Can I save money by booking a Universal Orlando on-site hotel with the Annual Passholder rates?
How much can I save? Is it worth it to purchase a Universal annual pass just for the on-site hotel discount?
If I do, when do I need to buy my annual pass, and how do I pick it up?
Purchasing a Universal Orlando annual pass can be an expensive proposition — but it can be much more expensive to decide to stay on-site. Luckily, because of the discounted rates offered by Universal’s on-site hotels, becoming an Annual Passholder may save you money when you add up all the numbers. On this page, we’re going to look at everything involved in pricing out what option is best for you!
Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando.
Universal Orlando’s on-site hotels & annual pass discounts
We’ll start this conversation with a little bit of background info, in case you are new to the idea of purchasing a Universal Orlando annual pass.
If you are an Annual Passholder, you may be eligible to save up to 46% on hotel stays at Universal’s on-site hotels. APH = Annual Passholder rate. As you might imagine, the discounts are greatest in the off season and will be smaller or non-existent when the parks are busy.
But if you are traveling when the discounts are maximized, purchasing an annual pass instead of a regular ticket may just save you money when it’s all said and done. For example, if you were already planning on buying a 4-day Park-to-Park admission ticket for yourself, you’ll be spending around $215. If instead you purchased a Preferred Annual Pass, you’d pay around $335 — roughly a $120 difference. Considering the on-site hotel room rates start at $250 to $300 per night, by cutting that price nearly in half with an APH discount you can see how upgrading to an annual pass could cover the $120 difference and then some.
And if you do end up with a Preferred Pass, there are other benefits too, such as complimentary self-parking at the main Universal garage (unfortunately not at the hotel), discounts on food and beverages, etc. You can see all the benefits by clicking here.
So that’s where this discussion comes in: You are a first-time visitor to Universal Orlando. You’re thinking that it might be less expensive for you to purchase an annual pass and get the Universal on-site hotel discount than buy a regular ticket and pay the hotel rack rate. So how do you check prices, what are the logistics for booking the hotel at the annual pass rate, and how do you pick up your pass and get checked in? That’s what we will dig into right now!
Booking a Universal Orlando on-site hotel at the APH rate
To see what kind of rates you can get at the on-site hotels with an annual pass discount, visit this page on UniversalOrlando.com and use the links provided to start checking.
IMPORTANT: You do not have to have an annual pass to make a reservation with the annual pass discount.
VERY IMPORTANT: You do have to have an annual pass during your visit to secure the annual pass discount — that is, you or someone registered to the room. More on this requirement later.
EXTREMELY IMPORTANT: You must book the annual pass discount rate in advance. You cannot book the regular rate and then, midway through your stay at the hotel, whip out your annual pass and get the discount applied to your stay.
DEAL BREAKER: Please remember that Loews requires at least one person 21 or older to be registered in your room, and that person must be present at check-in.
When you’re using the online hotel reservation system to check the available AP discount rates, here is what you’ll get depending on what’s available. First, if there is no APH rate available, you’ll get something that looks like this:
You see that several rates are listed, but none of them is the APH rate.
However, if an APH rate is available, you’ll get something like this:
For this particular search — last week in January, 4-night stay — the APH rate was still $24 less per night than the Stay More, Save More rate.
When you are looking up prices, you can easily switch between the AP rates and the regular rates by adding/removing the “APH” code from your search, as seen here:
One more note about pricing out your on-site stay: as a general rule of thumb, the APH rates are available about three to six months in advance. So, if you search for your travel dates and an APH rate does not come up, that does not necessarily mean it will never be available – instead, it could just mean that the hotels haven’t published the APH rates yet for when you’re traveling. The best thing to do at this point is call the reservation department at 1-888-464-3617 and ask the agent about your dates.
Picking up your Universal Orlando annual pass
As the policy sits right now, you will need to pick up your annual pass at a ticket window at the theme parks, since they have to check your ID (sorry – the will-call kiosks at the hotels won’t cut it anymore).
Here’s a photo of the Will Call Kiosk at Hard Rock Hotel (there are similar kiosks at Portofino Bay Hotel and Royal Pacific Resort):
Electronic Will Call Kiosk at Universal’s Hard Rock Hotel.
Presenting your Universal Orlando annual pass during your stay
Unlike what the policy used to be, Universal now no longer requires you to have your annual pass in hand when first checking into the on-site hotel at the beginning of your stay – as long as you present your pass before checking out, you will get your annual pass rate.
EXTREMELY IMPORTANT: You must book the annual pass discount rate in advance. You cannot book the regular rate and then, midway through your stay at the hotel, buy an annual pass and get the discount applied to your stay.
Universal Orlando annual pass activation requirement
The 365 days of admission you receive with a Universal Orlando annual pass (minus blockout dates if applicable) begin the very first time you use your pass at one of the parks’ turnstiles — they do not begin when you purchase or pick up the pass. So, in theory, you could print your pass at the Will Call Kiosk, carry it around for a few weeks, and your 365 days of admission will not have begun. Then, after a few weeks, if you go to the parks and play, your 365 days will begin. Universal calls this “activating” your pass.
The catch here is that, per Universal policy, your annual pass benefits do not begin until your pass has been activated. That means, if you pick up your pass but don’t take it through the turnstiles at least once, you cannot use your pass for complimentary self-parking, discounts on admission tickets and merchandise, etc. (You can see all the Universal Orlando annual pass benefits by clicking here.)
So how does this pertain to our discussion about Portofino Bay Hotel, Hard Rock Hotel, Royal Pacific Resort, Cabana Bay, and Sapphire Falls? Well, this is actually a bit of a loophole. If you pick up your pass at one of the on-site hotels then go to check-in, you obviously won’t have used it first to go into one of the parks — which means that the pass won’t be activated. But it turns out that the Front Desk doesn’t actually have a way of knowing whether or not your pass is activated. Because it is unlikely that you would pay for an annual pass and never activate it, the front desk takes it on faith that, sooner or later during your stay, your pass will end up being activated and you will qualify for the annual pass rate.
That’s a really long way of saying that you don’t have to activate your annual pass before check-in, even though technically you’re not supposed to receive your AP benefits until you’ve done so. (For the technically minded, it may be worth noting that since you actually settle your bill when you check-out, and you will have certainly used your pass by then, this isn’t really a loophole.)
We definitely recognize that this discussion can be a bit heavy. We’ve done our best to present all the necessary information so you can maximize your savings and have a smooth check-in process. Good luck with the numbers — we hope it all adds up in your favor!
- Comparing Universal Orlando’s on-site hotels
- Loews Portofino Bay Hotel: Jet away to the Italian Riviera
- Hard Rock Hotel Orlando: Live the rock ‘n roll lifestyle
- Loews Royal Pacific Resort: Your South Seas escape is waiting
- Cabana Bay Beach Resort: Splash back to the 1950s & 60s
- Loews Sapphire Falls Resort: A paradise where blue waterfalls cascade across lush grounds. (Opening July 14, 2016)
- On-site hotel discount for Annual Passholders & the logistics of checking in