American Express, Hilton

The new lineup of Hilton co-branded American Express credit cards (Ascend / Aspire)

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On Tuesday, American Express made a long-awaited announcement about the refresh of it’s Hilton cards, following the acquisition of an exclusive to the loyalty program. Previously, both Amex and Citi were issuing cards. These new cards are expected to be available for signups in January 2018.

The press release contains the following details on the cards:

Designed for the occasional traveler, the no-annual-fee Hilton Honors American Express Card received an upgrade, including the removal of foreign transaction fees. It maintains the same name and much-loved benefits of the original card turning everyday spending into inspiring travel opportunities. The full benefits include:

  • 7X Hilton Honors Bonus Points at hotels and resorts in the Hilton portfolio worldwide
  • 5X Hilton Honors Bonus Points at U.S. grocery stores, U.S. restaurants, and U.S. gas stations
  • 3X Hilton Honors Bonus Points on all other eligible purchases
  • Complimentary Hilton Honors Silver status; Earn Gold status after spending $20,000 in purchases on the Card in a calendar year
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • No annual fee

For the savvy and established traveler, the Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card will deliver maximized travel rewards, including elevated Hilton Honors status, the ability to earn more points and Priority Lounge passes. The full benefits include:

  • 12X Hilton Honors Bonus Points at hotels and resorts in the Hilton portfolio worldwide
  • 6X Hilton Honors Bonus Points at U.S. grocery stores, U.S. restaurants, and U.S. gas stations
  • 3X Hilton Honors Bonus Points on all other eligible purchases
  • Complimentary Hilton Honors Gold status; Earn Diamond status after spending $40,000 in purchases on the Card in a calendar year
  • One Weekend Night Reward at a hotel or resort in the Hilton portfolio after spending $15,000 in purchases on the Card in a calendar year
  • 10 free Priority PassLounge passes to ease the airport experience
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • $95 annual fee

Frequent travelers seeking premium services and elevated experiences will find the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card is their complete travel partner – providing instant Diamond status, lounge access, airline credits, free nights and 24/7 concierge access. This new Card offers the richest Hilton Honors earn rate ever. The full benefits include:

  • 14X Hilton Honors Bonus Points at hotels and resorts in the Hilton portfolio worldwide
  • 7X Hilton Honors Bonus Points on flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com, car rentals booked directly from select car rental companies and at U.S. restaurants
  • 3X Hilton Honors Bonus Points on other purchases
  • Complimentary Hilton Honors Diamond status
  • One Weekend Night Reward at a hotel or resort in the Hilton portfolio with your new Card and each year of Card Membership
  • A second Weekend Night Reward at a hotel or resort in the Hilton portfolio after spending $60,000 in purchases on the Card in a calendar year
  • Unlimited Priority PassLounge passes to ease the airport experience
  • $250 Airline incidental fee statement credit
  • $250 Hilton resort statement credit
  • $100 on-property credit at Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts and Conrad Hotels & Resorts when booking the exclusive Aspire Card package
  • Access to 24/7 American Express concierge
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • $450 annual fee

Designed to address the needs of 25 million U.S. small business owners, The Hilton Honors American Express Business Card will help small business owners get the most out of every dollar spent and every mile traveled to invest back into their business. This Card will allow the user to maximize Card rewards related to business expenses and travel and includes access to the American Express OPEN platform designed specifically for small business owners. The full benefits include:

  • 12X Hilton Honors Bonus Points at hotels and resorts in the Hilton portfolio worldwide
  • 6X Hilton Honors Bonus Points on U.S. gas stations, wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service producers and U.S. purchases for shipping
  • 6X Hilton Honors Bonus Points on U.S. restaurants, flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com, and car rentals booked directly from select car rental companies
  • 3X Hilton Honors Bonus Points on all other eligible purchases
  • Complimentary Hilton Honors Gold status; Earn Diamond status after spending $40,000 in purchases on the Card in a calendar year
  • One Weekend Night Reward at a hotel or resort in the Hilton portfolio after spending $15,000 in purchases on the Card in a calendar year
  • A second Weekend Night Reward at a hotel or resort in the Hilton portfolio after spending $60,000 in purchases on the Card in a calendar year
  • 10 free Priority PassLounge passes to ease the airport experience and get work done more easily and comfortably while waiting for a flight
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • $95 annual fee

Thats a lot of info, I know!

It also appears to be a fantastic refresh to the lineup.

My take: 

The standard no-annual-fee Hilton Honors American Express Card remains essentially the same but with no foreign transaction fees.

