Hilton Credit Cards: Which One Should You Get?

Hilton loyalists have three options — call them no-fee, middle-class and luxury. The more you pay, the more you get.

Claire Tsosie, Elina GellerSeptember 24, 2020

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For Hilton enthusiasts,branded credit card options are plentiful. After the hotel giant went exclusive with American Express in 2018, the issuer revamped the offerings, debuting several Hilton cards with different annual fees and welcome offers. The lineup as of now:

  • The Hilton Honors American Express Card (annual fee of $0): Earn 80,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points with the Hilton Honors American Express Card after you use your new Card to make $1,000 in eligible purchases within the first 3 months of Card Membership. Terms Apply.

  • The Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card (annual fee of $95): Earn 130,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points with the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card after you use your new Card to make $2,000 in eligible purchases within the first 3 months of Card Membership. Terms Apply. (At launch, this card was referred to as the "Ascend" but was later renamed Surpass.)

  • The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card (annual fee of $450): Earn 150,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points with the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card after you use your new Card to make $4,000 in eligible purchases within the first 3 months of Card Membership. Terms Apply.

The more expensive cards come packed with rich benefits, while the no-annual-fee card comes with fewer side perks. In addition, in light of COVID-19, the annual-fee cards are offering expanded rewards, including bonuses in certain categories and increased flexibility with Free Night Certificates. That raises the question: Should you pay more to get more? The answer depends on your spending.

The Hilton cards, compared

The Hilton cards share the same loyalty program, issuer and blue-purple color, but offer different levels of rewards and perks. Here’s how they stack up.

Terms apply.

Expanded benefits related to COVID-19

While the pandemic has drastically altered travel for the moment, Hilton is offering many positive perks for those who hold its credit cards:

The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card and the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card

  • May 1, 2020, through July 31, 2020, these cards are offering 12 points per $1 at U.S. supermarkets.

  • Free weekend night certificates are now “free night certificates” and are accepted on any night of the week (previously they were only usable on weekends).

  • Free night certificates are valid until either Aug. 30, 2021, or 24 months after they are awarded (depending on when they were issued).

  • From May 1, 2020, through Dec. 31, 2020, bonus points earned on purchases are considered base points, which count toward elite qualifying spend in 2020 and lifetime Diamond status.

Terms apply.

The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card

  • From June 1, 2020, through Aug. 31, 2020, purchases made at U.S. restaurants count toward the $250 annual Hilton resort credit. Terms apply.

Expiration date of certificates

Certificate

Unexpired as of March 11, 2020

Earned from March 11, 2020 through April 30, 2020

Earned May 1, 2020 through Dec. 31, 2020

Valid until

8/31/2021

8/31/2021

24 months from issue date

Before these changes, free night certificates expired one year from the day they were issued and were only valid on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. The extended expiration dates and added flexibility has greatly increased the value of these certificates.

Analysis: Benefit changes

It's a smart move for Hilton to reorient its bonus categories to provide additional points for U.S. supermarkets in response to spending habit changes of customers. Hilton is also making it much easier to earn status with bonus points by counting them toward Elite status, especially given the decrease in travel. The $250 Hilton resort credit that can now be used at restaurants is an excellent way that cardholders of its most expensive credit card, the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card, can continue getting value out of the card. Overall, these initiatives are very positive for Hilton loyalists. Terms apply.

Hilton credit card calculator

Hilton points are worth 0.5 cent each on average, according to NerdWallet valuations. To find out which Hilton card is ideal for you, run the numbers:

Your cheat sheet for choosing a Hilton card

Before making your final decision, take a top-floor balcony view of your options and make sure you’re choosing a card that’s right for you.

The Hilton Honors American Express Card: If you’re looking for a no-annual-fee sidekick card

American Express Hilton HonorsTM Card from American Express Credit Card
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With hotel cards, you might want a card that plays a supporting role, rather than one you use every day. In that case, the Hilton Honors American Express Card is your card. The $0-annual-fee card features a solid welcome offer, a robust ongoing rewards rate and automatic Silver Elite status. Terms apply. And because the card doesn't charge an annual fee, you'll come out ahead on rewards no matter how often you use it.

The Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card: If you wanT lounge benefits and other perks, but not a huge annual fee

Hilton Honors Ascend
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With the $95-annual-fee Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card, you’ll earn a complimentary weekend night reward when you spend more than $15,000 on your card each calendar year. You'll also get 10 complimentary visits to Priority Pass Select airport lounges each calendar year, automatic Gold Elite Status, strong rewards on common everyday spending categories, and a large welcome offer. Terms apply. For folks who want luxurious perks like these — but don't want to pay a three-digit annual fee — it's a good fit.

The Hilton Honors American Express Business Card: If you want more travel and business-related perks than the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card but for the same annual fee

Hilton Honors American Express Business Card
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Although it may look similar to the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card, The Hilton Honors American Express Business Card packs a bigger punch. In addition to all the perks of the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card, you can earn a second free night certificate if you spend an extra $45,000 in a calendar year. While this can seem like a lot of money, many businesses have high chargeable expenses. You also earn bonus points in more categories, specifically those related to business and travel such as wireless telephone services, shipping, car rentals and flights booked directly with airlines or AmEx Travel. This card truly is an asset for business owners who maintain loyalty to Hilton. Terms Apply.

The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card: If you're Willing to pay more to travel in style

Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card
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Even with an annual fee of $450 a year, the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card could be a great deal for frequent travelers who stay at Hilton properties regularly. That’s because it comes with a complimentary night reward included each year (regardless of how much you spend), a $250 airline fee credit, a $250 Hilton resort credit (that is currently valid at restaurants), Priority Pass Select membership, automatic Diamond status and a bevy of other top-flight benefits. For travelers who can take advantage of all those perks, the card’s benefits far outweigh its annual fee. Terms apply.

The bottom line

Hilton offers four credit cards to pick from; if you’re a Hilton loyalist and think that you could apply the annual credits to your spending, the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card is a solid choice. The Hilton Honors American Express Business Card and the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card are great options for those who want some Hilton perks but for a lower annual fee. And finally, the Hilton Honors American Express Card is a good alternative for those who are looking for a no-fee card but want some Hilton perks, particularly Silver status and no foreign transaction fees. Regardless of your vacation goals, Hilton has a card that matches the needs of any traveler looking to establish loyalty to Hilton.

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