American Express Announces Two New Hilton Cards: Hilton Aspire ($450 Annual Fee, up to 14x on Purchases) & Hilton Ascend (Personal Card)

American Express just announced their plans to launch two new Hilton cards in January 2018. Before jumping into the cards, it's worth mentioning that the no annual fee Hilton Honors card benefits are going to be refreshed, mainly with no foreign transaction fees.

Sign-up bonuses for the new cards have not been annouced yet, so we'll factor those into our calculations when they're released in January 2018.

Hilton Ascend

The Hilton Ascend will replace the Hilton Surpass card. Let's dive into the basics of the Hilton Ascend card.

Hilton Ascend

  • Annual fee: $95
  • Earn 12x on Hilton purchases
  • 6x at supermarkets
  • 6x at restaurants
  • 6x at gas stations
  • 3x on everything else
  • Automatic Gold status at Hilton 
  • Earn Diamond status after spending $40,000 in a calendar year
  • Earn a free weekend night after spending $15,000 in a calendar year
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Priority Pass: 10 free visits
  • Launch date: January 2018

12x points may sound impressive, but Hilton points are usually valued at 0.4 to 0.6 cents per point. This comes out to 4.8-7.2% return on spend. 

Depending on the cards in your wallet, it's worthwhile to use the Hilton Ascend card for Hilton purchases, and not for other category spend. 

Hilton Surpass vs. Hilton Ascend

The main difference between the Hilton Surpass and the Hilton Ascend is the increased annual fee from $75 to $95, respectively. 

If you are someone who is planning on putting a lot of spend on the Hilton Ascend, you should aim for $15,000 in a calendar year to earn the free weekend reward night. This perk was sometimes offered as part of the signup bonus with the Hilton Surpass.

Priority Pass benefits are also enhanced with the Hilton Ascend; get ten free visits. With the Hilton Surpass, you have to pay $27/person to access Priority Pass lounges. 

The Hilton Ascend will replace the Hilton Surpass card in January 2018. 

 Hilton surpass vs hilton ascend

Hilton surpass vs hilton ascend

Hilton Ascend Business

The next new card that's launching in January 2018 is the business version of the Hilton Ascend card. 

Hilton Ascend Business

  • Annual fee: $95
  • Earn 12x on Hilton purchases
  • 6x at supermarkets
  • 6x at restaurants
  • 6x at gas stations
  • 6x on wireless phone services
  • 6x on shipping
  • 6x on airfare (direct or AmexTravel)
  • 6x on car rentals (direct)
  • 3x on everything else
  • Automatic Gold status at Hilton 
  • Earn Diamond status after spending $40,000 in a calendar year
  • Earn a free weekend night after spending $15,000 in a calendar year
  • Earn an additional second weekend reward night after spending $60,000 in a calendar year
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Priority Pass: 10 free visits
  • Launch date: January 2018

Hilton Ascend vs. Hilton Ascend Business

The Hilton Ascend Business card offers the same benefits as the regular Hilton Ascend, with a few additional 6x categories like wireless phone service and shipping.

You also have the opportunity to earn an additional second weekend reward night if you spend $60,000 on the Hilton Ascend Business card. Even if you do spend $60,000 in a calendar year, there might be better cards out there to optimize the spend.

 Hilton ascend vs hilton ascend business

Hilton ascend vs hilton ascend business

Hilton Aspire

The Hilton Aspire is one of the most impressive high-annual cards to be announced this year.

Hilton Aspire

  • Annual fee: $450
  • Airline incidental credit: $250
  • Hilton resort credit: $250
  • Property credit (Waldorf Astoria + Conrad via Aspire Package): $100
  • Earn 14x on Hilton purchases
  • 7x at restaurants
  • 7x on airfare (direct or AmexTravel)
  • 7x on car rentals (direct)
  • Automatic Hilton Diamond status
  • Free weekend reward night upon signup and anniversary
  • Earn a second weekend reward night after spending $60,000 in a calendar year
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Priority Pass: Unlimited visits

If you read our hotel status post, you'd know that Hilton Diamond status is the highest tier possible, so it's surprising they're offering this by default of having the Hilton Aspire card. I'm predicting Hilton will launch a higher status tier above Diamond in January.

The optimal strategy if you get the Hilton Aspire card is to status match or "challenge" status at other hotel groups. 

Hilton Ascend vs. Hilton Aspire

You might be thinking, "Another $450 annual fee card, really?" The Hilton Aspire comes with a handful of travel credits that make the high annual fee worthwhile. 

You get $250 in airline incidental credit and $250 in Hilton resort credit. We're going to ignore the $100 property credit at Waldorf Astoria and Conrad for now because the details of those packages are not disclosed for now. 

The Hilton Aspire earns points back on fewer categories compared to the Hilton Ascend, but the earning multiplier is slightly higher. 

    Aspire 1.JPG

    Optimal Strategy

    The Hilton Aspire card is the best option out of all the new Hilton cards. Here's the optimal strategy:

    Feb 2019

    • Get the Amex Hilton Aspire card
    • [ Pay 1st annual fee ] 
    • Access to the whole $250 airline incidental and $250 Hilton credit for 2019

    Jan 2020

    • Get access to both credits ($250 + $250) for 2020

    Feb 2020

    • Eligible to downgrade or cancel without penalty (or keep)
    • [ Pay 2nd annual fee ]

    Jan 2021

    • Get access to both credits ($250 + $250) for 2021

    Matching costs and benefits

    • Year 1 = -$450 (2019 Annual Fee) + $250 (2019 airline) + $250 (2019 Hilton) + $250 (2020 airline) + $250 (2020 Hilton)
      = $550 benefit gain
    • Year 2 = -$450 (2020 AF) + $250 (2021 airline) + $250 (2021 Hilton)
      = $50 benefit gain

    The most interesting thing is that for Year 2 and onwards, you're still coming out ahead by $50, assuming you can use the airline and Hilton credits. It's surprising because I never expected to get positive expected value after Year 2 from a high annual fee card. 

    Will you be signing up for the Hilton Aspire card in January 2018? Let us know in the comments below!