We’ve been holding 2 Amex Hilton co-branded cards – the mid-level Ascend card and the premium Aspire card. Just last week, we published an article about how we were craving an upgrade offer on the Ascend, and we outlined our upgrade/downgrade strategy to try to maximize the benefits of both cards.
In short, our strategy is to double-dip the key benefits of each card by mid-year upgrading our Ascend to Aspire and downgrading our Aspire to Ascend. You can read our full article laying out our preliminary strategy here:
- Middle Age Miles: Amex Hilton Ascend – Free Weekend Night and Upgrade Strategies (5/30/2019)
This week, Amex released a wonderful new Ascend-to-Aspire upgrade offer. Fortunately, we were eligible and we were approved for the upgrade!
We’ll outline everything for you here, reviewing the Aspire upgrade offer and going over an upgrade-downgrade strategy in detail if you hold more both an Ascend and an Aspire card.
Let’s take a quick look at the key benefits of the Ascend and Aspire cards and how they operate. Then, we’ll walk you through our current situation and strategy to see how we’ll try to capture the key annual benefits of both the Ascend and Aspire cards during a single year.
Setting aside points-earning and such, the key benefit of the Ascend card that’s relevant here is this:
- Hilton Free Weekend Night Certificate after $15k spend on the card in a calendar year
Looking at the Aspire card similarly, it has 4 key benefits that are important to our analysis and strategy:
- A Hilton Free Weekend Night upon approval/card issuance
- A Hilton Free Weekend Night after your cardholder anniversary each year
- A $250 Hilton resort credit per cardholder year
- A $250 airline fee credit per calendar year
Here are some graphics from the upgrade offer landing page regarding benefits of the Aspire card:
Our goal is to get each of these key benefits of the Ascend Card and the Aspire card during this year, on each of our cards, by pursuing an upgrade/downgrade strategy.
In addition, we have been hoping for an upgrade bonus to apply when we upgrade our Ascend to Aspire.
The Upgrade Offer
Major hat tip here to Doctor of Credit and his readers who supplied the upgrade links.
Upgrade your Amex Hilton Ascend card to an Aspire card, and receive 150,000 Hilton Honors bonus points when you spend $4,000 within the first 3 months after upgrading.
If you’re eligible (and this offer seems to be widely available if you’ve held the Ascend for at least 1 year), the upgrade offer is open until 7/16/2019.
Here’s the link to the Ascend-to Aspire upgrade offer:
- American Express: Aspire Upgrade Offer
And here are the terms and conditions for the upgrade offer:
The upgrade offer does not result in a hard pull that shows up on your credit report, which is also a plus.
The annual fee for the Aspire card is $450. When you upgrade, you will have to pay a prorated annual fee for the Aspire, but you’ll also receive a prorated refund of the $95 annual fee you paid for your Ascend card. For example, if your cardholder anniversary date was 6 months ago:
- You’d be charged half of the Aspire’s annual fee (6/12, technically), which would be $225
- You’d also be refunded half of the Ascend’s annual fee, which would be $47.50
- So your net cost for the upgrade, for the rest of your cardholder year, would be $225 – $47.50 = $177.50
The Amex terms and conditions say that these annual fee adjustments will take place 45 days after you upgrade, which is consistent with our experience with Amex in similar situations.
Note that there’s also an offer for upgrades from the Amex Hilton No-Fee card to the Ascend card. This is also a great offer – 150k bonus HH points for $3,000 spend in 3 months, open until 7/16/2019 – and well worth doing if you have a No-Fee card and are eligible. Our article is focused on maximizing the great benefits from strategic Ascend-Aspire product changes, so we’re not focusing on the No-Fee to Ascend upgrade. But here’s the link if you’re interested:
- American Express: Ascend Upgrade Offer
Ascend-to-Aspire Upgrade Process
Enrollment in the Ascend-to-Aspire upgrade is a simple and straightforward process.
Once you click on the enrollment link, you’ll be asked to log in to the online account for your Amex Hilton Ascend card:
Once you log in, you’ll be taken to a page that will identify your Ascend card and present you with the full terms and conditions for the upgrade offer:
Next, you’ll check the box that confirms the $450 annual fee and then click “Request Upgrade Now.” If all goes well, you’ll see an approval message:
The message says that you can expect to receive your new Aspire card within 7-10 business days and that you can continue to use your existing card in the meantime. Be sure to take note that the 3-month clock to meet the $4,000 minimum spend starts on the day your upgrade is approved (and not later when you receive and/or activate the new Aspire card).
