MilesForTwo

Travel Hacking Disney: SPG Hotels

This is the second post in my series about Travel Hacking Disney. This post will focus on the only hotels bookable on points at the Walt Disney World (WDW) Resort: SPG Hotels.

On-Property vs. Off-Property

Lodging is one of the most expensive expenses when it comes to planning a WDW vacation. It is worth noting that there are two categories of hotels, on-property and off-property. There are tons of great value options when it comes to off-property hotels. However, if you are off-property this means you must take some sort of transportation to Disney World. Parking and cab rides are expensive. The on-property hotels have the following benefits:

  • Magical Express – transportation to/from WDW resort
  • Ability to book FastPass+ 60 days in advance
  • Extra Magic Hours
  • Complimentary MagicBands
  • Disney Dining Plans
  • Free Parking and Transportation between parks
  • Resort Package Delivery

These perks can be really helpful/convenient. Staying on-property allows you to fully immerse yourself in the Disney atmosphere. It’s quite the experience. However, staying off-property can save you quite a bit of money.

WDW Dolphin and Swan

Okay so now that we’ve identified the two different types of hotels around Disney World, I’ll highlight the Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) hotels. It is probably worth noting that this is the only hotel I’ve stayed at on the Disney property. I am no expert by any means. However, what I do know is that we saved quite a bit of money while still getting to stay at a hotel that was on-property.

There are two on-property hotels that are not owned by Disney, but rather by SPG. They are the Walt Disney World Dolphin and the Walt Disney World Swan. Because they are owned by SPG, you can use their points earned from their loyalty program and credit card. I personally am a huge SPG fan. I love their loyalty program because it offers great redemption options. For those of you who don’t know, SPG was recently purchased by Marriott, which means their loyalty program will most likely change in the coming years. Therefore, now is as a good a time as ever to book these hotels because who knows what they might cost in a couple years.

SPG Hotel Costs

Oh speaking of costs… the WDW Dolphin is a category 4, which means it costs 10k SPG points per night and the WDW Swan is now a category 5, which costs 12k SPG points per night. We booked our stay before the WDW Swan moved from category 4 to 5. One of the best things about booking on SPG points is that the 5th night is free. Therefore, 5 nights at the WDW Dolphin comes out to 40k SPG points and 5 nights at the WDW Swan comes out to 48k SPG points. I would definitely stay at the WDW Dolphin and save the extra 8k SPG points. Both of these hotels are located in the Epcot resort area. They are pretty much right next to each other. WDW Dolphin is for all intensive purposes a Sheraton and WDW Swan is a Westin.

Since we booked our stay when the WDW Swan was a category 4, it only cost us 40k SPG points for 5 nights. This hotel usually books for around $250/night. That means we are getting a value of approximately 3.1 cents per point.

How did we get these points? I signed up for the American Express Starwood Preferred Guest card, which had a signup bonus of 30k SPG points if you spent $3,000 in the first three months. I ended up spending roughly $10,000 (via regular and manufactured spending), which gave us the 40,000 points we needed.

Fewer On-Property Benefits

It is worth noting that you won’t get the following on-property benefits when staying at these SPG hotels:

  • Magical Express – transportation to/from WDW resort
  • Complimentary MagicBands
  • Disney Dining Plans

However, you do get these on-property benefits:

  • Ability to book FastPass+ 60 days in advance
  • Extra Magic Hours
  • Resort Package Delivery
  • Transportation between parks

I think the Extra Magic Hours is probably the most valuable especially if you are traveling without kids. Utilizing this extra time in the parks before or after regular hours can mean shorter lines and more fun. It is kind of a bummer that you don’t have access to Magical Express, but we ended up just using Uber to get from MCO airport to the resort.

Our Experience

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One other thing to mention would be that the WDW Dolphin and Swan don’t have quite as much “Disney magic” as the other on-property hotels. Probably due to the fact that they aren’t owned by Disney. I personally didn’t mind this, but after our 5 night stay my wife mentioned that if we came back to WDW she’d like to stay at one of the other Epcot resorts. We definitely loved being close to everything and I’m not sure we would have been able to stay on-property otherwise.

We utilized the extra magic hours a couple times, which allowed us to wait in relatively short lines. We only used the resort package deliver benefit once. Being in the Epcot resort area we were able to walk to and from both Epcot and Hollywood Studios. There was also the option of taking a water taxi to these locations, which we only used a couple times. For Animal Kingdom and Magic Kingdom, we had to take a shuttle bus. Waiting for these buses as well as all the stops they had to make was kind of a pain. Sometimes the whole process took about an hour to get from our hotel to one of the two kingdoms. However, I assume this is probably no different from any other on-property resort.

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The service at the Walt Disney World Swan was average nothing super special. We did get upgraded to a balcony room, which was nice and received drink vouchers. We did have a couple bad service experiences at the cafe inside the hotel. However, after tweeting about it to SPG, they refunded us our purchase and even provided us with some complimentary beverages. Overall, I was satisfied with our stay at the Walt Disney World Swan, but I wouldn’t say it was magical or extraordinary.