Getting Value From a Card With No Annual Fee — Reader Success Story

Mar 4, 2019

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Today I want to share a story from TPG reader Brandon, who earned points for his honeymoon at minimal cost:

I’m a younger person with a relatively low amount of spending. With this in mind, I try to maximize the value I am getting out of credit cards rather than look for the largest welcome bonuses. As such, I signed up for the Hilton Honors American Express Card with no annual fee (See Rates & Fees) instead of the Hilton Aspire card. I was able to grab the 100,000-point welcome bonus on just $1,000 of spend in three months, and received a referral bonus of 20,000 points after having my significant other sign up as well. [Offer no longer available]

She received another 100,000 Hilton points after spending the same $1,000 in three months, and subsequently transferred those points to my account. After a combined $2,000 of spending, we had 230,000 Hilton points and Silver status. We never really stay with Hilton (we prefer Marriott), but with those points, we were able to book five nights at a Hilton hotel (with the fifth night free) for the first leg of our honeymoon. 

We redeemed 200,000 points on a room that normally would have cost us $1,600. Considering this is higher than TPG’s valuation of 0.6 cents per Hilton point, and we received $1,600 worth of benefits on just $2,000 of spending, I would call it a success! We even have about 30,000 points left over to put toward a future trip. We wouldn’t normally hit the $5,000 minimum spend in three months on some of these cards, so I wanted to share a story that shows you can get great value and benefits out of cards even if you don’t spend a lot.

You can get enormous value from the top credit card welcome bonuses, but just because a card offers a large bonus doesn’t mean you should apply. Points, miles and card benefits only have value if you use them, and they make for a bad long-term investment, so earning a bonus doesn’t do much good if it just sits in your account. You also need to consider your financial situation; if you’re going to have difficulty meeting a card’s spending requirements or making payments on time, then it’s not a good fit. The best strategy is to target cards that mesh with your both your upcoming travel plans and your finances.

The Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express offers better value overall than the no annual fee version. Apart from the the higher welcome bonus, I think the additional benefits more than make up for the annual fee, but again, that’s only true if you use them. Even if Brandon could have used benefits like Diamond status and an annual weekend night certificate, I credit him for recognizing that the $450 annual fee (See Rates & Fees) and $5,000 spending requirement were a stretch. By opting for a card with no annual fee and a lower spending requirement, he and his partner were still able to earn the points they needed while staying within their budget.

I love this story and I want to hear more like it! In appreciation for sharing this experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending Brandon a $200 airline gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own award travel success stories to; be sure to include details about how you earned and redeemed your rewards, and put “Reader Success Story” in the subject line. Feel free to also submit your most woeful travel mistakes, or to contribute to our new award redemption series. If your story is published, we’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. Due to the volume of submissions, we can’t respond to each story individually, but we’ll be in touch if yours is selected.

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.

Safe and happy travels to all, and I look forward to hearing from you!

Featured photo courtesy of Hilton Hotels

For rates and fees of the Hilton Aspire Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Amex Card, please click here.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

WELCOME OFFER: 80,000 Points


CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 3X points on dining and 2x points on travel, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • Enjoy benefits such as a $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit, 5x on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3x on dining and 2x on all other travel purchases, plus more.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,000 toward travel.
  • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
Regular APR
16.24% - 23.24% Variable
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit

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.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.