Universal’s Best Secret – Hotel Complimentary Express Pass
Universal’s Express Pass is a popular splurge purchase for theme park fans who despise lines. But we are here to tell you there’s a better way: stay on site at a Universal Premier hotel. In this article, I will explain Express Pass, its variants, and show you how to price out a hotel with Express versus buying Express separately. (Last updated/republished April 10, 2023)
What is Express Pass?
Express Pass is Universal’s skip-the-line offering for attractions and shows. Universal promises Express Pass will cut wait times in half – a 90-minute wait for Jurassic World VelociCoaster waits will be 45 minutes or less.
There are two Express Pass versions: a standard Express Pass, which is valid only once per attraction, and Express Unlimited Pass, which offers unlimited access for each attraction. Passes come in one theme park or both theme park options. Express is valid only for one day and for one person – each party member must have an Express Pass. Vaid theme park admission is still necessary for entry.
Unlike Disney’s Genie+ no reservations or return times are required.
How Much Does Unlimited Express Pass Cost?
Express Pass starts at $89.99 per person plus tax for a base one-park Express Pass and $99.99 per person for a one-park Express Unlimited Pass. During holidays and weekends, these prices can inflate to astronomical amounts – during Christmas week the one-park Express Pass swells to an eye-watering $379.99 per person!
Vacation Hack – Stay at a Premier Hotel Instead
Universal’s Premier hotels (Loews Portofino Bay, Loews Royal Pacific, and Hard Rock Hotel) offer complimentary Express Unlimited Pass included in the price of the room. You heard that right–this isn’t just any Express, it’s the highest tier, two-park, unlimited Express that costs $99.99 to $379.99 per person per day. The complimentary Express Passes are valid for each person in the room for every day of the stay, including check-in and check-out days.
Doing the Math
Let’s take a look at this example long weekend trip from September 8 – 10, 2023. We are assuming you will spend three days, two nights at the parks for four guests. Checking Universal’s booking site the least expensive Premier hotel that weekend is Loews Royal Pacific at $981 including taxes and fees for three days, two nights.
Compare this to the price of an Express Pass on its own. Using Universal’s ticket site I found the prices for the same two-park Unlimited Express Passes.
Booking a resort saves you over $1400 for the exact same tickets, and that’s not including the price of a hotel!
“But Joe,” you interject, “I only want Express for one day. And I can get by with one park per day and do not need unlimited access.” Ok let’s price that out.
Even the lowest cost Express Pass would cost $766 for four people on September 9. For $200 more you get two nights at Royal Pacific, Express Passes for two more days, and unlimited usage. It’s that good of a deal.
If you are visiting the parks on check-in and check-out day it is cheaper to book a room at a Premier resort rather than purchase Express separately, even if you are not paying for accommodations while in Orlando. There are exceptions to this: if you are taking days off not to go to the parks, not visiting the parks on the check-in and check-out dates, or if you do not want Express.
If you have an Annual Pass or are a Florida resident the savings could be even greater. Annual Passholders and Florida Residents can save up to 30% off rack rates, although inventory is limited.
Do I REALLY Need Express Pass?
Express is a nice luxury and creates a more relaxed, stress-free vacation. Express does not make or break a vacation. Showing up thirty minutes to an hour before park opening, with a Touring Plan in hand, will also let you experience the parks at a fraction of the cost.
We suggest investing the extra time to investigate the savings or you could work with our own Touring Plans Travel Agency who will help you!
(Originally published December 19, 2020)
29 thoughts on “Universal’s Best Secret – Hotel Complimentary Express Pass”
We did this or our 2 day universal detour from Disney world. We loved staying so close to the park, and it ended up being a lot cheaper than buying the express passes seperatly!
What we had noticed pre-Covid was that the parks were virtually empty before noon. Using a touring plan and rope dropping we could hit all the headliners multiple times (sometimes using single rider lines…again, pre-Covid). Starting around 1:00, the late arriving express pass users would show up and the lines would increase drastically.
If my sister and her husband who live in Florida are going to meet us for one night at the end of our 4 day trip can I get express passes for them for the next day after they spend the night with us? Was not sure since they would not be there for the entire trip just one night/day. Cannot seem to find this info anywhere 🙂
They would need to be on the hotel reservation and get their own key, the room key is how Express is accessed. There is a fee for more than two adults in a room, FYI.
Does a child need a room key to use their express pass? Also do you know if we could add a friend visiting us to our reservation for just one night (not the full 4 night stay)?
Once you’ve done this, do you need to link your park tickets to the hotel room? How do you actually get the express unlimited passes? I booked our hotel room and park tickets separately (both directly through the universal website), and we plan to use the express unlimited benefit on our check-in day starting in the morning.
The hotel room key card is your Express Pass. Just scan at the attraction.
Thanks for the quick response! Can we get our room key cards before the official check-in time? I was hoping we could use the express passes starting the morning of the day we check-in, but usually you can’t check in until the afternoon.
last time I stayed at an express hotel they’d give you the keys to use for express then activate them for your room once it was ready
I will be staying at a Premier Resort to get the Universal Express perk. I just found out that I can use this perk on check-in and check-out day!! I read that I can check-in early to use it on that day. How can I use this perk on check-out day if I have to turn in my room keys?
Thanks in advance!
You don’t have to turn in your room keys. *looks at drawer filled with UOR room keys*
Awesome!!! Thank you for the info!!!
One more question. Check-out time is 11AM. Will my Universal Express will work after that time?
It’s valid the full theme park hours the day of your check out.
I feel like this is a silly question but everyone keeps talking about check in and check out days so it’s concerning me. We are flying in on a Tuesday but don’t want to go to the park on that day. We don’t check out until Thursday. Will we be able to use the Express passes on Wednesday and Thursday even though we checked in on Tuesday? Or do you only get to use the passes on the check in and check out days?
Hey Jessie, complementary express is valid every day of your stay including check in and check out dates. So your express pass would be valid for Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursdays. This comes up a lot as people would stay one night and use the express pass on two days.
Awesome, Thanks so much for the VERY quick reply!!!
How many express unlimited passes can you get per room? We have 2 adults and 3 14 year old girls going
I’m staying at the Lowe’s Sapphire Resort Dec 19-22. Do I get the Express pass?
No you don’t, only early park admission. Only Loews Portofino Bay and Hard Rock Hotel offer free universal express unlimited. Try to change hotels to get it. You can call to get the right info.
Hello. I’m planning to stay only 1 night but does that mean we can get a pass for 2 days (checkin and check out day?)
Yes. Your express pass is your room key
We have three children staying in our room, but one won’t be riding any rides. Would her pass be able to be used by an adult not staying in the hotel with us?
Officially it’s for people only in the room.
…but they won’t know…. 😉
Do they have this at universal Hollywood also? If so, which hotels? I’m super unfamiliar with this and google isn’t helping much
Do you have to purchase the hotel through Universal directly to get the perk of express pass or can you purchase through other travel sites?
You can purchase through anyone. The pass is through your key card.
What about hotel hopping – staying at the Premier hotel for one night, then moving to a lower-tier hotel. I assume the Express Pass is good for the day you check in and the day you check out of the Premier hotel, and not while staying at the other hotel?