The 9 Best Credit Cards for Disney & Universal Vacations [2021]

Cinderella's Castle at Disneys Magic Kingdom new paint
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When it comes to traveling with kids, or if you are just a big kid yourself, you will inevitably find yourself looking at theme parks for a future vacation. Here at Upgraded Points, we are big fans of theme parks and know how much work (and money) go into planning a trip to one.

Parks like Walt Disney World, Disneyland, and Universal have mastered the art of entertainment and transport guests into a world where fun and magic are an everyday occurrence. These experiences can create memories for a lifetime but come at a price that can be shocking to both first-timers and the travel pros.

Fortunately, there are ways to help reduce to cost of your next trip to Disney, or at the very least earn some bonus points or cashback on what you were already going to spend.

Below, we’ve selected some of the best credit cards to add to your wallet that will save you some serious dough, whether you are going to see Mickey Mouse, Harry Potter, or both. Let’s take a look!

What To Look For

Signing up for a credit card is kind of a big deal, and we treat it that way around here. That is why we are very particular about what cards we have in our wallets, why we keep them open, and when we opened them.

A few extra minutes of research can mean thousands of extra points (and dollars) towards your next trip. With Disney and Universal in mind, here are some things to look for in your next credit card.

Welcome Bonus

United Polaris Business Class Seat on Boeing 787 9 Dreamliner
A good sign-up bonus can get you enough points to fly business class for free! Image Credit: Chris Hassan

A solid welcome bonus is a must-have when signing up for a credit card.

A welcome bonus or sign-up bonus is a fixed amount of points that the bank has agreed to send you after you spend a predetermined amount of money on your new credit card.

These bonuses can range anywhere from 20,000 to 150,000 points depending on the bank and the type of points they are. A big welcome bonus could be mean hundreds of dollars in savings towards your next trip.

Hot Tip: Not all points are created equally. Join our Facebook Group, Level UP Travel, to ask our community any questions you might have. 

Perks

Star Alliance Lounge GRU bar seating
Lounge access is a great perk for many credit cardholders. Star Alliance Lounge at GRU. Image Credit: Chris Hassan

Travel credit cards nowadays come with a whole slew of perks to try and lure customers away from other banks, and they can be quite competitive.

With everything from free hotel nights to lounge access to travel insurance, there is plenty of value to be had with almost every travel credit card on the market.

When considering a trip to a theme park, what is an important perk for you? A free flight to Orlando? A free Disney hotel room? An exclusive one-on-one experience with Kylo Ren? Access to the secret American Express Lounge in Universal Studios? These are all possibilities with the right credit card.

Category Bonuses

Girl with Mickey Mouse Ice Cream at Disney Orlando
If you are going to buy some Mickey Mouse ice cream, you might as well earn bonus points on it! Image Credit: Chris Hassan

When you step foot into a Disney or Universal theme park, even if you are on the tightest budget, you are probably going to have to pay for something and some point. These parks have essentially made separating guests from their money a science, so if we are going to spend it, we might as well get rewarded for it, right?

That is when pulling the right credit card out of your wallet can make a big difference. While some cards may earn a simple 1 point per dollar spent, others may earn 2, 3, or more depending on the category.

With many of our favorite cards providing bonuses for dining, travel, and entertainment, those points start to add up! Here is a quick chart to help you visualize how your spending is categorized.

ChargeCategory
Walt Disney World tickets purchased directly from disneyworld.comEntertainment
Walt Disney World experiencesTravel
Disney restaurantsDining
Advanced Disney Dining ReservationsTravel
Universal Orlando tickets purchased directly from universalorlando.comEntertainment
Universal Orlando tickets purchased from a Universal Orlando hotelTravel
Undercover Tourist theme park ticketsTravel
LEGOLAND tickets purchased directly from legoland.comEntertainment

Hot Tip: Planning a trip to Disney? Be sure to read our article on how to make your next trip to Disney as “stress-free” as possible.

Best Overall Credit Cards for Disney & Universal Vacations

If you are already getting overwhelmed, it’s understandable. There are a lot of variables that will inevitably factor into choosing the right card, but the most important is having a card that you are comfortable using without having to worry about what category you are trying to hit and making the process too complicated.

While some of us love trying to squeeze every extra point out of every purchase, sometimes you just need a card that will provide you with good overall value no matter what you are spending on it.

No matter if you are looking for a premium card full of perks, a no annual fee card that is easy to use, or just a hotel-branded card to earn points at your favorite chain, we’ve got a little something for everyone.

With that in mind, and the focus on theme parks and family trips, here are our favorite credit cards for Disney and Universal vacations.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

When it comes to premium travel cards, there is no card more famous than the Amex Platinum card. Packed with perks, this has been a fan favorite for years and still continues to be one of ours.

