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A little while back we won some nights at a fully staffed over-the-top villa in Jamaica via an online travel auction site. Then a month or so ago it all fell through, and with it so did our mid-summer family travel plans. We had won the villa at a real steal of a deal via a legit site and had gotten some friends pretty excited to travel with us. It was a true bummer when the folks who run the villa basically went dark after a certain point and wouldn’t respond to us or the company who ran the auction. We got our money back from the company who ran the auction, but having it fall apart was a deflating experience, especially after getting others amped up to travel with us.
Around the same time the Jamaica trip hit the ground with a thud, I was coincidentally writing about some happenings at Disney World. The timing was right for my heart to rebound from the Jamaica debacle by falling in love with the idea of a quick summer trip to Disney with the girls. The Jamaica deal was so good that even after getting that refund we didn’t really have a ton of cash earmarked for something as potentially pricey as Disney, so I turned to using points for our flights and a part of our hotel stay to keep cash costs low.
While we have used previously SPG points to stay at The Swan on Disney property and we stayed at other nearby less expensive properties, what really attracted me to a stay at Disney was the idea of staying at the Polynesian right on the monorail. I’ve always wanted to stay at this resort, and I’d love to get a feel for how the location helps with logistics when visiting the parks with little kids…you know, for ‘research purposes’.
Since the trip had become Poly or bust in my mind, I rented some Disney Vacation Club points from a friend to secure part of our stay there for less than paying for the room outright. For the rest of the stay I used Chase Ultimate Reward points via the Sapphire Reserve at a 1.5 cents per point value. All in it came to about 30,000 Ultimate Reward points per room night…which is the same price as a top tier Hyatt property if I had transferred the points to Hyatt, just in case you are keeping track of how pricey Disney can be. I wasn’t thrilled with the redemption from that perspective, but I was thrilled to get to try to ‘The Poly’ without my bank account taking a dramatic hit. After all, I literally have wanted to stay there for about three decades, and from that perspective this was one of my best redemptions ever.
The Points You Don’t Want to Use for Disney
Booking the Disney Resort of your choice on the Chase Travel site using points is very easy and straight-forward, but it didn’t take too long for me to realize that booking via this manner comes with some very real drawbacks even if it keeps money in your pocket.
The big drawback to booking Disney Resorts via this manner isn’t the number of points you spend, it is that when you book you are provided with a confirmation number, but it is not a confirmation number that Disney recognizes.
This is a very big deal for most people because to set up your Magical Express transportation from the airport, get your included Magic Bands, and secure your FastPass reservations, you need your Disney hotel confirmation number to add to your Disney account. I called Chase Travel to try and get some help tracking down a confirmation number that Disney recognizes, and after some back and forth I was given another confirmation number….only Disney didn’t recognize that one either.
I went through this routine a second time with the Chase Travel group, called, chatted, and emailed with Disney trying to get help on their end, turned to Twitter for advice from fellow travelers, and ultimately came up with this likely conclusion…when using Ultimate Reward points your Disney hotel isn’t fully booked, at least not in your name, until right before your trip. It is also totally possible this phenomenon extends beyond Disney, but in most cases that isn’t as big of a deal…though it can be if your name never arrives where it is supposed to be.
I spent way too much time and head banging coming to this realization. Thankfully, I had made an inexpensive “hotel” reservation directly with Disney during this time period (hello campground!), so I had no problem getting FastPasses, Magic Bands, etc. set up while I was trying to sort this all out.
In the end, I cancelled my Disney reservation made via Ultimate Rewards in favor of rebooking that part of the stay directly with Disney. It is worth mentioning that I was not charged the stated $25 cancellation fee. I then just modified the ‘cheapie’ reservation I had made directly with Disney at the campsite to The Polynesian, and all of our related FastPasses and such were kept safe and sound. There was an element of risk in this plan, but it was the best solution I could come up with.
Thanks to purchasing Disney gift cards using some Amex Offers, earning 5x points at office supply stores, and more, we are still making out okay on the portion of the hotel stay we booked directly at Disney. We simply loaded Disney gift cards we purchased to our Disney Vacation Account, and then used that to help pay for the Disney hotel when making the reservation online. It’s not as great as paying with points and staying ‘for free’, but in this case it was the better choice since I don’t think we would have received our actual Disney confirmation number until perhaps just days before our stay.
I can’t wait for our trip to Disney, but I also don’t think I will consider using Ultimate Reward points in this manner again. If you want to use points to book a Disney hotel, you would be much better off simply booking it directly with Disney and then paying with an appropriate credit card.
Have you encountered a similar situation? How do you use your points to stay at Disney?
Editorial Note: The opinions expressed here are mine and not provided, reviewed, by any bank, card issuer, or other company unless otherwise stated.