A lot of people think a holiday to the Sunshine State is unattainable, but we’ve been three times in the past three years and there’s no way we’d be able to afford that if it wasn’t for getting everything as inexpensively as we possibly could! In this post I wanted to talk you through how to do Florida on a Budget!
I’m a bargain hunter by nature. I will very rarely take the first price brought to my attention, and I will always, always shop around. I will never book the first flight. It’ll take me weeks to book the accommodation. I wait for the right offer for park tickets. Below, I wanted to break down the key areas you need to be aware of and save for when booking your budget Florida break.
Flights are the hardest part, because the airlines price them all so similarly they more or less have a monopoly on the price. The past three years, we’ve visited twice in May and once in June/July and the price does fluctuate massively between seasons.
In 2014, we booked fairly close to the date (booking in January for a May flight), so we didn’t really get the best offer. We flew with Thomas Cook and paid a total of £1021.96 for two of us, but we did book through Quidco and earn £5 cashback (try and use Quidco for everything as it mounts up when booking a long haul holiday!)
In 2016, we got a better price with Virgin Atlantic, booking in December for an April flight. The base price was £578.88 each, however, we were able to use my Dad’s airmiles to reduce it by £100. It’s worth noting you can log into someone else’s account to use their airmiles even if they aren’t flying with you. This time we paid £484.44 each. We didn’t pre-book seats. When it came to checking in online, I was unable to secure us seats together – however, we simply mentioned it at Manchester Airport check in and we were moved to exit row seats next to each other, free of charge (she did, however, at first offer these to us for a fee and we declined.)
It’s best to book flights as soon as they become available at the 11 month mark. My parents did this for their upcoming Florida 2017 holiday and they paid less than £400pp.
We have never stayed on site at Disney. It’s not worth the cash when you have access to a car. And for me personally, it wouldn’t be worth it even if we didn’t have a car because the transport links and now, Uber network in Orlando are totally do-able.
Our accommodation of choice is the Enclave Suites at the top of International Drive (it’s actually within walking distance of Universal Orlando). Take a look at Trip Advisor and you’ll be worrying about quality and cleanliness, but we’ve never had a problem and for us it’s purely somewhere to rest our heads at night.
An added dimension for the Enclave Suites is that many of the apartments are individually owned, meaning the majority of them have different décor and added extras. But this also means several of them are listed for rent on Airbnb – you still get access to all of the hotel facilities for, in some cases, half the price. Liam and I stayed in Orlando for 7 weeks last year and we would not have been able to do this without renting through Airbnb. It cost us £1434 for 45 nights – that’s £31.87 per night – you wouldn’t get that value through a travel agent and you most certainly wouldn’t get it on site at Disney.
A final thought on the Enclave Suites, and in fact, suites in general. With the added functional area of a kitchenette in our room, we’re able to buy groceries to eat at home instead of eating dinners out constantly, as well as eating breakfast in our room, and having the ability to make packed lunches to take into the parks. This, in itself, saves us a fortune when on average we’re paying around $18 per quick service meal in a Disney park.
If you’re interested in joining and booking through Airbnb, please use my link by clicking here. You can get up to £30 off your first trip.
If you’re staying off site and you don’t drive, you don’t have to worry about this – though you will have to budget for Ubers and bus journeys.
As a starting point for booking our car hire each year, I always have a look on Kayak, which compares tons of different car hire sites to give you the best prices. Often, I’m not happy with the price, so I tend to carry onto Netflights and look on there, too. I very rarely book this the first time I look at it because it seems to fluctuate such a lot.
In both 2014 and 2016 I booked through Netflights, from Alamo – which is onsite at Orlando Airport. On some occasions there have been cheaper deals, but I prefer to go with a well-known name so I can be sure of the service I’m getting. We have always had our car hires with Alamo. They also over a ‘Save Time’ perk which lets you go straight to the car hire kiosk at the airport rather than going to queue in the airport desk. Some people think you cannot do this if you book through a third party like Netflights – but you can! Netflights will give you a reference ‘number’ but it also includes letters at the start, simply remove the letters and type the numbers only into the Alamo Online Check In AND Save Time webpages, and it’ll allow you to print your bar code to go straight to the garage.
Netflights also gives you the ability to buy through Quidco, at a fairly reasonable percentage. In 2016, we earnt £12 when booking our car hire on Netflights, through Quidco.
There is one other site you can use, too. This is the Alamo Brits site – they give preferred rates to the readers of the Brits Guide to Orlando. You pay upfront, and they gave you a cheaper rate than simply going direct to the Alamo website. In 2015, we needed a car from 12th June to 28th July – a long time! We booked in September 2014 and paid £673.59 through Alamo Brits. Roughly £15 a day.
Like flights, there’s a bit of a monopoly on park tickets. Depending on the size of your party though, it may be better value for you to purchase one Annual Pass for one member of your party to Universal Studios – as this saves $20 a day on parking. For WDW, this won’t work because the AP prices have recently changed and they are now considerably more expensive to include free parking.
However, if you are going back more than once in a year, it’s worth looking at Annual Passes – this is what we used during our 7 week trip, and we then returned in May 2016 meaning we saved on park ticket costs and got 9 weeks of use out of them.
When buying standard two weeks tickets, I always go with FloridaTix. The reason I do this is because if you sign up to their mailing list, a couple of times a year they will have a 5% off sale. This 5% puts the price under any other ticket selling website. They tend to send an email about a week before with the date the promotion will start, and the promotion will always start at midnight – they only sell so many, usually about 1000. For our 2014 trip I logged on at midnight to make sure we secured the tickets for the 5% off price.
This is the one aspect of saving that I usually fall apart on! After scrimping and bargain hunting for every other aspect of the trip, I tend to go nuts and want to buy everything. But there are a couple of things to consider when budgeting.
- $20 per day parking fee at all parks
- Tolls (have change handy for the first toll out of the airport) and fuel (though when we’ve been on two week trips we’ve only filled the car once before we took it back to the airport, and in all 7 weeks last year we only filled up twice)
- Will you be eating out? You need to budget about $20 per person per day for lunch alone. You’ll save money if you take lunch with you
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