Families who aim for a Disney-themed holiday often try to combine it with a day or two at Universal Studios. This is especially true for trips to Orlando or Los Angeles since they are the cradles of amusement parks.
However, those trips to Universal Studios or Disney parks around the world can be very stiff as the expenses quickly add up with entrance tickets, accommodation, airfare, express passes, meals, souvenirs, etc.
Universal Studios Parks Around the World
There are four Universal Studios parks around the world:
- Universal Studios Hollywood (Los Angeles, United States)
- Universal Orlando Resort (Orlando, United States)
- Universal Studios Japan (Osaka, Japan)
- Universal Studios Singapore (Singapore)
As the names suggest, Universal Orlando Resort is different from the other Universal Studios parks. The resort has eight on-site hotels with exclusive perks and two parks (Universal Studios and Universal Islands of Adventure).
Universal Studios: some things you should know
What surprised me the most about Universal Studios is that there are “child switch rooms” so that adults can switch out and go on all rides without waiting in line again if their little one doesn’t meet the height requirement.
In my opinion, Universal Studios is aimed for adults and older kids, but the child switch rooms are great if you still want to visit this park with babies or small children.
I personally loved Universal Studios because I am a movie buff and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter alone had made my day.
As for other themes of the park, The Simpsons and The Jurassic World ones were pretty neat as well. In addition, you can join a tour of the actual working backlot of Universal Studios in the one in Los Angeles.
How to Save on Park Tickets at Universal Studios
First and foremost, look out for promotions and offers on Universal Studios park tickets. There’s often a two-day access for the price of one available.
Universal Studios doesn’t have lightning lanes like Disney. Instead, you can buy the Universal Express Pass in order to skip the lines. The Express Pass will allow you to do so once for every ride while the Express Pass Unlimited will let you go as many times as you want.
AIR MILES Dream Miles
With the decline of the AIR MILES program, it’s maybe weird to say this, but Dreams Miles is still an excellent way to save on park tickets at Universal Studios in the United States if you have a lot of unused miles.
While I wouldn’t count on this strategy for a long-term plan, if you are thinking of going to Universal Studios in the very near future, this is what you should aim for.
The BMO AIR MILES World Elite Mastercard gives you 3000 Dream Miles (exclusive offer for Milesopedia readers) after a $3000 spend. The AIR MILES are obtained as soon as you hit the minimum spend and transferred to your AIR MILES account on the statement date.
Well, that is enough for two regular entry tickets to Universal Studios! For a family of four, each adult could sign up for the card and you’d be all set quite quickly if you can meet the minimum spend.
You can buy your tickets and redeem travel rewards points for a statement credit, you can use those for other purposes while the use of AIR MILES is actually quite limited now but theme park tickets are a good use.
Travel Rewards Points
If you have no desire to rack up AIR MILES, you can simply use travel rewards points for a travel credit.
While you can employ Membership Rewards Points on any purchase, I’d favour using the HSBC World Elite Mastercard and redeeming HSBC rewards points; you’ll be able to save on the 2.5% foreign exchange fee with that card along with being able to redeem the HSBC points for a statement credit.
In order to do so, you have to go through a website such as Undercover Tourist to buy your Universal Studios Park tickets since the expense will be coded as “travel” instead of “entertainment” on most cards such as the HSBC World Elite Mastercard.
Flights to Universal Studios
To Los Angeles and Orlando
Getting to Universal Studios in Los Angeles or Orlando is quite easy and straightforward since both cities are well served from many hubs in the country. The strategy is the same for either locations.
Airfare fluctuates a lot depending on the time of the year and you might find very good bargains on Google Flights; when points valuation isn’t great, you’re better off paying in cash and using travel points for a statement credit.
For example, NBC Rewards points from the National Bank World Elite Mastercard allows you to redeem points at a rate of 10,000 points for $100 when you use their booking platform (which is the best redemption rate for that program).
You can see here that the amount is almost identical to when booking directly with the airline; the small difference is because the platform acts as a travel agency and there’s an OPC fee added.
On the other hand, you can use Aeroplan points as the valuation sometimes beats the cash price. If you plan ahead, you may get away with quite a steal during peak travel time.
If you still have a buddy pass, you can bring a companion and only pay the cost of the taxes!
From Canada, you can fly directly to Tokyo on award flights with Aeroplan points or with Alaska Mileage Plan at a relatively low cost. Don’t linger too much on that idea and book as soon as you can; some changes are about to hit the program.
Furthermore, All Nippon Airways is servicing Vancouver and United flies to Japan from many US hubs so there’s no shortage of route options from Canada under the partner fixed award chart. As long as you can find availability, you’re set. If not, set up alerts on ExpertFlyer for your preferred dates.
Alaska Mileage Plan is also a very good program to utilize to fly to Japan, especially if you are looking into a superior product such as Japan Airlines First Class for as little as 70,000 miles for a one-way flight.
While you can fly directly to Osaka to get to Universal Studios Japan, you most probably will be connecting in Tokyo; you can use this opportunity to discover a wonderful country from Tokyo to Hiroshima, for example, and slowly make your way to Osaka with the efficient transportation system in Japan.
For more information on how to reach Japan with points and miles, check out these guides:
From Canada, you can travel to Universal Studios Singapore on their airline with their program: KrisFlyer.
HSBC Rewards is the only way to get KrisFlyer miles in Canada. While you can fly on Singapore Airlines with partner airlines, this is the only way if you want to go to this wonderful city, country on the elusive Singapore Airlines First Class Suites.
If premium cabins are not what you are looking for, Aeroplan has pretty good rates; for only 60,000 points, you can fly to Singapore from Canada on partner airlines.
If you’re lucky, you may even get away with less with Air Canada’s dynamic pricing. Indeed, it sometimes works in our favour! Here’s a one-way fare to Singapore for a mere 48,000 Aeroplan points:
Accomodation near Universal Studios
Universal Studios on-site
For a full immersive experience in Orlando, you’ll have to stay at a Universal Studios Hotel; you’ll be able to get access to exclusive park benefits such as priority entrance and some discounts on souvenirs and food.
Amex Platinum Card and Amex Business Platinum Card holders can book Universal Studios on-site hotels with perks through the American Express Fine Hotels + Resorts program. In addition, you’ll be able to use your annual 200$ credit on that purchase.
Furthermore, you can to redeem your Membership Reward Points for a statement credit for your Universal Studios hotels.
Universal Studios off-site
There are plenty of Marriott hotels in the vicinity of Universal Studios parks in the United States where you can use your Marriott Bonvoy points or your free annual night award from either the Marriott Bonvoy American Express Card or the Marriott Bonvoy Business American Express Card.
Around Orlando, rates for Marriott hotels are actually not that high so you might not get the best valuation for points redemption but this is an opportunity to receive elite nights in order to reach a status without breaking the bank.
Same with Universal Studios Japan in Osaka, there’s a fair amount of affordable hotels from the chain. Since Osaka is also a good base for exploring the Kansai region of Japan, you could benefit from a 5th night free if you book your stay with points. That translates to a 20% discount!
How to save on other expenses at Universal Studios
After covering park tickets, airfare and accommodations for a trip to Universal Studios, here are some additional tips to save even more money.
Parking fees, airplane seat selection and checked luggage
While Universal Studios Japan and Universal Studios Singapore can be accessed more easily with public transport, it’s less convenient to do so in the United States.
When I went to Universal Studios Hollywood, we decided to park on-site and near the front gate to beat the crowds. The rate was $60US compared to the regular one at $30US but we were in the park before the hoard.
This was money very well spent since this can mean being able to do one or even two rides before it gets crowded; we didn’t see many lines for almost an hour after the park’s opening on a Saturday. We then used travel rewards points on our expense.
You can also look for hotels with free shuttles to the Universal Studios parks, but you will most likely not be dropped near the front gate.
As for seat selection in flights and checked baggage, you can use your annual credits from the National Bank World Elite Mastercard to cover the fees in that regard if you don’t qualify for a free luggage with an Aeroplan co-branded cards.
Foreign Exchange fees
There is a $49 annual fee for this amazing credit card (after the $100 travel credit), but the fee is more than justified if you spend more than $USD 1,550 (or $1,960) per year.
Most theme parks are money draining machines and Universal Studios is no exception. Mastering the art of travel hacking can make a big difference in your budget; signing up and using the right credit cards for your day-to-day purchases will define how many trips you can do.
Since you might also want to hit Universal Studios along with Disney World during your time in Orlando, your wallet will definitely need a hand!