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How to use points to save money at Universal Orlando

July 01, 2022
13 min read
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Any first-timer planning a vacation to major U.S. theme parks like Universal or Disney is in for sticker shock. Between park tickets, themed hotel rooms, skip-the-line passes and souvenirs, the expenses add up quickly. In the search for savings, families may find it easier right now to use points to save money on trips to Universal Orlando than Walt Disney World.

Here are some ways to save:

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Hogwarts Castle at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Use Chase Ultimate Rewards points

Redeem Ultimate Rewards points for Universal hotels

The Chase Ultimate Rewards program can be a jack of all trades in covering the costs of a Universal Orlando vacation. Let’s consider your lodging.

Universal Orlando Resort has three Premier-class hotels: Loews Royal Pacific Resort, The Hard Rock Hotel and Loews Portofino Bay Hotel. Reservations at each of these hotels include Universal Express Unlimited, Universal Orlando’s cut-the-line pass. So, if you want Universal Express Unlimited, it's worth doing the math to see if you can save (or at least break even) by staying in a Premier hotel.

The lower tiers of Universal Orlando hotels don’t include Express Pass Unlimited but do offer early access to select Universal theme parks each day, including The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. That’s great if anyone in your family has their heart set on trying Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure or Jurassic World Velocicoaster, two coasters with notoriously long waits (and no Express Pass line).

Some of the Universal hotel options that don’t include Express Passe Unlimited also can be really family-friendly. For example, the Aventura Hotel has family rooms and Universal's Endless Summer Dockside and Surfside resorts have roomy two-bedroom suites.

Related: TPG’s complete guide to Universal Orlando

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Universal’s Aventura Hotel. (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

All of Universal's Orlando hotels are available for booking through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal. The value of your Chase points will vary based on the card you hold. You’ll get the highest value if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve, as then your points are worth 1.5 cents each toward booking travel.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Chase Ink Business Preferred Credit Card both offer slightly less (1.25 cents) in value per Ultimate Rewards point redeemed for travel, while the Chase Freedom Flex card will provide you with a value of just 1 cent per point. However, if you have the Sapphire Reserve, you can transfer the points you have earned on your other Chase Ultimate Rewards cards, like the Freedom Flex, to your Sapphire Reserve account and then redeem them at 1.5 cents each.

(Screenshot from ultimaterewardstravel.chase.com)

Points prices and cash prices vary by date. On a test date in mid-September, the Universal Orlando hotels ranged from 9,603 to 45,809 Ultimate Rewards points per night for a user with the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.

(Screenshot from ultimaterewardstravel.chase.com)

Buying Universal tickets with Ultimate Rewards points

Historically, you could purchase a variety of Universal Orlando park tickets through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. When doing so, you'd get the same redemption rates as you'd get when booking hotels through the Ultimate Rewards portal.

However, as of the most recent update of this story, we could not find any Universal Orlando park tickets available through the Ultimate Rewards travel portal. So, although you should check the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal to see whether Universal Orlando tickets have been added again, you may need to purchase tickets through another method.

You should also consider a Universal annual pass if you’re visiting during a peak time. Our family of four found we could save money purchasing annual passes instead of buying two-day park tickets with Express Passes. We sacrificed the all-day Express Pass option for one that starts at 4 p.m. every day and ended up with a year’s worth of Hogwarts for the price of two (times four) days of tickets.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. (Photo courtesy of Edward Pizzarello)

Related: Best credit cards for Disney and Universal vacations

Use Citi ThankYou points

Just as you can use Chase Ultimate Rewards points at a fixed value to book an official Universal Orlando hotel room, you can use your Citi ThankYou points to do the same via the Citi ThankYou travel portal. Those with a Citi Premier® Card or Citi Prestige® Card can redeem points at a fixed 1 cent per point value toward travel.

The information for the Citi Prestige 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.

(Screenshot from travel.thankyou.com)

Related: How to get the most out of one day at Universal Studios

Additionally, Citi Prestige cardholders can book up to two stays each year using the card's fourth-night-free benefit. To use this perk, eligible cardholders must book a stay of four nights or longer through the ThankYou portal and opt in to using the fourth-night-free benefit.

(Screenshot from travel.thankyou.com)

You can also book theme park tickets and other activities through the Citi ThankYou travel portal. However, we didn't find any Universal Orlando tickets available through the portal when updating this story.

Related: How to redeem Citi ThankYou points for maximum value

Use Amex Membership Rewards points

Using Amex Membership Reward points for Universal hotels

All eight of Universal's on-site hotels are available for booking through the American Express Travel portal using either cash or points. Cash pricing is typically the same as what you'll find by booking direct with Universal, but you can earn 5 Membership Rewards points per dollar spent on prepaid hotels booked through the Amex Travel portal with The Platinum Card® from American Express or The Business Platinum Card® from American Express.

