A new ultra-premium card, in-depth review: Amex Hilton Aspire

Amex and Hilton have announced their new credit card lineup to be introduced on January 18th 2018. The new lineup means an end to Hilton Amex foreign transaction fees, a first-ever business Hilton card, and more.  Full details can be found here: Hilton Amex Cards. Everything you need to know.  The most interesting of the changes, to me, is the addition of a new ultra-premium card: the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card, or Amex Hilton Aspire for short.

Amex Hilton Aspire Overview

  • $450 annual fee
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Hilton Diamond status
  • Earning rate:
    • 14X at hotels and resorts in the Hilton portfolio worldwide
    • 7X on flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com, car rentals booked directly from select car rental companies and at U.S. restaurants
    • 3X on other purchases
  • $250 Hilton Resort Credit per membership year.
  • $250 Airline Incidental Fee Credit per calendar year.
  • $100 on-property credit at Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts and Conrad Hotels & Resorts when booking the exclusive Aspire Card package
  • One Weekend Night Reward at a hotel or resort in the Hilton portfolio with your new Card and each year of Card Membership
  • A second Weekend Night Reward after spending $60,000 in purchases on the Card in a calendar year
  • Priority Pass™
  • Access to 24/7 American Express concierge

Tangible Benefits

The Amex Hilton Aspire has several really valuable benefits:

  • $250 Hilton Resort Credit per membership year.
  • $250 Airline Incidental Fee Credit per calendar year.
  • One Weekend Night Reward each membership year
  • Diamond Elite Status

Let’s look at each one and assign each a conservative value to see if these benefits alone are worth the card’s $450 annual fee:

$250 Hilton Resort Credit

It looks like any room charges made at a Hilton resort property (found here) will qualify for this credit as long as you pay with your Amex Hilton Aspire card upon checking out of a participating hotel.  The terms of this benefit state the following:

Eligible Hilton Resort purchases must be made directly with the participating Hilton Resort and charged to your Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card account for the benefit to apply. Incidental charges (including charges made at restaurants, spas, and other establishments within the hotel property) must be charged to your room and paid for with your Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card at checkout in order for them to be recognized as Hilton Resort purchases.

I take this to mean that this credit can work towards the cost of the stay itself or any additional charges billed to the room.  In other words, it’s basically a straight up $250 rebate for one Hilton resort stay per year (or, if you spend less than $250, you’ll have the remainder to spend on a second stay).

If I’m interpreting this benefit correctly, its pretty awesome.  You could use it along with a free weekend night in order to cover meals, spa treatments, etc.  Or, you might be able to use it to reduce the cost of another night (a weekday night, perhaps).

The key downside to this benefit is that it apparently only works at Hilton resorts.  If you plan to stay at a Hilton resort every year anyway, then that’s not a problem and you should be able to get nearly the full $250 value from this benefit.  Otherwise, you may find it a challenge some years to get any value from it.

In order to account for the chance of the benefit occasionally going unused, I’ll discount it’s value by 1/3.  $250 x (2/3) = $167.

Estimated Annual Value of the $250 Hilton Resort Credit: $167

$250 Airline Incidental Fee Credit

This benefit looks like it will work the same as the Amex Platinum card’s $200 airline incidental fee credit.  When you use your credit card to pay fees directly with your selected airline, those fees are automatically reimbursed to your account.  Fortunately, even if you don’t often encounter fees with your chosen airline, it is not hard to find purchases that will trigger the rebate.  For up-to-date details, see: Amex airline fee reimbursements. What still works?

As I’ve done previously with fee reimbursements (see: Credit card signup bonus estimation details), I’ll discount this benefit by 10% to estimate its value.  $250 x .9 = $225.

