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.

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership. Offer ends 11/10/2021.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

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More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer expires 11/10/2021.
  • Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
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  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
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Regular APR
15.74%-24.74% Variable
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Recommended Credit
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

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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