Amex Bonvoy Brilliant vs Amex Hilton Aspire – Best Amex Hotel Credit Cards #62 | Military Money Manual Podcast Episode  

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The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card and the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card annual fee is waived for military servicemembers and military spouses.

In this episode Spencer Reese and Jamie break down the differences between two of the best Amex hotel credit cards available: The Amex Bonvoy Brilliant and the Amex HIlton Honors Aspire Card.

Military Money Manual Podcast Episode #62 Links

Outline of Episode:

  • A listener’s question about the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant vs Hilton Aspire cards and which cards would be better to work toward. Is it beneficial to have both? 
  • Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant $300 annual hotel credit becomes a $25 per month restaurant credit
  • Which one has the better welcome bonus?
  • Annual Free Night Certificate comparison
  • Annual Credit Comparison
    • Airline
    • Hotel
    • Restaurant 
    • Caveats to Amex airline and resort credits
  • Diamond Status vs Platinum Elite Status benefit comparison 
  • Points per dollar redemption comparison
  • Annual fee waiver for military families

Military Money Manual Podcast Episode #62 Transcript

[00:00:00] Spencer: If we staggered it and we planned it we could go to the Ritz Carlton one night and it could be completely covered. Or if we booked the thing on points, all of our meals, spa treatments, all the activities, you could cover the whole trip. Just with the $300 credit. 

I'm Spencer Reese, co-host of the podcast here with my good friend and co-host Jamie.

I'm the owner of militarymoneymanual.com and the author of the Military Money Manual book. Today my co-host Jamie and I are answering a listener's question comparing the American Express Hilton Honors Aspire credit card versus the American Express Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant credit card. 

Hey, if you got a second, you can do it safely, especially if you're not currently driving. Please leave us a five-star review on Spotify. We're almost up to 100 reviews at the time of this recording. Hopefully, by the time you release this episode, we'll have over a hundred reviews. Also, a rating and review on Apple podcasts would be awesome too. That really helps us out, helps us spread the word about the good things that we're doing on the podcast.

Jamie, what's our reader/listener question?

[00:01:30] Jamie: This one's a little long, so bear with me he said, “Hey, Spencer and Jamie, my brother, bought me your book and turned me onto the podcast and website early this year, and I've been a huge fan ever since. I also regularly tell my army coworkers about your resources.

When I came on active duty in 2016, I was quickly told about the Amex Platinum, so I've had one for many years. A few years after that, a buddy sent me a referral for the Hilton Aspire, but that was about as far as my credit card travel hacking extended. I have a few no-fee cards from a long time ago as well. So when my brother turned me on to you guys, I of course did the ultimate Military credit cards course”, which you can find at militarymoneymanual.com/umc3.

That's a free course. Spencer will talk more about that in a second. So he did the course and dove all into the travel hacking game. Since March, he's opened 9 cards. Some chase cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, United, Southwest, IHG, and Hyatt cards, and AMEX cards like Gold, Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant, Delta Reserve, and Green.

“It's been a lot of fun watching the points grow and finding ways to use the points. Recently my fiance had to take an emergency trip back home by the way, too, and we were able to fully fund her round trip tickets with a welcome bonus from the United Card.” That's awesome. I love hearing about stuff like that.

“All of this is probably unnecessary.” No, we love it. Keep it coming.  “I had been meaning to reach out to you guys. Thank you guys, and tell you how much I appreciate what you do. The question I have though is this,” and here's the work part. All the rest of it was fun. I enjoy questions like that, but his question is, “Would the significantly increased benefits of the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card, would you still recommend working towards the three Hilton Aspire cards or the Hilton Honors cards?

Or has the Bonvoy Brilliant become the better play? The next two cards I have in the hopper to open are either the Hilton Honor surpass and the Hilton Honor card to then upgrade in a year to the Aspire now I'm wondering if it makes more sense to work towards upgrading Marriott cards, the Brilliant, with a $300 restaurant credit, $85,000 point night rewards, et cetera.

