Hilton Credit Cards

From Travel Strategies
Jump to: navigation, search
  American Express Credit CardsHotel Credit Cards


Amex Webpage
Hilton Webpage
Business Version Available
Annual Fee


Current Offer

Regular and Business: Up to 180,000 points. 130,000 with $2,000 initial spnd, plus an additional 50,000 points with a total of $10,000 spend in the first six months. If you are planning to spend $15,000 to get the free night certificate, you should be able to earn both parts of the bonus. ($510 net value, 05/$).

No annual fee version: Up to 130,000 points. 80,000 with $1,000 initial spend plus an additional 50,000 points for a total of $5,000 in spending over the first six months.

Aspire: 150,000 points for $4,000 spend. Card includes a free night certificate during the first year.

Higher offers may be available when browsing in private mode.
Typical Signup Offer

100,000 Hilton points

$3,000 initial spend

($320 net value, .11/$)

Signup Bonus Chart
Bonus Categories

12x Hilton Purchases (≈5.4%)

6x US Restaurants (≈2.7%)

6x US Supermarkets and Gas Stations (≈2.7%)

3x Everywhere Else (≈1.35%)

No Foreign Transaction Fee

Guide to the Hilton Honors Program


If you frequently stay at Hilton hotels, you should get one of their credit cards. Cardholders get automatic Hilton elite status, which qualifies you for free breakfast on your stays and other benefits. If you can take full advantage of its lucrative travel credits, the premium Hilton Aspire Card can provide a lot of additional value every year.

COVID-19 Enhancements

Because it is hard to use credit card travel benefits during the pandemic, Amex has made some temporary changes to their cards.

    • Free night certificates earned until the end of the year will be valid until the end of 2022 and can be used on ANY night of the week (not just weekends). Certificates from before May 1 2020 are valid until the end of August, and certificates issued during the rest of 2020 are valid for two years from when they were issued.
    • Any personal card that predates the start of 2021 will receive a dining credit each month. The Hilton Surpass receives $10, the Hilton Aspire receives $20, and the no-annual-fee card receives $5 of free restaurant, delivery, or takeout food every month in 2021. You'll need to activate these as Amex Offers on each card.
    • Any Hilton Business Card that predates the start of 2021 will receive a wireless credit of $10 each month. You can usually make a partial payment with any applicable card. As with the restaurant credits, you'll need to activate these as Amex Offers on each card.
    • Both personal and business Hilton cards that predate 2021 should have Amex offers that provide 10,000 bonus points for every $5,000 you spend between activating the offer and the end of June. Even with this 2x points per dollar boost, it might not be worth switching your spending to these cards. However, it is great for people who are trying to spend $15,000 on their Hilton Surpass or Hilton Business Cards to earn their annual free night certificate.

Hilton Credit Card Options

There are four Hilton credit cards.


Hilton Surpass (regular version). Provides the critical Hilton Gold status and the possibility of earning a free night certificate (with $15,000 in annual spending). Unlike the business version, you can upgrade to the premium version or downgrade to the no-annual-fee version, depending on your needs. $95 annual fee. Amex Webpage. Hilton Webpage. Signup Bonus Chart.


Hilton Business. Mostly identical to the personal version but requires an extra $1,000 to earn the signup bonus; earns 6x Hilton points on wireless telephone, shipping, certain travel purchases (rather than on grocery story purchases); and provides the opportunity to earn a second free night certificate (with a whopping $60,000 in annual spending). Most people planning on spending the $15,000 to earn the first free night certificate will earn more points with the personal versions' grocery bonus. Amex Webpage. Signup Bonus Chart.


Hilton Aspire The $450 annual fee Aspire card comes with a very lucrative package of extra benefits (described below), which can easily make the extra cost worthwhile. If you are comfortable you can get decent value from its annual credit, it is the most valuable of the Hilton cards. Amex Webpage. Signup Bonus Chart.


Hilton Honors. The no-annual-fee card doesn't come with the key benefits that makes getting a Hilton card worthwhile. It is primarily interesting as a way to earn an additional Hilton signup bonus. However, when it is time to get rid of one of the other cards, consider downgrading it to this instead. You'll retain the ability to get a 5th night free on your award bookings and at least some Hilton status benefits (Silver level), and have an easy way to generate some activity (if necessary) to keep your account active. Amex Webpage. Signup Bonus Chart.

