I’ve held my fair share of travel credit cards over the years, but one stands out above all the rest as my favorite, and that’s the Hilton Honors Aspire card from American Express. It may not be my most-used card, or even part of my day-to-day rotation. But I struggle to think of a card that provides more insane value, and that’s earned it a well-deserved place in my heart and my wallet!
From the off-the-charts points-earning potential it offers, to the Hilton Honors Diamond benefits it confers, to the slew of other benefits it comes with, it would be hard for another card to top the Aspire in my esteem. Read on to see the many reasons I love this card and why it’ll have a place in my lineup for years to come.
HILTON HONORS ASPIRE CREDIT CARD REVIEW
I won’t bury the only downside to the Aspire card from American Express: It comes with a $450 annual fee. But while that figure may seem steep, the card is packed with enough benefits that you can easily recoup that fee and then some. After all, the card comes with a free weekend night certificate that can easily be worth more than $450 on its own, and if put to good use, it can net you a room worth close to double that amount!
One of the reasons I love this card so much is that its benefits help the average person land incredible perks. Other hotel chains may be a better fit for you and your loyalty if you’re traveling 100 times per year for work, but if you’re mostly a leisure traveler like I am, Hilton will do the best job of helping you live it up.
Let’s dive in to exactly what the Aspire’s benefits are and how you can make the most of them!
HILTON HONORS ASPIRE CREDIT CARD BENEFITS
Right now, the Aspire credit card offers a 150,000-point bonus after you spend $4,000 in purchases in your first three months of card membership. To put that in perspective, Hilton’s most expensive properties (aside from this one) top out at 95,000 points per night. That means the bonus can get you most of the way toward two nights at Hilton’s nicest hotels, or two or more elsewhere! (And trust me, 70,000 per night can get you pretty far.)
FREE WEEKEND NIGHT CERTIFICATE
This is my absolute favorite perk offered by any credit card. Every year with the Hilton Honors Aspire card, you’ll get a free weekend night certificate that you can use at almost any Hilton hotel in the world (seriously, there’s just a short list of exclusions—and most of them are for all-inclusive hotels or condos). Other hotel chains offer certificates, but they won’t work for rooms above a certain points threshold. But Hilton opens them up to the vast majority of properties, as long as you can find standard availability (which I can say from experience is totally doable). I’ve used mine at high-end properties including the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, the Conrad Fort Lauderdale Beach and the Charter Hotel Seattle.
With the Aspire card comes Diamond status with Hilton Honors. It’s the only hotel program I know of that affords you top-tier status without having to stay a certain number of nights or spend a certain amount on rooms, which makes it a great option for those who wouldn’t reach elite status the traditional way. With Diamond status comes free breakfast, room upgrades where available, late check-out, access to rooms at sold-out properties, enhanced points-earning opportunities on your paid stays (more on that in a second), and a slew of other persk!
With any travel credit card, it’s important to look at how many points you’ll earn with each dollar you spend on the card. When it comes to the Aspire, you’ll get a whopping 14 points per dollar on eligible purchases at Hilton hotels, along with 7 points per dollar spent on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com, 7 points per dollar at U.S. restaurants, 7 points per dollar on car rentals booked directly from select car rental companies, and 3 points per dollar on everything else.
Hilton Honors points are more inflated than currencies such as Amex Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards, so I don’t recommending moving all of your spending to the Aspire. But any way you slice it, 14 of them per dollar on Hilton purchases is a fantastic earnings rate. Combine it with the fact that Diamond members earn 20 points per dollar spend just from their stay alone, and Aspire cardholders can earn 34 points per dollar spent at Hilton hotels. And that’s not including the frequent double- and triple-point promotions Hilton runs!
RESORT STATEMENT CREDIT
This is another favorite perk of mine. Each calendar year, you’ll get the first $250 you spend at Hilton resorts back in the form of a statement credit. If you can put this to good use, either by spending during your stay at a resort or using your card to pay the room rates and fees, it’ll essentially take your annual fees for the Hilton Honors Aspire from $450 to $200. (Note, though, that it doesn’t kick in if you book advance purchase/non-refundable rates).
AIRLINE FEE CREDITS
Aspire cardholders also have the opportunity to select an airline each calendar year for which they’ll receive up to $250 in airline fee credits. Once you’ve selected your airline, fees you pay on your Aspire card will come right back to you in the form of statement credits. Eligible charges include things like baggage fees, change fees and seat selection fees.
HILTON ON-PROPERTY CREDIT
If you use your card to book a paid two-night stay at a Waldorf Astoria or Conrad property, you’ll get a $100 credit to use on the property. I personally find these hotel credits to be less useful than the others, as two-night Waldorf or Conrad stays are generally out of my price range. But if you’re a high roller, do it up!