We are big fans of American Express Membership Rewards points around here, with plenty of transfer partners, access to American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts, options to redeem for gift cards, and more — the options to redeem for travel could seem almost limitless.

Factoring in 5x points when booking airfare and hotels directly with Amex Travel, building up a nice points balance could be easier than you think.

Of course, these perks don’t come cheap — with an annual fee of $550 (see rates and fees), this card isn’t for everyone. But when you break down the perks, it is surprisingly reasonable. Here are some of the most popular benefits:

If you are planning on applying for an Amex Platinum card before your trip to Disney, there will be plenty of ways to save some money. The welcome bonus alone could cover your airfare or hotel, and the lounges and Uber perks will make your trip even more comfortable!

Also, did you know that there is a “secret” American Express Lounge at Universal Studios Florida?!

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Card

The CapOne Venture card is a great card for someone looking for easy-to-use miles and a nice sign-up bonus.

One of the best parts of Capital One miles is that they are extremely flexible, easy to use, and never expire.

If you are looking for a quick and easy way to pay for your Disney or Universal trip, you can just use the Purchase Eraser to reimburse yourself for any travel charge on your bill within the past 90 days at a rate of 1 cent per mile. Depending on the sign-up bonus offered when you applied, the value could be worth around $1,400!

If you want to try and get a little (or a lot) more value out of your miles, you can transfer them to an airline or hotel partner and book a flight or stay with them instead. By doing this, you can easily get more than 2 cents per mile worth of value, essentially doubling your sign-up bonus.

Another decent option is by using your miles to book travel directly with the Capital One travel agency. This will get you 1 cent per mile in value but you won’t earn any additional airline or hotel rewards points, so it may not be the most rewarding option.

Overall, the CapOne Venture card gives travelers an easy-to-use rewards program with plenty of redemption options, especially when booking a trip to visit Mickey.

Capital One® Savor® Rewards Card

If you liked the ease of the CapOne Venture card above, you will probably like its cash-back sibling, the CapOne Savor card.

The CapOne Savor card earns an impressive 4% cashback on entertainment purchases, 2% on grocery purchases, and 1% on everything else. So that means a trip to see Mickey could earn you a nice chunk of change.

The big rewards on entertainment purchases (those park tickets aren’t cheap!) and the ease of having a cashback card make this a very compelling card to have in your wallet when you want to go have some fun!

Chase Freedom Unlimited® Card

Sometimes you just need a simple, no-frills card that provides solid value. For us, that is the Freedom Unlimited card.

The Freedom Unlimited card is a no annual fee card that is marketed as a cash-back card, but when combined with a Chase Ultimate Rewards-earning credit card, it can actually provide you with valuable points.

This unique card will earn cardholders 5% back on travel that is purchased through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal, 3% on dining and drugstores, and then an unlimited 1.5% back on everything else — that’s a lot of cash-back or points!

New cardholders will get a nice little welcome bonus (which is better than nothing for a $0 annual fee) on top of 0% interest for 15 months on all purchase and balance transfers.

That means that you can get apply your welcome bonus straight to your Disney or Universal trip, finance the rest of it for free, and earn points!

Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card

It’s hard to talk about credit cards without someone bringing up the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, and that’s for good reason. The Chase Sapphire Reserve card stormed onto the premium credit card scene a few years ago with a big sign-up bonus, lots of perks, and even celebrity endorsements.

But now that the dust has settled, is it still worth a spot in your wallet if you are planning a trip to Disney or Universal? We think so.

The first thing we will look at is the welcome bonus, which despite not being as high as it used to be, is still a lot of very valuable and flexible Chase Ultimate Rewards points.

Next is the staggering $550 annual fee which can easily scare some people off right away but that is before they realize the card also comes with a $300 annual travel credit, a Priority Pass Select membership, a $100 Global Entry/TSA PreCheck credit, a Lyft Pink membership, DoorDash DashPass, rental car elite status, extra travel insurance, and more!

Most cardholders will get way more than $550 worth of value from their Chase Sapphire Reserve card each year just from those perks alone. When you factor in 3x points on travel and dining, this could be a go-to card for your next trip.

Thinking specifically about a Walt Disney World trip, you could use the $300 towards airfare, enjoy some airport lounges and TSA PreCheck, grab a free upgrade when you pick up your rental car, and then go check into a Walt Disney World Resort hotel that you booked with points — easy!

Even if you aren’t a road warrior, you still might be able to get a lot of value out of the Chase Sapphire Reserve card.

Citi Premier℠ Card

The Citi Premier card is a great overall card, not just for your Disney or Universal vacation, but for travel in general.

