Two of American Express’ top tier cards are the Platinum Card and the Hilton Aspire. The former was first released in 1984 as American Express created the Premium Card market. However, the latter was released a few years ago as Hilton’s top credit card.
Both cards have fantastic perks, bonuses, and incentives to keep. But these features come at a high price. The Platinum Card’s annual fee is $550 and the Aspire card’s annual fee is $450. Neither card’s annual fee is waived the first year.
The American Express Platinum Card has a bonus of 60,000 Membership Rewards (MR) points. Those points can be earned after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months. The Platinum Card has targeted bonuses of 75,000 points for the same minimum spend. But it’s had bonuses as high as 100,000 points in the past.
Meanwhile, the Hilton Aspire has a bonus worth 150,000 Hilton Honors (HH) points. These points can be earned after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months. Each point is worth about 0.5 cents (CPP) given Hilton’s redemption options.
The winner of this category depends on if you can get the targeted bonus for the Amex Platinum. If such is the case, the Platinum Card wins. Otherwise, the Aspire wins. Also, the Aspire wins by virtue of having a lower minimum spend threshold. You can save $1,000 and still get a fantastic sign-up bonus if you decide to go with the Aspire.
Premium cards are better known for perks than earning structure. However, these cards have the potential to earn you serious points.
The Platinum Card earns 5x MR points on Airfare (booked directly with the airline) and Amex Fine Hotel & Resort purchases. The former category is restrictive because it does not include discount booking sites like Expedia and Travelocity. But you will score big if you can find a deal directly with an airline. All other purchases earn one point per dollar.
The Hilton Aspire Card earns 14x HH points at Hilton hotels. It also earns 7x points for Car Rentals, Airfare & Dining, and 3x points on all other purchases.
The Aspire wins for all-around travel because it has bonus categories for airfare, (Hilton) hotels, and car rentals. All four of the Aspire card’s categories are very common expenses for traveling. However, the Platinum Card wins if you value MR Points more than HH points.
Points earned are worthless if you cannot redeem them for valuable travel.
The Platinum Card shines here because of its “membership” in the Amex “ecosystem”. You can transfer MR points to over 20 airline and hotel partners. Even though Hilton is one of these partners, I don’t recommend transferring MR points to them because of the low value of HH points. Transferring to domestic and international airlines are a much better option for redeeming MR points.
HH points are best used towards free nights and experiences at Hilton hotels. You can also transfer points to one of 43 partners. However, I don’t recommend doing so because you will get no value.
The Platinum Card wins here because of the flexibility of Membership Rewards points. However, Hilton Honors points can be very valuable when redeemed properly.
Perks are the draw for many Premium cards, especially the two that are the focus of this post. The perks from both cards can easily give you positive expected value even if you rarely travel. This makes them “long term keeper cards”, despite their high annual fees.
Both cards have the following common perks:
- Secondary Car Rental Insurance
- No Foreign Transaction Fees
- Priority Pass Airport Lounge Access
- Standard American Express Perks
Despite the common perks, both cards have more specific perks and credits that make them unique and special.
The Platinum Card comes with $200 in Uber credits, $200 in airline incidental credits, and $100 in Saks Fifth Avenue credits annually. These credits alone make the Platinum card’s “net annual fee” only $50 if they’re used in full. The “net annual fee” falls below $0 (giving positive expected value) when factoring in other perks.
The Aspire Card has more hotel-centric perks. But they are enough to keep the card long-term even if you visit a Hilton hotel once per year. The Aspire offers up to 2 free nights, a $250 resort credit, $250 in airline incidental credits, and a $100 on-property credit for Waldorf Astoria or Conrad hotels. The “net annual fee” is -$150 if you use all the credits in full. That means you will receive $150 in positive expected value if you use all the credits in full.
The Hilton Aspire card’s most valuable perk, however, is Hilton Diamond Status. This is a step up from the Hilton Gold Status that comes with the Amex Platinum. Hilton Diamond includes the following:
- Free 5th Night (when paying with points)
- 2 Bottles of Water
- Free Breakfast
- Welcome Gift
- Executive Lounge Access
- Room Upgrades (up to Suite)
- Premium Internet
- Milestone Bonuses
- Diamond Status Extension
- Gold Status Gifting
- 48-Hour Room Guarantee
Airport Lounges & Other Perks
The Amex Platinum wins hands down for airport lounge access. The Amex Platinum grants you access to Amex Centurion Lounges, Delta Lounges, Airspace Lounges, AND Priority Pass. The Hilton Aspire, like most premium cards, only grants you Priority Pass access.
The Platinum Card has so many other perks that they required their own post! It’s the only card that I reviewed on PYCR (so far) that has this distinction.
The winner of this category depends on your travel needs. Hilton lovers and hotel dwellers will be better off with the Aspire. However, those who are in the airport more than hotels will win with the Amex Platinum.
Credit Limit and Income
The Aspire is a traditional revolving credit card. It comes with a set limit and can be hard to get approved for those with lower credit scores or incomes. You can keep a balance with this card. However, I don’t recommend doing so.
The Platinum Card is a charge card which does not have a pre-set limit. In other words, Amex has an internal limit for your card that can change each month. If you want to make a large purchase, I suggest calling Amex customer service to alert them about the purchase. Oftentimes they will tell you to proceed. You must pay your card in full each month (which I recommend doing anyway).
The Platinum Card is the better card for those with lower income or credit scores because it’s a charge card. The Platinum Card also forces you to pay in full, which gives you financial discipline. But the Aspire is great if you have the income and credit score to get it.
Your mileage may vary with Premium Cards especially. Both the Amex Platinum and the Hilton Aspire are fantastic options, but they both have strengths and weaknesses:
The Amex Platinum lacks in earning potential and has a hard-to-earn sign-up bonus. However, its perks are second-to-none and its redemption options are more expansive. The Hilton Aspire is the better earner and has a fantastic suite of perks. But its redemption options are limited to Hilton hotels.
Both cards can possibly be complements to each other. Some people might be loyal to Hilton but can also use the MR points and perks from the Platinum Card. The question is whether you want to spend $1,000 in annual fees for both cards. You will be getting more than that in expected value. But that number is very steep for a lot of people.
Consider your other cards, travel itinerary, loyalty to transfer partners, and desire for traveling in luxury. All of these are huge factors that must be considered before acquiring a card with a nearly $500 annual fee.