Is it time to get an Amex Hilton Card?

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Amex recently announced a slew of new (but temporary) perks for many of their cards.  I covered the details here.  The most impressive perks are specifically for their Platinum and Hilton credit cards.

The enhancements to Amex’s Platinum Card lineup make this a great time to sign up for those cards if you value the new perks.  I covered this in-depth previously.  See: Is it time to get an Amex Platinum Card?  In today’s post, I’ve turned my focus to Hilton cards.  Is it time to sign up for the Hilton Aspire, Hilton Surpass, or even the Hilton Business Card?

Among the Hilton card enhancements, the enhancements to the free night awards are most exciting to me.  One beef I’ve long had with Hilton’s free night awards is that they were limited to weekend use only.  This is fine when your travel dates line up with the weekend, but extremely frustrating when they don’t.  Hilton has temporarily fixed this problem by making free nights earned on or before the end of this year work any day of the week. Plus, any free nights earned between May 1 and December 31 are valid for 24 months rather than the usual 12.

Do these changes (and more, described below), mean that it’s time to sign up for a Hilton card?

Temporary Card Enhancements

Enhancements to all three cards

The following enhancements apply to all Hilton cards that offer a way to earn a free weekend night. This is not relevant to the no-fee Hilton card.

Weekend night becomes anytime night

Unexpired and new Free Weekend Night rewards issued through December 31, 2020 can now be used any night of the week.

New free nights valid for 24 months

New weekend free night awards issued from May 1 to December 31 2020 will be valid for 24 months from the date of issuance (previously 12 months).

Enhancements limited to the Hilton Surpass and Aspire cards

12X points at U.S. supermarkets

Hilton Surpass and Aspire Consumer Card Members will now earn 12X Hilton Honors Bonus Points at U.S. supermarkets (May through July 2020). Bonus Points earned through eligible purchases on all Hilton American Express Cards, that post to the Card Member’s Hilton Honors account between May 1 through December 31, 2020 will be considered Base Points and will count towards Elite tier qualification and Lifetime Diamond Status.

Enhancements limited to the Hilton Aspire card

Dining, takeout, and delivery qualify toward $250 resort credit benefit

Consumer Card Members’ eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants, including takeout and delivery, will now qualify toward the $250 Hilton resort credit benefit (June through August 2020).

Hilton Cards Compared

Which cards earn free nights?

Which cards offer the best bonus points for spend?

Given that each of the three Hilton cards shown above offer free nights with big spend, it’s worth looking at how many points you may earn while meeting those spend requirements.

Here are the standard category bonuses for each of the three cards:

Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card
Base
Travel
Dine
Brand
Earning rate: ⚬ 14X Hilton spend ⚬ 7X US restaurants, flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com, select car rental companies ⚬ 3X everywhere else ⚬ Terms & Limitations Apply.
Hilton Honors American Express Business Card
Base
Travel
Dine
Gas
Phone
Biz
Brand
Other
Earning rate: ⚬ 12X Hilton spend ⚬ 6X on Select Business & Travel Purchases (flights booked directly with airlines or Amex Travel; car rentals booked directly from select car rental companies; US restaurants; US gas stations; wireless telephone services purchased directly from US service provider; US shipping purchases)
Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card
Base
Dine
Gas
Grocery
Brand
Earning rate: ⚬ 12X Hilton spend ⚬ 6X U.S. restaurants, US Supermarkets, and US gas stations ⚬ 3X everywhere else

Additionally, Hilton Surpass and Hilton Aspire Consumer Card Members will earn 12X at U.S. supermarkets (May through July 2020).

Those who can spend a lot at grocery stores, will obviously do very well with either the Surpass or Aspire card.

The business card is the only one of the three that offers the ability to earn two free nights from spend alone.  If, best case, you earn two free nights with $60K spend entirely within the business card’s 6X categories, you would end up with two free nights and 360,000 points.

With Hilton’s 5th Night Free awards, 360K points can be used for 5 nights at a top-tier 90K per night property, or 45 nights at a 10K per night property.

If, instead, you spend $60K on the Hilton Aspire entirely at grocery stores within the 3 months of 12X earnings, you would also end up with two free nights (one upon signup or account anniversary and one upon reaching $60K of calendar year spend).  But with the Aspire approach, you would earn far more points: 720,000.  That’s obviously worth far more free nights than with the business card approach.

With Hilton’s 5th Night Free awards, 720K points can be used for 10 nights at a top-tier 90K per night property, or 90 nights at a 10K per night property.

