The Ritz-Carlton Card vs. Hilton Honors Aspire

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The Ritz-Carlton Card vs. Hilton Honors Aspire- Premium Hotel Cards Battle

 

Previously, I’ve compared the two premium hotel credit cards with the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant & Hilton Honors Aspire. But, now that the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant went through some changes, and increased the annual fee to $650. But, the more elusive sibling The Ritz-Carlton Card from Chase underwent a positive change of upgrading its former 50,000 points Free Night Certificate (FNC) to 85,000 points without changing its $450 annual fee. This can make for an interesting credit card showdown of premium hotel cards with the Hilton Honors Aspire as they both have the same annual fee.

 

The Ritz-Carlton Card vs. Hilton Honors Aspire- Free Night Award/Certificate

Both credit cards will give you a free night certificate every year as long as they’re opened, but they’re executed differently. Free night certificates are one the most coveted benefits on hotel credit cards as they alone can offset the annual fees if used correctly.

The Ritz-Carlton Card now gives a free night certificate worth up to 85,000 points that can be topped up with 15,000 points.

  • With The Ritz-Carlton Card’s FNC, you may redeem it on the former Category 8 hotels that aren’t affected by the 20,000 points increase in redemption as long as the redemption requirement doesn’t go above 100,000 points, at least for the remainder of 2022 and late 2023.
Ritz-Carlton Kyoto
You may be able to use The Ritz-Carlton Card’s FNC at The Ritz Carlton, Kyoto
  • On the other hand, the 85,000 FNC can cause a dilemma on figuring out where to use it, rather than use it as you go during your travels since properties requiring 85,000 points or more are not as common. Think carefully!

 

Hilton Honors Aspire will give an annual free night certificate (with no cap) that will work on most Hilton properties. So, you can potentially redeem it for one night at some of the most aspirational properties like Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi which can cost ~$3000 per night! The FNC will only work on standard rooms.

  • No points limit sounds great on paper, but the most aspirational properties are one of the toughest ones to book due to very limited availability and many Hilton Honors Aspire holders eyeing on those types of redemption. So, you’ll need the right timing and luck to pull it off. In most cases, you’ll settle for the less expensive, but luxurious properties nonetheless to redeem your free night certificate.
  • The FNC only applies to standard room redemption, meaning that you can’t use the FNC to book a suite.
Roku Kyoto, LXR Hotels & Resorts
You can redeem Aspire’s weekend night award at Roku Kyoto, LXR Hotels & Resorts

Since Hilton Honors Aspire’s Free Night Certificate now work on any day, it completely triumphs the one from the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant since it’s less restrictive. But, you can expect to have similar levels of luxury when redeeming either certificate at its max potential.

 

The Ritz-Carlton Card vs. Hilton Honors Aspire- Statement Credit

Both cards give you statement credits in some sort to help stave off the annual fees or even gain outsized value from them. But, there are some hoops that comes with these credits from each cards.

The Ritz-Carlton Card gives you $300 airline incidental credits that can be used for seat upgrades, baggage fees, lounge passes, in-flight Wi-Fi and meals, and so on. But, you need to send a secured message or call Chase to request for the credit since the process isn’t automatic.

This could result in interesting outcomes as the reimbursement is usually up to the interpretation of the customer service rep. In other words, it’s possible to get reimbursed for things that weren’t supposed to work like award fees, low cost carrier tickets, or airline gift cards. Frequent Miler has more details and data points here. Your mileage may vary on this one.

One cool thing about the $300 credit is that it’s valid per calendar year! It means that you can double dip it under one annual fee. For example, if your card’s renewal date is on May 2023, then you can use $300 on July 2023, and another set of $300 in March 2024!

Hilton Honors Aspire gives you up to $250 resort credit on Hilton Resorts properties. While the selection of properties aren’t as vast, there are 230+ Hilton properties worldwide that you can apply the credit to. The resort credit can be used for room rates, dining, amenities, taxes, and fees within Hilton Resort properties.

Hilton Honors Aspire also gives $250 airline incidental that works similarly to Amex Platinum’s airline incidental fees. Here’s the airline list:

  • Alaska Airlines.
  • American Airlines.
  • Delta Air Lines.
  • Frontier Airlines.
  • Hawaiian Airlines.
  • JetBlue Airways.
  • Spirit Airlines.
  • Southwest Airlines.
  • United Airlines.