Hilton Points

You should be able to get values of more than .45 cents per point on many Hilton award bookings and you can sometimes get much more on particularly good redemptions (when rates are higher than normal). How Much are Hotel Points Worth?

Hilton requires more points for a free night at an equivalent hotel than the other major programs. For example, an award night at a comparable hotel would typically cost 15,000 Hyatt points, 35,000 Marriott points, or 50,000 Hilton points. As a result, the points you earn from Hilton don't go very far. But they do make it easy to earn larger number of points and it is easy to get more than a floor of about .45 cents per point.

Collecting the Signup Bonus

  • It is worth signing up for this card just to collect the signup bonus. The typical signup bonus is 100,000 Hilton points, valued at $450 (at .45 cents per point). After subtracting the annual fee and the opportunity cost of using the card for $3,000 of spending, the calculated net value for the initial year is $325 (11 cents per dollar spent). Your value may be higher or lower, depending on how much you value Hilton points. How Much are Hotel Points Worth?,
  • The typical signup bonus on the business version of the card is 125,000 points. This works out to a net value of $420.
  • The typical bonus on the premium version of the card is typically 100,000 points. But the card also comes with a free weekend night (the first year), a $250 Hilton resort credit, plus a $250 airline incidental credit that you can use twice during the initial year. Because the credits can be hard to use, we only value them at 50% of the potential $750 value, but we value the free weekend night certificate at $350.
  • After subtracting the annual fee and the opportunity cost of using the card for $4,000 of spending, the calculated net value for the initial year is $630 (16 cents per dollar spent). Your value may be higher or lower, depending on how much you value the points and the various credits.

  • The typical bonus on the no-annual-fee card is less attractive. The typical offer is 50,000 points, instead of 100,000. While it is always nice to earn extra points, there are plenty of other cards with more lucrative signup offers to focus on first.
  • You can only earn the signup bonus once per lifetime. With Amex cards, you are normally not entitled to earn the signup bonus, if you've ever had the card before. However, you may eventually receive a targeted offer that bypasses this limitation, allowing you to earn the bonus an additional time.
  • But you can earn the signup bonuses from all of these cards. . Everyone can get the regular, premium, and no-annual-fee versions. And if you have any kind of side business, even one that hasn't earned any money yet, you are entitled to apply for the business card as well. Unlock Extra Reward Points with Business Credit Cards.

Free Night Certificates

With the exception of the no-annual-fee version, every Hilton credit card allows you to earn annual free night certificates.

  • Hilton certificates are good for weekend nights at almost any Hilton Hotel. You can use them at hotels and resorts that could normally cost well over $500 per night, such as the Hilton Moorea, the Grand Wailea on Maui, any of the Waldorf Astoria hotels, or the Conrad Tokyo. But certificates are only good on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights. Due to Covid, Hilton has adjusted the rules and many current certificates can be used any night of the week. Hilton Free Weekend Night Certificates.
  • With the Hilton Surpass and Hilton Business Card, you need to spend $15,000 to earn the certificate. You’ll qualify for the certificate as soon as you reach $15,000 in spending each calendar year and receive it shortly thereafter. If you decide you want to make the Hilton card part of your core credit card collection (probably for the breakfast benefit), it is usually worthwhile to try to meet this spending requirement, as the opportunity cost of $15,000 of spending is only an incremental $150. However, it might not be worth getting this card just to earn the certificate, as the total cost, including the annual fee, would be $250.
  • Earning the certificate is an even better deal during the first year you have the card, since by qualifying for the signup bonus, you have already partway met the spending requirement. But because the spending requirement is based on the calendar year, depending on when you apply, you may not have enough time to finish your spending.

