Today, we’re comparing the Hilton Honors Aspire from American Express and the SPG Luxury Card from the same. Today’s post is special because it was actually reader suggested. Somebody sent me a message specifically asking for a video starring these two cards. I feel like in anyone’s YouTube career, there are a bunch of little milestones. Getting your first sub, getting your first bit of hate mail, getting a thousand subs, getting into the partner program and somewhere in there is a point where people start reaching out with requests. Anyway, I was flattered, so here it is.
This is actually going to be kind of of an easy comparison. They’re both children born out of American Expresses uterus, so things like purchase protection and miscellaneous insurances should be very similar. Usually I have to devote a few minutes to hashing out the differences. Not here. Both provide $10,000 per item or $50,000 per account in terms of purchase protection. That’s coverage for new items purchased using the cards if they’re lost, stolen or damaged.
On the rental car side of things, we’ve got extra-mediocre secondary coverage. Which means coverage from your Starwood Preferred Guest Luxury Card or you Hilton Aspire will pick up where your primary insurance leaves off. If you’re going to book a rental car, you should do it using a Sapphire Reserve or Preferred. At least they’re you’re getting primary coverage, and theoretically wouldn’t need to file a claim with your personal auto coverage provider.
Fees and Signup Bonuses
That housekeeping out of the way, let’s run over the fees and earning potential of each card. Both the Hilton Honors Aspire card and the SPG luxury card will run $450 annually, and that fee is not waived in year one. As a little nugget of appreciation for splurging on their cards, American Express will reward the new Aspire card account-holder with 150,000 Hilton Honors points after spending $4,000 in three months. Alternatively, if you choose the SPG Luxury card, your points-haul will be 75,000 of the new combined Marriott/SPG points after only 3,000 in three months. Very interesting that we see a minimum spend difference among two otherwise similar cards from the same issuer. Not sure what the though process was behind that.
Translating those cryptic signup bonuses into US Federal Reserve notes we first need to take a look at the value of the underlying award currency. I place a very low value of just .38¢ on each Hilton Honors point, I consider it a very-craptacular award currency. Thus, our 150,000-point signup bonus on the Hilton Aspire card from American Express is worth $570. If anyone is curious, or assumes the valuation of under one-half cent per point came straight out of the poop-chute, here is how it was calculated. The same goes for Marriott/SPG points.
Moving on to the just-mentioned award currency, I value them at an even 1 cent each, making the signup bonus of 75,000 points on the SPG Luxury card worth $750.
How to EARN
Past the initial bonuses, we have some earning differences as well. The Hilton Aspire earns 14 points per dollar at Hilton properties, while the SPG Luxury card offers 6 at theirs. These sound like great bonus earn categories, until we consider the underlying currency isn’t worth all that much.
The remaining earn categories for the Hilton Aspire card go something like this: 7 points per dollar on air travel, car rentals and dining and 3 points per dollar on everything else. That last bit, 3 points per dollar on everyday spend is quite terrible when you consider those points are only worth a third of a cent each.
Back on the SPG Luxury card side of things, we’ve got 3 points per dollar on restaurants and air travel plus 2 points per dollar on the remainder.
I injected these numbers into the Excel pixies and came up with this spreadsheet translating bonus earn to return on spend for the Hilton Aspire, SPG Luxury and the Chase Sapphire Reserve.
What we can see here, is that across all spend categories, the SPG luxury beats the Hilton Aspire. We can in turn see that the Sapphire Reserve beats the SPG Luxury across the board.
So right away, we can make the conclusion, that neither of these cards are great earners. The Hilton Honors Aspire card is especially terrible for non-bonus everyday spend. Being beaten handily by even free cards like the Chase Freedom, Citi Double Cash or Amex Everyday Credit Card.
Why to Open Either Card
Obviously, earn on spend isn’t the reason one obtains these cards, they’re quite terrible at that. One opens these cards for statement credits and hotel status.
Let’s talk about the latter first. Hotel status, I’ve always found it extremely hard to place a value on this benefit. It’s massively subjective, and, even worse, somewhat self-deprecating. Hear me out on that last bit. If you happen to spend enough nights per year at a given chain to glean real value from your VIP’ish status, you’d likely have accumulated enough nights to qualify anyway.
