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How to Stay at the Swan & Dolphin for FREE

Starwood Preferred Guest

What are some of the most costly items for a Disney vacation?  In no particular order most people would say flights/travel, park tickets and hotels.  Any one of those items could easily run a family over $1000, a large sum of money and large portion of the vacation budget.

I’ll show you how to eliminate the costs for hotels completely, allowing you to stay for free at one of the best hotels on Disney property – the Swan and Dolphin.

When I started breaking down costs of my own Disney vacations, one line item stood out as the most costly item pretty much every trip: hotels.  Even staying at lower cost hotels which run in the $75/night range, for a 5 night stay after taxes and fees you’re almost at $500 for a room.

Based of of my money saving strategies I got to work by looking into ways to first save as much money as possible on hotels then if there are ways to do it for free. After doing quite a bit research I’ve found out a few methods to stay for free or for pennies on the dollar at some of the best hotels in the world.

In this post I’m going to show you how to both stay for free as well as cut the cost of your hotel stays by over 50%.

Using the methods outlined in this post I’ve stayed at hotels in Disney World, Paris, Belgium, Rome, Venice, Seattle, plus a many more – all for free or for pennies on the dollar.

I’m also not talking hostels or Model 8’s, we’re going with top level name brand hotel chains –  Hiltons, Sheratons, Radissons, Intercontinentals  and so on.

This is going to be a slightly lengthy post but after you get done reading you’ll have all of the information needed to save substantial amounts of money in hotel costs from your Disney vacation.

How To Get Free Nights

How are going to get hotels to give us free nights to stay at their hotels when they could be charging us hundreds per night? What not many people know is that all major hotel chains have loyalty programs to entice frequent travelers to stay at their hotels over and over again.

Hotels award their frequent customers with points based on how much money that is spent on rooms at that hotel.  For example Hilton’s loyalty program HHonors awards members 10 points for every dollar spent on their hotel room.

If you spend $800 on a stay at a Hilton hotel you would be awarded with 8000 HHonors points which can then be redeemed for free nights.  Hotels hope that you’ll stay loyal to their hotel brand because you will want to keep earning those points for free rooms.

If you’re like me, you hardly spend enough money at hotels to get any large amount of points to be able to redeem for free nights.  That’s not a problem at all, there are ways to get thousands of hotel points without ever setting foot in a hotel.

Each major hotel brand has their own set of branded credit cards that are issued by the major banks: American Express, Chase, Citi, Bank of America ect.  To encourage people to sign up for these credit cards the banks offer sign up bonuses in the form of hotel points usually after meeting a spend requirement on the card.

Pool at the Hilton Bonnet Creek

You can use HHonors points to stay at the Hilton Bonnet Creek

The main way we are going to get loads of points is to get them through credit card sign up bonuses and spending on those credit cards.

In this scenario we are going to take a look at how to stay at a Starwood brand hotel for a short August trip down to Disney. A few of Starwood’s brands are Sheraton, Westin, Aloft, Four Points, W, plus the Swan and Dolphin which are technically Westins and the focus of this post.

Starwood’s loyalty program is called Starwood Perferred Guest or SPG for short and is by far my favorite hotel loyalty program.  SPG’s currency is Starpoints which are very valuable to redeem for free nights.  Since the Swan and Dolphin are Westins they fall under Starwood’s SPG program allowing us to redeem our Starpoints for free nights at either of those hotels.

We are going to plan a hypothetical trip in August, just before the kids are ready to go back to school.

Let’s Get Some Hotel Points

Before we start earning our points we’ll want to go apply for a free SPG account which is where we will store our Starpoints after we start earning them.

  1. Go to, we’ll create an account so you can have a place that your Starpoints will go to.
    Sign up for SPG

  2. Click join now, complete the registration process and take note of your SPG number.  I recommend using to track all of our loyalty program accounts.

Before we move forward with getting our Starpoints I want to make sure that you have your credit in order and have reviewed Miles/Points 101.  Those two posts will give you a good primer on your credit score and how the whole miles/points game works.

Our first move is going to apply for the SPG card from American Express which is one of my favorite credit cards to have.

The SPG card will give you 25,000 Starpoints after spending $5,000 in 6 months so including the sign up spend you’ll have 30,000 Starpoints. Be sure to include your SPG number that you should already have in your application. If you don’t have one no biggie, one will be assigned to you.

SPG Card

Time to earn those Starpoints!

Spending $5,000 may seem like a lot but that’s only about $840 per month for 6 months, easily done if you put all of your spending on the card – just be sure to pay it off at the end of each month! If you want to review strategies to hit the spend bonuses check out this post.

After you have hit your spend bonuses you should have at least 30,000 Starpoints in your account which will be enough to get us some free nights in the Swan and Dolphin!

How to Book Your Free Nights

Now for the fun part – let’s use the points we earned to get some free nights!

In additiona to the Swan and Dolphin Starwood has a number of properties in the Lake Buena Vista area with 6 that are within closest proximity to Disney so you could also look into booking those on points as well.

Each Starwood hotel has a category associated with each which determines rates, award redemption rates and amenities.  Categories range from 1-8 with 1 being the least expensive and 8 being super luxury hotels.