By the next day after we were approved for the upgrade offer, our former Ascend card changed to Aspire in our online account:
In addition, we also have a data point that Hilton Diamond status will be shown in your Hilton Honors account on the next day after you’re approved for the upgrade offer (if you’re not already Diamond).
Is There Anyone Who Should Not Accept the Aspire Upgrade Offer if They’re Eligible?
People who have never held an Aspire card probably should not accept the upgrade offer, or at least not yet. Once you have an Aspire, whether through an original application or an upgrade, you’ll no longer be eligible for a sign-up bonus on the Aspire card. So the play here would be to apply and be approved for an Aspire card, hit the spend & collect the sign-up bonus, and then potentially use the offer to upgrade an Ascend to Aspire. If you act quickly, you might even be able to get approved for an Aspire and collect the sign-up bonus before the upgrade offer expires on July 16!
Otherwise, the Aspire upgrade offer should be good for virtually everyone. The Aspire is one of the most valuable cards on the market, with benefits that easily outweigh even the premium-level $450 annual fee.
How Are the Aspire Benefits Applied When You Upgrade?
Let’s look at each of the key benefits of the Aspire card to see how they apply with you upgrade:
Free Weekend Night Certificates
As we discussed earlier, the Aspire card comes with a Hilton Free Weekend Night Certificate upon approval/card issuance and a Free Weekend Night Certificate at each account anniversary (the terms say that the certificate will be delivered 8-14 weeks after your anniversary date).
For this upgrade offer, relevant terms and conditions of this benefit are:
We read this to say that we’ll receive a Free Weekend Night Certificate for the upgrade, and then the next Free Weekend Night Certificate will come after our cardholder anniversary.
When we upgraded an Ascend to Aspire last year, the Free Weekend Night Certificate was delivered 63 days after our upgrade.
Note a couple of things near the end of the terms and conditions: One, you can only receive the Free Weekend Night Certificate once per year of card membership (per card). That means that multiple upgrades and downgrades within a single cardholder year won’t generate multiple certificates. And two, the terms say that you are only able to receive the Free Weekend Night Certificate with an upgrade to the Aspire card one time. We read this to mean that we wouldn’t receive a certificate if we had previously upgraded this same card and received a certificate then. This doesn’t impact us now but it may impact us in future years if we continue to pursue upgrade/downgrade strategies.
We wrote about how long it takes to receive Aspire free night certificates and how to use the certificates here:
- Middle Age Miles: When Does My Free Night Certificate on My New Amex Hilton Aspire Card Arrive, and How Can I Use It?.
Annual Hilton Resort Credit
The Aspire card has a $250 resort credit per cardholder year. The resort credit is good for room rates and/or room charges at specified Hilton properties that Hilton designates as “resorts.” You can review the list of eligible properties at this link:
- Hilton: Hilton Resorts Web Page
Here are the terms and conditions related to the resort credit, for the Ascend-to-Aspire upgrade offer:
The terms and conditions for the resort credit are pretty straightforward – the credit is based on your cardmember year, and you can’t get multiple credits by having authorized user (AU) cards.
Annual Airline Fee Credit
The Aspire card also has a $250 annual airline fee credit. Unlike the resort credit, the airline fee credit is per calendar year. The airline fee credit may be used on airline incidental fees, on one particular airline that you must choose through your card benefits page before you use the credit.
Although the credit nominally applies only to incidental fees such as baggage charges and onboard food & drink, it’s also possible to use the credit on Delta or Southwest gift cards (GCs) if you know what you’re doing. You used to be able to use the credit on American GCs, but that doesn’t work any longer as of early 2019.
