Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Credit Card review: Luxury rewards for Hilton loyalists
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Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Credit Card Overview
Hotel credit cards often deliver value exclusively for free hotel nights through collecting points. But what if a hotel card could offer more, like reduced costs on airfare, better experiences on the property and a fast track to the highest loyalty status?
The Hilton Honors Aspire Card delivers on those travel dreams. In addition to a solid welcome offer and earning Hilton Honors points on all purchases, this card offers annual airline purchase credits, annual Hilton resort credits and top-tier Diamond elite status. If you want to stay at more Hilton properties around the world, this luxury Hilton Honors American Express Card could help you unlock better experiences and get more free nights.
What are the pros and cons?
- Weekend night award certificates can only be used for Friday, Saturday and Sunday stays, excluding certain all-inclusive and distinctive properties
- Primary value comes only from the Hilton Honors program
- No bonus earnings for spending at U.S. supermarkets or U.S. gas stations like you would with its sibling Hilton cards
- Although the card earns at a high rate, redemptions are also very costly relative to other hotel rewards cards
A deeper look into the current card offer
- Rewards rate: 14X points at participating Hilton hotels or resorts; 7X points on flights booked directly with airlines or via amextravel.com, on car rentals booked directly from select car rental companies and at U.S. restaurants; 3X points on other purchases
- Welcome offer: Earn 150,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after spending $4,000 in purchases on the Card within the first three months of Card Membership.
- Annual fee: $450
- Purchase intro APR: N/A
- Balance transfer intro APR: N/A
- Regular APR: 16.49 percent to 25.49 percent (variable)
Current welcome offer
Among all the Hilton Honors credit cards, the Aspire Card offers the highest welcome offer for your spending. New applicants who have not previously held this card can earn 150,000 Hilton Honors bonus points after spending $4,000 on eligible purchases in the first three months of card membership, starting from the date your card is approved.
Hilton Honors points are worth up to 0.6 cents each. If you were to maximize your value on redemption, your welcome bonus points could be worth as much as $900 in rewards.
If your ultimate goal is to get free nights, the total value from your hotel credit cards is dependent on how you use your points. Room awards start at 5,000 points per night and go to a maximum of 95,000 points per night. With the welcome offer points alone, you could get up to 10 nights with hotel rooms costing 15,000 points per night, three nights in hotel rooms costing 50,000 points per night or one night at a high-end luxury hotel for 95,000 points per night with some extra to spare. That said, your ultimate redemption price can vary based on the season and how booked the hotel is.
Travelers who stay primarily at Hilton Hotels worldwide have the most to gain in rewards from the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire card. With the highest bonuses for its spending categories among the three Hilton co-branded cards, frequent flyers and road warriors alike can quickly earn Hilton Honors points, which can turn into free hotel rooms around the world.
How you earn
As with most points-earning credit cards, your earnings are based on how much you spend but certain categories earn rewards at a higher rate than others. The biggest rewards from the Hilton Honors Amex Aspire come when you use your card at participating Hilton hotels to earn 14X points. From hotel dining to spa treatments and other experiences, anything you purchase at participating hotel locations with your card that can be charged to your room will qualify for the bonus points. Combined with the 100 percent points bonus you can earn with Hilton Honors Diamond status, qualifying cardholders can earn a total of 34X points on Hilton property purchases.
This card can also help you earn points when you are making future travel plans. Cardholders earn 7X points on purchases in three travel-related categories: airfare, rental cars and U.S. restaurants. However, to get the bonus on airfare, you must use your Hilton Honors American Express Aspire card to purchase tickets directly from the airline or by using amextravel.com. For the rental car bonus, cardholders must book their car directly through one of 12 companies:
Purchases for both airline tickets and rental cars made through online travel agencies, wholesale clubs or as part of a vacation package will not count for the 7X points category. This is a relatively standard caveat on cards like this, so it won’t necessarily lower the card’s value relative to other options. Those who see this as a roadblock should take into account the rewards they stand to earn by using the card directly through airlines, rental car companies or at Hilton properties.
