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Aug. 31, 2019, 10:08 a.m. EDT

This mother took her family on a $2,200 vacation to Disney World — for free

This will be the third vacation Maegan Bagley will take that hasn’t cost her one red cent, and her second to Disney World

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By Jacob Passy


Courtesy of Maegan Bagley
Maegan Bagley (r) has now paid for three family vacations almost entirely with money she earned from the rewards site Swagbucks.

When Maegan Bagley’s two-year-old son gets to see Mickey Mouse and Cinderella’s Castle next month, she won’t have to think twice about her bank account.

Even as vacations to Walt Disney World /zigman2/quotes/203410047/composite DIS -1.12%  have gotten more expensive in recent years, Bagley, 31, has now managed to pay for one trip to the theme park without needing to trim her family’s budget.

She is just about to embark on a second.

Her upcoming trip in August would have cost her family around $2,200 altogether — that includes the price of lodging, travel, food and, yes, souvenirs.

Maegan Bagley is about to take her second trip to the theme park without needing to trim her family’s budget.

The Bagleys are renting a vacation home in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., with two other families and will be spending four days at theme parks, including two days at Magic Kingdom, one day at Epcot and another day at SeaWorld /zigman2/quotes/210357674/composite SEAS +0.76% . The Bagleys and their friends also plan to spend one day visiting Disney Springs, the outdoor shopping area located within Walt Disney World.

That’s not all. This year Bagley’s family also went on a week-long trip to an all-inclusive resort in Playa Mujeres roughly 30 minutes outside of Cancun, again without dipping into the honey pot.

The secret to Bagley’s success: Online rewards.

“We live the life we want to live and don’t have to cut back on anything,” she said.

Read MarketWatch’s Moneyist advice column on the etiquette and ethics of your financial affairs and, this week: ‘ My children’s stepmother won’t return family heirlooms and gifts they gave their late father — how can we get them back?’

Once Bagley earns the equivalent of $25 in Swagbucks, a rewards and loyalty program founded in 2008, she cashes out for a PayPal /zigman2/quotes/208054269/composite PYPL -2.33%  gift card that she then either uses to buy a Disney gift card or transfers into her bank account.

She earns most of her money on the site by taking surveys and earning cash back when she shops online. Each “Swagbuck” is worth just one cent.

Read more: Visiting Disneyland’s Star Wars attractions? Save yourself $200 by reading the fine print

Founded in 2008, Swagbucks is a rewards and loyalty program through which people can earn “Swagbucks” that they can then exchange for gift cards ranging anywhere from $1 to more than $100 in value.

In a statement, the site’s CEO and Chairman Chuck Davis said that the site has given out more than $730 million to its members to date, with 150,000 people receiving gift cards and cash each month.

Bagley spends anywhere from 1.5 hours to 2 hours a day earning online rewards to turn them into gift cards.

Bagley also participates in “Discover” offers. She earns significant rebates for subscribing to a service or purchasing a product. Bagley said she limits these to services or products her family would normally use, such as food delivery service Home Chef /zigman2/quotes/206215053/composite KR -2.01%  or razor delivery program Dollar Shave Club /zigman2/quotes/204443337/delayed UNLVF -1.02% .

“If it’s going to be a money-maker I’ll do it,” Bagley said. “And if I’m going to break even on it, I’ll only do it if it’s something I’d spend money on it in my everyday life.”

Other ways of racking up dollars: Watching sponsored videos, participating a daily trivia game called Swag IQ and playing online video games.

The real cost of all this virtual couponing involves her time. Bagley estimates she spends anywhere from 1.5 hours to 2 hours a day earning online rewards to turn them into gift cards — usually while her son is sleeping. She recently left her full-time job, but when she was working full-time she logged on during breaks. “If I’m actively saving for a trip, I’m on there every day,” she said.


Courtesy of Maegan Bagley
The Bagley family went on a trip to a resort in Mexico almost entirely on the money they earned through a rewards site called Swagbucks.

Earning all this money through online rewards can take some real perseverance. For instance, some of the online surveys she takes require users to answer screening questions to determine whether she is suitable. Bagley estimates that she only ends up qualifying for around 10% of the surveys she attempts to take.

Read more: Is the free dining offer at Walt Disney World really worth it?

And sometimes, she said, “Discover” offers don’t credit her properly due to glitches in the system. “I have a notebook of every offer I do, how much I paid, when it’s supposed to come through and how much it will credit,” she said.

‘I have a notebook of every offer I do, how much I paid, when it’s supposed to come through and how much it will credit.’

Other bloggers have written about their approaches to using the rewards program to visit Walt Disney World and have flocked to message boards to exchange tips and tricks.

Bagley herself participates in two Facebook groups /zigman2/quotes/205064656/composite FB -2.38%   — one called Save for Disney and another called Swagging Your Way to Disney — to learn how to maximize her savings.

Bagley also participates in two other rewards programs: RetailMeNot and Dash, and she also sells clothes on Poshmark.

When she goes shopping, Bagley typically uses a credit card that earns her airline miles for JetBlue /zigman2/quotes/207639051/composite JBLU -1.34% — the miles she earns are used to pay for the flights her family takes to go on vacation. Sometimes, she pairs this credit card with online rewards to get double the savings.

Finally, she has turned a hobby — buying old Louis Vuitton purses /zigman2/quotes/201256382/delayed LVMUY -0.24%  and restoring them — into a side gig by selling them on eBay /zigman2/quotes/204653455/composite EBAY -0.69% .

Despite all the effort, Bagley said it’s quickly just become a habit for her. “I feel like it gives us so much more opportunity to explore the world,” she said.

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Jacob Passy is a personal-finance reporter for MarketWatch and is based in New York.

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