If you’re not familiar with Priority Pass, it’s a network of lounges around the world that you’ll gain access to with your Aspire card. Hide away and stay all day on a long layover, enjoy dinner and a glass of wine before your departure, or pop by quickly to grab a couple water bottles on the way to the gate—it’s all included with your membership.
Amex has a concierge service ready and waiting to help holders of certain credit cards make restaurant reservations, do trip research, snag tough-to-get tickets and assist with a slew of other tasks that members think up. You can use this service as much as you want (to varying degrees of success, of course, depending on your request)!
WHO THIS CARD IS GOOD FOR
Despite all of those benefits, the card obviously isn’t for everyone, and I always encourage people to think hard about whether they’ll actually be able to maximize a card’s features before taking it out. Here are some of the types of people who the Aspire is perfect for—although it’s obviously not a be-all, end-all of who should carry it!
If Hilton is your hotel chain of choice and you regularly seek out opportunities to stay at Hilton properties, you’d be hard pressed to find a good reason not to pick up this card. Sure, there’s the fee—but those who regularly stay at Hiltons know you can make back a solid chunk of that sum just by enjoying the free breakfast that will come along with your new Diamond status! The Aspire is a great way to take the Hilton travel you’re already doing to the next level (hello, room upgrades).
Even if you’re not a dedicated Hilton stayer, if you’re on the road several times a year and don’t already have perks like Priority Pass, this is a great time to cash in. These benefits, along with the airline fee credits, will make travel easier and more enjoyable even if you don’t restrict your hotel stays to Hilton.
Of course, you’ll probably want to make sure you’re staying at Hiltons a few times a year if you really want to get the most out of this card—but that’s really all it takes. I’m hardly a “road warrior” in the typical sense of the word; yes, I travel all the time, but most of my hotel stays are free and don’t earn me any points. Between a handful of work trips, my friends’ weddings and occasional one-or-two night low-cost stays that I pay for in cash, I earn enough points to make keeping this card in my wallet worthwhile.
If you’re into the idea of taking one big, fancy trip per year, this card will be instrumental in getting you there. The high earnings multiple, combined with Hilton’s frequent promotions, lands me enough points each year to book four nights at a top-tier properties, and Hilton elites get the fifth night of a five-night points stay for free. Add on the free weekend night from the Aspire card, and you’ve got yourself a six-night stay in paradise for 380,000 points or less. I’ve taken this approach in the Maldives, Hawaii and Mexico so far, and it works like a charm!
If you love a good beach vacation, the Aspire makes a great credit card pick. For one, that means you’ll have no trouble using the $250 in Hilton resort credits, which effectively bring your annual fee down to just $200. You can either use the credit once you’re at a resort—nothing like ordering drinks at the swim-up bar and knowing they’ll be covered—or on your room rate itself if you’re paying cash for a stay, as long as you don’t book an advanced/purchase or non-refundable rate. That’s tough to beat!
Hilton, unlike competitor Marriott, also waives resort fees for stays booked on points, so Hilton Honors points are great ones to collect if you find yourself returning to tropical locales again and again. (Note: Hilton doesn’t restrict eligible “resorts” to warm-weather destinations, either! Here’s a list of properties that fall under the “resort” umbrella.)
If you’re in the points and miles hobby, you’re going to love this card—case closed. I regularly delight in the crazy value it provides, and it’s so much fun to maximize all its different benefits. If the thought of top-tier elite status gets your heart racing—or you relish the challenge of securing the fanciest room possible each year with your free weekend nights—you’ll have a blast with the Aspire in your pocket.
WHO THIS CARD IS NOT GOOD FOR
I’ll admit that this is a hot take, but I don’t recommend taking out the Aspire for the bonus and the free night if you don’t intend to keep it long-term. Sure, this card could help you out immensely with booking a single fancy trip, and you could absolutely get your money’s worth with just the sign-up bonus alone. But I don’t personally believe in taking out credit cards you know you will cancel, as it has the potential to damage your relationship with banks, hurt your credit and impact your ability to take out other cards in the long-term.
That’s not to say plenty of people don’t do exactly this all the time; they do, in a process known as credit card “churning.” But it’s not a long-term, sustainable points-earning strategy, and it’s not something I advocate doing with any card. To learn more about how to earn points the responsible way, you can register here for one of my upcoming points and miles masterclasses!
Simply put, if you’re looking for your first travel credit card, I think you should look elsewhere. The Aspire is a great card, but if your goal is to get the most possible travel for the least possible cash, you’d do better to start with one of the many travel cards that earns more versatile points—in other words, points that can be used on flights and other hotels, rather than just on Hilton hotels. I have tons of tips on choosing the travel card that’s right for you in my free resource library!
What questions do you have about the Hilton Honors Aspire credit card? Let me know in the comments! >>
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