Choosing the best Hilton credit card for you

Sep 14, 2020

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Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with current information, including Amex card updates in response to the coronavirus pandemic.


Hilton has more than 6,000 properties across 119 countries around the world, including many close-to-home ones perfect for staycations. From high-end brands such as Conrad and Waldorf Astoria, down to more budget-friendly options such as Hampton Inn and Embassy Suites, there are plenty of choices for Hilton Honors members when it comes to where to stay and use Hilton points. Thankfully, American Express offers Hilton travelers many choices when it comes to cobranded credit cards.

(Photo by The Points Guy)
(Photo by The Points Guy)

There are currently four different Hilton-branded cards on the market; three personal cards and one small business card. Each of them also offers generous bonuses on various everyday spending categories, making them valuable even while you’re not traveling.

Given all the different options, it can be tricky to decide which Hilton card is best for your situation. Today we’ll dive right in and take a closer look at the differences between these four Amex-issued cards so you can make the right choice best on your wants, needs and travel habits.

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Best Hilton credit cards of 2020

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Hilton credit cards

Hilton Honors Card from American Express

(Photo by The Points Guy)
(Photo by The Points Guy)

Welcome offer: Earn 80,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months of opening your account.

Earning rate: 7 points per dollar spent on eligible purchases at Hilton hotels, 5 points per dollar spent on of eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations, and 3 points per dollar on all other eligible purchases. Bonus points earned through eligible purchases that post to the cardmember’s Hilton Honors account between May 1 and Dec. 31, 2020, will be considered base points and will count toward elite tier qualification and lifetime Diamond status.

Related reading: The best grocery credit cards for 2020

Benefits: This entry-level card offers automatic Hilton Honors Silver status (with an upgrade to Gold when you spend $20,000 in a calendar year), ShopRunner membership and no foreign transaction fees (see rates and fees).

Annual fee: $0 (see rates and fees)

Analysis: With no annual fee, there’s a surprising amount of value to be had in the Hilton Amex Card. It’s not often that a starter card offers benefits such as complimentary elite status, a decent welcome bonus and the ability to earn substantial points on bonus spending categories.

Read our review of the Hilton Amex Card.

APPLY HERE: Hilton Honors Card from American Express

Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card

(Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy)
(Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy)

Welcome offer: Earn 130,000 points after you spend $2,000 in the first 3 months of card membership. Plus, earn a one-time $100 statement credit after using your new card to purchase an Expert Flyer Premium annual subscription ($99.99 plus applicable taxes, followed by automatic renewal) within your first year.

Earning rate: 12 points per dollar spent on eligible purchases at Hilton hotels; 6 points per dollar spent at U.S. restaurants and U.S. gas stations; and 3 points per dollar spent on all other eligible purchases.

Bonus points earned through eligible purchases that post to the cardmember’s Hilton Honors account between May 1 and Dec. 31, 2020, will be considered base points and will count toward elite tier qualification and lifetime Diamond status.

Benefits: The card offers automatic Gold elite status and the ability to upgrade to Diamond status by spending $40,000 in eligible purchases in a calendar year. It also awards a weekend night certificate when you spend $15,000 on the card in a calendar year and grants you 10 complimentary Priority Pass visits a year.

Unexpired free weekend night certificates — plus those issued through Dec. 31, 2020 — can now be used on any night of the week. Those issued between May 1 and Dec. 31, 2020, will be valid for 24 months from the date of issuance (rather than the usual 12 months).

Annual fee: $95 (see rates and fees)

Analysis: This card is a great option for occasional Hilton travelers who want to enjoy premium travel perks without paying a high fee. Hilton Gold status is among the most valuable mid-tier hotel statuses out there, getting you an 80% points bonus, a fifth night free during reward stays, space-available upgrades, free in-room and lobby Wi-Fi, late check-out and two free bottles of water. Hilton Gold status will even confer some version of free breakfast at many Hilton properties, such as the high-end Conrad Bora Bora.

The weekend award night certificate is valid at mostly any property in the Hilton portfolio, so that can result in a few hundred dollars of value. You’re still getting a very solid return of 7.2% on your Hilton stays when using this card, and for most occasional travelers, the 10 free visits to Priority Pass airport lounges are sufficient.

Amex only allows you to earn the welcome bonus on each of its credit cards once per lifetime, so it’s important to time your applications to hit the highest bonus offers when possible.