Here are the terms and conditions related to the airline fee credit, for the Ascend-to-Aspire upgrade offer:
The Full Upgrade-Downgrade Strategy – Expected Costs and Benefits
To examine the full Ascend-Aspire upgrade-downgrade strategy, it’s helpful to look at a concrete example. We’ll use our own personal situation to illustrate how we expect this to work:
- Card #1 – Original Aspire card:
- Anniversary date = May 23
- For what it’s worth, this card was originally a Citi Hilton Reserve card; converted to Amex Hilton Ascend in January 2018; upgraded to Amex Hilton Aspire on July 2, 2018
- Card #2 – Upgraded Aspire card:
- Anniversary date = October 5
- This card was originally an Amex Hilton Surpass card, which became the Ascend
- This is the card we just upgraded as of June 7, 2019
Up to this point in the year, we’ve received the following benefits on each card:
- Original Aspire:
- Received the Hilton Free Weekend Night Certificate after we upgraded in July 2018
- Collected the $250 resort fee credit during this cardmember year, on a stay at the Waldorf Astoria Las Vegas
- Collected the $250 airline fee credit during 2018
- Collected the $250 airline fee credit during 2019
- Upgraded Aspire (benefits collected pre-upgrade, when the card was an Ascend):
- Spent $15k on the card in 2019 and received a Hilton Free Weekend Night Certificate
On the Upgraded Aspire card, we expect to receive the following benefits during the remainder of 2019:
- Receive 150,000 HH bonus points after we spend $4,000 on the Upgraded Aspire within 3 months of the upgrade
- At our baseline value of 0.5 cents per Hilton point, this sign-up bonus is worth about $750
- Receive one Hilton Free Weekend Night Certificate for the upgrade (should receive the Certificate in early to mid-September)
- Receive another Hilton Free Weekend Night Certificate after our account anniversary on October 5 (should receive the Certificate in early December)
- Collect a $250 resort fee credit for a Hilton resort stay between now and October 4
- We don’t have a stay planned right now that would qualify for the credit, but we’ll make sure we use it!
- Collect another $250 resort fee credit for a Hilton resort stay sometime October 5 or later (could be in 2020)
- Collect $250 in airline fee credits before the end of 2019
- Retain Hilton Diamond elite status when we downgrade our Original Aspire card later this year
Of course, on the Upgraded Aspire card, we’ll have to pay a prorated annual fee for Aspire for about 3 months. This should be 3/12 * $450 = $112.50. We’ll also receive prorated credit for the Ascend annual fee, which should be 3/12 * 95 = $23.75. Thus, our net cost for the upgrade for the remainder of our cardholder year should be $88.75. We’ll then have to pay a full $450 annual fee on this card, which will be billed on the next statement that closes after our anniversary date.
Turning now to our Original Aspire card, we plan to downgrade later in the year to Ascend. But remember that our anniversary date on that card was May 23, so before we downgrade, we’ll collect additional Aspire benefits:
- We should receive our anniversary Hilton Free Weekend Night Certificate in late July or early August
- We will plan to collect our $250 resort fee credit for the new cardholder year before we downgrade
Then, after we downgrade, we’ll take advantage of a big Ascend benefit:
- Spend $15k on the card before the end of calendar year 2019 and collect yet another Hilton Free Weekend Night Certificate
To implement this part of the strategy, we initially will have to pay the $450 annual fee for the Aspire. Once we downgrade to the Ascend, though, we’ll receive a prorated refund of the $450 annual fee and be charged a prorated $95 annual fee for the Ascend for the rest of our cardholder year. We’ll probably end up having to pay 3 months of the Aspire annual fee, but we might be able to get the downgrade done in time to pay only 2 months.
Looking Forward into 2020
Looking ahead, we’ll try to set ourselves up for a similar upgrade-downgrade strategy with these 2 cards in 2020.
On our Ascend card (the Original Aspire card, which we will have downgraded to Ascend later in 2019), we will spend close to $15k early in the year, then finish the $15k spend whenever it makes sense to do so in order to collect the Hilton Free Weekend Night Certificate. Then, we’ll hope for another juicy upgrade Ascend-to-Aspire upgrade offer!
On our Upgraded Aspire card, we’ll make sure to collect our $250 airline fee credit early in the year, and we’ll make sure we’ve used our $250 resort fee credit for the current cardholder year. We’ll plan to downgrade to Ascend sometime later in the year, hopefully after we’ve passed our anniversary date and received another Free Weekend Night Certificate! In any event, we will wait at least 1 year after our upgrade before we downgrade back to Ascend, so that we stay in Amex’s good graces.
This was a long article, but we wanted to fully explain the costs and benefits of the Aspire upgrade offer, plus we wanted to cover the valuable upgrade-downgrade strategy in detail. The Ascend-to-Aspire upgrade offer is a great one for all of us in the credit card/points-and-miles world, and we were delighted to be eligible for it.
Good luck with your own Aspire upgrades, and enjoy all the great benefits at some fabulous Hilton hotels across the world!
What do you think about the Aspire upgrade offer and our upgrade-downgrade strategy? Please let us know in the Comments!
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