The airline credits can only be used on things like baggage fees, seat upgrade fees, pet fees, and etc. Basically things that you’d like to want- *ahem* flight tickets– do not work. You may find the credits to be worthless if you don’t find yourself flying in one of the airlines above. Just like The Ritz card, you can double dip the credits as they’re valid per calendar year.

One exception is United Airlines where they have a digital wallet called United TravelBank that triggers the airline incidental credit. The great thing about United TravelBank is that it can be used to offset the cost of United-operated flights! Whatever amount you put in will expire in 5 years after purchase. So, even if you don’t fly United every year and can’t use the credits anywhere else, you may as well use them to fund your United TravelBank. Chances are, they will come in handy in the 5 year period before expiration.

 

The Ritz-Carlton Card’s incidental credit is more flexible as it can work on international airlines, whereas Hilton Aspire is restricted to US airlines. But, Hilton’s statement credit is an automatic process where you’d need to actively contact Chase for reimbursement for the Ritz Card.

 

The Ritz-Carlton Card vs. Hilton Honors Aspire- Complimentary Status

Both cards will get you elevated status for their respective hotel chains to make your hotel stays better.

The Ritz-Carlton Card gets you Gold Elite status which is Marriott Bonvoy’s mid-tier status. The main benefits include:

  • 25% more points on paid Marriott stays
  • Room upgrades excluding suites (subject to availability)
  • 2pm late checkout (subject to availability)
  • Premium Internet
  • Welcome Bonus Points

Hilton Honors Aspire grants you Diamond status, which is Hilton Honor’s highest tier status. The main benefits include:

  • 100% more points on paid Hilton stays
  • Room upgrades up to standard suites (subject to availability)
  • Food & Beverage credits on US Hilton hotels; Free breakfast on international Hilton hotels
  • Late checkout (subject to availability)
  • Executive lounge access if the Hilton property has it available

Hilton Diamond is much better than Marriott Bonvoy Gold, no questions asked. But, there’s more potential for better status within the Marriott Bonvoy program.

In the past, I’ve expressed that Marriott’s Platinum Elite is a tad bit better than Hilton Diamond. While it’s easy to get Hilton Diamond, that’s the highest tier you’ll ever get in Hilton Honors. Marriott Platinum still has 2 more levels of status above it (Titanium & Ambassador), so there’s more potential for Marriott’s elite status benefits to be better than Hilton’s, if you can reach the nights requirements.

One can argue that if the top status is easily achievable by just opening a credit card, some of the benefits will be harder to obtain like suite upgrades, and the status as a whole will be more susceptible to negative changes due to too many people holding the status.

With Marriott, you can combine a US personal and a US business credit card to help you reach status faster. This trick greatly helps to reach Platinum Elite and beyond, but it’s not as easy as just opening a credit card with Hilton.

In the end, status benefits are much more valuable on luxury properties and their value will depend on your travel habits as well. Can you really say you value status if you only stay at Courtyards and Hampton Inns type of properties?

 

The Ritz-Carlton Card vs. Hilton Honors Aspire- Elite Night Credits

The Ritz-Carlton Card now start you with 15 elite nights every calendar year as long as the card’s opened. On the plus side, you can stack it with the Marriott Bonvoy Business Card that would result in you starting with 40 nights. This trick greatly helps to reach Titanium Elite, requiring you 35 elite nights instead of 50 in a single calendar year.

Hilton Honors Aspire doesn’t give elite night credit boosts, nor any other Hilton Honors co-branded credit cards. Why would this matter if you already reach Hilton’s top tier status? The answer is Lifetime Status progress.

Marriott has the easier requirement to reach Lifetime Platinum compared to Hilton’s Lifetime Diamond.

To reach Lifetime Platinum with Marriott, you’ll need:

  • 10 years as a Platinum Elite or higher (non-consecutive) and
  • 600 nights (paid and award stays count) (Elite nights from credit cards also count)

To reach Lifetime Diamond with Hilton, you’ll need:

  • 10 years as a Diamond (non-consecutive) and
  • 1000 nights (paid and award stays count); or spend $200,000 at Hilton properties

 

The Ritz-Carlton Card vs. Hilton Honors Aspire- Earning Rates

Both cards have similar earning categories, but at different rates. Since Marriott and Hilton points are worth differently, the value you get from spending on the cards can look deceiving, especially Hilton Honors Aspire with big looking numbers on its earning rates. Let’s assume that Marriott points are worth 0.6 cents each, while Hilton points are worth 0.4 cents each.

Earning CategoriesThe Ritz-Carlton Card (Real Return)Hilton Honors Aspire Earning Rates (Real Return)
Marriott/Hilton6x (3.6%)14x (5.6%)
Flights directly booked with airlines3x (1.8%)7x (2.8%)
Car rental3x (1.8%)7x (2.8%)
Dining3x (1.8%) Global7x (2.8%) US Only
Everything else2x (1.2%)3x (1.2%)

Hilton Honors Aspire is the better card to get value back compared to the The Ritz-Carlton Card from spend, but they’re not too far off compared to the surface numbers once you’ve done the math. Nonetheless, I’ve expressed that spending with hotel credit cards don’t provide good value, even when spending them on the hotels, in most cases.

In my opinion, the bulk of your hotel points earning should be earned on paid rates on your hotel stays with elite status boost to accelerate your earnings when points redemption don’t provide good value.

 

The Ritz-Carlton Card vs. Hilton Honors Aspire- Other Travel Benefits

Both cards come with the standard travel benefits you’d expect from a premium travel credit card, but The Ritz-Carlton Card is special when it comes to travel protection. Here are some notable ones:

Travel BenefitThe Ritz-Carlton CardHilton Honors Aspire
Priority Pass SelectYes with unlimited guests through authorized users (free)Yes with 2 guests, authorized user does not get PP
Auto Rental Collision Damage WaiverPrimarySecondary
Travel Accident Insuranceup to $1MN/A
Emergency Medical and Dental$2500N/A
Trip Delay$500, 6 hours delay required$500, 6 hours delay required
Global Entry or TSA PreCheck Credit$100 every 5 yearsN/A

The Ritz-Carlton Card’s travel protection is on par with the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which arguably has the best out of all premium travel credit cards. Some may find the travel accident insurance very beneficial, and can be an incentive to book flights with The Ritz-Carlton Card for the added peace of mind.

Also, The Ritz-Carlton Card provides 3 Club upgrade certificates; 1 certificate is valid up to paid 7 nights. It’d allow you to have access to the Ritz-Carlton Club Lounge, which can be handy because the Ritz-Carlton brand doesn’t give free breakfast even to Marriott’s top elite members. The caveat is that you need paid nights of the hotel’s standard rate. Thus, points booking won’t be eligible for the upgrade. Since Ritz-Carlton properties are expensive in general, some parts of the world have more reasonable rates (for Americans). The last one I stayed at was The Ritz-Carlton, Astana in Kazakhstan (~$225/night).

 

Conclusion

Whether the Ritz-Carlton Card or the Hilton Honors Aspire is better for you or not will depend whether you like Marriott or Hilton portfolios better. The case for Hilton Aspire is stronger if you’re a traveler who can’t quite make it to Platinum Elite in Marriott Bonvoy, but still want the high hotel status experience. I’m talking about those who stay in hotels 20-30 nights a year.

For someone who’s already invested in Marriott Bonvoy and have no problem reaching at least Platinum Elite, The Ritz-Carlton Card can give great value to the loyalists. Even if they can’t use the $300 airline incidental credit effectively or at all, some may find it worth paying $450 for an 85,000 FNC, especially if they have eyes on aspirational properties that require that range points.

One thing to keep in mind is that both cards share unique drawbacks when it comes to redeeming the free night certificates.

While Hilton’s free night award can be really great for very expensive properties, it won’t make sense for all travelers, and they can end up losing value by getting poor value out of their redemption, or just don’t care about luxury hotels in general.

The same thing can be said about the Brilliant’s 85,000 certificate. It requires you to go to a location where a very expensive property is present to get outsized value, which may not be realistic for many people.

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