[Expired] No Fee Hilton Aspire Upgrade Offer [Regularly $450]

Update (12/15/2020): We had CF Frost on Episode 106 of the podcast to discuss this deal and all things Amex

Update (12/15/2020): It appears Amex has pulled the offer.

This is a guest post from CF Frost. He surfaced up this offer and has been helping people understand how Amex upgrade offers work – and this deal specifically – on Milenomics Slack.

Direct Link to check whether you’re eligible
(you’ll need to have an active Amex No Annual Fee Hilton or Surpass card that’s been open more than a year, without an Aspire card associated with the online profile you’re checking from)

The world’s most nuanced card gets the world’s most nuanced upgrade offer.

Early yesterday as I performed my morning ritual of logging onto Amex to confirm my account hadn’t been shut down yet, I checked my prequalified offers (found in Menu – Cards – Check for Pre-qualified Credit Card Offers rather than the more common location for upgrade offers in the Amex Offers & Benefits section) and found this sizzler – an offer to upgrade my fee free Hilton card to an Aspire for no points, but with an unusual fee structure.

Quoted here in text:

The following is a summary of the changes that will be made to your account if you accept this upgrade offer. Other rates and fees will remain the same.
Annual Membership Fee: When you upgrade, your new Card will have a promotional annual fee of $0 for one year. In the first billing period on or after the end of the promotional year, you will be charged a prorated amount of the $95 annual fee for your new Card based on the time remaining until your next account anniversary date. On each account anniversary date thereafter, you will be charged the annual fee for your new Card. If you cancel your Card account or switch to another Card during the one year promotional period, you may no longer remain eligible for this promotion.

Amex Upgrade/Downgrade

My Hilton Amex card holds a special place in both my wallet and my heart – it was the first credit card I ever signed up for (coming with a whopping signup bonus of 10,000 points) and the OG sits in a small frame on my desk. 

Since that fateful day it has been a dedicated soldier to the cause – diligently doing the dirty work needed to keep my average age of accounts up; all while being upgraded and downgraded more times than I’d like Amex to know about.  If anyone could take on unwrapping this early Christmas (or timely Hanukkah) gift, I knew it was up for the challenge.

How Amex Upgrades Normally Work

For what appears to be a relatively straightforward offer, it has surprising complexities.

There are two factors in play here – your upgrade date (the date you upgrade the card, for me December 2020) and your card anniversary date (which corresponds to the date you originally got the card, my next anniversary will be March 2021). 

Under a typical upgrade scenario, Amex would prorate the annual fee from your upgrade date to your anniversary date – in that scenario I would be charged three months of annual fee (25% of $450, or $112) upon upgrade, and then the full $450 in March 2021. 

How This No-Fee Aspire Upgrade Offer Works

With this offer, no fee will be charged on upgrade -and- no fee will be charged on the anniversary date this offer straddles.

Additionally, you get a reduced prorated fee ($95 vs $450) for whatever portion of the cardmember year remains a year from when you took the offer and the original card’s anniversary date.

For example: 

  • March 2019: Card’s birthdate
  • December 2020: Upgrade to Aspire (no fee)
  • March 2021: Card anniversary (no fee, weekend night certs, resort credit resets)
  • December 2021: Prorated $95 fee (from December 2021 – March 2022, say 25% or $24)
  • March 2022: Full $450 fee (or whatever the fee is at that point)

In the meantime here’s what an upgrade can collect:

  • $250 Airline Fee Credit (each calendar year), which can be triple dipped into January 2022
  • $250 Hilton Resort Credit (each cardmember year) which can be double dipped as your anniversary year will straddle your upgrade year (and possibly triple dipped if you can extract it within 30 days of the full fee posting on your anniversary)
  • Hilton Honors Annual Free Weekend Night Reward certificate (more on how those work) that will post a month after the straddled anniversary, and some other benefits of dubious value (Diamond status, bonus Hilton points in some spending categories, Priority Pass, among others).

Timing Considerations

The timing of this offer is particularly interesting considering it dropped shortly after the anniversary of the fee-free Aspire offer in November last year, and not too long after some people triple dipped Aspire referrals, signups, and upgrades in August last year.

Presumably there are a large number of people holding a recently downgraded Aspire who are eligible to once again rejoin to the ranks of the Diamond elite.  If you are one of these chosen few, your math is a little trickier – if you used your airline credit in 2020, or your resort credit for this current cardmember year, those credits will not reset on the upgrade; instead, you will have to wait until 2021 to start seeing the return.

