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- Huge annual fees for hotel cards are a turnoff, but there are times when making an exception makes sense.
- The Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express offers a huge welcome bonus, multiple annual travel credits, automatic Hilton Diamond status, and a free weekend night each year among other perks.
- Run the numbers to see how much value you’ll receive before you sign up for a travel credit card with an annual fee.
When it comes to travel rewards cards, there are certain principles I stick by. For example, I believe you should only pursue cash-back or travel rewards if you are free of consumer debt and able to pay your bill in full each month. With the average credit card interest rate now over 17%, it would be foolish to carry a balance while pursuing rewards, right?
I also think it’s important to stick with rewards cards with a reasonable acquisition cost. For example, I only believe in paying an annual fee for a rewards card if I am getting outsized value and earning a lot more than I pay in.
That’s why I felt strange signing up for the Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express earlier this year.
It’s a hotel credit card with a $450 annual fee for goodness sake!
In any normal situation, I would avoid this card like the plague and tell everyone else to do the same. But, this card offers so much value that both myself and my husband signed up for our own.
Hilton Aspire credit card: Where it shines
At the end of the day, $450 per year is a lot of money. The only other rewards card I happily pay such a high fee for is the Chase Sapphire Reserve, but that’s only because it offers a $300 travel credit, 3x points on dining and travel, and other important travel perks.
So, why did I shell out another $450 for the Hilton Aspire? The answer is simple: You get a lot more than $450 in value in return.
When I signed up, the welcome bonus was 125,000 points after you use your card for $4,000 in purchases within three months of account opening. However, the current offer is for 150,000 points (after you use the card for $4,000 in purchases within the first three months); that makes this card an even better deal right now. In addition to the welcome bonus, you also earn 14x points on Hilton hotel bookings, 7x points on flights booked directly or through AmExTravel.com, car rentals, and US restaurants, and 3x points on all other purchases.
But the real value is in the perks. Signing up for this card gets you a free weekend night award at any Hilton property worldwide the first year and each year you renew the card. You also receive a $250 annual resort credit good for Hilton resorts, a $250 annual airline incidental credit, automatic Hilton Diamond status, and a Priority Pass Select airport lounge membership that lets you visit over 1,000 airport lounges worldwide for free. You can also get a $100 on-property credit any time you stay for two nights or more and book through hiltonhonorsaspirecard.com.
Why we signed up
While the benefits sound generous and useful, it’s hard to know what they’re worth unless you use them. Here’s how I justified the expense and how I am measuring the value I get in return this first year:
My husband and I each used our free night awards and resort credits for stays in Sedona and Phoenix.
For my family’s fall break this year, we planned to head to Arizona and the Grand Canyon for a week before departing for Gulf Shores, Alabama. We opted to use our free night awards for a free night at the Hilton Sedona Bell Rock and the Point Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort. Since each resort was charging approximately $250 per night over our dates, we received $500 in value right away.
We will also use our $250 resort credits toward our room bill for the additional nights we stay at each property. That’s another $500 in value.
Total value so far: $1,000 toward Hilton stays in Sedona and Phoenix
We used the airline credits
Since my husband and I travel up to 16 weeks per year, I knew it wouldn’t be difficult to use the $250 airline credits we received for incidentals. While the credits are technically for checked baggage, in-flight refreshments, and flight change fees, you may be able to use them for gift cards as well.
With $500 in airline credits safely used, that brings our total value for two cards up to $1,500.
We cashed in some of our points
While we earned 250,000 Hilton Honors points in welcome bonuses for the two Hilton Aspire cards we signed up for, we also earned some Hilton Honors points through additional spending and by referring friends to get their own cards. At the end of the day, we racked up a total of 600,000 Hilton Honors points through various means.
We haven’t spent them all yet, but we did cash in 240,000 Hilton Honors points for five nights at the Hilton Clearwater Best Resort & Spa in Florida. The nightly rate was 60,000 points but Hilton Honors offers a fifth night free for certain reservations made with points.
Since our reservation falls over New Year’s, the nightly rate isn’t very cheap at this property. If we had paid for these five nights, they would set us back $2,207.74 including tax. And remember, we also have automatic Hilton Diamond status so we will likely be eligible for a room upgrade and some sort of breakfast benefit.
With our point redemptions taken into account, that makes our first-year value for our two Hilton Aspire cards at least $3,700.
The bottom line
Paying $900 in annual fees to receive $3,700 in travel the first year was an absolute no-brainer for us. And really, that’s a very conservative estimate anyway. We’ll receive Hilton Diamond benefits several times this year and next for stays in Arizona, Dubrovnik, and Washington DC for a conference we plan to attend.
We also have another chunk of points to redeem, which will add even more value to the pile. A lot of people would also assign some value to the Priority Pass Select membership we each received with our cards, but I don’t count that since we already have the same perk with our Chase Sapphire Reserve cards.
If you’re someone who is averse to annual fees, I don’t blame you. But sometimes, running the numbers can show you how these fees can be well worth it. Before you decide on a travel credit card, do the math to see if the fee makes sense in respect to what you receive in return.