The Ascend is a refresh of the Surpass card. The last few Surpass offers included a free weekend night in the signup offer. Now that comes yearly, after $15,000 in spend. 10 Priority Pass passes are also included now. You still get Gold status with the annual fee and Diamond with $40,000 in spend.

One question many undoubtedly have is if you will be able to get the signup bonus for the Ascend if you have had the Surpass. Many bloggers have speculated you won’t be able to since it’s essentially the same card. I have a different take, though it’s important to know I am speculating as much as anyone else.  I think there is a very good chance that everyone will be eligible for an Ascend signup bonus (whatever that winds up being – probably around 100,000 points). This is because American Express limits you to one signup bonus per SKU. A SKU is an Amex product. When they launch a new product, it has a new SKU – aka you can get a new bonus.  An example of this is that several years ago, the Starwood card had a major refresh. The card was considered a new SKU and though I’d gotten the bonus once before, I was able to get it again.

Again, that doesn’t mean I’ll be right here, but that is the basis for my guess.

The Hilton Honors American Express Business Card is essentially the same product, with a second free weekend night available after $60,000 in spend, and is a great choice for someone who is trying to stay under the 5/24 rule, since business Amex cards won’t hurt you there.

The crown jewel here, though, is the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card.

It’s clearly competing head to head with the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Citi Prestige, and the American Express Platinum card. The fee is $450 and, like the others, includes a host of features that give you back most or all (or more than all) of your annual fee. I’m going to restate the major points here:

  • Complimentary Hilton Honors Diamond status
  • One Weekend Night Reward at a hotel or resort in the Hilton portfolio with your new Card and each year of Card Membership
  • A second Weekend Night Reward at a hotel or resort in the Hilton portfolio after spending $60,000 in purchases on the Card in a calendar year
  • Unlimited Priority PassLounge passes to ease the airport experience
  • $250 Airline incidental fee statement credit
  • $250 Hilton resort statement credit
  • $100 on-property credit at Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts and Conrad Hotels & Resorts when booking the exclusive Aspire Card package

So, for $450, you get Hilton Diamond out of the gate (this is worth it alone for heavy Hilton guests that don’t quite make it to Diamond status on stays alone). Then you get a free weekend night – again, just for paying the fee. Used strategically, you can recoup your annual fee a second time there. It shouldn’t be hard to find a way to use the certificate for more than $450 in value. (Note that I’m assuming few or no restrictions on where you can use it). Next, now that we have already recouped our fee, we get a $250 incidental airline fee credit. But I don’t value that at $250 because I don’t pay to check bags, or really do anything considered incidental. It’s not the same as a travel credit. More details are needed here.So the $450 fee became (effectively) $200 after this credit and we also get a free night and Diamond status. But wait, there’s more! You’ll also get a $250 credit at a Hilton resort. If you stay enough at Hilton, surely you’ll hit a resort once during the year. Lastly, there’s a $100 WA credit but this seems attached to a package and so I’m going to discount that for now. I’m also going to value the free night at a very reasonable $250 in my calculation of the card value.

You’ll also get a $250 credit at a Hilton resort. If you stay enough at Hilton, surely you’ll hit a resort once during the year (i’m taking this at face value for now – any restrictions would kll this). Lastly, there’s a $100 WA credit but this seems attached to a package and so I’m going to discount that for now. I’m also going to value the free night at a very reasonable $250 in my calculation of the card value.

Here we go: $250 (average redemption guesstimate) free weekend night + $250 incidental airline credit (discounting this down to $100 because it’s incidentals) + $250 resort credit + unlimited Priority Pass lounge access (worth $399 if bought alone, though I’m actually going to discount this entirely since most of us already have this via another card by now) + Diamond Status (which I’ll value at $500 though The Points Guy values it at over $2,000).

Total value of Aspire card benefits: $600 cash value + Diamond Status. If we call that $500 then this card delivers $1,110 worth of givebacks for your $450 annual fee. If you fly and stay at Hilton once in a while, this card is a no-brainer.

You’ll note that I haven’t mentioned any signup bonuses. That’s because we have no idea yet. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the Aspire has a 150,000 – 200,000 point signup bonus at launch. That would be worth an extra $750 – 1,000 at signup – but we’ll wait and see!

Bottom line: This looks like some great changes to the lineup and a very aggressive move into the premium card space.  I really hope that SPG/Marriott follows suit as I’d be frankly way happier spending $450 on an SPG/Marriott card that gave me Platinum status since that is my primary program. That said, one has to wonder what kind of swelling of the Platinum ranks that would have, possibly leading to a dilution in benefits.

So what about you? Are you excited about these cards?  Let me know here, on Twitter, or in the private MilesTalk Facebook group.