I haven't talked about our trip to Disney World in awhile, but as we get down to the last weeks before the big event, I thought I'd share some general tips that have been real money savers for us. Here goes:
1. Go at an off-peak time. We're going to Disney at the end of September, a very low traffic time of the year. Most people have just ended their summer vacations and the kids are back in school, thus creating less demand for Disney's parks. Less demand means lower prices. Lower priced airfares, lower priced hotels, etc. Oh yeah, and fewer crowds to deal with.
Let's put this into context with a couple examples:
- We're going to be renting a three bedroom condo. The low season rate is $79 per night. The peak season rate is $139 a night. Savings over the course of seven nights: $420.
- One of my co-workers flew to Florida on spring break (certainly a peak time of the year). She paid more for one airline ticket that what we'll pay to fly four of us to Orlando at the end of September.
2. Be flexible. By this I mean be flexible on when you can go (covered above -- being flexible allows you to go at a non-peak time) as well as how you get there. In our case, we were flexible enough to consider leaving from different airports. For instance, here are the airline prices we received from Expedia to fly roundtrip to Orlando from various airports in our state:
- Grand Rapids: $254 per person; $1,016 total
- Lansing: $204 per person; $814 total
- Detroit: $123 per person; $492 total
Sure, there will be additional costs in driving two hours to Detroit and paying parking, not to mention the hassle of doing so before and after our trip, but there are also additional advantages -- it's a direct flight, we won't have to worry about missing a connection, there are many flights that can get us to Orlando if ours is canceled for some reason, etc. I'd call these a wash compared to the extra costs. But even in a worst case scenario, we'll save a couple hundred dollars and (likely) some headaches, so I'd call this a good deal.
3. Shop around. For the airfare, we costed out Expedia, Costco, AAA, and airline sites. These were all fairly close, but they all had some baggage (no pun intended) except for Costco and the airline site. Expedia only had certain times available -- none of which we liked. AAA required us to also rent a car from them (at $40 more than we could get elsewhere.) In the end, the airline site offered both the best deal and most flexibility (in times and seat selection) so we went with it.
When it comes to hotels, you first have to decide whether you want to stay inside the park or outside. We started out thinking we'd stay inside the park, but after considering the costs (of the rooms as well as food -- you almost get locked in to eating at a Disney restaurant if you stay on property) not to mention the other downsides to staying on property (travel within the park often isn't as easy as one might think/hope it is and the sizes of the rooms, while nice compared to hotel standards, didn't hold a candle to what we could get outside the park -- think one room versus a three bedroom, two bath condo.) So we decided to stay outside the park -- about two miles from Disney. From here we shopped around various condo/townhome sites and found differences as much as $1,000 more for the same thing (sometimes the exact same dwelling layout in the same complex offered by a different company.) Eventually we picked one that matched our price range as well as offered the features we desired.
Rental car prices are the ones that seem to vary the most. We searched several sites, made calls, and so on until we located our best deal at around $130 for the week. This was about $40 cheaper than the second-best rate we found and les than half of many places. Good, old-fashioned shopping around is all I can recommend here.
That's the update so far. We still have a few things to buy and, of course, the trip to take. I hope to do a summary of the trip once it's over to let you all know what we liked and didn't like, so stay tuned.