The Starwood Preferred Guest Luxury cardholder gains automatic Gold. Big ticket items are the 25% bonus points on stays, room upgrades if available, guaranteed late checkout, enhanced internet and few other things I don’t find valuable enough to talk about. So, it’s like, if Marriott was selling this on the open market, how much would someone pay for it? Back in August, The Points Guy valued this status at $725. I think that’s way too much. The analysis he used assumed an average 30 nights a year. For a business traveler, sure. But for the leisure traveler, a third of that sounds more realistic. Let’s call it $250
The Hilton Aspire cardholder gains access to Hilton’s top tier Diamond status. Here we’ve got 100% bonus points on stays, a fifth night free on award stays, complimentary internet, room upgrades, executive lounge access and some other amenities like free bottles of water and welcome gifts that I consider close to useless. Again, I’m going to start with The Points Guy’s valuation of $2,275, that I also think is ludicrously high. This is based on a ridiculous 54 nights per year. I’m going to discount that down to 10 like I did for the SPG card, giving us an adjusted value of $421, which sounds much more reasonable to me. Again, really worth keeping in mind that if you were to stay the 54 nights assumed in TPG’s valuation, you’d be only 6 shy of the 60 required for Diamond status anyway.
Let’s start with what the SPG Luxury cardholder will be bequeathed and have reimbursed. We’ve got a $300 annual credit to be used at SPG or Marriott properties. I’ve never been a fan of one-merchant-only credits, but I’m assuming the person opening this card has at least some plans to stay at Marriott properties, so I’ll include this benefit’s full-value when we wrap everything up.
In my opinion, the most important benefit granted to the SPG luxury cardholder is the annual free night. You’ll receive one free night at a participating Starwood or Marriott hotel every year. Unfortunately, this is limited to those bookable for 50,000 points or less. Also, you’ll still have to pay any bullshit resort fees.
Referencing the current Marriott redemption chart and we see category 7 hotels currently cost 50,000 points per night off-peak or one could book an on-peak category 5. To translate this into real-world dollars let’s take a look at a couple properties:
|Sample Marriott/SPG Free Night Award Properties|
|Westin NYC Times Square||$342|
|Westin Excelsior Rome||$256|
The Westin New York Times Square would qualify, and for a random date I picked in January is selling for $342 per night. We’ve also got the W Paris available, cash price would be $531. Finally, let’s take a glance at The Westin Excelsior, Rome. It too would qualify or is bookable with cash for $256. Without really trying, and just taking a cursory glance, we’re averaging $375 in value from this perk. This alone nearly covers the cost of the card. Although, it’s really worth noting, that this benefit becomes available AFTER one’s first anniversary. It really does nothing to sway the math for year one.
|Sample Hilton Free Night Award Properties|
|Hilton Paris Opera||$323|
|Hilton Times Square||$204|
Moving over to the Hilton Aspire Card and we’ve actually got quite a lot to unpack, starting with their version of a free night. Sadly, it’s only available on weekends and it specifically excludes a large number of very desirable properties. That list can be found at here. Though the list of exclusions is long, there are still a ton of very sought-after properties available. The Hilton Paris Opera is available in January for $323, as is the Hilton Times Square at $204. Finally, back in Rome we’ve got the Aleph Rome, not sure if I’m pronouncing that correctly, for 272. This gives us an average of $266. Slightly less than what I just calculated the SPG free night at, but still quite nice. Very much unlike the SPG Luxury Card, this benefit is available in year one.
Though I’ll still use the figure of $266 I just quoted above when calculating total values, I decided to go off the rails for a sec and find the most expensive hotels that would qualify for a Hilton Free Night Award. Much to my surprise, the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island is available. Currently selling for $772 per night in January. We’ve also got the Conrad Bora Bora at $803. So, there’s a ton of value to be had if you’re willing to go far to find it.
The Hilton Honors Aspire cardholder will be entitled to a few different statement credits. We’ll start with the $100 on-property credit. When you use your card to book a two-night minimum stay at a Conrad or Waldorf-Astoria hotel, you will receive a $100 on-property credit. Keep in mind, this is a per-booking, not per-year credit. The theme with hotel co-branded cards seems to be difficulty in valuation. How much value one gets here depends entirely on how much one stays at the aforementioned luxury properties, and how much they can actually put that credit to use. I pretty much never stay at those tier-level hotels, so it wouldn’t be all that useful to me. For net-earnings purposes, I’ll just leave it at $100.
Next, we’ve got the $250 annual airline fee reimbursement. Those holding a Platinum Card from American Express should already be familiar with this perk. However, those holding the Hilton Aspire Card from Amex get $50 more than Platinum Cardholders, but are still bound by the same program restrictions. One must select a single-airline, and is only able to change this election once per year. I’ll include the full value of $250 below.
In addition to the $250 annual airline incidentals credit, the Hilton Honors Aspire cardholder will be reimbursed up to $250 annually for charges made at a Hilton property. Unlike the airline credit that is supposed to cover incidentals only, this credit can be used to cover part or all of the room rate. Once again, full value here for net-earn purposes.
