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The Only Card You Need for Your Next Hilton Stay: Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Credit Card Review

by  Ethan Steinberg for The Points Guy | May 29, 2020
Photo courtesy of American Express
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The Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express is a premium hotel credit card loaded with top-tier benefits. For starters, it comes with Hilton Diamond status for as long as you hold the card and you’ll earn 14x points on spending at participating Hilton hotels. In addition, the card comes with up to $250 in airline fee credits and up to $250 in Hilton resort credits every year. Card Rating*: ⭐⭐⭐⭐½

*Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG’s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.

For several years now Hilton has had an exclusive relationship with American Express for its cobranded credit cards, and this line of Amex cards has been a hit. Although Hilton Honors has sky-high award night prices, the resort credits up to $250 annually and complimentary Diamond status make the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card a great pick if you stay at Hilton properties regularly.

The Aspire card also comes with a Priority Pass Select airport lounge membership which gets you (and two guests) unlimited access to 1,200+ airport lounges around the world. On top of that, every year you’ll get a free-weekend-night certificate valid at nearly any Hilton property. There aren’t too many hotel credit cards with all of these perks tied to a single card. 

Who is this card for?

Plain and simple, if Hilton is your preferred hotel chain and you know you’ll have a few family vacations or business stays at Hilton properties this year, this card should be in your wallet. The combination of spending bonuses in large categories, Hilton property credits, airport lounge access and an airline-fee credit present real value to anyone who stays at Hilton properties.

Even with the card’s significant $450 annual fee, several benefits easily outweigh the cost. The welcome bonus and Honors points you earn with the card alone will cover the fee. When you tag on all the other perks, which we’ll discuss below, you’ll likely agree the Aspire card is one of the best premium hotel credit cards.

Welcome offer

The Aspire card’s welcome offer is 150,000 Hilton Honors points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. Those 150,000 points are great, and worth $900 according to the latest TPG valuations — but it’s not uncommon to see higher-value bonuses on premium travel cards. That, however, is the only nitpicking I have with this card.

Main benefits and perks

There are a lot of perks and value packed into this cobranded card. To take full advantage of these perks, read all the fine print on the Amex website.

  • Hilton Honors Diamond status — As long as your card account is open, you’ll receive Diamond Hilton elite status for the primary cardholder (sorry, authorized users don’t get it). TPG Points Lab Editor Nick Ewen values Diamond status at more than $2,200 annually, thanks to the bonus points you earn, lounge access, free breakfast, and room upgrades.
  • Up to two weekend reward nights — Receive one weekend night at almost any Hilton property worldwide after opening your account and on your cardmember anniversary each year. Earn a second weekend night when you spend $60,000 on the card in a calendar year.
  • Up to $250 in Hilton resort statement credits — During each cardmember year (defined by when you opened the account), you’ll receive up to $250 in statement credits for incidentals charged to your card at participating Hilton resorts. That $250 can be used on dining, activities, and spa treatments. This credit also applies to room rates and taxes, but not advance-purchase or nonrefundable rates.
  • Up to $250 in annual airline fee credits — As with the airline fee credits on The Platinum Card® from American Express, you need to select an airline of your choice in order to receive $250 in statement credits for incidentals from that airline on your account, including spending by authorized users. The credit is only for incidental fees, like change or cancellation fees, checked bag fees, or lounge passes.
  • Up to $100 Hilton on-property credit — When you book at least a two-night paid stay at Waldorf Astoria or Conrad properties through (or over the phone and quote booking code ZZAAP1), you’ll receive a credit of up to $100 for incidentals during your stay.
  • Priority Pass membership — Unlimited Priority Pass lounge access for you and two guests. Additional guests will be charged $32 per lounge visit. Authorized users do not receive Priority Pass membership. Also, Priority Pass memberships associated with an American Express credit card are no longer eligible for non-lounge experiences, such as Priority Pass partner restaurants.

The card currently carries secondary collision damage waiver, lost baggage insurance, and travel accident insurance, which covers you in the case of severe injury (losing a limb or sight) or death. These travel protections are rather unremarkable compared to those offered by the Chase Sapphire Reserve, though, especially since no trip delay or baggage delay protection is provided.

As of Jan. 1, 2020, Amex added trip cancellation/interruption coverage and trip delay insurance. However, it also dropped the card’s travel accident insurance and roadside assistance benefit. The Hilton Aspire has no foreign transaction fees.