So I was curious to get your guys' thoughts on that. What do you think?”

[00:03:26] Spencer: First of all, Jamie, thanks for reading that. Take a breath. That was a long one, but I also really enjoy it when listeners and readers write. I think this was on Instagram. I usually don't like to share names just for privacy purposes, but, yeah, this guy messaged me on Instagram and gave me this great backstory. I also got another one recently about a guy who was able to travel hack his way to go hike Kilimanjaro in a couple of months. Yeah. So I was super stoked to hear about that. 

Hey listeners, have you got any stories, success stories like that? Please keep them coming and maybe we'll read them on the podcast if you want us to, or we just love reading about it and hearing.

[00:04:04] Jamie: Especially when they're encouraging like that too. We do this and it's fun and we love helping each other and sharing our passions, but when it's meaningful to you, it makes it even more meaningful to us.

[00:04:13] Spencer: Absolutely. My first response to the question is actually, I'm interested in why he thinks that the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card is the better play with the recent changes to the card. Marriott Bonvoy's marketing department has claimed their first victim here, and the big change with the card to me was that the $300 annual hotel credit became a $25 per month restaurant credit.

So the value of the credit didn't go down. It's still $300 per year, but to me, splitting it up over $25 per month, it's like nickel and diming the benefit. It's so much easier for me to spend $300 at a hotel, either on a nice dinner out or on the room rate. It was a very flexible credit.

It is arguably a lot more and was a lot more flexible than the Hilton Honors Aspire credit, but to me, it's much less valuable when they increase the annual free night to 85,000 points. That's only because they've devalued Marriott points so much that you couldn't get anything with a 50,000-point certificate anymore.

So I think there's a lot there that they have, I don't know if you would say Nerfed, the Marriott Bonvoy program, and this is trying to catch up basically and keep this card valuable. I guess the other thing that changes, is they moved it from Gold Elite to Platinum Elite, but I really find that for most of the elite tiers unless you're at the top tier, you're not really getting too much.

And we'll talk in a couple of minutes about the different elite statuses that you can get between the Hilton Honors Aspire Card and the Amex Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card.

[00:05:48] Jamie: So before we go into each different way, we can compare the pros and cons of each card. I'm going to offer a slightly different dissenting view on the new restaurant credit.

I think there is a little bit of benefit here because any military family can spend $25 a month at a restaurant, so I think it opens it up to less travel hacking enthusiasts in a way, because anyone's going to be able to spend $25 a month at a restaurant and get that now reimbursed on this new benefit as of September 2022.

Whereas maybe going to Marriott Hotel if you're still in debt or you're earlier in your personal finance. Maybe you're just not traveling or during covid, so I don't know, maybe there's a little bit of benefit there. I'll offer that if you're eating out $25 a month, which I would imagine most families in America are way more than that, then this card probably should be in your wallet now, and at least get some of that reimbursed.

We went the other day and we stopped at Panda Express and it was like a $27 thing to feed my family that only cost me two bucks. So that's nice. It is a little bit nickel and diming but a free meal is still a free meal.

[00:06:50] Spencer: I could definitely see that perspective. I'm more on the travel hacking side.

I like my credits to be lump sum and to be very upfront. Between my wife and I, we've got three Amex Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Cards, so that was $900 a month of Marriott credit. That was huge. If we staggered it and we planned it right we could go to the Ritz Carlton and one night could be completely covered.

Or if we book the thing on points, all of our meals, spa treatments, and all the activities, you could cover the whole trip just with the $300 credit. So I got a lot of value out of that credit and am going to miss it. So I guess I'm a little salty about it, but I can see how the $25 restaurant credit is valuable to some people.

[00:07:31] Jamie: I definitely agree with that and I will miss it greatly as well. Just trying to look at the silver lining so it doesn't sting quite as much, but I can now see Spencer going to Steak and Shake or whatever restaurant. I don't even, I don't know what they have in New Zealand, but I'd like $25 on this card and $25 on this card, and $25 on this card, and then you do it every month.