Read our review of the Hilton Amex Surpass.

APPLY HERE: Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card

Hilton Honors American Express Business Card

Hilton Honors American Express Business Card. Photo courtesy American Express.
(Photo courtesy American Express)

Welcome offer: 130,000 Hilton Honors bonus points after you spend $3,000 in purchases on the card in the first three months of card membership.

Earning rate(s): 12 points per dollar spent on eligible purchases at Hilton hotels; 6 points per dollar spent on wireless services purchased directly from U.S. service providers and on U.S. purchases for shipping, at U.S. restaurants, on flights booked directly with airlines and through Amex Travel and on car rentals booked directly from select car rental companies; 3 points per dollar on all other eligible purchases.

Bonus points earned through eligible purchases that post to the cardmember’s Hilton Honors account between May 1 and Dec. 31, 2020, will be considered base points and will count toward elite tier qualification and lifetime Diamond status.

Benefits: Like the Surpass, this small business card offers automatic valuable Hilton Honors Gold status and the ability to upgrade to Diamond status by spending $40,000 in eligible purchases in a calendar year. It also gives you a weekend award night when you spend $15,000 on the card in a calendar year and 10 Priority Pass visits a year.

Unexpired free weekend night certificates — plus those issued through Dec. 31, 2020 — can now be used on any night of the week, and those issued between May 1 and Dec. 31, 2020 will be valid for 24 months from the date of issuance (rather than the usual 12 months).

Annual fee: $95 (see rates and fees)

Analysis: Like the Surpass card, the business version is a great option for those who visit Hilton properties just a few times a year or are looking for a cheap way to get Priority Pass lounge access. Plus the 7.2% return on Hilton stays and 3.6% on common business expenses are both very solid.

Read our review of the Hilton Amex Business Card.

APPLY HERE: Hilton Honors American Express Business Card

Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express

(Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy)
(Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy)

Welcome offer: Earn 150,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of opening your account. Plus, earn a one-time $100 statement credit after using your new Card to purchase an Expert Flyer Premium annual subscription ($99.99 plus applicable taxes, followed by automatic renewal) within your first year.

Earning rate:14 points per dollar spent on eligible purchases at Hilton hotels, 7 points per dollar spent at U.S. restaurants, on flights booked directly with airlines and car rentals booked directly from select car rental companies. All other eligible purchases earn 3 points per dollar spent.

Bonus points that post to the card member’s Hilton Honors account through Dec. 31, 2020, will be considered base points and will count towards elite tier qualification and lifetime Diamond status.

Benefits: Enjoy a host of valuable perks, including automatic top-tier Hilton Honors Diamond status, a weekend award night every calendar year (plus a second weekend night when you spend $60,000), an up to $250 Hilton resort statement credit, an up to $250 annual airline fee credit, up to $100 Waldorf Astoria and Conrad on-property credit and unlimited Priority Pass airport lounge membership.

Related reading: Why Hilton’s top card has me switching my loyalty

In light of the coronavirus outbreak, unexpired free weekend night certificates — plus those issued through Dec. 31, 2020 — can now be used on any night of the week, and those issued between May 1 and Dec. 31, 2020 will be valid for 24 months from the date of issuance (rather than the usual 12 months).

Related reading: The best credit cards for dining out, taking out and ordering in

Annual fee: $450 (see rates and fees)

Analysis: When this card first came out, people thought that it was too good to be true. The weekend night certificate alone could effectively cover your annual fee if you went all-in at a top-tier Hilton property. When you factor in perks such as the annual $250 airline incidental fee credit, $250 Hilton resort statement credit and automatic top-tier Diamond status, you’re almost guaranteed to come out ahead if you use the card and perks.

And that’s before you even touch upon the 150,000-point welcome bonus or terrific 8.4% return in spending via points at Hilton properties.

Read our review of the Hilton Amex Aspire.

