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This was our first family trip to a theme park in Orlando! My daughter is a huge Harry Potter fanatic and it seemed like a great time to visit. And it was! Truly if you are a Harry Potter fan, the Wizarding World in Universal is magical. Being there with my daughter who lists Harry Potter as one of her top two special interests was a blast. The experience is so immersive and the rides were a blast, too.
Hotel: Hyatt Regency Orlando
We stayed four nights at the Hyatt Regency Orlando. Our nights were a mix of standard and peak pricing. Three nights cost 15,000 points per night and one night cost 12,000 points per night. We used two Category 1-4 Free Night Certificates to cover two of the nights and 27,000 points for the other two.
We had earned both Free Night Certificates from Hyatt promos. One was a targeted January 2023 promo where we earned it after a two-night stay. Another one was earned after we had stayed at five different brands of Hyatt properties.
When you book an award stay with Hyatt, your resort fees and taxes are always covered! This is great because it means that hotel stay is truly $0.
We also stayed two nights at the avid hotel in Ocala, Florida while visiting my in-laws. Avid hotel rooms are on the smaller side and the rooms were inexpensive so we splurged and booked two rooms for both of the nights. The total came to 58,000 points.
See 16 great options where you can use points to stay near Universal here.
Airfare: Saving with Southwest Companion Pass
We flew Southwest (no surprise there!). We only had to book two tickets because both of our kids fly for just the price of taxes ($5.60 domestically) since my husband and I both hold a Companion Pass.
It would have been a little bit cheaper but I neglected to add the kids to our original flight in time and the flight sold out. Thankfully a similar flight was available (departing from Chicago O’Hare instead of Chicago Midway) for 4,000 points more.
Flight total came to 46,970 points for two round trip tickets (with two tickets covered thanks to our Companion Passes). We also paid $44.80 in taxes.
Rental Car: Free Tesla Upgrade
Because of the President’s Circle benefits we get from our Capital One Venture X, we always try to book through Hertz if prices are comparable.
In this case, booking an SUV was the cheapest option. We paid $354 for a week long rental and booked via Capital One Travel. This earned us 10 points per dollar spent — so we earned 3500 points!
We needed a car because we were also visiting my in-laws in Ocala, which is about an hour and a half north of Orlando. If we had just been visiting theme parks, we may have opted for just taking Uber rides.
With President’s Circle, you get to choose your car on arrival from a certain aisle (as long as your rental location has an Ultimate Choice lot). We got incredibly lucky and found a Tesla in the President’s Circle area!
We have a Plug in Hybrid minivan so we already had the PlugShare app to find free and paid charging spots. We were able to charge for free in Ocala and then again at our hotel in Orlando. This saved us even more money because we had no gas expenses for the whole trip.
Park Tickets: Discount through AAA
Universal Orlando runs different promos at different times. We meant to buy our tickets in January when the promo was buy 2 days, get 2 days free. But I just kept putting it off and by the time we bought the tickets the promo had changed to buy 3 days get 2 days free. Purchasing tickets with the newer promo cost us about $15 more per person.
Seeing the increased price sent me on a bit of a mission to save money on the tickets! I compared several sites: buying tickets direct from Universal to buying via Undercover Tourist and finally found the cheapest rates on AAA. We are members due to having our auto insurance through them but even T-mobile customers can get a free membership.
Total for park tickets: $1369
The purchase through AAA coded as an entertainment purchase, not a travel purchase. If I had paid with a Venture or Venture X credit card, I could not have used my points to get a statement credit (you need to book via Undercover Tourist for that to work). We chose to put the purchase on a Chase Ink Unlimited. We are working on meeting the minimum spend on this card and decided to just pay for the tickets out of our travel budget.
I probably should have listened to my friend Kim who told me to just buy season passes (which would have cost $100 more per person) but we honestly were not expecting to like it as much as we did.
Our food costs were fairly low for a week long trip – $363 total.
Our discounts on food started at the Swissport Lounge at Chicago O’Hare. This lounge is often closed to Priority Pass members but we got lucky and were able to eat lunch before departing. We got access for our whole family with our Priority Pass membership from our Capital One Venture X card.
The first two nights, we were visiting Micah’s parents so they hosted us for meals. We ate breakfast at the avid hotel in Ocala, too.
When we moved to the Hyatt Regency Orlando, we enjoyed the Club Lounge. The newly reopened Club Lounge is actually why we chose this property over the Hyatt Place near Universal (which would have been cheaper) and the Hyatt House across from Universal (which had a room with a kitchen).
Both the Hyatt House and Hyatt Place have free breakfast and a free shuttle as well and would be great options for a visit to Universal.
