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Comparing how to book your Disney World vacation (including 3rd party)

Home2023 Disney World Vacation PlannerComparing how to book your Disney World vacation (including 3rd party)
Comparing how to book your Disney World vacation (including 3rd party)

If you’re thinking about booking a vacation to Disney World stop what you’re doing and listen up because we have some very important information about the different ways to book a Disney trip to share with you.

Did you know that you’ll have multiple booking options – each one with its own pros and cons?

Well, you do.

And, depending on your goal you may find that one method may not only work better for you, but it also might save you more money. Of course, that also means that if you pick the wrong one, you might find yourself having to deal with unexpected costs or even worse: snags. Ugh.

Here’s everything you need to know.

How to book a Disney World vacation

No matter how you book your Disney World vacation, if you are staying on property in a Disney-owned resort, you are eligible for all onsite benefits.

View from the Contemporary Resort Tower

The tricky thing is that things like discounts and modifications work differently depending on the method you used to secure your reservation.

To help, we’re going to take a look at the 4 most common ways people book their Disney World trips.

We’ll show you the pros and cons of each and then top it off with a handy comparison chart so you can easily see which way makes the most sense for you.

Important note: Hopefully if you’re at the point where you’re ready to book you’ve already looked over our Disney World Vacation Planner. If you haven’t, jump over there and check it out first because it has all the important things you need to think about before you click that “book now” button.

Book Directly with Disney

Pros: Generally the most flexible with regard to changes, the largest selection of room categories and resorts, has the option to book both Room-Only and Vacation Packages
Cons: Discounts aren’t always automatically added and sometimes the same room can be booked by another method at a lower price

Boardwalk area

One of the most common ways to book a Disney World trip is by booking it directly with Disney.

In general, booking directly with Disney will give you the most flexibility and security, however, it may not be the cheapest.

Discounts

Disney often has discounts available, but if you’re booking directly with them, they aren’t automatically applied.

Instead, you’ll need to confirm that the correct Special Offer button (if there is one available for your travel dates) is toggled “ON” and that you’re logged in so that you can see all available discounts:

Also, if multiple discounts are available don’t forget to try them to ensure you’re getting the best deal for your trip.

What about after you’ve already booked?

If a discount comes out after you’ve booked, you may still be able to apply it. However, this isn’t automatic either.

Instead, you’ll need to modify your existing reservation to add the new discount (if available).

This isn’t difficult to do but applying discounts can be extremely time sensitive since there are often limited numbers of rooms eligible to be discounted.

Make sure you review our post on How to Apply A Discount (After You’ve Already Booked) for step-by-step instructions on how it works.

Type of bookings available (Room Only or Vacation Package)

Trips booked direct can be either a Room Only (which is exactly what it sounds like – just a hotel room) OR a Vacation Package which is a room plus tickets OR a room plus tickets and the Disney Dining Plan (when it is available).

Changes/Modifications/Upgrades

When you book directly with Disney, you own your reservation. That means you can make changes (including applying discounts) and upgrades yourself.

Cancellations

Overall, cancellation policies have received a lot of action over the past year. And, as you can imagine, things are still kind of fluid but in general, here’s what you need to know:

  • Just like changes and upgrades, if you book directly with Disney, you can handle any necessary cancellations yourself.
  • Disney’s cancellation policy has always been quite generous. And, they are well-known for having outstanding customer service that will work with families in situations that fall outside their current cancellation policies. Nothing is ever guaranteed, but they have a good reputation in that regard for a reason.
  • Because everything is changing, definitely read and understand Disney’s current cancellation policies before you book.
painting of Minnie Mouse with monorail overhead

Room Only vs. Package cancellations

During normal” times there is a difference in the cancellation policies between Room-Only and and Vacation Packages.

However, right now for both Room Only & Vacation Packages they are waiving all Disney-imposed change and cancellation fees up to the date of check-in for arrivals through April 1, 2021.

My Disney Experience

How it usually works is that if you book directly with Disney, your reservation is either automatically linked or you’ll immediately receive your reservation number so that you’ll be able to link it yourself.

Ability to earn and use perks for future trips

Unfortunately, Disney doesn’t offer a frequent flyer discount. You can’t earn “Disney Miles” to redeem after X number of trips.

Pop Century Mickey telephone

That said, Disney does sometimes offer Bounceback promotions or special “PIN” code discounts (that often arrive to your mailbox via a postcard or letter) to entice you to come back at a discounted rate.

Book with a Travel Agent

Pros: Good travel agents will ensure discounts are applied both at the time of booking and after (which means you won’t have to worry about it), having an agent provides you with a single point of contact for problems and concerns, can book both Room-Only and Vacation Packages
Cons: Although you are still protected by Disney’s policies and procedures, you relinquish some control of your reservation to your travel agent and you must go through your agent for changes

View of Caribbean Beach and Skyliner

Another extremely popular method for booking a Disney World trip is via a travel agent.