Maybe you just find the same waitress or waiter, and then they'll get the system down, like your Saks gift card plan, and then they'll know exactly what you want when you come in the first of the month, they'll be like, here you go.

[00:07:57] Spencer: We're. Yeah. Or when I could probably start doing it on the 31st of the month, go in and buy some gift cards, and then on the first come back, buy some more gift cards.

And then you've got, you know what, $150 worth of gift cards over there.

[00:08:10] Jamie: Oh, that's too much time. All right, now you're pushing it. Yes. Now you're pushing it. All right. Let's get into the comparison here before we go too far down the rabbit hole. So let's compare welcome bonuses. Which one has the better welcome bonuses when we talk Hilton cards versus Marriott cards?

[00:08:22] Spencer: So if you're comparing the welcome bonuses, Jamie, they're both offering 150,000 points, which I mean a Hilton point. A Marriott point, they're pretty similar. Pretty similar. I think the luxury brands are more recognizable on the Marriott side, like the Ritz Carlton, but you know the Hiltons, they've got the Waldorf Astoria, they've got the Conrad, they've got the LXR.

There are a lot of luxury brands on both sides, and you can get a lot of value out of both Marriott and Hilton points. I usually tend to have more Hilton points lying around. I'm not sure why, and at least overseas I found that Hilton tends to be the place that I want to travel to with pretty decent hotels.

So I just end up staying and we'll talk about this in a minute, but with the Amex Hilton Honors Aspire card, you'll get diamond status. So you're going to be top-tier elite status and you're not going to have that with the Marriott card. We'll get into that in just a second. I think on the welcome bonus side, they're both offering 150,000 points.

The Amex Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant you have to spend $5,000 in 3 months, and this is current as of October 2022 on the Hilton on Aspire card, the 150,000 points are actually the most stable offer I've ever seen, and it's spent $4,000 for three months. That's the same offer they've had for five or six years, I think, which is pretty crazy.

So how about you, Jamie? Any difference in the welcome bonus offers 150,000 points, for both cards.

[00:09:44] Jamie: Earlier you talked about how Marriott's been devaluing their points. I think we were definitely seeing that with Hilton as well, where the random Hampton Inn on the side of the highway used to cost 20,000 points when I started getting into the points game, now it's going to cost maybe 35,000 probably more like 45,000 a mediocre hotel at an airport is going to run you 50,000 maybe 60,000 or 70,000 points depending on the time of year then a pretty nice room might be 125,000 points. They're both definitely playing with the valuations, so I would call this a wash and a tie on the welcome bonuses.

Even though with the Marriott card, you have to spend a little bit more tied up so far, zero to zero still for the welcome bonus. Now annual free nights are a great redemption option. Both cards offer annual free nights, which one has a better annual free night reward?

[00:10:31] Spencer: I'm going to go with Hilton for this one. I'm going to score a point in the Hilton category, so thank you for the sound effect.

I found their annual free nights to be much more flexible. Now, they used to be before Covid, I'm pretty sure I've got this right. Maybe my history is a little cloudy, but they used to be weekend-free nights, right? So it was Friday, Saturday, or Sunday night? You could use the credit then I think during, or just before Covid, I think it was probably during Covid, during, yeah, when everything was getting flexible. They basically said it's an annual free night. You can use it any night of the week. What's great about that is, you can use it anywhere and you can use it up to any point value. So if you can find a 120,000 Maldives overwater bungalow, that's a standard room rate redemption.

I guess that's the caveat: if you can find a standard room rate redemption at any Hilton property in the world, you can stay there with your annual free night. For example, I'm going to New York City for Thanksgiving. We're staying at the Conrad for three nights. We used three free night certificates, and I think the points were like 90,000 or 100,000 points per night.

