How to Save Money on a Disneyland Vacation

Controlling the Cost of Disneyland Vacation

Paradise Pier
••• Paul Hiffmeyer/Disney

Disneyland is often called "The Happiest Place on Earth" and it just might be, but the cost of that dreamed-of family trip to Disneyland may seem more like a nightmare. To enjoy your trip without breaking the budget, these tips can save hundreds of dollars on your visit.

Saving on Disneyland Tickets

Our summary of Disneyland ticket discounts can save you a little money, but the easiest way to lower the ticket cost is to spend fewer days in the parks.

Disneyland and Disney California Adventure can be visited in one day each, especially if you cut wait times with Ridemax. Get three-day, one park/one day tickets (the least expensive option), spend one day in each park and go back to the one you liked best for the third day.

A family of four, with one child older than 9 (the age Disneyland starts charging them adult admission) could save $100 by buying tickets for three days instead of five.

Saving Money on Hotel Costs

  • Simply choosing the hotel with the lowest daily rate can be a costly mistake. Parking fees, resort fees, WiFi fees and fitness center fees will increase your total bill, while free breakfasts and any other things such as discount tickets can lower it. They're all included in the Disneyland Hotel Profiles.

    Decisions, Decisions

    Before you start calculating, make a few general decisions about your trip:

    • How many days will you stay? Three days is enough, but according to our reader poll (below), many visitors stay only one or two days.
       
    • Are your travel dates flexible? If they are, you may be able to save money on your airfare by traveling a day or two earlier or later than you originally planned. The downside here is that this kind of research can take a long time.
       
    • Are you planning to visit other attractions or go other places besides the Disney Resort? Your answer will help determine whether or not you need a rental car, and for how many days.

    Saving Money on Transportation

    • Do you really need a rental car? If the Disneyland Resort is your only destination, find a hotel that has a Disneyland shuttle, a hotel on the Anaheim Trolley route or a hotel within walking distance of Disneyland. Take a shuttle from the airport instead of renting a car and save $30 to $40 or more a day total. If your hotel also has an airport shuttle, you can save even more.
    • Try some of the online booking services for discount airfares, such as Hotwire or Priceline.
       
    • Check the Disneyland website for special "kids fly free" and other promotions.
       
    • Check airfares for John Wayne Airport (Orange County), Los Angeles International Airport and Burbank. Be sure to include other costs when comparing them, such as shuttle fees or car rental rates. There's no point in saving $50 on airfare and spending an extra $75 on transportation.
       
    • You may have read that Google Flights promises to find the lowest fares, and they’ll even tell you when to buy to get the best deal. Here’s the dirty little secret: they don't check Southwest Airlines. I made a random check on a round trip flight from San Jose to Burbank, about a month in advance, traveling from Sunday through Thursday. The best Google Flights fare was $350, which included a stop in Phoenix or Portland and took five hours or more — for a trip you could drive in that amount of time. Going direct to Southwest’s website, The lowest fare was $158, with a travel time of an hour. What to do is already a no-brainer decision, but add to that the fact that your first checked bag flies free on Southwest. And in case your plans change, Southwest doesn’t charge change fees (although the base fare may go up).

      Saving on Meals

      • Bring a picnic lunch. Disneyland won't let you bring outside food into the park, but they have lockers just outside the gates where you can stow a small cooler. Or go back to your hotel for a rest and eat in your room.
         
      • Choose a hotel that includes free breakfast in their rate (making sure that the total cost of hotel and breakfast is lower that way), or eat fruit and granola bars in your room.

      A family of four could save about $100 in meal costs over three days if they stayed in a hotel with complimentary breakfast and taking a picnic lunch.