Which Credit Card Is Better for Traveling Families: SPG Luxury vs. Hilton Aspire

Oct 29, 2018

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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available – Starwood Preferred Guest® Luxury Credit Card from American Express

Some travelers have a full deck of premium credit cards in their wallets, which may make sense for true 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 similar $450+ annual fee credit cards. Along those lines, one question I have received recently is whether the Starwood Preferred Guest® American Express Luxury Card or the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card offers the better overall value for families who like to travel. Both of these cards are relatively new premium American Express hotel co-branded cards introduced in 2018.

Best Welcome Bonus

Winner: Hilton Aspire Card

Both the SPG Luxury Card and Hilton Aspire Card have six-figure welcome bonuses.

The SPG Luxury Card has a welcome bonus of 75,000 Marriott Rewards points after $3,000 in spending during the first three 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 awards a weekend night reward, which can be used at most Hilton properties around the world. The card comes with a $450 annual fee (See Rates & Fees).

Just looking at the points for a moment, the Hilton Aspire Card appears to have the better bonus as it offers 150k points instead of “just” 75k points, but not all points are created equally. TPG values Marriott Rewards points at 0.8 cents each, which means 75,000 points are worth $600. However, TPG values Hilton Honors points a bit lower at 0.6 cents each.

While the point valuations are the same, the weekend award night and slightly lower spending requirement definitely tips the scales to the Hilton Aspire Card offering the better overall welcome bonus.

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 convey immediate elite status perks by virtue of having the card.

The SPG Luxury Card confers automatic Marriott Gold status and 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 enhanced rooms, 2pm late checkout and a 25% point bonus on hotel spending. In other words, it isn’t all that exciting, but better than nothing. Should your family happen to have a Platinum Card® from American Express, that card also confers Marriott Gold status.

The Hilton Aspire Card provides you top-tier Hilton Diamond status. This is an elite status that actually moves the needle on your stays since that gets you valuable perks including Executive Floor Lounge Access, space-available room upgrades, breakfast, bonus points, welcome amenities and more. For many families, lounge access is code for easy access to food and drinks that don’t hit the budget. However, note that perks like breakfast and lounge may only apply to two guests per Hilton Honors’ terms, though 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, including lounge access and/or breakfast, 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 SPG Luxury Card that awards $300 in annual statement credits for Marriott and SPG purchases charged to the card. Marriott has confirmed that this credit applies not just to incidentals charged to the room, but also for room rates. This makes the $300 annual credit almost as good as cash for families who spend at least $300 per year on SPG/Marriott stays. In fact, this annual $300 effectively drops the annual fee from $450 to $150, if you value the credit at a dollar-to-dollar rate.

While the SPG Luxury Card’s annual credit is pretty great, the Hilton Aspire Card’s credit is actually even better. The Hilton Aspire Card has a $250 annual Hilton resort credit (that can even be used to cover your reservation). By itself this credit is not better than the SPG Luxury 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 credit on the Platinum Card from American Express or American Express® Gold Card, you likely already know that this credit can be used for a wide variety of things beyond just bag and seat assignment fees.

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

Best Anniversary Award Night

Tie: SPG Luxury Card 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 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 can be used as a part of a longer stays, or if both you and your partner have a weekend award night to use, you could line them up and book a two-night stay.

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

At each card member anniversary with the SPG Luxury Card, you’ll receive a free night award worth up to 50,000 points. Note: Some hotels and resorts have mandatory service charges. 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: Westin Grand Cayman Seven Mile Beach Resort & Spa, the on-property Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin and The Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island.

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

When valuing which certificate is worth more, we’ll again fall back to TPG point valuations and assume you use the certificates at the high end of their valuation. That puts 50k Marriott Rewards points worth $450 and 95,000 Hilton Honors points worth $570. However, because the Hilton certificate has a weekend restriction, whereas the SPG certificate does not, I’m going to call this one a tie. Your own personal valuations may be different depending on where you think you will use these annual 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 SPG Luxury Amex
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 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 SPG Luxury Amex earns 6 points per dollar at participating Marriott hotels, so according to TPG’s recent valuations, that’s essentially a return of 5.4% on Marriott purchases. The included Gold status will give you a 25% bump in Marriott Rewards 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 Rewards, and then an additional 6 points per dollar for paying with your SPG Luxury Card. That is 18.5 points, which is a 16.6% 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: SPG Luxury Card

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, is identical. Both cards also provide Priority Pass Select membership (with guesting privileges) and neither the SPG Luxury (See Rates & Fees) or Hilton Aspire charges foreign transaction fees (See Rates & Fees).

However, the SPG Luxury Card goes on to include 15 elite night credits (beginning in 2019, 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 SPG Luxury Card has a few more perks such as 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 can 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 SPG Luxury Card in one and only loses once — in the “other” category. However, before we declare this a total knock-out in favor of the Hilton Aspire Card, there is something else important to note. Marriott Rewards points are very useful not only for Marriott/SPG hotel stays, but also for airline transfers. Additionally, at least as long as the Marriott/SPG award chart tops out at 60,000 points per night, there are some out-sized redemption values to be had from Marriott Rewards that make their program very attractive, especially for families who like to vacation at high-end resorts like the St. Regis Punta Mita.

St. Regis Punta Mita
St. Regis Punta Mita

Because of that, while the edge still goes to the Hilton Aspire for families who are trying to decide between these two premium hotel co-branded cards, the margin between the two cards is not as wide as it might seem. If you are eyeing a particular Marriott/SPG redemption, especially before the top-end of the Marriott award chart gets pricier next year, the SPG Luxury 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 SPG Luxury 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 SPG Luxury Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Aspire Card, please click here.

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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