That's a great redemption right there on the point side the cash value of the room is like $1,200 when you add in all the taxes. Wow. New York City and state taxes and everything. $1,200 or 100,000 or 3 free nights. So I think Hilton definitely wins for me in this category.

Now Marriott with a new Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant. It's an 85,000-point annual free night so you can use your annual free night for any, I think it still has to be standard room rate redemption, that's 85,000 points or less. Now, the cool thing that Marriott does is with the 85,000 points, you can top that off with Bonvoy points that you've just got sitting in your account.

So you can use up to 15,000 points to top off your 85,000-point free night certificate. Now, I've got seven 50,000-point free night certificates sitting in my account right now, but I can use 15,000 points and I can top those off and those become 65,000-point free night certificates. So with the new Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card, 85,000 points annual free night, you can top it up with 15,000 points.

That gets you up to 100,000 Marriott points, which is going to pretty much get you a standard room redemption just about anywhere in the Marriott system. I think they do go up to 120,000, maybe even 150,000 points per night now in some of the more luxury properties.

[00:12:51] Jamie: In both of these free night certificates, correct me if I'm wrong, you get your first free night certificate after one year of membership.

So your first card anniversary is when you get your first one, so no difference there. A quick redemption story. I'm using a Hilton Free Night Certificate, actually, two of them back to back in a couple of weeks down in the Florida Panhandle at one of the Hilton Resort properties, and I went back to add another night, the third night, and I was looking at whether it made more sense to pay cash, use my points or the free night certificate.

We have a whole podcast episode about giving you tips on how to compare that. When I looked at the points, it was 247,000 points for one extra night to extend my reservation, and so obviously no brainer. To use my free night certificate for that and not burn through almost 250,000 Hilton points. So one point for Hilton, zero points for Marriott, and one category as a tie.

[00:13:41] Spencer: Okay, so next up we've got annual credit. So this is basically annual cash benefits, annual reimbursements that they offer. On the Hilton Honors Aspire Card $250 airline fee credit. This is similar to the $200 American Express Platinum Airline fee credit, but it's a $250 airline fee credit for the Hilton Honors Aspire card.

Plus the Aspire card also offers a $250 resort credit. Now there are two big caveats that we'll talk about for the airline fee credit and for the resort credit for the Amex Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant. They just changed. It's a $300 annual restaurant credit, $25 a month. We just gave our opinions on that.

What do you think, Jamie? Who's going to win in this category? And then I'll talk about the two caveats on the Aspire card.

[00:14:26] Jamie: I think this is another clear Hilton. So 2 points for Hilton, 0 points for Marriott right now, $250 for airline incidentals, plus $250 for resorts. It's a no-brainer that it's better than $25 a month for restaurants.

[00:14:39] Spencer: Yeah, I'm going to have to go with that one too. So the two caveats are the airline fee credit can be a pain and the butt to use. There are usually one or two workarounds, and I'll let you go to Flyertalk flyertalk.com or just Google “Flyertalk Amex airline fee credit”, and you can see the latest data points at the time of this recording.

And this will probably change. So go look this up yourself. At the time of this recording. You can use your Amex airline fee credit to purchase United Travel Bank credit. Basically what that allows you to do is buy $250 of United Travel Bank credit. It puts $250 into your United Frequent Flyer account, and then when you go and book a United Flight, it has to be operated by United.

It can't be co-chair with Asiana. It could be co-chair with Asiana, but it can't be operated by Asiana or Air New Zealand, for instance. Then you can just apply that credit to your flight. This summer I had, man, $2,000 over $2,000 worth of airline fee credit that I had with United Travel Bank. I was able to fly first class around the country, at least 2 or 3 trips with that.

So that was awesome. So that's caveat number one. Caveat number two, the resort credit has to be at a Hilton Honors resort. It doesn't necessarily have to have “resort” in the name. In fact, there's an example of a place that has “resort” in the name but isn't technically a Hilton Honors Resort. Just to make it confusing, but if you go to hilton.com/resorts, it'll pop up.

