The best credit cards for Universal vacations
From Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal Orlando to Dollywood, Knott’s Berry Farm in California and beyond, there are more than 500 million annual visits to theme parks worldwide in a normal year.
Tickets to big-name parks often top $100 per day — or much more on holidays. In fact, theme park ticket prices are at an all-time high. Then, there are the other costs: hotels, food, parking, skip-the-line passes and getting yourself (and your family) from wherever you live to whatever park you're visiting.
Luckily, you and your crew of Avengers can assemble at Universal's parks for less, thanks to credit card points. Here's a look at the best credit cards for Universal Studios trips.
Related: How Universal is stepping out of the mouse's shadow to become the hottest theme park
Where you buy Universal tickets matters
Before we jump in, it's worth explaining a few key terms. The best credit card for theme park ticket purchases depends on how the purchase will code on your credit card bill. Thus, where you buy your theme park tickets matters. The most likely bonus categories for theme park tickets are entertainment or travel.
When purchasing park tickets directly from the theme park, the charge should code as an entertainment purchase. On some credit cards, entertainment will code as a travel charge; most often, it doesn't.
Related: The best travel credit cards
However, if you purchase park tickets from a travel agency (such as Undercover Tourist), charge them to your on-property hotel room or include them as part of a larger vacation package, that purchase will likely code as travel.
This matters because if you pay with the Chase Sapphire Reserve, a $500 ticket purchase that codes as travel will earn 1,500 Ultimate Rewards points (3 points per dollar). If the purchase codes as entertainment, you'll earn just 500 points since the card doesn't have an entertainment bonus category.
Related: The best credit cards for entertainment spending
The best credit cards for Universal Studios
A mix of credit cards will be the best strategy for most people. Here's a quick overview of the cards we'll consider:
- Bilt Mastercard®: Best no-annual-fee card (see rates and fees) for using points toward tickets and hotels.
- Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card*: Best for cash back on theme park ticket purchases.
- Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card: Best for using a travel credit and earning on ticket purchases.
- Chase Sapphire Reserve: Best for using points and travel credits to defray trip costs.
- Citi Premier® Card: Best for earning points on ticket purchases and a discount on Universal hotels (see rates and fees).
- Citi Prestige® Card*: Best for earning points on ticket purchases and a fourth night free at Universal hotels.
- Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card*: Best for luxury perks at Hilton hotels near Universal.
- Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card: Best for using Hilton points at hotels near Universal.
- IHG Rewards Premier Credit Card: Best for using IHG points at hotels near Universal
- Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card: Best for using Marriott points at hotels near Universal.
- Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card: Best for luxury perks at Marriott hotels near Universal.
- The Platinum Card® from American Express: Best for using a hotel credit near Universal.
- World of Hyatt Credit Card: Best for using Hyatt points at hotels near Universal.
*The information for these cards has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Best credit cards for using a travel credit at Universal Studios
If you want to use the $300 Chase Sapphire Reserve credit on a Universal trip, it’s easiest to use it either for a hotel-only or a hotel + tickets package you book directly with Universal or via a travel agent.
If you only want Universal tickets, you can use your Sapphire Reserve travel credit to get those through a site like Undercover Tourist.
To use the annual, up-to-$300 travel credit from Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card, you need to book eligible travel via Capital One’s travel site. Luckily, this site often shows Universal hotels for booking.
The Platinum Card® from American Express also offers up to $200 in annual hotel credits for bookings with Fine Hotels + Resorts and The Hotel Collection. You can use your credits at Universal properties and those nearby. Enrollment is required.
If you have the Citi Premier® Card (see rates and fees) or Citi Prestige® Card (no longer open to new applicants), you can use your annual cardholder benefits at Universal hotels and those nearby. Premier cardholders can get $100 off a hotel reservation of $500 or more, available once per year. Prestige cardholders can get a fourth night free on stays of four or more nights, available twice a year. Both benefits require booking in the Citi Travel portal.
Best credit cards for using points on Universal Studios tickets
Luckily, multiple options exist for using your credit card points to pay for Universal tickets. Let's start with the highest-value option and work our way down.
You can use the Chase travel portal to buy tickets with points. The card you have determines how much your points are worth. Those with the Chase Sapphire Reserve get a value of 1.5 cents per point. With the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Ink Business Preferred Credit Card, points are worth 1.25 cents apiece. If you have other cards, you can use points at 1 cent each toward the cost of park tickets.
Related: How to use points to save money at Universal Orlando
With Bilt Rewards, you can buy theme park tickets with points worth 1.25 cents apiece. See the full rewards and benefits terms.
If you have Citi ThankYou points, you can use them at 1 cent each to buy Universal theme park tickets through Citi Travel. This option is available even to those with no-annual-fee cards like the Citi® Double Cash Card (see rates and fees) and Citi Rewards+® Card.
Unfortunately, Capital One miles and American Express Membership Rewards points can't be used to buy theme park tickets in their travel portals. However, these are still good credit cards for Universal because of the hotel options we'll cover next.
Best credit cards for using points on Universal Studios hotels
On top of booking hotels with the travel credits mentioned above, you can book Universal's on-property hotels using points in several portals.
Again, the best value for your points is 1.5 cents per point, assuming you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve. You can get 1-1.25 cents per point for your redemptions with other Chase cards, booking through Chase's travel portal.
Points from the Bilt Mastercard are worth 1.25 cents apiece for hotels in the Bilt Rewards portal.
Your Capital One miles are worth 1 cent each for hotel bookings in Capital One Travel.
