One of my favorite things in the world is getting discounted or free travel. For that reason, the best credit card rewards are one of the things that I’m always on the lookout for. Sometimes this can mean going a little overboard, like earning over 1,000,000 points/miles in a three year period, but the value earned has definitely been worth it. If you’re unfamiliar with credit card sign up bonuses and the benefit that they can offer, then check out the post, here, that helps to explain the basics.
On our trip around the world last year, we redeemed a total of over 400,000 points/miles that we had accumulated over time from various credit cards, which saved us thousands of dollars and allowed me to spend less than $37/day while traveling.
We also got a lot of value from Whitney’s Mercedes Benz American Express Platinum card (now discontinued) due to the perks offered. We actually got the card specifically for that trip. The sign up bonus was 60,000 points, and we used some of those points to transfer to Delta to pay for our award flights (to Europe from the US and back to the US from Asia), but we got even more value from the other benefits offered by the card. Specifically, the access to free airline lounges with unlimited food and alcohol (using free Priority Pass membership), as well as the complementary Gold status with both Hilton and Marriott hotels, which got us free breakfasts on our already free hotel nights.
Unfortunately, the $450 annual fee for that card will be due soon, and we don’t think it’s worth paying it to keep for a second year, so we will be cancelling soon. This is a problem, because we’re currently planning another long trip for 2019 and would really like to have the free airline lounge access again on this one.
On To The Next One
I spent some time researching various premium credit cards that offer the Priority Pass Select membership for when we cancel the AMEX Platinum and lose the membership we currently have. This membership is offered by several different cards and is exactly what we need. It offers access to over 1,200 airport lounges around the world and allows the member to bring a guest for free as well. During my research, I found a card that I had somehow never considered before and offered much more benefit than I anticipated!
The Amex Hilton Aspire card is something that I had seen in the past but automatically dismissed because Hilton points are generally not very valuable. This was a big mistake on my part! The points may not be worth as much as other hotels or airlines, but the current bonus is for 150,000 points, which is a ton and can be worth a lot.
The real benefit of this card comes not from just the 150,000 point sign up bonus, but the additional perks offered too. Most notably these include:
- $250 incidental airline credit each calendar year you have the cardSo even if you only keep it fo one year, as long as you don’t sign up right at the end of December, you will get to use it for the current year and the next year before you cancel. Ex: sign up in Jan 2019, get the credit for 2019, and again in Jan 2020 before you cancel!
- $250 credit to be used at any participating Hilton Resort propertyThis can include the cost of the room!
- Priority Pass Select membershipI mentioned the value of this above!
- Hilton Diamond statusTheir highest and most prestigious tier which gives you additional perks like late check out and free breakfast.
- 5th night free benefit when redeeming Hilton pointsThis means book 5 consecutive nights at one location and only pay for 4 nights!
- AND, a free weekend night at any Hilton hotel each year!This can be redeemed at virtually any Hilton property worldwide, except for a few exemptions, regardless of price!
Once I figured out that this card offered all of these perks, I asked Whitney to sign up right away and she was approved! Once she meets the $4,000 spending requirement in the first three months, we’ll be on our way to redeeming the points for a ton of free hotel nights! The downside of this card is that it comes with a $450 annual fee each year, but as I’ll show below, the benefits are worth multiples of that fee.
How We Plan to Make the Most of the Benefits
- $500 in southwest airlines gift cards ($250 this year and $250 next year before cancelling the card) using the airline incidental fee reimbursement which resets each calendar year.
- This is a loophole of sorts since this is meant to only be used for incidental charges but works for gift cards for the time being. It also works for Delta and American Airlines gift cards. This has been known for years and doesn’t seem to be a secret or going away any time soon. Read more about this here.
- $250 at a Hilton resort propertyWe aren’t sure where we will use this credit yet, but we’re looking at some places in Florida that should work for a night or two pretty well for us.
- 150,000 Hilton points for approximately 18 free hotel nights in Europe!6 nights at the Vienna Hilton Garden InnNormally $130/night for the dates that we will be there.
