Hilton Improving Credit Card Benefits — Including Diamond Status Just for Signup

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Over the summer we learned that American Express scored an exclusive relationship with Hilton pushing aside the dual-issuer scenario where both Amex and Citbank had been issuing Hilton cards for years.

With that exclusivity set to go into effect at the beginning of 2018 Hilton is rebranding their cards, adds a suite of benefits and introducing two new cards with effect on January 18th. This is all about new benefits and nothing is being taken away, which isn’t something we see very often.

Conrad Bangkok

American Express will go from offering two Hilton cards to four.

Hilton Honors American Express Card

The no annual fee Hilton Honors American Express Card stays the same but eliminates foreign transaction fees.

It used to be quite rare to find a no annual fee rewards card that didn’t impose foreign transaction fees. And American Express was fairly late to waiving them generally, at least beyond their Platinum card, with these fees eliminated from Starwood cards only two years ago when that co-brand was last re-upped.

Hilton is the only hotel chain that offers a no fee card that also comes with some modicum of status, though Silver doesn’t get you much and if you’re going to spend enough in a year on the card — $20,000 — to earn Gold status you should probably be putting that spend on a different product.

Earning on the card isn’t bad at 7X Hilton Honors Bonus Points at hotels and resorts in the Hilton portfolio worldwide; 5X Hilton Honors Bonus Points at U.S. grocery stores, U.S. restaurants, and U.S. gas stations; 3X Hilton Honors Bonus Points on all other eligible purchases.

Hilton Bora Bora Nui

Hilton Surpass Card Becomes Ascend — With Some Cool New Perks

The Hilton HonorsTM Surpass® Card from American Express is going to become the Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card. So that’s a rebranding.

It is still a $75 annual fee card but transitions to $95 with the change, still earn 12 Honors points per dollar on eligible Hilton purchases, 6 points per dollar at U.S. restaurants, US supermarkets, and US gas stations, and 3 points per dollar on all other eligible purchases.

And cardmembers will still get complimentary Gold status in the Honors program, and $40,000 on eligible purchases each calendar year earns Diamond status through the end of the next calendar year.

This card was the very first in the US that I can recall to offer a Priority Pass Select card for lounge access. However it did not provide any free visits. That will change. The new card will come with 10 free visits per year.

Like the no annual fee card, foreign transaction fees are waived. And they’ve taken inspiration from the Citi Hilton Reserve Card and will award a free weekend night each year after spending $15,000 in purchases on the card in a calendar year.

Those are significant upgrades — an additional free night based on modest spend, and free Priority Pass lounge visits — at the same price point and without taking away benefits.

Conrad New York

New Small Business Card

The Hilton Honors American Express Business Card will be introduced in January. It’s the small business equivalent of the $75 annual fee card, tailoring bonus spend categories more towards businesses and offering the possibility of an additional free night.

Earning will be:

  • 12X Hilton Honors Bonus Points at hotels and resorts in the Hilton portfolio worldwide
  • 6X Hilton Honors Bonus Points on U.S. gas stations, wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service producers and U.S. purchases for shipping
  • 6X Hilton Honors Bonus Points on U.S. restaurants, flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com, and car rentals booked directly from select car rental companies

The card comes with Hilton Honors Gold status and lets you earn Diamond after spending $40,000 in purchases on the card in a calendar year.

Like the person card as well, cardmembers earn one free weekend night after $15,000 in purchases on the card in a calendar year. However it also offers a second weekend night after spending $60,000 in purchases on the card in a calendar year. That for many people will make the small business card somewhat more appealing.

The card will come with Priority Pass with 10 annual visits, and has no foreign transaction fees as well.

This card remains great for Hilton Gold status, and the addition of free Priority Pass visits is a nice bonus. The price of status – so breakfast at many full service properties and avoiding the bad rooms at the hotel — is $75.

View from the Conrad Miami

New Card With Complimentary Diamond Status, No Spend Required

The new Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card debuting in January is a co-brand entry into the premium rewards credit card game. It’s a $450 annual fee card.

The card comes with complimentary Hilton Honors Diamond status. It comes with a free weekend night each cardmember year. But of those are available with no spend. A second weekend night is awarded after $60,000 in purchases in a calendar year.

Offsetting the fee are:

  • $250 airline incidental fee credit per calendar year. This runs on the same rails as American Express’ current fee credit system. You’ll choose one airline, and presumably certain electronic gift cards will continue to work for reimbursement even though they aren’t supposed to.

  • $250 Hilton resort statement credit per cardmember year. So be sure to stay at one resort per year and pay with the card to maximize value from the product.

  • $100 on-property credit at Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts and Conrad Hotels & Resorts but to receive this you have to book “the exclusive Aspire Card package” which I expect to be a competitive rate but higher than paying a corporate or AAA rate.

Conrad Koh Samui

The card comes with Priority Pass with unlimited visits and no foreign transaction fees.

Points earning is greater, but you’d expect that:

  • 14X Hilton Honors Bonus Points at hotels and resorts in the Hilton portfolio worldwide
  • 7X Hilton Honors Bonus Points on flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com, car rentals booked directly from select car rental companies and at U.S. restaurants
  • 3X Hilton Honors Bonus Points on other purchases

Hilton Honors points are pretty clearly worth 4/10ths of a cent apiece making actual spend on the card not super compelling outside of paying for actual Hilton stays where I see this as roughly equivalent to paying with a Chase Sapphire Reserve Card.

This strikes me as a great card to have for Diamond status if you value that, and then to use at Hiltons. It’s not a great ongoing spend value product.

