Doing the Hilton Right: Hilton Honors vs. the Ascend vs. the Aspire Card

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People used to enjoy racking up Hilton points with their Citi cards, but since the beginning of this year, the popular hotel brand is the exclusive property of American Express. Today, you have three options for Hilton rewards cards: the Hilton Honors, the Hilton Ascend, and the Hilton Aspire cards.

If you’re like me, all those flashy card colors and chic names mean nothing. All I want to know is ""Where's the money?” So, I decided to do a little digging to figure out which Hilton card was right for my type of spending, and you know what I found out? All three of them are great! Here’s the lowdown on these exciting hotel brand credit cards.

Hilton Honors

What I love…

  • No annual fee
  • Outstanding rewards program
  • Complimentary Silver status
  • Car rental loss and damage insurance

What I don’t…

  • Nothing!

Best for…

  • The casual traveler who doesn’t travel all that often but still wants a nice rewards card

The Hilton Honors card is the entry level Hilton rewards card. You can get a generous 50,000 points considering this is a no annual fee credit card. So, while the perks aren’t as thrilling as they are with the other two cards, the Hilton Honors card offers a lot for what you’re paying! For one thing, you’ll enjoy complimentary Silver status, which gives you perks like enhanced points earning, late checkout, and Elite rollover night feature. Plus, you have the chance to get upgraded to Gold status after spending just $20,000 in a calendar year.

The Hilton Honors card has a fabulous rewards program, too. Here’s how it works:

  • Earn 7x Hilton points per dollar on all Hilton hotels and resorts purchases
  • Earn 5x points for every dollar spent at US restaurants, supermarkets, and gas stations
  • Earn 3x points per dollar on all other purchases

Wow! I mean, wow! You will not find another no annual fee card that offers you 3x points per dollar on the lowest bonus category. That is the most generous offer ever. It’s no wonder so many people love this card. And don’t forget about the smaller (but still great) perks like no foreign transaction fee, rental car insurance, and extended warranty. All in all, a fab entry level card. Good job AmeEx!

Hilton Honors Ascend

What I love…

  • Weekend night reward
  • And another night free is $15,000 in purchases in a calendar year
  • Priority Pass Select 10 free visit
  • Complimentary gold status
  • Upgrade to Diamond when you spend $40k in a year
  • Car rental loss and damage insurance
  • Global assist hotline
  • Travel accident insurance

What I don’t…

  • No credits

Best for…

  • Anyone who wants to rack up a boatload of Hilton points without splurging for the premium card

The Hilton Ascend card is the next level up in Hilton rewards earnings, and it is equally as impressive as the Hilton Honors card in that it packs quite a punch for the category of credit card its annual fee places it in. You’ll pay $95 for this card, and you’ll get far more than that sum belies. To start with, you get double the Hilton points for signing up. In fact, that’s the same as the Hilton Aspire card (the premium level option) for $355 less!

The rewards program is also unbeatable. You earn:

  • 12x Hilton points per dollar spent at Hilton hotels and resort purchases
  • 6x points per dollar spent at US restaurants, supermarkets, and gas stations
  • 3x points per dollar on all other purchases

12x Hilton points per dollar? They’re practically giving them away! With the Hilton Ascend card, you get lots of great benefits, as well. Enjoy things like a free weekend night stay when you spend $15,000 in a single year, complimentary Gold status, and the Priority Pass Select membership that gives you access to all of the cushy lounges around the world. You also get 10 free lounge visits for your guests each year. Gold status gives you room upgrades, continental breakfast, and more. Plus, you get to upgrade to Diamond status when you spend $40k in a year. See, I told you the Hilton Ascend card wouldn’t disappoint.

Hilton Honors Aspire

What I love…

  • Priority Pass Select for you and 2 guests
  • $100 Hilton On-Property credit
  • $250 airline fee credit
  • $250 Hilton Resort statement credit
  • Weekend night rewards (one when you open card, another one every year)
  • Free night after spending $60,000 in a year
  • Complimentary Diamond status
  • Premium roadside assistance

What I don’t…

  • Expensive premium if you don’t travel often

Best for…

  • Travelers who want to maximize their comfort, rewards, and benefits...like a boss!

Finally, the Hilton Aspire card is the new premium rewards card, and I have to say, it’s pretty hot. For $450 annually, you’ll get some of the most exclusive benefits like two weekend night rewards each year, $600 worth of credits, and most exciting of all, complimentary Diamond status.

I get it, $355 more? It does seem a little steep, that is until you look at what you are getting for the price. So, what you need to be asking yourself is if you are getting enough perks out of the Hilton Aspire card to make it worth paying the extra annual fee. Well, let's take a look:

  • You get $250 in airline credits
  • You get a free night stay at almost any Hilton resort or property (I don’t have to tell you this can equal much more than $105)
  • The Diamond status values at $1,915
  • Oh, and another $250 Hilton resort credit to factor in

You can put your calculator away because it’s clear that all of these perks add up to WAY more than the $450 annual fee that you pay with the Hilton Aspire.

So, which card is right for you? Well, if you are only interested in the most casual travel rewards relationship, then the Hilton Honors card is a perfect match. You’ll get a chunky signup bonus and excellent reward points earn rates. If you want to up your game and don’t mind paying an annual fee, there’s plenty to enjoy from the Hilton Ascend card. You’ll get double the Hilton points upon signup and loads of other goodies thrown in.

Of course, if you want to make the most of your travel, really live it up in the lap of luxury, then the Hilton Aspire is the only way to fly. Like I showed you, the perks far outweigh the fees, so it’s just a question of whether or not you can swing the initial cost. If you can, dig in baby, because Hilton knows how to treat you right!

Putting Your Hilton Points to Work

Before you go, let me show you a few examples of how to make the most out of your Hilton points (now that you’re racking them up like a pro!)

  • Example One: 5 Nights in Hawaii

Stay at the Hilton Waikiki Beach resort for 25,000 plus $99 a night! You could get a 5-night Hawaii vacation for 125,000 points and $500. Amazing!

  • Example Two: 5 Nights in Orlando

If you have Silver status or higher, you can get a 5-night vacation at Universal Orlando for just 120,000 points. That's because you can get the 5th night free with your Hilton cards!

Earning Tips:

  • Choose a category 1-4 hotel during peak seasons because these prices won’t spike during this busy time
  • Remember, that as you climb the tiers ladder from Blue to Diamond, your earn rate gets accelerated substantially
  • Combine cash and points when it makes sense (for example: Pay 20,000 points and $50 for a $150 room instead of paying 30,000 points)
  • Don't spend points on top-tier hotel rooms – it’s not worth the valuation
  • Use points for ”redemptions experiences” to have wild adventures without spending a dime

Happy FREE stay!

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