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Well, it would seem that Amex reads TDWise and caught on that calling both their cards worth writing about Ascend and Aspire might be a bit confusing (read my previously written take on the Aspire and Ascend). Starting July 18th Amex is righting their alliteration wrongs and changing the Ascend’s name back to the Surpass! No more constant confusion with constant alliteration. *stomps foot while staring at everything Bonvoy* If the name similarities finally got to them, I would hope the card designs did as well and look forward to a new face of Surpass. (Fun fact, I’ll bet you an enthusiastic high five that you didn’t even notice I swapped the card names under the above images.)
This card used to be called the Surpass Card until Hilton refreshed their card lineup. Then they called it the Ascend Card until Hilton stumbled across TDWise and my gratuitous sarcasm showed them the error in their ways. It is now back to being called the Surpass Card, which avoids the constant confusion between it and its older brother, the Aspire. I, however, will leave in my sarcasm below as a testament to what one blog can do.
Surpass Card Benefits
The Ascend card, not to be confused with the Aspire card, because those names aren’t at all similar or confusable, has an exhaustive list of benefits:
…and it’s exhausted.
Seriously, the Aspire is the older brother of the Ascend that inherited a lopsided amount of “the good genes” and left the Ascend with genetic scraps. All you need to know is the Ascend has a dope sign-up bonus and can (should) become an Aspire in a year and a day. That’s literally it. But I would be remiss if I asked for your patronage in clicking our referral link with a nothing-burger post, so the rest of this article will be spent mocking the Ascend “benefits.” Enjoy.
Hilton Point Inflation
Well, I guess we’ll start with the main contributor to Hilton point inflation: a $95/year card that gives you 12x points per Hilton dollar spent, 6x points for restaurants, supermarkets, and gas, and 3x points for every other dollar. So many points, so little spent to acquire them. You’ll also be thrown the gold status bone, again, since you already have it from, you guessed it, the Amex Plat. Don’t want to pay foreign transaction fees? You don’t have to, just like every other card with an annual fee everywhere.
A Not-So-Free Night “Benefit”
Oh, what’s this? A free weekend night benefit? Why yes, a free Hilton weekend night, just for you Ascend cardholder. You just have to spend a measly $15,000 a year on your card for it. I did not typo that last zero, that’s at least 3 other minimum spends for a weekend Hilton night. It’s getting wild in here. You will, however, be able to get to your Hilton free night in some style with your priority pass benefit. Just don’t travel too much with it, as it’s a priority pass with only 10 free visits per year. I was unaware such a priority pass membership existed, but the Ascend managed to gut that benefit as well.
All told, the Ascend isn’t a bad deal for the occasional Hilton traveler. That $95 fee can be easily overcome, but so can the $450 on the Aspire, which must just go to show you that this card exists for people afraid of high tier annual fees.
The Hilton Aspire card. Or is it the Ascend card? No, I’m pretty sure the Aspire is the good one. Is it? What mnemonic did I come up with for this? Gosh, I can’t even remember the mnemonic. This alliteration trend in card names needs to die. (Update: It did. See the Surpass post for more)
Top Tier Card Offerings
In all seriousness, it took me the better part of a year to remember that the Aspire is the good one. By good one, I, of course, mean the $450/year one. Right off the bat, without even needing to mention your active duty annual fee waiver, this card pays you to own it. It does this by way of 2 major annual statement credits that total OVER the annual fee. Unheard of until the Hilton Ascend.
The first being a hefty $250 airline credit, working in the same fashion as the Amex Plat, just $50 higher. The second is a $250 Hilton resort credit, working in the same fashion as the Bonvoy Brilliant hotel credit, except that it isn’t across all Hilton’s, just the resorts.
There’s even a $100 statement credit at the Waldorf and Conrad resorts PER BOOKING (slightly complicated, probably not very used). That’s $500 reimbursed per year at minimum, $600 if you get your fancy Hilton on. For a $450 annual fee that YOU DONT PAY. Just stop reading now and get the card and then come back and check out what else you get. I’ll wait.
Hilton Diamond Status AND A Free Night
Back? Good. Now that you have the Aspire, you have Hilton Diamond status. Bam, highest tier Hilton as long as you have the card. Need an excuse to use that sweet new status now? Hilton Aspire has you covered with a free weekend night, every year, including the first year! Are you hearing this? $500 in reimbursable credits, a free weekend night, and diamond status, every year! Gosh, this game is fun.
Do you have the Surpass or plain jane Hilton card? Make those upgrades at the 366-day mark and enjoy the vast bennies of Aspire life. Be sure to get the Aspire before you upgrade and then you can double, or even triple, dip the Aspire bennies. Remember Amex has a 5 credit card limit and the astute TDWise traveler will have a plan to fill those 5 slots according to their travel needs.
Other not as cool, but still sort of cool, card perks: 14x points for Hilton purchases, 7x points for restaurants, flights, and car rentals, 3x points for everything else (is it any wonder Hilton points are experiencing dramatic inflation?), another priority pass (same as Amex Plat), and all the insurances expected.
This card was the SPG Luxury card for a short amount of complicated Marriott/SPG merger time. Why does this card have the word “Bonvoy” in the name? Because Marriott, in their infinite wisdom, decided that “Bonvoy” was a terrific name to slap on the wild and haphazard ride of merging the SPG and Ritz Carlton Rewards programs with themselves. It combines, sort of, the term Bon Voyage, roughly wishing someone a safe and enjoyable journey by boat. Since Marriott is a cruise line, it was the obvious choice. Brilliant.
$300 Annual Bonvoy Credit
While the merger may not have gone off with the streamline of a cruiseliner hull, it sure did launch some fantastic credit card options. Enter: the AMEX Bonvoy Brilliant card. I jest, but honestly, I don’t care what they call it when it’s giving me $300 in SPG and Marriott property credits per year. Notice it doesn’t work for Ritz Carlton, which has managed to remain separate but equal AND to retain their own high tier credit card through this merger. Anyways, that’s $300 each cardmember year (marked by account open date) that will auto reimburse charges you make to the card from participating Bonvoy properties. Want free food on the property? Charge it to your room. Want free whatever they do at spas? Charge it to the room. Your room bill will be reimbursed if charged to this card up to $300.
Free Annual Bonvoy Night
But wait, there’s more! You also get a free night at Bonvoy properties after every account anniversary if that room is worth 50k points or less. There are some pretty great 50k point rooms in the Bonvoy portfolio, now free to you! It’s like a 50k point signup bonus that doesn’t have a minimum spend and keeps coming as long as you have the card. No. Brainer.
Legacy SPG Card
Did you have a legacy SPG card from before the merger? You now have a weird limited edition Bonvoy artsy designed card that can’t be applied for (this one isn’t brilliant though). This weird Bonvoy art card gives you a free 35k point night annually and not much else. Upgrade that bad boy to a Bonvoy Brilliant the day after your account open date anniversary and reap the above sweet rewards. Pro Tip: get a Bonvoy Brilliant card first, then upgrade your weird Bonvoy art thing to a second Bonvoy Brilliant and double up on those recurring annual bennies.
Other Less Interesting Perks
Gold status with Bonvoy (acquired with Amex Plat), 6x points with Bonvoy purchases, 3x points with restaurants and flights, 2x points on everything else, 15 elite night credits, priority pass (acquired with Amex Plat), a complicated Ritz/St. Regis $100 property credit, yet another Global Entry credit, and all the insurances you’d expect with a high tier card.
You get the Delta Gold card for the fan-freaking-tastic signup bonus of whatever they decide to offer at any given time (seriously, it changes almost monthly). That’s about it. It’s a $95 annual fee, waived the first year. It gives you priority boarding and a first checked bag free with no foreign transaction fees and some purchase protections that, again, you probably won’t use.
Get this card, get the bonus, take some awesome Delta card trifecta pics for your blog, then realize you can only have 5 AMEX credit cards overall and in a year cancel it to make room for a better card.
The AMEX Delta Platinum card, NOT to be confused with the AMEX Platinum card, has been confused at least twice at the Centurion Lounge front desk while I’ve been checking in. Seriously, I’ve checked into a Centurion probably 10 or so times as of the writing of this post, and 20% of those times someone next to me attempted to gain entry with their Delta Platinum card. I cannot imagine how often this happens for it to have happened twice next to me. Don’t be that guy, you will take a walk of shame after your glimpse of the sweet, sweet lounge life from the wrong side of the velvet rope.
The Delta Platinum card is pretty awesome in the way of airline card offerings, which is a breath of fresh air if you just read through my Delta Reserve article. It’s a $195/year card, putting it in an awkward middle ground between the slew of $95/year cards and the premium $450/year cards. Let’s call it the Delta Comfort area, not quite first-class, but definitely a step above the main cabin, shared only by a select few tall individuals that value (need) those extra inches of legroom: AMEX PRG, and I think that’s it. But just like Delta Comfort, it is an oh so sweet spot to sit on short domestic hops.
Best feature? Frequent 70k bonus mile offerings for $3k spend in 3 months AND a $100 statement credit after your first Delta purchase. I recommend a $7 drink on the flight to trigger it, giving you a free $93 and a free drink.
Delta Companion Pass
Second best feature? Another companion pass, baby. This one isn’t as lavish as the Reserve companion pass as it is only valid for the main cabin, but it can still be worth a pretty penny for a free companion ticket anywhere in the US, round trip, every year you own the card (after first card anniversary). On a $195/year card. Even without an annual fee waiver, this is an easy win for any Delta traveler.
Third best feature(s)? Priority boarding, first checked bag free, and no foreign transaction fees. Really, anyone would do well with this card that flies Delta, just like anyone would enjoy those extra inches of legroom. That’s typically the beauty of the awkward middle ground, it’s worth it to be there.
And Onto Things You Won’t Use
This one has a mileage bonus as well, 10k miles (and 10k MQM) for $25k spend per calendar year up to $50k, but as with every card spend bonus out there, this money is better spent on another cards’ sign up bonus. Discounted lounge access at $29/person, which is silly to pay when you have an AMEX Platinum. Also included is the standard secondary car rental insurance, baggage insurance, warranty extension, return protection, and accidental damage or theft insurance.
For a $450/year premium card, the Delta Reserve has got to be the runt of the litter. I can’t imagine why anyone in charge of marketing this hasn’t jumped on board the metal core, numbers on the back, fancy welcome package bandwagon yet but, man, it was like getting a run of the mill USAA card in the mandatory-pieces-of-flair department. I don’t even have any cool pictures for you on this one, just an overly pixelated card front because, again, why aren’t the numbers on the back? This might make me a little perturbed if I wasn’t, you know, getting this card for free and whatnot.
Delta Reserve Companion Pass
The Delta Reserve DOES come with a unique perk among the premium airline cards though (despite it NOT coming with other premium perks) called a companion pass. This is a once a year voucher (after your first card anniversary) for you to take a companion with you, free of charge, on any booked flight in the continental US in either first class, Delta comfort, or main cabin. Not a bad deal considering the potential value you could get out of that. It could absolutely justify the annual fee if you needed such justification.
Delta Reserve Lounge Access
It, like its competitors, grants you Delta lounge access, but unlike its competitors, it is not a lounge membership. This means you cannot bring anyone else in with you (you can but its $29 per guest, max 2 guests), just yourself. You should already have this perk with the AMEX Platinum but if you’re OCD like me you still want to collect all 3 of the premium airline cards (Delta, United, AA) because why not have two methods of entry to the lounge?
Probably the most significant perk is the sign-up bonus, which sits at a healthy 40k miles (and 10k MQM) after $3k spend in 3 months. You can also earn 15k bonus miles (and 15k MQM) after $30k spend in a calendar year up to $60k but that money is obviously better spent on other cards’ minimum spends. From time to time this bonus will increase as high as 70k miles so give it a bit to pop up if you have the time.
There is also a concierge that probably isn’t as good as the AMEX Plat, but I haven’t tried it. There is a first checked bag free on Delta flights but you probably get that with a CAC card at check-in anyways. Baggage insurance, priority boarding, secondary rental car coverage (lame), no foreign transaction fees, and some sort of travel accident insurance. And then there’s the standard additional year of warranty on things you buy, return protection, and purchase protection for damage or theft.
I’m a little hard on this card because there’s something to be said for presentation on a card with a $450/year price tag. If it wasn’t for the companion pass I’m not sure I would recommend it over the other two major airlines but the bottom line is this card deserves a spot in your collection for the signup bonus (of course) and that companion pass. I also enjoy completing sets of cards and this completed two sets for me.
This card is the middle tier charge card from Amex at a $250 annual fee. Much like the Green card, it’s benefits are covered by the Platinum Card you should already have, except for a 4x bump in points earning for restaurants and supermarkets and a $120 dining credit at restaurants you probably don’t eat at. The difference is that it comes with a nice $100/year airline credit, paying you to own it if you’re active duty.
The sign-up bonus varies from 25k to 50k for $2k spend in 3 months. Not a bad chunk of membership rewards points change for your spending efforts. I really do enjoy the smaller, but easier to obtain sign-up points.
Future Platinum Card
Notably, as with the green card, this can be upgraded to a platinum card as well after a year of ownership. I won’t be doing so though, as the 4x spend categories on everything you put in your mouth (restaurants and groceries) make this a very solid daily spend card when you’re in between other minimum spends. It has even replaced my Chase Sapphire Reserve as the go-to card. But, you can still do future you a solid and snag a gold card to start your account timer and upgrade later for those sweet sweet Platinum bennies.
-(Discontinued) Ameriprise Financial Gold Card: $160 annual fee (waived the first year). Was an easy 25k point sign up bonus for $1k spend. This did not have the airline credit. Technically required a relationship with Ameriprise Financial, but this, like the Ameriprise Platinum, was not enforced.
The Green Card is your entry-level card into AMEX charge cards. At a $95 annual fee (waived the first year) you get some of the basic Amex coverages that your Amex Platinum already gives you and the ability to earn membership rewards points that your Amex platinum already gives you. It’s really just paying for the privilege of earning Membership Rewards points at the bare minimum rate.
The churning magic of the Amex green card is twofold. The upfront purpose is for an easy signup bonus. I found mine with a decent 25k points for $1k spend. Not a huge bump but after a run of 4-5 cards that had $4-5k min spends I was getting antsy for a quick credit high. This signup bonus offer comes and goes so maybe wait until you find one or the TDWise link shows it.
Future Platinum Card
Or don’t. The other purpose is more forward-thinking for the astute TDWise reader. This card’s more lucrative attribute is that after having the green card for a year you can call Amex and have it upgraded to a Platinum card. That’s another $200/year in airline and Uber credit.
So set yourself up for success and snag a quick Green card today! One year older you will thank you.