Vote of the week: How do you pay for a vacation?

September 6, 2013, 1:25 PM · What's the single most unpopular part of a theme park vacation?

Some fans might stay away from certain types of rides. Few theme park visitors enjoy the weather when the temperature pushes 100°F. Parks have spent millions of dollars creating queue-skipping systems for guests who don't want to wait in line.

But few elements of a theme park vacation elicit as much despair as the question: "How are we going to pay for this?"

How many carnival tickets would you need for a theme park admission and hotel stay? Probably more than these…

Of course, discounts and deals abound for people who take the time to look for them. But avoiding the rack rate doesn't mean you get to avoid the entire bill. At some point, you've got to say good-bye to some money to say hello to a favorite theme park destination.

So how do you do that? Do you save in advance, then pay cash or put your expenses on a debit card or credit card you'll pay off immediately? Do you pay in advance, such as on Walt Disney World vacation packages, where you put down a deposit at reservation then pay off the balance before you arrive? Or do you just put the whole thing on a credit card and pay it off later, when you've got the cash?

Many families use a mix of payment strategies. So for this week's vote, let's stick with your most recent multi-night theme park vacation, and select the answer that best describes how you paid for the majority of its cost.

Do you have a creative way to save, or get, money for your theme park vacations? Please share your favorite budget planning tips in the comments. As always, thank you for being an important part of the Theme Park Insider community!

Replies (20)

September 6, 2013 at 1:30 PM · My wife and I are just finishing paying off the credit card bill for our honeymoon (September 2012) -- not surprisingly, that was our last big vacation. We plan to pay for our next trip well in advance.
September 6, 2013 at 1:32 PM · I am totally shocked at the results of the poll. I have helped many families with budgets and have seen them rack up the balances on credit cards due to vacations. My wife and I love going to theme parks and save up before the trip and also pay as we go. It makes a trip a lot more fun than having to make payments on it for months or years after the fact. @KeithDFlynn on twitter.
September 6, 2013 at 3:07 PM · I do a mix of now and later. I use my cash points from my credit card, that usually covers food. Find a good deal on airfare dates then book the rooms, usually at Disney. Then before the trip some discount promo code comes up to help lower the cost. This year we do a cruise after a week at Disney so I think ill be paying a bit after this one.
September 6, 2013 at 3:12 PM · I guess we're kind of a hybrid. We budget and buy season tickets ahead of time and then we kind of pay as we go for the hotels and food and such. We do put stuff on a reward card to maximize benefits from that.

/oh.. and DVC members as well, so some nights are from that.

September 6, 2013 at 3:12 PM · I normally dont pay for my theme park vacations. I just buy annual passes and come back again
September 6, 2013 at 3:29 PM · Once I know when I want to go, i do some pretty serious research way in advance. I look at every travel website out there and compare prices. Every site will give you a different price even for the exact same flight and hotel combination. Once I find the best price I create a budget and pay it all in full when I have the money for the trip. I use the rest of my time before going on vacation to save my spending cash. I go on an strict austerity budget so I can go all out once I'm at the parks. I also like to go during the value seasons because you get way more bang for your buck and the lines are considerably less.
September 6, 2013 at 3:47 PM · For the most part, I book my trips pretty spur-of-the-moment. By that I mean: One day maybe work is really irritating me, so I check out the Special Offers on WDW's website as a stress reliever... and if a deal is good and I have the money in my bank account, POOF, I book it and know I get to go to Disney in X weeks/months. I never book it if I can't pay for it then and there.
September 6, 2013 at 4:43 PM · We put it on a credit card and pay it right off... though there have certainly been years when we've used the credit card and gotten it paid off ......eventually :-).

We take major advantage of the discounts from our Universal annual pass and our Florida resident discounts. Both help tremendously with hotel rates and special event tickets, and even discounts on food. We're also willing to go off-season. For instance, we haven't been to Horror Nights in October in years. The tickets (and hotel rates...) are SO much cheaper over the September dates. It usually means that the weather is less than appropriately "Halloween-y", but it's worth it to save a bit.

September 6, 2013 at 5:53 PM · I can only afford to take a "big" vacation every four years. That's when I do a Disney trip, either to Orlando or Anaheim. I can't even begin to afford going to one of the overseas parks. I just don't make enough. But I can have a nice week at WDW every four years or so. My rule on vacation is to save up with a "Disney Fund" and to pay for the plane tickets and park tickets far in advance and to use a debit card to pay the hotel bill, the food, and the other incidentals.

I don't ever cheap out on vacation but I don't go out of my way to be extravagant either. I do a nice sit-down meal every day, but only one. I go to Cinderella's Table one time and that's the only fancy breakfast of the whole trip. The rest of the sit-down meals are dinners. I order whatever I want when I am on vacation and don't look at prices…which is the only time I ever do that. At home while I am saving, I nickel and dime and almost never eat out. Vacation is my chance to live like the other half.

I actually think the every four years thing works well for me. I really enjoy planning my trips and looking for deals and I really appreciate my time in the parks since I know that it will be four years before I am back down there again.

September 6, 2013 at 7:39 PM · No option of "With your soul"???

From Australia, its been our best practice to book ahead when the dollar is at a suitable exchange rate.