Not as meaty as the triple dip, but there is still enough on the bone to make it worthwhile.  Adding a little sauce to the steak is if you recently downgraded your Aspire because your anniversary just passed, your gap period is nearly a year.  This would allow nearly a full year at the prorated $95 – in essence, getting two years of the Aspire for and average cost of under $50 a year, and the potential to sneak another airline incidental credit in 2023(!) before downgrading.

Keep These Things in Mind

So why not take the offer?

For one, you’d be freezing a credit card slot with Amex. Most people are limited to 4 active credit cards with Amex these days.  In theory you could cancel it whenever the need arose with likely little recourse (since there is nothing for Amex to claw back), although that potentially could end up with you in pop-up purgatory. 

Additionally, if you haven’t had the Aspire yet, upgrading would box you out from a future Aspire welcome offer.  

Lastly, you can’t upgrade what you don’t have – upgrading would box you out from a subsequent upgrade offer, which while not guaranteed, historically has featured points in lieu of a waived fee.  A previous upgrade offer was 150,000 points; compared to our current offering you would in essence be buying 150,000 points for $450 (a rate of 0.33 cents per point).  This may or may not be a good deal depending on your marginal value of 150,000 additional points (for someone tantalizingly close to a high value award this could be quite valuable; while those swimming in an Olympic size pool of Hilton points may find an extra 150,000 points to be of marginal utility). 

So Many Questions

And somehow there are still more unanswered questions. 

Will the prorated “gap” fee post as advertised – could the $95 be a typo?  It’s conceivable that it was intended to prorate at $450 during the gap (since $95 is instead the fee for the Surpass). 

If Amex does use the $450 for the prorate next year, it appears that would be an easy fight to win given the clear terms, but the eyes and attention this could bring to your account may not make this a fight worth fighting. 

Will the card post an additional free night certificate on upgrade?  Previous upgrades to the Aspire triggered a certificate, but it’s anyone’s guess what will happen this time. 

Bottom Line

In an uncertain world, we can count on three things – death, taxes, and complicated Amex offers.  The world’s most interesting bank never fails to disappoint.

Thanks to CF Frost for sharing his insights here. We’re looking forward to having him on a future podcast episode.

About the author


  1. This is quite interesting. I am worried too about the upgrade/downgrade thing. I’ve kept my Aspire since it does offer such good value. I’ve never had the no fee card so I’ve been avoiding downgrading to get the bonus there. I’ve been expecting the AF to go up on the Aspire but covid definitely stopped any possible plans there. As long as the card keeps making money for Amex, hopefully there will be no negative changes and they keep offering amazing deals like this one you shared. Aspire doesn’t have great value for everyday spend, but given these promos my guess is a lot of the Hilton faithful do. It would be a killer card if it offered another free night after $15k spend. $60k is crazy to me but maybe frequent Hilton travelers see it as a goal worth pursing.

  2. So… I have an Aspire card. I also has this upgrade offer showing on my Surpass, which used to be the vanilla Hilton card. I upgraded from Hilton to Surpass in June 2019, then paid the Surpass in March 2020. I’m considering taking this offer for the Aspire benefits. Is it okay to have 2 Aspires? Is there a risk here, even though this is offered on my account, I don’t want to risk points/relationship… I have 700K Hilton right now. I’m assuming the play is to at least keep this as Aspire for 12+ months since Amex frowns upon closing/downgrading after less than 12 months. I’m saying that since the $95 could be a typo, which would make paying the prorate amount less attractive.

    1. Jason: I have two aspires, there’s no issue that I know of beyond the issue of having to load the second aspire to a second amex login for the air incidentals to be selected and show correctly.

  3. I was eligible from a previously downgraded Aspire so I’m going for it. Never would have otherwise seen this in the terms – so thank you!

  4. If I read this correctly either upgrade offer still preserves one’s 1/lifetime option to get a signup bonus for the Aspire, correct?

    1. rj: Thanks for the comment. You bring up a valid point–we just don’t know for sure. Because of that if you have never had an Aspire it would be worth considering the bonus as part of your decision on whether or not to go in on this deal.

  5. I’m having a tough time figuring this one out:

    I opened an Aspire card on 12/5/2018, then downgraded it to a Surpass on 1/10/2020.

    I just did a chat with an amex rep and they said my next annual fee will be posted on Jan 10, 2021.

    So will my $250 resort credit & free weekend night cert reset each Dec 5 or Jan 10?

    1. Your anniversary date is 12/5. You will get one airline fee credit for 2020, one for 2021, and you could get one for 2022 if you use it within first day or two of the year before closing card.

      You will get a free weekend night on-upgrade, and again on Dec 5 (but if you close the card in January, you wont actually get the second weekend night)

      You will get a resort credit on upgrade, and then another one on 12/5 next year (which you could use up before closing).