Now That Diamond is a Key Credit Card Perk It’s Time to Step Up the Value of Status

Hilton has been talking for some years about revamping their elite benefits. Today they do not promise standard suites to Diamond members if available. They do not offer breakfast across their luxury properties. They do not guarantee late check-out.

It was a clear priority for them to focus on making small amounts of points relevant, Hilton Honors points need to matter to guests if their ‘book direct’ campaign is going to be successful.

But with that now launched it seems time to revisit the benefits of Diamond. The key to acquiring premium cardmembers – when the fundamental selling proposition is Diamond status for signing up for a card – is for that status to have value.

American Express Acquires Existing Citi Hilton Accounts, January 30th Transition

American Express acquired Citi’s back book of Hilton cards and so Citi Hilton cardmembers will receive new American Express cards.

Existing Citi cardmembers may want to sign up for Amex versions of the card before they get sent American Express cards automatically, since presumably when you’re transitioned you won’t receive a signup bonus.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. For the Aspire card is that a free night each year plus a one a year $250 resort credit? Assuming you stayed at Hilton twice each year, once at a resort, that would make the card pretty compelling.

  2. How will the “once in a lifetime bonus” situation work with transition to ascend?

    Could I cancel my Surpass at end of December and open Ascend in January and get whatever the opening bonus is?

    I’m sure there is some level of “we’ll have to wait and see, but are there precedents from other changes?

  3. This card is going to massively increase the number of Hilton Diamond gusts, it would seem to be extremely difficult to ALSO increase the benefits associated with diamond status considering the large influx of diamonds they will see…

  4. Hilton points are actually worth less than Skypesos, but not by much. And Amex is headed in a downhill spiral. No thanks.

  5. Hotels are REALLY decreasing the value of top tier status. I would love to have this card, but if I earned Diamond the regular way, I would be LIVID.

  6. Gary,
    Is it only Citi cardholders that will be transitioned to these new products in 2018? Or will existing AmEx Hilton cardmembers (specifically curious about Surpass holders, here) also be product-changed?
    If current AmEx holders’ card will indeed be converted, the advice would be the same: to sign up for the new version before receiving one’s replacement, correct?

  7. 1. My Citi Hilton Visa is going away.
    2. My Hilton Surpass card will become Ascend (I spend $40,000 for Diamond each year)

    So it looks like in my situation I should get the Aspire for Diamond and other perks. Then for everyday spend I’ll use my Chase Sapphire Reserve.

    Should I apply for the Aspire as soon as available?

  8. To a degree, I disagree w valuation of points. If I buy 4 nights with all points, the 5th night is free. On a $300 a night room, the value goes from $1200 to $1500, a 25% increase!

  9. Will the priority pass 10x fire visits (for the Surpass/Ascend) just be for the primary cardholder with co-pays for guests, or can you combine visits, for example 5 visits for cardholder and guest? Thanks.

  10. Will the $250 resort credit be valid at Hilton branded resorts, or at resort branded hotel in the Hilton family? In other words, will it apply at a Conrad resort?

  11. What Hilton should do is drop the stay/nights requirement for diamond to what it is for gold since they are giving out gold so freely anyway and do a new level with the same stay/night requirements for diamonds currently that is above diamond and offer better benefits like suite certificates, priority for upgrades over diamonds, and a free hot breakfast if there is no lounge and a guaranteed 4 p.m. check out. It’s absurd that someone like me who spends 70 nights a year at Hiltons is competing for upgrades against someone that has a $450 AF credit card or who puts $40K a year in purchases.

    SPG and Hyatt treats their top tiers a lot better than Hilton but it is also harder to get that status. I’m hoping now that Hilton is making diamond status even easier to get they will add a new tier for people that stay at their hotels frequently and/or don’t diminish the benefits even more.

    I’ve stayed at a couple Hiltons where the FD agent will look at your stay activity when giving out upgrades and I hope more Hilton’s start doing this.

  12. @joelfreak – if you’re still loyal to only one hotel chain it’s past time to play the field. Grab a few credit cards for status and then just look for the best rate. CCs have made it much easier to be disloyal.

  13. Gary – now that Diamond is a key perk, Hilton will likely make it worse, not better (and it was already arguably the least valuable top tier status out there, for all the reasons we know why, i.e., absence of meaningful guarantees & written benefits, which matter to every single reader on this blog save one)

  14. @Robert I still need the ability to sell into properties, as sometimes conventions sell out hotels I need to be in…I also stay enough to be top tier in 2 chains…but as someone who hits that 50 or 60 night mark, having Joe-CC march in and get the same treatment as I did would make me mad. Don’t get me wrong, as someone who has a number of top CC’s I want this status…but I see both sides of the coin.

  15. Does the Ascend count as a different “product” from the Surpass, when it comes to a sign-up bonus? (“Welcome bonus offer not available to applicants who have or have had this product.”)

  16. too many places don’t accept American express; I wish Hilton honors had stayed with visa. I think it was $10K to get a free weekend room, instead of $15 K, and I got to the $10K with dental/medical providers who don’t take American Express. Guess I’m back to Marriott.

  17. I will probably downgrade my card, so I can apply for the new Ascend card. Hopefully it will have a good promo. One of us has Gold thru Amex Platinum, so no reason to pay. But you would think that they would want to compete against IHG Rewards card that gives an annual free night in any hotel. Who cheaped out? Amex or Hilton?

  18. Amex is not accepted in many many places. That does not work for us. We will deeply miss Hilton Honors Citibank card.

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