Over the past few years, few credit cards have caught our attention more than the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card. And yes, that's even true if you aren't a Hilton hotel fanatic.
While the card's annual fee of $550 may intimidate some, it offers some incomparable benefits that far, far outweigh that fee. That's why we always encourage readers to do the math when it comes to annual fees, rather than simply rule out big-fee cards. Travel enough and use the benefits wisely, and they can end up saving you a ton of money in the long run.
That's definitely the case with the Hilton Honors Aspire card: From instant top-tier status to money-saving credits that easily outweigh the annual fee, few credit cards give you so much upfront value.
Let's break down all its lucrative benefits and why it should be on your radar.
Learn more about the Hilton Honors Aspire Card. (for full disclosure, this is our personal referral link)
Big Welcome Offer Bonus
The Hilton Aspire Card currently offers a welcome bonus of 180,000 Hilton Honors points after spending $6,000 in the first six months of card membership. That's the best it gets with this card: We've never seen a bigger welcome offer on the Aspire Card.
Exactly how much those points are worth depends on how you travel. In our experience, you should be able to redeem them for around 0.6 cents to 0.8 cents apiece, meaning the bonus alone is worth $900 to $1,200. But you could potentially get even more bang for your buck.
That's because Hilton Honors points can sometimes be stronger when the cash prices are at their highest. That was my experience a few years back when I redeemed 50,000 Hilton Honors points per night to attend the Masters Golf Tournament. Cash prices for a room at our hotel were $800 a night, which I was certainly not willing to pay.
Getting that much value out of your Hilton points is not a slam dunk, as Hilton's points rates often track closely with cash prices. But if you're picky, it's still possible to get outsized value from these points at the right properties.
Instant Hilton Honors Diamond Status
Just with the Hilton Honors Aspire card in your wallet, you unlock their top-tier Diamond elite status.
That alone stands out: No other credit card in the marketplace offers you the ability to earn top-tier status just by holding a credit card. Without the Hilton Aspire Card, you have to stay at Hilton properties 60 nights (or 30 stays) in a calendar year to earn Diamond status.
That's a big deal because of the great benefits Diamond members get.
Hilton Diamond Status Benefits
- Complimentary breakfast or food and beverage credits for two can save you hundreds of dollars during a stay. Hilton has swapped in a broader (but less-lucrative) food and beverage credit at U.S. properties for elite members, while complimentary breakfast is still available abroad.
- Complimentary Upgrades to preferred rooms (when space is available, which can be hit or miss)
- Executive Lounge Access for complimentary drinks, snacks, and hors d'oeuvres. This experience will vary from Hilton property to property.
- Complimentary premium internet access
- Late check-out
- 100% bonus on base points earned: Just for having Diamond status, you automatically receive a 100% bonus on all the Hilton Honors base points you earn during a stay.
- 48-hour room guarantee: As a Diamond member, you are guaranteed a room when you make a reservation at least 48 hours prior to arrival.
- Fifth night free on award stays: This benefit is available for Silver, Gold, & Diamond elite members, allowing you to get a free fifth night when you book a stay using Hilton Honors points.
You can read more about Hilton's top-tier Diamond elite status on their terms & conditions page.
A Free Night Certificate Every Year
Many hotel credit cards come with annual free night certificates. But even on those top-tier cards, you typically don't get that certificate until you renew for a second full year of the card. And in many cases, hotel chains stop you from using those certificates at more-expensive properties.
That's not the case with the Hilton Aspire Card. After opening your new card account – and each year you renew – you'll receive a free night certificate valid at almost all Hilton properties around the globe. There are just a handful of properties that aren't eligible.
One note: After opening your account, it typically takes a month (or slightly more) for this free night certificate to hit your account.
In the past, Hilton free night certificates required you to stay on a weekend: Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. But after a recent change, you can now use these certificates any day of the week – not just on weekends!
You can also earn a second free night if you spend $30,000 or more on the card in a calendar year … and then another if you spend $60,000 or more – for a total of three free night certificates per year.
But it's not just the ease and speed of earning these certificates that makes them so valuable. Unlike other hotel chains that place caps on which tiers of properties you can book using these certificates, there's no points cap on how much a hotel night can cost with Hilton free night awards. Whether it's a Hilton Garden Inn in Des Moines, Iowa, or the Waldorf Astoria resort in Maui, so long as you can find standard award availability, you can book it.