  • The premium Hilton Aspire card gives you a free certificate when you first get the card and an additional certificate every year you renew. Unlike the other cards, there is no spending requirement.
  • With both the Business and Aspire cards, you can earn a 2nd certificate each year by spending a total of $60,000—but we wouldn't recommend it. Even if you are capable of generating this amount of spending, the opportunity cost is just too high, especially since the certificate will expire in only one year. You'll miss out on about $450 in rewards by spending enough to earn a second certificate on the Business version of the card, and about $600 in rewards by spending enough to earn a second certificate on the Aspire version of the card. The cheaper way to get multiple certificates is by simply getting an additional card.
  • If you are interested in additional certificates, you can sign up for multiple cards. You can earn three certificates each year, by getting the Surpass, Aspire, and business versions of the cards, and spending a total of $30,000. It is also possible to get more than one copy of each of these cards, to earn even more certificates (but you won't earn a signup bonus on the additional cards). The only obstacle is that Amex limits you to 4-5 total Amex credit cards (not including charge card).

Other Notable Benefits (Regular and Business cards)

  • Hilton Gold elite status. Gold elite status is probably the main reason that most people will want one of these cards. It entitles you to free continental breakfast for two at most hotels in the Hilton program (that don't already provide free breakfast to all their guests), such as at Hilton and Waldorf Astoria hotels. You'll also get preferred room upgrades (upon availability), free access to the fitness centers, your 5th night free on award reservations, two bottles of water at many hotel brands, and a 25% more points for your stays. Hilton Status Benefits.
  • If you spend at least $40,000 with the card during the year, you'll receive Hilton Diamond status. However, it isn't worth spending this much, unless you have the business version of the card and you've decided to spend $60,000 anyway to get the 2nd free night certificate (see above).

  • 10 Priority Pass visits. You don't get an unlimited membership like you would from most premium credit cards. But the 10 passes can be useful if you don't already have a Priority Pass membership from another card, or you already have a membership, but need a way to occasionally bring in some additional guests. Get Free Airport Lounge Access from a Credit Card.
  • Access to Amex Offers. Amex continuously provides discount offers to their cardholders. Most of the offers are in the form of "Spend $x, get $y back", but other offers are in the form of "x% off your entire order" or "Earn an extra Membership Reward point on your purchases". To take advantage of the offers, you need to go to the Amex website, find the ones you are interested in, and "add them" to your card. Each offer will then be automatically applied when you use your card to make the corresponding purchase. Amex Offers Website.
  • Free ShopRunner membership. As with all Amex cards, you are entitled to a complimentary ShopRunner membership, which provides free two-day and return shipping from around 150 of the largest online retailers. ShopRunner Website
  • Exclusive access to entertainment events. Amex sponsors cardmember-only events around the country and also provides early ticket access for some other shows.
Temporary(?) Hilton Breakfast Changes

Until the end of 2021, Hilton Gold and Platinum members will receive a food & beverage credit instead of the "free breakfast" benefit at hotels within the United States. Benefits at international locations remain the same. For each room, you'll receive up to two per-person credits each day. Credits amounts are $25 each at Waldorf Astoria, Conrad, and LXR, $12-15 each at most other brands, and $10 each at Hilton Garden Inn.

Credits can be used at any restaurant, bar, or market at the hotel or for room service, will be applied automatically to your hotel bill, and need to be used each day (they won't roll over to the next day on your stay).

Unfortunately, these credits are too low to pay for a full breakfast at the many hotels that historically provided a hot breakfast or buffet to Gold and Diamond elites (or to feed more than 2 people per room at the hotels which choose to comp entire families). In many cases, the credits won't even be enough to purchase the "continental" breakfast that is the official elite benefit, especially at resort hotels, hotels in expensive locations, and hotels that have "continental buffets".

On the positive side, a flexible food and beverage credit provides can be used for a drink and/or snack (or a lunch or dinner discount) if you don't want breakfast or if your breakfast would be reimbursed as a travel expense.

Hilton is touting this as a response to guests who want more flexibility. Hopefully in the future, they will give guests the choice of free breakfast or a flexible credit, so that guests that want the breakfast won't be required to pay the potential difference in cost.

If you are traveling alone, it makes sense to always book your room for two people. There is a good chance you'll wind up receiving two credits per day.

