Hilton Aspire vs. Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant: Which Card Is Best for Traveling Families

Feb 28, 2019

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Some travelers have a full deck of premium credit cards in their wallets that carry hundreds of dollars in annual fees each. I fall into that category — and that strategy may make sense for road warriors who can easily make use of the variety of perks and benefits. But other types of travelers, such as families who hit the road or sky only a few times a year, may not need multiple $450+ annual fee credit cards, each with similar perks.

For those travelers leaning toward having a single premium hotel card, one question I receive with regularity is whether the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card or the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card offers the better overall value. Both of these cards are relatively new premium American Express and hotel co-branded cards introduced in 2018, so let’s do a head-to-head comparison. The information for the Hilton Aspire Amex card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Best Welcome Bonus

Winner: Hilton Aspire Card

Both the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant and Hilton Aspire Card have six-figure welcome points bonuses.

The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card has a welcome bonus 75,000 points after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months. The card comes with a $450 annual fee (See Rates & Fees).

The Hilton Honors Aspire Card has a welcome bonus of 150,000 Hilton Honors points after spending $4,000 in the first three months. It also adds a weekend night reward, which can be used at most Hilton properties around the world. The card also has a $450 annual fee (See Rates & Fees).

If you just look at the points, the Hilton Aspire Card appears to have the better bonus: 150k Hilton points compared to 100k Marriott points. That said, remember not all points are created equally. TPG values Marriott Bonvoy points at 0.8 cents each, which means 75,000 points are worth $600. TPG values Hilton Honors points a bit lower at 0.6 cents each, which means 150,000 points are worth $900.

While both welcome bonuses are solid, the slightly higher sign-up bonus, weekend award night and slightly lower spending requirement definitely tip the scales to the Hilton Aspire Card.

Best Elite Status

Winner: Hilton Aspire Card

Getting elite status perks without spending 30, 50 or more nights at hotels each year is one of the easiest ways to make your family’s hotel stays more comfortable (and affordable). Both of these premium hotel rewards credit cards give you those perks immediately.

The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card confers automatic Marriott Bonvoy Gold status with the ability to earn Platinum status after spending $75k on the card in a calendar year. The most valuable benefits of Marriott Gold status are space available upgrades to better rooms, 2pm late checkout and a 25% point bonus on hotel spending. It isn’t all that exciting, but it’s better than nothing. Should your family happen to have a Platinum Card® from American Express, that card also confers Marriott Gold status. Enrollment required.

The Hilton Aspire Card, on the other hand, provides you with top-tier Hilton Diamond status. This is an elite status that actually moves the needle on your stays, giving you valuable perks including Executive Floor Lounge access, space-available room upgrades, breakfast, bonus points, welcome amenities and more. While for many families, lounge access is code for easy access to food and drinks that won’t deplete the budget, perks like the breakfast and lounge may only apply to two guests under Hilton Honors’ terms (in practice, children are allowed in the lounge with their parents at some properties).

Example of a Hilton Executive Lounge (photo by James Oliver Cury)
Example of a Hilton Executive Lounge (photo by James Oliver Cury)

Since the Hilton Aspire card grants top-tier status that actually provides tangible perks, it is the clear winner in the elite status category.

Best Annual Credits

Winner: Hilton Aspire Card

While both of these two hotel cards have $450 annual fees, they both also provide for some pretty generous annual credits that make that fee much less painful. First up is the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card which awards up to $300 in annual statement credits for eligible Marriott purchases charged to the card. Marriott has confirmed that this credit applies not only to incidentals charged to the room, but also to room rates at participating properties. This makes the $300 annual credit almost as good as cash for families who spend at least $300 per year on Marriott stays. In fact, this effectively drops the annual fee from $450 to $150, if you value the credit at a dollar-to-dollar rate.

While the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant’s annual credit is pretty great, the Hilton Aspire Card’s credit is actually better. The card has an up to $250 annual Hilton resort credit that can even be used to cover your reservation. By itself this credit is not better than the Marriott card’s credit, but Aspire card also has a $250 annual credit to use toward airline incidental charges. If you are familiar with the annual airline statement credit on the Platinum Card® from American Express you likely already know that this credit can be used for a wide variety of things beyond just bag and seat assignment fees. Enrollment required.

With the Hilton Aspire Card’s cumulative $500 in annual travel credits available each year compared to the $300 on the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant, it is fair to say that Hilton wins this round.

Best Anniversary Award Night

Tie: Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant and the Hilton Aspire Card

These cards don’t just come with annual credits, but also anniversary award nights. Looking at the Hilton Aspire first this time, that card gives card members a weekend award night each year of card membership with a second night available after you spend $60,000 on the card in a calendar year.

The weekend award nights are great to use somewhere like the iconic Hotel del Coronado in California that otherwise goes for as many as 95,000 Hilton points per night (or several hundred dollars if booked with cash). Another family-friendly Hilton property where I’d love to use a weekend award night is the Grand Wailea in Maui. Obviously, you wouldn’t want to travel that far for one night, but it could be used as toward longer stay or possibly combined with a weekend award night held by a partner or friend.