Estimated Annual Value of the $250 Airline Incidental Fee Credit: $225

Weekend Night Reward

A weekend night reward can be quite valuable if used for a high end stay, but there are a few limitations to be aware of:

  1. Weekend Night Rewards are only valid for weekend nights: Friday, Saturday, or Sunday
  2. Hilton has a list of excluded properties where you cannot use the reward: HiltonHonors.com/weekendreward.  These are mostly all-inclusive properties and timeshare properties.
  3. A standard room must be available in order to book the free night.  Some properties have very few standard rooms (since they consider rooms with a view to be upgrades, for example).

Despite those limitations, there is no doubt that it’s possible to use the free night at a hotel that would otherwise cost a bundle.  For the purpose of my unbiased credit card rankings, such as my Top 10+ Credit Card Offers, I assign a value of $250 to each free night (see: Unbiased credit card rankings: a work in progress).  There, I make the assumption that if a person signs up for a card for the free night bonus, they will have a plan for using those free nights.  In this case, I want to be more conservative with my estimate.  When you have a card year after year, there’s much less likelihood that you’ll consistently get great value from the free night.  Let’s assume that we’ll average $250 value 2 out of every 3 years with the card.  So, to estimate the average annual value, we’ll multiply by 2/3: $250 x (2/3) = $167.

Estimated Annual Value of the annual Weekend Night Reward: $167

Diamond Elite Status

Automatic Diamond status is an awesome perk that comes with this card.  You can find Hilton’s list of elite benefits here.  To summarize:

  • Silver5th night free awards2 free bottles of water per stay; 15% points bonus for stays
  • Gold: Silver benefits, plus free room upgrade; free internet; free breakfast at most properties; 25% points bonus for stays
  • Diamond: Gold benefits, plus 50% points bonus for stays, plus guaranteed Executive Floor Lounge access, plus 48 hour room guarantee

As you can see above, Diamond status doesn’t offer a lot beyond Gold status, but both are valuable for the free breakfasts, room upgrades, and bonus points.  And at some properties the Diamond guaranteed Executive Floor Lounge access can be great.  In the past Diamond elites have also had enhanced access to standard award nights via something called Diamond Force awards.  I’m not sure if those are still available in the new World of Hilton Honors program.

Free breakfast alone could arguably be worth hundreds of dollars per year, but since Gold status (which also offers free breakfast) can be bought by signing up for a $95 per year credit card, we can’t reasonably value the free breakfast benefit above $95. In order to very conservatively value Diamond status, I’ll simply take that $95 number and add $5 for the incremental benefits above Gold.

Estimated Annual Value of Diamond Elite Status: $100

Tangible Benefits Total: $659

With the above estimates, we get the following values for each benefit:

  • $250 Hilton Resort Credit = $167
  • $250 Airline Incidental Fee Credit= $225
  • Weekend Night Reward = $167
  • Diamond Elite Status: $100

Total: $659

Less Tangible Benefits

Some of the card’s additional benefits sound good, but it’s tough to know if they’ll really be worth much to you.  For example, the $100 on-property credit at Waldorf and Conrad properties is only valid when you book an “exclusive Aspire Card package”.  Well, what is that?  Are they going to charge $100 more to book these packages?  We don’t know.

Priority Pass certainly can be valuable for getting into some airport lounges or even for free food at certain airport restaurants.  But, if you already have Priority Pass from another credit card, or you simply never travel through airports with Priority Pass lounges or restaurants then the benefit is worth nothing to you.

Similarly the 24/7 American Express concierge could have some value if you don’t already get that benefit from other cards and if you actually make use of it.  But, I expect that most people will let this benefit go unused.

Value of Spend

The Amex Hilton Aspire card offers the following Hilton point earnings for spend:

  • 14X at hotels and resorts in the Hilton portfolio worldwide
  • 7X on flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com, car rentals booked directly from select car rental companies and at U.S. restaurants
  • 3X on other purchases

Given that the median redemption value for Hilton Honors points is around .44 cents per point, we can convert these earnings to expected rebate percentages.  For example, 3X Hilton points at .44 cents per point equals a 1.32% rebate on spend.  This gives us the following expected rebates for spend:

