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From Disney World in Florida to Universal Studios Hollywood, and from Tokyo Disneyland to Knott’s Berry Farm in California and beyond, there are 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 can top $100 per day in some locations. This means there are easily billions and 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 for the purchase. Strategically using the best credit card 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 purchase.
Where You Purchase 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 likely the charge will code as entertainment on your card.
However, if you purchase park tickets from a travel agency (such as Undercover Tourist), via a site like the Daily Getaways, charge them to your hotel room or include them as part of a large vacation package, the odds are high that the purchase codes as travel.
Overall Best Credit Card for Theme Park Tickets
Since theme park tickets most commonly code as 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 ThankYou points per dollar on entertainment charges and 3 ThankYou points per dollar 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 is a good bet.
If you instead used your Chase Sapphire Reserve and just hoped your charges would post as travel or dining at 3x points per dollar, you could be looking at a 6 cent per dollar return if that worked. But if your tickets instead coded as entertainment, you’d earn just 1 point per dollar. (And yes, that has totally happened to me at Disney on a very pricy annual pass when I wasn’t paying attention. Lesson learned.)
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 online from Disney World: entertainment
- Disney World extra experiences (such as Early Morning Toy Story Land): 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) coded as travel
- Advance payment Disney Dining Reservations (Cinderella’s Royal Table, Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue, etc.): Code 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 Disney Resort.
Cards That Award a Bonus on Entertainment
If you are pretty sure your theme park tickets will code as entertainment, here are the most rewarding cards to use for that category.
|Category Bonus: Entertainment||Value of the Rewards||Total Earned per Dollar Spent||Annual Fee|
|Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card||4% cash back||1 cent||4 cents||$95 (waived the first year)|
|Citi Premier Card||2x||1.7 cents||3.4 cents||$95|
Cards That Award a Bonus on Travel
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.)
|Category Bonus: Travel||Value of the Rewards||Total Earned per Dollar Spent||Annual Fee|
|Chase Sapphire Reserve||3x||2 cents||6 cents||$450|
|Citi Premier Card||3x||1.7 cents||5.1 cents||$95|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred Card||2x||2 cent||4 cents||$95|
|Bank of America Premium Rewards credit card||2x||1 cent||2 cents (up to 3.5 cents with BOA Premium Rewards)||$95|
Last Resort: Cards That Rock 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.
|Category Bonus: None/Everyday||Value of the Rewards||Total Earned per Dollar Spent||Annual Fee|
|Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card||2x||1.4 cents||2.8 cents||$95 (waived the first year)|
|Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard||2x||1 cents||2 cents||$89 (waived the first year)|
|The Blue Business®️ Plus Credit Card from American Express||2x on first $50,000 each year; then 1x||2 cent||4 cents||$0 (See Rates & Fees)|
|Bank of America Premium Rewards credit card||1.5x||1 cent||1.5 cents (up to 2.25 cents with BOA Premium Rewards)||$95|
|Chase Freedom Unlimited||1.5% (1.5x) (3% cash back/3 points per dollar with this new customer offer)||2 cents (if you also have a premium Ultimate Rewards card)||3 cents (with premium UR card)||$0|
Best Credit Cards at Disney World Tips
While Walt Disney World Resort in Florida is far from the only theme park to visit, it is the most popular and one of the most complex when it comes to maximizing dollars spent. 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. Or, if you book via Hotels.com/Venture, pay with your Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card to earn up to 20% in rewards.
- 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 them 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 when wholesale clubs provide 5% cash back in rotating quarterly categories, up to $1,500 each quarter you activate. Or perhaps using an American Express® Gold Card to earn 4 Membership Rewards points per dollar at a US supermarket will be the best bet (up to $25,000 annually, 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 annually, 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 can give you 0% APR on a Disney vacation purchase for six months (then a variable APR of 18.24% applies), access to character meet-and-greets and discounts on some dining, tours and merchandise.
Universal Studios Amex Lounge Access and Discounts
Universal Studios Hollywood: Relax in the Amex Lounge within Universal Studios Hollywood (open 12pm – 5pm) if you purchase your Universal VIP experience or Universal Express ticket with an Amex card.
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 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 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
- Ultimate Guide to Walt Disney World
- Book Disney for Less by Renting Disney Vacation Club Points
- 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 Ryan Wendler/Walt Disney World
For rates and fees of the Blue Business Plus, click here.
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TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $250
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*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.
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