Late last year, our editor Kyle used his Aspire Card's free night certificate for a stay at the Conrad New York Midtown, a top-tier property that typically costs at least 95,000 points a night – or $700 or more! And with Diamond status, he was upgraded to spacious suite with a separate living room overlooking Central Park.
Another great example is the Waldorf Astoria Los Cabos Pedregal, an amazing property down in Mexico that generally costs anywhere between $1,000 or $2,000 a night. This benefit alone can easily justify your annual fee because of how many properties it can be used at.
Read our guide on the best ways to redeem Hilton free night certificates!
Annual $400 Hilton Resort Statement Credit
Each year you hold the Hilton Honors Aspire card, you get up to $400 in Hilton resort statement credits to use at select Hilton properties around the world. It's broken up into two chunks – meaning you'll get $200 the first half of the year (Jan. – Jun.) and then another $200 in the second half of the year (Jul. – Dec.).
This credit alone eats up more than half of the card's annual fee, and it's incredibly easy to use. It works at hundreds of participating Hilton properties around the globe – and not just spots with the word “resort” in them but Waldorf Astoria locations in Las Vegas and Dubai, Conrad locations in Mexico and the Caribbean, and some everyday Hilton's across the U.S. and around the world. Check out the full list at Hilton.
Just charge your dinner, activities, or trip to the spa to your room, pay with your Aspire card at checkout, and voila – the credit kicks in. Even some room rates will qualify for this resort credit so long as you don't prepay.
$200 Annual Airline Credit
Top Amex credit cards are practically notorious for Amex airline fee credits, which have gotten harder and harder to use. But that's no longer the case with the Hilton Aspire Card.
The card's longtime $250 airline fee credit – to use on costs like seat selection, baggage, and award ticket taxes – is out the door. In its place, Amex is adding an entirely new setup for airline credits.
Starting Jan. 1, 2024, Hilton Aspire cardholders will get up to $200 in what they call “flight credits,” meaning they can easily be used for airfare outright. Just use your Hilton Aspire Card to pay for a ticket directly with the airline or through amextravel.com and the credit should kick in.
The downside here is that it's now a quarterly benefit, with $50 available every three months. These are use-it-or-lose-it benefits, so every quarter you forget to use it would mean you'd lose out on $50 back.
$100 Waldorf Astoria & Conrad Hotels On Property Credit
It's not the easiest-to-use perk on the Aspire Card, but it can still add up.
When you book a paid stay of at least two nights at Waldorf Astoria or Conrad Hotels through HiltonHonors.com/aspirecard, you will receive a $100 credit for incidental charges. This credit can be used for almost anything charged to your room during your stay. Taxes, fees, gratuity, and the room rate itself are not eligible for the credit.
Again, this has to be for a paid stay. If you're planning on using your Hilton Honors points to stay at either a Waldorf Astoria or Conrad Hotel, you won't be able to take advantage of this credit.
All Benefits of the Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express
- Earn 180,000 Hilton Honors bonus points after spending $6,000 in the first six months of card membership.
- Get Hilton Honors Diamond Status: As long as your card account is open, you'll have Hilton's top-tier Diamond status
- New! Up to $400 in Hilton Resorts statement credits: Each calendar year, you’ll receive up to $400 in statement credits for incidentals charged to your card at participating Hilton resorts – a category that includes many Hilton properties. Cardholders get one $200 credit from January through June and another credit July through December. This benefit begins Jan. 1, 2024 for new cardmembers – existing cardmembers will continue to receive up to $250 in Hilton Resorts statement credits through the end of 2023.
- Free night certificate: After opening your account and each year on your cardmember anniversary, you will receive a certificate for a free night at almost any property in Hilton's portfolio.
- Additional free night certificates: Earn an additional free night certificate after making $30,000 in purchases in a calendar year, plus another after spending $60,000 in the same year (for up to three free nights total).
- Changed! $200 annual airline credit: Get up to $50 in statement credits each quarter on purchases made directly with an airline (including airfare) or through amextravel.com.
- Earn 14x Hilton Honors points per dollar for each eligible purchase on your Card made directly with a participating hotel or resort within the Hilton portfolio.
- Earn 7x Hilton Honors points per dollar for eligible purchases on flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com; on car rentals booked directly from select car rental companies; & at U.S. restaurants.
