Finding the best flights for your Disney World trip

(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.

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.

Finding the best flights for your Disney World trip

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.


Tips

  • 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.

Tips

  • 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.

Finding the best flights for your Disney World trip

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.

Finding the best flights for your Disney World trip

Tips

  • 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.

Computing costs

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.

Tip

Picking seats

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.

Tip

  • 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.
Finding the best flights for your Disney World trip

Flying with kids

As you're planning your trip and thinking about flights, consider these things when flying with kids.

Finding the best flights for your Disney World trip

  • 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).
kayak
  • 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.

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Have your own great tip on finding the best flights for your Disney World trip? Leave a comment below and tell us about it!

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Vickie

I am in the planning stage of transportation. I already have nailed down our accommodations. I am now looking at flights from San Diego to Orlando. We are a large group of 22. Do you know which airlines have the best group rates? Love your site. Thanks. Vickie

MaryEllen Nevel

We had a group of 11 last November and Southwest gave us a group rate.

I love using the ITA Matrix. I use their advanced routing codes to more easily find long stopovers or even open jaws.

Its also the easiest tool to use probably that allows you to search by Alliance if you’re trying to find ideas for award travel.

Plus, you don’t have to worry about things like ads distracting you while you search!

Aaron McDonald

If I book my flight outside of the disney website (where I reserved a hotel and park passes) will I still be able to use the Magical Express Service and will my bags be transported to the hotel for me? For reference I am planning on staying at the Caribbean Beach Resort.

Laura

So, if you do get a fantastic deal to fly into Orlando Sanford, how do you get to Disney from there? My mom saved a ton, but she can’t rent a car because she’s disabled.

Sharon

I get into orlando early, before our room is ready, is downtown Disney a good option? We are staying off site, so do they have parking at downtown Disney? How much is it to park at the parks each day ? Is there bulk pricing?

Romo Ruz

I always fly overnight, getting to Orlando around 6:00 AM. We then pick up the rental car and eat to breakfast anywhere on the way to the hotel. Then we go to the hotel and ask if the room is available. Everytime we asked, the room is ready and they check us in early at no cost. A nice two hours nap then off to Downtown Disney until dark.
So, Sharon, YES, Downtown Disney is a wonderful idea just to get the Disney feeling.

Tessa

Thank you! We are going to Disney World at Christmas 2015, I am looking at flights already and am a little overwhelmed at the cost. Thank you for doing all this work!

Joanna

Shannon, thank you so much for the time and effort you have spent to compile all of this information! I’ve spent hours perusing your site and I keep telling my boyfriend: “this woman is incredible”. I consider myself a research fanatic (as far as I’m concerned, Matrix Airfare Search is the best thing since sliced bread) and I’ve already planned one trip to Disney World, and you’ve still managed to teach me a number of things I didn’t know!

I wanted to suggest a flight explorer tool I recently came across: http://www.hopper.com. It provides some similar data to the Kayak tool (gauges interest in specific flight routes, tracks prices, etc.) but it offers some nice additional features that make it a very well-rounded resource when it comes to shopping for flights.

Danielle

Just booked a trip for November! I’m starting to look into flights now and was wondering what time for arrival do you suggest with the 3pm check-in? If we arrive early is there things to do before our room is ready? I’d hate to arrive later than check-in and waste a day. thanks!

Kristen
kelly hughes

Love your site, planning my 1st trip for Oct 2014. As an international guest can we take advantage of the Disney magical express and not collect our bags from the terminal? We are flying in from Australia

Steve

From the Disney World Website for International Flights:

“You may take your luggage with you on the motorcoach to your Disney Resort hotel or, following U.S. Customs, you may elect to return your luggage to the carousel, where Disney’s Magical Express will reclaim your luggage and deliver it to your Resort hotel room. If you arrive before 5:00 AM or after 10:00 PM, please bring your luggage with you to the Disney’s Magical Express Welcome Center. Your luggage will travel with you on the motorcoach to your Disney Resort Hotel.”

Kari V

This is a weird question, and you may not know, but is it possible to not tell my kids they’re going to Disney World until we get to the place where the bus picks us up (we are staying at Animal Kingdom and will ride the Disney bus from the airport to the hotel). My husband says yes, but I am thinking that surely there’s just Disney stuff everywhere, and wouldn’t doubt that the flight attendants even talk about it. My kids will be almost 10, almost 7 and 3 when we go. I think that they’ll catch on and we won’t get that moment when they all of a sudden realize where they’re going, especially my oldest.

Do you recommend a car seat for a 2 year old on an airplane? We’re traveling to Disney by Southwest in September and I can’t decide if it is worth it or not. Help!

Kara

After reading almost everything on your blog, I went ahead and booked our flight tonight! I love the tools you shared to gage whether or not you should book now or hold off based on price changes. Snagged a great nonstop flight that will allow us to get there midday and leave late afternoon. You have helped answer so many of my little details for our trip as I’m doing the last of my planning!

sandy

W0uld you recommend a connecting flight with a very short layover (to minimize downtime) or a very layover (to reduce risks of missing a connecting flight)???

♥ Victoria ♥

Wow. I cannot believe how much information you provide in your blog. Most blogs that share Disney tips, deals, and information are pretty consistent all across the board. I hardly run into something I didn’t know, some blogs just include a little more information than others… your blog on the other hand goes above and beyond. THANK YOU for investing your time, energy, and vacation/free time to Disney. I appreciate all the information you share. I won’t comment on every post but I’m reading them. Flights have been the biggest reason that I don’t get moving with my WDW planning but you have now changed that. Again, THANK YOU!!!

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