Both the SPG and Hilton cards will provide a Priority Pass select membership. Value here depends on one’s travel habits. But let’s just say each visit is worth $10. I know one is charged $37 per visit if actually using a Priority Pass traditional membership, but I think this is grossly overpriced, so I’ll stick with 10. Let’s also assume a modest 5 visits per year, each with a guest, we can then assign a value of $100 to this perk.
Only the SPG Luxury card provides a credit for Global Entry or TSA Precheck. While I’ll still throw $100 in the value column for the Starwood card, I think this lack of benefit is actually a plus for the Hilton Honors Aspire. I’ve talked a lot in the past about benefit overlap. This particular perk is so well-covered, that I’m happy to see card issuers forego it and place value elsewhere.
Total Yearly Earn on Spend
At this point I think we’ve covered the semi-exhaustive basics. Now let’s wrap it all up, starting with year one earnings. As I always do, I’m going to use my own spending patterns and apply them to a hypothetical $20,000 annual spend.
I also like to mention that points and miles travel is a double-edged sword. Typically, the bonuses on travel-related spend categories are great. But because you’re now traveling on award tickets, you end up spending less on airfare/hotels. Just keep that in mind if you’re running your own estimated earnings numbers.
Yearly earnings flesh out as follows, $458.10 for the SPG Luxury Card and 307.62 for the Hilton Honors Aspire. Neither of these are great numbers. As I mentioned before, these cards aren’t very good daily spenders. Running the same numbers for the Sapphire Reserve gives us a value almost $200 more than the SPG Luxury.
Year One Earnings Compared
Now, let’s drop all these numbers into a total year one net earnings comparison. We start with the intro-bonus value we talked about a couple minutes ago. $750 to the SPG Luxury and 570 to the Hilton Aspire. After that, the value of year one earn on spend that we just took a look at. $458 to the SPG and 307 to the Hilton Honors.
Hotel status drops in next, 250 and 421. We’ve also have a bunch of statement credits to include. In the SPG Luxury Card’s column, $300 for the value of the annual Marriot credit. Over on the Hilton Honors side, 250, 100, 250 and $266 for the value of the free night. Notice how a similar entry is not made for the SPG Luxury card? That’s because it’s equivalent benefit doesn’t occur until after the first-year’s anniversary.
We’ll finish things off with $100 each for the Priority Pass Select membership and $100 to the SPG luxury for the TSA Precheck or Global Entry credit.
The very last piece to account for is the $450 annual fee on both, not waived. This brings our net year one value to $1,508 for the SPG Luxury Card and $1,814 for the Hilton Honors Aspire.
Year Two Earnings Compared
Moving on to year two and beyond. The intro bonuses go away, as do the Precheck and Global Entry credits. On the SPG Luxury Card side, we now can include that annual free night. This leaves us with a net value of $1,033 for the SPG Luxury and 1244 for the Hilton Honors Aspire.
I’m not overly surprised with these results. Truth being told, before it being suggested, I wasn’t all that familiar with the Hilton Honors card, but I’m glad we became acquainted. It ended up being more valuable than the SPG Luxury card by $211 in year two.
But, I actually have an alternate ending for you. As mentioned several times in this article, neither of these cards are very good everyday spenders. So, what if, we just opened one or either of these little teases, grabbed the signup bonus but put all other spending on a different card? In this case, the Priority Pass membership and TSA or GE credit would be redundant, so I’ll remove those, and we come up with the following.
$941 in net value for the SPG Luxury and $1,468 for the Hilton Honors. Note also the big drop in year one earn on spend. That’s because we’re now theoretically only running $4,000 through each.
Truthfully, this is exactly how I’d play it. $1,000 in net, non-duplicate value is just great. Not to mention, there is some great upside here. I said earlier that some $750+ hotels were available as a free night award from Hilton, I’d work that angle. The other benefit to avoiding everyday spend on either of these cards is that you’ll instead be earning transferable points. Excluding the old, now-defunct Starpoints, it’s very rare to see a hotel’s award currency ever get redeemed for more than 2¢ per point. Flip that coin over, and start talking Ultimate Rewards or ThankYou Points, and the chance of redeeming for over 5¢ per point becomes a real possibility.
The bottom line, is that neither of these cards can replace a Sapphire Reserve, Citi Prestige or Amex Gold, but either will complement one nicely. If I had to pick one, I’d go with the Hilton Honors Aspire. It has more upside, better credits and provides all these benefits in year one.