Perk Comparison

The Hilton Aspire Card offers the most perks, by far, but still it’s worth comparing each card’s major perks:

  • Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card ($450/year)
    • Free Diamond Status
    • Priority Pass w/ 2 free guests
    • $250 Hilton Resort Credit per membership year
    • $250 Airline Incidental Fee Credit per calendar year
    • Earn a free weekend night upon approval and every year upon renewal. Earn a second free night after $60K calendar year spend.
  • Hilton Honors American Express Business Card ($95/year)
    • Free Gold status
    • Diamond status w/ $40K calendar year spend
    • 10 free Priority Pass lounge visits per calendar year
    • Earn a free weekend night after $15K calendar year spend. Earn a second free night after $60K calendar year spend.
  • Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card ($95/year)
    • Free Gold status
    • Diamond status w/ $40K calendar year spend.
    • 10 free Priority Pass lounge visits per calendar year
    • Earn a free weekend night after $15K calendar year spend.

Hilton Honors Aspire: Apply Now?

The Hilton Aspire card has long offered an extremely impressive array of perks.  For $450 per year, you get an annual free weekend night (plus another with $60K spend) valid at almost any Hilton hotel worldwide, diamond status, $250 per year Hilton resort credit, $250 per year in airline incidental fee credits, and Priority Pass lounge membership.

Given all of those perks, getting the Aspire card has always been a no-brainer for many. For a full review, see: Amex Hilton Aspire In-Depth Review.

Aspire Perks Better This Year

This year the Aspire card offers some better than usual perks:

  • Free nights earned this year are much more valuable.
    • Free nights issued by December 31, 2020 are valid any day of the week rather than just weekends.
    • Free nights earned from May 1 to December 31 2020 will be valid for 24 months from the date issued (normally they are valid for 12 months)
  • The $250 resort credit is super easy to earn this year.  Specifically, June through August 2020, dining, takeout, and delivery purchases qualify toward $250 resort credit benefit.
  • Card spend is more rewarding. May through July 2020, earn 12X at U.S. supermarkets.  Usually this card earns only 3X points at supermarkets.

Aspire Perks Worse This Year

Some of the Aspire card’s perks are worth less this year than usual:

  • $250 Airline Incidental Fee Credit is harder to earn. Given that most of us aren’t flying, and that Amex has stopped offering incidental fee credits when you buy airline gift cards, this credit is harder than ever before to get value from.
  • Priority Pass is useless when not flying. Priority Pass offers airport lounge access.  That’s not useful at all when not flying.  And when flying only domestically, options are extremely limited since most Priority Pass lounges are outside of the US or in international terminals within the US.

Aspire Excellent Welcome Bonus

The Hilton Aspire card’s welcome bonus offer, at the time of this writing, is excellent.  The following will update automatically if/when the offer changes:

Who should apply now for the Aspire card?

Given that the Aspire card offers great value in general, we can simplify things by saying that the question isn’t whether to apply, but when to apply.  Here’s my oversimplified answer:

Apply now if you highly value the “better” perks.  If you highly value getting 24 month any-day-of-the-week free nights, a super-easy way to earn the $250 resort credit, and 12X supermarket earnings then applying now makes sense.

Reasons to wait:

  • Financially this may be a very bad time to pay up-front (with the card’s annual fee) for perks that you’ll hopefully use in the future.
  • You may not highly value the enhanced perks because you don’t think you’ll be traveling much in the foreseeable future.
  • You know that you’ll get good value from the card someday, but you’re pretty sure that it won’t be soon.
  • You are hoping that a better welcome bonus offer will come along.
  • You are hoping to apply for more Chase cards, and so you don’t want to increase your 5/24 count.
  • You already have 5 or more Amex credit cards and you don’t want to give any up.  Amex won’t approve new credit cards if you already have 5 or more (charge cards are not affected by this rule).

Hilton Honors Business: Apply Now?

The Hilton Honors Business card is an attractive option for those who want to earn a welcome bonus without adding to their 5/24 count.  It’s also a good way to earn two free nights per year (and Diamond status along the way) with a total of $60K spend.  Like the Surpass card, the Hilton Business card is a good way to secure Hilton Gold status for only $95 per year.  Gold status ensures free breakfast at almost all Hilton properties worldwide.  The one downside to the business card vs. the Surpass is that this one doesn’t bonus grocery spend.