APPLY HERE: Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express

Hilton credit card comparison

Hilton Honors American Express Card

Bonus Offer Bonus Value* Perks Value Annual Fee Total Value
80,000 points after you spend $1,000 in the first three months. Terms Apply. $480 N/A $0 (see rates & fees) $480

Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card

Bonus Offer Bonus Value* Perks Value Annual Fee Total Value
130,000 bonus points after you spend $2,000 within the first 3 months of card membership. In addition, earn a one-time $100 statement credit after using your new card to purchase an Expert Flyer Premium annual subscription ($99.99 plus applicable taxes, followed by automatic renewal) within your first year. Terms Apply. $750 10 free Priority Pass lounge visits a year (worth $270). Terms Apply. $95 (see rates & fees) $925

Hilton Honors American Express Business Card

Bonus Offer Bonus Value* Perks Value Annual Fee Total Value
130,000 points after you use your new card to make $3,000 in eligible purchases within the first 3 months of card membership. Terms Apply. $780 10 free Priority Pass lounge visits a year (worth $270). Terms Apply. $95 (see rates & fees) $955

Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express

Bonus Offer Bonus Value* Perks Value Annual Fee Total Value
150,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months. Plus, earn a one-time $100 statement credit after using your new Card to purchase an Expert Flyer Premium annual subscription ($99.99 plus applicable taxes, followed by automatic renewal) within your first year. Terms Apply. $900 Up to $250 in statement credits for Hilton purchases each card member year, $250 in airline incidental fee credits per calendar year, Priority Pass Select lounge membership without restaurant access (worth $75) ($575 total). Terms Apply. $450 (see rates & fees) $1,025

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer.

Reasons to get the Hilton Aspire

Despite having the highest annual fee among the entire family of cards, the Hilton Aspire offers the greatest maximization potential. The card’s up to $500 in cumulative annual travel credits — up to $250 toward airline incidentals and up to a $250 statement credit to spend at Hilton resorts — requires some strategy to utilize, but the resort credit is good toward room rates (though not advanced purchase rates).

Related reading: Why Hilton’s top card has me switching my loyalty

On top of the annual credits, the card offers an annual free weekend night at almost any Hilton property worldwide (and another one after you spend $60,000 on the card in a calendar year), automatic top-tier Hilton Diamond status and unlimited Priority Pass lounge access. This year, unused weekend nights can be used any night of the week, and any new nights earned between May 1 and Dec 31, 2020, will be valid for 24 months (instead of just 12).

A stay at the Hilton-owned Conrad Bora Bora is better with complimentary Diamond status. (Photo by Darren Murph/The Points Guy.)

All of that is before you even factor in its 150,000-point welcome bonus, which is worth $900 according to TPG’s valuations, and impressive earning rates: 14x points at Hilton properties; 7x points on flights booked directly with the airline or through Amex Travel, on car rentals booked directly with select car rental companies and at U.S. restaurants; and 3x points on all other eligible purchases.

Fourteen points per dollar is a 8.4% return on Hilton spending, but when you factor in the 100% point bonus (or 20 points per dollar at most Hilton properties) that comes with Diamond status, you’ll actually be earning 34 points per dollar on most Hilton stays, which is a terrific 20.4% return.

Related: Your ultimate guide to Hilton hotel brands

Reasons to consider Hilton’s other cards

If you don’t believe you’ll be able to get full value from the Aspire’s travel credits, or can’t comfortably spend $4,000 in the first three months (an average of $1,334 per month) to get the welcome bonus, you may want to consider a different personal Hilton credit card.

If so, you’ll need to pick between the Hilton Honors Card (with no annual fee (see rates and fees)) or the Surpass Card (with a $95 annual fee (see rates and fees)). Both of these cards’ welcome bonuses and earning rates are very generous for their annual fees. Deciding which one is best for you ultimately depends on your personal spending habits and what other rewards credit cards you already have.

Related reading: Hilton Surpass vs. Hilton Aspire: Which card is right for you?

If you’re a frequent Hilton guest, you’ll benefit from the Surpass Card’s higher return on Hilton spending and higher level of elite status. However, if you have The Platinum Card® from American Express, with its $550 annual fee (see rates and fees) you already get automatic Hilton Gold status (along with Marriott Gold status), as well as a full Priority Pass membership.

So, for Amex Platinum card holders, the Surpass would only makes sense if you can benefit from the higher return on Hilton spending or plan on meeting the spend requirements for Diamond or the weekend night award. If you don’t have the Amex Platinum, then the Surpass is a great mid-tier pick.

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Home suite home. Thanks for the upgrade, @hiltonhonors

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If you travel with a family

Hilton has some of the best brands for when you travel with the family, including Embassy Suites (hello, extra space and free hot breakfast!) and even Homewood Suites. Whether your goal is to book a staycation near Grandma’s house or relax on a resort on Hawaii, we highly recommend families stock up on Hilton points.

