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The Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card is one of the few co-brand cards we think provides truly outstanding value—even if you only spend a couple of nights a year with Hilton.
Most hotel cards are designed for brand loyalists, and it only makes sense to have the card if you stay a lot of nights (and spend a lot of money) with the hotel. The Hilton Ascend is a refreshing exception. In fact, we’d go so far as to say the Hilton Ascend is the best co-brand hotel card for the vast majority of travelers, particularly those that don’t already hold elite status with any of the major brands.
In addition to an extensive list of perks and the ability to earn a boatload of Hilton Honors points. It also tops our list of co-brand cards as one of the last cards with a welcome offer of 100,000+ points, delivering 125,000 bonus points after you use your new Card to make $2,000 in eligible purchases within the first 3 months of Card Membership (Terms Apply).
Unlike recent offers for Marriott, IHG, and Hyatt co-branded cards, the Hilton Ascend doesn’t come with harsh restrictions that prevent you from getting approved if you’ve opened too many cards in the past two years. Holding a different Hilton co-brand card also won't affect your eligibility, making this one of the most accessible rewards cards on the market.
In today’s post, we’ll break down why the Hilton Ascend may be one of the most valuable cards you can hold without paying a huge annual fee.
- Earn 125,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points with the Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card after you use your new Card to make $2,000 in eligible purchases within the first 3 months of Card Membership.
- Earn a Weekend Night Reward from Hilton Honors after you spend $15,000 on purchases on your Card in a calendar year.
- Earn 12X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for each dollar of eligible purchases charged on your Card directly with a hotel or resort within the Hilton Portfolio.
- Earn 6X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for each dollar of eligible purchases on your Card at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets, and U.S. gas stations.
- Earn 3X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for all other eligible purchases on your Card.
- Spend $40,000 on eligible purchases on your Card in a calendar year and you can earn Hilton Honors Diamond status through the end of the next calendar year.
- $95 annual fee.
- Terms Apply.
- Rates & Fees
Free Breakfast and Upgrades Thanks to Hilton Gold Status
The most noteworthy benefit of the Hilton Ascend is complimentary Hilton Honors Gold Elite status for as long as you hold the card. Hilton Gold is far and away the best mid-tier hotel status to maintain, especially if you are not a frequent traveler. It takes just one or two stays with complimentary breakfast, and potentially Executive Lounge access if you get upgraded, for the value of Hilton Gold to eclipse the out-of-pocket expense of holding the card.
Hilton Gold status perks include:
- an 80% bonus on points earned from paid stays (18 points per dollar spent)
- a 5th night free on award stays
- Complimentary breakfast at most Hilton Hotels for you and a companion
- Access to the hotel's executive lounge at select properties
- Space-available upgrades at Waldorf-Astoria, Conrad, Curio, Hilton, and DoubleTree
You can also earn Hilton Diamond status with the Hilton Ascend when you spend $40,000 on the card in a calendar year, but we wouldn't recommend it. If you want top-tier status, the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card provides complimentary Diamond Status as one of its flagship perks. For most cardholders, the ideal annual spending on Hilton Ascend card will be around $15,000.
If you want automatic Hilton Gold status, but you decide this card isn't a good fit, the The Platinum Card® from American Express includes mid-tier status with both Hilton and Marriott along with an extensive list of other benefits for a $550 annual fee. (Terms Apply – Rates & Fees)
Leverage the Hilton Ascend Welcome Offer for Free Nights
There aren't many cards currently offering over 100,000 bonus points, and the Hilton Ascend is one of the only options that doesn't require a huge amount of spending to earn the full bonus. Since you can only get a welcome offer once per lifetime on each card from Amex, it's especially important to time your application to maximize your points.
- 125,000 bonus points after you use your new Card to make $2,000 in eligible purchases within the first 3 months of Card Membership is one of the top offers we've seen on this card, so the timing is good.
So what kind of value can you pull from 125,000 Hilton points?
At the low-end of Hilton's award chart, budget-savvy travelers can snag affordable hotels in highly-sought-after destinations like Bali or Hanoi for as little as 5,000 or 10,000 Hilton points per night—leaving you plenty of points in your account for future redemptions. For extended stays, the fifth night free on award bookings will lower your cost even more.
