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Since Amex won an exclusive contract to issue co-branded Hilton cards (bye bye, Citi), it’s streamlined the portfolio down to just three offerings: The Hilton Honors Card is the most basic one, followed by the Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card, with the Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express sitting at the top in terms of features and annual fee.
While the Hilton Honors American Express Card doesn’t have an annual fee, its perks and earning potential are limited compared to the Ascend and Aspire. With similar-sounding names and nearly identical designs on these two cards, it can be hard to tell the latter two apart. The Ascend offers solid benefits that the average traveler will enjoy, while the Aspire is a premium product that can provide incredibly outsized value.
The table below compares the perks, fees and point earnings of the Ascend and Aspire:
Main Benefits and Features
|Amex Hilton Honors Ascend||Amex Hilton Honors Aspire|
|Bonus||100,000 Hilton points after you spend $2,000 in your first 3 months. Terms apply.||100,000 Hilton points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months. Terms apply.|
|Earning Rates||12x points on Hilton purchases; 6x at US restaurants, US supermarkets and US gas stations; 3x on all other purchases. Terms apply.||14x points on Hilton purchases; 7x on US restaurants, select car rentals and flights booked directly with the airline or at amextravel.com; 3x on all other purchases. Terms apply.|
|Credits||N/A||$250 annual airline fee credit
$250 annual Hilton resort statement credit at participating hotels
$100 property credit on eligible stays of 2 or more nights at Waldorf Astoria and Conrad hotels
|Elite Status||Hilton Honors Gold. Upgrade to Diamond by spending $40,000 in a calendar year.||Hilton Honors Diamond|
|Lounge Access||10 Priority Pass visits a year||Priority Pass select membership, with up to 2 free guests|
|Free Nights||One weekend night after spending $15,000 in a calendar year||One weekend night when you open your card, and another every year after you renew|
|Other Benefits||No foreign transaction fees
Car rental insurance (secondary)
|No foreign transaction fees
Car rental insurance (secondary)
Baggage loss and damage insurance
Travel accident insurance
Premium roadside assistance
So, which card is right for you?
When trying to decide between the premium version of a credit card and the mid-tier one, I always ask myself the simple question, “Does the difference in annual fees justify the extra perks I’m receiving?” In this case, the Aspire’s $450 fee is $355 more than the Ascend’s, so that’s the amount of extra value you’d need to get to pick the Aspire — if you’re making your decision this way.
Reasons to Get the Aspire
The Hilton Aspire offers a $250 airline credit, and while this credit can’t be used directly for airfare, many readers have had success using it to buy airline gift cards. Just be sure to check this guide to see what denominations will trigger reimbursement. American Airlines gift cards are as good as cash (to me, at least) so I value this perk at the full $250. That means we only need another $105 in added value to pick the Aspire.
While the Hilton Ascend only gives out a complimentary night if you spend $15,000 in a calendar year, the Aspire gives it to all cardholders. Marriott restricts its free night certificates from the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card to Category 1-5 properties, but Hilton weekend night awards are valid at almost any property in the Hilton portfolio, except for a small number of all inclusive and otherwise distinctive hotels. You can find the full list here. This means you can redeem your free night at some of the fanciest Waldorf Astoria and Conrad hotels in the world, including in the Maldives, Hong Kong and Bora Bora. It shouldn’t be hard for anyone to get well over $105 in value from this.
Don’t forget other benefits on the Aspire card that add value, too. We value Diamond status at $1,915, and the card comes with a $250 Hilton resort credit each cardmembership that’s even good toward room rates.
When the Ascend Makes More Sense
It shouldn’t be hard to get significant value from the Aspire’s many annual travel credits, but if you don’t travel very frequently, you could always pay the $95 a year for the Hilton Ascend and use that card to earn bonus points on Hilton stays and enjoy Gold status. It’s really about whether the Aspire’s $450 annual fee can pay for itself based on your travel patterns. And if you already carry a premium card like The Platinum Card® from American Express or Chase Sapphire Reserve, paying for another $450-a-year card with many of the same perks could be hard to swallow.