  • 6.16% at hotels and resorts in the Hilton portfolio worldwide
  • 3.08% on flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com, car rentals booked directly from select car rental companies and at U.S. restaurants
  • 1.32% on other purchases

Let’s compare this to using two no-fee cards: the new Uber card (4% for dining, and 3% for select travel) and a 2% everywhere card, such as the Citi Double Cash card.  With those two cards, you can easily earn at the following rate:

  • 3% at hotels, resorts, and vacation rentals
  • 3% for flights
  • 4% at restaurants worldwide
  • 2% everywhere else

That’s arguably better than the Amex Hilton Aspire.  The only areas where you’d earn more with the Hilton card is with Hilton hotels and car rentals.  And this is just when I compare to a couple of no-fee cards.  Many would do even better with the combination of the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Freedom Unlimited (see: The BEST Travel Rewards Card).

What about the Amex Hilton Aspire free night with $60K spend?  Let’s generously value that free night at $300 and assume that you spend exactly $60K per year on the card.  In that case, the extra free night gives you $300 / $60,000 = half a percent better rewards on your spend.  In other words, the value of your spend goes up to 6.66%, 3.58%, and 1.82%.  Other than the Hilton property spend (6.66%… ooh, scary…), these are not particularly impressive numbers.

Bottom Line

The Amex Hilton Aspire card offers a very impressive collection of benefits.  If you stay in Hilton a Hilton resort even once a year, then I’d argue that the card’s benefits outweigh it’s $450 annual fee.  That said, I don’t recommend using it for spend anywhere except at Hilton properties (where it earns 14X) and for airline fees (in order to claim up to $250 in airline fee reimbursements each year).  Other card combinations are much more rewarding for spend.

See also:

And:

And these external resources:

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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Comments

  1. Is a “Hilton reaort” any Hilton property or does “resort” only refer to certain types of Hilton properties (beach resorts, etc.)?

  2. Greg,

    Currently have Surpass and trying to figure out if I should cancel before it is converted. Any perspective on that is appreciated.

    • Downsides:
      1. Cancel and then re-apply will add another new account to your credit report
      2. It may add another hard inquiry (or not — Amex doesn’t always do a hard pull)
      3. Amex may not allow Ascend signup bonus for those who had Surpass (we don’t know yet)
      4. There’s some chance that Amex will do one-time spend bonuses or something to keep existing cardholders engaged, so you would miss out on those.

      Upsides:
      1. Chance of getting signup bonus for Ascend card. We don’t know what the bonus will be. Maybe two free nights like the old Citi Reserve?

      Does that help?

      • Thanks for the great analysis – I got my Surpass in June 2017 and plan to use the anniversary night at the Conrad Koh Samui in July 2018 (I’ve already booked the 2 award nights I need at 95k/night and plan to swap one for the free night). Any chance this will be impacted by the switch from Surpass to Ascend? I plan to get the Aspire to use the $250 resort credit at the Conrad, which is on the list! Also, the Diamond status will at least even us out with everyone else staying there using their free night 🙂

  3. Yeah so the way I see it you see you only break even or better once you stay at a Hilton resort once a year. So they are trying to lock you in to staying at a Hilton. This card only makes sense for someone already staying at Hilton a lot. Otherwise you’re possibly a sucker.

  4. Don’t you think they would offer at least 100,000 Hilton points to sign up for this card? If so that’s worth $440. It’s also possible they might offer a more given the $450 annual fee. What is your prediction?

    • I second DAn. That points on top of the regular benefits are why I got the CSR. The Hilton card mostly means I am paying in advance to get a modest discount if restricted to staying at a Hilton property. Also an airlines incidentals credit is not nearly as useful as a straight out airline credit. Make the airlines incidentals credit into a straight airline credit and throw in 100,000 Hilton points and then the Hilton Aspire card gets interesting.

  5. I hate the airline incidental fee thing…. mega hassle and very risky. Has kept me from getting the platinum card all these year and probably this card too– and I was ‘all in’ until I saw this detail.

