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Ten Easy (and Oh-So-Sneaky) Ways to "Find" Money for Your Next Disney Vacation.

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by , 05-16-2012 at 08:59 PM

Sometimes, "finding" money is about being smarter. It’s money that’s just there for the taking if you dig a little deeper. By its nature, it's easy and doesn't take too much sacrifice, but the rewards can be great. Here are my top ten tips for “finding” money for your next vacation:

1. Start a coin jar

It’s unlikely that a coin jar will pay for your trip, but it’s a great way to painlessly save “mad money” while you count down the days to your next vacation. You can passively save change as you go or you can speed up the process by paying for items with cash and tossing your change into the change jar at the end of each day. So say you go to the grocery store and you spend $10.54. Round that up to $11 or even $15, depending on your budget, and that change goes into the jar when you get home. My husband and I tried this once for six months and without even noticing it, we saved over $700.

Make sure you get the entire family involved. Watching the coin jar fill up is a great visual for younger kids to see that their trip is getting closer.

2. Ask for Disney gift cards as gifts.

If you’re like most adults, you’re hard to buy for. Make father’s day easy this year and tell Mom and the kids that what you’d really like are a couple of Disney gift cards. You can use Disney gift cards just like cash on Disney property. You can even use them to make payments on your reservation.

3. Make payments as you go.

You may make payments on your vacation for as little as $25, making that final payment a lot easier to take, even if you just make the occasional payment now and then. There's no limit on how many payments you can make per week, so feel free to make one whenever you have some extra cash.

Get Park Wise: Your final payment is due 45-days prior to travel, but there’s some wiggle room with that. If you find that you can’t make your payment on the due date, call your travel agent or Disney and let them know. Bottom line, Disney would rather you travel than cancel, so they're usually willing to work with guests.
4. Book the trip you can afford now, not the trip you think you can afford later.

I've done it before, so I know it’s tempting to think that, nine months down the road, you’ll have saved enough money to pay off that theme park view room at the Grand Floridian, but if your budget right now screams “Pop Century!” then that’s what you should be booking. The reason for this is twofold: One, less expensive resorts reach capacity faster than more expensive resorts; you can easily book a deluxe room a week or two prior to travel. Second, Disney charges a $50 “change fee” whenever you reduce the price of a package 45-days or less before travel. If an emergency comes up that causes you to downgrade your trip, you don't pay an extra fee to make a change.

5. Keep watching for discounts after you’ve booked your trip.

If you’re like most people, you booked your vacation months before a discount was announced for your travel dates. Booking in advance is a great way to start the planning process, but don’t fall into the trap of forgetting to keep up with discounts. Here are the basics that you need to know about applying discounts to existing reservations:

  • If your room is available under the discount, you can apply it; sometimes this means bumping up to a more expensive room category (for example, moving for a standard to a garden view), but it’s usually still worth it to make the change.
  • Changing from one discount to another is fine, but you may only apply one discount at a time.
  • Most Disney travel agents will apply discounts automatically, but ask just to make sure. Don't be shy about reminding your agent when a discount comes out.
  • If you have a Disney package, Disney reserves the right to impose a $50 change fee if you apply a new discount less than 45-days prior to travel.

Get Park Wise: Booking engines such as Travelocity, Expedia and others may have stiff cancellation penalties, depending on the promotion. This can make any subsequent discount moot. Make sure you understand their policies for cancelling or changing a reservation before you book. Sometimes these policies are full of confusing legalese. If you don't fully understand it, book elsewhere.
6. Clip coupons and pocket the savings.

If you don’t normally clip coupons, you might want to start. Just clipping a few coupons a week can save you $5 or $6 every time you go to the grocery store. The key is to use coupons for items that you usually buy, like cereal or juice, rather than being tempted by new promotions for items you normally wouldn’t buy. I’m not an “extreme couponer” by any means, but I’m always shocked at how easy it is to save with coupons.

7. Never book a trip with anyone who charges fees.

You should never pay a fee to an agent to book your trip, make dining reservations, or plan itineraries. Further, if you run into a travel agency that charges cancellation penalties (other than the ones imposed by Disney), find another agency. There are too many honest agencies out there that will gladly provide you a service without charging any fees.

8. Shop around for onboard credits when you cruise on Disney Cruise Lines.

Experienced cruisers know this secret and now so do you: Many agencies will provide you with a substantial onboard credit when you book a cruise with them. This goes beyond the occasional $25 offer Disney gives you for booking online: Expect around $50 for a shorter cruise and up to several hundred dollars for longer cruises. You can use these credits for just about anything on the ship including tips and meal surcharges at restaurants like Palo and Remy.

One caveat: Some agencies specialize in offering large onboard credits but don’t offer very much service in return for you booking with them. This is fine for frequent cruisers, but if you need help planning your cruise, make sure you go with an agency that gives both, a nice credit and the amount of service you need.

9. Buy Disney gift cards to save money elsewhere.

You have to hunt a little for these bargains, but the savings is well worth the trouble. For example, at certain times of the year if you buy Disney gift cards at Kroger, you’ll get bonus fuel points. So say you buy $200 in gift cards. That’s 4 times the fuel points or a savings of 80 cents per gallon. Or, consider buying your gift cards at a warehouse store like Sam’s Club, which occasionally runs promotions for around 1 percent off gift cards. In addition, for every $100 you spend, they’ll throw in a free $10 card for the Disney store. You can’t use those cards on Disney property, but you can use them to make purchases online or at Disney stores. Buying $3000 in cards would net you a total of $300 in credit at the Disney store, a substantial amount.

10. Never lose your deposit.

Worse case scenario, you have to cancel a trip. If you cancel prior to the 45-day mark, you'll get a full refund, but if you're past that deadline, you forfeit your $200 deposit. Well, at least in theory. The good news is, even if you didn't buy insurance, you don't have to lose your deposit. Instead, call Disney or your travel agent and have them move your trip. You can do this as many times as you like, so you don't have to be definite about your new travel dates at the time you change them, you just want to save yourself from losing your deposit. Then regroup and continue to save. The good news is, Disney will always be there when you're ready.

Travel is a luxury in this economy and we're all looking for ways to save. What about you? Do you have any unique and painless ways to save? I'd love to hear them.

Park Wise is written by Chris Wood.

You can find her at Everything Walt Disney World.

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If you have any specific questions you would like me to tackle, please leave me a comment!

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