Hilton is one of the world’s largest hotel chains, with over 5,000 properties encompassing more than 900,000 rooms in 113 countries. In addition to the flagship Hilton Hotels and Resorts, the brands include Conrad, Canopy, Curio, DoubleTree, Embassy Suites, Hilton Garden Inn, Hampton Inn, Homewood Suites, Home2 Suites, Hilton Grand Vacations, Waldorf Astoria, Tru, Tapestry and Motto. You’re unlikely to find yourself in a location that doesn’t have one of the Hilton brands.
American Express is the sole issuer of the co-branded Hilton cards, and they all earn points. Hilton points are usually valued in the range of $0.05 apiece. Unfortunately, Hilton operates on a dynamic pricing system for award redemptions, so there’s no fixed award chart—the number of points required for a free night varies according to the season and the desirability of the destination. To ease the confusion of booking award nights, Hilton recently introduced a tool called Points Explorer (pointsexplorer.hiltonhonors.com).
All four Hilton Honors cards from American Express have different earning rates and benefits. The signup bonuses vary as well. Before committing to a particular card product, remember that Amex has a once-in-a-lifetime restriction on earning a bonus for a specific card, so it’s best to wait for the most attractive offer (this rule does not apply to business and personal versions of the same card). These are credit cards, not charge cards, with an APR on unpaid balances ranging from 17.24% to 26.24% depending on your creditworthiness.
Let’s explore the flavors of the Amex Hilton cards and see what they have to offer:
Hilton Honors Card
This is a no annual fee card with an attractive set of benefits. The current signup bonus is 75,000 points after spending $1,000 in purchases during the first three months of card membership. Some of the other perks include:
- Seven points per dollar on eligible purchases at Hilton properties, five points per dollar at restaurants, supermarkets gas stations within the U.S., and three points per dollar on everything else.
- Complimentary Silver status in the Hilton Honors program; when you spend $20,000 on the card in a calendar year, you earn Gold status for the following year.
- Fraud protection, car rental loss and damage insurance, and no foreign transaction fees.
Hilton Honors Surpass Card
The current bonus is 125,000 points after spending $2,000 in the first three months. This card comes requires a $95 annual fee, but also comes with enhanced benefits:
- You earn 12 points per dollar at Hilton properties, six points at U.S. restaurants, supermarkets and gas stations, and three points elsewhere.
- You receive complimentary Gold status, with the opportunity of achieving Diamond status for the following year with purchases of $40,000 or more.
- Cardholders are entitled to a free weekend night after spending $15,000 on the card in a calendar year.
- In addition to the perks of the basic card, you’re enrolled in Priority Pass Select and receive 10 free lounge visits per year.
Hilton Honors Business Card
Like the Surpass card, this has a $95 annual fee. The current signup bonus is 125,000 points after spending $3,000 in the first three months, and it also offers the following benefits:
- 12 points per dollar at hotels and resorts in the Hilton portfolio; six points on select business purchases (shipping, U.S. gas stations and wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. providers; six points at U.S. restaurants, on car rental with selected companies, and on flights booked directly with airlines or Amex travel); three points on everything else.
- Complimentary Gold status, with the chance to upgrade to Diamond after $40,000 in purchases in a calendar year.
- A free weekend night after spending $15,000, and a second after reaching the $60,000 threshold.
- 10 free lounge visits annually with Priority Pass Select.
Hilton Honors Aspire Card
The annual fee of $450 is hefty, but so are the benefits:
- A current signup bonus of 150,000 points after spending $4,000 during the first three months.
- 14 points per dollar at Hilton properties; seven points at U.S. restaurants, car rentals booked directly from selected companies, and flights booked directly with airlines or at amextravel.com; three points on everything else.
- Top tier Diamond status in the Hilton Honors program.
- One free weekend night every year on renewal, and an additional night after spending $60,000 in purchases in a calendar year.
- A $250 statement credit each year at participating Hilton Resorts.
- A $100 on-property credit when you book a two-night stay at a Waldorf-Astoria or Conrad hotel.
- Enrollment in Priority Pass Select, with unlimited lounge visits for you and two guests.
- Baggage insurance, car rental loss and damage insurance, and access to the Premium Global Assist Hotline.
A word on elite status: the sweet spot in the Hilton program is Gold, which gives you free breakfast at Hilton Hotels and Resorts along with a point bonus of 80%. If you have the American Express Platinum Card in its business or personal versions, you already have Gold status. The Aspire card is the only credit card that comes with top tier elite status (either with Hilton or anyone else).
Which card is best for you? You may have trouble rationalizing the $450 annual fee for the Aspire card unless you’re a true road warrior. If you travel frequently and stay in Hilton properties, the Surpass gives you strong earning rates and meaningful benefits. Occasional travelers will want to add the basic, no annual fee card to their wallet. Remember that if your travel patterns intensify, you can always request a product change to Surpass or Aspire.
Source: frugal travel guy