- 6 nights at the Krakow Hampton by HiltonNormally $75/night for the dates that we will be there.
- 6 nights at Double Tree by Hilton in BratislavaNormally $124/night for the dates that we will be there.
- All of these hotels are 10,000 points per night which would normally be a total of 180,000 points for the 18 nights, but due to the 5th night free benefit I mentioned above, we will only have to use 150,000 points!
- Free weekend night
We will likely be using this free night at The Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam. This is a 5-star hotel! If we paid out of pocket for this hotel, it would cost us a whopping $850 for the night we’re planning to stay!
- Free breakfast during all 19 of the free hotel stays above due to having the Diamond Hilton status that comes with this card.Breakfasts offered by different hotels vary quite a bit but are usually all you can eat with great food. I value these free breakfasts at about $10 each, and we both will get free breakfast for each night we stay, making that a value of approximately $20 per day x 19 days = approximately $380 in value!
- Diamond status will hopefully also get us upgrades on some of those stays (fingers crossed).
The upgrades seem to be hit or miss but can include suites. We’re hoping that we get upgraded to a suite at least once out of all the nights we’ll be staying at the Hilton properties.
- Free priority pass airline lounge access where available.This is hard to value because we don’t know how many of the airports where we will be going have lounges, and the amenities in the lounges vary. Based on our trip last year though, we got at least $400 each in value out of the Priority Pass in the five months we were traveling.
Total Value of Benefits
If we add up everything above, that’s over $4,000 in value from this card which is almost 10 times the $450 annual fee!
This is a bit of an unfair comparison though in my opinion, because I would never pay out of pocket for those hotels if they weren’t free. I’d get a much cheaper AirBnB instead like we did for most of the night on our last trip. The hotels are generally much nicer than the cheap AirBnBs that we find though, which is a benefit and shouldn’t be discounted too steeply.
To get a more reasonable estimate of the amount that we will save from using the sign up bonus and benefits from this card, I’m going to divide everything from above in half. This means we’ll get about $2,000 in total realistic value from this card in exchange for the $450 fee. Not a bad deal at all, and perfect for us!
**I’d like to also mention that Hilton does have some properties that are only 5,000 points, most notably in Egypt, Turkey, and Indonesia. If we chose to use our points and the 5th night free perk at those properties, we could stay for an astounding 37 nights for free just with the 150,000 point sign up bonus! One of them is this beautiful looking resort on the Egyptian coast. At an average price of $58/night in the summer, 37 nights here would be worth $2,150 alone not even considering all the other benefits the card offers! With the right redemptions, the Hilton Aspire credit card is a steal!
If you combine getting this card with also getting the current sign up bonus of 50,000 miles with the Amex Gold Delta, and it’s easy to come up with some fabulous trip options for a very low price. For reference, Whitney and I just booked 2 one way tickets from Rome back to Virginia for a total of 50,000 points.
Another Available Option
If the $450 annual fee is too much for you to justify (I completely understand, and it took me quite a while to be comfortable with paying that amount even with the value offered) or you don’t think you’d be able to meet the minimum spending requirement of $4,000 in three months, then there’s another option.
The basic version of the Amex Hilton card offers a 100,000 point sign up bonus, only requires $1,000 of spending in the first three months, and has no annual fee to worry about. It doesn’t come with all the additional perks (besides the 5th night free), but we could still use those 100,000 points for 12 free nights on our trip— and you can too!
The Amex Hilton Aspire credit card is a much better value than I originally thought and worth much more than the annual fee for the first year. If you have an upcoming trip or trips, then it’s definitely a card to consider!
I hope that this article has provided you with value and given you some things to consider regarding your next credit card sign up bonus.
**If you decide to sign up for any of the cards mentioned above, we would greatly appreciate if you use the links in the post, as you’ll get the best offer currently available for the cards, and we will also get a referral bonus! This is a great way to support the site and our future travels if you enjoy what we write about :).**
Where are you going on your next trip??