Why Hilton’s top credit card has me switching my hotel loyalty

May 25, 2020

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Back in 2018, Hilton launched the Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express, which offered automatic Diamond elite status to cardholders.

The card is very unusual because it gives you top-tier Hilton status just for holding the card. That means you’re eligible for suite upgrades and executive lounge access. No other hotel chain offers top-tier status just for keeping their branded card.

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Park Hyatt Vienna January 2016. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)
Park Hyatt Vienna January 2016. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

 

At the time, I had top status with Hyatt so I didn’t pay much attention. I had some amazing experiences at Hyatts around the world including the Park Hyatt Tokyo, Park Hyatt Vienna and the Park Hyatt Sydney and didn’t know much about the Hilton program. In fact, I enjoyed a few years as a Hyatt Diamond member back under the old loyalty program.

But then came 2017 and the launch of World of Hyatt. The new program was controversial. It was great for folks who spent a ton at Hyatts, but it took away easy ways to earn top-tier status. It also allowed you to get closer to status with spend on the credit cards, but it was too much money for me especially as I’d been spending on my American Airlines AAdvantage cards to help me get status with American Airlines.

Hyatt also started “peak” and “off-peak” pricing which, to me, further devalued the program.

Related: Big changes coming to World of Hyatt: Peak and off-peak pricing added in March 2020

On top of that, American Airlines made big changes that also made status with them harder and more expensive. It led me to really change my loyalty strategies. I did a status match to Delta Air Lines, and then I did one to Alaska Airlines.

I also began to seriously contemplate switching to Hilton and getting its Aspire Amex card. Here’s why.

In This Post

Why Hilton?

Conrad downtown NYC 2020. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)
Conrad downtown NYC 2020. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

So I’m still ambivalent about the Hilton brand overall. I don’t necessarily think the hotels are as glamorous or as fun as the Park Hyatt or Grand Hyatt properties I’ve stayed at, but it’s really early. I have yet to stay at a Waldorf-Astoria, and I’ve only stayed at one Conrad (The Conrad New York City downtown – review coming soon). Most of the Hiltons I’ve stayed at have been pretty basic.

Related: Battle of the hotel brands Hyatt is best

I’m eager to experience a few of the higher-end Hiltons so it’s early to have a lot of strong opinions.

There’s a lot of good reason though why Hilton is a good move.

Related: Battle of the hotel brands Hilton is best

My primary reason for switching is that I can earn top-tier status without too much spend. But Hilton also has a massive worldwide footprint with everything from budget to luxury hotels. I like that you can earn Hilton points easily and through a variety of means, and that you get free breakfast and executive lounge access at most of the hotel brands. And Diamond status comes with some great perks.

Waldorf Astoria (Photo by Richard Kerr/The Poimts Guy)
Waldorf Astoria (Photo by Richard Kerr/The Points Guy)

The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card

So i went for it. I applied for the American Express Hilton Aspire card, with its $450 annual fee (see rates and fees). The generous welcome bonus of 150,000 Hilton Honors points after spending $4,000 on the card in the first three months of account opening had me intrigued. It may not get me airline elite status, but it offers valuable hotel perks and a generous return on my spending. It also comes with a pretty nice $250 airline credit.

Related: Hilton Honors American Express Aspire card review

(Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy)

Related: How to choose the best Hilton credit card for you

As I mentioned, the card also comes with Hilton Diamond status for as long as you have the card. While the card has a large annual fee of $450 (see rates and fees), there are other valuable inclusions like an up to $250 annual Hilton resort credit, up to $250 yearly airline credit and a free weekend night when you open the account and each year on your card anniversary.

Related: Why changes at American Airlines have me switching my credit card strategy

I’m loving the card. I got the spend bonus and have already been able to enjoy my Diamond status with free meals at a Hilton in Seattle. I also got the resort credit already for a now-cancelled trip to Tahiti that I have rescheduled for September (fingers cross we can travel by then).

The Aspire card offers 14 points per dollar spent at hotels in the Hilton portfolio, 7x points on flights booked directly with airlines or through amextravel.com and car rentals booked directly from select car rental companies and 3x points on all other purchases.

Other cobranded credit cards do offer mid-tier elite status, such as the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card, which grants cardholders Gold status, but it also has a $450 annual fee (see rates and fees). And that gold status isn’t all that valuable.

Amex has made the Aspire even more attractive for customers who have limited ways to earn points due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic by adding limited-time benefits to a number of its cards. Hilton Aspire cardholders will enjoy the following enhancements:

  • Earn 12x Hilton Honors points at U.S. supermarkets through July 2020
  • Eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants, including takeout and delivery, will now qualify toward the up to $250 Hilton resort credit benefit from June through August 2020
  • Bonus points earned through eligible purchases, if they post to the card member’s Hilton Honors account between May 1 and December 31, will be considered base points and will count towards elite tier qualification and lifetime Diamond status
  • Unexpired free weekend night certificates — plus those issued through Dec. 31, 2020 — can now be used on any night of the week, and those issued between May 1 and Dec. 31, 2020, will be valid for 24 months from the date of issuance (rather than the usual 12 months).

Other Hilton cards

If the $450 annual fee is too rich for your blood, the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card may be more practical. It has an annual fee of $95 per year (see rates and fees) and offers complimentary Hilton Gold status, which includes free breakfast, an 80% bonus on points and complimentary room upgrades. Marriott and Hyatt limit bonuses to 20-25% on spend and don’t offer free food, so Hilton gold status is a nice step above.

Conrad Bora Bora (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
Conrad Bora Bora (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Other ways to get Hilton status

(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)

You can also get Hilton gold status included with The Platinum Card®. from American Express. In fact, it gives you status in several elite programs, plus, you get elite perks with rental car companies. That’s not even covering the $200 in airline fee credits, the $200 in Uber credits, the $100 Saks Fifth Avenue credit or the current ability to take $20 off streaming services and $20 off your cell phone bill every month. The card has a $550 annual fee (see rates and fees) and gets you gold status with Marriott.

Bottom line

Despite not being able to do much travel right now, I’m excited about exploring the Hilton brand. I already used the resort credit, and I’ve enjoyed seeing my balance of Hilton points soar with the bonus, and with 12X points at grocery. You can be sure I’ll be reporting on how my exploration of Hilton is going, and stay tuned for that review of the downtown New York City Conrad.

For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Aspire card, click here.

Featured image by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy.

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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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