(Article last updated: March 28, 2017)
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.
There are some things you can do, however, to maximize your chances of finding a flight that works for you. Here are the best tips and tricks for booking flights for your Disney World trip.
In this article
Orlando area airports
Orlando International Airport (MCO)
Location & layout: 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.
Ground transportation options: All transportation options that you'd expect to find in a major airport are available here: rental cars, taxis, shuttles, private car services, etc. If you aren't sure which is best for you, check out a comparison of different Orlando airport pickup options.
In addition to all the regular transportation options, MCO is also the only airport in the area that offers Disney's Magical Express. People who are staying on-site at Disney World and are planning on using Magical Express must fly in and out of MCO.
After arrival, guests looking for Disney's Magical Express to get to their hotels should go to the B side of the main building and proceed to the first level. See the complete Magical Express overview for more info on how this works.
- Millions of families fly in and out of MCO every year, and for lots of them it might be their first flight. The combination of first-time flyers and lots of families may mean there are longer delays than expected at the ticket counters and security checkpoints so be sure to allow extra time. If you are using Magical Express, they take all that into account when they schedule your times.
- If you are in a situation where you have several hours to kill at MCO and you'd like some privacy, the Hyatt Regency (located inside the airport) has a limited number of Day Use Rooms that are available for a reasonable charge. These can come in handy after a cruise (if your flight home is late in the day) or if your flight gets delayed significantly.
- If you need a last minute gift before you head home, you can find lots of the most popular souvenir items inside Disney's EarPort and the Magic of Disney stores at the airport. In addition to gifts, they also have maps and Times Guides.
Orlando Sanford International (SFB)
Location & layout: 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.
Ground transportation options: Rental cars, Ubers, taxis and limos are available to travel from Sanford to Disney World, but Magical Express isn't an option.
- This airport doesn't have the same amenities that you'd find in a larger airport. There are dining and shopping options available but they are limited, so be prepared if you are looking to grab something to eat before you board a flight.
- Make sure you factor in the cost of transportation if you are considering SFB. Sometimes you can save a lot of money on flights, but you may lose that savings paying for a rental car.
- If you do rent a car, don't forget to pack change for the toll roads.
This map shows both airports as well as the most popular attractions in the Orlando area.
Researching flight prices
For price checking, the Matrix Airfare Search tool is a great. This tool 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.
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 when looking at flights for your Disney World trip.
- You can check Kayak's chart of airline fees which includes fees for baggage, meals and seat assignments.
In recent years, lots of airlines have made it harder to get a good seat without paying a premium price. That makes it even more important to do a little research before you click that "select" button.
- 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.
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 with 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 you can. 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.
Ways to save on your flights for your Disney World trip
- 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 often 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.
- Know when to buy. To check when to buy your tickets, use Kayak's flight search. After you search, this tool will show you info in the upper left that will tell you if you should wait or buy now based on the history of flight prices (or sometimes the site will say that it can't confidently predict the prices).
- Get notified about sales. To be notified about sales, you can use the "create a price alert" option on the Kayak tool mentioned in the previous tip, and you should also be sure to sign up on the email list for all airlines you might fly. You can also follow the Airfare Watchdog on their website and Twitter to be notified about fare sales. Airfare Watchdog's fare alerts allows you 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.
Have your own great tip on finding the best flights for your Disney World trip? Leave a comment below and tell us about it!