According to the Bureau of Transportation, the national average cost of an airline itinerary by early fall 2021 was approximately $314. This amount would earn about 2,198 Hilton Honors points if you booked with the airline directly or with amextravel.com. While this isn’t nearly enough for a free night at participating Hilton locations, it’s a fair amount of points that can get you closer to your next stay or get you a discount on the cash cost of a room. A purchase like this may even net you more value than travel purchases made using third-party services that sometimes offer marginal savings for packaging travel purchases together.
To earn bonus points for dining, you must use your Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card at U.S. restaurants. Bonus points also apply to food delivery and takeout, but you will not earn points at American restaurants in foreign locations (such as an Applebee’s in Canada). Neither will bonus points apply to meals purchased inside nightclubs, convenience stores, grocery stores, nor inside other establishments (like a casino or hotel).
However, if you are eating at a restaurant located inside a Hilton hotel and choose to charge the meal to your room, the balance would count as a Hilton hotel purchase, qualifying you for the higher 14X points rate (34X points if you qualify for Diamond status). All other qualifying purchases on the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire card will earn you 3X points.
How to redeem
There are six ways to use points in the Hilton Honors reward program. They range from free and discounted hotel nights purchases on Amazon.com. Which one you should use depends on how much you value your points and how much money you could save by using them one way or the other.
It should be noted, though, that the best way to use Hilton Honors points is toward free or discounted rooms at one of Hilton’s over 6,500 properties worldwide. Rooms can be booked either entirely with points or with a combination of points and cash. However, Hilton redemptions require a lot more points than redemptions with many other rewards programs. This reflects the relatively low value of Hilton points.
Free hotel room nights range in value from 5,000 at low-end properties geared towards casual travelers and families (like Hampton Inn by Hilton and Hilton Garden Inn) to 95,000 points for a standard room in high-end luxury properties and resorts around the world (such as Conrad Hotels and Resorts; premium rooms can exceed 168,000 points per night). While points will cover part of your stay, you may still be responsible for paying for any extras while staying at the hotel, including resort fees.
If you don’t have enough points to get a free night, you can discount your hotel room night using a combination of points and cash. Your discount is a percentage based on the cost of the room and how many points you want to use. For example, if a room at a Hilton property costs $270 or 70,000 points per night, using 35,000 points could discount the room to $135, or 50 percent of the cash price. Using 17,500 points would give you a 25 percent discount on the room, making your cost before taxes and other fees $204 per night.
Cardholders can also use points for Hilton Honors Experiences, a service that offers access to unique and exclusive events outside of the normal amenities. Some recent experiences include multi-course culinary experiences across Asia, European spirit tastings and more. While these experiences are purchased exclusively with points (usually 25,000 to 50,000 points), room reservations and other transportation must be booked separately.
Some of the worst ways to use points are through partner offers like exchanging points for Lyft rides, using points to book rental cars, shopping with points on Amazon.com or transferring points to airline partners. Using points this way can drop their value as low as 0.2 cents each, which is far lower than their potential when used for hotel rooms.
How much are the rewards worth?
Based on point valuations by The Points Guy, Hilton Honors points have a market value of 0.6 cents each. That means if you’re getting a return of 0.6 cents each per point (or more), you’re getting a good redemption value.
To calculate your Hilton Honors points’ value, multiply the cash price of a stay by 100 and divide by the number of points it would take to cover a reward night. For example, a $270 room available for 70,000 points results in a value of just under 0.4 cents per point—not a great return on your points. However, if that same room at a luxury hotel were $540 or 70,000 points, you would almost get a value of 0.8 cents per point, which is above the TPG’s estimated average point value. As you can see, you’ll have to be mindful of the fluctuating point value when you’re booking your next trip.
Other cardholder perks
Like other high-end or luxury travel and hotel cards, the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card isn’t good for just earning loyalty rewards with the card’s issuer, it also comes with a host of perks and features that make your travel more convenient and comfortable. What makes this arguably the best Hilton credit card for Hilton visits are the annual credits towards travel, free weekend reward nights and the potential to earn Hilton Honors Diamond status.
Annual airline, resort and on-property credits
The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire card comes with three types of credits toward your travels. First, cardholders get up to $250 in airline statement credits each year toward one selected air carrier for incidental fees, including seat selection and checked luggage fees. Second, guests at select participating Hilton resorts can access up to $250 in credits for purchases directly at the hotel, including restaurant meals and spa treatments. To get the credits, you must use your Hilton Honors Aspire card at the property and charge on-property spending to your room. Finally, if you book a two-night stay at a Waldorf-Astoria property through the Aspire card’s online portal, you can get up to $100 in hotel credits to use during your stay.
