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As we outlined last week, American Express has now released the latest Hilton cards – including the Hilton Honors, Hilton Ascend, Hilton Aspire, and the new Hilton Business card. The four options provide a range of benefits at corresponding sticker prices, with the Aspire and its $450 annual fee leading the pack. In the previous post, I was much more concerned with folks that already had the previous cards, and I shared a few opinions on whether or not to keep the cards in your wallet (or your sock drawer).
What if you don’t have any of the oldies? No Citi Hilton Reserve, no American Express Hilton Surpass…should you pull out a new card? First things, first, let’s review a quick comparison of the cards.
Three things I want to call your attention to here:
- The Honors Ascend and the Hilton Honors Business card are virtually the same, just different category bonuses.
- All cards offer status with Hilton.
- Every card has car rental and travel accident insurance.
Alright, let’s dig into some of the details…
Hilton Honors (no annual fee)
The no annual fee edition appears to be a pretty good card to…totally ignore for now. The card doesn’t offer anything useful, neither for those that stay with Hilton frequently, nor for those that don’t. Silver status won’t get you much at a Hilton – late check out and early check in, 15% earned points bonus, 5th night free, and some free water bottles. I could make a case for the 5th night free, and I love extended check-in/check-out at hotels, but status is saturated, so it won’t make much a difference. Case in point – the other three cards will give you Gold status or better, and Hilton Gold status also comes with any of American Express’s Platinum cards. In case you haven’t checked out the Centurion lounges lately, a lot of people have the Platinum cards. A lot. I mean c’mon, I have two.
You know, I’ll point out one last angle on this card. If you manufacture any spending, the Hilton Honors AmEx offers a decent way to hoard Hilton points for spending at groceries and gas stations. With 5x points on grocery store spend, I could definitely build a decent stash of Hilton points, with no annual fee.
My opinion? Wait on this one. Unless you really want a new Hilton card and hate annual fees, I’d wait for American Express to up the ante. Maybe in a few months or next year, we’ll see a sign-up bonus that includes a free night!
Hilton Honors Ascend
For $95, the Ascend upgrades a few of the things I find lacking in the no annual fee card. The sign up bonus is increased by 25,000 Hilton points, cardholders get Gold status, and 10 Priority Pass lounge visits each year. You’ll also get an extra point/dollar (over the no fee version) on gas and grocery spend, which is nice for some folks. American Express gives Ascend owners a chance to earn Diamond status with Hilton, as well as a free category 1-5 night. You’ll need to spend $15k on the card to earn the free night, and $40k to hit Diamond status.
I currently have the Ascend, since I previously held a Surpass from American Express. I’ll be hanging onto it until the next annual fee hits, but I’ll likely cancel after that. I don’t think the Ascend is really anything special. If you’re considering the Ascend, my recommendation is to move up or down. If you’re scared of the annual fee, just hang onto the $0 version of the card. If you don’t mind that $450 fee on the Aspire, go for it.
Hilton Honors Aspire
I think the Aspire really has potential, to be honest. That $450 annual fee is steep, but for someone that books paid stays at Hilton properties frequently, or that wants status for a special trip, the Aspire has a lot of potential. First, you’ll get automatic Diamond status with Hilton, meaning upgrades, free breakfast, you know the drill. You’ll get an automatic free weekend night, and another after $60k spend within the year. You’ll also get a $250 airline fee credit, and a $250 Hilton resort credit. If you value these highly, that offsets the annual fee right away!
I’d recommend the Aspire card for folks that want Diamond status for a special Hilton stay coming up (close it after the first year), and for those that want to push a lot of spend through restaurants or airfare (though I’d argue there are better cards for this kind of spend). If you don’t fall into one of those categories, wait for a higher bonus offer on the card, I bet we’ll see a little extra in the next year or so.
(If you don’t have one of these cards yet, feel free to snag one over on our top credit cards page!)
Hilton Honors Business
Looking through the chart, you’ll notice that the Ascend and the business version of the Hilton are very similar. Really, the only difference is in the spending categories. Both cards earn 6x Hilton points on US gas station purchases, while the Ascend earns 6x for every dollar spent at US grocery stores, and the Business card earns 6x on shipping, telephone services, restaurants, car rentals, and airfare booked directly with airlines or on AmEx Travel.
Unless you really make use of some of the Business card’s bonus categories, my advice remains the same as the Ascend – skip it for the no fee version or for the Aspire. At $95, it just doesn’t bring enough value to my wallet, and I think there are plenty of other cards you’d be better off using.
I think these cards offer value to particular travelers – those that truly enjoy Hilton properties, use the points frequently, or would benefit from Diamond status while holding the Aspire card. I don’t think any of them are daily drivers, and with Hilton’s dynamic pricing, I hesitate to hoard my Hilton points without redemptions on the horizon.
But hey, enough of my rambling, what do you think? Are you going to get one of the new Hilton cards, or hold off for now?
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