Helping Casual Runners Save to Run Those Magical Miles
Updated: January 22, 2017
As you know, the Casual Runner Team is comprised of some very big fans of runDisney race events (you can tell by just how many runDisney events we’ve already reviewed on this site). We are also big fans of cruising and have spent time on the Disney Cruise Line.
Despite our fandom, we will be the first to admit that Disney vacations, including runDisney runcations, are not cheap. Aside from deciding which runDisney race to run, we receive a lot of questions from readers asking for tips on making their Disney (and runDisney!) trips more affordable. We thought it would be easier to start answering some of these questions in one place.
But first, a few words of caution: we always get nervous when we hear about some “insider tips” being offered, many of which can wind up with unsuspecting folks getting caught in scams (please, please NEVER ever buy Disney tickets off of Craigslist or from some guy spinning a sign by the side of the road. Do a Google News search and you will see why it is a bad idea).
Additionally, there really is not a way to get discounts on runDisney bibs unless a travel agent is running a sale. In this case, you will most likely be required to purchase hotel rooms and/or theme park admission along with the discounted bib. Occasionally, runDisney does offer unadvertised discounted race admission if you sign up at one of their race expos or another expo where they happen to be appearing, but you never know where or when these are going to take place.
Instead, we want to take a look at one of Disney’s latest offerings, the Disney Vacation Account. While we cannot save you money on the cost of your Disney vacation (or runcation), we can give you some tips on how to use this Account to its full advantages so that you can maximizing the rewards and maybe get back a little bit of that money you spend.
The Disney Vacation Account is one of the newer (and seemingly lesser-known) products being offered by Disney, and it is billed as allowing guests to save up for their vacations in advance.
You can set up an account online, prepare a budget, and then make regular (or irregular) deposits into your account using any combination of a checking account, credit or debit card, and Disney gift cards. However, as you will not earn any interest on the money you deposit into your account, it is more akin to pre-paying your vacation than it is to a true savings account. (For this reason, we have heard some people analogize this to the old Christmas Club savings accounts local banks used to offer to their customers).
As we said, Disney trips (whether you are running or not) are not cheap. This is even truer when it comes to Disney Cruise Lines and Adventures by Disney vacations, which are considered boutique or premium products in the travel industry. Thus, they are slotted at a higher price point than competitors offering similar itineraries.
When I first learned of this program and heard that guests would not earn interest on the money they deposited, I assumed that it was primarily for guests who needed a way to “force” themselves to save the money for the trip and ensure that it would be there by the time final payment on there is due. It is true, this is a very big benefit of the program, but it is not the only benefit, as Disney introduced a rewards component to it, albeit a small one. Also, there are ways to maximize this program to your benefit.
Here is how it works. You go to the Disney Vacation Account website and create an account with an initial deposit. You have the option of using the website’s tools to pre-plan your vacation (choose placeholder dates, cruise itinerary, resort accommodation, park tickets, meal plans, etc.) to come up with an estimated budget for your trip. You can then choose how you want to go about “saving” (i.e. pre-paying) for your trip.
You can set the account up so that it makes regular electronic transfers (in intervals and amounts that you select) from the accounts that you link. You can also make deposits on gift cards (more on this in a moment).
You can use the funds in your account to pay for qualified expenses on trips to the Walt Disney World Resort, the Disneyland Resort, Disney Cruise Line, and Adventures by Disney. Some of the qualified expenses include stateroom/resort room charges, meal plans, theme park tickets, and special tours purchased directly through Disney.
As expected, there are a lot of exclusions as well. You cannot use funds in your account to pay for out-of-pocket expenses, such as meals, snacks, alcohol (Casual Runner do love their celebratory beverages!), and souvenirs even if they are purchased on-board the Disney Cruise Line ships or inside Disney resorts and theme parks, UNLESS you take an added step. We recently discovered that, prior to departing for your trip, you can call a Disney reservation agent and make a deposit to your Walt Disney World resort reservation for charges to your room. All you do is tell them that you would like to pre-pay a specific amount of money, from your Vacation Account, to your room to cover charges you make to your room using your Magic Band. We used this during our 2017 Walt Disney World Marathon trip and it worked flawlessly.
Additionally, you cannot use these funds to pay for some of the expenses associated with Disney Vacation Club ownership and expenses from third-party vendors, such as airlines or if you want to go across town to visit a theme park featuring a certain boy wizard. Sadly, you canNOT use travel funds to pay for runDisney race registrations. Let us repeat that: you canNOT use travel funds to pay for runDisney race registrations. Ok, everyone can frown now.