Grand Wailea Beach (photo by Peter Rothbart)
Grand Wailea Beach (photo by Peter Rothbart)

At each card member anniversary with the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card, you’ll receive a free night award to use at properties costing up to 50,000 points. (Note: Some hotels and resorts have mandatory service charges on top of the redemption.) It is not hard to get several hundred dollars in value from a 50k Marriott certificate. Some great places for families to use these certificates include: the on-property Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin, a suite at the Sheraton Lakeside Villas near Vail and Beaver Creek, the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel Autograph Collection in Hawaii or The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island in Florida.

Photo courtesy of the Ritz Carlton Amelia Island
Photo courtesy of the Ritz Carlton Amelia Island

When determining which certificate is worth more, we’ll again refer to TPG point valuations and assume you use the certificates at the high end of their valuations. That would mean the 50k Marriott points are worth $400 and 95,000 Hilton Honors points are worth $570. However, because the Hilton certificate has a weekend restriction, whereas the Marriott certificate does not, I’m going to call this one a tie. Your own personal valuations may be different depending on how and where you think you will actually use these certificates.

Best Everyday Earning

Winner: Hilton Aspire Card

The truth is, neither of these cards are really top dogs for everyday earning in most cases, at least in non-bonused categories. The Hilton Aspire Card puts up a strong showing with 7x at US restaurants, as that is a 4.2 cent return per dollar spent by TPG valuations, but you can still do better on dining charges with other cards.

Hilton Amex Aspire marriott bonvoy brilliant
Earning Rates
  • 14x at Hilton hotels
  • 7x at US restaurants, flights booked directly with airlines and car rentals booked directly from select car rental companies
  • 3x on all other purchases
  • Terms Apply
  • 6x at participating Marriott hotels
  • 3x at US restaurants and on flights booked directly with airlines
  • 2x on all other purchases
  • Terms Apply

Zeroing in on the points earned for stays at the respective hotel brands, the Hilton Amex Aspire pays out 14 points per dollar charged at Hilton properties, which based on TPG’s valuation of 0.6 cents per point, is a 8.4% return on spending. Of course, in actuality, the return on paid stays is even greater since the card comes with complimentary Hilton Honors Diamond status. A benefit of that status is a 100% point bonus for Hilton stays (or 20 points per dollar at most Hilton properties), so you’ll actually be earning a total of 34 points per dollar on most Hilton stays as a card holder, meaning a 20.4% return.

The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant earns 6 points per dollar at participating Marriott hotels, so according to TPG’s recent valuations, that’s essentially a return of 4.8% on Marriott purchases. The included Gold status will give you a 25% bump in Marriott Bonvoy earnings. Most Marriott properties award 10 points per dollar, so a 25% bump means you are earning 12.5 points per dollar directly into Marriott Bonvoy, and then an additional 6 points per dollar for paying with your Bonvoy Brilliant Card. That is 18.5 points, which is a 14.8% return for dollar charged using TPG valuations.

No matter how you twist it, Hilton wins this category.

(Photo courtesy of The St. Regis Bora Bora)
(Photo courtesy of The St. Regis Bora Bora)

Other Card Perks

Winner: Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant

Like other premium luxury credit cards, both of these cards have some additional built-in perks. As both are Amex Cards, some of these perks, like access to Amex Offers, are identical. Both cards also provide Priority Pass Select membership (with guesting privileges) and neither the Bonvoy Brilliant (See Rates & Fees) nor Hilton Aspire charge foreign transaction fees (See Rates & Fees).

However, the Bonvoy Brilliant Card goes on to include 15 elite night credits (limited to once per member not once per credit card) and a Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee credit every four years. This card also provides complimentary Boingo Wi-Fi access.

courtesy getty images
(Ellen Creager/Detroit Free Press/TNS via Getty Images)

Since the Bonvoy Brilliant has a few more perks such as the Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application credit that fall into this “other” category, that card comes out on top in this round.

(Families should remember that even if you have other cards that offer this Global Entry application credit, it may still be useful as you could use it to cover the application fee for someone else, such as a spouse or child.)

Bottom Line

In our six categories comparing these two premium hotel credit cards for family travelers, the Hilton Aspire Card wins four rounds, ties the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card in one and only loses once — in the “other” category. However, before we declare this a total knockout in favor of the Hilton Aspire Card, there is something else important to note. Marriott Bonvoy points are very useful not only for Marriott hotel stays, but also for airline transfers. Additionally, there are some out-sized redemption values to be had from Marriott Bonvoy that make their program very attractive, especially for families who like to vacation at high-end resorts like the St. Regis Punta Mita in Mexico or St. Regis Deer Valley in Utah.

St. Regis Punta Mita
St. Regis Punta Mita

Because of that, while the edge still goes to the Hilton Aspire for families and others trying to pick just one card, the margin between the two is not as wide as it might seem. If you are eyeing a particular Marriott redemption, the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card also makes a compelling argument to get in your wallet.

Numbers and charts are one thing, but real life experience are another, so I’d love to hear if your family decided to go for the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card, the Hilton Aspire Card or something else altogether.

If you are still deciding which of these cards is best for you, here are some other articles that can help:

For rates and fees of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Aspire Card, please click here.

Featured image of Scrub Island, Marriott Autograph Collection, by author.

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