And, if you are the kind of person that likes to have some personal assistance when planning, a good travel agent is definitely a smart idea.

But the key is making sure you are working with an agent and agency that specializes in Disney. They are going to be the best equipped to help you with things like applying discounts and weeding through all there is to know about traveling to Disney World.

Note: travel agents make their money from commissions paid by the vendor (in this case, Disney). There are some instances where travel professionals might offer additional concierge planning services that may require a small fee, but for the most part, using a travel agent costs you nothing extra .

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Because of that, some travel agents offer special perks when you book with them. For example, onboard credit is a popular perk offered for cruise customers.

But keep in mind, since each agent and agency operates independently, not every agent or agency will offer perks and with those that do, the perks will vary.

Discounts

Good travel agents are going to look for the best buy before they book your vacation.

Front view of the contemporary resort

And, after the trip has been booked, if you booked with a travel agent they are the only ones that will be able to apply future discounts which is why it is important to connect with an agent you trust.

You don’t want to miss out on a discount because your travel agent missed the announcement.

Type of booking (Room Only or Vacation Package)

If you book a trip with a travel agent, you’ll be able to book either a Room Only (which is exactly what it sounds like – just a hotel room) OR a Vacation Package which is a room plus tickets OR a room plus tickets and the Disney Dining Plan (when it is available).

Changes/Modifications/Upgrades

Any changes must be done through your travel agent. You won’t be able to call Disney and make the changes yourself.

Cancellations

If you wish to cancel you’ll have to do that through your travel agent, too.

Fort Wilderness Cabins

If you have questions they should be able to provide you with the most up-to-date cancellation information, however, for all Disney components of your trip they should simply be mirroring the current cancellation policies that Disney has in place.

My Disney Experience

Your travel agent will share your reservation number with you which will then allow you to link your trip in My Disney Experience.

Ability to earn and use perks for future trips

In general, you don’t earn any reward points. But, if you book with an agent you’ll likely have another avenue to alert you when new promotions or discounts are released, which can be handy if you’re a frequent traveler.

Rent Disney Vacation Club points

Pros: The discounts you can get when renting Disney Vacation Club points can’t be beat
Cons: Once you book you are generally locked into that reservation without the ability to make changes or even cancel

Boardwalk area

Renting Disney Vacation Club points is one of our favorite ways to upgrade a vacation without draining the bank account.

Important Note: keep in mind that if you book a stay at a resort in the Disney Deluxe Villa category directly from Disney, everything works exactly like any other Disney resort stay, including discounts and cancellation policies.

It is only when you book a room in the Disney Deluxe Villa category using Disney Vacation Club points that the below applies.

Here’s how it works (in a nutshell):

Disney owns and operates a timeshare business called Disney Vacation Club (or DVC for short). When you buy into DVC you purchase “points”. Those points can then be used for Deluxe accommodations for the life of their contract.

But, not all owners use all their points. And when they have a surplus that they want to get rid of, they rent them out to people like you and us.

There’s a bit more to the entire process so click on the button below to learn all the nitty-gritty details.

Disney World currently has 9 DVC properties located in or adjacent to their Deluxe Resorts as well as 2 DVC exclusive resorts.

Riviera Resort Room

And, when you book your accommodations using rented Disney Vacation Club points versus booking it directly with Disney, you can save thousands of dollars on your stay.

“What’s the catch,” right?

Of course, there are a few things that might not make this such a great bargain. Here’s what you need to understand:

Discounts

This one comes up a lot, so it is important to understand before you lock yourself into a reservation:

If you book a resort using Disney Vacation Club points, you are not eligible for any discounts. This includes popular promotions like Free Dining.

Part of the confusion comes from the fact that you could book the exact same room through Disney (and not through DVC) and be eligible for discounts.

But, if you take a look at the example below, even some of Disney’s best discounts can’t compete with the savings you might see by renting points.

Here’s the rack rate (no discounts) for a Lake View Studio at Bay Lake Tower:

Screenshot of Bay Lake tower room rate

Here’s the exact same room with a 30% off promotion (which is a pretty good deal):

Screenshot of Bay Lake Tower room

But, here’s that exact same room, for the exact same dates if you rented DVC points to stay there. As you can see in the screenshot below, you’d only pay $2565.00:

DVC prices for Bay Lake Tower

Type of booking (Room Only or Vacation Package)

If you rent DVC points you are securing the room only, but you will have the option to add on some components. However, unlike booking with a Travel Agent or through Disney directly it isn’t all booked together, and it isn’t referred to as a Vacation Package.

For example, when it is available, you are eligible to add on the Disney Dining Plan.

In general, the big difference is that when you add on those components you will have to pay for them in full, and you won’t be able to add it on yourself.

Instead, the owner of those DVC points will have to be the person who adds the Dining Plan to your reservation.

Changes/Modifications/Upgrades

This part is critical to understand and something you’ll definitely want to pay attention to if you’re considering renting DVC points:

Changes, modifications, and upgrades are not allowed.

Polynesian bungalows over the water

If your plans change or somebody gets sick or you decide you want to move your vacation to another date, you can’t do that because when you rent DVC points your agreement is with the Disney Vacation Club owner and NOT with Disney. Therefore, Disney’s policies do not apply.

Cancellations

Just like you can’t make any changes or modifications or upgrades, you can’t cancel, either.

My Disney Experience

The owner of the points will have to provide you with the reservation number, and once you have that you will be able to link it to your My Disney Experience account.

Ability to earn and use perks for future trips

Unfortunately, no.

Through a 3rd Party (like Expedia or Hotels.com)

Pros: Easy way to compare offsite and onsite options, can sometimes snag good deals, occasionally you can find rooms or resorts that are unavailable on the Disney website, you may be able to earn reward points that you can use on the website you booked through
Cons: Changes and cancellations must be made through the 3rd party site and may be difficult to make, you don’t always save a lot of money booking this way

Pool at Animal Kingdom Lodge

Over the years, more and more 3rd party booking sites like Expedia and Hotels.com have sprung up across the internet.

And while they can sometimes provide fantastic savings, there’s some important things to know.

First, a big pro to using a 3rd party site:

Sometimes you’ll be able to find room categories or resorts that are sold out on the official Disney World website.

That can really come in handy if you’ve got something specific in mind.

In addition, when you use a 3rd party site you’ll often find it much easier to compare prices across brands. For Disney trips, that means you’ll find it easier to compare onsite to offsite options.

So instead of having to flip between different websites, you can see it all in one place.

Art of Animation Cars pool

But there are some cons, too.

One biggie is always thinking you’re gonna get a better deal if you book through a 3rd party site.

The truth is, while you definitely can save some cash, that isn’t always the case.

And if your goal is to save the most money (and not to earn reward points through a 3rd party site), unless the savings are significant you may want to skip it and book a different way.

Here’s what else you need to know:

Discounts

Prices when you book with a 3rd party site are typically already discounted.

That means you don’t have to worry about catching a new promotion or applying a new discount.

Boardwalk Resort standard room

But, the downside is that a reservation with a 3rd party site is also not eligible for any further discounts that are offered by Disney. This includes being ineligible for popular promotions like Free Dining.

That is why we don’t recommend you book with a 3rd party site if the price isn’t any better than what you could get by booking directly with Disney or a travel agent because if a discount comes out after you’ve booked, you won’t be able to cash in on the deal and you’ll be stuck with paying the price you already have.

Type of booking (Room Only or Vacation Package)

Many 3rd party sites will say they offer Disney vacation packages, but they aren’t the same thing as what you’d get if you booked directly with Disney.

Instead, what you get when you book 3rd party is a Room Only reservation with the ability to add on travel components like airfare and rental cars, not things like the Disney Dining Plan and generally not tickets.

Changes/Modifications/Upgrades

A 3rd party site is basically a travel agency without a personal agent assigned to you.

That means that while they can leverage their size as a giant agency to garner fantastic deals, they also own your reservation, and you’ll have to go through them for changes or modifications or even upgrades.

Cancellations

So much has changed over the past year and that includes cancellation policies. In lots of cases, those policies have loosened up, but we expect to eventually see things return to how they were.

That means it is essential to read the fine print. Unlike when you book directly with Disney, when you book 3rd party you may be subject to policies that are different from what Disney has.

Caribbean Beach

This can be the source of a lot of anxiety if you find out after the fact, so do your homework on the applicable cancellation policies ahead of time to avoid any frustration later.

My Disney Experience

In order to link your trip in My Disney Experience you’ll need the Disney reservation number.

Typically, what you’ll get from a 3rd party site is a number that they use for their system (not Disney’s) so you may have to either call whomever you booked with and ask them for Disney’s Confirmation Number or call Disney (407-937-7639) to see if they can find it for you.

Which is the best way to book your Disney vacation?

Knowing which way is the best way for you to book your Disney vacation really depends on your goals.

If your goal is to have the most flexability for changes, you are better off booking with Disney or with a Travel Agent.

If your goal is to save the most money AND you are flexible on where you stay and when you travel, renting DVC points or booking through a 3rd party site may be the best option for you.

Comparison Chart

Comparison chart for different ways to book
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