Is Using DVC Points for a Disney Cruise Ever Worth It?

I guess I’ve gotten a reputation as a numbers guy. I wonder how that happened? A fellow DVC Fan Facebook Page member Erin Martin IM’d me and gave me a challenge. She asked:

“Can you do another number crunching article? I was curious the other day if there was a way to save on cruises by using DVC points. My thought was to buy the cheapest points possible and take a 7 night cruise each year with them (while avoiding the whole renting and using cash for cruise method).”

My first instinct was that I wasn’t sure I wanted to do this. I mean, there’s NO WAY to make DVC points worth the money for cruises….is there? The reason for this is that for DVC to convert your points to pay for a cruise – they have to off-set the full cash value of the cruise to Disney Cruise Lines. In other words, the discount for your room is built into your DVC ownership, but discounts for other uses are not (we’re talking cruises, non-DVC resorts, ABD trips, etc.). But the more I thought about it, the more I wondered: While on average across all the transfers that occur, DVC makes sure to get their money back for the transfer. But is there a way that an individual could come out ahead on this exchange?

For starters I decided I had to just consider 2020 values. Both cruise prices and point maintenance fees rise over time, and the rate is not predictable – so I can only look at right now. But I still had to figure out how to compare cruise prices to points. I may be a DVC expert, but I am far from a DCL expert. I’ve only been on one cruise and decided it wasn’t my thing – I much prefer my feet on solid ground. One of the few things I know though, is that cruise pricing varies – as the ship fills up, the cabin costs go up. How can I even figure out what costs to compare?

So this is what I decided to do: I picked 3 dates coming up in 2020 for three different types of cruises on different ships. I went to the DVC point charts and looked at those cruises and figured out how much it would cost in points to take that cruise with a specified cabin and family size. Many of the point charts showed ranges – so I picked numbers from the middle of the range. Then I went to the DCL website and priced out the same cruises with the same configurations, and this is what I got.

Cruise Type7-Night Western Carribean4-Night Bahamas7-Night Alaska
ShipDisney FantasyDisney DreamDisney Wonder
Start DateApril 25th, 2020June 8th, 2020July 13th, 2020
Room CategoryDeluxe Ocean View Stateroom (Cat 9A)Deluxe Stateroom w/ Verandah (Cat 6)Deluxe Stateroom w/ Verandah (Cat 6)
# of Guests2 Adults, 1 Teen, 1 Child2 Adults, 1 Teen, 1 Child 2 Adults only
# Points Required8887251228
Cash Cost$6,618$6,275$9,684
Value Points ($/point)$7.45$8.66$7.89

First thing that popped into my head was, “Whew, that’s a lot of points!” But then when I looked at the value you get out of those points which is shown in the bottom row – calculated by the price of the cruise divided by the number of points it takes – you can make an argument that point values don’t seem too bad, at least if you compare them to the maintenance fees at some resorts. SSR maintenance fees are only $6.77 per point – by that number, it seems like all three of these cruises you could save some money using your points.

Cruise Type7-Night  Carribean4-Night Bahamas7-Night Alaska
Cash Cost$6,618$6,275$9,684
SSR Cost
(MF only)
$6,012$4,908$8,314

But there’s a BIG problem with doing that. It’s ignoring the value of the massive cash buy-in you would need to make. The 7-night Caribbean cruise requires you to buy 888 direct points every year. Even at Saratoga Springs at $165 a point – that’s a $146,520 buy-in. So unless you’re very rich, that’s not something you can ignore.

The way I like to compute the value of the buy-in is by looking at the cost of the resort divided by the number of years left. Saratoga Springs costs $165 to buy direct and you get 34 years on your contract – giving it a direct buy-in value of $4.85 per point per year. Riviera Resort as of this writing costs $178 per point with incentives for a large contract, and gives you 50 years of contract or a $3.56 per point per year value. When you combine this with maintenance fees – your cost in 2020 for these cruises would look like this. 

Cruise Type7-Night Carribean4-Night Bahamas7-Night Alaska
Cash Cost$6,618$6,275$9,684
SSR Point Price
(MF + Buy-in)
$11.62$11.62$11.62
SSR Cost
(MF + Buy-in)
$10,321$8,427$14,273
Riviera Point Price
(MF + Buy-In)
$11.87$11.87$11.87
Riviera Cost
(MF + Buy-In)
$10,539$8,604$14,574

Not very good once I include the buy-in cost. Points at SSR and Riviera when you factor in length of contract and maintenance fees are actually very similar when you buy direct, but both don’t look very good – looks like you are going to pay a 20-40% premium by using your points versus cash. Yikes!

