Review of the Hilton Honors Ascend Card from American Express: Should you pay $95 for it?

Brendan Harkness

Brendan Harkness | Reviews

Mar 02, 2018 | Updated Jun 19, 2018

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The Hilton Honors Ascend Card from American Express is designed for people who travel at least several times per year, and love to stay in Hilton hotels and resorts.

If you find yourself spending at least $1,000 per year with Hilton, this card could easily fit into your wallet. It provides 12X Hilton Honors Bonus Points per dollar, and you’ll also get an additional 12.5X Base Points for being a Hilton Honors Gold member, for a total of 24.5X points per dollar.

That’s a whole lot, and it can provide a cash back equivalent of at least 12%, depending on how you redeem.

With enough spending you’ll be able to earn enough points to offset the $95 fee, and you’ll benefit from the many perks that come with this card. Frequent Hilton customers have no reason not to consider adding this card to their routines.

There are two other Hilton credit cards from Amex, with different annual fees and reward programs. The Ascend card is the mid-range option. The right card for you will depend on how much you typically spend with Hilton per year. If you only spend a bit each year, and may not even travel, a no-annual-fee card would make more sense. But if you’re going to spend quite a lot, a card with a higher annual fee could be worthwhile.

Here are the three Hilton cards, with spending ranges along with annual fees and benefits.

Card Annual Hilton Spending Annual Fee Benefits
Hilton Honors less than $1,000 $0
  • Silver Hilton Honors Elite Status
Hilton Honors Ascend $1,000–$2,000 $95
  • Gold Hilton Honors Elite Status
  • 10 annual airport lounge visits
Hilton Honors Aspire more than $2,000 $450
  • Diamond Hilton Honors Elite Status
  • $100 repeating Hilton credit
  • $250 annual Hilton Resort credit
  • $250 annual airline fee credit
  • Unlimited airport lounge access
Hilton Honors Ascend Card
Apply Now

Hilton Honors Ascend Card

For People with
Excellent Credit

  • Annual Fee: $95
  • Interest Rate: 16.99%–25.99% Variable
Quick Card Facts
  • 12X Bonus Points per dollar at participating Hilton Portfolio hotels and resorts
  • A minimum of 12.5X additional Base Points per dollar at Hilton Portfolio hotels and resorts
  • 6X Bonus Points per dollar at U.S. restaurants, supermarkets, and gas stations
  • 3X Bonus Points per dollar on all other eligible purchases
  • 75,000 Bonus Points for spending $2,000 in the first 3 months
  • 25,000 additional Bonus Points for spending an additional $1,000 in the first 6 months
  • Complimentary Hilton Honors Gold status and other benefits
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • $95 annual fee
  • 16.99%–25.99% Variable APR for purchases and balance transfers

Our Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

We gave the Hilton Honors Ascend card 5 out of 5 Stars because it’s pretty easy to offset the annual fee, and you’ll earn points in a variety of bonus reward categories. But this card is only good for people interested in staying at Hilton properties.

Why we like this card

  • You can earn a whole lot of points, some from this card and some by being a Hilton Honors member
  • Free night stays
  • You’ll get some nice benefits and complimentary services at Hilton properties
  • A variety of redemption options
  • No foreign transaction fees

This card is not bad, but there are a couple other credit cards designed for staying with Hilton. Check them out below, along with some other cards made for spending at different hotel brands.

Why this card could be better

  • There’s an annual fee you’ll need to pay or offset by earning points
  • You’ll need to redeem your points through Hilton to get a good value for them
  • You might not get your free weekend night reward if you don’t spend enough per year

Insider Advice: Using This Card as Part of Your Credit Card Strategy

  • Use this card to earn a lot of points at Hilton hotels and resorts. It’s also good for spending at restaurants, supermarkets, and gas stations.
  • It will be probably be easiest to get a good value for your points if you redeem them for free night stays. But you’ll get an even better value if you can redeem them for your 5th night free, on stays of five nights or more.
  • Be sure to use this card enough each year to offset the annual fee. That will require spending around $750 per year at least, and redeeming your points in the most rewarding way.
  • Don’t forget about using the benefits you’ll get with this card, especially the Hilton Honors Gold status.
  • Spend $15,000 in a given year to earn a free weekend night reward stay.
  • Spend $40,000 in a given year to gain Hilton Honors Diamond status, which comes with some better benefits.
  • Enjoy 10 free passes to Priority Pass Select airport lounges ($27 admission fee after that).
  • Share points with your friends and family to pay for expensive trips and vacations.

