Best credit cards for Disney and Universal vacations
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From Disney World in Florida to Universal Studios Hollywood, from Dollywood to Knott’s Berry Farm in California and beyond, there are typically more than 500 million annual visits to theme parks around the world. While the average ticket price varies dramatically from park to park, per person tickets top $100 per day in some locations. This means there are easily billions of dollars spent each year on theme park tickets alone, not to mention all the other related costs.
At TPG, we want you to not only get the best deal on theme park tickets but also use the right credit card to pay for the purchase to earn as many rewards as possible. Strategically using one of the best credit cards for theme park tickets will mean that you can earn bonus cash back or some extra miles and points to put toward the next family vacation.
But it’s tricky. Theme park tickets are not generally a clearly spelled-out credit card bonus category in the same manner as gas or grocery stores. Often, theme park tickets will code as entertainment purchases, but that isn’t always the case. Here’s your road map to maximizing theme park ticket purchases by using the right credit card.
Best credit cards for Disney and Universal in 2020
- Chase Sapphire Reserve: Best for booking packages or booking via travel agencies
- Citi Premier® Card: Best all-around card for theme parks
- Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card: Best for cash-back at theme parks
- American Express® Green Card: Best for earning Amex rewards
- American Express® Gold Card: Best for dining at theme parks
- Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card: Best for simple rewards
- Chase Freedom Unlimited: Best for a bonus on all purchases
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card: Best for occasional theme park visitors
- Disney Visa: Best for Disney-specific perks and financing
Where you buy tickets matters
The best credit card to use for theme park ticket purchases depends heavily on how the purchase will code on your credit card. The most likely bonus categories are entertainment or travel. When purchasing theme park tickets directly from the park itself, it’s most likely the charge will code as an entertainment purchase on your card.
However, if you purchase park tickets from a travel agency (such as Undercover Tourist) or via a site like Daily Getaways, charge them to your hotel room or include them as part of a larger vacation package. The odds are high that the purchase codes as travel. This matters because if you paid with the Chase Sapphire Reserve and your $500 ticket purchase coded as travel, you’d earn 1,500 Ultimate Rewards points. However, if the purchase coded as entertainment, you’d earn just 500 points.
best overall credit card for Disney and Universal
Since theme park tickets most commonly code as either travel or entertainment, your safest bet when deciding which credit card to use is one that awards a bonus on both categories.
The Citi Premier Card awards 2 Citi ThankYou points per dollar on entertainment charges and 3 ThankYou points per dollar spent on travel charges. It’s also a pretty good card to use for theme park lunches, since it awards 2 points per dollar on dining. If you don’t want to overthink things, this card is a really good bet.
Citi ThankYou points are transferrable to airline partners and are currently valued by TPG at 1.7 cents each, giving you a return of 3.4 to 5.1 cents in rewards in categories where you earn 2 – 3 points per dollar spent.
Without thinking, I once bought a $904 Disney World annual pass on my Chase Sapphire Reserve and since it coded as entertainment instead of travel, I only earned 904 points. I could have done better with my Citi Premier.
How will your theme park tickets code?
Although things can change, here are some TPG data points on how theme park ticket purchases have coded in the past:
- Disney World tickets bought online from Disney: Entertainment.
- Disney World extra experiences (such as Fantasyland Early Morning Magic): Varies, has coded as travel.
- Universal Orlando tickets and VIP tours from Universal: Entertainment.
- Universal Orlando tickets charged to a Universal Orlando hotel: Travel.
- Legoland tickets directly from Legoland: Entertainment.
- Theme park tickets from Undercover Tourist (Disneyland tickets, in this case): Travel.
- Advance payment Disney Dining Reservations (Cinderella’s Royal Table, Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue, etc.): Codes as travel. I know, it’s weird.
- Disney restaurants that do not require advance payment (Casey’s Corner, Tiffins, Artist Point Dining With Snow White, etc.): Should code as dining when paying on-site. However, those charges should code as travel when paying with Magic Bands charged to a Disney Resort room.
Best credit cards for entertainment purchases at theme parks
If you are pretty sure your theme park tickets will code as entertainment, here are the most rewarding cards to use for that category.
|Credit Card||Entertainment bonus||value of rewards*||total value|
|Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card||4% cash back||1 cent||4 cents per dollar|
|Citi Premier® Card||2x points||1.7 cents||3.4 cents per dollar|
Best credit cards for travel purchases at theme parks
If you think your theme park tickets will code as travel — and that’s likely when buying from a travel agent, or if they are bundled with lodging or charged to a hotel room — here are the best cards to use for those expenses. If you want to be extra sure, price your tickets from Undercover Tourist as they have always coded as travel for me.