Your Citi ThankYou points are worth 1 cent each in the Citi Travel portal, regardless of which credit card you hold. It's worth mentioning the Premier and Prestige cardholder benefits again. Premier cardholders get $100 off a $500 hotel stay (once per year); Prestige cardholders get a fourth night free (twice per year). These benefits can be used at Universal hotels and those nearby, booked through Citi's portal.
There are numerous hotels located near Universal Orlando and Universal Hollywood, as well. It's worth mentioning hotel programs like Choice Hotels, Hilton Honors, IHG One Rewards, Marriott Bonvoy, World of Hyatt and Wyndham Rewards. Earning points from a credit card sign-up bonus in these programs could lead to multiple free hotel nights during your Universal vacation.
Consult the following for additional ideas:
Best credit cards for Universal Studios meals
You've got to eat during your trip. Unfortunately, you can't transfer your rewards points to the restaurant. However, there is good news.
Restaurant and dining purchases at Universal Studios and Universal Islands of Adventure should trigger the restaurant/dining category on your credit card if it has one. Consult our list of the best credit cards for restaurant purchases for ideas on which cards to use for extra earnings here.
Best credit cards for flights to Universal parks
Obviously, you can use points and miles for free or discounted flights to Universal's parks. Most of us don't live near Hollywood or Orlando, after all.
For more on this topic, see the following:
- TPG’s guide to getting started with points, miles and credit cards
- How I decide when to redeem points for a flight or pay cash
- 12 tips for using frequent flyer miles for family travel
- How (and why) you should earn transferable points
- 6 apps and websites that make award redemptions easier
- From newbie to expert: 6 ways to up your mileage redemption game
How to choose the best credit card for Universal Studios
After considering the many parts of your upcoming trip to Universal, you've probably realized there isn't the best credit card for Universal Studios. You should probably consider the best credit cards for Universal Studios.
Consider the following: A sign-up bonus from one credit card could provide the points and miles needed to fly to a Universal theme park. The bonus from another credit card could provide a few free hotel nights. Another credit card is the best for your meals at the park.
If you don't have points for purchasing your tickets, know that how you buy them matters.
Your best bet for buying tickets is the Citi Travel portal, thanks to its elevated earning rates through June 30, 2024:
- 10 points per dollar on reservations for hotels, rental cars and eligible attractions with the Citi Prestige® Card (no longer open to new applicants) and the Citi Premier® Card.
- 5 points per dollar on these same bookings with the Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card (no longer open to new applicants) and the Citi Rewards+® Card.
If buying tickets directly from Universal, the purchase should code as "entertainment." The Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card earns 4% cash back on entertainment purchases and has a $95 annual fee. Similarly, the Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card earns 3% back on entertainment purchases and has no annual fee. The Marvel Mastercard® also earns 3% back on entertainment and theme park tickets; it has no annual fee, but it's currently closed to new applicants.
The information for the Savor Cash and Marvel Mastercard has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
If you don't have these cards, consider your best credit card for everyday spending. These can provide a good return on spending for ticket purchases.
|The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express||2 points per dollar (on up to $50,000 of annual purchases, then 1 point per dollar).||2 cents.||4 cents per dollar.|
|Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card||2 miles per dollar.||1.85 cents.||3.7 cents per dollar.|
|Citi® Double Cash Card||2% back (1% at purchase, plus 1% after paying the statement).||1.8 cents.||3.6 cents per dollar.|
|Chase Freedom Unlimited||1.5% back (or 1.5 points per dollar).||1-2 cents each (2 cents each if you also have a premium Ultimate Rewards card).||1.5-3 cents per dollar.|
|Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card||1.5 points per dollar (up to 2.625 points per dollar with Bank of America Preferred Rewards)||1 cent.||1-2.625 cents per dollar.|
* Value of rewards based on TPG valuations and not provided by the issuer.
Another option is to buy your Universal tickets with a gift card.
Consult your local office supplies, warehouse clubs (such as Sam's Club or Costco), grocery stores and even home improvement stores to see if they sell Universal gift cards. These may or may not be on sale, which is another discussion, but there are ways to make these purchases rewarding beyond just discounts.
Related: How to save money buying discounted Disney gift cards
The Ink Business Cash Credit Card earns 5% back on the first $25,000 spent at office supply stores, internet services, cable services and phone services each cardmember year (then 1% back). You can turn those earnings into Chase Ultimate Rewards points if you have a card that earns those points.
The American Express® Gold Card earns 4 points per dollar on your first $25,000 in annual spending at U.S. supermarkets (then 1 point per dollar). That's an 8% return on spending, per TPG's valuations.
Buying Universal gift cards in this way provides extra points or cash back; then, you can use the gift cards to pay for park tickets — though only at the gate and not online.
For other options, check out the following:
- The best grocery credit cards
- The best office supply credit cards
- The best credit cards for home improvement stores
Is there a Universal Studios credit card?
There isn't a Universal Studios or Universal Studios Rewards credit card. However, there is a Marvel Mastercard®, issued by Synchrony Bank. Unfortunately, this card is no longer accepting new applicants.
Are credit cards accepted at Universal Studios?
Universal has made a big push for guests to use Universal Pay, part of its app for park visitors. This advertising might make you think Universal Pay is the only payment method you can use, but Universal still accepts all major credit cards, gift cards and cash in the parks.
It's easy to have fun at a theme park. What's trickier is bringing down the costs. Thankfully, your credit card rewards can go a long way toward taking the pain out of your vacation costs.
Options exist for using your credit card points to pay for Universal theme park tickets, hotels (both on and off property) and flights, plus there are good options for the right credit card to maximize earnings whenever you need to pay for elements of your trip.
See Bilt Mastercard rates and fees here.
See Bilt Mastercard rewards and benefits here.
Additional reporting by Ryan Smith.