Limited-time coronavirus related benefits

The Hilton Aspire is a compelling card throughout the year, but Amex has made it even more attractive to customers dealing with changing spending patterns during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Amex has added limited-time benefits to a number of its cards, and Hilton Aspire cardholders will enjoy the following enhancements:

  • Earn 12x Hilton Honors points at U.S. supermarkets from May 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).

How to earn points

The card makes it easy to get a high balance in your Hilton Honors account, which frankly is what you’ll need if you’d like to enjoy luxury or peak-season properties with Hilton Honors award nights. The Aspire card offers 14 points per dollar spent at hotels in the Hilton portfolio. At TPG’s valuation of 0.6 cents per point, that’s equivalent to an 8.4% return on spending. You’ll also earn 7x points (a 4.2% return) on flights booked directly with airlines or through, car rentals booked directly from select car rental companies and at U.S. restaurants.

Finally, you’ll earn 3x points (a 1.8% return) on all other spend with the card. I did some digging on the Amex website and found the following car rental companies will earn 7x points: Alamo, Avis, Budget, Dollar, Enterprise, E-Z, Fox, Hertz, National, Payless, Sixt, and Thrifty.

Because the card comes with complimentary Hilton Honors Diamond Status, which offers a 100% points bonus (or 20 points per dollar at most Hilton properties), you’ll be earning 34 points per dollar on most Hilton stays as a cardholder (a 20.4% return). Throw in the routine points promos Hilton offers, and your account balance should skyrocket.

For the other bonus categories, unless you’re trying to reach a threshold for an upcoming Hilton stay, I recommend using another card. The Platinum Card® from American Express, The Business Platinum Card® from American Express or Chase Sapphire Reserve® are ideal choices for plane tickets, and the CSR is one of the best credit cards for dining spend. Those cards and the transferable points they earn are too valuable to give up for Hilton points.

How to redeem points

Hilton gives you lots of options when it comes time to use your points. My suggestion is to ignore the options for merchandise, gift cards, premium room redemptions and transferring to airlines (at a roughly 10:1 ratio) and stick with standard award nights.

Related reading: Choosing the best Hilton credit card for you

Although you can’t be entirely sure how many points an award night is going to cost thanks to Hilton’s variable award charts, you can use Hilton’s Points Explorer to get a rough idea of how many points your desired property will cost. Don’t forget about using points to subsidize paid stays with the Points & Money option, which could get you up to 1 cent per point off your total room bill when choosing very expensive Hilton properties.

Cards that compete with the Hilton Amex Aspire

It’s hard to designate direct competitors for this card. There aren’t too many so-called top-tier credit cards that are hotel cobranded. Interestingly, the most direct competitor of the Hilton Amex Aspire Card may be The Platinum Card® from American Express, with an annual fee of $550. Lounge access, bonus points on airline bookings, an airline incidental fee, and Gold Hilton status are all offered by the Amex Platinum.

You can also transfer the Membership Rewards points earned from the Platinum card to Hilton. If I were a devout Hilton guest, it’d be hard to carry both cards with the overlapping benefits and the ability to earn points that transfer to Hilton with the Platinum card (although with a much lower earning rate for Hilton stays).

It is easy to make a case for carrying the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Hilton Amex Aspire Card. There’s no way to earn bonus Hilton points with the Sapphire Reserve and Hilton isn’t a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards. The Sapphire Reserve doesn’t give you any benefits at Hilton properties, but it offers far superior travel protections such as trip delay protection, baggage delay protection, and trip interruption/cancellation protection. I think these two cards would be a solid combination.

Bottom line

The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card almost looks like far too much value to be sustainable. Perhaps Amex is counting on the resort credit, airline-fee credit and property credits to largely go unused. This is really a great premium product to carry if you don’t have another similarly positioned card.

If you routinely stay at Hilton properties, the offer of Diamond status and 34 Hilton points per dollar without any promos is incredible — plus, you get complimentary breakfast from Diamond status and a $100 property credit for every two-night stay at Waldorf Astoria and Conrad properties. The added incentive of a weekend night on every anniversary is great thinking from Amex to get customers to hold the card for the long haul.

Here’s the link to apply for the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card with a 150,000-point bonus.

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

For rates and fees of The Platinum Card please click here.

Additional reporting by Benét J. Wilson.

Featured photo by The Points Guy.

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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