The redemption value when paying with points through the Amex Travel portal isn't great. For example, a one-night stay at Universal's Cabana Bay Resort in Feb. 2023 has a cash price of $251.99 all-in and a points price of 35,999. TPG currently values American Express Membership Rewards points at 2 cents each and this redemption only has a value of 0.6 cents per point.

Amex Fine Hotels + Resort perks

Speaking of American Express, Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, one of the three hotels that confer Universal Express Unlimited, is bookable via the American Express Fine Hotels + Resorts program, available to those with the Amex Platinum Card or Amex Business Platinum Card.

When booking a stay at this property via the Fine Hotels + Resorts program, not only do you get Express Pass Unlimited but you also get a room upgrade (based on availability), complimentary breakfast for two daily, complimentary Wi-Fi, early check-in (if available), late checkout and a $100 food and beverage credit per stay.

Related: Inside a $3,000 Universal Studios VIP tour

Use hotel points for off-site Universal hotels

There are several chain hotels located near Universal Orlando Resort, which gives you lots of opportunities to use hotel points.

The Hilton Garden Inn Orlando International Drive North is only two miles from Universal and offers a complimentary shuttle to the parks. Room rates start at 29,000 points per night (or just under $100) and, as is true of all standard Hilton Honors reward stays, your fifth night is free. With welcome offers upwards of 100,000 points on certain Hilton cobranded credit cards, you could cover your entire stay with points by opening a card and hitting the minimum spend before booking your stay.

The Hyatt House and Holiday Inn & Suites across from Universal Orlando Resort are even closer — just one mile away — and also operate complimentary theme park shuttles. Standard rooms at the Hyatt House start at 9,000 World of Hyatt points (or $150) per night and rooms at the Holiday Inn start at 15,000 IHG points per night (or just under $100).

Related: How to choose the right hotel for your Universal Orlando vacation

It’s always nice to have a bit more space when traveling with the family. (Photo courtesy of Hyatt House Universal Orlando)

All three of these are Universal Partner Hotels, which means you’ll get certain discounts on merchandise, food and non-alcoholic beverages inside the parks and at CityWalk, on top of saving money on your hotel room by redeeming rewards points.

Save some cash on the hotel and buy your kids a wand instead. (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Other ways to save on Universal Orlando

Discount ticket brokers

If you don’t have a lot of points or miles available at the moment, there are still ways to save on a Universal Orlando vacation. Look for discounted Universal Orlando tickets on Undercover Tourist. Even when there’s a price increase on tickets at the parks, Undercover Tourist will usually have inventory at the older prices for a short time.

Related: Best credit cards for Disney and Universal vacations

Make sure to pay with your Chase Sapphire Reserve to earn 3 points per dollar on the travel charge via Undercover Tourist. Getaway Today is another reputable discount ticket agency that can usually save you money on Universal Orlando tickets.

As a side note, not all discount ticket sites are created equal. We trust Undercover Tourist based on experience and its solid reputation. But fake theme park tickets are a real thing and will sting you if you don’t use common sense. If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Related: The best credit cards for entertainment spending

Daily Getaways discounts

The annual Daily Getaways sale is another way to save on Universal Orlando. In 2019 you could purchase a certificate for two nights at select Loews hotels, including Loews Royal Pacific, for a total of $325. There are often unpublished blackout dates, but if you have date flexibility, you may be able to snag an amazing deal.

Daily Getaways will occur once again this July. We don't get know whether this year's sale will include any Universal offerings — but stay tuned.

Fixed value points

Last, but far from least, fixed-value rewards from credit cards such as the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card can make it very easy to book a hotel or even an entire Universal Orlando vacation package and then use rewards from your card to pay off some or all of the charge. That being said, we’re also a fan of transferring Capital One miles to airlines and hotels.

Related: 5 ways Universal Studios is better than Disney

Bottom line

The cost of a Universal vacation (well, any vacation) can quickly surpass your budget if you aren't careful. Leveraging points and miles to lessen the cash cost of your stay can make a big difference. Beyond that, just having the right credit card in your wallet can make a difference when it comes to discounts and maximizing points for your next vacation. With each cold Butterbeer setting you back about $8, you need all the help you can get.

Who can resist a Harry Potter-themed beverage? (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
Featured image by SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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TPG featured card

Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

2 - 10X points
10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day

Intro offer

75,000 bonus miles
Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

Annual Fee

$395

Recommended Credit

740-850
Excellent
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023
Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

    75,000 bonus miles
  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023