For over four years, gamers have been able to access hundreds of titles across PC and Xbox via Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription service—but you don’t have to pay full price. With a few smart moves, you can lock in a 52 percent discount on Xbox Game Pass Ultimate for up to two years.
(Note: This trick was last confirmed as working on 9/15/23.)
This deal isn’t quite as good as before: Before July 6, 2023, you could lock up to three years at 63 percent off. When Xbox Game Pass Ultimate first launched, early adopters discovered that if you activated one month of Game Pass Ultimate on an account, it converted existing Xbox Live Gold and standard Xbox Game Pass subscriptions to Ultimate at a 1:1 rate. Any prepaid time up to the maximum of three years got the upgrade.
But things have changed. After Microsoft’s price hike on Xbox Game Pass and Game Pass Ultimate, the conversion rate got nerfed to a 3:2 ratio. You’ll now pay about $8.20 per month using this conversion hack. Not as good as $5 per month (the old deal), but still much cheaper than list price for Ultimate ($17/month) or even PC Game Pass ($10/month). PC gamers still benefit from this trick.
Read on for a step-by-step guide of how to secure this deal, which includes tips on how to maximize your savings. And yes, this trick is still alive for now—even with the recent replacement of Xbox Live Gold with Xbox Game Pass Core.
!- News alerts -!
9/15/2023: Microsoft has sunset Xbox Live Gold (as of 9/14/2023). The service has now “evolved” into Xbox Game Pass Core. The good news is, the conversion ratio of 3:2 from Xbox Live Gold to Game Pass Ultimate carries over. You can pay for Core in yearly installments for $60 like XBL Gold, too.
8/29/2023: Microsoft has killed off the $1 Xbox Game Pass Ultimate trial again, likely due to Starfield‘s imminent release. You’ll have to pay full price for 1 month of Ultimate to trigger the conversion.
How to convert Xbox Game Pass Core, Xbox Live Gold, or standard Game Pass to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate
The most basic description of what you’ll do is this:
Buy Xbox Game Pass Core (formerly Xbox Live Gold)
Buy 1 month of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate
Agree to a conversion of your Core and/or standard Game Pass subscription(s) to Game Pass Ultimate
However, you can run into a few pitfalls during this process—especially if you’re going for the maximum of two years. The process has also gotten a little more complicated if you have an existing Xbox Game Pass subscription. The detailed instructions below are long, but read through them all. They will help you avoid mistakes.
(Note: If you need a more visual guide for redeeming Xbox Game Pass Core or Xbox Live Gold codes, you can refer to our old YouTube video guide. However, because it refers to the now-dead 1:1 conversion ratio, please refer to this written guide for all other instructions.)
Decide how long you want Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. To make the most of the deal, get as close to 36 months of Xbox Game Pass Core (or Game Pass Core + standard Game Pass) as you can afford—three years is the maximum amount of time you can load onto an account. Even with the change in conversion ratio, this remains true. The difference now is that you get fewer months of Ultimate when you convert.
You cannot go over 36 months—if you buy a code that will push you over the limit, Microsoft’s servers won’t let you redeem it. Also, if you get any bonus months for agreeing to recurring billing, those count toward your max, too.
The actual amount of time you buy for Xbox Game Pass Core will depend on your situation (new as of 9/14/23):
If you currently don’t have any active Xbox Game Pass subscriptions, buy the amount of time you want to convert. (Ex: You should buy two 12-month codes if you want to convert two years and end up with 16 months of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate.)
If you had an active Xbox Live Gold subscription, it was automatically converted to Xbox Game Pass Core on 9/14/2023. Any Xbox Live Gold codes you still have on hand will also convert directly to Game Pass Core. Buy additional time for the subscription (as desired) before conversion to Ultimate.
If you already have an active PC Game Pass subscription, add enough time for Game Pass Core to get to your overall desired total. The two will combine to convert at the 3:2 ratio. (Ex: You have 2 months left of a prepaid PC Game Pass subscription. You want to end up with a full two years of Ultimate.You should buy 33 months worth of Game Pass Core codes.)
If you already have an active Xbox Game Pass for Console subscription, it converts at a different ratio of 4:3. Xbox Game Pass Core will still convert at a 3:2 rate. Calculate accordingly. (Most people will be subscribed to this plan on a month to month basis, so this math won’t be too difficult—basically subtract a month off the amount of Xbox Game Pass Core that you’ll need.)
If you already have an active Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription, the easiest thing to do is let your current subscription expire, then do this conversion trick. (It’s a much better rate than when you have an active Ultimate subscription, which varies but can be as little as 81 days of Ultimate for 6 months of Core.)
You can buy Xbox Game Pass Core digital subscription codes from retailers like Newegg and Best Buy. More stores should follow—right now it’s early days for the change over to Game Pass Core. You can still also pick up Xbox Live Gold codes (Amazon, Target), which will first convert 1:1 to Core. You can then convert to Ultimate afterward.
Always increase the time on Xbox Game Pass Core (or Xbox Live Gold), not standard Game Pass—Game Pass Core is the cheaper option.
