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American Express “Refreshes” the Hilton Honors Aspire Card, Removes Key Benefits

Today, we’re diving into the recent changes to the Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express. Unfortunately, I have to start by saying that these changes are, overall, less than thrilling, especially when we consider the devaluation of Hilton Honors Diamond status in recent years.

Annual Fee Hike
First up, the annual fee has undergone a substantial “refresh,” but it’s not the kind we typically celebrate. It’s shooting up from $450 to $550, marking a whopping $100 increase. This increase is already in effect for new applicants, and existing cardmembers will start feeling the pain from renewals on or after February 1, 2024.

Priority Pass Lounge Access, Gone
Perhaps the most significant loss with this refresh is the removal of Priority Pass membership. If you enrolled or renewed your Priority Pass membership before January 31, 2023, it’s valid until January 31, 2024. For those who did so between February 1, 2023, and January 31, 2024, your membership extends until October 31, 2024. Lounge access is a key feature many seek in a premium card, and it’s quite disappointing to see it go at this price point. Comparing this to its competition, the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card, also from AmEx, still offers Priority Pass membership. When consumers are paying $500+ a year for a credit card, they tend to expect some form of lounge access. Admittedly, just like Hilton’s domestic properties, Priority Pass lounges within the U.S. just aren’t up to par with the competition; regardless, Priority Pass is about the lowest common denominator of most $500+ cards, so seeing even that getting the axe is very disappointing.

Resort Credit Expansion, with a Catch
On the bright side, the resort credit has nearly doubled in size, going from $250 to $400. But, here’s the catch – it’s gotten more difficult to use, as it’s now split into two parts: $200 for January-June and another $200 for July-December. I hear Hilton’s resorts have really good towels, so there’s that.

Changes in Airline Credits
Starting on January 1, 2024, the card will no longer include the $250 airline incidental fee credit. Instead, it’s replaced by a $50 quarterly airfare statement credit, which you can already utilize for eligible flight purchases made directly with an airline or through amextravel.com. While this change doesn’t bode well for many, there are a couple of silver linings. You can use this credit with various airlines throughout the year, and it now seems to cover airfare, not just incidental fees.

Extra Free Night Reward – at a Cost
Cardholders now have the opportunity to earn a third annual free night reward, in addition to the ones upon renewal and after spending $60,000 in a calendar year. However, the opportunity cost of spending that much money on the Aspire card is quite substantial. The return on basic spend isn’t exactly anything to write home about; I value Hilton Honors points at around 0.5 cpp (cents per point), meaning at 3x for non-bonus spend, you’re pulling about 1.5% in return. Unless you’re finding redemptions with serious outsize value (likely international + using 5th night free), chances are even your local credit union’s cashback card provides a similar return, and we’d venture to guess they don’t charge $550 a year for it.

CLEAR Plus Membership Credit
This card offers a CLEAR Plus membership credit of up to $189 a year, enough to cover the annual membership for one person. It’s a nice perk but not groundbreaking, as several cards offer similar benefits. While CLEAR Plus can be useful at times and it’s nice to have options, oftentimes the standard TSA PreCheck line is shorter, and you’ll still need a PreCheck or Global Entry membership to avoid taking off your shoes or removing laptops and liquids. I do have a CLEAR Plus membership, as my AmEx Platinum includes it as a benefit. However, I wouldn’t get a card solely just to have CLEAR, nor would I spend my own money on a membership.

Emerald Club Executive Status
Like the Surpass Card, which also underwent a refresh, the Hilton Honors Aspire Card now comes with Emerald Club Executive status with National Car Rental. It’s a decent perk, but it’s likely a duplicate benefit for many of us, as many credit cards already offer this perk. You’ll get upgraded to a better rental car, usually an SUV. At airport locations with an Emerald Aisle, you’ll have more choices. That’s about it.

New Design, Transition to Metal
The Aspire card is getting a fresh makeover, shedding its old plastic attire for a sleek, new metal design. The previous blue and purple design left much to be desired, making this shift a small yet appreciated change.

New Mobile Phone Protection
There’s new mobile phone protection for cardmembers. You can get reimbursed for the repair or theft of a device, up to $800 per claim, when the wireless bill for the specific cellphone line is paid using the Hilton Aspire card. Keep in mind there’s a limit of two approved claims within a 12-month period, and each claim carries a $50 deductible. This benefit could be of limited utility, given some U.S. mobile carriers’ reluctance to accept credit card payments.

Hilton Honors Diamond Status
The card still includes complimentary Hilton Honors Diamond Status, and that’s a perk that’s remained constant. However, Hilton has been steadily devaluing this status, making it less of a standout feature. During the pandemic, Hilton gave the axe to some key Diamond benefits, like free breakfast at domestic properties and late checkout. It’s worth considering this before grabbing the card solely for Diamond status, unless you’re heavily into international travel where Diamond status still holds some value.

No “Waterfall” Language – Yet
AmEx is spreading its “waterfall” lifetime language to various card families, though Hilton cards have managed to escape unscathed, at least for now. However, it’s prudent to be strategic when it comes to the order and timing of your credit card applications, as the impact on Hilton cards may not be far off.

Bottom Line
All in all, it’s a tough sell to justify the higher annual fee with arguably fewer worthwhile perks. Unless I were just a die-hard Hilton loyalist, I’d be canceling the card if it were me. It’s essential to assess and evaluate what aligns best with your own travel habits and preferences. If you do decide to cancel the card, don’t forget to inquire about a retention offer to potentially squeeze out one more year of value.