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

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Amex and Hilton introduced a new set of cards 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:

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