Hilton Worldwide is one of the largest hotel chains with over 4,800 hotels in 93 countries. And their rewards program Hilton Honors makes it easy to earn points via credit cards. As of 2018, American Express will be the only card issuer, offering a total of four personal and business credit cards with different benefits. This review takes a closer look at the new AmEx Ascend card that replaces the mid-tier AmEx Surpass card!
If you are new to this site, please read “how we evaluate credit cards”. I don’t receive any compensation from this review of the credit card links to American Express. I hold the AmEx Surpass/Ascend card at the time of review!
The HiltonHonors Ascend card from American Express stands out with offering Hilton Gold status and increased point earning rates – check out the summary below:
- Sign-up bonus of 100,000 points, worth about US$400; 75,000 points after spending $2,000 in three months and an additional 25,000 points after spending an additional $1,000 in six months- that’s good but not great!
- Earn Points for Spend
You earn 12 points per US$ spent at Hilton, 6 points/$ spent at US restaurants, supermarkets and gas stations and 3 points/$ on everything else. At a value of 0.4 cents/point, that’s an earnings rate of 1.2 to 4.8 cents – very good for the Hilton category spend, but just average for the general spend
- HHonors Gold status; very valuable with upgrades and free breakfast
- HHonors Diamond status with $40,000 annual spend
- One weekend night certificate with $15,000 annual spend
- 10 Priority Pass Lounge passes per year
- basic travel and shopping protection
- $95 annual fee, no foreign exchange fee, EMV chip
While the earn rate on Hilton stays is very good, the remaining categories are less so, making it a good card to keep for your Hilton visits! The sign-up bonus of 100,000 points is the highest ever offered for the Surpass card – but still not great compared to other cards with similar annual fees, like the Citibank Prestige or AmEx Platinum cards!
AmEx has eliminated the foreign exchange fee, making this card much more useful for international travel!
HHonors Gold status is the mid-tier level and very valuable: You get a 25% bonus on earning points, upgrades and free breakfast (or lounge access) – that’s a benefit not even higher elite levels at IHG Rewards Club or Club Carlson will get you! The option to earn Diamond Status with a $40,000 spend remains, but is not very attractive due to the limited upside of Diamond Status over Gold!
You can now earn a weekend night certificate after a $15,000 spend/year – I’d consider that an additional 2% reward rate and it’s especially attractive if you stay a lot at Hilton hotels!
The Priority Pass Lounge membership previously included in the Surpass card has been upgraded with 10 Priority Pass lounge passes. This is attractive if you occasionally want lounge access. In my case, I receive unlimited Priority Pass lounge access from the Citibank Prestige card!
The other benefit of holding this card is access to American Express customer service. Of all the cards I have held, American Express has consistently delivered the best customer service. AmEx has some of the best fraud protection I have encountered, without the annoying card blocks other companies use (looking at you, CapitalOne!). They have also been great to work through disputes with merchants over charges, much better in my experience than other providers. A downside is worldwide acceptance of the card – Visa and MasterCard are more widely accepted, so this should not be your only credit card.
With the upgrades to the card benefits comes an increase in the annual fee to $95. That’s in line with other similar cards, although in my case the added benefits are of little value to me, so I’ll have to see if Hilton Gold Status is worth $95/year to me when its up for renewal!
Bottomline: American Express makes some settle upgrades to the Hilton Honors Ascend card. The key benefit is the Gold elite status in the Hilton Honors rewards program and I appreciate the elimination of the foreign exchange fee. For some people, the chance to earn a free night and the Priority Pass lounge passes might also be attractive. But before you sign-up, come back to read my review of the American Express Aspire card with even more benefits!
You can sign up for the AmEx Hilton Ascend card (as well as the other AmEx Hilton cards) and read all the fine print here!