- Earn 3x Hilton Honors points bonus points on all other purchases.
- New! Get complimentary National Car Rental Emerald Club Executive Status – easily our favorite status with a rental car chain.
- New! $189 CLEAR® Plus Credit: Get up to $189 per calendar year in statement credits, when you pay for a CLEAR® Plus Membership with the Aspire Card.
- $550 annual fee (see rates & fees), up from the previous $450 fee
Learn more about the Hilton Honors Aspire Card. (for full disclosure, this is our personal referral link)
Drawbacks of the Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express
As great as the Hilton Aspire Card is, there are some things that you'll want to be aware of before you apply.
The High Annual Fee
The card charges a sizeable annual fee of $550 each year. That sounds high on paper. But stack it up against all the benefits the card provides, it can certainly make sense. But if you don't think you can get $550 in value out of the card each and every year, the Hilton Aspire may not be for you.
That said, we always encourage readers to do the math before ruling out cards with high annual fees.
Lack of Points Flexibility
While the Aspire Card allows you to earn a ton of Hilton Honors points, you'll be tied to using these points for stays at Hilton properties. There is no question you can find value in the Hilton Honors program, but if you plan on this being your only credit card, you'll give up some flexibility.
Points Also Have a Lower Value
Compared to many other hotel points programs, Hilton Honors points are generally not the most valuable.
In my experience, you should normally be able to get 0.6 or 0.8 cents out of each Hilton point as mentioned above. You can certainly do better than that, but it's a good baseline to use.
That means you should easily be able to get about $900 to $1,200 from the 150,000 point welcome offer bonus.
Limited Acceptance Abroad
While American Express has some great travel rewards credit cards that waive foreign transaction fees (including the Hilton Aspire Card), it is still a good idea to make sure you have a Visa or Mastercard in your wallet before you head abroad.
That's because you may still find that many merchants abroad still don't accept American Express.
The reason? American Express has historically charged much higher merchant fees – the fees stores have to pay to card payment networks like American Express when they accept their cards for a transaction.
Fees for Visa, Mastercard, and Discover cards generally range from 1.5% to 2.5% of each transaction, while American Express fees were in the 2.5% to 3.5% range.
Due to those higher fees, fewer merchants in the U.S. and abroad accept American Express compared to Visa or Mastercard. But that is changing. In 2018, American Express lowered those merchant fees, bringing them on par with other payment networks. But it will take time: Even four years later, many merchants still don't accept Amex cards.
In another four years, we may see Amex as broadly accepted as other credit cards. But for now, make sure you have a Visa or Mastercard that doesn't charge foreign transaction fees at your disposal.
The Welcome Offer Can Be Hard to Attain
As great as the welcome offer bonus of 150,000 Hilton Honors points it does require you to spend $4,000 in the first three months of card membership to earn it.
If you can't do that responsibly, you shouldn't try. Credit cards are serious business, and if you can't immediately pay off any charges you make, it's not worth it.
The high-interest rate the card charges will negate any benefit you'll get from the big bonus.
Why the Hilton Aspire Tops Our List
Because all the benefits on this card almost seem too good to be true.
After carrying the card for a few years and putting these benefits into action, I'm still amazed that Amex and Hilton haven't cut some perks or increased the card's $450 annual fee. Fingers crossed that neither happens.
There is no other card offering top-tier hotel status simply for holding the card. Nor can you find another top credit card that doles out free night certificates right when you open the card.
Diamond status alone can score you great upgrades and provide you with free breakfast (or food and beverage credits) for you and a guest during your Hilton stays. To me, these benefits alone are worth their weight in gold.
On a recent trip, my wife and I took advantage of the free breakfast benefit for Diamond members and saved ourselves a ton of money. At some properties, especially in Europe, free breakfast can save you up to $70 per day.
While a $450 annual fee card isn't for everyone, all of the benefits and credits this card offers at the moment make it far more palatable. So long as you take advantage of them each year, you should come out far ahead.
I love the Hilton Aspire Card. I think Amex and Hilton did a great job to not only entice new cardholders but to reward them for holding onto the card long-term. There simply isn't another co-branded hotel card that comes close to competing with it right now.
If you often stay at Hilton hotels, this card is a no-brainer. If you don't, this card might give you a reason to change that.