The Best Hilton Credit Card Strategy

To optimize spending, use your Hilton card for certain purchases and a general travel card for others.
Paul RubioOct 20, 2021

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American Express offers three Hilton Honors credit cards that allow you to earn a lot of welcome bonus points by hitting a spending minimum in the first three months of card membership. But after those crucial first three months, it’s time to think about how you’ll use the card going forward.

  • Should your Hilton AmEx card be your main credit card for every purchase?

  • Should you use it only at Hilton hotels and resorts, where you earn bonus points on every dollar charged?

  • Should you use it in other spending categories that pay bonus points, like U.S. restaurants and U.S. gas stations?

Terms apply.

Or would you get more value from a general travel card, like the American Express® Gold Card or Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, on some — or all — of those purchases?

Here’s what you need to know to lock in your Hilton credit card strategy, including a comparison of Hilton’s cards to three general travel cards.

How many points can you earn using a Hilton credit card?

American Express offers three Hilton-branded personal cards:

Each card pays Hilton Honors points for everyday spending, with bonus points for certain types of purchases. Purchases at Hilton hotels or resorts can earn up to 14 points per dollar, while purchases for things like gas, airfare, dining and groceries also get you bonus points on some cards.

The chart below shows how many points you can earn with the three Hilton cards compared with three popular general travel cards: American Express® Gold Card ($250 annual fee), Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card (​​$95 annual fee) and Chase Sapphire Reserve® ($550 annual fee). Terms apply.

Number of points earned on every dollar spent

Hilton Honors American Express Card

Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card

Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card

Hilton hotels/resorts

7x.

12x.

14x.

Airfare

3x.

3x.

7x.

U.S. gas stations

5x.

6x.

3x.

Other travel

3x.

3x.

3x.

Domestic dining

5x.

6x.

7x.

Global dining

3x.

3x.

3x.

U.S. supermarkets

5x.

6x.

3x.

All other

3x.

3x.

3x.

American Express® Gold Card

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Hilton hotels/resorts

1x.

2x.

3x.

Airfare

3x.

2x.

3x.

U.S. gas stations

1x.

1x.

1x.

Other travel

1x.

2x.

3x.

Domestic dining

4x.

2x.

3x.

Global dining

4x.

2x.

3x.

U.S. supermarkets

4x.

1x.

1x.

All other

1x.

1x.

1x.

How much value do you get on every dollar spent?

NerdWallet estimates that Hilton Honors points are worth 0.5 cents each. Compared to points you earn from a general travel rewards card, that may not seem like much.

For example, American Express Membership Rewards points can be redeemed for travel through AmEx at a rate of 1 cent each. Chase Ultimate Rewards® points are worth 1.25 cents each when a Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card holder redeems them for travel through Chase and 1.5 cents each for a user with the Chase Sapphire Reserve®.

Plus, NerdWallet’s analysis shows that if you transfer Chase or AmEx points to an airline or hotel partner, you can often beat the value you’d get redeeming them through the card issuer. AmEx points, for example, can often net a value of 2 cents each when you transfer them.

So it may seem like Chase or AmEx points are the way to go. But when you look at the bonus points cards pay in certain spending categories — especially when you use them to pay for stays at Hilton properties — Hilton’s own cards stand up well.

The chart below shows the real value in cents you get for every dollar of spending on the cards based on our valuations. The number of points per dollar that you earn is multiplied by how much each point is worth. Terms apply.

Value of points earned on every dollar spent (in cents)

Hilton Honors American Express Card

Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card

Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card

Hilton hotels/resorts

3.5.

6.

7.

Airfare

1.5.

1.5.

3.5.

U.S. gas stations

2.5.

3.

1.5.

Other travel

1.5.

1.5.

1.5.

Domestic dining

2.5.

3.

3.5.

Global dining

1.5.

1.5.

1.5.

U.S. supermarkets

2.5.

3.

1.5.

All other

1.5.