With Club Lounge access, we got breakfast included for 2 adults and 2 children. We also had access to the lounge for appetizers and dessert in the evening. Appetizers included one hot item and a spread of vegetables, meats, cheeses, and bread. It was enough for our family to count as dinner. The desserts were quite good, too. The sign on the door said additional children would cost $15 each but I’m unsure if they would charge that amount in practice or just waive more people in.
You can get Club Lounge access a few different ways:
- Paying for an upgrade
- Booking a Club Access room with points (if available)
- Using a Club Lounge certificate (you earn 2 of these when you have 20 Hyatt nights in one year, and it is valid for a stay of up to 7 days)
- Having Hyatt Globalist status
Because we had breakfast and dinner covered each day at the hotel, we ate lunch at Universal and also got butterbeer and ice cream throughout the day.
Total spent on food at Universal: $278
We also spent $85 on other food during the trip, including a stop at Aldi, some fast food, and lunch at the airport when we departed.
Parking at the hotel would have cost $30 per night but was waived for us as Hyatt Globalists,
We paid $27 per day (for 4 days) to park at Universal.
Originally we thought we would take the bus or an Uber to Universal but just decided it was easier to drive.
Parking is also free after 6pm at Universal which we used the first day when we arrived mostly to get our bearings and get the Attraction Assistance Pass settled for our special needs kids.
Total parking cost: $108
The most expensive item we bought first thing on our first morning: two of the interactive wands to use throughout Dragon Alley and Hogsmeade. Ruby was lucky and was also picked for the Wand Experience where she was “chosen” by a certain wand.
Wands cost $62 each so for two kids we paid a total of $134 after tax.
Each of our kids also picked out a few more souvenirs and items from Honeyduke’s Candy Shop. Jerome wanted Wizard Chess, which I found for $20 less on Amazon (plus saved myself carrying it back in our suitcase), so we didn’t buy his there, though. For a keychain, pin, sorting hat, chocolate frogs, chocolate flies, and Felix Felicis potion, we paid $149.
Souvenir total: $283
Flights: 46,970 Southwest Rapid Rewards + $44.80
Hotels: 58,000 IHG One Rewards
2 World of Hyatt Free Night Certificates
27,000 World of Hyatt points
Other expenses: $2123
Card Bonuses That Could Pay This Trip
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card – Earn 50,000 bonus points
- Through 3/19 alternate link: earn Companion Pass® good through 2/28/24 plus 30,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
- $149 annual fee
- $75 annual statement credit for Southwest purchases
- 4 upgraded boardings per year
- 7500 points per year on your card member anniversary
- 3x earning on Southwest flights; 2x on local transit, internet, cable, phone services, and select streaming
- 1,500 Tier Qualifying Points for every $10,000 spent
- Check your Companion Pass strategy before applying
IHG® Rewards Premier Credit Card – 175,000 points
- $99 annual fee
- Earn 175,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening
- Reward Night after each account anniversary year at eligible IHG hotels worldwide (worth 40,000 points)
- 4th night free when you redeem points for any stay of 4 or more nights
- Earn up to 26 points total per $1 spent when you stay at an IHG hotel
- Earn 5 points per $1 spent on purchases on travel, gas stations, and restaurants. Earn 3 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
- Platinum Elite status as long as you remain a Premier card member
- Global Entry or TSA PreCheck Fee Credit of up to $100 every 4 years as reimbursement for the application fee charged to your card
- $50 in United TravelBank cash each calendar year
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card – Learn how to apply
- Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That’s $750 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
- $95 annual fee
- Ultimate Rewards points can be transferred to a variety of partners like Southwest, Hyatt, United, and more!
- You can also redeem points through the Chase Travel Portal. 60,000 points = $750 of travel
- Great option for booking all-inclusive resorts or hotels in Hawaii.
Capital One® Venture X Rewards Credit Card: Earn 75,000 bonus miles
- Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
- $395 annual fee
- $300 annual travel credit when booking through Capital One’s portal
- 10,000 points every year on account anniversary (worth at least $100)
- Statement credit for Global Entry or TSA Precheck
- Easy airport lounge access for your whole family
- Miles can be redeemed to erase any travel purchase. 75,000 miles = $750
- Can be transferred to a variety of partners like Jet Blue, Wyndham, Avianca, Turkish Airways and more.
- Get our downloadable checklist here so you can max your benefits
Upon enrollment, accessible through the Capital One website or mobile app, eligible cardholders will remain at upgraded status level through December 31, 2024. Please note, enrolling through the normal Hertz Gold Plus Rewards enrollment process (e.g. at Hertz.com) will not automatically detect a cardholder as being eligible for the program and cardholders will not be automatically upgraded to the applicable status tier. Additional terms apply.
Editorial Disclosure – Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.