Two of American Express’ top tier cards are the Platinum Card and the Hilton Aspire. The former was first released in 1984 as American Express created the Premium Card market. However, the latter was released a few years ago as Hilton’s top credit card.

Both cards have fantastic perks, bonuses, and incentives to keep. But these features come at a high price. The Platinum Card’s annual fee is $550 and the Aspire card’s annual fee is $450. Neither card’s annual fee is waived the first year.

 

Sign-Up Bonus

The American Express Platinum Card has a bonus of 60,000 Membership Rewards (MR) points. Those points can be earned after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months. The Platinum Card has targeted bonuses of 75,000 points for the same minimum spend. But it’s had bonuses as high as 100,000 points in the past.

Meanwhile, the Hilton Aspire has a bonus worth 150,000 Hilton Honors (HH) points. These points can be earned after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months.

The winner of this category is the Hilton Aspire, whose bonus is more valuable. Plus, the Aspire Card’s bonus is better because it has a lower minimum spend threshold. You can save $1,000 and still get a fantastic sign-up bonus if you decide to go with the Aspire. However, the Platinum Card can become the better bonus if you have a targeted offer. These offers can be worth at least 75,000 MR points.

 

Earning

Premium cards are better known for perks than earning structure. However, these cards also have the potential to earn you serious points.

The Platinum Card earns 5x MR points on Airfare (booked directly with the airline), travel booked on amextravel.com, and Amex Fine Hotel & Resort purchases. Unfortunately, the Platinum Card’s travel category is restrictive because it only includes airfare and travel from Amex’s own travel website. But you can score big if you can find a deal directly with an airline. All other purchases earn one point per dollar.

The Hilton Aspire Card earns 14x HH points at Hilton hotels. It also earns 7x points for Car Rentals, Airfare & Dining, and 3x points on all other purchases. This earning structure (with its four travel bonus categories) gives the Aspire Card the victory for this category.

 

Burning

Points earned are worthless if you cannot redeem them for valuable travel.

The Platinum Card shines here because of its membership in the Amex “ecosystem”. You can transfer MR points to a plethora of airline and hotel partners. Even though Hilton is one of these partners, I don’t recommend transferring MR points to them because of the low value of HH points. Transferring to domestic and international airlines are a much better option for redeeming MR points.

Hilton’s points are best used towards free nights and experiences at Hilton hotels. You can also transfer points to one of 43 partners. However, I don’t recommend doing so because you will get no value.

The Platinum Card wins here solely because of the flexibility of Membership Rewards points. However, Hilton Honors points can be very valuable when redeemed properly.

 

Perks

Perks are the draw for many Premium cards, especially the two that are the focus of this post. The perks from both cards can easily give you positive expected value even if you rarely travel. This makes them “long term keeper cards”, despite their high annual fees.

Both cards have the following common perks:

  • Secondary Car Rental Insurance
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees
  • Priority Pass Airport Lounge Access
  • Trip Delay Insurance
  • Trip Cancellation Insurance
  • Baggage Insurance

Despite the common perks, both cards have more specific perks and credits that make them unique and special.

Credits

The Platinum Card comes with $200 in Uber credits, $200 in airline incidental credits, and $100 in Saks Fifth Avenue credits annually. These credits alone make the Platinum card’s “net annual fee” only $50 if you can use them all in full. The “net annual fee” falls below $0 (giving positive expected value) when factoring in other perks. Unfortunately, most of the Platinum Card’s credits are hard to use because they are so limited.

Conversely, the Hilton Aspire Card has more perks for hotel dwellers. And they are enough to keep the card long-term even if you visit a Hilton hotel once per year. The Aspire offers up to two free nights, a $250 resort credit, $250 in airline incidental credits, and a $100 on-property credit for Waldorf Astoria or Conrad hotels. The “net annual fee” is -$150 if you can use all the credits in full. In other words, you will receive $150 in positive expected value if you use all the credits in full.

Hilton Status

The Hilton Aspire card’s most valuable perk, however, is Hilton Diamond Elite Status. This is a step up from the Hilton Gold Elite Status that comes with the Amex Platinum. Hilton Diamond includes the following:

  • Free 5th Night (when paying with points)
  • 2 Bottles of Water
  • Free Breakfast
  • Welcome Gift
  • Executive Lounge Access
  • Room Upgrades (up to Suite)
  • Premium Internet
  • Milestone Bonuses
  • Diamond Status Extension
  • Gold Status Gifting
  • 48-Hour Room Guarantee

Airport Lounges & Other Perks

The Amex Platinum wins hands down for airport lounge access. The Amex Platinum grants you access to Amex Centurion Lounges, Delta Lounges, Airspace Lounges, AND Priority Pass. The Hilton Aspire, like most premium cards, only grants you Priority Pass access.

The Platinum Card has so many other perks that they have their own post! It’s the only card that I reviewed on PYCR (so far) that has this distinction.

The winner of this category depends on your travel needs. Hilton lovers and hotel dwellers will be better off with the Aspire. However, those who are in the airport more than hotels will win with the Amex Platinum.

 

Credit Limit and Income

The Hilton Aspire is a traditional revolving credit card. It comes with a set credit limit and can be hard to get approved for those with lower credit scores or incomes. You can keep a balance with this card (but I don’t recommend doing so).

The Platinum Card is a charge card which does not have a preset limit. In other words, Amex has an internal limit for your card that can change each month. The Platinum Card is the better card for those with lower income or credit scores because it’s a charge card. The Platinum Card also forces you to pay in full, which gives you financial discipline.

 

Final Draw

Your mileage may vary with Premium Cards especially. Both the Amex Platinum and the Hilton Aspire are fantastic options, but they both have strengths and weaknesses:

The Amex Platinum lacks in earning potential and has a hard-to-earn sign-up bonus. However, it has many excellent perks and its redemption options are more expansive. The Hilton Aspire is the better earner and has a fantastic suite of perks. But its best redemption options are limited to Hilton hotels.

Both cards can possibly be complements to each other. Some people might be loyal to Hilton but can also use the MR points and perks from the Platinum Card. The question is whether you want to spend $1,000 in annual fees for both cards. You will be getting more than that in expected value. But that number is very steep for a lot of people.

Consider your other cards, travel itinerary, loyalty to transfer partners, and desire for traveling in luxury. All of these are huge factors that must be considered before acquiring a premium card.

 

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