If you want to experience Hilton's high-end brands, 125K will likely get you just one or two nights maximum, with the majority of Hilton's mid- and top-tier properties fetching between 70K and 100K points per night.
Maximize Your Value with $15,000 in Annual Spending
The earning potential of the Hilton Ascend is where things get interesting. Thanks to the free weekend night certificate earned after $15,000 in purchases, the return on that first $15K is much higher than many cards touted as top cards for non-bonus spending.
With many hotel cards, free-night certificates can't be used at properties that cost more than a certain number of points. These “caps” on free nights often eliminate half of your options (i.e. all the expensive and nice properties). With Hilton, the free night earned after 15K in annual spending can be used at almost any hotel or resort worldwide, provided it's not on the list of around 50 excluded properties.
If you give a conservative value of 0.5¢ per Hilton point, the Hilton Ascend earns:
- 12X points on Hilton purchases (6% return)
- 6X points on purchases at U.S. supermarkets, U.S. restaurants, and U.S. gas stations (3% return)
- 3X points on all other purchases (1.5% return)
If you can manage $1,250 per month to reach the $15K annual threshold, the earning rates for this card look even better. There are plenty of Hilton properties fetching north of $400 per night where you could use your certificate, but for this calculation, we'll give it a conservative value of $300, or 2% of $15K. If you add that to the points you already receive on bonus category spending, on the first $15K, you now earn:
- 8% return on Hilton purchases
- 5% return on purchases at U.S. supermarkets, U.S. restaurants, and U.S. gas stations
- 3.5% return on all other purchases
That is a huge boost in value on the first $15,000 spent on the card each year—more than enough to prioritize the Hilton Ascend over a basic 2% cash back card for non-bonus spending.
Priority Pass Lounge Access Without the Premium Card Fee
Another game changer when Hilton announced the new Amex cards was the addition of ten Priority Pass lounge visits. The Hilton Ascend is the only consumer rewards card charging a sub-$100 annual fee that comes with Priority Pass access. If you already hold a premium rewards card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve® (which provides unlimited Priority Pass visits), this perk will not hold any value.
But for those who only need Priority Pass a few times per year, this is a fantastic perk that can land you airport lounge access without the huge fee of a premium travel rewards card.
No Complex Application Rules
Unlike the overly complicated rules introduced for the new Marriott cards, or Chase's 5/24 policy which restricts approvals to applicants with less than five new credit cards opened in the previous 24 months, Amex's application rules are relatively basic. If you've had this card previously or the Hilton Surpass, you won't qualify for the welcome offer on this card, and you can only hold a maximum 4-5 Amex credit cards at the same time. This last rule doesn't apply to charge cards like the Amex Platinum, only Amex credit cards.
“Welcome offer not available to applicants who have or have had this Card or the Hilton Honors Surpass Card. We may also consider the number of American Express Cards you have opened and closed as well as other factors in making a decision on your welcome offer eligibility.”
However, there is no rule preventing you from acquiring this card if you currently hold another Hilton Amex card. Many folks struggle to get back under 5/24, even committing to a conservative rewards strategy, which makes cards like the Hilton Ascend so much more valuable for long term award travelers.
Important Note: If you already have a different Hilton card, Amex will likely offer you an upgrade (which won't earn the 125,000 point welcome bonus) if you log in to your Amex account to autofill the application details. If you want to apply for a new card, you'll want to choose to “Apply without logging in.”
Featuring a great welcome bonus, high earning potential, complimentary Gold Elite status, and a host of other top perks for a card at this price point, the Hilton Ascend has cemented its place as one of our top hotel rewards cards. Whether you're over 5/24 and no longer qualify for Chase cards, or you want to round out your rewards card portfolio with a high-quality hotel card, you would be hard pressed to find a better co-brand card than the Hilton Ascend, particularly if you don't travel enough to reach elite status the hard way.
For rates and fees of the cards mentioned in this post, please visit the following links: Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card (Rates & Fees), and The Platinum Card® from American Express (Rates & Fees)
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