The Rewards

The value of your points will depend on how you redeem them, such as the hotel and time of year. We’ve found that you can get the equivalent of at least 8% cash back when redeeming for free night stays. Or you can get the equivalent of up to 12% cash back or more when redeeming for your 5th night free.

Earning

  • 12X Hilton Honors Bonus Points per dollar at participating hotels and resorts in the Hilton Portfolio
    • plus an additional 12.5X Base Points per dollar, at minimum
  • 6X Hilton Honors Bonus Points per dollar at:
    • U.S. restaurants
    • U.S. supermarkets
    • U.S. gas stations
  • 3X Hilton Honors Bonus Points per dollar on all other eligible purchases
  • Signup bonus: 75,000 Bonus Points for spending $2,000 in the first 3 months of card membership
  • Signup bonus: 25,000 Bonus Points for spending an additional $1,000 in the first 6 months

If it seems like you’ll end up earning a ton of Hilton Honors points with this card, that’s probably true. However, you’ll find that each point isn’t worth quite as much as the points you can get in other programs, so it pretty much evens out.

Here, we must explain the difference between Bonus Points and Base Points. Bonus Points are what you’ll earn from this credit card, at the rates given above. Base Points are separately awarded to any Hilton Honors member who makes purchases through Hilton, with a normal rate of 10X per dollar spent. Bonus Points and Base Points are counted the same by Hilton when you redeem them.

Cardholders of the Ascend card will get automatic Hilton Honors Gold status, which comes with a 25% bonus for all Base Points earned. That comes out to 12.5X Base Points per dollar spent with Hilton.

This means that cardholders will get 24.5X points per dollar in total when spending at Hilton properties, and that’s quite the offer.

An even higher status level, Diamond, can be reached by spending $40,000 in a given year. That comes with a 50% point bonus instead. So 15X Base Points will be earned per dollar spent at Hilton, for a total of 27X points per dollar spent at Hilton. Wow!

Redeeming

You’ll have quite a few options for redeeming your Hilton Honors points. The value you get for your points will vary depending on how, when, and where you redeem them.

The redemption options are:

  • Free night stays and 5th night free at hotels and resorts
  • On-property purchases, like vacation packages, spa treatments, golf lessons, and more
  • Redemption Experiences like concerts, travel excursions, and others
  • Online shopping and dining experiences
  • Point transfers to airline/rail miles and credit card programs
  • Pooling and transferring points with family and friends

The best methods involve using them for stays at Hilton properties, because you’ll get the highest value per point. We’ll go over a couple examples of how you can use your points to get free night stays at Hilton properties with this card.

Generally, you’ll get a better value for your points when you redeem them at lower-category properties. But this isn’t always the case, because the value of your points will vary based on when and where you book your stay, along with other factors like current events.

The other redemption options will usually provide a lesser value, and they will vary quite a bit depending on the particular deal. We recommend avoiding them because you can get a better deal with free night stays, or by getting your 5th night free.

However, you can also share points with friends and family. This could let you gather a ton of points to use for a special trip or vacation.

Another option is point transfers to a partner travel program. The transfer rate (one point for one mile, one point for two miles, etc.) will vary depending on the particular deal, time of year, and other factors.

There are four travel loyalty program you can transfer to, one rail service and three airline services:

Amtrak Virgin Atlantic Hawaiian Airlines Club Premier

We don’t recommend using this method unless you happen to get a great transfer deal. But there’s no guarantee that you will, and in most cases you’ll be better off with one of the following redemption methods.

Point Redemption Examples

Let’s go over some examples of the two most valuable redemption options to see how they’d work: a free night’s stay, and a 5th night free reward.

Free Night Stays

Using your points to book stays directly is one of the best ways to redeem them. Stays begin at 5,000 points for category 1 properties, the lowest level, and can reach 95,000 for category 10.

Let’s go over an example redemption to see how much your points would be worth. Say you want to spend a night at the theWit Chicago, a DoubleTree property by Hilton in Chicago, Illinois. You’ll get a standard room with a king-sized bed, on the night of March 23rd.

This room would typically cost $132 for a night’s stay. Or, you could get that room for 39,000 Hilton Honors points.

That would mean your points are worth about 0.34 cents each for this particular deal.

How much would you need to spend with your Ascend card to get this room? That will depend on the rate at which you earn your points. The higher the rate, the less you’ll need to spend.

If you spend at the rate of 24.5X points per dollar, for example, you’d need to spend $1,592 to earn 39,000 points. If you only earn at a lesser rate, like 6X points, you’d need to spend $6,500.

When earning at the 24.5X rate, you’d spend $1,592 to get a room valued at $132. That means you’d get a cash back equivalent of about 8.3%, which is pretty good. If you earn any of those points at a lesser rate you’d get a smaller cash back equivalent.

5th Night Free

You’ll get your 5th night free when you use your points to book standard room stays of five nights or more. You must only use points for the booking to be eligible. Up to four free nights are available on stays of 20 consecutive nights.

So you’ll need to save up enough points to book five nights, but you’ll get that 5th night free. For an example, let’s say you want to spend five nights at the Hilton Garden Inn Colorado Springs Airport, in Colorado Springs, Colorado. You’ll be there from March 21st to March 26th.

A standard room would usually cost $126 per night on weekdays, and $115 per night on weekends. This stay consists of 2 weekday nights and 3 weekend nights, for a total cost of $597 for the five nights.

To pay with points, you’d need 30,000 points for a weekday night, and 24,000 for a weekend night. That comes to a total of 132,000 points needed for the five nights. You’ll need to have all those points to book the five nights initially, and then you’ll get your discount.

So how much would you need to spend to earn that many points?

If you earn at the rate of 24.5X points per dollar, you’d need to spend $5,388 to get the 132,000 points. If you earn at a lower rate you’ll need to spend more.

So by spending $5,388, you’ll have enough points for the five-night stay. If you do a straight calculation, you could say you’re getting the equivalent of about 11.1% cash back (because $597 is 11.1% of $5,388).

But you’ll also get a discount of 24,000 points when you book this stay, so you’ll have those points left over. The final cost will end up being only 108,000 points, although you’ll need the full 132,000 to book the room in the first place.

So you’re actually getting a better deal than 11.1% cash back, because you end up with a bunch of points to use next time. If you wanted to use those points for a single free night stay, you could value them at 0.34 cents each, like we saw in our first example. Then they would be worth $81.60 when redeemed.

To add that extra value into our calculations, we would do: $597 + $81.60 = $678.60. That means we would get a cash back equivalent of about 12.6% (because $678.60 is about 12.6% of $5,388).

That’s a pretty great deal, and it shows that you should aim to redeem your points with this method whenever possible.

How to Offset the Annual Fee

The Hilton Honors Ascend card comes with an annual fee of $95, so you should consider how to offset that by earning points. As we saw in the examples above, your points will have different values depending on how you redeem them.

In our first example, you got a cash back equivalent of about 8.3%. If you earn and redeem points to get that equivalent, you’d need to spend $1,145 to earn $95 in cash back.

In the second example, you got a cash back equivalent of about 12.6%. When you can earn and redeem points like that, you’d only need to spend $754 to earn $95.

If you can get that 12.6% rate, or something like it, you’ll be able to offset the annual fee with a fairly small amount of spending per year. If you get the 8.3% rate it will take almost $400 more. And if you get an even lower rate than that, it will take yet more.

So we’ve seen a way to offset the fee by spending as little as $754 per year, which is very cheap. But your own experience may vary, depending on the particular redemption deals you get, the quality of the hotels you stay at, etc.

The Benefits

Annual Weekend Night Reward

You’ll get a free weekend night after spending $15,000 on purchases in any calendar year. A redeemable code will be emailed to you after meeting the threshold.

The code is redeemable for one weekend standard accommodation, double occupancy. Weekend nights refer to Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights. It can be combined with other offers, or added to existing stays.

To redeem the code, you must call 1-800-446-6677 and mention it when booking. The code will expire one year after it’s issued.

This reward can be redeemed anywhere, except for certain properties that are excluded.

If you won’t spend $15,000 with this card per year, consider the basic Hilton Honors American Express Card. It’s a similar offer with no annual fee, but no weekend night reward either.