There's, I don’t know, 800 of the 6,000 Hilton Properties. Yeah, there's a lot I would say, probably every state and most countries where Hilton operates is going to have a resort if it doesn't, hey, now you've got an excuse to go travel. Check it out. Hilton.com/resort. It has to be a resort listed on that hilton.com page in order to get the $250 resort credit.

But what's cool is you can use it for anything at that resort. So it can be a room charge, it can be a room rate, it could be a restaurant at the property, or a spa treatment. Yep. There you go. So I've been able to use it. One time we were traveling on the Gold Coast of Australia I took the whole family out, about eight people to a nice dinner, and I put it on the Hilton Honors Aspire card and almost covered the entire cost of the meal.

[00:16:55] Jamie: You weren't even staying at the hotel at that time. It was just purely a hotel restaurant. 

[00:17:00] Spencer: Yep. Jamie, earlier you mentioned comparing points versus cash versus free night certificates. That was episode number 20. If anybody's interested in going to check that. We will have show notes for this podcast, for this episode.

You can check that out, militarymoneymanual.com/podcast and we'll have links to things that we talk about in the podcast. Okay, Jamie, last category here. So it's not looking good for the AMEX Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant. I still think, let me just cut to the punchline here. I still think this card is valuable.

I still think you should have this card in your repertoire. If you already have an Aspire card, maybe it makes sense to go get a Marriott card now, just to balance it out, and then go back to Hilton and start working on the Surpass card. Work on the Hilton Honors card, and then eventually upgrade those cards to additional Aspire Cards.

Thoughts?

[00:17:49] Jamie: I agree. I think having a number of options to use and being able to pull from different brands based on their pricing chart and their availability chart and things like that. It's always nice to be able to go between Hilton or Hyatt or Marriott, and then you'll get a feel for which brand you like the most, and which types of hotels you like the most.

Do you like the suite kind of rooms or standard rooms? What do you enjoy spending your money on? And so I definitely agree with that sentiment. Spencer, what about elite status? How do these two cards compare and what kind of elite benefits do they give cardholders?

[00:18:20] Spencer: Jamie, it's not looking good for the Amex Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant. Another point to the Hilton Honors Aspire card in this category here is the automatic Diamond status with the Aspire card. That's the highest public tier. I think there is a secret tier that's higher than that. I don't have it, but you can Google that. I think there is a classified top secret tier higher than diamond status at Hilton.

Probably like Conrad Invitation. So, with the diamond status, you're going to get executive lounge access and 100% points bonus on hotel stays. This is what's crazy to me, is sometimes I'll book these rooms for I don't know, 20,000 points, 30,000 points, and by the time I check out, this always blows my wife's mind.

She's we just checked in on 20,000 points and they just gave us 10,000 points for staying there. Like, how does that add up? Yeah, I don't know that's what they want to do. We're Diamond. Daily food and beverage credit or continental breakfast if you're overseas. I think that was another benefit that got nerfed by Covid.

But the nice thing about it, if you're overseas, you get the continental breakfast. Usually, you can upgrade to hot food for just a couple of bucks, which is something that I usually do. So that's the highest tier. You get that automatically with the Aspire card then the automatic status with the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card is Platinum Elite, which is an upgrade because it used to be Gold Elite until a couple weeks ago.

So that's the third highest of the 6 public tiers. Titanium elite. Which sounds like a hip replacement and Ambassador Elite is higher. Ambassador Elite actually requires, not only do you have to stay for like a hundred nights a year or whatever, but you also have to spend a minimum of $20,000. So they're trying to weed out people who just stay on points.

But there is a higher tier than Ambassador Elite. It's not public. I can't remember what it is right now, but again, this card has a higher annual fee. The Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant has a higher annual fee than the Hilton Honors Aspire card, but you're not getting the highest publicly available elite status.