    • This is what has kept you from getting a platinum card? Between my wife and I and our business, we have had at least 10 platinum cards over the last 5 years, picked up $5000 in airline “incidentals” for $4600 in annual fees, plus about 850,000 membership rewards points.

    • What have you found to be “very risky” about the airline incidental fee credits?

      If you’re not sure what works to trigger the credit, see the post Greg linked to about what works.

      • what “works” could change (and has changed) at a moment’s notice.
        I rarely buy incidentals–upgrades, bag fees, inflight food, early bird checkin, etc. So the the stuff that is not likely to go away is not much value to me.
        United makes the most sense for me based on my location but that seems to be one of the tougher ones. I could probably make the SWA gift card thing work. Maybe AA too but I come to loathe flying AA.
        The big perk for me would be the diamond but doctorofcredit is speculating that HH might add a tier above diamond…. diamond is the new gold? Now of course that is always a risk with every program– see IHG and spire.

  6. Is the Aspire going to be a charge or a credit card? Based on its similarity to the Platinum I’m hoping it will be a charge card.

    This would make it good for people who already have 4+ Amex credit cards and can’t currently justify using a slot for the Surpass.

    Or anyone like me… the Surpass is my weakest Amex CC and I’d like to give it up for the Biz Blue 2x MR card, but I haven’t had a better way to get diamond status till now.

    • The press release mentions the “upgraded American Express Hilton Honors co-branded credit card portfolio” and refers to them as credit cards in another place or two. That’s consistent with their co-branded products that earn points in someone else’s ecosystem. It’s also consistent with the card art – charge cards have the Centurion logo on the front. I am 99% certain this will be a credit card.

  7. “Incidental charges … must be charged to your room and paid for with your Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card at checkout in order for them to be recognized as Hilton Resort purchases.”

    I suppose this rules out using the credit at my local Hilton Resort’s spa without staying for a night?

    • I have that same question. I live next to a resort and use the spa frequently, so the $250 credit would be great for me if it doesn’t require charging to the room.

    • My guess is that you’d have to find a way to pay at the front desk for the charge to count. I’m not sure how that would work, but if you befriend a hotel manager maybe they can help you figure out an option. Maybe the desk will sell you a spa gift certificate?

  8. Will letting my citi hilton card be converted to a amex hilton add a “new” account to my credit report, thus impacting the chase 5/24 rule?

  9. I got the Amex Surpass in May when they had the 100k and 1 free weekend night after the 1st year anniversary. I have the points, but won’t get the 1 free weekend night until the end of May, but it sounds like in late January Amex will product change Citi Hilton Reserve cards into the Amex Hilton Ascend card and will they do the same with current Surpass holders. So, looks like depending on sign-up bonus offer it might be best to cancel the Surpass soon before being converted. Is that your take???

    • I have a similar issue with the Surpass, but there’s no way I’m canceling it because my free night will be used at the Conrad Koh Samui in July (95k points value). I will take the product change, keep the free night and just get the sign-up bonus for the Aspire before my trip as I can use the $250 resort credit and the Diamond status when I go. I wouldn’t cancel because you will lose the free night on your anniversary. Just my opinion.

      • The Ascend card comes with a free weekend night if I remember right. So, you’d still get a free night and hopefully a sign-up bonus. Perhaps Nick or Greg can chime in.

        • Ascend apparently requires a 15k spend to get the free night. Forget that – I’m keeping the Surpass free night I’ve already earned.

    • If that’s the case keeping Surpass might be the way to go, especially if you already have a need for it in the first half of 2018. I’m just curious to see how these cards, bonuses and changes proceed. They have my interest.

  10. Just read this again and with the benefits, it’s actually worth paying the $450 annual fee as compared to the Amex Platinum line up. Hah! Imagine that.

  11. And one more thing – how is the Resort credit deducted? Is it Amex doing or is it Hilton at checkout? I’m assuming if it’s Amex, it will still earn Hilton points so 14x with the credit card plus diamond status earning and bonus.

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