Author Topic: Travel Hacking Universal Studios  (Read 1690 times)


  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
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Travel Hacking Universal Studios
« on: August 11, 2017, 02:07:47 PM »
I will be turning 40 in April, and for my birthday I think I'd like to go to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  Naturally I'd like to do this with as little cash outlay as possible, and I have time to plan ahead so I'm starting to think about it.

Looking for advice on how to do Universal as cheaply as possible. 

Factors to consider: Likely this trip will include me, my husband (MrV), my brother & SIL, and parents. No kids, each couple paying their own way. Bro and I are pretty gung-ho about the whole HP experience.  Everyone else will have varying levels of enthusiasm, with my parents pretty much wanting to come just to spend time with us.   (We get together several times a year so I'm not holding companionship hostage to theme park visits or anything.) Given this, how many park days are optimal?  Better to stay on or off property?  One major advantage to on-property seems that it would make it easy for my parents to bug out and not spend the whole day at the park.  But off property I'm assuming I could get a hotel credit card and use points to cover the whole stay. Does that seem accurate? 

MrV likes water parks, so he might be into going to Volcano Bay.  Have you been? Worth it?

My parents are FL residents, so there are possible discounts to consider from that, and they will be driving. The rest of us will fly. I have already got the flights covered having qualified for a SW companion pass this year.

We are new to the travel hacking thing, so I have opened the 2 cards to get the companion pass, and we have opened none for MrV in recent years, so should reasonably be able to open any cards which would help with this endeavor.

Also from cursory research, I see that food is crazy expensive (naturally) and one of the best ways to save is to bring your own, and it will be easy for my parents to bring a soft sided cooler. So, good to know there.

So lay your best tips and advice on me. I get that theme parks are not mustachian, and my best choice would be not go.  I definitely won't go so far as to say I need Harry Potter like a grindylow needs water, but I really do want to see WWOHP. 


  • Handlebar Stache
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Re: Travel Hacking Universal Studios
« Reply #1 on: August 11, 2017, 03:16:42 PM »
Assuming FL, not CA, this is what my wife and I did in September of 2016:

1) Get a cold butterbeer! It's delicious! No scrimping here!

2) 2 days was enough to do both Universal and Islands of Adventure.

3) AirBnB lodging, or a timeshare property (don't actually sign up for a timeshare obviously)

4) Does your employer offer discounts like an employee mall? My employer did, which helped with the ticket prices immensely.

5) We rented the cheapest car we could from one of the big companies (budget or hertz, but i can't remember). Didn't cost much.

6) Grocery store to stock up for breakfast and lots of snacks for the day. Split a small meal at the park for lunch, find restaurant for dinner. Obviously this could have been done cheaper, but it's what worked for us.

7) Have fun! We stayed a while and did: an evening of Halloween Horror Nights with Front of Line passes, 2 day park hopper for Universal/Islands of Adventure, then a 5 day hopper at Disneyworld which happened to have the food and wine festival going on at Epcot.

All that being said, Harry Potter was hands down the best part of the trip. Driving sucks there, it's soulless, and Disneyland in CA is better than Disneyworld overall, but we are already itching to do HP again!

Another tip: bring cheapo flip flops for when it rains, and keep them in your backpack. that way you can keep your socks and shoes dry in the event it rains randomly in the afternoon. I actually found a really nice pair of north face rubber flip flops at an outlet and wore them all day and night, and had zero foot pain.


  • Handlebar Stache
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Re: Travel Hacking Universal Studios
« Reply #2 on: August 11, 2017, 05:10:50 PM »
Regarding travel hacking aspects of the trip:

For hotels IHG is a great one (80,000 points at the moment, I think).  Get two, one for you and one for DW.  Good at Holiday Inns and several other chains under the IHG umbrella.

Consider Barclaycard. I'm not sure what the bonus is at the moment.  Could be 50,000 points which are worth $500  After you receive points you can "erase" charges (minimum of $100) made on the card which are coded as "travel".  Not sure if AirBnb counts.  Airbnb might be a better option that hotel rooms.

Sapphire Preferred or even better Sapphire Reserve ($450 fee though) will earn flexible points that can be used to book hotels and rental cars through their travel portal. 



  • Handlebar Stache
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Re: Travel Hacking Universal Studios
« Reply #3 on: August 11, 2017, 05:44:51 PM »
We stayed off site at a r ally nice place, and they had a shuttle to the park, so that was convenient.

It was so, so crowded. I wouldn't want to haul food around the park. I bought everybody a snack and drink pass and made dinner reservations at the only place that had many vegetarian options. It was okay.

The people who like rides had a lot of fun, and I enjoyed watching them have fun.


  • Walrus Stache
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Re: Travel Hacking Universal Studios
« Reply #4 on: August 11, 2017, 06:07:47 PM »
It's been a few years...  so there is more the the HP world since we went.

* we stayed on site.  I am sure that added to the cost.  But if I recall, it got us in an hour earlier.  (Not sure if that is still true or not.)
* Two days would probably suffice -- one for each park. 
* Dear Jebus the food was expensive (and sub par).  I think we paid $30 for 2 hamburgers with fries and a beer.  Bad burgers, not some over the top delicious burgers.  My take on it was that I didn't have any real "awesome food experience" while I was there.  I think a packed bag of sandwiches would have been better.  (But, yes, have a butter beer!)  The food in the hotel restaurants was better... but more expensive... and still not awesome.
* We packed "get wet clothes" for the water rides.  We changed into them, rode all the water rides in a row, then changed back out


  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
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Re: Travel Hacking Universal Studios
« Reply #5 on: August 11, 2017, 07:11:04 PM »
If you have an American Express card and purchase the tickets with that you get entry to the American express lounge ( IIRC it was across from the Shrek attraction).  The lounge is air conditioned with free bottles of water, snacks like granola bars and chips, restrooms and outlets for charging.  A small but quiet place to take a break.  You do have to show your card and they check it to make sure you paid for your tickets with it.

DEFINITELY get a butterbeer, I preferred the frozen ones.


  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
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Re: Travel Hacking Universal Studios
« Reply #6 on: August 12, 2017, 01:36:08 PM »
Thanks for the tips so far! I will definitely be looking at the card options and weighing them.

We will be having butterbeer, no doubt!  Seems like a can't-miss part of the experience.

Oh, and I don't plan to drag the cooler around the park!  Apparently you can get a locker.