Also add time in the largest increments possible—a 12-month code works out much cheaper per month than the one-month, three-month, and six-month varieties. And again, when purchasing codes always remember that Microsoft’s servers won’t let you redeem a code for a duration that exceeds the 36-month cap. (Ex: You’re at 34 months, but attempt to redeem a three-month code. The servers will not let you activate it.) Short multi-day trial codes won’t work for this conversion hack, either, like those for three days or two weeks.
WARNING: If you buy three 1-year subscriptions, do not turn accept any bonus months in exchange for turning on recurring billing while redeeming the codes. Remember, any extra freebie months you get for doing so will make it impossible to redeem the final code.
The lone exception to the three-year limit is that one month of Ultimate you’ll use to convert your Xbox Game Pass Core (+ standard Game Pass, as applicable) subscription. If it puts you over the cap, the servers ignore that and still perform the conversion. If it doesn’t, you get that 1 month to count toward your time.
Additional tips & reminders:
As mentioned just above, don’t forget to account for your purchased month of Game Pass Ultimate. It stacks on top of whatever amount of Xbox Live Gold or Xbox Game Pass subscription time you convert. You won’t get the full month if it puts you over the 36 month limit, though.
When redeeming an Xbox Live Gold digital subscription code, agreeing to recurring billing will sometimes give you an additional one month for free. (YMMV.) If you turn off recurring billing before redeeming your next code, you can usually continue to take advantage of this bonus. (Don’t do this if you are redeeming three 1-year codes—the system will refuse to let you redeem the final code because it’ll put you over the limit.)
To verify you’ve turned off recurring billing, head to the Services & Subscriptions section of your account info. Under “Xbox Game Pass Ultimate,” you’ll see an expiration date for your subscription, and the option to the right will say “Turn on recurring billing.”
Microsoft Reward members should also check to see what Xbox Game Pass Core options are available to them. Nothing’s sweeter than a free way to max out a deal. (Though the point redemption rates aren’t so great.)
Likewise, Microsoft Reward members can snag their 1 month of Game Pass Ultimate for free if they have enough points.
Buying discounted Xbox Game Pass Core codes (or Xbox Live Gold codes, if you can find them) will further your savings. For example, CDKeys offers a modest discount available to everyone and sells 1-, 3-, 6-, and 12-month codes. CDKeys also sells discounted 1 month Game Pass Ultimate codes.
Before buying any digital subscription codes, incorporate any of the above freebies or bonuses you can obtain into your calculations.
Example: You need 17 months to max out. (You already have 16 months of Xbox Game Pass Core and 3 months of PC Game Pass active on your account.) You buy one 12-month Game Pass Core code and then use Microsoft Rewards points to obtain a single 3-month GPC code. You can then angle for at least one bonus month by choosing recurring billing when you redeem each Xbox Game Pass Core code. (YMMV, Microsoft has become inconsistent with this bonus offer.) If you get zero bonus months, add another month of Game Pass Core to the account. Then buy (or apply a code for) 1 month of Game Pass Ultimate to convert everything to 24 months of Ultimate.
Activate your codes for Xbox Game Pass Core (or Xbox Live Gold, if you still have them). Again, as your final reminder, if you have three 1-year subscription codes for Xbox Game Pass Core, do not agreeto any freebie bonus months (in exchange for turning on recurring billing) in order to redeem your final code.
If you are using a patchwork of different codes, triple-check your math to be sure you know how many times (if any) you need to agree to recurring billing.
OOPS: Did you have three 1-year Game Pass Core codes and accidentally make it impossible to redeem that final code? You can wait a month or two, then redeem code #3 and convert. Or you can wait to activate it after you upgrade to Game Pass Ultimate—you’ll be able to redeem it on a pro-rated basis to extend your Ultimate subscription. But the exchange rate won’t be as good; 12 months of Core converts to a mere four months of Ultimate.
Activate your code for 1 month of Game Pass Ultimate. (You can also purchase it instead through the Xbox website or the Store on an Xbox console.)
You will have two screens to pass through. The first explains how the conversion works if you already have an active Game Pass subscription. (Which you should, if you followed Step 2’s instructions.)
Usually, the second that follows will ask for billing information for recurring billing. You should be able to decline.
You should now see “Xbox Game Pass Ultimate” listed under Services and Subscriptions on your Microsoft account page. If you purchased your Ultimate code directly through the Xbox website or on an Xbox console, your Game Pass Ultimate subscription will likely be set to recurring billing as default. We suggest you turn this off, lest you be taken by surprise when your subscription expires (especially if that’s two years from now). You can do so by clicking on “Manage” just to the right of the billing information on the website.
Outside of that, you’re set to go. Happy gaming!
Editor’s note: This article originally published in August 2019 but has been since updated to keep it current. Recent updates include edits to explain the effect of July 6’s Ultimate price hike and the retooling of Xbox Live Gold into Xbox Game Pass Core.
Alaina Yee is PCWorld's resident bargain hunter—when she's not covering software, PC building, and more, she's scouring for the best tech deals. Previously her work has appeared in PC Gamer, IGN, Maximum PC, and Official Xbox Magazine. You can find her on Twitter at @morphingball.