Complimentary Hilton Honors Gold Status

Cardholders get Hilton Honors Gold status, which is two tiers above the basic Member status. It comes with some nice benefits, like:

  • 25% bonus on all Base Points earned
  • Your 5th night is free when booking reward stays of five nights or more with points
  • Your 2nd guest stays free
  • A discounted rate on rooms
  • Late check-out, express check-out
  • Digital check-in up to 24 hours in advance
  • Complimentary in-room and lobby internet access
  • Room upgrades when available
  • Location-specific benefits like bonus points or complimentary breakfasts

Fast Track to Hilton Honors Diamond Status

Cardholders will be awarded with Hilton Honors Diamond status if purchases for a given year reach $40,000. Diamond status comes with better benefits than Gold, including a 50% bonus on Base Points and a 48-hour room guarantee.

Priority Pass™ Select Access

Cardholders get access to over 600 Priority Pass airport lounges around the world.

10 free lounge visits are provided per year. After that, the entry fee will be $27 per person.

You’ll need to manually enroll in this benefit, and you’ll receive your Priority Pass Select card within 10-14 business days.

Complimentary ShopRunner Membership

Free membership with ShopRunner, which provides free two-day shipping and returns from some online retailers. Cardholders must enroll in this benefit.

Some of the retailers include:

AutoZone Ray-Ban Sunglasses Staples Timberland UnderArmour

Amex Offers

You’ll have access to discounts at a wide variety of merchants — currently there are about 80 different offers available, and the selection changes now and then.

You just need to head to the Amex Offers program and click ‘Add to Card’ for the deals you want. Then, just use your card as you normally would to make a purchase with that merchant. Your savings will appear as a statement credit later on, reducing your account balance. You may or may not earn additional rewards at the regular rate — this will depend on the particular offer.

Many of the deals can be quite valuable, saving you from $5 up through more than $100 for some of them. For most of them, you’ll need to spend a certain amount to get a certain discount. Some of the current offers include:

Merchant Need to Spend Cash Back Maximum Savings
Chewy.com $75 $25 33.33%
H&R Block $30 $10 33.33%
HelloFresh $50 $15 30%
Etsy $40 $10 25%
NBA Store $200 $50 25%
SimpliSafe Home Security $400 $100 25%
Sunglass Hut $200 $50 25%
Hamilton Jewelers $250 $50 20%
OmahaSteaks.com $50 $10 20%

There are many fantastic deals waiting to be had here, though many other credit card issuers will offer a similar service. For example, Chase provides the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, Bank of America has their “BankAmeriDeals” offers, and Discover has the Discover Deals service. You’ll find a range of discounts in all of them.

Save 10% on Some Utilities

Occasionally you’ll be given the opportunity to save 10% on your cable, satellite TV, and/or cell phone bills. Just find the offer and click ‘Add to Card,’ and then use your card to pay for the utility as normal.

Entertainment Access

This benefit, also called Membership Experiences, provides pre-sale tickets to a variety of sports, music, and cultural events, as well as access to certain exclusive experiences. You’ll be able to search by interest, artist, event, or venue.

When this review was written, one available offer was preferred seating at the musical Mlima’s Tale, in New York City. Many theater and live performance offers like this are included.

American Express Personal Loans

Cardholders have the opportunity to apply for a loan through American Express (but only if they have been pre-approved). Loans are offered from $3,500 to $25,000, with fixed interest rates from as low as 6.90% up to 19.97%.

Other Benefits and Perks

There are quite a few other benefits that come with this card, mostly shopping and travel protections. They include:

Purchase Protection: Eligible purchases are covered for accidental damage and theft for 90 days.

Extended Warranty: Manufacturer’s warranties of 5 years or less can be extended for up to one extra year.

Global Assist® Hotline: Provides help when traveling 100 miles or more from home. Cardholders must pay for all third-party costs.

Baggage Insurance Plan: When traveling by common carrier, provides coverage for eligible lost, damaged, or stolen bags. Up to $1,250 for carry-on bags, and up to $500 for checked bags.

For more, see the full set of benefits for the Hilton Honors Ascend Card.

The Costs & Fees

Purchase APR Balance Transfer APR Cash Advance APR
16.99%–25.99% Variable 16.99%–25.99% Variable 26.49% Variable
Annual Fee Foreign Transaction Fee Balance Transfer Fee Cash Advance Fee
$95  0% See Terms 3%; Min $5
Penalty APR Late Fee Returned Payment Fee
29.99% Variable Up to $38 Up to $38

The costs and fees of this card are pretty straightforward. You’ll have an annual fee to pay, and if you revolve a balance from month to month you’ll accrue interest at your given APR. But we recommend paying your balance in full to avoid interest and help your credit.

There’s no foreign transaction fee, which is something we like to see on travel cards. It doesn’t make sense to have a travel card that will charge you extra for spending outside the country. American Express doesn’t have very wide acceptance outside the U.S., but presumably any Hilton property you stay in will take Amex.

See our alternative picks below for some other options without foreign transaction fees and with wider acceptance around the world.

Customer Support

Phone Support

Amex Customer Support 1-800-528-4800
Pay Bill by Phone 1-800-472-9297
Check Application Status 1-800-567-1085
Credit Bureau Unit 1-800-874-2717

American Express has pretty solid customer support, and we usually don’t have a problem when we contact them. For this review, we called them up to learn a bit more about the rewards program of this card.

We were told that our questions were more appropriate for Hilton’s own customer support, and were directed to contact them instead. This was a fair answer on their part, and it didn’t take too long so it was a positive experience overall.

Amex tends to rank highly when it comes to customer service, compared to other credit card issuers. They recently came in first in J.D. Power’s annual Credit Card Satisfaction Survey 2017. They’ve always been coming in either first or second, ever since the inception of the survey in 2007. Give them a call if you need help with your card, and you’re likely to speak with a friendly and knowledgeable rep.

Web Support

You’ll be able to find the Ascend card pretty easily on American Express’s website. Once you do, you can see all of the most valuable features up at the top, with explanations below.

Cardholders of any Amex card can access their live web chat, which may be more helpful than calling them on. That might depend on your reason for contacting them, though. If you have some complicated questions it might be easier to explain to a person on the phone.

They also have a co-browse feature for cardholders. If you agree to use it, this will let an Amex customer support rep see your screen and guide you through a procedure or to the information you need.

The Bottom Line

The Hilton Honors Ascend Card from American Express is a good card option for anyone who spends at least $1,000 or so at Hilton properties every year. If you find yourself in their hotels more often than not, a card like this could probably go a long way for you.

You’ll only need to spend around $750 at Hilton properties to offset the annual fee, assuming you earn at the 24.5X rate and redeem points with a valuable method. Most people will have more varied spending, of course, so it will probably take a bit more than that usually.

This shows how easily you can earn the points you need. But the threshold for the free weekend night is $15,000 per year, so if you won’t spend that much you may want to consider the no-annual-fee version of this card.

The extra benefits are pretty good for a card with a $95 fee. The most important for travelers will probably be the Hilton Honors Gold status and all the perks that come with it. But don’t forget to use your 10 free visits to Priority Pass Select airport lounges, too.

If you tend to stay with Hilton but you don’t quite like this card, there are some others that might suit you better. There are also cards designed for other hotel brands, and cards that are good for travel in general. Take a look at some of those options below to see if one might be a better fit.

How to Apply for the Hilton Honors Ascend Card

You can apply for this card by simply clicking the Apply Now button below. American Express will check your credit reports with the three major credit bureaus when you apply.

Many applicants will get an instant decision in just a few seconds. But in some cases it may take longer. You can check the status of your application any time after you apply.

Qualifications and Requirements

  • You must be 18 to apply.
  • You’ll need to provide your personal identifying information, including SSN, email address, and phone number.
  • You must provide your total annual income, and source of income.
  • If you’re already enrolled in the Hilton Honors program, you’ll be asked to enter your Hilton Honors number.
Hilton Honors Ascend Card
Apply Now

Hilton Honors Ascend Card

For People with
Excellent Credit

  • Annual Fee: $95
  • Interest Rate: 16.99%–25.99% Variable
Quick Card Facts
  • 12X Bonus Points per dollar at participating Hilton Portfolio hotels and resorts
  • A minimum of 12.5X additional Base Points per dollar at Hilton Portfolio hotels and resorts
  • 6X Bonus Points per dollar at U.S. restaurants, supermarkets, and gas stations
  • 3X Bonus Points per dollar on all other eligible purchases
  • 75,000 Bonus Points for spending $2,000 in the first 3 months
  • 25,000 additional Bonus Points for spending an additional $1,000 in the first 6 months
  • Complimentary Hilton Honors Gold status and other benefits
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • $95 annual fee
  • 16.99%–25.99% Variable APR for purchases and balance transfers

Alternatives to the Hilton Honors Ascend Card

Here are some other cards you might be interested in. The first two are other options for Hilton, while the other cards are for different hotel brands. And lastly you’ll find some credit cards designed for general travel spending.