Here is a list of the closest Starwood hotels to Disney:



Free Night Points

Cash + Points

Tripadvisor Rating

Walt Disney World Swan



5000 + $75


Walt Disney World Dolphin



5000 + $75


Sheraton Lake Buena Vista



3500 + $55


Sheraton Vistana Resort Villas



5000 + $75


Sheraton Vistana Villiages I-Drive



5000 + $75


Westin Orlando Universal Blvd



5000 + $75


Our target for this trip is going to be the Swan and Dolphin so looking at the chart above we’ll need 10,000 points for a free night or just 5000 +$75 for a cash & points redemption.

Head on over to which we will use to search for the dates during our vacation, hopefully we find that the Swan or Dolphin have availability during our trip!

In the destination box enter Lake Buena Vista as the city and our dates will be 8/15 – 8/19.  Click Find Now to get the results & availability for those dates.

SPG Search

After we search we’ll see a list of available hotels with various rates such as standard rate, free nights and other special rates..  From this screen you can click through and read all of the details on each hotel.

SPG Search Results

I like to use the compare rates screen which will allow you to see some of the other rate options available to choose from.  On this screen you will see the standard rates, cash & points option plus a few other rates as well that you could book.

SPG Search Results

You can see from this screen that you have many options when it comes to paying for your room.  Some of the higher end properties cost from 7000-10000 Starpoints per night.  We now have 30,000 points in our account so we could redeem those points for 3 free nights in the Dolphin!

If you look on the far right  you’ll see one of my favorite options, cash+points.

Why I love Cash & Points

I want to take a moment to talk about one of the best use of SPG points – cash and points rewards.  Cash and points allow you to split the cost of a room between Starpoints and cash, just like the name.  For example a category 4 like the Swan and Dolphin would be 10,000 points for a free night or 5,000 points and $75/night.

While not free, $75 a night for the Swan and Dolphin is a spectacular deal!  You’re also getting great value out of your Starpoints at 2.2 cents a piece (Math: $189/night – $75/night = $114/5000 points = 0.0228 or 2.2cents/point)

If we want to use points exclusively I would choose the Sheraton Lake Buena Vista Resort at a cost of 28,000 points which will give us 4 free nights.

Use Starpoints to stay at the Swan or Dolphin

Use Starpoints to stay at the Swan or Dolphin

The Dolphin is an excellent hotel with the additional perk of being on site.  You can’t beat the location, nestled right between Hollywood Studios & Epcot plus you get extra perks like being able to take advantage of extra magic hours.

Seeing that there is very tempting though we would only have enough points for 3 nights but what if we wanted to get 4 nights out of our points?

How to Use Free Nights + Cash & Points

You can combine reward booking using SPG points by redeeming some for free nights and some for cash & point night.  This flexiblity allows us to minimize our out of pocket costs and stretch our points a little further.

In this case we could do the following with our 30,000 Starpoints:

  • Book 2 free award nights for a total of 20,000 points.
  • Book the second two nights using cash & points award nights for a cost of 10,000 points and $150.

Going that route would used up all 30,000 points and have us paying $150 + $64(fees) in cash.  That comes out to $37.50/night, not bad for the Dolphin!

If we were to book a full price room it would be $189/night for a grand total with fees of $980, a savings of $830!

To book the room you’ll just complete the process through the website or call up SPG at 1-888-625-4988. I highly recommend booking hotel award nights as early as possible – you can always cancel and adjust dates if you need to without any penalties but make sure to double check the fine print as always.

The ability to stay onsite at the Swan & Dolphin plus cash & point awards are just a few of the reasons that I love Starpoints to stay on my Disney vacations.

Many other options exist from other hotel chains such as Hilton, IHG and Club Carlson that I will cover in future posts.  I hope this post saves your family hundreds (maybe thousands) of dollars on your next vacation.

If you have any questions, comments or feedback please post them in the comments – I respond to every comment posted.

Also if you think you know someone else who would like to save some money on their next Disney vacation be sure to share!

6 comments… add one
  1. We love the cash & points program! We paid an amazing low weekend rate last year during Epcot food and wine festival at the Swan. Plus the front desk gave us a free room upgrade just to be nice (I told them it was my husband’s birthday, so that may have had something to do with it).

    1. Hi Stacey – I love the Swan, it’s one of my favorite hotels on property with an extra benefit of being able to use SPG points to stay there

      Upgrades are always a really nice surprise, can’t hurt to ask at check in like you did!

  2. So if you book your hotels that way, how and where do you buy your tickets from? The actual Disney site?

    I want to redeem starpoints for our lodging but since I assume that has to be done through the SPG portal, how do I get the added benefit of magic bands, and being able to book dining reservations, etc.

    1. Yes, you can book your park tickets through Disney themselves or a discount ticket seller like Undercover Tourist which has great prices on Disney tickets. It you buy from either of those places you’ll be able to use Fastpass+ and make dining reservations through the app or online.

  3. So I am new to the SPG and my reward Amex is on the way! (yay!) My trip is not until 9/16 but I already booked my room (without points) an alcove suite. Will I be able to have to option to pay with points? Or will I have to create another reservation and cancle this one? I ask because the alcove family room I reserved was the last one available.

    1. You you need to cancel your current reservation and re-book using your points which isn’t a big deal. Congrats on getting the card, you’ll love the Swan/Dolphin!


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