Disney Offers a Layaway-style Payment Plan with Disney Vacation Accounts

April 6, 2015, 12:06 PM · The Walt Disney theme parks are promoting a what they're calling a new way of paying for Disney vacations — the Disney Vacation Account.

Disney Vacation Account
Image via Disney

The idea here is the same as the concept behind the layaway programs that used to be popular at many department stores — you set aside a little bit of money each week or month, paying the store in installments until you've paid enough to take delivery of the item. In this case, you're paying in advance for a Disney vacation, whether it is to Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Aulani, or on the Disney Cruise Line or Adventurers by Disney.

Obviously, you can put aside money in advance to save for a Disney vacation without a Disney Vacation Account, and many fans have been doing so for years. But the Disney Vacation Account might be helpful for people who need a firewall between their vacation savings and everything else in their bank account in order to ensure that they do save for their vacation. If you've given your money to Disney already for the vacation, you're not going to spend it elsewhere. It's a smart business move for Disney, in that it locks you into a vacation with them, months before you'd likely have made your reservations otherwise.

But is a Disney Vacation Account a smart business move for you? Let's take a look at the details.

Two big points to consider:

  1. Disney accepts contributions to the accounts via debit or credit card.
  2. Disney gives you a "$20 Disney Gift Card for every $1000 you spend on qualified vacation purchases with your Disney Vacation Account prior to December 31, 2017."

Keeping those points in mind, we can see two scenarios in which using a Disney Vacation Account can be a good business deal for you, one scenario in which it's a bad deal, and one in which it is an absolutely horrible idea.

The Good

Here's the best-case scenario for using the Disney Vacation Account — you set up your automatic contribution to the account using a miles- or points-paying credit card that you pay off in full every month. The trick is that you must pay off the credit card, so that you do not incur any interest charges that destroy any value from using the account.

Sure, you could just wait to put your Disney vacation on the card when you book, but then you'd need to pay the full amount that month to avoid the interest charges. Most people would need to save in advance to be able to do that, but by using the Disney Vacation Account, you not only can take care of that, you can get access to your points earlier, as you would be accruing them month by month in advance of your trip, and not all at once when you go. Plus, with the $20 gift cards from Disney, you're earning an added benefit on top of the points or miles you earn from your contributions.

The other potentially valuable way to use the Disney Vacation Account would be if you were contributing using a debit card that pulled from an account that earned substantially less than 2% annual interest. Remember those "free" gift cards? At $20 per $1000 spent, that's effectively a 2% interest benefit, assuming that you contribute for 12 months in advance of your trip. Now, Disney won't "round up" to the nearest $1,000 when issuing the gift cards, so if you spend $3,875 on your trip, you're only getting $60 in gift cards. That means the actual interest-style benefit will be less than 2%. But if your checking account is earning some micro-fraction of a percentage point in interest, you might make more saving in the Disney Vacation Account than leaving your money in checking.

The Bad

It's a bad move to give your money in advance to Disney if you have access to a savings account where you can earn more than 2% interest on that money between now and the time you have to pay Disney for your trip. Why let Scrooge McDuck earn the interest by holding on to your money when you could be getting that benefit, instead? Yes, it will require that you show the discipline to set up your own contribution schedule rather than use Disney's fancy new tool, but you'll end up money ahead by the time you leave. And if something should happen when you need immediate access to your cash, you'll have it. (Disney can take 3-4 business days to process a refund to your original account, on top of a seven-day hold after its deposit.)

The Ugly

Here is what you should never do with a Disney Vacation Account — contribute to it with a credit card where you end up paying interest on the balance. This is potentially even worse that just paying for your entire vacation on a credit card you can't pay back right away, because you'll be accruing interest charges for months before your vacation as well as afterward. That's an extra expense that's just compounding, month by month by month. Do not do this, no matter how tempting playing with Disney's new payment tool might seem. You're just increasing the cost of an already expensive vacation.

What do you think about the Disney Vacation Account?

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Replies (10)

April 6, 2015 at 12:14 PM · Disney's promoting this as new, but didn't it have an advance payment program before?
April 6, 2015 at 12:43 PM · Yes, Robert, I think the tool (and possibly the gift card benefit) are new, but the actual vacation savings account is not new. It's been around for a few years. There are so many better ways to pay for a Disney vacation, I don't find this to be terribly useful (and I don't find money shuffling games to earn an extra percent or two to be worth the time). But to each their own. :)
April 6, 2015 at 1:27 PM · Yes. This program started back in December 2013.
April 6, 2015 at 1:38 PM · I still don't see why they don't let out of state people pay a monthly fee for their annual passes instead of having to buy them up front.
April 6, 2015 at 2:28 PM · I do think there are people that would benefit from this. Personally, we buy Disney gift cards at Target with the Red Card (debit card-not credit) and we get an automatic 5% off. I purchase 2 or 3 every time we get paid ($50) so in essence, I am saving $200-$300 per month. We still have to figure out flights as we travel from Northern Nevada but the good thing is that we can use these cards at either DL or WDW. We are DVC so planning is a little easier for our family. We are heading to WDW in October and have already purchased our park tickets and have over $1200 in gift cards.
April 6, 2015 at 2:37 PM · A store layway lets you save for an item that you already selected in advance. The Disney saving plan should have allowed you to save a reserved vacation at least one year in advance like what you do with a cruise. The incentive is actually the locked-in prices paid instead of the gift card. The customer benefits from making monthly payments spread out over 1 to 2 years with the full balance paid 60 days before the trip. The deal should be all inclusive to give the customer the best bang for the buck (room, admission, dining).

If the savings plan doesn't convert into a vacation, Disney and the customer both lose. Disney loses the transaction. The customer could have used the money in better ways. The savings plan without knowing what vacation you'll take just increases the complexity, which is a bit ridiculous considering that you'll gain $20 per $1000 spend. What a lame incentive.

April 6, 2015 at 3:26 PM · Another way to think about it is using your Disney Credit card and get the points that you can use in the park. Then again, with the normal credit card, you would get $10 for every thousand you spend.
April 6, 2015 at 3:48 PM · So how about when you get sick and need an operation or someone in your group dies and the vacation needs to be put off or you need the money for something more serius than a Disney vacation.
April 6, 2015 at 4:43 PM · What savings account pays 2% interest? Please do share. You'll be lucky to get a half a percent in interest on savings account right now. Regardless, layaway programs and this Disney Vacation concept are for bird brains.
April 7, 2015 at 2:00 PM · Only 2% of a full $1000 you spend and its a gift card, not cash. It's not cash you accrue from the saving account so you're actually earning zero interest until you spend it. If you cash out, you get nothing. Also, if you spend more on your vacation and it was paid out of another account, you don't get anything for that. Yes, bird brains for doing it.

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