With a generous sign-up bonus, a relatively low $95 annual fee, and 3x points on flights, hotels, gas stations, dining, and supermarkets, it is easy to see why this card is so popular.

Citi ThankYou Points often get overshadowed by Chase and American Express, but this often-overlooked program can provide excellent value — especially when earning triple points is so easy to do.

These ThankYou Points can be quite versatile when it comes to planning your next trip to Disney. You can choose to transfer them to one of Citi’s 15 airline partners to help pay for your family’s flights down to Orlando (hello, JetBlue!), book your trip through the Citi ThankYou Travel Center at 1.25 cents per point, or just cash out your points for gift cards to use during your trip.

Either way, you will be able to save some serious money just by applying the sign-up bonus towards your trip. On top of that, many of your purchases during the trip will code as travel and dining so you will be earning 3x points that you can redeem for future travel!

Disney® Premier Visa® Card

Disney Visa Cardmember Star Wars Character Experience
Your Disney Premier card gives you exclusive access to the dark side at a Disneyland Character Experience with Darth Vader! Image Credit: Disney

We couldn’t write about the best credit cards for a Disney vacation without mentioning the Disney Premier card… or could we?

While there are certainly some perks to be had, most consumers will be able to get better value out of one of the cards mentioned above. That being said, if you already have some of our favorite cards and have an available 5/24 slot, the Disney Premier card could be a decent choice.

For a sign-up bonus, new cardholders will receive a $100 Disney gift card after spending $500 in the first 3 months and then 2% in rewards dollars gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, and most Disney locations.

If you are a big Disney fan, you can probably get some outsized value out of the following perks, which include:

  • 0% APR for 6 months on select Disney Vacation Packages
  • 10% off purchases of $50 or more at Disney and Disney.com
  • 20% off select guided tours at Disney parks
  • Special Disney character and Star Wars meet and greets
  • 10% off select Disney dining locations

This card isn’t for everyone, but if you can take advantage of those discounts and special experiences, there is plenty of value with the $49 annual fee Disney Premier card.

Best Credit Cards for Disney & Universal Hotel Stays

While the cards that we listed above can earn you rewards that can be redeemed for hotel stays (and a plethora of other options), none of them are specific to a Disney or Universal hotel or even a hotel chain in general.

Below are some of our favorite hotel-branded credit cards (regardless of where you are traveling), but that can also be quite useful when booking your trip to Orlando.

Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card

The Hilton Aspire card is a fan favorite for many reasons. If you like to stay at Hilton properties, this is the only credit card that will give cardmembers automatic top-tier Diamond status just for having the card — which is huge.

Diamond status alone could be worth the $450 annual fee (see rates and fees) for some, but the card also comes with an annual $250 Hilton Resort statement credit, $250 airline fee credit, and a Free Weekend Night Award good at almost any Hilton property worldwide. With a handful of other great perks, it is easy to get your money’s worth with this card.

A hefty welcome bonus combined with 14x points on Hilton stays and 7x points on travel and dining will have you with more than enough points for a nice stay near the parks.

If you are headed to Orlando, there are dozens of redemption opportunities including some awesome Hilton Vacation Club properties and even a luxurious Waldorf Astoria in Disney Springs!

Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card

CardHotel RewardsSample Benefits/Fees
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card

Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card
Apply Now
(at Amex's secure site)
  • 6 Marriott Rewards Points/$1 spent at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels
  • Up to $300 statement credit for purchases at Marriott Bonvoy hotels
  • Gold Elite status, Priority Pass Select Membership, complimentary anniversary night, premium internet access
  • Annual fee: $450
  • Terms Apply. For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card, click here.

If you are looking for some Disney magic by staying on-property and really close to the parks (without spending a fortune), consider the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card.

The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card is a premium card with a $450 annual fee (see rates and fees), but anyone staying at a Marriott property should easily be able to come out ahead of that fee with some simple planning.

Aside from the Marriott Bonvoy points offered as a welcome bonus, the card comes with a $300 annual credit to use at Marriott properties, a free night award up to 50,000 points, Priority Pass lounge access, and much more.

Disney fans are surely familiar with the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort hotels right near EPCOT, but did you know that they are also Marriott hotels? That means you can redeem your credits, points, and free night awards there!

Rates start at 50,000 points (but can get lower) or $150, so from the perks we mentioned above, new cardmembers would have enough for 4 free nights — at a Disney hotel!

Hot Tip: Ready to book your trip? Don’t miss the ultimate Disney vacation packing list and our best tips.

Amex Benefits at Universal

American Express Lounge at Universal Orlando
The American Express Lounge at Universal Orlando Resort is open to guests who purchase a multi-park ticket or an annual pass with an American Express card.