[00:20:20] Jamie: I will say one-half point to Marriott is they're guaranteed 4:00 PM late checkout with Platinum Elite is clutch and we use that over the summer in New York when I did my half marathon because we were able to go back to the room after the race and shower, get changed, and then head back into Manhattan with the 4:00 PM late checkout and save just a whole nother night of either paying for it or staying out of the main area where we wanted to be.

So that 4:00 PM late checkout guaranteed is really nice. Whereas Hilton, as you can. Sometimes 1 o’clock, or 2 o'clock, but hardly ever guaranteed it's usually you have to ask the front desk when you get there. So I think we're at like 2 points to 0.5. But still in the lead. Maybe 3 to 0.5.

[00:20:59] Spencer: Yeah, 50% point bonus. So like when you earn points, you're going to get 50% bonus if you're a Platinum Elite at Marriott, 4:00 PM late checkout, like Jamie said, is a huge benefit there. Points breakfast amenity offered. It could be upgraded to suites, which is definitely a plus up from the gold Elite status. Gold Elite was pretty weak in my mind.

Didn't really do much. Sometimes you get free water when you check-in. You get lounge access as well. Yep. Points earning potential. Do you want to earn Marriott points? It depends. Sometimes it makes a lot more sense to put your hotel spending on a card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve or Amex Green.

[00:21:35] Jamie: I was just pulling up my credit card benefits chart. Of course, I have a spreadsheet for this to compare benefits for the Hilton Aspire. The top earning category that I track is 14 points per dollar. If you are at a Hilton property, which I value at 8 cents, so $1 would give me 8 cents back then the second best is generic travel.

That's 7 Hilton Honors points per dollar, which is 4 cents. Then on the Bonvoy side, the best one is a stay at a Marriott hotel which is 6 points per dollar, which is only 5 cents, so neither one is a great earning potential card. Probably better to earn Amex or Chase points like you said. 

To give you some idea of how I compare the two, I mentioned Spencer a minute ago, when I'm going to a hotel, if I know I'm going out of town for the weekend or on a trip, I'll look at where I'm going, reference the benefits of the cards and make sure I have the top two or three cards that I want to have for that trip, for that hotel stay that's one of the ways I just take 30 seconds to look up which card to use between the two, but neither of these really get any points on earning potential, I would say. So I'm not going to award any points to either card.

[00:22:42] Spencer: Then finally, the annual fee waiver for military families. Hey, thank you. Military Lending Act and Congress. So active duty, US military service members, military spouses, married to an active duty service.

Also Guard and Reservists on 30-day or more orders. All of you are going to get your annual fees waived on both of these cards, and they're both American Express cards. So even when you leave active duty, American Express usually tends to keep waiving your annual fees and we've got an episode about that coming out soon if it's not already out.

So on the Amex Marriott Bonvoy Brilliance $650 annual fee, that's 100% waived for US military service members, active duty, and military spouses married to active duty. Like I said, you're going to get your annual fees waived as well then on the Amex Hilton Honors Aspire card, $450 a year that you're getting the annual fee waived.

And again, military spouses listen up. You're getting those annual fee waivers too, as well as the active duty service member. Don't need to add them as an authorized user. Go check the MLA database. Go to my website, militarymoneymanual.com/mla-database. I will explain how to do it. Just make sure that you're in the MLA database before you apply for the cards, and your fees will be automatically waived.

It's super easy. It's a great benefit that American Express, Chase, Citi, and US Bank all offer. 

Hey podcast listeners. We hope today's discussion encourages you on your journey to financial independence while you serve in the military and helps you maximize your military benefits. To review, we answer one of our reader questions.

We talked about the pros and cons of the American Express Hilton Honors Aspire Card and the American Express Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card. Again, both of those cards are issued by American Express. Hey, as always, if you have any questions or feedback, message us on Instagram @militarymonemanual, or via email, podcast@militarymoneymanual.com.

We love the questions and the messages that we're getting. We appreciate all of you for joining us today. Keep sharing the podcast with your friends, family, and coworkers, it does mean a lot to us. We'll catch you on the next episode.

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