September 6, 2013 at 8:23 PM · be honest, I'm skeptical about these poll results. If people were completely honest, my guess is that "put it on a credit card and paid if off later" would be the overwhelming winner.
September 6, 2013 at 10:38 PM · We have the Disney credit card so we build up points to use from that and any time any member of our family wants to drink anything that isn't water or milk it costs $1...all proceeds go to our next theme park vacation!
September 6, 2013 at 11:03 PM · Because I tend to save money anyway, I would designate some savings for vacation and then paid for the rest on a credit card. I cut out souvenirs for myself and set a budget for gifts. Sometimes I went crazy and purchased packaged snacks and 99 cent ponchos at home before I went. Also, getting older helped. I no longer needed to buy the latest electronic gadget. So the money I blew on "necessities" like iPhones and Xboxes was redirected toward clearing my theme park bucket list.
September 7, 2013 at 5:45 AM · Save, Save and then save some more....we fly over to Orlando every three years. During the barren years of no trip we save the maximum we are allowed in my companies Save As You Earn scheme (£250).

This means I am tied into the scheme for three years and can't get the money out until the scheme matures. I am guaranteed my money back but it can also give me more if the shareprice goes up....If the shareprice goes down then I still get what I pay in, never lose out....No Brainer.

Last time the shareprice doubled so I was quids in.

Would never put a holiday on a credit card and pay it back when I can. This would spoil my holiday, I'd be worried about the debt the whole time.

September 7, 2013 at 10:03 AM · Well, didn't you get the premise wrong? I think of a theme park vacation as a poor man's staycation. It is substitute for a real vacation where you visit real places. Disney has elevated theme park vacations into nearly a real vacation with elaborate substitutes (theme locales), exorbitant admission prices, and top of the line food and luxury rooms; however, theme park vacations don't need to cost the vacationer that much.

In off years, I will visit the competition. When I'm generous or want to visit Walt Disney World, I find ways of cutting costs. I utilize my time share resort for the best rooms at the cheapest costs. I eat at my room. I bring lunch to the parks. I pack snacks and drinks. I only make a few table service reservations. I buy discount tickets online and charge them. I try not to pay anything in advance as that locks you in and what if you don't need it?

September 7, 2013 at 3:11 PM · We use our income tax return to pay for the hotel. Everything else I start saving for the day after we come home from vacation, so I save for a year. I use points from mypoints to get our gas cards. This year I had $250 in gas cards and didn't spend a penny on gas, we even had enough left for a fill up when we got home. We rarely use our credit card on vacation.
September 7, 2013 at 7:42 PM · Thankfully I earned always enough money to go on vacation and I loved my job but unfortunately I can't work anymore. Because of the Dutch law and my former employer I still get 80% if my former wages and that is generous to say the least.
Unfortunately I'm very sick and have been in and out of the hospital many times but finally I will be making it to Orlando again this November/December (or December/January).
We always stay 6 weeks and rent a home for between 600 and 800 a week with a heated pool. As an European we can buy combo tickets for instance for Universal and Sea World for 14 days or Disney for 14 or 21 days. The prices are great and it gives me enough time to visit each park a few hours a day (that's what my body can take).
Clothes are also a must buy for us. A year in advance we stop buying clothes and when we get on the plane in Amsterdam our luggage is filled with old clothes and shoes that can be replaced with new ones. Last week of our stay we don't need to wash the clothes and put our new clothes in our suitcases. Clothes and shoes save us so much that our flight tickets are almost free.
We don't care much for the food in the theme parks so we get it from outside the parks or make something nice at "home". I don't care much for souvenirs but a chocolate frog and a souvenir cup full of butter beer is a must. If I see something I really want I'll buy it but I never get carried away.
Vacation is a luxury, not a necessity. There where year I didn't have the money to spent it on vacation. I was working all day and studying in the evenings and the weekends to get a better job which I did. Of course I took a break sometimes but I stayed at home or went to the woods or the beach and relaxed. I'll never want to be in debt, especially not for a vacation.
Can't wait to visit some old friends in Orlando and make some new and get me a flaming Moe's.
September 9, 2013 at 5:27 AM · I always try to plan our vacations at least 8 months in advance. This way I can get the major expenditures paid off before we leave. I also start a vacation cash fund in a drawer in my office. For me it is important to get the nasty business of payment done before the excitement of the vacation. If I wait to pay things off until after we return home its a double bad whammy for me. I have "return to the real world syndrome" and a giant bill to pay off.
September 9, 2013 at 5:24 PM · My wife and I always pay off our credit card bills each month to avoid the exorbitant interest rates, so most of our modest vacations and theme park visits (or season passes) fall within what we owe on the card each month--we don't use the installment plan that theme parks offer when we buy the season passes.

If we plan a bigger trip, like a cruise with the kids that we have booked next year, we'll start saving the money in advance-- the greater the expense, the earlier we will start saving.

September 10, 2013 at 11:48 AM · The key: credit card points.

I have a Disney Visa and a Southwest Visa. I use the latter to pay rent and the former to pay for everything else. By the time I get to Disney I've flown for free and paid for at least 1/3 of my park ticket if not more!

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