My Almost Free Disney Vacation - Part 3: Hotel

Welcome to Part 3 of "My Almost FREE Disney Vacation" - The Hotel.  You can check out the other posts if you haven't already!

Part 1 - The Basics
Part 2 - Airfare

To recap, my family of 11 had not been on vacation together in 17 years...back then we were a family of 5! I never knew how much my hard-working parents sacrificed so that myself and my siblings did not lack for anything growing up...until I had a family of my own. Our last vacation together was Disney and I can remember my family saved and saved so that we could go! We stayed in a budget hotel with a pool and took the free shuttles to the parks. We brought our own food for lunch and drank water at the restaurants when we did eat out. I had no clue that we weren't "rich" because they made us feel so special!

So last year, I decided I would find a way to get our family of "10" (eventually 11 when our daughter was born) back to Disney...with a little more "luxury" and a lot less money! Our definition of "luxury" is staying close to Disney in a beautiful hotel and having a few meals at the parks! ;) If I had not discovered this way to go, we all would not have been able to afford it!

OK, did we get an almost free hotel?

Well, the first decision we had to make was where to stay in relation to the parks. I wanted my family to be able to have minimal distance to travel since we had 4 kids with us and my father who battles some major health issues. I know that there are discounts for the Disney hotels out there, but the 30% discount just wasn't enough for all of our rooms. I wanted as close to free as possible. And, we didn't care about having the Disney-themed rooms since we wouldn't be in them long enough to enjoy anyway.

Our options were (at least I thought at one point) to find a hotel just off the Disney property and then to find a hotel card that gave bonus points to stay at them for close to free. But, after doing a bit of research, I found that there were 2 hotels that were NOT Disney-related that were actually ON Disney property and had access to everything that the Disney properties had. (Free Disney transportation, Extra Magic Hours, and FastPass+ which was not standard at the time) These hotels were called the Walt Disney World Dolphin and Swan.  The hotels were owned by Starwood and, by golly, had a credit card that gave out bonus points! Waaaahoo! It was called the Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) card.

At the time we were planning the trip, the card was offering 10,000 bonus points after your first spend and an extra 20,000 bonus points (right now it is 15,000) after you spent $5000 in 6 months. That made 30,000 bonus points. AND, since the card gave out "regular points" of 1 point per $1, we earned 5,000 points for our regular spend. Overall, we "spent" $5,000 over 6 months and got 35,000 points on each card.  ****If you read my other posts, you know that we didn't have to actually "spend" $5000! Hint, hint!

Now, what is a "point" worth? Well, let's just use this scenario. We chose to earn points for the Dolphin (I had read the Swan had more kids). It costs 10,000 points per night to redeem for a "free" room. We were going to stay 6 nights. Normally, that would be 60,000 points for someone that does not have the SPG card. BUT, a great perk of the card is that if you book 5 nights in a row with your free points, the 5th night is free. SO, it only cost us 50,000 points since our 5th night was FREE! :)

OK, but, Erin, you only got 35,000 points on your card. YES, but, the great thing about the SPG card is that you can combine points with others in your household! So, each set of adults got a card each! That gave everyone 70,000 points to use for each of the 3 rooms! SCORE!!!

Now, the "Almost FREE" part was that since we were staying at a "RESORT", there was a $20 per night resort fee. Um. I'll take it! We ended up paying just $120 for each of 3 rooms for 6 nights on Disney property!

The view from our upgraded room!
During our stay, we were upgraded for FREE to the "Epcot" rooms, the ones where you can see the fireworks every night. We could see Hollywood Studios as well. We were able to use the ferry boats and the Disney Shuttles to each kingdom and we basically got the 17th floor of the hotel to ourselves.  This is the floor that is reserved for SPG Gold members (this status also came with the card)!

The hotel ended up being gorgeous! Our rooms were huge and we had a refrigerator, Starbucks coffee, Dasani water and a bunch of other stuff each day. This hotel also had a "green" program that gave you 500 points back for every night that you didn't have your room "cleaned" by the staff. We chose to do that and got 2500 points back! We also had the choice to receive $5 in hotel credit instead of 500 points, but by now, you can see which one was worth more!

I can't tell you how awesome it was to spend $20 a night to stay on Disney property. The hot tubs and pools were amazing! They had a bunch of restaurants open several hours into the night with pretty decent food choices.

The lobby
Anyhow, that's how we stayed at Disney for "almost free". Awesome.

I hope this showed you how it is possible, but again, my disclaimer is that you have to do the research as far as the credit goes FIRST. I do get a 5,000 point bonus if you use my link to get this SPG card and I would certainly appreciate it. It helps me keep this a free site! All you have to do is comment below with your email to get it. Or, you can click on our "The Frugal DIY Mom" FB page and PM me with your email.

Don't forget to check out my other Disney posts if that is where you are headed!


  1. I would love to have SPG membership card to redeem points and travel almost free every other weekend

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  2. Planning out a trip to Disney for this fall. Also planning on either the Swan or Dolphin. I'll have to check out undercovertourist for tickets, hadn't checked them out yet. Having a fridge in the room can save money on food expense as well!

    1. Absolutely, Jeremy! We actually hired a driver for all of us from the airport to the hotel. Much cheaper. He took us to the grocery store and we bought food there and saved TONS of money by not buying every meal at the park. Hmm...I'll have to write a quick post on that! Have a GREAT time at Disney!