About Hilton Honors Ascend Card from American Express
Are you a fan of Hilton hotels? The American Express Hilton Honors Ascend card’s huge intro bonus might draw you in, but read our review before you sign the dotted line.
Frequent travelers and fans of Hilton hotels have probably run across ads for the Ascend card.
This hotel rewards credit card has (at the time of our research) a 100,000-point bonus for new cardmembers who spend at least $3,000 in the first six months.
At first glance, this seems like a lot of points, but choosing the right credit card is more about what lies behind the glamorous bonuses and less about what you get in the short-term.
We’re going to take some time to work through everything you need to know about this credit card:
- How much is the intro offer really worth?
- What are the long-term benefits?
- What are the fees and penalties can I expect?
- What do fellow consumers say about this card?
Once we research and discuss these important topics, we’ll give you our overall impressions of the card.
How Much Is the Hilton AmEx Offer Really Worth?
If you can spend $2,000 in the first three months, you’ll earn 75,000 Hilton Honors points. If you can spend an additional $1,000 within six months, then you’ll get another bonus: 25,000 points.
The value of these points, though is only as good as the number of points it takes to book a rewards night with Hilton.
Hotel categories are usually determined by how luxurious the property is and where it’s located. A Hampton Inn located in Times Square is a Category 8 hotel and costs as little as 56,000 points, whereas a Hampton Inn in Addison, TX, is a Category Two hotel and costs 10,000 points.
Based on our research of Hilton’s Honors booking program and conversations with Hilton phone reps, rewards nights range from 10,000 points for a Category 1 to more than 90,000 points for Hilton’s most luxurious properties.
Based on our research, we believe that Hilton’s points categories give you average value for your intro points. We say “average” because the points won’t get you far if you want a luxury property, but you can stretch them pretty far if you book a Category 1 or 2 hotel.
Also, we noticed that Hilton will shift the price of a rewards night based on demand and availability.
How Far Do Your Points Go? Pretty Far, Actually
We think you can actually get a lot of use out of your intro rewards bonus of 75K points. You can book seven individual nights in Category 1 hotels.
In our opinion, the offer of 100,000 points is a good value if you don’t mind staying at a Hampton Inn because those properties tend to be more affordable.
Hampton Inns offer free Wi-Fi and free breakfast, two great perks if you’re traveling for business or you’re looking for sensible vacation accommodations.
In the big picture, though, introductory bonus points are just one factor among many when choosing a good credit card.
The Long-Term Benefits of This Card
Most consumers get lured into a credit card offer without thinking about how a card can benefit them two or three years down the road.
The AmEx Honors card’s long-term benefits are, for the most part, focused on the Hilton Honors program. Here’s a quick list of those benefits…we’ll explain them afterward:
- Complimentary Gold status and then Diamond status if you spend $40,000 in one year
- 12x points at Hilton properties, 6x points on gas, groceries, and restaurants, 3x on everything else
- Complimentary base-level Priority Pass membership
- Free weekend night if you spend $15,000 in a year
These long-term benefits are pretty impressive, especially compared to other hotel rewards cards. Take a look at our article on the best hotel rewards credit cards to get a sense of how it stacks up against the AmEx Starwood Preferred Guest, The World of Hyatt Credit Card, and Chase Marriott Rewards Premier.
Nearly any hotel loyalty program you join will have tiers of membership; the higher you go, the more perks you receive. Hilton’s Gold status is second only to Diamond status, which you can get if you spend enough in one year.
Gold status usually takes 20 stays or 40 nights to achieve, so getting it free with your AmEx is a great deal. Here are some perks of the Gold program:
- A free fifth night when you book four rewards nights
- 25% bonus when you book with points (10,000 points is worth 12,500, for example)
- Complimentary late check-out (must be requested)
- Free upgrades, when available, at the following hotels: Hilton, Waldorf Astoria, Curio, Canopy, Conrad and DoubleTree.
