Rewards Credit Cards

Using AA Miles for Universal Express Pass

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.

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.

Using AA Miles for Universal Express Pass

useaamiles.com

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.

Using AA Miles for Universal 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?

Click here to view various credit cards and available sign-up bonuses

Author: Nancy

Nancy is a contributing writer for Miles For Family. She enjoys traveling to the beach and is a big fan of Disney. Nancy lives near Dallas, Texas, with her husband and three kids.

It's only fair to share...Share on Facebook
Facebook
Tweet about this on Twitter
Twitter
Pin on Pinterest
Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn
Linkedin

12 thoughts on “Using AA Miles for Universal Express Pass

  1. I used 24K AAmiles a night on Portofino that allowed us to check-in at 7 am last August. 2 days Universal (without the HP train) for 5 people using 79K UR point. Hotel hopping was not so bad once we committed to it. We also hopped on-off Disney hotel just to get the earlier fast pass reservation. Even in the low season, the Front of the Lines was a big help, especially for Harry Potter which had long line on the express pass.

    • @Agnes 24k AA miles is a great deal for one of those onsite Universal hotels! I’ll have to watch the rates for my dates to see if I can get a deal like that. I’m glad to hear you found the Express Pass useful.

  2. @Nancy, we stayed at the Hard Rock Hotel many many years ago and we loved taking the boat to the parks. As for Universal Orlando, the last time we visited was about 5 years ago during the off season and had no problems getting on any of the rides.

    However, last year we had annual passes to Universal Hollywood (CA), and we were fortunate to get a free “disability” pass — just worked out as someone had issues in our party. The disability pass works almost like the Express Pass, and for the weekends, it was extremely helpful as the lines were anywhere from 1 – 2 hours each. Harry Potter will always have a long line no matter what time of year so your pass would pay for itself with that ride depending on how many times they want to ride it.

    • @Stephanie The Hard Rock Hotel looks very nice! My kids would love to ride the boat to the parks. But honestly I’d stay in any of those three hotels, whichever ends up costing the less. 🙂

  3. Oh I need to do this. I still haven’t gone to Harry Potter world in Orlando since hubs and I feel like it would be cheating on Disney. I’m such a fan though that we need to do it. I have to look into it, especially if we can use our miles.

    • @Leigh My husband and I spent two days at Universal before we had kids, but that was before the Harry Potter stuff. I’m looking forward to some of the new attractions!

  4. I have never heard of this pass, but it sounds like it could be a great advantage for families that would really be able to make use of it. Thanks for sharing.

  5. It sounds like the pass could be worth it on the chance that it’s crowded. Even if the lines turn out to be short, I’d be glad to get through them quickly with my kids.

Leave a Reply