” I spelled it out and a minute later her tiny hand reached around the driver’s seat and handed me this:

Back to the rewards topic, One other piece of advice I might give:
If you are trying to get rewards on various cards for an upcoming trip you would probably like to minimize the amount you spend on each card so you can spread the spending around between them.
In that case, I would suggest you map out the timing on a calendar for using the Barclays (or other) cards so you can do that efficiently.

When getting rewards on the Disney Visa, the timing is probably not as important since you spends the $500 bucks, you gets the rewards. It is not a terrifically high amount to spend so for many of us that spend would go quickly, so your main concern is leaving enough lead time for that $200 gift card reward to show up before your trip.

For the Barclay Arrival MC, you have 3 months to spend $3,000. If you are doing that for 2 cards, as I did with my wife, I didn’t want to get both cards at the same time and be struggling to spend (and pay off!) $6,000 all at once unless if was for regular expenses. (We don’t carry balances on any cards - and if AT ALL possible you should do the same or you’ll be eating up your rewards by paying the banks interest.) Of course, my commuting car decided to help me out and come up with an $1,800 repair for me to do.

Barclay TIP: It is good to know, by the way, that I called Barclay when I received our first Arrival MC to see when the 3 month time period started - I assumed it was from the date of activation - but the customer service rep told me the clock started on the day of approval! So, remember to take that into account.

Now, to minimize the spending on those Arrival MasterCards: Since we are using those rewards for travel reimbursement statement credits, in a perfect world you would spend just enough before your trip to get you close to the $3,000 and then would use the card for hotel or other travel expense that would get you over the finish line to the spending amount.

You then have 120 days to use your rewards points on that travel expense. Because our trip was relatively close, I wasn’t sure how long it would take to get the cards, didn’t realize the 3 month clock started right at card approval, and we were planning to earn these rewards on 2 cards sequentially, we ended up having to hit our $3,000 on both cards well before the trip to earn the 50,000 points on each.

So, we’re going to end up using my Barclay card for at least another $500 on the CBR hotel charge to get my larger $500 travel reimbursement, and one of our one-night hotel stays on the drive down for my 2nd $100 reimbursement.

On my wife’s card, we used the UT tickets to get her large reimbursement already, and will use the hotel on the drive home to get her smaller reimbursement.

Not really a big deal for us to use the Barclay cards more than the minimum $3,000 spend, but just wanted to point out that more efficiencies can be had if you time it right.

Since we have so many Disney rewards to use on site, the original plan was to use those to pay for the CBR hotel and some food. Thus, we were originally going to buy a pair of UT park tickets with each Barclay card to get the large reimbursements. Then we found that Amex was offering their own one-time $30 statement credit for a UT ticket purchase, so we bought one pair with Amex. Couldn’t pass up another free $30!

Even with no other Disney trip on the horizon after this upcoming one, we shouldn’t have any issue with using up our Disney rewards GCs, since we are paying for food out of pocket.

After all of that - guess I just wanted to say in this post: be sure to make at least a simple roadmap of how you are going to use the rewards cards to maximize things. Once I did that and made the simple rewards table I used in the posts above I realized how I could squeeze out those extra rewards without much effort.


I’d like to add some info here that some may find useful when trying to refer friends and family for Disney Chase Visa cards.

It has come up a few times on Lines chat that if you use the option on the Chase referral page to send referrals via email, the referral takes up to a week to appear - and in my own experience sometimes they never show up at all!

(Yes, I checked spam, Henry. I’m an IT guy. I eat spam for breakfast. Well, not literally.)

There is a better and immediate way to get the referral link: instead of using the Share via Email option, use either the Facebook or Twitter options to share. And, Don’t Panic! You don’t actually have to tweeter it or Facebookify it.

You can just copy the referral link, save it to a file, email it to your friends and family, or get it tattooed on the back of your neck so people in standby behind you can jot it down and apply while they wait 368 minutes for Flight of Passage.

Here’s a quick succession of screen shots with the steps involved.
First, open a browser and go to this Chase catch-all referral page (should work for most Chase cards, not just the Disney Visa):

(Click Continue when you have filled this form out.)
(and no, My name is not Smith and I have never been in a California teen TV show.)

On the next page:

The email and address form will turn into a “Share on…” button.

Wave bye, bye to Chase.

Copy the link in the tweet - you do not need to be logged in to Tweeter.
(The numbers in my example are changed and will not work. Go copy your own, copy cat.)

Step 6: PROFIT.


I was wondering how I could get the link. I didn’t see a way on the SW email link so thanks! I didn’t read back but are you leaving soon?

I’m debating on whether to “spend” my Chase points for this trip or to save them to apply towards a SW companion pass. If I understand correctly you need 110K SW points in one year to get a companion pass. Once you have the pass it’s good for that entire year and the following calendar year. Maybe there’s a catch. That seems too easy.

I haven’t looked into the Southwest card in detail - we’re driving every trip since we also visit family in Miami, and the flight plus rental is way too much.

But, from what I know the SW card companion pass works the way you said - does seem easy, but lots of people doing it.

BTW, I’m sitting in a CBR room while I type this, hitting AK tomorrow for 8AM RD!


I’ll be anxious to read the full-on TR! Have fun!

Wanted to post an interim follow up to the Barclay rewards redemption part of this process:

For my wife’s card, we purchased tickets for 2 people at Undercover Tourist and got the $500 travel reimbursement as shown above. On the drive down we used her Barclay for our 1 night stay on the way, then got the additional $100 travel reimbursement, so her rewards are all done.

The plan was then to use my Barclay card for $500 of the Caribbean Beach hotel charge, and then again for the 1 night hotel stay on the drive back home. When we checked into CBR, I did not realize that they charged all of the hotel itself immediately to my Barclay card.

I thought that they charged your card when it hit the $1,500 threshold - Guess I misunderstood and they only use the threshold for the weekly magic band room charges.

In any case, when I went down to the front desk on Wednesday to make sure they charged my card for the 3 days, I found out all of the hotel room charges were placed on my Barclay Arrival card. But, the CMs were able to quickly reverse some of the charges to my Barclay card and then use my Disney Rewards to pay the remainder. So, no harm no foul.

Now that I am home, here is the scorecard on the Barclay:

You can see the original $835.86 charge, then the ($323.36) credit - so the net CBR charge to the Barclay card is about $512. Then I have the $105.83 charge at the Hampton Inn on the way home. That all looks great.

However, when I went to redeem the travel reimbursements there is a hiccup. As of now, Barclay’s Rewards still thinks I charged $835, and the redemption options are slightly different:

As mentioned in the previous post, I expected to redeem 50,000 points for $500 reimbursement, then 10,000 for another $100. However, my lowest option here is 52,500 points!

I’ll gladly take another $25, thank you very much - but I suspect that when the statement cycle closes and the CBR credit kicks in, those rewards will drop back to where I expected them to be. I am wary of redeeming them now, so called Barclay to see what they thought. The representative had to put me on hold to confer with the Gods of MasterCard, and she agreed it should all wash out after the cycle.

I just wanted to post this out there to make people aware that credits may change how the redemption options are presented. We shall see how it goes in a week or so!


Super informative and definitely going to have to try this next time we plan a trip!!! Also, crazy jealous of your math skills (I hate numbers lol) and pretty spreadsheet skills!

1 Like