But is there a way to make this work? Let’s say I buy Saratoga points in 2020 for cruising, but I make the assumption that I am going to sell those points in 14 years when the contract still has 20 years left. I have to estimate a value but let’s say those used SSR points in the year 2034 will fetch me $150 a point thanks to inflation. Less commission on the sale – those points only cost $27 per point to own them for 14 years. That’s only $1.93 per point per year (Cost/years).

Cruise Type7-Night Carribean4-Night Bahamas7-Night Alaska
Cash Cost$6,618$6,275$9,684
Sell SSR in 14 years @ $150 per point$8.70 $8.70 $8.70
SSR Cost (MF + Buy-in)$7,724$6,306$10,682

Hmmm, we’re a lot closer. One of those cruises actually breaks even! But the other two are still $1000 more to use points, so it’s still not a definite option, especially since I am relying on a sell value in the future.

Let’s look at an even more fantastical option: I called my friends Phineas & Ferb and get them to build a time machine, bring me back to 1995 so I can buy into Old Key West at $62.75 per point where my average value would be only $1.33 per point per year – and with 2020 dues of $7.84 per point….

Cruise Type7-Night Carribean4-Night Bahamas7-Night Alaska
Cash Cost$6,618$6,275$9,684
OKW bought
in 1995
$9.16 $9.16 $9.16
Cruise Cost $8,134$6,641$11,248

Actually not even as close as the previous option – even bending the space-time continuum doesn’t work. The only way I can make it work is if I ignore the buy-in and only count dues. But in the end – there’s one method that beats those results every time. The alternative of renting out your points to pay for the cruise. If I consider that I can get $14 a point from most reputable companies if I rent or transfer out my points – now look at what happens.

Cruise Type7-Night Carribean4-Night Bahamas7-Night Alaska
# Points Required8887251228
Cash Cost$6,618$6,275$9,684
Number of points needed to rent at $14 a point473448692
Cost of SSR points (direct)$5,493$5,209$8,038
Cost of SSR points (resale)$4,590$4,352$6,717

That cruise costs me 38-47% LESS points by renting out my points and paying cash.   And on top of that – I can do it using either direct OR resale points. The last two rows of this table show what the cruise would ACTUALLY cost you via the money you spent to buy those points you then rented out for your cruise, assuming you bought SSR today. This could be done with other resorts as well, and as long as the buy-in factor and your maintenance fees add to less than $14, you’re going to save some money. So renting out either direct or resale points saves you money over the cash rate – just resale saves you a little more.

So, Erin, I could only find two ways in which I think using your DVC points every year for a cruise is worth it: (1) ignoring the buy-in cost or (2) renting out your points and paying cash. There’s no other way to slice it. So get ready to put up that bid on that SSR resale contract and then rent out your points. On the bright side, not only do you save a bunch of money off the cruise, but you make some lucky family very happy that they get to hear “Welcome Home!”

8 thoughts on “Is Using DVC Points for a Disney Cruise Ever Worth It?

  • February 27, 2020 at 9:16 am
    Permalink

    The only time that we used points for a cruise was the inaugural 7 night Disney Magic cruise. We had purchased a 230 point resale that had all of the previous year’s points. We used the banked points along with the current use year and borrowed the following year’s in order to book at Cat 4 stateroom. It was the only time that we had “extra” points and that is why we decided to use them for a cruise.

  • February 27, 2020 at 9:41 am
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    What about considering the all-inclusive factor of a Disney Cruise versus a Room-Only DVC booking? A Disney Cruise essentially has the Deluxe Dining Plan, plus included “free” activities and shows. Using DVC point to cruise means the points pay for dining and “tickets” (entertainment/activities). There are of course up-charges and paid activities, but a family could go using just DVC points and not pay for anything extra if they choose to do so.

    • February 27, 2020 at 10:58 am
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      That isn’t a consideration. It’s strictly how many points can I rent out and pay for a cruise versus using points directly for the cruise. Whether is all inclusive or not is irrelevant.

    • February 27, 2020 at 2:04 pm
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      All of that “all-inclusive” stuff in the Disney Cruise is being factored into the cash price of the cruise. The point is that it’s financially much better for you to not use DVC points on a cruise, because you could just as easily rent out the same number of points for MUCH more money than the cruise costs, and then pay for that cruise in cash.

    • February 27, 2020 at 2:21 pm
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      I am not comparing cruise costs to DVC resort costs. I am comparing cruise costs via cash to cruise costs via points. Both give you that all-inclusive factor. I’m really trying to tell you if you are getting the same value for your $ if you use your points as if you are paying cash for the same thing.

    • February 28, 2020 at 2:22 am
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      Good point about the “all inclusive” price of a cruise. However, Pete is comparing using DVC points for cruises against paying cash and not comparing using DVC points for cruises against using points for resorts.

  • February 28, 2020 at 2:23 am
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    Thanks for the in depth analysis, Pete

  • February 29, 2020 at 9:17 am
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    You would also need to take into consideration the tax implications on renting the points

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