Related: An inside look at how Hilton is cleaning hotel rooms between guests

Hilton Waikoloa (Photo by Summer Hull / The Points Guy)
The Hilton Waikoloa. (Photo by Summer Hull / The Points Guy)

If you have to pick one Hilton card to put in your family’s wallet, the Hilton Aspire is the probably best choice. Simply put, the lounge access, upgrades and free breakfast perks that come with the Hilton Diamond Elite status that’s automatic with the card become more valuable when you travel with a crew. While some hotels will stick to the terms and not extend those perks to more than two people per room, we’ve had lots of experience with hotels being more generous — such as at the Hilton Waikoloa Village in Hawaii where free breakfast for a family can save more than $100 per day.

With lots of bellies to fill, seat assignments to secure and bags to check, using up the up to $250 airline incidental fee credit and up to $250 Hilton resort credits that come with the card is also a breeze over the course of a year with a family.

In fact, it just might be the best premium hotel card for families on the market.

Can you have more than one Hilton card?

Amex considers each of the Hilton credit cards to be separate products.

This means that although Amex typically allows you to earn only one welcome bonus per “lifetime” per card type, you’re able have — and earn the welcome bonus on — each of the Hilton cards. Theoretically, if you obtained all three of the personal cards, you can currently earn a whopping 350,000 bonus points — or 475,000 if you also pick up the business card. That said, we wouldn’t recommend trying that all at once.

However, if you are saving up Hilton points for a big trip, you could get a bonus, your partner could get a big bonus, and you can pool the points together for free.

Just note that all of the Hilton cards are credit cards and you’re only allowed to have a total of four Amex credit cards open at any one time.

Related reading: The ultimate guide to credit card application restrictions

You could use your Hilton points for a stay at the Waldorf Astoria Bangkok. (Photo by Eric Rosen/The Points Guy)

Bottom line

The Hilton Honors Aspire Card is one of our best credit cards. Whether you stay Hilton properties just once per year, or basically live at them (in normal times), you should have no problem maxing out the travel benefits and coming out ahead with the card. Even in the new era of COVID, the card will help make your staycations more comfortable and everyday purchases more rewarding.

Aside from the up to $500 in annual travel credits, it has the highest number of bonus points associated with the welcome bonus, the best earning ratio, the highest elite status level, an annual award night provided without a spending requirement and more.

However, if you’re not willing to take the numerical leap associated with the Aspire’s annual fee, or can’t maximize the annual credits, you could also get a great return from the Hilton Surpass. Regardless which card you go with, you’ll have access to extra benefits to maintain value during the time of coronavirus.

Related reading: The best hotel credit cards for 2020

For rates and fees of the Hilton Honors Amex, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Honors Surpass Amex, click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Honors Business Amex, click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Honors Aspire Amex, click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum, click here.

Featured image courtesy of the Boulders Resort & Spa Scottsdale, Curio Collection by Hilton.

Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card

This card offers 130,000 bonus points after you use your card to make $2,000 in eligible purchases within the first 3 months of Card Membership. Plus, earn a one-time $100 statement credit after using your new Card to purchase an Expert Flyer Premium annual subscription ($99.99 plus applicable taxes, followed by automatic renewal) within your first year. Terms apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 130,000 Bonus Points after you spend $2,000 in purchases with your new Card within the first 3 months of Card Membership. Plus, earn a one-time $100 statement credit after using your new Card to purchase an Expert Flyer Premium annual subscription ($99.99 plus applicable taxes, followed by automatic renewal) within your first year.
  • Earn a Weekend Night Reward from Hilton Honors after you spend $15,000 on purchases on your Card in a calendar year.
  • Earn 12X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for each dollar of eligible purchases charged on your Card directly with a hotel or resort within the Hilton Portfolio.
  • Earn 6X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for each dollar of eligible purchases on your Card at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets, and U.S. gas stations.
  • Earn 3X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for all other eligible purchases on your Card.
  • Spend $40,000 on eligible purchases on your Card in a calendar year and you can earn Hilton Honors Diamond status through the end of the next calendar year.
  • $95 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
15.74%-24.74% Variable
Annual Fee
$95
Balance Transfer Fee
N/A
Recommended Credit
Excellent, Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.