Additional Benefits with the Aspire Card

If you decide to spend an extra $355 per year for the premium Hilton Aspire Card, you'll get a collection of valuable additional benefits.

  • Hilton Diamond status, rather than Gold status. Entitles you to access to any Executive floor lounge, a better chance of getting a good room upgrade, and a 50% bonus on points from stays (rather than a 25% bonus). Hilton Status Benefits.
  • A free night certificate every year without any spending requirement. With the Aspire version, you'll receive a free night certificate every year, regardless of how much you spend. This saves about $150 in potential lost rewards, when compared to spending $15,000 with the regular or business cards. Even better, you get your first free night certificate when you initially get the card, rather than on your first anniversary.
  • An annual $250 credit for Hilton Resorts. You can only use this credit when you stay at a "resort property, but it can be used to pay for your room, not just for incidental charges. The credit is based on your cardmember year, so you only receive it once during the initial year you have the card.
  • If you don't have an opportunity to stay in a resort during a cardholder year, you can make a prepaid but refundable reservation at some resorts, receive the credit, cancel the reservation, and receive a refund. When you receive your refund, Amex doesn't currently cancel your statement credit. As of August 1, 2019, you can't use this credit for room rates booked as "Advanced Purchase" rates, but you can still use it for other prepaid reservations. Note that at any time, Amex may pull back your credit because you didn't wind up paying for the room.

  • A full Priority Pass membership. Instead of just getting 10 visits, you'll get unlimited access to Priority Pass lounges, with the ability to bring in two guests per visit. However, unlike the Priority Pass memberships that come from other credit cards, the memberships that come from Amex credit cards no longer provide access to restaurants and other alternative locations that participate in the Priority Pass program. You'll only get access to the program's more traditional lounges. Get Free Airport Lounge Access from a Credit Card.
  • A $250 annual airline incidental credit. This credit works identically to the credit from the American Express Platinum Card, except that is capped at $250 per year, rather than $200. It only pays for extra fees, like baggage fees and inflight food and beverage purchases, rather than for airplane tickets and upgrades. And you can only use it on a single airline that you choose when you first get your card and at the beginning of each calendar year. The credit is based on the calendar year, so you can receive it twice during the first year you have the card.
  • Most people find it very hard to naturally take full advantage of these Amex Airline Incidental credits. If you choose the airline you fly the most, chances are that you already have ways to avoid many of the applicable charges via the airline's credit card or elite status. If you choose another airline, you are unlikely to naturally incur $250 in charges.

    However, if you are willing to bend the rules and make the effort, you can take full advantage of the credit. You can no longer earn the credit by buying low denomination airline gift cards (from certain airlines), but there are some other hacks that still work. Get Full Value from Your Airline Incidental Credits.

  • A $100 credit for every 2 night stay at Waldorf Astoria and Conrad hotels—which has little or no value. You can't use this credit to pay for the room itself, only to pay for other resort charges. To qualify for the credit, you need to book the room with a special "Aspire" rate, which is typically more expensive than what you can find elsewhere. So in many cases, you won't receive any real value from this benefit.
  • Slightly higher bonus reward rates. You'll earn 14x points on Hilton purchases (rather than 12x) and 7x rewards on airfare and car rentals booked through Amex (rather than 6x with the business card or 3x points on all travel with the personal card). You probably won't want to use this card for travel purchases, but the extra 2x points on Hilton purchases has at least some ongoing value.

Our general advice is not to bother with the Hilton Aspire card after your initial year. However, if you are willing to make the effort to get full value from Airline Incidental credit and you know that you can use the resort credit and the free night certificate every year, you can get much more than enough value to justify the annual fee. The annual credits alone are worth $500, and the free hotel night and other benefits just adds to that.

The No-Annual-Fee Version

Many people are going to want to hold onto one of the more expensive Hilton cards, in order to maintain automatic Gold status. But, if you aren't interested or already have Hilton Gold status from the Amex Platinum card, you might want to consider getting the no-annual-fee Hilton card.

You'll still get the 5th night free on your award bookings, automatic Silver status, and an easy way to generate activity to keep your Hilton account active (and hold onto your points). Hilton Silver status isn't worth much and you can earn it from only four actual hotel nights, but it still provides free access to fitness centers, free bottle water (at many hotels), and a bonus on points earned from hotel stays. And you'll get these benefits on an ongoing basis, without having to pay any annual fees.

While the no-annual-fee version comes with a 50,000 point signup bonus, the best way for most people to get this card is to sign up for the Surpass or Aspire card and then downgrade it to the no-annual-fee version, at the end of your first year. That way, you earn a more worthwhile signup bonus. But, if you are looking to collect every possible signup bonus, you are better off signing up directly for this card (as well as the other cards).

Bonus Categories

  • Some of the Hilton cards probably earn the most valuable rewards on Hilton purchases. You'll earn 12x Hilton points, valued at 5.4 cents per dollar. The premium Aspire card earns 14x points, valued at around 6.3 cents per dollar. Earning 7x points (with the no-annual-version( is better than you'd get with a general-purpose reward card, but not as good as what you could earn from other cards. Best Credit Cards for Travel Spending.
  • There are better options for your other travel purchases. 6x Hilton points with the Business version of the card or 7x points with the Aspire version are more valuable than what you'd get with a general-purpose reward card, but less than what you'd receive from a card that earns good bonus rewards on travel spending. And they only apply to airfare and car rentals booked through Amex Travel. The 3x points you'd earn on travel with the regular version of the card are only valued at around 1.35 cents per dollar and are less than what you would get from even your general-purpose reward card. Best Credit Cards for Travel Spending.
  • There are better options for the other bonus spending categories . Different versions of the Hilton card earn reward rates of 5x, 6x, or 7x points on a set of different categories. 6x Hilton points is valued at about 2.7 cents per dollar. While that is better than what you'd get from most general-purpose reward cards, it is isn't nearly as good as some of your other options. Best Credit Cards for Restaurant Spending. Best Credit Cards for Grocery Spending. Best Credit Cards for Gas Spending.
  • You don't want to use these cards for your everyday spending. You'll earn higher rewards from a good general-purpose reward card. Get a Great General Purpose Reward Card and Use It for All of Your Spending.

Getting Rid of the Card

  • You can cancel without worrying about losing your Hilton points. Once you earn them, they are treated like any other points in your Hilton account.. Your free night certificates are also safe and available in your Hilton account (although not visible online).
  • Before you cancel or downgrade the premium Aspire version, try to maximize its benefits. The airline incidental credit is based on the calendar year, so you would normally have plenty of time to use it before you cancel. The resort credit resets when you pay your annual fee. You may be able to use it to pay for a stay before the deadline for getting a full annual fee refund. For example, you can use it to book a prepaid resort reservation for later in the year.
  • You won't receive the free night certificate until after the deadline to cancel the card has passed. If you have an available Amex credit card slot, it is can be worth holding onto the card until you receive the certificate and then downgrading your card to get most of the annual fee back. This also gives you more time to use the new resort credit.

  • If you no longer want the Surpass or Aspire Card, it MIGHT make sense to downgrade it to the no-annual-fee version. You can product change between any of the personal Hilton cards (but there is no product change option for the Hilton Business card). If you like collecting signup bonuses and you haven't signed up for the no-annual-fee version before, it is almost certainly better to cancel your card, apply for the no-annual-fee version when you get the chance, and collect its valuable signup bonus.
  • If you've already received the bonus or don't care, converting can make sense. You'll keep Hilton Silver status, which gives your 5th night free on award redemptions, access to fitness centers, two bottles of water (at some brands), and a 20% points bonus on stays. You might also receive a lucrative offer to upgrade back to one of the annual fee based cards.

  • You can wait to cancel your card until after the annual fee shows up on your statement. As long as you cancel within 30 days of the statement closing date, Amex will refund the fee. After 30 days, you can receive a pro-rated refund by downgrading to a lower-priced card, like no-annual-fee Hilton Card. There is no downgrade option for the Hilton Business card.
  • You might be able to receive a retention offer to keep your card. It could be enough to make it worthwhile to keep the card.

Send comments or suggestions to editor@travelstrategies.com or leave a comment below.

blog comments powered by Disqus