      1. Okay let’s see if I have this right:

        Dec 5 2018: Card’s birthdate
        Dec 12 2020: Upgrade to Aspire no fee
        Dec 5 2021: no fee
        Dec 12, 2021: $95 dollar (about $94) fee
        Dec 5, 2022: full $450 fee

        If that looks right then maybe I can quadruple the airline credit by using it Jan 1, 2023 before the bill is due?

        1. Close but not quite. December 5, 2021– $95 fee.
          December 5, 2022– $450 fee.

          Your card anniversary date doesnt change with product changes.

  6. I have two Aspire cards, one Surpass and one no annual fee Hilton card now, all in the same online account, I still got the upgrade offer on my Surpass card, and accepted it.

  7. This worked for me and I have one aspire card. Didn’t work for my husband, who meets the criteria described (no aspire, hilton HH card)

  8. I have the no fee Amex Hilton – never had the Aspire. Regarding the $250 airline credit, is it only valid on incidental fees such as baggage or can it be used toward plane tickets? If the former, it doesn’t seem easy to spend $250 in incidentals before the end of the year.

      1. “anything that isn’t a ticket” is too broad. Upgrades are not eligible, but seat assignment fees are (which includes preferred seats in the same booking class). Award fees also aren’t supposed to work, but a lot of times they do end up triggering the credit as long as they are under a certain amount. WiFi also doesn’t work for most airlines since third parties process those charges

        Just remember that if a charge isn’t eligible, if it doesn’t automatically trigger the credit you can’t ask to have it applied manually

        1. I thought it would be pretty obvious when you’re paying for wifi on a 3rd party portal that you’re not actually paying the airline.

          And you can 100% chat with Amex for them to manually add the credit for covered fee that isn’t auto credited. I know because I’ve done it.

          1. Correct, you can chat and get them to manually add the credit for covered fees if they aren’t triggered automatically

            You can’t do that for things like award taxes and upgrades though, since those aren’t covered in Amex’s terms.

            “Airline tickets, upgrades, mileage points purchases, mileage points transfer fees, gift cards, duty free purchases, and award tickets are not deemed to be incidental fees.”

            So while some of these items do sometimes trigger the credit automatically, you can’t get Amex to manually apply the credit to any of those charges if it doesn’t

            1. Yes, you can’t ask them to credit for a non-covered item, but many times the charge doesn’t specifically say what it’s for when it posts, so there’s a little wiggle room for chatting. YMMV of course.

  9. The new card agreement says like this about annual fee: None; however, as you have been previously notified, your Annual Membership Fee will be
    $450 as of January 30, 2021

      1. After receiving the card and reading the membership fee terms (which differ from the upgrade offer—$0, prorated $95, then $450), I called AMEX tonight (December 15th). While unfamiliar with the initial upgrade offer, AMEX customer service rep assured me she would investigate. Will update if/when I hear anything more (unfortunately, I didn’t screenshot the initial offer).

  10. Ryan’s comment at 5:54 am above is alarming. Are people still seeing this offer in their accounts or has Amex pulled it?

          1. I called and was told that they had no record of the promo and I will be billed $450 within two billing cycles. I dumbly didn’t save a screen shot so I am sunk. The only thing for me to do is spend the $250 airline credit now and in January.

              1. Thank you, I am realizing I can get the airline credit 3 times, at least one free night and resort credit. Well worth $450 if I get stuck with the fee

  11. I just got my card and called. They are not honoring this at all. I was told it was a marketing error which they acknowledge and they will take you back to surpass and “wipe” the upgrade request from your record. I am being prorated the annual fee – 95 dollar surpass fee for the year thats it.

  12. According to DoC they are not honoring this. The confusing terms made it clear to me that this was a mistake offer, glad I didn’t dive in and have to worry about undoing it.

  13. AF fee hit up due Jan 1 for aspire. Do I have an option to downgrade now to no AF card? Or should I just change product to Surpass? TIA

  14. Curious if the free weekend night will still be issued to those that choose to reverse or downgrade from this erroneous, falsely advertised Aspire upgrade. If so, would I be eligible for 2 free wknd nights since my anniversary cycle date is Jan 20?

    What would the prorated AF calculation look like based on the new terms ($450 prorated AF on or after Jan 30, 2021) with an anniversary cycle date of Jan 20?

  15. I received the notice saying that I will be charged the 450 on Jan 31 and if I want to cancel I need to do so by then. Just curious what all I can take advantage of between now and then? Can I use the airline travel credit or hotel credit? How will that work? My plan will be to cancel.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *