How We Saved $1,822 at Universal Orlando

My daughter and I took an amazing trip to Universal Orlando earlier this year. Both of us geek out over Harry Potter and we’d been begging Erin to let us go. One afternoon last Fall she experienced a moment of weakness and I had the trip booked before she had time to come to her senses. So, here’s a recap on how we used points for our five-night, four-day day vacation at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter!

Before we jump into the details, here’s a breakdown of our trip and how much we saved:

What we Spent What we Saved
Flight to Orlando 35,536 Chase Ultimate Rewards $444
Flight to Seattle 25,000 United MileagePlus $360
5 Nights at Hyatt Place Universal 40,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards $951
Two 4-Day Park-to-Park Tickets (1 adult, 1 child) $380 $67
Total Savings $1,822

Flights

We live in Seattle, so Orlando is a long way off. Because we booked our trip less than four months ahead of time and it was planned for the week of President’s Day, we struggled to find good deals on airfare. We had some leftover United miles and they were offering a one-way flight home from Orlando for 12,500 each. The schedule wasn’t great (long layover in Houston), but the price in miles was decent so we laid down the 25k for our two flights. They would have cost $360 total, so we got 1.44 cents each for our United miles.

For our flight to Orlando, we couldn’t find anything less than 40k for two one-way flights, so we turned to the Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Center. With the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, you get a 25% bump in the value of points when you’re booking travel through them. In this case, two one-way flights were $444 total or 35,536 points, a value of 1.25 cents per point. When you book flights through Chase, you can still earn airline miles, so we ended up earning about 4,000 miles on Alaska Airlines.

Hotel

We decided to stay at the Hyatt Place Orlando Universal for 8,000 points a night. Free breakfast, free shuttle, and being within walking distance made this a great choice. For five nights we needed to transfer 40,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points into our Hyatt Gold Passport account. At the time, the hotel cost $951 for those five nights, so we averaged 2.38 cents per point here.

Tickets

At the end of last year, American Express offered a $30 rebate for spending $150 or more at Undercover Tourist through the AmexOffers program. Undercover Tourist offers discounted theme park tickets. When my wife got a Starwood Preferred Amex card last, she added me as an authorized user. Amex gives the authorized user a separate credit card number, so each card is eligible for AmexOffers. So, in our case, we could purchase one ticket on one card and another ticket on the other and get $60 back from American Express. Plus, Undercover Tourist was selling the tickets a little lower the Universal, so we saved another $7 there for a total of $67 saved.

What Cards We Used

Chase Ultimate Rewards – We used 75,536 CURs that saved us $1,395. This means we redeemed our points at 1.85 cents a piece, a little lower than the 2 cents a piece they’re worth. Many of these points came through a Chase Sapphire Preferred sign up bonus of 55,000 and some spending on the card. We also have a couple no annual fee Chase Freedom cards and take advantage of the 5x category bonuses each quarter.

United  MileagePlus – A couple years ago we got the United MileagePlus Explorer card when it was offering a strong sign up bonus. It gives a 10,000 bonus when you spend $25,000 in a year and I happened to be flying internationally in United quite a bit at the time. We didn’t have a ton of miles left over, but we had just enough for our two one-way flights which saved us $360.

What We Saved

All told we spent around $600 on our vacation, $380 on tickets and about $200 on food. But, we saved over $1,800 on flights, hotel, and tickets. We couldn’t afford a $2,400 vacation like that, but with sign up bonuses from cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, they can be within the reach of anyone.

Chase Sapphire Preferred

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  • What kind of points: Hotels, Airlines, General Travel, and Cash
  • Sign Up Bonus: 50,000 after spending $4,000 in three months and another 5,000 after adding an authorized user
  • Annual Fee: $95 (waived first year)
  • How to Earn Points: 2x points on travel and dining, 1 point on everything else
  • Value of a Point: 2.0 cents
  • How to Spend Points: Redeem for cash, spend through Chase travel center, transfer to airlines or hotels
  • Our favorite Use: Stays at the Hyatt Place Orlando/Convention Center