Given the value of these features, frequent Hilton customers in particular should consider this card despite its $450 annual fee. If you were to use the airline and resort credit each year, you’d save up to $500 per year—$50 more than the annual fee. The $100 credit for staying two nights at a Waldorf-Astoria property further extends the gap between the card’s value and its cost. All this comes before even accounting for the value cardholders get from rewards earned via card spend.
Weekend reward night certificates
You will get at least one free weekend reward night certificate to use at most participating HIlton Honors hotels around the world each year after your cardmember anniversary. Additionally, if you spend at least $60,000 on your card each year, you will get a second weekend reward night certificate. As the name suggests, these credits can only be used for a stay on Friday, Saturday or Sunday night.
Hilton Honors Diamond status
Some luxury co-branded cards come with top-tier loyalty status with the associated business. In this case, the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire card comes with the highest status available: Hilton Honors Diamond status—the only Hilton card that offers this benefit.
Normally earned after staying 42 nights or over 21 unique stays, Diamond status comes with a number of exclusive benefits, including a 100 percent points earning bonus on stays (essentially doubling your Hilton rewards rate), executive lounge access, elite status gifting to another person and a 48-hour room guarantee. Diamond guests also earn all of the benefits from previous tiers, including space-available upgrades, daily food and beverage credits or free continental breakfast (outside of the U.S.) and a fifth night free on standard room reward stays.
Fifth night free on reward stays
If you book five consecutive nights using your Hilton Honors points, you’ll only need to use points to pay for a combined total of four nights. For example, a five-night stay at 70,000 points per night would normally cost a total of 350,000 points, but with the fifth night free benefit, you’d only owe 280,000 points.
This is a great way to maximize the value of your Hilton points. It’s effectively a 20 percent discount on a five-night stay. There are also no redemption caps on this benefit. For example, if you stay at the Waldorf-Astoria in Orlando, Florida you’ll usually pay around $540 or 80,000 points per night. But if you book a reward stay of five consecutive nights, you’ll pay 320,000 points for four nights and receive the fifth free–a savings of 80,000 points.
Rates and fees
Because the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire card is a top-tier travel card, it comes with a high annual fee and higher interest rates on purchases.
- Annual fee: The annual fee is $450, due when you open your card and keep it open every year. This is in line with other high-end travel rewards cards. For instance, the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card charges a $450 annual fee while the Chase Sapphire Reserve® card and The Platinum Card® from American Express charge cardholders $550 and $695, respectively.
- APR: The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire card comes with a relatively higher APR because it pays out rewards to cardholders. If you carry a balance, expect to see a 16.49 percent to 25.49 percent (variable) APR, depending on your creditworthiness.
- Foreign transaction fee: The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire card comes with no foreign transaction fees, which is to be expected from a premium travel rewards card.
- Cash advance fee: If you take a cash advance from this card, expect to pay for it in a combination of fees and a higher interest rate. The Hilton Honors Aspire card charges the greater of $10 or 5 percent of the cash advance amount, as well as a 25.99 percent APR until it is paid off.
- Late fees and penalties: If you pay your card late or have a payment returned by your financial institution, you could be charged up to $40 on each count, plus a 29.99 percent penalty APR for at least six months.
Bankrate staff experience
Stephanie Zito, Bankrate’s Travel Rewards Expert Contributor, states that:
“Even with a $450 annual fee, the Hilton Honors Amex Aspire card can save you a lot on a big Hilton stay. The annual free night offers big value on its own and can be really maxed out when you use your annual $250 resort credit and $100 property credit during your stay. Take advantage of Hilton’s fifth night free on top of these benefits and you’ll easily rack up savings in the hundreds.”
— Stephanie Zito, Bankrate contributor
How the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire compares to other hotel cards
By comparison, the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire card offers many similar credits and added value found on other top-tier travel cards. On the downside, the primary value from Hilton Honors points comes from free hotel rooms and hotel and airline credits. When you choose the best travel card that’s right for you, you should take into account what you need based on your goals because there is a lot of variety available not only in rewards rates but redemption options as well.