Business Card Perks Better This Year

This year the business card offers some better than usual perks:

  • Free nights earned this year are much more valuable.
    • Free nights issued by December 31, 2020 are valid any day of the week rather than just weekends.
    • Free nights earned from May 1 to December 31 2020 will be valid for 24 months from the date issued (normally they are valid for 12 months)

When I first wrote this post, I did not yet have solid confirmation from Hilton that the free night benefits apply to those earned on business cards (and so I had listed this caution as a note here).  Since then, Hilton has begun sending emails out that confirm this enhancement.  Thanks Aloha808.

Business Card Perks Worse This Year

Some of the business card’s perks are worth less this year than usual:

  • 10 free Priority Pass lounge visits per calendar year. Priority Pass offers airport lounge access.  That’s not useful at all when not flying.  And when flying only domestically, options are extremely limited since most Priority Pass lounges are outside of the US or in international terminals within the US.

Business Card Excellent Welcome Bonus

The Hilton Business card’s welcome bonus offer, at the time of this writing, is excellent.  The following will update automatically if/when the offer changes:

Who should apply now for the business card?

The one and only reason to apply now for the business card rather than waiting is for the opportunity to earn more valuable than before free nights with spend.  If you’re sure you’ll spend enough this calendar year to earn one ($15K spend) or two ($60K spend) free nights, then you’ll get more valuable free nights than usual.  Note though that it can take about 8 weeks for the free nights to be issued after meeting the spend threshold, so you would need to reach $15K or $60K spend by late October to ensure having them issued this calendar year (which is required for them to have the extra benefits of working any day of the week and 24 months before expiry).

Reasons to wait:

  • One of the other Hilton cards is more compelling
  • Financially this may be a very bad time to expect to spend enough to earn free nights.
  • You may not highly value the enhanced free nights because you don’t think you’ll be traveling much in the foreseeable future.
  • You are hoping that a better welcome bonus offer will come along.
  • You already have 5 or more Amex credit cards and you don’t want to give any up.  Amex won’t approve new credit cards if you already have 5 or more (charge cards are not affected by this rule).

Hilton Honors Surpass: Apply Now?

The Hilton Honors Surpass card may be more interesting than usual thanks to it’s enhanced perks this year.  That said, I think that most people would be better off with the Aspire card.

Surpass Perks Better This Year

This year the Surpass card offers some better than usual perks:

  • Free nights earned this year are much more valuable.
    • Free nights issued by December 31, 2020 are valid any day of the week rather than just weekends.
    • Free nights earned from May 1 to December 31 2020 will be valid for 24 months from the date issued (normally they are valid for 12 months)
  • Card spend is more rewarding. May through July 2020, earn 12X at U.S. supermarkets.  Usually this card earns 6X points at supermarkets.

Surpass Perks Worse This Year

Some of the Surpass card’s perks are worth less this year than usual:

  • 10 free Priority Pass lounge visits per calendar year. Priority Pass offers airport lounge access.  That’s not useful at all when not flying.  And when flying only domestically, options are extremely limited since most Priority Pass lounges are outside of the US or in international terminals within the US.

Surpass Very Good Welcome Bonus

The Hilton Surpass card’s welcome bonus offer, at the time of this writing, is very good.  The following will update automatically if/when the offer changes:

Who should apply now for the Surpass card?

The Surpass card is an excellent choice right now for anyone who thinks that they can meet $15K of spend at supermarkets by the end of July.  During that time, the cardholder will earn 12 points per dollar at supermarkets.  With $15K total supermarket spend, the cardholder will earn 12 x $15K = 180,000 points (that’s in addition to the welcome bonus) plus they’ll qualify for the better than usual free night award.

When you add in the card’s welcome bonus, the new cardholder will earn nearly enough points for a 5 night stay at a top-tier Hilton property.  Plus, of course, they’ll earn a free night that can be used at nearly any Hilton in the world and on any day of the week.  That’s a pretty awesome result for $15K of spend.

Reasons to wait:

  • One of the other Hilton cards is more compelling
  • Financially this may be a very bad time to expect to spend $15,000 at supermarkets.
  • You may not highly value the enhanced free nights because you don’t think you’ll be traveling much in the foreseeable future.
  • You are hoping that a better welcome bonus offer will come along.
  • You are hoping to apply for more Chase cards, and so you don’t want to increase your 5/24 count.
  • You already have 5 or more Amex credit cards and you don’t want to give any up.  Amex won’t approve new credit cards if you already have 5 or more (charge cards are not affected by this rule).

Bottom Line

Many readers will find that the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card is a great choice to get now because the free night awards are more valuable than usual, the $250 resort credit is easier than ever to earn, and it offers the ability to earn 12X at supermarkets for a limited time.  This is not a good choice for those who can’t or don’t want to invest $450 (the first year annual fee) towards future travel.

I expect that fewer readers will want to hurry to get the Hilton Honors American Express Business Card.  For this year, the business card is a great choice for those who spend big, but not at supermarkets.  It is an especially good choice for those who spend a lot at gas stations where the card offers 6X points per dollar.

In writing up this analysis, I was surprised to see how compelling the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card is for this year.  Those capable of spending $15K at US Supermarkets before the end of July will pull in a boatload of points plus a more valuable than usual free night.

Personally, I’m most interested in the Aspire card, but I’m still waiting to go under 5/24 in July so that I can pick up a couple of new Chase cards.  Therefore, I won’t be able to get the Aspire in time to take advantage of the 12X grocery bonus.  That said, my wife and son can pick up new cards now.  While I haven’t yet made a final decision, it’s likely that they’ll each apply for the Aspire card before the end of this month.

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OR97
Guest
OR97

For airline credit: one could buy tickets on a preferred airline , cancel, and instead of refund get a voucher (example:with funds going into your Alaska wallet ). It’s a no risk/no cost move assuming you hit a fare as close to $250 as possible)

Jeff
Guest
Jeff

This is a great post. However, I did not see anything in this post stating the LIFETIME language that is usually in the AmEx offers. Meaning, if you had the card before, you are not eligible for the welcome bonus. Was that part left out on purpose? Or does this card not have the LIFETIME language? Thanks

RabbMD
Guest
RabbMD

Good article… but doesn’t the surpass normally earn 6x grocery spend not 3x?

Paige
Guest
Paige

Is there a benefit to starting with a lower tier Hilton card in the hope that Amex will offer sizeable bonuses to upgrade to higher tiered cards?

Ron
Guest
Ron

Yes, this is the way to go. Got the Surpass last year, with a 150k signup offer. In February was offered option to upgrade to Aspire and get another 150k, when meeting spend requirement. So now have three free nights (15k spend on Surpass last year, 15k spend on Surpass this year, then one more when paying this tear’s Aspire annual fee) in addition to at least 300k points. Will use $250 resort credit for restaurants in June, and the free nights are now good for any day of the week. I guess I could have started with the no fee card and “bumped up” twice, but let’s not get greedy here!

Vadim Mialik
Guest
Vadim Mialik

So I just downgraded from aspire to NF Hilton, you are saying technically I may have an upgrade offer from NF to Surpass, and then Surpass to Aspire, I was hoping to get an aspire upgrade from NF but if this is the case it’s better option. Unless I already has an upgrade from Surpass not sure if that would disqualify me?

FreeIsGood
Guest
FreeIsGood

I downgraded from the Surpass to NF a few years ago. Was offered an upgrade w/ bonus back to the Surpass and then again w/ another bonus to the Aspire. Not sure how often Amex offers these upgrade bonuses – it was in the fall the last few times I received offers (On other cards too). Fall is a good time to upgrade since the you can double up on the calendar year based perks. I just downgraded to NF from aspire, so hopefully I get an upgrade offer this fall. Or in 2021 when we might have a better feeling on travel again.

Stevie Points
Guest
Stevie Points

Please explain how someone can reasonably spend $15,000 at supermarkets over the next 2 1/2 months. Thanks

Nick Reyes
Editor

The only options are to buy things that the grocery store sells. To my knowledge, that’s food or gift cards or some combination. What’s reasonable for one person may not be for another. YMMV.

SamBam
Guest
SamBam

Same boat as Greg….still working on getting below 5/24…couple more months to go. But bottom line…the thought of staying at any hotel right now….HEEBEY JEEBIES….

FreeIsGood
Guest
FreeIsGood

Good actually great and comprehensive info. I actually just downgraded from the aspire to base card. If this post had been out a day earlier, I would have considered the surpass a little more as I hadn’t realized it also earned 12x at grocery stores. I have a hard time getting above 0.5 cents value with Hilton pts though. Hoping for a near the end of the year re-upgrade offer, when we at least will have a lot more info about travel possibilities.