Hilton Honors American Express Card

The Hilton Honors American Express Card is a cheaper option at no annual fee. It also offers less in its rewards program, as you’d expect:

  • 7X Hilton Honors Bonus Points per dollar at participating hotels and resorts in the Hilton Portfolio
    • plus an additional 11.5X Base Points per dollar, at minimum
  • 5X Hilton Honors Bonus Points per dollar at:
    • U.S. restaurants
    • U.S. supermarkets
    • U.S. gas stations
  • 3X Hilton Honors Bonus Points per dollar on all other eligible purchases
  • Signup bonus: 50,000 Bonus Points for spending $1,000 in the first 3 months of card membership

This card provides 7X Bonus Points at Hilton properties, compared to the 12X you get with the Ascend. It also comes with Hilton Honors Silver status, which is a step down from Gold.

Silver status provides a 15% bonus on the 10 Base Points you’d normally earn. That comes to 11.5 Base Points per dollar, for a total of 18.5X points earned when spending with Hilton.

At that rate, you would earn a cash back equivalent of 6.3% in our example above for the free night stay. And in the 5th night free example, you would earn a cash back equivalent of 9.5%.

Besides the difference in the point bonus, there actually aren’t really many significant differences between Silver and Gold Hilton Honors status. So, other than the point bonus, this probably shouldn’t be much of a factor in your decision. They’re both pretty valuable to have if you stay at Hilton properties.

The basic Hilton Honors card lacks the other most valuable perks of the Ascend card, like the weekend night reward and Priority Pass Select access. The other benefits, like Amex Offers and the shopping and travel protections, are pretty much the same for both cards.

So you’ll have less earning potential, but you won’t have to worry about using the card enough to offset an annual fee. If you won’t travel enough to make the fee on the Ascend card worth it, this card provides a cheaper option that still lets you earn points and use some benefits.

Hilton Honors Aspire Card

If the Ascend card isn’t enough for you, maybe the Hilton Honors Aspire Card will do the trick. It’s meant for people who travel frequently, and is more rewarding and more expensive, at $450 per year. But there are several benefits that serve to cut this fee down if you make use of them.

For that price you’ll get:

  • 14X Hilton Honors Bonus Points per dollar at participating hotels and resorts in the Hilton Portfolio
    • plus an additional 15X Base Points per dollar
  • 7X Hilton Honors Bonus Points per dollar at:
    • Flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com
    • Car rentals booked directly from select car rental companies
    • U.S. restaurants
  • 3X Hilton Honors Bonus Points per dollar on all other eligible purchases
  • Signup bonus: 100,000 Bonus Points for spending $4,000 in the first 3 months of card membership

So the Aspire provides 2 more Bonus Points per dollar at Hilton properties than the Ascend. The next group of categories only gets 1 more point per dollar, and they are a bit different. They’re more focused on travel than the Ascend’s categories, and that makes sense for a travel card with a fee this high. The last “anything” category is the same at 3X points, which is too bad that it’s not higher.

The Aspire card comes with complimentary Hilton Honors Diamond status, and the main benefit of that compared to Gold is the 50% bonus you’ll get on Base Points earned. That means you’ll be earning 15 Base Points per dollar. In total, that comes to 29X points per dollar when spending with Hilton, which is quite impressive.

Based on our examples above, when earning at the 29X rate you could get a cash back equivalent of about 9.8%, when redeeming for free night stays. And for 5th night free reward stays, you could get a cash back equivalent of about 14.9%.

That’s a pretty great return on your spending, with the extra Bonus Points and Diamond status providing a nice boost compared to the Ascend card. But that doesn’t even include the benefits, which are also much more valuable than the Ascend’s.

For starters, these include a $100 Hilton on-property credit, which is good for every qualifying stay that you book. To qualify, a stay must be at least two nights at a participating Hilton property. This is a great benefit because you can use it as many times as you’d like, saving $100 every time. This card is for frequent travelers, so you should have quite a few opportunities to use this perk. Even if you only used it three times per year, that would offset the annual fee down to $150.

In addition to that, there’s a $250 annual Hilton Resort credit, which is only available for stays at Hilton Resorts. And there’s more: a $250 annual airline fee credit, which is good for incidental airline fees charged to your account. This doesn’t cover flight tickets, just incidental fees like in-flight food and beverages.

