Maximizing Discover rewards: Universal Orlando Resorts


Is this deal too good to be true? 

This is the third post in a series in which I will analyze options for maximizing Discover Card rewards.  With Discover cash back rewards, card holders have the option of redeeming for partner gift certificates rather than cash.  Upon first glance, these certificates appear to be great deals, but when we look closer we find that some are not as good as they appear.

Previous posts in this series:


Universal Orlando Resorts


When I previously looked into the details of Discover’s car rental and Hyatt certificates I was underwhelmed.  Both have limits and restrictions that make the certificates nearly worthless.  With the Universal Orlando Resorts certificate, though, I thought I had found a winner.

Universal Studios Florida has three on-site resort hotels: Loews Royal Pacific Resort, Hard Rock Hotel, and Loews Portofino Bay Hotel.


Last year, I took my family for two days to Universal Studios and decided to splurge on on on-site hotel.  Never mind that there were great (and low-cost) options within walking distance outside of the park.  I had it in my mind that gosh darn it we were going to stay on-site.  It was the only way, after all, to get into the new Harry Potter section an hour before everyone else.  So, I searched and searched for deals and discounts, but came up virtually empty handed.  There were deals for longer stays, but those didn’t work for our circumstances.  And, there were deals for other Loews hotels, but these three were specifically excluded.  In the end, I paid nearly full price (I may have received a small Travelocity discount or something – I don’t really remember).  We had a great time and, yes, the hour early entrance made a positive difference. 

When I saw this Discover certificate, I thought I had finally found a solution for people looking to spend a Harry Potter weekend at Universal Studios.  Could one get multiple certificates so as to make any stay a half price stay?

After clicking on the offer, a page came up with the following information:


Wow, this looked even better than I thought.  No black out dates!  Certificate may be combined with all special promotions!  The certificates can be used, not just at Universal Studios resorts, but from your choice of over 200 Florida 3, 4, or 5 star resort properties!

What’s not to love?  Plenty…

Terms & Conditions

Your certificate will only be applied to new reservations made through the Cruise and Vacation Desk at 1-877-835-8738 –

  • Your certificate will be applied towards resort only or air-inclusive packages. Subject to availability, some restrictions may apply, please call for details.
  • Your certificate may be combined with all promotional sales featured by Cruise and Vacation Desk including free night stays, room upgrades, free in room amenities, etc.
  • Certificate is not combinable with any other program offer or discount.
  • You may apply one certificate per room booked.
  • Certificates have NO CASH value.
  • Payment must be made with your Discover® Card.

$40 certificate is valid towards a consecutive 3 night stay or longer.
$80 certificate is valid towards a consecutive 5 night stay or longer.
$160 certificate is valid towards a consecutive 7 night stay or longer.
$240 certificate is valid towards a consecutive 9 night stay or longer.

OK, so the first paragraph above makes it clear that you need to book through the Cruise and Vacation Desk.  Well, that couldn’t be too bad right?

Then, the first bullet-point got me even more excited.  It said that the certificate could be applied to air-inclusive packages.  Wow.  Could we use these certificates to get half priced flights to Florida too?

The next bullet was good too.  You may combine the certificate with all promotional sales featured by Cruise and Vacation Desk.  Nice.

“Certificate is not combinable with any other program offer or discount.”  That’s OK.  Half price is reward enough!

“You may apply one certificate per room booked.”  Wait. What?  OK, that’s not too bad since there is a certificate worth $240.  Maybe this won’t help with airfare after all, though.

“Certificates have NO CASH value.”  Fine.  “Payment must be made with your Discover Card.”  Oh well, no 2X from my Sapphire Preferred, not a big deal.

Then the bombshell:

    • $40 certificate is valid towards a consecutive 3 night stay or longer.
    • $80 certificate is valid towards a consecutive 5 night stay or longer.
    • $160 certificate is valid towards a consecutive 7 night stay or longer.
    • $240 certificate is valid towards a consecutive 9 night stay or longer.

What?  Are you kidding me?  With these restrictions, the certificates are worth only $13.3 to $26.7 per night.  And, since you have to pay half price to get each certificate, the savings are only to $6.7 to $13.4 per night!  There’s no way its worth bothering with that!

It gets worse

I picked a random 3-day weekend to price out one of the Universal Studios Resorts.  Via the required Cruise and Vacation Desk, I was quoted a total price of $1036 for the weekend:


I then tried Travelocity where I was quoted a total price of $720.12 (thanks to a 10% discount) or a regular price of $800.15.




I’m sure (maybe) that there are some good deals at the Cruise and Vacation Desk, but this clearly wasn’t one of them.  By paying $20 for a Discover Rewards certificate I could save $40 off a rate that is about $300 too high.  What a deal.

0 0 votes
Post Rating

Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

The one thing I didn’t understand about this redemption was if you can use the certificate for more than the hotel? Can I use it at a restaurant? Can I use it for park admition? Souvineers?

[…] Maximizing Discover rewards: Universal Orlando Resorts […]


This is the third absurdly long post pointing out the many reasons for which a redemption is no good.

I could have done this post in two sentences: “Discover Rewards for Universal Orlando. NO GOOD.”

Are you hard up for content? Does Discover have any good redemptions?

Do you want to talk next about why gift certificates are also often not a good deal, if you value them too highly? (“GET A FREE $25 GIFT CERTIFICATE”…not really)


So it looks like you’ve proven that most of the Discover rewards are worthless. Are there any good ways to leverage the ShopDiscover portal (hopefully stacking some discounts/points)?


Chris: I don’t see any amazing deals right now through the ShopDiscover portal, but that’s kind of unusual. They usually do have some stores at much higher cash back rates than competing portals.


Most if the discover awards suck. Lobster gram used to be great, they used to double, now I think 75 gets u 100 etc. my dad likes it so I get him one every year. Two years ago they had a promotion with Shell, $20 gets u a $40 gift card. I think I bought $1000 worth. That was the best reward they ever had….


Thanks for keeping it real, FM, and calling this out. I don’t follow blogs just to read advertisements from banks or travel companies. I am scouting for real deals.


I’ve looked at a few of these myself, too, and gave up. Now, I just make sure it’s an actual gift card/certificate, and not any kind of discount certificate. Usually I turn in my cash back bonus for bed bath & beyond gift cards, but I would consider any of the proper gift cards.
Here’s hoping you turn up a diamond in the rough. This Universal one is so bad that, as you say, it is practically criminal.


I’m looking forward to your coverage of the Princess certificates, if you choose to do so.


Owen: The Princess (and other cruise) certificates also lock you into the same travel company. And, they also have similar restrictions as the Universal Orlando ones. So, my advice: don’t bother with them. Seek cruise deals elsewhere.


It is a shame when Discover tries to make you think you are getting a deal. Unless Universal or Disney needs numbers to fill you will never get a good promotion from them. As they say if its too good to be true…


FM, thanks for this. With Discover Cashback the only three redemption options that make sense to me are in order: Statement Credit, Discover Gift Card (if you’ll be under $50 for a while and prefer to spend it), and possibly a partner gift card for retail or restaurant if it’s one you can’t find at one of the used gift card sites.


Mark: Yes, I agree. I’ll do a post analyzing retail gift card options soon.

Pat: I know, it’s practically criminal the way they advertise these gift cards.