Unless one has some manufactured spending scheme to use between now and August at grocery stores, I’d recommend applying the aspire card in Oct/Nov to get a double/triple dip going. Though with the restaurant credit now but only for summer, it’s definitely not a bad time to sign up, especially for those who would have a hard time using the resort credit.

Aspire in normal times is an absolute keeper.

Nick Reyes
Editor

The trouble with waiting until October or November is that your initial free night cert takes a long time to post (typically 8-12 weeks). Right now, only certs issued 5/1 to 12/31 are valid for 2 years, whereas a cert issued 1/1 or later would only be valid for 1 year (unless that gets extended). The nice thing about a cert valid for 2 years is that you can stack it with next year’s cert for a (likely more useful) 2 night stay at a nice property. If you also do some 12x grocery store spending and stack that with the welcome offer, you could get a decent number of nights out of it.

Not arguing with your logic on the double/triple dip in general – it’s a good strategy. Mostly comes down to how much you value the free night, which obviously depends on how you’ll use it.

FreeIsGood
Guest
FreeIsGood

Good point on the certificate lag time. I know my cardmember year renewal was sometime in November, and the aspire free cert would post at the end of January.

I assume there also would be the same lag after reaching 15k on the surpass?

Pam
Guest
Pam

Hilton (Waldorf) & Marriott (Ritz Carlton/SR) have been the only chains I consistently score $1,000+ rate rooms using FN cc certs. So Aspire was always a great card but is momentarily (at least) better than the RC & Brilliant cards since can now use FNs any day & can easily use up the $250 resort credits (that Marriott still has not changed). Hopefully AMEX will keep these changes – at least the FN use any day of the week – to keep shining above the Ritz Carlton & Brilliant cards.

Nick Reyes
Editor

I’m not sure what you mean when you say that “Marriott still has not changed” when referencing the resort credits. The Brilliant (Amex Marriott card) is doing the same as the Aspire — the $300 credit can be used at US restaurants and on delivery/takeout from June through August. See the info on that here:

https://frequentmiler.boardingarea.com/amex-stay-at-home-perks/#Marriott_Bonvoy_Brilliant

The Ritz card hasn’t had any change in its travel credits. I’m not very surprised about that. Chase no longer offers the card, so I doubt they are focused on marketing benefits to existing cardholders. The good thing is that those credits have been fairly easy to use and one could wait until December and book travel for late 2021 to use them up.

Pam
Guest
Pam

Thanks, Nick, missed that!

Pam
Guest
Pam

Fyi, my $300 Marriott Bonvoy Credit just triggered on my AMEX statement 3 days after purchase (20% discounted $1k Marriott gc). 50% off total by stacking is awesome, thx again for that earlier info.

Pam
Guest
Pam

(& posted as a Marriott purch w 6x points)

Rob
Guest
Rob

Hilton Aspire is on my list of cards to get. Due to the current environment, I won’t be / don’t want to travel for awhile (may even through first-half of 2021).

I did try for personal Plat but got a pop-up (my guess is lack of spend on existing cards). Anecdotally, I read that pop-up may not be for all cards; might try Gold and if that doesn’t work, will stronger consider Aspire.

Aloha808
Guest
Aloha808

Got this in my monthly email from Hilton for my biz card today:
“Free Weekend Night Reward Expanded to Weekdays

Unexpired Free Weekend Night rewards as of May 1, 2020 and new Free Weekend Night Rewards issued until December 31, 2020 on the Hilton Honors American Express Business Card can now be used any night of the week (not just on weekends). New Free Weekend Night Rewards issued from May 1 through December 31, 2020 will be valid for 24 months (rather than 12 months) from the date of issuance. Free Weekend Night Rewards must be redeemed on or before the expiration date…”

PeterSFO
Guest
PeterSFO

Was the free weekend night on sign-up always part of the Aspire sign-up bonus?

Last year, I had the choice between Bonvoy Brilliant and Aspire… Picking the Bonvoy Brilliant is probably going to haunt me until I finally replace it with the Aspire.

Nick Reyes
Editor

Well, yes and no. The free weekend night isn’t part of the welcome bonus, it’s just a standard annual card benefit. So yes, you have always gotten that in the first year just like you get the $250 resort credit and $250 in airline credits and Priority Pass. So I say yes and no to your question because no it’s not part of the “bonus” because the bonus is the one-time offer to get X number of points for spending $X. You could spend nothing at all and still get the free night in year one — it’s the bonus points that are the welcome bonus that you need to spend to receive.

John
Guest
John

Could we call AMEX, and end up getting a better promotion offer?

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