The Disney Vacation Accountby Tony Phoenix, staff writer
The Disney Vacation Account quietly launched in December 2013. How quietly? None of the MousePlanet staff had heard of it until last week, when someone noticed it mentioned in the footer of a promotional email from Disney.
Designed to help you save for your upcoming Disney vacation, it is reminiscent of a traditional Christmas club savings account from a local bank or credit union. Automated recurring deposits are made to your vacation account, which you then use to pay for your vacation.
Acknowledging that many users don't know how much to save, the Disney Vacation Account budget estimator works to establish your budget. Once you choose the type of vacation you want to save for (theme park, cruise, Aulani Resort, or Adventures by Disney trip), the system prompts you to set budget amounts for different expense types.
The Disney Vacation Account website helps you budget for a Disney trip. © Disney.
For example, if you choose a theme park option, you are prompted to enter amounts for hotels, admission, dining, shopping, and air transport.
Other than calling out those categories, you get little guidance on what numbers to put into those categories. Some categories do offer help, however. For example, if you need to determine a budget amount for park admission, you click a link that opens a new browser tab to the theme park admissions website. You can then calculate your options, get a total, then return to the Account website browser tab and type that amount into the budgeting tool.
For other categories, however, the process breaks down and provides no help at all. Want to calculate a budget for excursions at the Aulani Resort? A link takes you to the Aulani web page that describes its excursions, but it includes no pricing information at all—so now you have to guess how much to budget.
Considering all of these are Disney websites, it would have been more helpful to actually be able to explore, price, and calculate all from the estimator tool. Having to jump between multiple websites and copy and paste values is a disappointing experience. Another challenge is that the budget you calculate is based on pricing as of today. It does not account for or predict price increases. So be sure to pad your budget appropriately.
Once you define your budget, you can create your account, then specify your destination and travel dates. You also choose the frequency of deposits—weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly. From that information, the system calculates the amount of each deposit. Your initial deposit can be as small as $10 using a credit, debit, or Disney gift card. Additional deposits are made via a credit or debit card (there is no direct deposit option from paychecks or bank accounts).
There is no point in having this vacation account unless you actually use those funds for your vacation. Funds can either be applied to an existing reservation or redeemed for Disney gift cards to cover dining, shopping, or entertainment expenses. If you are working with a travel agent, they cannot apply the payments on your behalf—you need to call Disney to do that yourself.
So what are the benefits? This is not a traditional savings account where you gain interest. In fact, Disney holds the funds specifically in an FDIC-protected, noninterest-bearing account. Instead, Disney offers an incentive that for every $1,000 in vacation expenses you pay for using your vacation account, it provides you with a $20 gift card. Basically a 2 percent return, it is better than most savings accounts today. Be warned though that the gift card offer is currently only valid on payments made through the end of 2015. There is no guarantee that this offer will be extended past that date. So if your vacation is in 2016 and you are counting on those gift cards, be warned that they may not be available.
Why is Disney offering this? It locks you in and protects that money from yourself, so the money you need to pay for your vacation is safely tucked away where you cannot easily spend it on something else. It also helps you avoid having to pay for interest charges on your credit card after your trip.
That means that while your account is fully refundable, the account is designed to make the process both inconvenient and slow. You can assume that a refund process will take a few weeks, and refunds are made to the original form of payment—to the credit card or debit card the deposits were made with. If you are in need of immediate funds to fix a car or handle other emergency expenses, making it slow to pull the funds out of the account means you are more likely to look elsewhere, leaving your vacation fund untouched. That's the whole point of this account.
Ultimately, the question boils down to: "Is the Disney Vacation Account for me?" If you want the ease of scheduled deposits with the promise of some bonus gift cards, as well as the knowledge that your vacation funds are building up automatically—and you don't mind the lack of immediate availability of the funds for withdrawal, then it is probably worth exploring. If you prefer flexibility in managing your funds, have no difficulty quickly paying off the hefty post-vacation credit card bill, or want the ability to easily change plans, then you might want to consider other options.
Hey, this sounds like a great idea!
Except - oh Pooh, once again, anyone from outside the USA is excluded. hashtag/unhappy. Wow, we foreigners sure are excluded from stuff!
I pre-pay (deposit and balance) in advance with my travel agent and use cash while on the trip to pay for meals, tips and miscellaneous (I don't really shop anymore at Disney; I think most of what they sell now is too generic and "meh") so the idea of a "Christmas Club/Vacation Account" isn't what I need. However, if it works for someone to pay this way, then I'm glad it's an option.
"Funds can either be applied to an existing reservation or redeemed for Disney gift cards to cover dining, shopping, or entertainment expenses. If you are working with a travel agent, they cannot apply the payments on your behalf—you need to call Disney to do that yourself."
Ok so you can direct the funds to make payments on reservations or redeemed for gift cards.
Which pretty much locks the money into being spent on travel agent packages or at locations that accept Disney gift cards?
It seems to me that the 2% back in gift cards isn't worth the hassle of having my money locked into the Disney system. For our next trip to Walt Disney World, I set up a special savings account. I can have automatic deposits set up to it if I want those. I have a specific income that I deposit into this account, plus all the "found" money we come across and spare change we collect. When I need to buy our airfare, I can just pull the money out. If I want to spend some of the funds outside of WDW, off property, etc, I can easily access that money.
In fact, this is the fund I'm using for the WDW marathon weekend, so we already took out money when we registered for the Half Marathon and Goofy through Active.com.
I'll still with the flexibility and access at my local bank.
Does anyone know if there is a minimum amount of time the money must be in there? If I'm ready to book and pay for my trip next week, can I throw $2,000 in there to get the $40 bonus and then just start spending?
I *think* it's 150 days? Tony can tell you - I'll ask him to pop in here.
I'm thinking if you don't need access to the money, why not take advantage of free bonus money? I'm also thinking why not have the money come from your disney visa, pay it off every month, and enjoy the 1% bonus on that? You could gain a bonus 3% on your vacation! I'm all about free money, even if it is only like $60.
How do you begin transferring funds to pay for the resort reservations, the tickets, the dining plan, and and other expenses as they come up? It is well known that you can't make FastPass+ reservations without admission tickets, and you can't reserve the Dining Plan without Resort Reservations. You have up to 3 days prior to the trip to select the dining plan and this can't be done on-line and only by a service representative. It is all quite complicated. You also must reserve Magic Memory at least 3 days prior to the trip, but you should actually do it 30 days prior if you want your passes to arrive in the mail on-time.
The complicated time schedule means Disney didn't think this through and you might need to do your savings on your own unless Disney comes up with a one-stop shop where everything is selected up-front and you stick to your schedule of paying up to 30 or 60 days before your trip just like what they do with Disney cruise.
People that know how to save won't use this service. Those that need help saving money are best off with an auto-deposit direct from a paycheck. So those that have trouble saving probably have trouble paying off credit cards and that is the way they have to put money aside for the vacation plan. I hope no one digs themselves a hole they can't get out of. (Don't jump on me, I know this isn't true for everyone)
The best way to save, though it won't pay the entire trip, is to get a jar and put your change in it. It doesn't take long for your nightly emptying of pockets to be $200-300. That will pay for several meals in the parks.
The best "jar" for this is a Disney popcorn bucket. They are large, they have a lid and a carry handle making it easy to bring to the bank and their coin counter. And the Disney images on the sides help you remember what the change is going to.
The account needs to have been open for 150 days, but there is no minimum for how long the money itself needs to be in the account. So, it is conceivable that you could open the account today with a $10/month contribution, and then after 150 days, do a one time deposit of the full amount you want in there, then claim the gift cards.
Just a minor correction, per their website, the account only needs to be open for 120 days. This matters for me as my trip is about 200 days away - but would need to be paid in full 45 days before that. So, this really only works for people whose trips are more than 165 days out since it says that the account needs to have been in the active for 120 days at the time of spending.
Not sure I will use it very much, but I did start an account today with the $100 I was given for save keeping towards the trip. This will be as easy for me to manage as the excel spreadsheet I had already started and I can decide later if I want to add more at the end to earn any bonuses.