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Thanks to impressive benefits like $250 in annual on-property credits and complimentary Diamond status, this card is a great pick for Hilton loyalists.
In 2017, Hilton announced American Express would have the exclusive co-branded credit card relationship beginning in 2018. With the new agreement came a new line of Amex cards. There was quite a bit of anticipation to see what Hilton and American Express would roll out. After several months of anticipation, I can say they did not disappoint. While it can be difficult to get excited about Hilton Honors’ sky-high award night prices, the top-tier Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card caught me off guard and I’m very enthusiastic about the product.
In January, we took a look at the mid-tier Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card, which I think offers tangible value for those who enjoy a few, but not too many, Hilton hotel nights. My Citi Hilton Reserve Card was transitioned to the Amex Hilton Ascend, and while it’s ok, I don’t stay at Hiltons enough for it to occupy a space in my already full wallet. Now, let’s look at the Amex Aspire and see how the card far exceeds original expectations (and why I’m looking hard at the card for my future travel plans).
Who Is This Card For?
Plain and simple, if Hilton is your preferred hotel chain and you know you’ll have a few family vacations at Hiltons this year (or business trips to Hilton properties) then this card should be in your wallet. Large category spend bonuses, Hilton property credits, airport lounge access and an airline fee credit present real value to anyone who stays, or wants to stay, at Hilton properties. Even with the significant $450 annual fee, several benefits easily outweigh the cost. The welcome bonus and Honors points you earn with the card alone will make the $450 fee — i.e., the cost of one night at a really luxe or peak-season Hilton — palatable. When you tag on all the other perks, which we’ll discuss below in detail, you’ll likely agree Hilton and Amex did an excellent job making the Aspire card better than anyone would have thought.
If I had to nitpick with the Aspire card, the bonus would probably be my only gripe. The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card offers 100,000 Hilton Honors points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. 100,000 points is great, worth $600 according to the latest TPG valuations, but it’s the same bonus offered by the much lower-tier Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card. The lower-tier Ascend also has a smaller total minimum spend of $3,000 required in order to get the points.
I believe Amex felt it could justify having the same bonus at a higher annual fee given all the other benefits of the card. Still, it would be nice to give potential customers an additional ~25,000 points to further entice them to the top-tier card.
The card makes it rather easy to get a high Hilton Honors account balance, which quite frankly is needed if you’d like to enjoy luxury or peak season properties on award nights. The Aspire card offers 14 points per dollar spent at hotels in the Hilton portfolio. At our valuation of 0.6 cents per point, that’s equivalent to an 8.4% return on spending. You’ll also earn 7x points (a 4.2% return) on flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com, car rentals booked directly from select car rental companies and at US restaurants. Finally, you’ll earn 3x points (a 1.8% return) on all other spend with the card. I did some digging on the Amex website and found the following car rental companies will earn 7x points: Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, E-Z, Fox, Hertz, National, Payless, Sixt and Thrifty.
Because the card comes with complimentary Hilton Honors Diamond Status, which offers a 50% points bonus (or 15 points per dollar at most Hilton properties), you’ll be earning 29 points per dollar on most Hilton stays as a cardholder. Throw in the routine points promos Hilton offers, and your account balance should skyrocket.
For the other bonus categories, unless you’re trying to reach a threshold for an upcoming Hilton stay, I recommend using another card. The Platinum Card from American Express, The Business Platinum Card from American Express OPEN or Chase Sapphire Reserve are ideal choices for plane tickets, and the CSR is a no-brainer for dining spend. Those cards and the transferable points they earn are too valuable to give up for Hilton points.
Hilton gives you lots of options when it comes time to use your points. My suggestion is to ignore the options for merchandise, gift cards, premium room redemptions and transferring to airlines (at a roughly 10:1 ratio) and stick with standard award nights. Although you can’t be entirely sure how many points an award night is going to cost thanks to Hilton’s variable award charts, you should have a rough idea of how many points your desired property will cost. Don’t forget about using points to subsidize paid stays with the Points & Money option, which could get you up to 1 cent per point off your total room bill when choosing very expensive Hilton properties.
There are a lot of perks to cover with the card, and as I read each one, my eyebrows went up another notch. I’m really surprised at the amount of value packed into a hotel co-branded card. Make sure to read all the fine print of the following perks on the Amex website.
- Hilton Honors Diamond Status — As long as your card account is open, you’ll receive Diamond status for the primary cardholder (sorry, authorized users don’t get it). TPG Contributor Nick Ewen values Diamond status at over $2,000 annually mainly due to bonus points, lounge access, breakfast and room upgrades.
