Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant vs Hilton Aspire: Which Premium Amex Hotel Card is Better?

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Bonvoy Brilliant vs. Hilton Aspire

Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant vs. Hilton Aspire Faceoff

American Express dominates the premium hotel credit card space. Offering both the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant and Hilton Aspire cards, Amex has two great options for frequent travelers in search of premium perks with their chain of choice. For those already loyal to either of these brands, your preferred card may be an easy choice. But for those looking to choose between these premium hotel cards, this is our head-to-head comparison of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant vs Hilton Aspire.

Across the board, both are solid premium hotel cards. Each offers various credits, a free night, and other valuable benefits that help offset the $450 annual fee both products’ command. Let’s walk through the differences between the two cards.

Bonvoy Brilliant vs Hilton Aspire: Welcome Offers

The welcome offer is one of the first things I look at when deciding to pick up a new card. I’m much more likely to sign up for a card with a higher initial bonus, although ongoing perks, especially with premium cards, are a major consideration as well.

The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant is currently offering a very nice sign-up bonus of 100,000 Marriott Bonvoy points and 1 free night certificate (worth up to 85,000 points). I value Marriott points around 0.65 cent each, so the points bonus alone is worth $650, which is more than the $450 annual fee. The free night certificate is worth up to another $550 (85K X $0.0065).  Just remember that this is your return on the first year, and not ongoing.

Marriott has also made adjustments to their award chart, and we will see dynamic pricing soon. So, I would expect the value to go down if you hang onto your points.

The Hilton Aspire Card is currently offering a 150,000-point sign up bonus, which on the surface seems like a big windfall. But remember that Hilton points aren’t that valuable. I personally peg them at 0.45 cent. I consistently see most prices offering a value between 0.40-0.50 cents per Hilton point. Using a 0.45 cent value, we’re looking at a sign-up bonus of $675.

Winner: Marriott Brilliant.

In the past the Aspire came out on top, with Brilliant’s normal 75K offer, but with the amazing increased offer on the card right now the Brilliant comes out well ahead.

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Ongoing Earning Rates

The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card earns 6 points per dollar at hotels in the Marriott Bonvoy portfolio, 3 points per dollar spent on flights and at restaurants, and 2 points per dollar on all other spending.

The Hilton Honors Aspire also has a three-tier earning structure. You earn an amazing 14 points per dollar spent at properties in the Hilton portfolio, followed by 7 points per dollar spent at restaurants, flights, and car rentals, and 3 points per dollar on all other spending.

To level the playing field for both cards, I’m going to assume you spend $3,000 per year at hotels within each chain’s portfolio and $3,000 per year at restaurants. I’m going to hope you have a better card option for flight spending, such as the Platinum card from American Express, which offers 5x Membership Rewards points on flight purchases directly with airlines. I’m also going to assume you have a better card for your everyday spending, such as the Citi Double Cash, which beats either of these cards for everyday purchases.

Doing the easy math I’ve set up for myself, the return on spending with the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant is $175.50 per year. The return on spend for the Hilton Aspire is $283.50 annually.

Winner: Hilton Aspire.

This confirmed my gut-level response comparing both cards at first glace. I know I kept my annual spend per year low, but any scaling of this comparison will result in the Hilton Honors card winning by an even greater margin.

Annual Free Nights

The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant and Hilton Honors Aspire both offer an annual free night at cardmember anniversary, just for holding the card. The fine print for each is different.

The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant offers a free night with a value up to 50,000 points. This is enough for a standard free night at any Category 6 property, or an off-peak award at a Category 8 property. It’s good for any available award night for Category 5 and below.

By limiting the free night to 50,000 points, Marriott removes a good number of their best properties from the potential award options. I thought I’d have an easy time using 50,000-point free night certificates in northern California. Turns out that this gets you none of their really nice properties. Things are better in some other locations, but you can expect chains like St. Regis and Ritz Carlton to be off the list. They have made this a bit better by letting you top off your free night certificates with 15,000 points. Although with the increase in rates this may be somewhat of a wash overall.

Hilton does things differently with their weekend night award provided by the Aspire card. Rather than limiting you by category, you are limited by day of the week. As long as a standard award night is available on a weekend, though, you can use your certificate to book it. This applies to all properties.

The downside is Hilton being stuck in the 90s. You have to call to use your free night award. Seriously. But if you don’t mind this, it’s worth a bundle.

Winner: Hilton Aspire

The fact that their certificate can be used at any property trumps the other negatives (weekend night restriction and phone call requirement) in my opinion.

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Annual Credits

The Bonvoy Brilliant card comes with a $300 credit each year at participating Marriott Bonvoy properties. This is super straightforward to use, and if you generally have some paid stay with Marriott anyway, it is essentially a $300 rebate off the annual fee.

The Hilton Aspire comes with two credits: a $250 resort credit at participating Hilton Resorts (that must be available here) and a $250 airline incidental credit (here is how to use those). This is a total of $500 of annual credits.

Winner: Tie

The Hilton Aspire has $500 of annual credits, but there are far more restrictions on them. I don’t value the Hilton credit at face value, whereas the Marriott credit could be considered much closer to cash value when comparing the Bonvoy Brilliant vs Hilton Aspire.

Hotel Perks

Both the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant and Hilton Honors Aspire offer elite status as an ongoing perk of holding the card. In the case of Marriott, you enjoy a mid-tier Gold status, while the Hilton Aspire gets you top-tier Diamond status.

I’m not going to do a comparison of the perks, but if you’re familiar with the programs, you’ll know that Marriott Gold in no way compares to Hilton Diamond. Hilton Diamond offers property credit, complimentary lounge access at hotels with an executive club, and the potential for suite upgrades.

Both top-tier Marriott and Hilton cards offer an on-property credit. With Marriott, you receive $100 to use on-property when you book a minimum two-night stay at participating Ritz-Carlton or St. Regis hotels, and with Hilton you must book a minimum two-night stay at participating Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resort and Conrad Hotels & Resorts. These are the respective chains luxury brands, and these must be cash rates.

With Marriott you also get 15 elite nights, which can help you qualify for elite status higher than Gold (Platinum being the next level at 50 nights).

Winner: Hilton

With Hilton offering complimentary Diamond status with their Aspire card, Marriott falls short. If they offered Platinum status, it would make their elite perks far more compelling.

Other Perks

Both cards offer a variety of other perks. Each offers complimentary Priority Pass membership, which is a fantastic benefit, and really helps sell the cards’ $450 annual fee. Each also offers a variety of travel protections typical of Amex cards.

The Marriott card offers a reimbursement of the Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee (up to $100) every four years.

Winner: Bonvoy Brilliant, by a slim margin.

There’s not a whole lot extra here, and the $100 benefit comes out to approximately $20 per year, which is not much to factor into the total value.

Bonvoy Brilliant vs. Hilton Aspire
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Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant vs Hilton Aspire: Which Wins?

Both cards offer good to great value, depending on how you can use the credits and free nights. Much of the decision really comes down to which chain you prefer. However, I believe we can show that the Hilton Aspire Card has an edge overall, and it is even more so when Brilliant doesn’t have an all time high welcome offer.

That does propose an interesting conundrum though. Although the Aspire is the better long term card I would have to say grabbing the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card makes the most sense right now because of how much value the welcome offer provides right now.

As for the better card long term that will go to the Aspire every day and twice on Sunday, unless you simply favor the Marriott brand.

What is most compelling for you when comparing the Bonvoy Brilliant vs Hilton Aspire?

Ian Snyder
After igniting his passion for award travel while planning his honeymoon, Ian now enjoys using points and miles to see the world with his wife and three internationally adopted kiddos. He loves dissecting loyalty programs to find maximum value. His goal is to demonstrate that extraordinary travel is possible for the ordinary family.

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