It’s easy to see how you could offset the annual fee down to zero by using these benefits. If you spend enough time traveling each year it shouldn’t be too hard to make this card worth the fee. And this doesn’t even count all the points you’ll earn by spending with the card.

Not only that, we haven’t mentioned the two annual weekend night rewards you can get with this card. One weekend night will be free each year. And cardholders will earn an additional free night after spending $60,000 on purchases with the card in a given year. The Ascend provides one free weekend night per year after spending $15,000, without a chance to earn another.

Priority Pass Select membership is complimentary with the Ascend card, providing unlimited access to those airport lounges. The Ascend only provides 10 free passes to the lounges per year.

The Aspire card is much more expensive than the Ascend ($355 more per year), but frequent travelers should be able to offset that fee pretty easily and get a lot of benefits too. If that sounds like you, check to see if you could make use of all the credits this card can provide, especially the $100 Hilton credit. They could definitely make your stays more comfortable, and quite a bit cheaper too.

Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express

If you prefer Starwood properties over Hilton, you might like the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express (Review). It’s one of the most rewarding hotel cards available, with great redemption options and benefits.

At a $95 annual fee, waived the first year, it’s pretty comparable to the Ascend in price. This card offers:

  • Either 4X or 5X Starpoints® per dollar on eligible purchases at participating SPG hotels and resorts
    • 2 Starpoints for the SPG credit card
    • 2 or 3 Starpoints for being an SPG member, depending on your status
  • 1X Starpoint per dollar on all other purchases
  • Signup bonus: 25,000 bonus Starpoints for spending $3,000 in the first 3 months
  • Signup bonus: 5,000 bonus Starpoints for transferring 20,000 Starpoints to a participating frequent flyer program

This card might seem far less rewarding than the Ascend, but the Starpoints you earn will be quite valuable. You can redeem them in a variety of ways, with the best usually being for free nights at Starwood properties.

We’ve found that your Starpoints can be worth up to 3 cents each in some cases, for a possible cash back equivalent of up to 13% or more. That’s for an example five-night reward stay, where your 5th night will be free, and assuming that you earned points at the 4X rate.

The Ascend and SPG card each have some of the same basic redemption options, like free nights and 5th night free on reward stays. You can also redeem your points for flights, exclusive SPG Moments, or certain travel services. Or you can transfer your points to a number of travel partners, where you’ll get a bonus of 5,000 Starpoints whenever you transfer 20,000 or more.

Cardholders get automatic SPG Preferred status. That comes with some complimentary services and discounts at SPG properties, like free in-room premium WiFi. There’s also a fast track to SPG Gold and Diamond status, which includes automatic Gold status if $30,000 is spent with the card in a given year.

The SPG card is great if you tend to stay at Starwood properties, where more use will get you more benefits; but if you don’t, then it won’t be the card for you.

Hyatt Credit Card

The Hyatt Credit Card is, as you probably guessed, designed to be used at Hyatt hotels and resorts. It’s issued by Chase and has a slightly lower annual fee, at $75.

It offers:

  • 3X World of Hyatt Bonus Points per dollar at Hyatt hotels and resorts
    • plus an additional 5.5X Base Points per dollar, at minimum
  • 2X World of Hyatt Bonus Points per dollar:
    • for airline tickets purchased directly from the airline
    • at car rental agencies
    • at restaurants
  • 1X World of Hyatt Bonus Point per dollar on all other purchases
  • Signup bonus: 40,000 bonus points for spending $2,000 in the first 3 months after account opening
  • Signup bonus: 5,000 bonus points for adding an authorized user to your account and making your first purchase within 3 months

You’ll be able to redeem your points in many of the same ways described for the Hilton Honors Ascend card above. That includes free night stays, exclusive experiences, and in-hotel purchases. Free night stays start at 5,000 points at Category 1 hotels.

Like the Hilton Honors cards above, Hyatt cardholders will get additional Base Points for being hotel members; in this case, World of Hyatt members. In this case, cardmembers get at least 5.5 extra points per dollar spent at Hyatt properties, thanks to their Discoverist status (explained below). That comes to a total of 8.5X points per dollar at Hyatt hotels and resorts.

It’s reasonable to assume that your World of Hyatt points will be worth about 1.8 cents each when you redeem them for free nights. That means you can get the equivalent of around 15.3% cash back, assuming you earn 8.5X points per dollar in total. That’s an excellent offer, better than what you’ll typically get with the Ascend card.