|Credit Card||travel bonus||value of rewards*||total value|
|Chase Sapphire Reserve||3x points||2 cents each||6 cents per dollar|
|Citi Premier® Card||3x points||1.7 cents each||5.1 cents per dollar|
|American Express® Green Card||3x points||2 cents each||6 cents per dollar|
|Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card||2x points||1 cent each (more with BOA Premium Rewards)||2 cents (up to 3.5 cents with BOA Premium Rewards)|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred Card||2x points||2 cents each||4 cents per dollar|
|Disney Visa||2x points||1 cent each||2 cents per dollar|
Last resort: Best cards for everyday spending
If you aren’t sure how a charge will code, using a card that is strong on everyday spending isn’t the worst plan.
|Credit Card||travel bonus||value of rewards*||total value|
|Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card||2x miles||1.4 cents each||2.8 cents per dollar|
|Chase Freedom Unlimited||1.5% cash back (1.5x points)||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||1.5x points||1 cent each (more with BOA Premium Rewards)||1.5 – 2.25 cents per dollar with BOA Premium Rewards|
|The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express||2x on the first $50,000 spent on purchases each calendar year; then 1x||2 cents each||4 cents each|
|Citi® Double Cash Card||2% (2x) – 1% when you buy and 1% as you pay||1 cent each (1.7 each with a premium Citi ThankYou card)||2 – 3.4 cents each|
*Value of Rewards based on TPG valuations and not provided by the issuer.
Tips for maximizing cards at Disney
Walt Disney World Resort in Florida is the most popular theme park — and it’s also one of the most complex when it comes to maximizing dollars spent with the best credit card. Here are some Disney World-specific credit card tips:
- Book your Disney resort hotel with the credit card that will give you the best return on travel if you book directly with Disney. The same is true if you rent Disney Vacation Club points via a site like David’s.
- Include your Disney World tickets in that package to have them code as travel, purchase from Undercover Tourist to code as travel, or simply use points for your tickets and save your cash.
- Focus on purchasing discounted Disney gift cards at places such as Sam’s Club, at a grocery store or using Amex Offers. The best credit card in those situations will vary and might include Chase Freedom (No longer open to new applicants) when wholesale clubs provide 5% cash back in rotating quarterly categories, up to $1,500 on purchases each quarter you activate. Or perhaps using an American Express® Gold Card to earn 4 Membership Rewards points per dollar at a U.S. supermarket will be the best bet (up to $25,000 in purchases per calendar year, then 1x). You can also pick up Disney gift cards at some office supply stores and earn 5x with your Ink Business Cash Credit Card (up to $25,000 per account anniversary year, then 1x).
- Magic Band everything. Once you are at Disney World, charge everything from an ice cream Dole Whip to a Mickey balloon to your meals to your Magic Band that is attached to your official Disney resort stay. The entire charge at checkout should code as travel. Attach a card to the reservation that gives a bonus on travel to rack up points. We use our Chase Sapphire Reserve to earn 3 points per dollar on almost everything at Disney.
- Earn Marriott points if you stay at the Disney Swan or Disney Dolphin and charge things to the room (like Disney tickets in the lobby). You will earn 6 Marriott points per dollar by paying with your Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card or Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card.
- What about the Disney Visa? We’re more than 1,000 words into this article and the Disney Visa is just now coming up because it isn’t the most rewarding card for most things Disney. However, it does have some cool perks. For example, it can give you 0% APR on a Disney vacation purchase for six months (then a variable APR of 15.99% applies), access to character meet-and-greets and discounts on some dining, tours and merchandise. The information for the Disney Visa card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Universal Studios Amex Lounge access and discounts
At Universal, your Amex credit cards can get you some special access extras.
- Universal Studios Hollywood: Relax in the Amex Lounge within Universal Studios Hollywood (open 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.) if you purchase your Universal VIP experience or Universal Express ticket with an Amex card.
- Universal Orlando: Enjoy the Amex Lounge in Universal Orlando (open 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.) if you use an Amex to purchase a multi-park ticket or Universal annual pass.
Both lounges limit six people per card and you must purchase tickets directly from Universal Studios. Additional Amex perks include 10% off merchandise purchases of $75+, 10% off some quick-service dining and a bonus photo with eligible photo packages.
Save money at theme parks with Amex Offers
Before you decide which credit card to use for your theme park tickets, be sure and check for any Amex Offers that might save you money. Even if you earn fewer points, that might be a worthy trade-off to keep money in your pockets. In the past, we have seen Amex Offers for Universal Studios and Undercover Tourist.
Having fun at a theme park is pretty easy, but finding the best deals and maximizing the benefit of your expenses are more nuanced tasks. There’s no one best credit card for theme parks, but there are some solid options depending on where you want to go and how you are purchasing your tickets.
To continue your theme park vacation planning:
- How to save money at Disney World
- How to use points to buy Disney tickets
- How much does a trip to Disney World cost
- The ultimate guide to Walt Disney World
- Use points to save money at Universal Orlando
- Guide to visiting Knott’s Berry Farm
- Guide to visiting Legoland Florida
- Southern California’s 10 best theme parks
- 9 tips for visiting Disneyland
Featured image by David Roark for Disney Parks
Additional reporting by Meghan Hunter
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- Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
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