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We’ve known for a while now that Hilton will be dropping Citi as a partner for its co-branded cards starting in 2018, moving to an exclusive arrangement with American Express. There are currently two Hilton-branded Amex cards: the Hilton Honors Card from American Express and the Hilton Honors Surpass Card from American Express, but on January 18, 2018, those two cards will be getting some updates, and there will ultimately be three new Hilton-branded Amex picks, including one premium option with a $450 annual fee.
Updates to the Hilton Honors Amex and Hilton Surpass Cards
The existing no-fee Hilton Honors Amex, which offers 7x points on Hilton purchases and complimentary Hilton Honors Silver status, will be waiving foreign transaction fees starting in 2018. Currently, it charges a 2.7% fee on purchases made abroad. Since Hilton is dropping Citi as an issuer in 2018, if you currently hold the Citi Hilton Honors Card, you’ll be transitioned to the Hilton Honors Amex next year.
The Hilton Honors Surpass Card will also be updated to waive foreign transaction fees starting in January 2018. At that time, it will also add a new perk: 10 complimentary Priority Pass lounge passes. Finally, starting in 2018, if you spend $15,000 on the Surpass Card in a calendar year, you’ll get a free weekend night award at a Hilton property. Note that the Surpass Card will actually transition into the Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card in 2018. If you sign up for the Surpass now, it will automatically switch to an Ascend Card with all the new benefits when the new card launches.
First up of the three new Hilton Amex cards is the Ascend Card, with a $95 fee (See Rates & Fees). This is the one that existing Surpass cardholders will eventually get, and existing Citi Hilton Honors Reserve Card holders will also be transitioned to this card. When it launches on January 18, 2018, it will offer 12x points on Hilton purchases (a 7.2% return, based on TPG’s valuations); 6x points at US supermarkets, US restaurants and US gas stations; and 3x points on everything else. These are the same bonus categories and multipliers offered by the existing Hilton Honors Surpass Card, which has a $75 annual fee. Both cards also offer complimentary Hilton Honors Gold status with the ability to upgrade to Diamond once you spend $40,000 on the card in a calendar year.
The new Ascend Card’s fee is $20 higher than the current Surpass card’s fee, and it offers two additional perks to help justify that: the ability to earn a weekend award night at a Hilton property after you spend $15,000 on the card in a calendar year, and 10 free Priority Pass lounge passes (rather than the current card’s membership, which doesn’t even include free visits — you have to pay $27 per person to access a lounge). If you’re an existing Surpass cardholder, know that’ll have the new $95 annual fee upon your account renewal date on or after February 2, 2018.
The second new card is targeted at small business owners who want to maximize their travel purchases and other spending to earn as many Hilton points as possible. You’ll earn 12x points on Hilton purchases; 6x points at US gas stations, wireless telephone services purchased directly from US service providers and US purchases for shipping. You’ll also earn 6x points on spending at US restaurants, on flights booked directly with the airline or through Amex Travel and on car rentals booked directly through select car rental companies, and 3x points on everything else. While 6x points on airfare is decent — and it’s nice that you’ll earn this bonus on flights purchased through amextravel.com as well — keep in mind that according to TPG’s valuations the 5x Membership Rewards points you’ll earn on airfare purchased with the carrier with the Platinum Card® from American Express is much more lucrative.
Like the Ascend Card (and the existing Hilton Honors Surpass Card), the Hilton Honors American Express Business Card will offer complimentary Hilton Gold status with the ability to upgrade to Diamond after spending $40,000 in a year. Also like the Ascend card, this business option includes 10 Priority Pass lounge passes and a free weekend night after you spend $15,000 on the card in a calendar year. This card also adds in an additional free weekend night award after you spend $60,000 on the card in a year. This card will have a $95 annual fee (See Rates & Fees) and no foreign transaction fees (See Rates & Fees).
The final just-announced card is the most interesting — and the most expensive. At $450 a year (with no foreign transaction fees)(See Rates & Fees), it’s priced identically to many non-co-branded premium picks, and it includes both a $250 annual (calendar year) airline incidental fee statement credit and a $250 annual (anniversary year) Hilton resort statement credit. Both credits are based on your cardmember anniversary, and for the airline fee credit, eligible purchases include checked baggage and in-flight food and beverage purchases. As with other Amex cards that offer an airline fee credit, you’ll need to select one airline with which you’ll redeem the $250 each year.
Cardholders will also get unlimited Priority Pass lounge passes, complimentary Hilton Honors Diamond status and one weekend award night each year of cardmembership (with the ability to earn an additional one after you spend $60,000 in purchases on the card in a calendar year). Additionally, when you book “the exclusive Aspire Card package” at Waldorf Astoria or Conrad properties, you’ll receive a $100 on-property credit.
That’s not even mentioning the Aspire Card’s earning rates, which are quite impressive for Hilton purchases. You’ll get a stellar 14x points at Hilton properties — equal to an 8.4% return based on TPG’s valuations. Beyond that, you’ll get 7x points on flights booked directly with the airline or amextravel.com, car rentals booked directly from select car rental companies and at US restaurants, plus 3x points on all other purchases.
Hilton and Amex have certainly been busy — this is a lot of news to digest, but the main takeaway is that these co-branded cards will soon ditch foreign transaction fees, and you’ll have more options at various prices if you’re looking to earn Hilton points on a variety of spending categories. The Aspire Card is an especially interesting addition, as it comes with $500 in annual travel credits, unlimited Priority Pass lounge access and a stellar 14x points on Hilton purchases. That card may not make sense for everyone, but its value proposition is pretty clear even if you aren’t a Hilton loyalist. Remember: These new cards and updates won’t launch till January 18, 2018, so stay tuned — we don’t have any idea what the sign-up bonuses will be yet.
What are your thoughts on the just-announced Hilton Amex cards and updates to the existing options?
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