- Two Weekend Reward Nights — Receive one weekend night at almost any Hilton property worldwide after opening your account and on your card-opening anniversary each year. You’ll receive a second weekend night when you spend $60,000 on the card in a calendar year.
- $250 Hilton Resort Statement Credit — During each cardmember year (defined by when you opened the account) you and your authorized users will receive up to a total of $250 in statement credits for incidentals charged to your card at participating Hilton resorts. $250 to use on dining, activities and spa treatments during a resort stay would be a pretty great perk that would directly add to the enjoyment of my stay.
- $250 Annual Airline Fee Credit — Exactly like with the Amex Platinum card airline fee credits, you need to select an airline of your choice to receive $250 in statement credits for incidentals from that airline placed on your card account, including from authorized users.
- Up to $100 Hilton On-Property Credit — When you book at least a two-night paid stay at a Hilton property through HiltonHonors.com/aspirecard (or over the phone and quote booking code ZZAAP1), you’ll receive up to a $100 credit for incidentals at properties. Please let us know in the comments if you’re finding the full $100 given for your bookings.
- Priority Pass Membership — Unlimited Priority Pass lounge access for you and two guests. Additional guests will be charged $27 per lounge visit. Authorized users do not receive Priority Pass membership.
The card carries secondary collision damage waiver, lost baggage insurance and travel accident insurance, which covers you in the case of severe injury (losing a limb or sight) or death. These travel protections are rather unremarkable compared to those offered by the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Citi Prestige.
What Cards Compete With the Hilton Amex Aspire?
Depending on your personal situation, it’s hard to narrow direct competitors for this card. There aren’t too may so-called top-tier credit cards that are hotel co-branded. The Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card does offer many of the same benefits and carries the same $450 annual fee. However, because it’s marketed to Marriott (and now arguably SPG) loyalists, it doesn’t directly compete or conflict with the new Amex Aspire. I personally would not carry both cards.
I found it curious that perhaps the most direct competitor of the Hilton Amex Aspire Card is American Express’ own Platinum Card. Lounge access, bonus points on airline bookings, an airline incidental fee and Hilton status (Gold) are all offered by the Platinum Card from American Express. You can also transfer the Membership Rewards points earned from the Platinum Card to Hilton. If I were a devout Hilton guest, it’d be hard to carry both cards with the overlapping benefits and the ability to earn Hilton points with the Amex Platinum (although it’s a relatively poor destination for your points and with a much lower earning rate for Hilton stays).
It’s easy to make a case for carrying the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Amex Hilton Aspire. There’s no way to earn bonus Hilton points with the CSR, and Hilton isn’t a transfer parter of Chase Ultimate Rewards. The Chase Sapphire Reserve doesn’t give you any benefits at Hilton properties, but it offers far superior travel protections like delayed baggage and trip interruption/cancellation protection. I think these two cards would be a solid combination.
I almost find myself questioning when the first devaluation of the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card will be executed. At face value, it just looks like far too much value to be sustainable. Perhaps Amex is counting on the resort credit, airline fee credit and $100 property credits to largely go unused. This is really a great premium product to carry if you don’t yet have another similarly positioned card.
If you routinely stay at Hiltons, Diamond status and 29 Hilton points per dollar without any promos is incredible, and you could be looking at a $100 property credit for every two-night stay. You’d get complimentary breakfast from Diamond status and a complimentary dinner from property credits for every two-night stay! The added incentive of a weekend night on every anniversary is great thinking from Amex to get customers to hold the card for the long haul.
I was skeptical about a premium Hilton card, but Amex and the Honors team really pulled out all the stops. I’ll be looking at this card very seriously later this month when I wrap up planning my 2018 travel destinations.
- Earn 100,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases on the Card within your first 3 months of Card Membership.
- Earn 14X Hilton Bonus Points when you make eligible purchases on your Card at participating hotels or resorts within the Hilton Portfolio.
- Earn 7X Hilton Honors Points for each dollar of eligible purchases on your card at U.S. Supermarkets, U.S. Gas Stations, Eligible Airfare, Eligible Car Rentals, and U.S. Restaurants.
- Earn 3X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for all other eligible purchases on your Card.
- Enjoy one weekend night reward with your new Card and every year after renewal. Plus, earn an additional night after you spend $60,000 on your Card in a calendar year.
- Enjoy up to $250 in Hilton Resort Credits on your Card each anniversary year, when you stay at participating resorts within the Hilton portfolio.
- Enjoy complimentary Diamond status with your Hilton Honors Aspire Card.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees