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hilton aspire card

Why the Hilton Aspire is the Best Hotel Credit Card, Period

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Between the big box chains and smaller companies, there are dozens of hotel credit cards to pick from. But few, if any, stand out more than the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card. And yes, that's even true if you aren't a Hilton fanatic.

While its annual fee of $550 might understandably intimidate some travelers, that comes with some incomparable benefits that can far outweigh that fee – even after a recent increase. 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 a free annual night certificate right off the bat to a slew of different money-saving credits, 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.


hilton aspire card


Learn more about the Hilton Honors Aspire Card. (for full disclosure, this is our personal referral link)

All information about the Hilton Honors Aspire Card has been collected independently by Thrifty Traveler and has not been reviewed by the issuer.


Big Welcome Offer Bonus

The Hilton Aspire Card currently offers a welcome bonus of 150,000 Hilton Honors points after spending $6,000 in the first six months of card membership. We've occasionally seen bigger bonuses, but this is the standard.

Exactly how much those points are worth depends on how you travel. It doesn't help that Hilton award rates can be all over the map, with the cheapest properties as low as 15,000 or so points a night to 120,000 or even 150,000 points for top luxury resorts – and sometimes, closer to a million points. 

If you're careful with how you use them, you should be able to redeem Hilton points for around 0.6 cents to 0.8 cents apiece. At that rate, this 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 can also 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, though that's not guaranteed either
  • 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 other hotel chains offer annual free night certificates on their credit cards. But even on their 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 block 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. Still, that's much shorter than the year-long wait (and paying twice the annual fees) with the likes of Marriott or Hyatt.

In the past, Hilton free night certificates required you to stay on a weekend: Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. But no more: 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.


hilton aspire card free night certificate


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 cap on how much a hotel night can cost in points to use 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.

Read our guide on the best ways to redeem Hilton free night certificates!

Just earlier this year, our editor Kyle used his Aspire Card's free night certificate for a free night at the Conrad Bora Bora Nui: a dreamy property in French Polynesia that typically costs 120,000 points a night … or $1,000 or more! And with Diamond status from his Aspire Card, he was even upgraded to an iconic overwater villa.


conrad bora bora overwater villa


Read more: How the Hilton Aspire Card Saved Me $866 in Bora Bora

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.


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: You'll get $200 the first half of the year (January through June) and then another $200 in the second half of the year (July through December).

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 from Hilton.


hilton resort credit at conrad


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. Whatever you charge, these credits typically kick in within a week or less.


$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 added an entirely new setup for airline credits.

As of Jan. 1, 2024, Hilton Aspire cardholders 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 (or seat assignment, upgrade – whatever!) 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.

On the plus side, you don't have to pre-select a specific airline to use up these credits anymore – any carrier will do.


$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 150,000 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 began Jan. 1, 2024 for new and existing cardmembers.
  • 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: You can 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


hilton aspire card


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 sizable annual fee of $550 each year. That sounds high on paper. Heck, it is high.

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.


Hilton Points Aren't Worth As Much as Others

Compared to many other hotel points programs, Hilton Honors points are generally not the most valuable.

In our experience, you should be able to get 0.6 or 0.8 cents out of each Hilton point without too much effort. And you can certainly do better than that, as we outlined above. But that'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 bonus.



hilton free night certificates


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 thanks to the higher fees Amex charges for swiping their cards. But that is changing: In 2018, American Express lowered those merchant fees, bringing them closer to other payment networks.

That has helped Amex close the gap in the U.S. and make some serious strides abroad when it comes to acceptance. But it will still take time for Amex cards like the Hilton Aspire to be universally accepted internationally.

For now, make sure you have a Visa or Mastercard that doesn't charge foreign transaction fees at your disposal when you head out of the country.

Read more: Is Amex Still a Bad Bet When Traveling Internationally?


The Welcome Offer Can Be Hard to Attain

As great as the welcome offer bonus of 150,000 Hilton Honors points is, it comes it requires a lot of spending to earn it: $6,000 in the first six months of card membership.

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.

Related reading: How to Hit Minimum Spend (And Earn That Bonus) Responsibly on Credit Cards


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 more perks over the years. Sure, they increased the annual fee from $450 to $550 a year and made some other changes. But the biggest selling points remain largely untouched.

There is no other card that unlocks automatic, top-tier hotel status. Nor can you find another top credit card that doles out free night certificates right when you open the card – Hyatt, Marriott, and IHG all make you wait at least a year … and pay a second annual fee. 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.


conrad bora bora breakfast


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 easily save you up to $70 per day.

While a $550 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.


Bottom Line

I love the Hilton Aspire Card. Our whole team does, really. 

No travel credit card is perfect, but American Express and Hilton have done a great job loading this card up with a big bonus and benefits that make it an easy card to open and rewarding to hold onto for the long-term, too. Honestly, there 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.


Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

10 Responses

  • Hello, We are having trouble using our free nights. When we call to book, they say that there isn’t a standard room available at those sites. Its hard to find any standard rooms online. Any advice?


    • Availability is going to vary wildly from property to property. What specific property are you looking at?

  • Hi! Great article. 2 follow-up questions:
    1. for those who already have the Surpass card, would you not be eligible for this card’s welcome bonus (since the cards are in the same hilton amex “family”)? or is this not an issue here?

    2. curious if that quarterly $50 airline credit could be used to just buy an airline gift card every quarter as an easy way to ensure you’re not missing out/losing it?

    • Hi Alyssa, thanks for reading!

      1. As of right now, there are not any restrictions here. But the nice thing with Amex is they will tell you whether or not you are eligible before you apply.
      2. That is a great question. Nobody from our team has tried that yet. But oftentimes, airline gift cards are actually sold through a 3rd party so it may not code correctly for the credit to trigger.

      • I know a lot of people use the Aspire to purchase United TravelBank credits every quarter! Not exactly a gift card, but similar idea!

    • I have had the Surpass for a little over a year and just added the Aspire. I was in “pop up jail” for a while (pop up saying I was ineligible for the welcome offer) but was able to put some spend on my Honors & Surpass cards (a good chunk of that was just using the Amex send on Venmo rather than Venmo directly) and that, along with more time since I had applied for the Surpass, was enough utilization to get me out of “pop up jail” and have the welcome bonus offer show up for me. I haven’t gotten the Aspire bonus offer quite yet to confirm, but should very soon!

  • I find that there are really very few properties where the resort credit can be used that I am interested in going to. I think the Aspire is worth it the first year but not the second unless you are booking quite an inspirational FNC.

  • any ideas on requirements to get this card? I can pretty much apply and get approved for everything. 800+ credit scores for two players, no utilization monthly. I went to Amex pre-approval site for this card(who I think has approved me for everything including having 4 business platinums all at once) and it states I am not eligible for the bonus. I tried for my wife, she got the same thing? Neither one of us have ever had anything related to a Hilton card.

    I have 6 business cards and 3 personal from Amex. 2nd player has 4 personal cards and 3 business cards open. Could that be causing it?

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