When I upgraded my Hilton Ascend (now and formerly the Hilton Surpass) card to the Hilton Aspire for a 150,000-point bonus offer, I thought I’d found the premium card for me. Sure, it isn’t an American Express Platinum or Chase Sapphire Reserve, but the benefits of this top hotel card were actually better on an ongoing basis. With multiple credits, complimentary Hilton Diamond status, and a Priority Pass membership, you can get much more than the $450 annual fee in value out of the card. I planned to keep it. Things change, though, and I am now planning to downgrade my Hilton Aspire card this month.
The Ongoing Value of the Hilton Aspire Card
It’s hard to question the ongoing value of the Hilton Aspire card if you stay with the chain routinely. I’ve touted it as an excellent card for families. The card carries a large $450 annual fee, but it makes up for it with some fantastic benefits. These include:
- $250 annual resort credit (based on cardmember year)
- $250 airline fee credit (choice of U.S. airline)
- $100 property credit for qualifying Waldorf Astoria and Conrad stays
- Free annual weekend night after account anniversary
- 14x Hilton points on Hilton stays
- Complimentary Hilton Diamond status
- Priority Pass membership (without restaurant access as an Amex card)
When I upgraded the card, I knew that getting the full value out of the fee would be pretty easy. The annual night was awarded several weeks after I took the offer, and I was able to use the full value of the resort credit and the airline credit in 2019. I was also able to use the full value of the resort credit a second time after my account anniversary. I also received a second free night.
All said and done, I paid ~$550 in annual fees, since Amex charges you a pro-rated fee. Two free nights (used for approximately $400 in value), $250 in Delta credit (from the 2019 airline fee credit) and $500 in lodging is more than worth this alone. We came out way ahead.
Teetering on the Fence
The 2020 outlook wasn’t quite as good, however. I used to always cash out my American Express airline incidental credits for gift cards, specifically with Delta. This is at least what I’ve done the past few years. It’s not how American Express had intended it to be used, but it was the only way I could get reasonable value from the credit. We don’t spend a ton in incidentals.
As of this year, however, American Express has gotten much better at clawing back the credits used in this fashion. I actually haven’t used my 2020 credit, although Delta is still my chosen airline. This means that I will likely not get anywhere close to the full $250.
With that loss in value, I’m left with the $250 resort credit and the free night. Both of these are better valued at $150 each, as this is the floor for what I would likely pay otherwise if I couldn’t use them toward the room rate at the closest hotels. This brings us to only $300 in value.
I can then argue that the Priority Pass membership is worth a good amount. Based on how much we used it in 2019, I’d peg the value at $200-250 that would have otherwise been spent on airport food and drinks. Hilton Diamond is also part of the calculus, but I’m honestly happy with Gold, since that provides free breakfast. You can get Hilton Gold from the Surpass card.
So, doing some math, I’m looking at $500 in value, conservatively, for a $450 annual fee. However, given that I’d typically downgrade to a Hilton Surpass and still pay the $95, this is really $500 in value for $355. We’re still likely to get value out of the card, but not quite as excellent a value. I’ve been on the fence about canceling the card and saving the cash.
Deciding to Downgrade My Hilton Aspire
The current coronavirus situation was enough to take me from waffling over canceling to being very ready to cancel the card. Travel plans in the near term have been completely upended. Even if I wanted to use the benefits, I don’t expect to even have a chance to do so for at least a few months. It’s possible the disruption may continue even longer. Saving $450 is now ideal.
The fee is due on the Aspire this month, so this is really a near-term decision. I would forego the free night and another $250 resort credit, but with no travel on the horizon, I feel a whole lot better about this choice. I’m sure I’d still eventually use the credits, but not anytime soon. With the current situation, the value of the other benefits (Priority Pass, airline credit, Diamond status) approaches $0.
The nail in the coffin was the status extension. Hilton will be extending elite status through next year due to the coronavirus. I’m Diamond for 2020, and I’ll be Diamond for 2021. With this in my pocket, I’ll just hold onto my points and downgrade my Hilton aspire to the no-fee version. American Express has generally offered upgrade offers 6-12 months down the road, so I’ll likely just upgrade back to the Aspire and pay the fee at that time sometime in 2021.
The coronavirus pandemic really has me “cleaning house” with all my credit cards. Although I’ve picked up a few new ones, I’m going to be dumping pretty much everything else that carries an annual fee in the near term aside from a handful of cheap(er) hotel cards with annual points or nights. All airline cards will go, along with either downgrading or canceling all bank cards aside from my Chase Ink Preferred and my wife’s Citi Premier. We don’t have an American Express Gold Card…yet. That’s on the list.
If American Express was to offer a annual fee credit for the card, I might consider keeping it. But it would need to be substantial. With an unknown outlook, keeping cash in our pockets seems the wisest choice.
What are your thoughts on hotel card value this year? Do you agree that I should downgrade my Hilton Aspire?