Hilton’s credit card lineup is not nearly as complicated as Marriott’s (see: Which Marriott Bonvoy card is best?). However, American Express does issue four different Hilton cards for the US market. Here’s everything you need to know…
Card Fees & Welcome Bonuses
Here’s a list of each of the available Hilton cards, along with current welcome bonus details and annual fees…
|Card||Annual Fee||Annual Free Weekend Night||Free Weekend Night With Spend||Elite Status
|Elite Status with Spend||Priority Pass|
|Hilton Honors||$0||N/A||N/A||Silver||Gold: $20K||N/A|
|Surpass||$95||N/A||$15K||Gold||$40K: Diamond||10 Visits|
|Business||$95||N/A||$15K and $60K||Gold||$40K: Diamond||10 Visits|
|Aspire||$450||Yes||$60K||Diamond||N/A||Yes, with 2 Free Guests|
|Additional Aspire Perks:
⚬ $250 Hilton Resort Credit per membership year
⚬ $250 Airline Incidental Fee Credit per calendar year (see what works)
⚬ $100 on-property credit at Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts and Conrad Hotels & Resorts when booking the exclusive Aspire Card package
Foreign Transaction Fees: None
American Express does not charge foreign transaction fees on any of the Hilton cards issued in the United States.
Free Weekend Nights
Free nights earned in 2020 are valid for any day of the week and are good for 24 months (see this post for details). Normally, the following rules apply:
- Valid for 12 months from issue
- Valid for Friday, Saturday, or Sunday night stays
- Some all-inclusive and “distinctive” properties are excluded from free night awards. A list of excluded properties can be found here.
Here are the major perks you get with each elite status level:
- Silver: 20% bonus on base points, 2 bottles of water at most full-service properties
- Gold: 80% bonus on base points, free breakfast
- Diamond: 100% bonus on base points, free breakfast, lounge access
American Express’ version of Priority Pass supports Priority Pass airport lounge access, but not Priority Pass restaurants. Priority Pass airport lounges are most commonly found at airports outside of the United States or within international terminals in the United States.
Use this Priority Pass page to find accessible airport lounges. Make sure to pay attention to details such as opening hours since some lounges only allow Priority Pass access during select times.
Our latest Reasonable Redemption Value pegs Hilton points as being worth about 0.45 cents each. This means that it is reasonable to expect to get that much or more value when redeeming points for free nights.
All four Hilton cards earn a base rate of 3 points per dollar. Based on the 0.45 cent RRV, this means that the base return on spend is only 1.35%. That’s not an attractive rate when compared to fee free cards that earn 2% everywhere. However, if you are spending towards a free weekend night certificate, it may still be worthwhile.
In addition to the base 3X earning rate, each card offers category bonuses as follows:
|Card Info Name and Earning Rate (no offer)|
Which is Best?
Overall, I think that the Aspire card is not only the best Hilton card you can get but arguably one of the best ultra-premium cards on the market. That said, each of the four cards has good things going for it. Let’s look at the argument for each one as to why it is best:
- Hilton Honors: This fee-free card offers no foreign transaction fees, and solid 5X earnings for popular categories: US grocery, gas, and dining. With the 0.45 RRV, this is like getting 2.25% back for those categories.
- Hilton Honors Surpass: For only $95 per year, you get Gold status (free breakfast!), a free weekend night with $15K spend, and 10 Priority Pass visits per year. This card also offers very good 6X earnings for popular categories: US grocery, gas, and dining. With the 0.45 RRV, this is like getting 2.7% back for those categories.
- Hilton Honors Business: For the same price as the Surpass, the business card offers all of the same perks (Gold status, 10 Priority Pass visits) plus the ability to earn a second free night each year with spend (earn a free night at $15K spend and again at $60K). One downside to the business card is that it does not offer a grocery store bonus, but instead offers 6X for select business and travel purchases (flights booked directly with airlines or Amex Travel; car rentals booked directly from select car rental companies; US restaurants; US gas stations; wireless telephone services purchased directly from US service provider; US shipping purchases).
- Hilton Honors Aspire: This card is loaded with perks that more than justify its $450 annual fee. The most valuable (in my opinion) are: Annual Weekend Night, Diamond Status, $250 Hilton Resort Credit, and $250 Airline Fee Credit. Downsides to this card are that you must spend a whopping $60K within a year to earn a second free night and the bonus categories aren’t as good for everyday spend as with the Surpass card. For example, instead of 6X for US grocery, gas, and dining (which is offered by the Surpass card), the Aspire offers 7X at US restaurants, flights booked directly with airlines or amextravel.com, and at select car rental companies.