Whether it’s free rooms at Hilton properties, free rooms at other hotels or other travel rewards there are plenty of options to choose from and each comes with different rewards models. Deciding which one is right for you is a matter of personal preference and spending patterns.
The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card vs. the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card
If your goal is to get the most out of your hotel stays, both the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire and the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card offer strong value for your spending. Both cards offer a remarkably high intro offer, a high level of bonus points on purchases at their respective hotel brands, a bonus category for spending at U.S. restaurants and flights booked directly with airlines, and a similar global footprint.
What gives the Hilton Honors Aspire card the edge is the status and annual credits. The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant American Express Card only gives cardholders mid-tier Gold status in their loyalty program, the Hilton Honors Aspire card grants top-tier Diamond status as long as the account is in good standing. In addition, the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card only offers $300 in annual credits for spending with Marriott, compared to over $500 in credits for airfare and on-site spending with the Hilton Honors Aspire card, not to mention the unlimited value provided by the fifth night free on reward stays benefit. Unless you stay primarily at Marriott Bonvoy properties, the Hilton Honors Aspire card could present better value.
The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card vs. The Platinum Card® from American Express
Choosing between the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire card and The Platinum Card from American Express comes down to one central question: would you rather have rewards exclusively for free Hilton hotel nights, or would you rather have flexible points you can use anywhere? With a $695 annual fee, The Platinum Card comes with a wealth of benefits, including a $200 airline credit, $200 hotel credit for Fine Hotels & Resorts (which requires a minimum two-night stay) and Gold status with both Hilton Honors and Marriott Bonvoy. You’ll collect American Express Membership Rewards points on every purchase, which can be transferred to over 20 different travel partners, including airline miles and other hotel programs’ points.
Although it comes with a higher annual fee, The Platinum Card from American Express could be the better choice for travelers who value luxury travel and want control over where and how they use their points. But for more casual travelers who just want to earn free hotel rooms faster, the Aspire card’s annual credits and Diamond status offer tremendous value each year that is potentially unmatched by the Platinum card’s benefits.
Best cards to pair with this card
The key benefit of holding this card is earning points toward free hotel rooms for your everyday spending, on-site credits and free reward nights when you pay with points for four nights or more. It makes the most sense to pair this card with others that can help you reduce travel costs in other ways—either through earning more Hilton Honors points or earning cash back to help you save elsewhere.
One good companion to the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire card is the American Express® Gold Card. In addition to earning Membership Rewards points (which can be transferred to Hilton Honors at a 1:2 ratio of 1,000 Membership Rewards points for 2,000 Hilton Honors points), cardholders earn 4X bonus points at restaurants (including takeout and delivery like Uber Eats) and U.S. supermarkets (up to $25,000 each year, then 1X points). When used for their respective bonus categories, these cards can make a strong points-earning pair.
If you would rather have the simplicity of cash back to pay for airfare and other experiences, the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express can be a great option that will provide plenty of flexibility with how you spend your cash back earnings. Cardholders earn 6 percent cash back at U.S. supermarkets (up to $6,000 per year, then 1 percent) and on select U.S. streaming subscriptions, 3 percent cash back on transit purchases (including taxis or ridesharing, parking, tolls, trains and other public transportation) and 3 percent cash back at gas stations. With multiple unique bonus categories, this card can help you bank money to help offset the cost of everyday expenses.
Bankrate’s Take: Is the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire worth it?
If you can take advantage of the Hilton Honors points, airline credits and Hilton resort credits each year, the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire card is absolutely worth holding. This card is great for frequent travelers who only want one high-end card, families who take resort vacations yearly and anyone who can take advantage of the over $500 in credits offered to cardholders. Combined with Diamond elite status for the life of the card, there’s a lot to appreciate with this card.
But before you add this card to your wallet, be sure that you can use the points you are earning. If you aren’t committed to regularly staying at Hilton hotels, these points won’t add up to a lot of value for your spending. If you are motivated by overall rewards value instead of Hilton stays, you may be better served by a cash back or flexible points credit card.
For rates and fees of Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of The Platinum Card® from American Express, please click here.
All information about the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Credit Card has been collected independently by Bankrate and has not been reviewed or approved by the issuer.