If you are heading to Universal Orlando Resort, having an American Express card in your wallet can get you some exclusive savings and benefits in and around the parks.

With everything from deals on drinks and snacks to access to the “secret” Amex lounge, it will certainly be worth taking a look at the perks below.

Hot Tip: To make sure you don’t miss any deals, download the Official Universal Orlando mobile app (iOS, Android) and search for active offers. 

American Express Food & Beverage Savings

Guests who are interested in purchasing a Universal Dining Plan can get 10% off the Quick Service + Coca-Cola Freestyle souvenir cup inside Universal’s Islands of Adventure or Universal Studio Florida.

This plan currently costs $34.99 + tax per day, so a family of 4 can save a nice chunk of change over the course of their vacation.

American Express Merchandise Savings

We all love a good souvenir, but how about one with a 50% discount? Even better!

If you make a merchandise purchase over $35 with your American Express card at one of the Universal Orlando Resort-owned and operated merchandise locations, you will be eligible to buy a Universal Orlando Resort backpack for $20. This backpack normally retails for over $40, so that is a pretty solid deal.

American Express Photo Spend & Get

Families looking to capture the magic and buy a My Universal Photos 3-Day Photo Package with their Amex card can receive a complimentary 5 x 7-inch or 8 x 10-inch print at the theme park.

The 8 x 10-inch normally goes for $10, so that is a nice little bonus if you were already going to buy the photo service.

American Express Lounge

Universal Studios Orlando American Express Lounge
The small Amex Lounge is convenient… if you can find it! Image Credit: Chris Hassan

Last but obviously not least, is access to the American Express Lounge inside Universal Studios Florida.

This little lounge is a hidden gem right across from Shrek’s Ye Old Souvenir Shoppe where sun-beaten theme park goers can enjoy some air conditioning, snacks, and drinks daily from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Rules for entry are a bit tighter than they used to be — in order to get access, guests must have purchased their multi-park ticket or annual pass with an American Express card.

Final Thoughts

Walt Disney World Fast Pass
Save money so that you can go more often! Image Credit: Chris Hassan

No matter how long you are planning to visit Disney or Universal, it can get expensive… quickly.

A family of 4 means 4 flights, a rental car, a decent hotel room, multiple park tickets, meals, and more. If you are paying cash for all of that, the total can easily reach thousands of dollars.

While with some intense planning, it is certainly possible to reduce a lot of those costs, you can easily reduce a big chunk of them (flights and hotels) by simply using credit cards to your advantage.

Of course, for this to make sense, it needs to be done responsibly. If you think you may end up carrying a balance and paying interest on your credit card, it will almost certainly not be worth it. That being said, if you can maximize credit card benefits and reduce your costs at the same time, you will find yourself taking your family on the best kind of vacation — a free one!

The cards listed above are just some of our favorites that we use on a daily basis, but if you have any questions about a specific card or a specific trip, let us know in the comments or join our Facebook Group!


The information regarding the Disney® Premier Visa® Card, Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card, Capital One® Savor® Rewards card, Chase Freedom Unlimited®, Citi Premier℠ Card, and Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card was independently collected by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer. 

For rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, click here.
For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card, click here.


Frequently asked questions

Is it worth getting the Disney Premier card?

If you already have some of our favorite cards and really like going to Disney, there is value to be had with the Disney Premier card. Big Disney fans will get a lot of value from the special meet and greets as well as the 10% discounts.

Can I use credit card points to stay at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel?

Yes! Thanks to flexible points from American Express, Chase, and Citi, you can book almost any hotel you want. If you have a Hilton or Marriott credit card, you can redeem points to stay at a Disney Springs hotel or even the Swan or Dolphin.

What is the best card to use at Universal Studios?

When visiting Universal, you will want to use a card that gives you bonus points on things like travel, entertainment, and even dining. A card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve card would have you covered in essentially all of those categories. However, American Express has some exclusive savings and benefits, so you have plenty of options!

Is it possible to pay for a Disney or Universal vacation with points?

To keep it short, yes! The CapOne Venture card has a “Purchase Eraser” so you can just wipe out a charge on your account using points. Although that may not be the best use of points, it is certainly convenient!

Chris Hassan

About Chris Hassan

Chris is from Boston and is currently living in Rio de Janeiro with his wife, two kids, and their dog, Shelby. When Chris was in college, he spent a semester abroad studying hotel and business management in Switzerland. That is where he caught the travel bug and met his wife. Quite a successful trip!

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2 comments

  1. Does Citi allow their Premier card to be product changed to the no annual fee card after about a year or so?

    Reply

    • Hi Tim,

      Yes, Citi will allow you to product change to the no annual fee version if you’ve had the card open for at least 1 year.

      Reply

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