1.5.

1.5.

American Express® Gold Card

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Hilton hotels/resorts

1.

2.5.

4.5.

Airfare

3.

2.5.

4.5.

U.S. gas stations

1.

1.25.

1.5.

Other travel

1.

2.5.

4.5.

Domestic dining

4.

2.5.

4.5.

Global dining

4.

2.5.

4.5.

U.S. supermarkets

4.

1.25.

1.5.

All other

1.

1.25.

1.5.

As you can see, Hilton’s own credit cards get the best returns when you use them at Hilton hotels, earning points worth either 3 1/2, 6 or 7 cents on every dollar spent. Hilton’s cards also deliver a nice rate of return when you use them at U.S. gas stations and for many other purchases — even when stacked against the American Express® Gold Card and Chase Sapphire credit cards. Terms apply.

Which Hilton credit card is best for you?

Choosing the best Hilton Honors credit card for you depends on how often you stay at Hilton properties and how much you spend in other bonus categories.

Hilton Honors American Express Card

American Express Hilton HonorsTM Card from American Express Credit Card
NerdWallet rating 
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If you’re a casual traveler who stays only occasionally at Hilton properties, consider the $0-annual fee Hilton Honors American Express Card. You can earn a lot of welcome bonus points: Earn 80,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after you spend $1,000 in purchases on the Hilton Honors American Express Card in the first 3 months of Card Membership. Plus, you can earn an additional 50,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after you spend a total of $5,000 in purchases on the Card in the first 6 months. Terms Apply.

And you’ll get 5 points per dollar at U.S. restaurants, supermarkets and gas stations. Once you’ve had this low-cost card for a while, think about devising an upgrade strategy to maximize points — American Express may offer an incentive in the form of bonus points to move up to the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card or Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card. Terms apply.

Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card

Hilton Honors Ascend
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If you stay at Hiltons at least a couple times a year, consider the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card. The welcome bonus is good: Earn 130,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after you spend $2,000 in purchases on the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card in the first 3 months of Card Membership. Plus, you can earn an additional 50,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after you spend a total of $10,000 in purchases on the Card in the first 6 months. Terms Apply.

And though it carries a $95 annual fee, the Hilton Honors Gold Status that comes with the card may be worth more than that:

  • Gold elite status can get you room upgrades (when available).

  • On-property dining credits.

  • Earn 18 points per dollar on paid stays at most Hilton brands — an 80% boost over the 10 points per dollar basic members earn — and that’s on top of the 12 Hilton points per dollar you get when you pay using the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card. In total, you earn 30 points per dollar when you charge Hilton stays.

Terms apply.

Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card

If you stay at Hilton family properties often, consider the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card. To help offset the hefty annual fee of $450, the card comes with an annual weekend night certificate good for a standard room at almost any hotel or resort in the Hilton portfolio. That perk alone can be worth around $600.

The card also comes with these perks:

  • A $250 annual credit for airline incidentals.

  • A $100 on-property credit at participating Waldorf Astoria and Conrad hotels.

  • Complimentary Hilton Honors Diamond Status, which grants availability-based room upgrades and on-property dining credits.

  • Plus you earn 20 Hilton points per dollar spent on most hotel stays in addition to the 14x Hilton points earned when using Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card for these charges, for a total of 34 Hilton points per dollar spent.

This card also has a good welcome bonus: 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 best Hilton credit card strategy

If you don’t want to worry about which card to use at which type of store, you can use a Hilton credit card for all your purchases and take comfort in knowing you are getting a decent rate of return no matter what you’re buying.

But if you like to optimize your spending, the best Hilton credit card strategy is to use a Hilton card for Hilton stays and gas but use a general travel card for everything else. That way you can optimize the value you get from your Chase Ultimate Rewards® or American Express Membership Rewards points while also exploring ways to redeem your Hilton Honors points at a value far greater than 0.5 cent each. Terms apply.


How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2021, including those best for:

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