You’ll get one free night’s stay after your first cardmember anniversary, good for a category 1–4 hotel. And then you’ll get one per year after that. Unlike some other hotel cards you won’t get this free night right away, you have to wait a year to get it.

The Hyatt card comes with complimentary Discoverist status, which is the lowest tier in Hyatt’s elite status program. This comes with several benefits, like a 10% point bonus on Base Points, complimentary in-room WiFi, and late check-out. You’ll also get a free night after staying in five different Hyatt brands.

When choosing between hotel credit cards, the main question to ask yourself is where you stay the most. If the answer is Hyatt, you should look to their card offer. If the answer is Hilton, you should check out their offerings through Amex.

General Travel Credit Cards

There are quite a few travel credit cards out there that are designed for traveling in general, rather than staying with one particular hotel brand like the cards above. Let’s take a look at two such cards.

Chase Sapphire Preferred

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® (Review) is a well-known and popular travel credit card. For a $95 annual fee, you’ll get:

  • 2X points for every $1 spent on:
    • travel
    • dining at restaurants
  • 1X point for every $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Signup bonus: 50,000 bonus points when you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months, which is the equivalent of $625 when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Signup bonus: 5,000 points if you make a purchase and add an additional authorized user to your account within the first 3 months
  • 25% point bonus when you redeem points for airfare, hotel stays, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards

So you’ll be able to earn 2X points on travel and dining, no matter which hotel you’re staying in or airline you’re traveling with. You won’t always have to look for Hilton hotels, and you can use the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal to book travel with a wide variety of brands.

The best way to redeem your points is obviously through Chase Ultimate Rewards, where you’ll get a 25% point bonus on travel bookings. That means you’re getting the equivalent of 2.5X points and 1.25X points in those categories. And that comes to an equivalent cash back of 2.5% when you spend in the 2X categories and redeem in that way.

You can also transfer your points to a variety of travel partners with this card, at a 1:1 rate. That’s probably better than the rate you’ll often get with the Ascend card. This makes the Sapphire Preferred a good choice if you have a lot of general travel and dining spending, but prefer traveling with one airline in particular, for example.

The Sapphire Preferred has no foreign transaction fee, like the Ascend card. But the Sapphire Preferred is a Visa card and it will have wider acceptance around the world, so it’s a better choice for traveling abroad.

The Sapphire Preferred is actually a Visa Signature card, meaning it comes with some upgraded benefits. That includes free services at participating hotels, like room upgrades when available, a complimentary breakfast, VIP guest status, and a $25 food and beverage credit. So you’ll still get some hotel benefits, even though this isn’t a hotel-specific card.

Discover it Miles

The Discover it® Miles (Review) is on the cheaper end, with no annual fee. It doesn’t have a lot of great benefits like some of the other cards above, but it’s still pretty rewarding.

  • 1.5 miles per dollar on every purchase
  • 5–50% discounts through the Discover Deals shopping portal
  • Mile Match: the miles you earn in your first year will be doubled

So you’ll get the same reward for every purchase you make, whether it’s related to travel or not. Each mile will be worth 1 cent no matter how you redeem it, whether it’s for travel expenses or just statement credits. This is actually a very rare feature on travel cards, which usually make you redeem for travel expenses if you want to get the best value. But the Discover it Miles provides 1 cent per mile no matter how you redeem.

This means you’ll be getting the equivalent of 1.5% cash back for every purchase you make. And Discover will double the rewards you earn in your first year, which is a great offer. That means you’ll be earning the equivalent of 3% cash back for every purchase in your first year. That’s a very good rate for non-category purchases like this, especially considering the lack of an annual fee.

The extra benefits of the Discover it Miles are a bit meager compared to some other cards, pretty much just consisting of some basic travel and shopping protection. But you’ll also have access to the Discover Deals marketplace, where many discounts can be found at specific retailers.

This card is better for people who don’t travel very much, and may not travel at all in a given year. The lack of an annual fee means you can have this card without worrying about getting your money’s worth. And the fact that you can redeem your miles for statement credits at the full value sets this card apart, making it easier to actually get your rewards than most other travel credit cards. So you can actually use this like a basic rewards card, whether you travel or not.

Do you use the American Express Hilton Honors Ascend Card to earn rewards and travel? How do you like it? Leave your own review, we’d love to hear from you!

Looking for other card options to make your hotel stays more comfortable? Take a look at our picks for the Best Hotel Credit Cards!
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