If you pay for your trip and find that you saved too much money, you can request a sort of “refund” from your account, which will only be “paid” to you in the form of Disney gift cards. Some people may choose to budget/save for out of pocket expenses and request gift cards to use while on their vacation, knowing that the money is already saved and ready to go. You do have to request your gift cards at least 4-6 weeks before your departure date if you want to receive them in time to use them on your vacation. We recommend using the method for depositing money on your resort room reservation for in-park charges discussed above, as it is both easier and will allow you to maximize your rewards. Speaking of which…
Now, for the bonus. If your account is 120 days old or more, you are eligible to receive a reward bonus from Disney. This reward is $20.00 for every $1,000.00 of eligible charges paid directly out of the account (i.e., it does not include any gift cards you request to be issued to you from your account and there is a cap on the amount of rewards you can earn, which is subject to time limitations, yadda yadda yadda, more legalese).
For those of you keeping track at home, this works out to a 2% reward on every $1,000 in expenditures, which is roughly what you can expect from most cashback credit cards these days. However, the program will only pay you rewards in $20.00 increments.
The rewards are paid in the form of Disney gift cards, and again you should request them 4-6 weeks in advance of your departure date if you want to receive them in time to use them while on a Disney vacation.
Please note, we discovered that the gift cards that Disney uses to pay you those reward funds are not able to be deposited back into your savings account for use on a future trip. They do not have the necessary security code for doing so.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (but not really).
This program is pretty easy to use, but it may not be for everyone. Keep in mind, there is no interest paid on your deposited funds, BUT the $20 for every $1,000 reward can add up. Plus, there is nothing stopping you from double-dipping on rewards.
For example, I have a credit card that pays me cashback rewards. The cashback percentage is larger on purchases made in grocery stores than anywhere else (including at Disney). My local grocery store sells Disney Gift cards, which in turn gives me discounts on gasoline. So I can buy Disney gift cards with my credit card at my local grocery store (where I earn cashback on the purchase and earn free gas) and then deposit those gift cards into my Disney Vacation Account, where they will be eligible for the 2% reward. So you can see, the rewards do stack up.
Similarly, Target sells gift cards which can be purchased at a discount using their credit card programs. Those gift cards can be deposited into your Disney Vacation Account.
Another benefit of the program is that when I return from a Disney trip, if I have gift cards with money left on them (which does happen), I have to keep track of those gift cards until my next trip. Now I can deposit the remaining balances into my Vacation Account. Yes, Disney does caution you to hold onto the original gift cards, but if I am going to lose them (which, let’s be honest, I will), I would rather do so after I transfer the balances into the Vacation Account!
You have to keep in mind that only purchases made after the account has been open for 120 days are eligible for the rewards. So, if you are planning on going on a Disney trip, go ahead and open your account (even with a small initial deposit of say $10.00), to start the clock running on that 120 day window. In my case, I did not do so, and my reservation deposits for the Wine and Dine Half Marathon and Goofy Challenge are due before my 120 day mark, so I will be missing out on the rewards for those two deposits, but can still get rewards when I renew my annual pass and pay for the balance of my vacations, er, runcations!
You also have to keep in mind that funds must be deposited at least 7 days before you plan to use them. So, if you know that the balance of your vacation package is due on a certain date, be sure to make sure all of your funds to cover that balance are deposited no later than 7 days before that (but you may want to give yourself some cushion in case you forget!).
You can still book vacation packages with your favorite travel agent and use the Disney Vacation Account. Just have your travel agent book your vacation package and provide your agent with your Disney Vacation Account number and authorize payment of your deposits and final payment from the funds in your Disney Savings Account. It should be that simple.
My only real concern/criticism with this program (other than that the rewards level really should be higher – a $20 reward for every $1,000 spent really is not that high in today’s market) is that there is no easy way to track your progress towards accumulating another $20 reward. The only way that you will know is that the program will email you several days after making a qualifying payment that you earned a reward and that a gift card is being mailed to you.
OK, I will admit, after writing all of this out, this program does seem a bit complicated, and it may not be for everyone, but I like it. Despite living in Ohio I am a Walt Disney World Annual Passholder because I make several trips to Disney each year (mainly for runDisney events). It seems like everywhere you turn, especially in the travel industry, companies offer all kinds of perks and rewards through loyalty programs. Disney, however, is a notable exception to this practice. It is nice to find a way that frequent Disney visitors can get some kind of reward from their spending on Disney vacations.
Even if you are just going the once, who turns their nose down at a free 20 bucks? That can buy you a nice souvenir from your vacation, or better yet, a Mickey Ice Cream Bar or Dole Whip to enjoy while in the most Magical Place on Earth…or in the Happiest Place on Earth…or while sailing the seas on the most Magical cruise line that ever sailed!
Enjoy the freedom of going wherever your feet, imagination, & determination take you!
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Enjoy the freedom of going wherever your feet, imagination, & determination take you!
Neither Mike nor Casual Runner received any compensation for this review. The opinions are solely those of the author.