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Although in the past I’ve joked about cheating on Disney, it does look like my family will be visiting Universal Orlando Resort before our next Disney Cruise. My kids have seen the commercials. Two of them love Harry Potter, one is obsessed with The Simpsons and Transformers, and all of us love Minions. We decided it’s time to take the leap. Why not, since we will be flying to Orlando anyway. To make our trip more enjoyable, I’m considering using AA miles for Universal Express Pass.
What is Universal Express Pass?
Universal Express Pass is Universal’s version of Disney’s FastPass system. It lets you skip the long line for a shorter wait on most rides.
Unlike Disney’s FastPass system, however, the Universal Express Pass system comes at a price. To get Universal Express Pass added to your ticket, you must either pay for it or stay onsite at one of three Universal resorts.
The price depends on the type of Express Pass you purchase and the date you visit the parks. For my family of five, the price is quite steep.
The cost for my family for five two-day park-to-park tickets is currently $1264.95. Two of my three kids count as adults for tickets prices since they are over the age of 9. If we add the regular Universal Express Pass, which lets us skip the line only one time per ride, the cost is an extra $800 for the five of us for two days. If we add Express Pass Unlimited, which allows us to skip the line multiple times on each ride, the cost is $1000 extra. Yikes!
Alternatively, we could book a night at Hard Rock Hotel, Loews Portofino Bay or Loews Royal Pacific Resort to get free Express Pass Unlimited. A one night stay at any of these three hotels gets us two days of Express Pass privileges, the day we check in and the day we check out. These hotels can fit up to five people in a room. Rates range from $250-$600 per night, depending on the date and available promotions.
Is Universal Express Pass Worth It?
Before you jump through hoops or fork over cash for Universal Express Pass, first ask yourself if it’s even worth it for your family. And that largely depends on the season and specific day you plan to visit the parks.
I’ve talked to families who purchased the passes before their trip and regretted it. The regular lines were only 10-15 minutes long, so using the Express Pass did not save them much time.
Other folks I’ve talked to said that having Express Pass benefits were the reason they enjoyed the parks so much. When lines are over an hour long, shaving off 45+ minutes per ride is totally worth it. Spending less time in the blazing sun and less time listening to your kids whining is priceless!
Check out this Universal crowd calendar for an estimate of the crowd levels during your visit.
Using AA Miles for Universal Express Pass
So back to the point of this point, which is using AA miles to get Universal Express Pass. If you have an American Airlines co-branded credit card, you can use your miles on useaamiles.com for discounted miles redemptions on a Universal hotel. Leana has written about using AA miles for hotel redemptions before.
If you don’t currently have an AA co-branded credit card, you have a few options. Citi offers the AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard in both a personal and business version. Spend $3000 in the first three months and get 60,000 AA miles. The annual fee is waived the first year. Both versions are in our affiliate network.
The other option is the AA Aviator card from Barclaycard, which also has a personal and business version. For these cards, you just have to make one purchase and pay the annual fee of $95 to receive 60,000 AA miles (40,000 AA miles for the business version). This card is not in our affiliate network, but here are direct links for the personal version and the business version.
Note: Reportedly, the above 60k offers on AA cards expire TODAY, 1/31/18. The offers will most likely be reduced to 50k starting on 2/1/18.
To use your AA miles for a night at a Universal hotel, go to useaamiles.com. You must login with your AA account info on the upper right side of the website in order to see the discounted rates. Otherwise, the rates will be higher.
Input your travel dates and list Orlando as the city. On my searches that included dates within the next six months, I see at least one onsite Universal hotel that includes Express Pass Unlimited at a rate of around 33,000-40,000 AA miles per night. And remember, you only need one night at the onsite resort hotel to get two days of Express Pass.
If you are trying to book a date further in the future, you will see higher rates. Wait until closer to your trip when the rack rates are replaced by promotional rates, and you should see lower rates.
Are AA Miles the Best for Universal?
If you intend to use your AA miles for flights, you may not want to use them for a hotel stay. However, due to the high sign-up bonuses of the multiple AA co-branded cards right now, it may make sense to use your miles for one night at an onsite hotel in order to get the Universal Express Pass.
Of course, there are other cards you could use to get a free night at one of those Universal hotels. Most notably, the Capital One Venture Rewards Card and the Barclaycard Arrival Plus card. Both of those come with sign-up bonuses that let you erase travel expenses off your statements with your points. You can easily just charge your hotel night and watch it disappear from your statement with your bonus points.
If you are new to the miles and points hobby, both of those cards are great options. However, for those of us who are considered “grizzled hobby veterans”, those two cards are not as easy to get as the AA cards. Capital One cards are harder to get if you have a high number of credit inquiries. Barclay has a 6/24 rule for Arrival Plus approvals. So, accumulating and using AA miles may be an easier option for some.
Downside to Using AA Miles for One Night at Universal Hotel
For my family, we plan to arrive in Orlando three nights before our cruise. We will spend two full days at Universal before heading to the port. If we spend AA miles for just one night at a Universal hotel, we will get the Universal Express Pass for all of us for both of our park days.
The downside is that if we just spend one night, we have to hotel hop. We would need one hotel for the night we arrive, then switch to the Universal hotel for the night in between our two park days, followed by one last night at a different hotel. That means three nights of moving hotels, which is not ideal.
However, we could use a nearby offsite hotel as the bookends of our short stay. Using Hyatt or Hilton points, we have several good options. Maybe hotel hopping won’t be so bad. Or, we could splurge on two or even three nights onsite if we want to spend the miles or cash.
Is a trip to Universal Resort in Orlando in your future? Would you consider using your AA miles for this? If you have already visited and used the Universal Express Pass system, do you think it’s worth the cost? Is staying at one of the onsite hotels with Express Pass Unlimited worth it?
Nancy lives near Dallas, Texas, with her husband and three kids. Her favorite vacations include the beach, cruising and everything Disney.