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Hilton Honors Ascend Card

Our Two Cents: Hilton Ascend Credit Card Review

The Ascend (the card formerly known as the Hilton Surpass) has always been a Penny Jar favorite. If you stay at hotels two to three times a year and don't mind remaining loyal to Hilton, this card is packed with benefits. With the ability to earn 100,000 Hilton points as a new card member, complimentary gold status, and a complimentary weekend night if you spend $15,000 on the card in a calendar year, this card has quite a bit to offer. You'll need to balance these perks against the card's $95 annual fee though, and if you can't remain brand loyal a generic rewards card will be a better bet. Let's take a closer look to see what makes sense for you.

Counting Your Pennies - How To Earn Points with the Ascend Card

First, let's talk about that new customer bonus. As a new customer, you'll be able to earn up-to 100,000 points after being approved for the card. Earn 75,000 points after you spend $2,000 or more in purchases with your card within 3 months of account opening. If you spend an additional $1,000 in the first 6 months, you'll earn an additional 25,000 points. We value this bonus at about $500. We'd also recommend trying to put about $1,250 a month on this card anyway, as long as you can pay the balance in full each month of course. You'll want to spend 15k a year in order to qualify for the additional complimentary weekend night!

For ongoing earning rates, the Ascend card has a tiered reward structure, meaning you'll earn different rates depending on your purchase. 

  • 12x points - Eligible Hilton purchases will earn 12x per dollar. This will typically include charges made directly with the hotel, such as direct hotel bookings (sorry, no Orbitz), charges during your stay, and gift cards.
  • 6x points - You'll earn 6x points on eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants, supermarkets, and gas stations.
  • 3x points - Earn 3x points on all other eligible purchases.

What does "eligible" mean? There are four things to consider when trying to determine what point structure your purchase will qualify for:

  • American Express relies on merchant codes to issue you points.  For example, you might be buying groceries at Target, but the store codes as a department store so you will not earn 6x points. 
  • Any item you return is not an eligible purchase. If you return an item, AmEx can take those points back. 
  • In categories like airfare or car rentals, the purchases need to be made directly with the airline (sorry Priceline) or with AmEx travel.
  • In other categories, there are geographical restrictions. For example, gas stations and restaurants only qualify for additional points for purchases made in the U.S. #MAGA

12x points sounds like a lot, but what does that mean? Generally, we value Hilton points at half a penny, making this card effectively a card that earns rates comparable to earning 6%/3%/1.5%  cash back in the respective category. We have redeemed points for over a penny each on some occasions though.

How do you determine value? Create a Hilton account if you don't already have one. Search for a hotel you are interested in points, and then do a separate search in cash for the same dates. Let's say a hotel stay was going to cost you $195 a night or 25,000 points. That makes your point value over 0.7 cents each. We'd consider this a good booking. If you see values less than half a cent each, you're probably better off using cash.

Here's an overview of booking rewards with Hilton.

We should probably assign a value to Gold status as well. Gold will net you an additional 25% on all Hilton points earned. Note, this is through Hilton, not a bonus on your AmEx rewards. Discounted hotel rates (typically $5-$10 a night when booking through, 5th night free if you book a stay of 5 nights using points, and complimentary breakfast for 2 at most Hilton properties. 

If you earn 10,000 points a year, the 25% bonus will get you 2,500 additional points, which we value at $12.50. If you are able to make use of the breakfast for two during four nights, the value there is about $80. At this point, you've gotten $92.50 in value out of the card, without even considering your points. As we mentioned, being able to stay at Hilton 2-3 times a year is really when this card starts to make sense.

Who Should Get It?

Hilton has over 570 worldwide properties. You should almost always be able to find one when you travel. The benefits of Gold are solid. If you can stay at a Hilton property twice a year, this card is for you. Bonus if you are able to put $1,250 a month on the card for that complimentary night, but we feel like the card is a good value even if you can't. On the low end of it's rewards earning this card is comparable to the common 1.5% cash back cards, so you aren't losing much, if anything there.

Who Shouldn’t Get it?

The extreme deal seeker. Are you going to book a hotel 100% based on where you can find the absolute lowest price, regardless of benefits? If a hotel is just a place to sleep for you, without any other considerations, a branded hotel credit card probably doesn't make much sense. Skip this card and opt for a cash back or rewards travel card. They will suit you better.

Additionally, if you have Fair/Poor/No Credit  (AKA anything under 680), you probably want to hold off on applying. AmEx is looking for customers with good-excellent credit. If you're in that boat, check out some products for those that need to build credit.

Final Thoughts

We feel like AmEx shines most with its hotel cards. Both the Hilton and Starwood products are well thought out products that bring good value to savvy users. If you're interested in Hilton, pull the trigger. If you're not ready to commit to a card with a $95 annual fee, take a look at the Ascend's little brother, the Hilton from American Express. If you're looking for even more value (with a $450 annual fee), check out the Hilton Aspire.

Ascend® Card Highlights

  • $95 Annual Fee
  • Earn 12X points for charges with a participating hotel or resort within the Hilton Portfolio.
  • Earn 6X points for charges at eligible 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.
  • Terms Apply
  • Apply Now

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Hilton Aspire Card

  • $450 Annual Fee
  • Earn 14X points for charges with a participating hotel or resort within the Hilton Portfolio.
  • Earn 7X points for eligible flights, car rentals, and restaurants.
  • Earn 3X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for all other eligible purchases on your Card.
  • Terms Apply

Hilton Honors Business Card

  • $95 Annual Fee
  • Earn 12X points for charges with a participating hotel or resort within the Hilton Portfolio.
  • Earn 6X points for charges at eligible restaurants, gas stations,flights, car rental, and wireless services.
  • Earn 3X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for all other eligible purchases on your Card.
  • Terms Apply

Hilton Honors Credit Card

  • $0 Annual Fee
  • Earn 7X  Points per dollar of eligible purchases directly with Hilton properties
  • Earn 5X Points per dollar at U.S. restaurants, supermarkets, and gas stations.
  • Earn 3X Points for all other eligible purchases.