Points Per Dollar
One of the keys to a good reward credit card is the points you get for every dollar you spend. Most cards will give you a bonus for spending money on their properties and travel or dining purchases.
However, none of the cards we’ve researched gives you quite the points bonuses you get with the Honors card.
The 12x bonus on Hilton purchases is among the best and the 6x bonus on groceries/restaurants/gas is equally top-notch. The 3x bonus on all other purchases is unrivaled by even the best cash back cards.
How many points can those bonuses get you? Based on what we’ve seen from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American family spends about $4,000 on groceries, $3,150 eating out and $1,900 on gas each year. When you multiply that spending by six, you get 54,300 points.
In addition to the $9,050 mentioned above, we estimate you could spend around $16,000 more on your card for entertainment, travel and other miscellaneous purchases.
These purchases earn you triple points, which equals 48,000, and when you add that to your other bonus purchases, you’re looking at around 102,000 points a year.
In our opinion, the points potential of this card is good for the consumer who is looking for free nights at modest hotels like Hampton Inn & Suites.
Priority Pass Select Membership
Priority Pass is an international network of airport lounges at which travelers can rest, relax, get complimentary snacks and beverages and, in some cases, showers. The network has more than 900 locations around the world.
Your Honors Ascend card gets you a free Select membership, which includes 10 free lounge visits. After that, you’ll pay a discounted rate of
In our opinion, this is a pretty good perk because it is the only card we know of with an annual fee of less than $100 (more on that in a second) that gives you free membership to Priority Pass.
Hilton Honors Ascend Card’s Fees, Penalties, and the Fine Print
Every credit card has fees, and it’s important that you know what they are before you sign the proverbial dotted line. Here’s what you can expect from the Honors Ascend:
- $95 annual fee
- 17.24-26.24% APR
- 29.99% penalty APR (kicks in for at least 6 months when you make one late payment)
- Up to $38 late/returned payment fee
- No foreign transaction fee
These charges are pretty standard, although not every hotel rewards card will have a penalty APR, which can cost you hundreds of dollars every year if you carry a substantial balance on your card.
The penalty APR isn’t permanent, though. American Express says in the fine print of their terms and conditions that they will review your account every six months and decide whether or not you’ve earned a better interest rate.
Other Consumers’ Opinions About This Card
Looking at the reviews of Honors Ascend customers is a great way to get insight into how they enjoy their cardmember experience.
Unfortunately, reviews on this card are pretty thin. We’re not sure why, as the card has been around for at least a couple of years.
The lack of reviews may be due to the fact that American Express’ most popular hotel card is their Starwood Preferred Guest card, and because people are flocking to the travel rewards offered by the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Reserve.
Our Conclusions About the American Express Hilton Honors Ascend Card
This card is very interesting to us because average consumers can get tons of points from everyday purchases – the 102,000 estimated total far exceeds anything you’d find from other hotel cards.
But that huge point total comes with the reminder that you only get maximum value out of those points if you use them on Category 1-4 hotels.
Properties on those tiers can get you between three and eight nights. Also, the point totals for Category 2 Category 3 could be low enough to where you can cash in on the free fifth night you get with your Gold membership.
In terms of fees and penalties, we’d say that this card has the potential to cost you a lot of money if you tend to make late payments.
The penalty APR is nearly 30% and could double your interest payments, depending on which APR you get when you’re accepted.
The research we’ve done on this card and other hotel rewards cards leads us to believe that you’re getting a pretty good value here if you’re looking for sensible hotel stays.
If it’s luxury you’re seeking, you may want to research the American Express Starwood Preferred Guest card (SPG points tend to go farther with fancier hotels) or take advantage of the Chase Sapphire Preferred’s points exchange program, which lets you transfer your points 1:1 to the Hyatt Gold Passport program, where some luxury Grand Hyatt properties are just 12,000 points per night.
» See Also: Best Travel Credit Cards of 2018