Credit card showdown: Hilton Amex Aspire vs. Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant
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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with Amex card updates in response to coronavirus.
American Express offers two premium cobranded hotel credit cards: The Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express and the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card. Both cards carry $450 annual fees (see rates and fees and rates and fees, respectively) and come with similar benefits, such as automatic elite status and annual free-night certificates. They both also recently added various limited-time, nontravel perks to provide cardholders additional value amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Is one card better than the other? Let’s take a side-by-side look to see which should earn a place in your wallet.
Main benefits and features
Here are the basics of each of these two cards in the major categories:
|Perk/benefit||Hilton Amex Aspire||Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant|
|Annual fee||$450 (see rates and fees)||$450 (see rates and fees)|
|Welcome bonus||150,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.||75,000 points after spending $3,000 in the first three months of account opening.|
|Elite status||Automatic Hilton Honors Diamond status
Bonus points earned through eligible purchases posted between May 1 and December 31 will count toward elite-tier qualification and lifetime Diamond status
|Automatic Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status
Earn Marriott Bonvoy Platinum Elite status after spending $75,000 in a calendar year
|Free-night certificates||Annual free weekend night at almost any Hilton property worldwide after opening your account and on your card-opening anniversary each year.
Earn a second weekend night after spending $60,000 in a calendar year
Unexpired free-weekend-night certificates — plus those issued through Dec. 31, 2020 — can be used on any night of the week, and those issued between May 1 and Dec. 31, 2020, will be valid for 24 months from the date of issuance (rather than the usual 12 months).
|Annual free night (up to 50,000 points) after card renewal|
*Bonus category only available from May through July 2020.
**Purchases at U.S. restaurants will only qualify for the credit from June through August 2020)
Hilton Amex Aspire: 150,000 points after you spend $4,000 within the first three months of account opening. Based on TPG’s latest valuations, 150,000 Hilton points are worth $900.
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant: 75,000 points after spending $3,000 in the first three months of account opening. Those points are worth $600, according to TPG valuations.
Winner: Hilton Amex Aspire. Although Hilton points are worth slightly less than Marriott points (0.6 cents apiece, compared to 0.8 cents apiece for Marriott points), the card’s welcome bonus is worth $300 more. The Hilton Amex Aspire does require an additional $1,000 of spending within the same timeframe as the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant, but there are plenty of ways to easily meet the higher minimum-spending requirement, even if you have low monthly expenses.
Hilton Amex Aspire: Earn 14 points per dollar spent at hotels in the Hilton portfolio. Based on TPG’s valuation of 0.6 cents per point, that’s an 8.4% return on spending. However, in actuality, the return on paid stays is even greater. Because the card comes with complimentary Hilton Honors Diamond status and one of the benefits of that status is a 100% point bonus for Hilton stays (or 20 points per dollar spent at most Hilton properties), you’ll actually be earning a total of 34 points per dollar on most Hilton stays as a cardholder, meaning a 20.4% return.
From May through July 2020, you’ll earn 12 points per dollar spent (a 7.2% return) at U.S. supermarkets. You’ll also earn 7 points per dollar spent (a 4.2% return) on flights booked directly with airlines or at, car rentals booked directly from select car rental companies (Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, E-Z, Fox, Hertz, National, Payless, Sixt and Thrifty) and at U.S. restaurants; and 3x points (a 1.8% return) on all other card spending. On top of all of that, bonus points earned through purchases posted between May 1 and Dec. 31, 2020, will count toward elite-tier qualification and lifetime Diamond status.
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant: Earn 6 points per dollar spent at participating Marriott hotels, 3 points per dollar spent at U.S. restaurants and on flights booked directly with airlines, and 2 points per dollar spent on all other purchases. With TPG’s valuations in mind, that’s essentially a return of 4.8% on Marriott purchases, 2.4% on restaurants and flights and 1.6% on everyday spending. Plus, from May through July 2020, you’ll earn 6 points per dollar spent (a 4.8% return) on up to $7,500 spent at U.S. supermarkets.
Winner: This one’s a bit of a toss up depending on whether you personally value Hilton or Marriott points more, especially with both cards offering high multiples on hotel spending and limited time grocery bonus categories. Still, the Hilton Aspire gets the nod here between its massive 14x earning rate at Hilton hotels and its expansive 7x bonus categories as well.
Hilton Amex Aspire: Although points can be redeemed for gift cards and transferred to airlines (at a roughly 10:1 ratio), you’ll get the most value out of your points by sticking with standard award nights. Since Hilton has a variable award chart, you should get fairly consistent value from your points year-round, although there’s nothing to stop a property from suddenly increasing its standard award price. An option worth considering when staying at top-tier properties is to use points to subsidize paid stays with the Points & Money option — this will get you an outstanding redemption value of up to 1 cent per point.
