Windbag Miles is a blog about points, miles, credit cards, travel, and general windbaggery.

The Amex Hilton Aspire card has a lot of great bennies, but the $100 Waldorf/Conrad credit ain't one of 'em.

Hooray! It's new Amex Hilton day! I've been excited about this day for a while, since I can't wait to start diamonding my diamonds all over the place. (For those that have no idea what I'm talking about, one of the key benefits of the card is Diamond status in the Hilton Honors program for as long as you have the card.) There are a host of other great benefits too: airline credits, free nights, good earning rates, yadda yadda yadda. One of the benefits that has been talked about a lot in the pre-release hype is the $100 on-property credit (dining, spa, etc) offered at Conrad and Waldorf Astoria hotels. The thinking was that this gave Hilton a way to offer a little something extra at these high-end properties, since Diamond status isn't generally as rewarding as top-level status in programs like SPG and Hyatt.

I started poking around as soon as I got my card, and I found that booking is thankfully really easy. You just go to the designated website (www.hiltonhonorsaspirecard.com) and enter your credit card to be verified. That takes you to a modified version of Hilton's booking page that lists only WA/Conrad properties in a dropdown:

aspire search

Once you pick your location and dates (don't forget that the calendar enforces the two-night minimum stay required for the $100 credit), you'll see the hotel you want, with only one rate type displayed:

aspire search results

If you want to change your search, as long as you don't uncheck the Aspire card benefit box, you'll continue to only see Waldorfs and Conrads.

aspire change search

That's it! The "Aspire_Card_Benefit" rate type is hard-coded into the booking, so assuming everything goes as planned on their end with the implementation of the new rate type, the credit will be applied automatically. Yay, you're saving $100!

But are you really? Here's the problem with the Aspire rate: it doesn't stack with any Hilton discounts or promotions, so it's always equivalent to the best flexible rate. Since Hilton almost always offers a discounted flexible rate to Honors members, you may not come out ahead. I did some random searches on random dates, and here's what I found:

Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills - Daily total (incl tax) for Aspire: $840; total for Honors discount: $815 - Aspire is a better deal for stays up to 3 nights

Conrad Chicago - Daily total for Aspire: $405; total for Honors: $392 - Aspire is a better deal for stays up to 7 nights

Waldorf Astoria Chicago - Daily total for Aspire: $605; total for Honors: $586 - Aspire is a better deal for stays up to 5 nights

Hilton also offers special rates at certain hotels, like their "Long Weekender" promotion in which you save 50% on Sunday night if you stay on Friday and Saturday. Let's look at a 3-day stay at the Conrad Chicago while factoring in the weekender rate. (This is also a flexible rate, so it's a fair 1:1 comparison.) - Daily total for Aspire: $463; total for weekender: $386 - Aspire is a better deal only for stays of 1 night... and since Aspire has a 2-night minimum, it's clearly a worse deal here.

And what if you don't care about having a flexible reservation? For me, as long as I know that I'm going to travel, I'm okay booking non-refundable rates and saving money. It's hard to justify paying 20-30% more per night just so I can cancel down the road. Here are some scenarios comparing the Aspire rate to the Honors discount non-refundable rate:

Conrad Chicago - Daily total for non-refundable rate: $349 - Aspire is a worse deal, given the two night minimum

Waldorf Astoria Chicago - Daily total for non-refundable rate: $521 - Aspire is a worse deal, given the two night minimum

Conrad Koh Samui - Daily total for Aspire: $689; daily total for non-refundable rate: $540 - Wow, here the Aspire rate loses you money even on a 1-night stay!

So, whatever you do, check the Hilton Honors rate for the hotel you're looking at before you book the Aspire rate. If you need a flexible rate (or they aren't offering a non-refundable rate), you may still come out ahead. However, it probably won't be by much... and it should definitely be mentioned that cash saved vs. credits at the overpriced restaurant or spa aren't exactly equivalent.

I still love this card, because I'm going to get a ton of value out of having Diamond status this year (I hope), and the airline fee credits will help offset the annual fee somewhat. Plus, now that Waldorf Astoria hotels are offering free breakfast to elites, the $100 credit is less important, since that's probably would I would have ended up using it on. Just beware of any blog that factors the credit into the calculation of whether the annual fee makes sense, since it really doesn't offset the fee at all. Everyone is talking about how the benefits are too good to be true out of the gate and that a devaluation may be coming, so let's all keep our fingers crossed that this one is the first on the chopping block.

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Ranking all the long-haul premium seats that have cradled my physical form