We were rushing through Universal CityWalk to get to the entrance of Universal Studios Hollywood when we were stopped by a woman in an American Express jacket saying something about free front of the line passes. I'm normally (always) a skeptic, but my friend had just mentioned their amazing experience with front of the line, so my ears perked up. I had looked into purchasing these passes, but found them to be cost prohibitive at ~$100 each...ouch! We listened to her pitch, and as it turns out, it really wasn't too good to be true.
new card = free passes
The American Express representative said if we were approved for a new AMEX card we would get a front of the line pass for the card holder + guest, lounge access, and a 10% discount on food / merchandise. Nice! So if both my wife and I got a card, the 4 of us would have passes ($400 value) for one day (entry tickets separate). She took us inside their office which had a couple terminals for us to input our information. We were instantly approved for the Blue Cash Everyday Card which has no annual fee (they had no travel points cards for this offer). They were actually able to print my wife's card on the spot (for some reason they had to mail my card). In less than 10 minutes they handed us our vouchers to take to guest services in order to claim our passes and we were on our way to front of the line bliss.
The AMEX office is a bit tough to find, we just happen to have been stopped by their agent. I thought it would be easy to look up, but I can't find any details on the office or whether this is a standing offer. I recall the office being on the right side towards the end of the CityWalk. I found a Yelp review that said it is a couple stores down from the LudoBird restaurant, but I couldn't see if on GoogleMaps.
If you have any details please share in the comments below.
The front of the line pass is technically called Universal Express and includes one-time express access to each ride, attraction, and seated show. I imagined them being like the Disney FASTPASS which reduces your wait time, but these are way better. Not only are you not confined to certain time slots, you literally do not have to wait. The line attendant scans your pass and directs you to a separate line which gets you to the ride as fast as your legs can carry you. You almost feel bad as you pass those who've been in the normal line for an hour as they look on with envy. Universal obviously only issues a limited number of these passes each day to make this happen, so consider ordering in advance during peak season if you don't want to risk it.
Pro Tip: If you think you may want to do a ride such as Harry Potter's Forbidden Journey more than once, hit that first (or at night) when wait times are ~15 minutes, without using your pass.
AMEX Lounge Access
Our Universal Express Pass included American Express Lounge access which was a nice perk. You also get this access if you purchase a VIP Experience or Universal Express ticket with any AMEX card. You would never know the lounge was there if you didn't know to look. It is a near the Transformers 3D ride (awesome) on the lower level of the park. It's a plain metal door that says "American Express Lounge" on a small sign. It has a private restroom, comfy chairs, phone chargers, and complementary snacks and water.
This was a bit misleading. They claim you get a 10% discount on food and merchandise, but you better read the fine print. For instance, it's not available at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and of course you have to eat at the Three Broomsticks. Check the restrictions such as minimum spend and locations in advance as the savings can add up. You also may want to bookmark the page on your phone as the park employees didn't seem to fully understand the policy.
This benefit is available when you pay with any American Express® Credit or Charge Card, so not exclusive to the AMEX sign-up promotion.
I have a bad feeling that the Universal Express Pass will ruin us for standard tickets, much like your first biz/first class flight experience. The day was so much more relaxing and stress-free. We went to every ride and show, with plenty of downtime for breaks and butterbeer. Ultimately, even if you paid for the passes it could be a cost savings (obviously a time savings) as it could easily take 2 or 3 days at the park to do all we did in a day.
If you have any more information on whether this is a standing AMEX offer, please share in the comments below. Also, share whether you've had a different experience with the Express Pass, as it was the only time we've utilized. If you want to know where NOT to stay, check out why the Sheraton Universal Hotel is Clueless.