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Hilton HHonors Credit Card: How to Earn Points Quickly and Use Them Wisely

Credit Cards, Rewards Credit Cards
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Hilton credit cards come in three forms: the Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card, the Hilton HHonorsTM Card from American Express, and the Hilton Honors™ Surpass® Card from American Express. There are many differences between the three rewards cards, and though the most noticeable one is the fee, you need to look deeper to find their true value. NerdWallet’s parsed the perks and found the best ways both to earn HHonors points, and to spend them.

The Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card’s $95, while the Hilton HHonorsTM Card from American Express’s annual fee is $0. The Hilton Honors™ Surpass® Card from American Express’s $75. Despite the fee, we consider the Hilton Honors™ Surpass® Card from American Express to be the best of the Hilton credit cards. First, there’s the sign-up bonus: Earn 75,000 Hilton Honors™ Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 in purchases on the Card within your first 3 months of Card Membership. Terms Apply.. One of its perks alone – airport lounge access, valued at $99 – more than makes up for the fee. For number-crunching gory details, please see the Hilton Family Feud section at the end of this post. Also, check out our blog for a breakdown on how best to redeem your Hilton Honors points.

The big leagues: AmEx Surpass vs. the world

The Hilton Honors™ Surpass® Card from American Express is the best of the Hilton lot, for very simple reasons. The Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card has a much worse rewards rate than the other two, though it is a Visa, which means it’s easier to use outside of the US. Between the two AmEx cards, the no-fee Hilton HHonorsTM Card from American Express gives better rewards than the Visa. But the Hilton Honors™ Surpass® Card from American Express gives better rewards and better benefits, which cancel out the annual fee with room to spare. Just the airport lounge access puts you in the black, but you also get Gold rather than Silver elite status.

So the Hilton Honors™ Surpass® Card from American Express is the best of the Hilton cards. cards. How does it compare to other rewards cards? If you spend a lot of time and/or money at the Hilton, the answer is extremely well. If you redeem Hilton Honors points for a night’s stay, depending on where you book, your points are valued at 0.4-1.7 cents apiece (an average of 0.5 cents, by our calculations). That’s quite a bit of variation, but if you redeem wisely, you can get a rate that’s much better than the industry standard of 1 cent per point. The 4.5% rewards rate (assuming 0.5 cents per point) at the Hilton is pretty much unsurpassed (pardon the pun). The only similar rewards programs are those of the 5% bonus category credit cards, which usually give 5% back on travel only in the summer months. Plus, it gives a great rewards rate on gas, groceries and drugstores – three major everyday spending categories – and a 1.5% base rate, while most rewards credit cards only give 1%. So if you plan to use those Hilton Honors points to stay at a hotel, then the Hilton Honors™ Surpass® Card from American Express is by far the best option for you.

However, if you don’t stay at the Hilton often, you’ll get a terrible value out of the card. If you don’t redeem for the right Hilton stays or for car rentals, your points are significantly devalued. Redeeming Hilton points for Southwest miles, for example, cuts them down to a mere tenth of a cent each. In that case, you’d be better off with the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card, which gives a flat 2% rewards rate. You won’t get the same rewards rate on bonus categories, but you’ll get a statement credit to offset any travel expense, rather than being tied down to Hilton.

Many branded credit cards (this is especially true for store credit cards) offer mediocre rewards that can be topped by a more general card. This is not the case with the Hilton Honors™ Surpass® Card from American Express. A frequent flyer and Hilton guest will get far more value out of this card than a generic travel rewards card.

Read on for the head-to-head of the three Hilton credit cards:

Hilton family feud

Here’s the breakdown of the three cards. The value of a Hilton Honors point redeemed for a night’s stay fluctuates quite a bit, so we’ll assume it’s 0.5 cents. We’ll give the nominal rewards rate, as well as the effective rate that factors in the 0.5-cent valuation.

Card Name

Rewards

Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card
($95)
  • 6pts (3%) at Hilton
  • 3pts (1.5%) at groceries, drugstores, gas
  • 2pts (1%) elsewhere
  • 40k-point bonus for spending $1k in 4 months
  • Automatic Silver status
Hilton HHonorsTM Card from American Express
(annual fee is $0)
  • 6pts (3%) at Hilton, groceries, drugstores, gas, some utilities
  • 3pts (1.5%) elsewhere
  • 40k-point bonus after first purchase
  • 2,500 points each for up to 4 stays in first 18 months
  • 500 points for booking online
  • Automatic Silver status
  • Gold status if you spend $20k+ a year
Hilton Honors™ Surpass® Card from American Express
($75)
  • Same as no-fee AmEx, except you earn 9pts (4.5%) at Hilton
  • 60k-point bonus after first purchase
  • 2,500 points each for up to 8 stays in first 18 months
  • 500 points for booking online
  • Gold status for first year
  • Airport lounge access