Saved $5000 on recent trip

So one of my big (self imposed) challenges for this trip was to make it as nice as possible while also making it as inexpensive as possible.

With careful planning and taking advantage of CC perks I was able to take the cost of the trip from $7,683 down to $2,877a 62% savings!!

Hope this helps people in planning and thinking of creative ways to save money thought creative CC use. A few things thought. You MUST pay off the balance every month or it will kill you. NO I don’t have a business or anthing – we just put EVERYTHING on the CC so we get a lot of points.

Airline – Southwest
Retail Cost $744.00 My Cost $241 Saved $503
Signed up for their CC and got 25,000 points. Constantly rebooked to bring the points cost down so I can use them elsewhere. CC First year fee $100, Booking fees $81, Early Bird boarding $60

Disney Hotel – Swan
Retail Cost $1,875 My Cost $0 Saved $1875
Signed up for Starwoods card and got 35,000. Got enough points for a balcony room (44,000). Also, unfortunately the housekeeping was horrible – so I complained (nicely) – they took off the resort fees. Now I realize the Swan isn’t a DISNEY hotel – and in my opinion isn’t a great hotel. However the location is awesome, the staff friendly and you are still in the middle of everything. The kids loved the pool and grounds are very nice.

WDW Tickets
Retail cost $1,340 Cost via Undercover Tourist $1271. Saved $1,340
I HIGHLY recommend using Undercover Tourist. There is no difference in the ticket and you can get a great deal. We got a 5 day for the price of a 4 day. Additionally was able to use my CapitalOne card to “travel erase” the whole thing. So my Disney tickets cost $0

Universal Tickets
Retail cost $909 Cost via Undercover Tourist $776. Saved $133
Once again recommend using Undercover Tourist. They had a discounted 3 day park to park that had an expiration date – but was after we were traveling. As an aside – I used to be a DISNEY purist and thought anyone going to Universal also kicked puppies and said bad things about their mothers. However I fully change my opinion on them. They have their act together. The parks and resorts are wonderful, the staff is great and Harry Potter is unparalleled in any park anywhere.

Car Service
Cost $229
We used MCO Destination – very nice!! Had a car from MCO to Portafino, Portafino to SWAN and SWAN to MCO. Renting a car with parking would have been almost $500. It was great having a driver. Didn’t have to worry about getting lost, paying tolls, paying for parking etc. I would even recommend this if you can take magical express. It was MUCH more relaxed – you’re in a big SUV, nice music, water and you go right to your hotel.

Retail $1136 My Cost $185
First off I can’t recommend the Portafino enough. It was an AMAZING hotel. Beautiful grounds, wonderful room and staff was exceptional. My only disappointment was that we stayed here first and then went to the swan. I would have much rather made this my last destination. Staying at a deluxe onsite is VERY MUCH WORTH IT. The convenience of taking the boat back and forth was just a nice way to start and end the day (we NEVER had to wait as they were constantly running). The Express pass privilege was PRICELESS. MUCH better than Fastpass in the fact that we didn’t have to plan a thing. Only thing we had to do was get to HARRY POTTER first thing in the morning. Universal (although we rode MORE rides) was much more relaxed and just enjoyable IMHO.

Cost $1043
So we are a family of 4 – 2 adults a 12 yr old and 9 yr old. My wife eats off the kids menu and my son off the adult menu so it evens out. So our average was $150 a day. We do pack breakfast and eat in the room. I usually have oatmeal, kids have cereal and my wife has a shake. It just makes the morning routine a bit more relaxed and it cuts down on costs. None of us are big eaters as well. We did have some nice meals. Mythos in Universal is GREAT. Nothing super special – but very nice sit down and the food was great. Not any more expensive that getting bad pizza somewhere else. Mama Della at the Portafino was also wonderful. Other noteworthy meals were at Chef’s de France and eating poolside at Portafino. My son did love Nine Dragons – however I thought it was ok at best. We did do Be Our Guest as well. Food was nice, however they need to get their act together. We had 11:15 reservations – but didn’t even get to the kiosk until 11:45 due to “issues” they were having. Balance were counterservice and twice we ordered pizza from Splashes at the swan which was $20 so that brought down our meal cost average a lot. We aren’t drinkers – but did order at a few meals. BIG way to save is to order water instead of soda. I would, however budget $200 a day of the average family and if you end up saving – cool


I think your math is a little off on the tickets unless you got them for free. Savings looks to be more like $3500.
Also, what did points system does Portofino use? Not familiar with them.

I did get them for free via CC points. So I got a discount via UT and then paid that bill via CC points. So $1200 retail in WDW cost me $0 out of pocket

Hi Dave,

Great info! I have a few questions/comments:

With your 3 day Universal tickets, did you end up spending all day in those parks or did you go back to your hotel in the afternoons? Were three park days plenty or would you plan differently next time?

How many days did you stay in Portofino? And, do you know if the AP holder discounts even come out during holiday times? Does Portofino have a small fridge for milk and other items or is it full of their own drinks for purchase?

How many total nights were you at Swan? How many at Portofino? And, let’s say you couldn’t get Swan completely free but rather got it free for half your nights. Would you thought it worth it to stay there? What other WDW hotels do you like?

Thanks for the trip report!

@KatySugar my pleasure and if you have any other questions - DON’T hesitate - I totally geek out on this stuff!!!

Universal - we spent most of the day there. We got in after midnight on first night checking in. But we were up early. We did the park from 8 - 5 and then went back and ate at Portafino and chilled (got into bed early).
Day one - Universal - 8 - 5
Day two - Universal 8-9 and then IOA 9 - 6
Day three - Both parks (mostly Harry Potter stuff) 8 - 12 noon

I would have liked to stay later at night - but the kids and wife were beat so we didn’t push it. I felt that it was unrushed and enjoyable. We did enjoy the Hotel in the evening. The days were beautiful so we didn’t need a break from the heat. Day 2 when we went back - we went to the pool - the kids had a great time and Cindy and I just relaxed. Got some wine / prosecco and ordered dinner pool side. Food was very good - nothing special - but served nicely (stark different to SWAN) and we just detoxed for a bit. Very relaxing

We were at Portafino for 3 nights - but as we were very late checking it I would call it two nights of enjoyment. No unfortunately Portafino does NOT have a fridge. They have an honor bar that you can take things out of - but it was “cool” and I wouldn’t trust things in there. We simply used the Ice bucket. Every evening I would get a small thing of milk and pop it in there. Minimal inconvenience and it was super cold in the morning. I thought it was going to be an issue - but it wasn’t at all. I actually enjoyed the walk across the courtyard every evening. It was my little respbit and I would just enjoy the ambiance of the hotel. We packed things (flew SW - so filled up a small suitcase with drinks etc

I got 5 free nights - but we were there 4 1/2. So 4 full nights and then we checked out 5 PM the last day. Made it nice that we could go to the park and then come back, chill, get something to eat and then pack up at our leisure.

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@KatySugar So is the SWAN worth it at 1/2 the price - YES.
To be clear the Swan isn’t bad - it just isn’t great.
If you are staying at Portafino and the Swan - stay at the Swan FIRST.

Swan does have refrigerators - but once again - they are cool not cold. We took ice buckets and put them in the fridge. Once again I would treck every evening over to the Dolphin for Milk (and occasionally prosecco - are you sensing a theme). But I still loved that. It was just once again fun taking in the ambiance of the hotel and the energy of everyone.

The room was adequate and having the balcony was very nice to see all the energy of the boats and people. The room was fine (lest the housekeeping issues). The two sinks (with one outside the bathroom) was very nice. The decor in the room was contemporary.

The service was adequate.

The location was what was fantastic. We boated to HS and boated / walked to Epcot and the neighboring resorts. Transport to MK and AK was fine via the busses. Additionally as we were so close to the other resorts - if their busses were loading from MK / AK we would take them back and walk.

It was nice being close to Yacht / Beach / Boardwalk - and we took advantage by eating at Beaches and Cream one night. Very pleasant - but not a MUST SEE.

If I was paying $200 / night at SWAN and $400 at Yacht - my inner child would say “pay out the extra cash you cheap bastard” but the responsible dad in me that is trying to fund 529s and 401ks would remind me "to be responsible. However I did pay close to that at Portafino - but for some reason have no issue with that especially after our stay.

The grotto pool at Swan / Dolphin - could not compare to the pool at Portafino. It was dingy and uninspired. It was a pool with some fake rocks and a slide thrown at it. The chairs were not great as well. When we ordered the food it came in to go containers and was unlovingly delivered to us. It didn’t have the same gracious tone that Portafino had.

Swan is a solid place to lay your head, be close to the action and save a few bucks. I would still take it over most of the moderates at WDW. It is NOT in the same league as AKL, WL, Beach etc.

I am satisfied that we stayed there due to the savings. Hope that helps. I would seriously akin it to staying at a Hampton Inn. Not bad / not great - it is what it is. Don’t expect extra magic there though.


@davidtyost great insight, great idea’s on saving $ thanks for everything you’ve posted about your trip.

my pleasure

Thanks for this info! From the way you describe things, though, I have the feeling I would prefer POR to Swan (except for the location issues). Currently Starwood is not offering so many points when you get their credit card. So, it’d be harder to get as many free nights.

As far as UO, it sounds like you did well with 3 nights (which was really more like 2 nights). So, if we stay there 4 or 5 nights, we’ll really have a good/relaxing time. It seems that if we hit HP early once or twice, combined with revisiting that section of the park one or two nights, we’ll cover it pretty well and not feel too overwhelmed with the crowds.

Good idea about the ice bucket and milk!

I found Portofino on Orbitz for $289/night (all in/all taxes) and I think that’s pretty darn good rate. So, I booked it for 5 nights. But, now I’m feeling that if we go all the way to Orlando, we need to go for a week. So now I’m thinking 2 nights WDW and 5 nights UO…or 3 nights WDW and 4 nights Universal. Thoughts? I will go to WDW first and then end with the luxury of the Portofino.

Good for you - think that is a great rate!! It all depends what you want. As much as I loved Portafino - I think 4 nights would be fine for me and spend the extra time at WDW. But that is just me. I think it is smart to go to Portafino last though.

If you are looking for a car for transport - we used MCO Destination and found them to be awesome. It was much cheaper to have a car pick us up than to get a car and pay for parking. I hope you have as good a time as we had.

Thanks! Yes, I’m leaning toward 3 days WDW and 4 days Portofino at this point. I have to see, though, whether I could get refunded for the first day of my Portofino stay. And, I’ll definitely look into MCO Destinations.

I would think that would be good. As much as I loved Universal - there isn’t as much to do as WDW. A solid 2 1/2 days in the park was good for us. Enjoying the resort will be nice and then there is also City Walk - which we didn’t get an opportunity to enjoy.

Hi again. Well, I actually have a countdown, a package at WDW, and one way tickets (I am watching the prices for the return trip but went ahead and purchased our way there!) So, now we’ve settled on 5 days at WDW because we just couldn’t go there without going to each park. Everybody loves a different park. So, my dates for Portofino have changed and the rate isn’t as good, but it’s still pretty decent ($350). I’m now vacillating between 3 and 4 nights at Universal. I just don’t want to be in the parks all day long and I want to end the vacation on a more relaxing note. So, I’m tempted to do 4 nights at at Universal even though it’s adding up. I figure in a year or two a couple hundred more spent won’t really matter! We’ll see how it plays out.

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We did 4 nights at Universal…very relaxing and super leisurely days/nights in the parks. Sounds like you’re going to have an amazing time!

Cool! I’m definitely leaning toward that.

I think you will find Universal and Portafino more relaxed for sure. The nice thing is the back and forth to the parks is so much shorter. You should need no more than 2 1/2 - 3 days at the parks - so definitely take a break. Enjoy hanging out at the pool and have some well deserved down time. I think they do have a great spa there as well. I hope you have a great time. Do sign up for Lowes reward program and see if they can upgrade you - although I think any room / view you have will be very nice. I know many of them overlook the parks so you can see the fireworks.

Thanks for the tips!

I thought I saw you had answered this, but now I can’t find it. What card did you get all the points on to use for this? Did you mention a site that shows the best CCs to get?

So our primary card is a Capital One Rewards. It is a great “general travel reward card”. We got grandfathered into an excellent redemption plan.
I also opened up a SouthWest card and used that for air - we use SW to Orlando - so it was a no brainer
I also opened up an American Express for Starwood points so we could specifically stay at the Swan. It was worth it to stay there for virtually free - however I wouldn’t have paint more than $150 / night if I was paying out of pocket for the hotel. Didn’t care for it at all

Hope that helps

Also - bought the tickets from Undercover Tourist and saved a lot. We didn’t have magic bands - but didn’t matter for us at all. Just had to pull out the cards for FP - no big deal