Related reading: Maximizing redemptions with Hilton Honors
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant: You can redeem points toward free stays at more than 6,900 properties across 30 brands in 130 countries. The program has many sweet spots, including legacy SPG suites-only properties such as the St. Regis Maldives and the Al Maha in Dubai for 70,000-100,000 points per night. However, what makes Marriott points stand out from other hotel-points currencies is that there’s also potential for some great value when turning points into airline miles. Marriott points can be transferred to 45 frequent-flyer programs, mostly at a pretty solid 2.4:1 ratio, factoring in the 5,000-mile bonus given for every 60,000 points transferred.
Related reading: Maximizing redemptions with the Marriott Bonvoy program
Winner: Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant. Whether you’re looking to redeem points for free stays or free flights, there are many ways to get tremendous value out of Marriott Bonvoy points.
What makes both cards shine are the extensive perks that they offer.
Hilton Amex Aspire: The Aspire card comes with several statement credits, which, on their own, more than offset the card’s annual fee. Each year, you’ll get a $250 Hilton resort statement credit which can be used toward room rates and taxes at hundreds of resorts around the world. Hilton understands that you might not be traveling right now, so from June through August 2020, purchases at U.S. restaurants will also qualify for the credit.
Much like The Platinum Card® from American Express, which offers up to a $200 annual credit, the Aspire comes with an annual airline-fee credit of up to $250 that can be used to offset checked-bag fees, change fees, inflight food and beverage purchases and even some airline gift cards. Plus, you’ll get a $100 credit for incidentals when you book at least a two-night paid stay at Waldorf Astoria and Conrad properties through HiltonHonors.com/aspirecard (or over the phone and quote booking code ZZAAP1).
You’ll receive one weekend night at almost any Hilton property worldwide after opening your account and again on your cardmember anniversary, and you can earn a second weekend night by spending $60,000 on the card in a calendar year. Unexpired free weekend-night certificates — plus those issued through Dec. 31, 2020 — can be used on any night of the week, and those issued between May 1 and Dec. 31, 2020, will be valid for 24 months from the date of issuance.
The card’s most valuable travel perk is automatic top-tier Hilton Honors Diamond status for the primary cardholder. Diamond status comes with perks like bonus points, executive-floor lounge access, free breakfast and room upgrades — and it’s worth about $2,000 annually, based on our estimate. Non-Hilton travel benefits include a Priority Pass membership (with guest privileges) and no foreign transaction fees.
Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant: Each year, you’ll get up to $300 in statement credits for Marriott purchases charged to your card. As with the Aspire Card, the credit not only applies to incidentals but also to room rates. As with the Aspire Card, from June through August 2020, you’ll be able to use this credit toward purchases at U.S. restaurants.
You’ll also enjoy an on-property credit of up to $100 on eligible two-night paid stays at St. Regis and Ritz-Carlton locations. Primary cardholders receive automatic Gold Elite status and the ability to earn Platinum Elite after spending $75,000 in a calendar year. Gold status comes with upgrades to enhanced rooms and a 25% point bonus on hotel spending. Platinum status is much more coveted and includes perks like upgrades to suites, free breakfast and lounge access.
Cardholders can fast-track a higher level of status with 15 complimentary elite-qualifying-night credits per year. The card also comes with an annual free-night award worth up to 50,000 points. Like many other premium cards, the Bonvoy Brilliant comes with a Priority Pass membership (with guesting privileges) and will reimburse you when you charge the application fee for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck to the card (up to $100). Other non-Marriott benefits include free enrollment in the Boingo Preferred plan, which gets you unlimited Wi-Fi access at airports and other locations around the world, and no foreign transaction fees (rates and fees)
Winner: Hilton Amex Aspire. Although both cards offer highly lucrative travel benefits, the Aspire Card comes with more valuable statement credits and free-night certificates. Plus, cardholders receive top-tier elite status without having to reach any minimum spending.
Because both are premium Amex cards, the rest of the benefits from the Aspire Card and Bonvoy Brilliant are practically identical. They include access to Amex Offers and improved travel protections such as trip cancellation and interruption insurance and trip delay insurance, as well as purchase protection benefits like extended warranty and return protection.
Related reading: Amex trip insurance changes are now in effect
Which one should you choose?
The right card for you ultimately depends on which hotel chain you’re more loyal to. The Hilton Amex Aspire and the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant are Hilton’s and Marriott’s best-of-the-best cards, respectively. If you’re not loyal to either brand, you may want to pick the Aspire Card for the better earning rates and benefits like top-tier elite status, a resort credit and airline-fee credit. However, it’s also easy to get value from the Bonvoy Brilliant thanks to the more flexible Marriott statement credit and annual free-night certificate.
As an alternative, you could also make a case for carrying both cards, given the automatic elite statuses and array of perks across the two largest hotel loyalty programs in the world. Both cards make it easy to maximize benefits during the time of coronavirus.
For more on the Hilton Amex Aspire card:
- The only card you need for your next Hilton stay: Hilton Honors American Express Aspire credit card review
- 7 reasons to get the Amex Hilton Aspire card
- How to maximize the Hilton Amex Aspire card
For more on the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card:
- Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card review
- What’s covered by the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant’s $300 credit?
- Which Marriott Bonvoy credit card is right for you?
Featured image of the Conrad Bora Bora by Summer Hull/The Points Guy