Finding the best flights for your Disney World trip
(Article last updated: July 28, 2014)
Millions of people book flights for their Disney World vacation every year but as flights have gotten more expensive overall, it's gotten harder to find affordable and convenient airfare for trips to Disney World.
Here are the best tips and tricks for booking airfare for your Disney World trip.
The main airport that most visitors fly into is Orlando International Airport (MCO) which is located about 20 miles from Disney World. MCO is designed in a way that the gates are in 1 of 4 "satellite" buildings and visitors ride the tram to get to and from the main terminal.
On arrival, visitors take the tram/monorail from their arrival gate to the main terminal to get their luggage and to find their transportation.
People who are staying on-site at Disney World and using Magical Express to get to their hotels should go to the B side of the main building and go to the first level (there will be signs showing you the way as well). Be sure to set up your Magical Express transportation before your trip at DisneyMagicalExpress.com.
Another airport option is Orlando Sanford International (SFB) which just serves a few airlines (Allegiant, ArkeFly and SST Air). It is located about 35 miles from Disney World. Rental cars, taxis and limos are available to travel from Sanford to Disney World but Magical Express isn't an option.
This map shows both airports as well as the most popular attractions in the Orlando area.
Researching flight prices
For price checking, I use the Matrix Airfare Search tool which is purely for research. Once you find a flight itinerary that you want, you book your flights directly with the airline.
There isn't an airfare research tool that can search the low airfare airlines like Southwest or Allegiant so you need to research those separately. Go to those airlines' websites to look up their pricing.
Note: The Matrix tool will combine different airlines on 1 itinerary sometimes. You have to book those itineraries on a site like Orbitz which will allow you to book multiple airlines. Otherwise, you would book directly with the airline.
You can also use this tool to look for flights a month at a time so you can see when fares increase and decrease from day to day.
Ways to save
Here are some ways to save on your airfare.
- Try different airports. Not only do you have the option of using Orlando International and Sanford International but you can also try flying into Tampa's airport. It's about 80 miles between Tampa International Airport (TPA) and Disney World which might work out well if you have a rental car and can save a lot of money by switching airports.
- Fly mid-week. Most people fly in one weekend and fly out the next. You can save a lot of money by starting and ending your trip on a Tuesday or Wednesday.
- Use Priceline. You can get cheap airfare by using Priceline's Airfare options. You won't know the times for departure so you'll have to be flexible but the savings might be worth it.
When to buy
To check when to buy your tickets, use Kayak's flight search. This tool will tell you if you should wait or buy now based on the history of flight prices.
Get notified about sales
To be notified about sales, be sure to sign up on the email list for all airlines you might fly on.
If Southwest Airlines is an option for you, be sure to also sign up for Ding! which will randomly offer sales between cities.
Airfare Watchdog's fare alerts allowsyou to set up an alert to email you every time a fare changes for your arrival and destination cities. This is a great way to find out about sales very quickly.
As you're looking at airfare, be sure to compute all costs. For instance, Southwest's fare includes 2 free checked bags; other airlines charge for checked bags. Add up all the costs so you're comparing apples to apples.
You can check Kayak's chart of airline fees which includes fees for baggage, meals and seat assignments.
A note about Magical Express and airlines
There has been some confusion about which airlines Magical Express works with so I wanted to clarify here as you research your flights.
You can use Magical Express when arriving/departing on any airline at Orlando International Airport if you're staying on-site at Disney World. However, only people on the following airlines can do remote check-in (which includes getting your boarding passes and checking your luggage right at your Disney hotel).
- AirTran Airways
- Alaska Airlines
- American Airlines
- Continental Airlines
- Delta Air Lines
- JetBlue Airways
- Northwest Airlines
- Southwest Airlines
- United Airlines
- US Airways
If you aren't flying one of those airlines, you would just need to check your bags at the airport after you got there.
For more info on Magical Express, read my article on how Magical Express works.
If you're flying on an airline that allows you to pick your seats, check out SeatGuru.com to see which seats are the best choices.
About flying with kids
As you're planning your trip and thinking about flights, consider these things when flying with kids.
- Reserve seats if you have the option. If you opt to not reserve seats for your family, there is a very good chance you will be seated away from each other, even small children.
- When the airline calls for people with children to board early, consider if this is really the best idea for you. If you need the extra time to get set up, take advantage of the opportunity. However, if you don't need the extra time, stay off the plane as long as you can to allow little ones to run around and not be confined for any longer than they need to be.
- If you have kids that might nap during the flight, the back is often a great place to sit because the hum of the engine can lull them to sleep.
- Book direct if at ALL possible. When you're evaluating which flights to book, prioritize directness over cheapness if possible. This is good advice for everybody but especially important for people traveling with children. Getting stuck due to a missed layover can be really difficult with little ones.
- Use the GateGuru app to help you locate amenities within the airport if you'll have layovers. This will allow you to find where to buy things you might need, play areas, etc.