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.

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.

American Express® Green Card

WELCOME OFFER: 30,000 Points


CARD HIGHLIGHTS: up to $100 annual CLEAR statement credit, up to $100 annual LoungeBuddy statement credit, 3x points on travel and transit, 3x points on restaurants worldwide

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

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More Things to Know
  • Earn 30,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $2,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months.
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on all eligible travel, from subway swipes and window seats to hotel stays and city tours.
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points at restaurants worldwide.
  • Receive up to $100 per year in statement credits when you use the American Express® Green Card to pay for your CLEAR® membership at select airports and stadiums across the U.S. and Permissible Biometric Scanning Technology terms: eye scanning, irises scanning and fingerprints scanning.
  • Use the American Express® Green Card to purchase lounge access through LoungeBuddy to any of the lounges in the LoungeBuddy network – no memberships, elite statuses, or first class tickets required. Earn up to $100 in statement credits per calendar year on your LoungeBuddy purchases.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $150 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
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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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