Comparison of Hilton HHonors Credit Cards

March 12, 2013

With over 3,750 properties, Hilton is one of the largest hotel chains in the world, and Hilton hotels comprise no less than 10 different brands including DoubleTree, Hampton Inn, Embassy Suites, and the Waldorf-Astoria. Like most hotel chains, guests can use a co-branded credit card to earn points toward free night stays. In particular, Hilton offers several different credit cards co-branded with both Citi and American Express.

So which is the best card for you? Let’s compare them all and take a look:

The Hilton HHonors Card from American Express

American-Express-Hilton-Surpass-Credit-CardThis is the introductory level card from American Express, but it is still feature packed. New cardholders earn 40,000 bonus points after making $750 in charges within 90 days of opening an account. This is enough for a free night’s stay in a category 4 hotel (The HHonors program has seven different categories ranging from 1 -7, with the higher numbers representing their most expensive properties).

Six HHonors points are earned for each dollar spent at at supermarkets, at select major drugstores, on gasoline at U.S. stand-alone gas stations, wireless and home telephone services, and pay television services. You also earn six points per dollar spent at hotels within the Hilton brands. Three points per dollar are earned through all other spending.

Cardmembers are automatically granted Silver Elite status in the HHonors program, but those who use their card to spend $20,000 in a calendar year are granted Gold Elite status which offers much better benefits such as room upgrades and complimentary continental breakfasts.

And as an American Express card, you get side benefits such as lost luggage insurance and a purchase protection policy that extends your warranty and covers you if your item breaks or the store won’t accept a return.

But the key feature of this card is that there is no annual fee, which is rare among reward cards, especially from American Express. Sadly, American Express imposes a 2.7% foreign transaction fee on all charges processed outside the United States, which is unwelcome on a card aimed at frequent travelers.

The Hilton HHonors Surpass Card from American Express

American-Express-Hilton-Surpass-Credit-CardThe Surpass version of the Hilton HHonors card from American Express contains all the same features as the standard version, plus a few additional perks. Stays at Hilton hotels earn 12 points per dollar rather than just six, but all other bonus categories are the same.

New applicants earn 40,000 HHonors Bonus Points with their first purchase and 20,000 points when they spend $3,000 or more within the first 90 days after opening an account.

Cardholders can also reach Gold Elite status by using their card to spend $20,000 within a calendar year, but they can also achieve Diamond Elite status if their spending reaches $40,000 per year. But even though Diamond Elite is the top tier of Hilton’s program, it doesn’t offer significantly better benefits. Diamonds get a 50% elite status bonus on paid stays and access to the executive club lounge, but not much else.

There is $75 annual fee for this card and the same, onerous 2.7% foreign transaction fee.

Citi® Hilton HHonors™  Visa Signature® Card

The Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature CardLike American Express, Citi offers two versions of their Hilton HHonors credit cards. This entry level version is similar to its American Express counterpart. Here’s what you need to know about the Citi® Hilton HHonors™  Visa Signature® Card:

New cardholders earn 40,000 HHonors points after using their card to make $1,000 in purchases within four months of opening an account. Cardmembers still earn six points per dollar spent at Hilton properties, yet cardholders only earn three HHonors points per dollar spent on purchases at supermarkets, drugstores and gas stations, and two points per dollar spent on all other purchases.

Worse, Silver Elite status is not granted automatically, it is only earned after four stays within the first 90 days of card membership. Ouch.

At the very least, there is no annual fee for this card, but there is a 3% foreign transaction fee on all charges processed outside of the United States.

Citi® Hilton HHonors™  Reserve Card

credit-card-rewards-reserveMoving up, Citi also offers a more feature filled Hilton card. The Citi® Hilton HHonors™  Reserve Card allows cardholders to earn 10 HHonors points per dollar spent at Hilton hotels, five HHonors points per dollar spent on airline and car rental purchases, and three HHonors points per dollar spent on all other purchases.

New cardholders automatically receive Gold Elite status and can earn Diamond status after using their card to spend $40,000 in a calendar year. In addition, cardholders who spend $10,000 in a cardholder year earn a free weekend night certificate.

There are no foreign transaction fees with this card, and it is equipped with an EMV smart chip that makes it compatible with unattended kiosks in Europe and elsewhere. That said, there is a $95 annual fee for this card.

Which card is best for you?

Those who are looking to earn travel rewards, but don’t actually travel frequently, would do well to use one of the two entry level products. Of the two, the American Express card is clearly superior to the Citi. It offers six points per dollar for many purchases while the Citi® Hilton HHonors™  Visa Signature® Card only goes as high as three points per dollar at even fewer merchants. And if you use the basic American Express card to spend $20,000 in a calendar year, you will earn Gold Status and get treated to free breakfast on your vacation.

Frequent guests of the Hilton brands should consider one of the more expensive offerings. Here, I would have to give the upper hand to the Citi® Hilton HHonors™  Reserve Card. I love cards with no foreign transaction fees and EMV chips that keep me from getting my card rejected all over Europe. I also like being immediately bestowed Gold status and earning a free night every year. These perks are easily worth the additional $20 in annual fees beyond the HHonors Surpass card from American Express.

By examining the benefits and costs of all of these Hilton cards, you can chose the best product to earn the most perks and free nights when you stay at Hilton hotels.

Which card wins in your book? Leave a comment and let us know your thoughts!


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Jason Steele has been dissecting credit card bonuses and loyalty travel programs for years. Digging into the details of credit card offers has enabled his family to vacation in cool places around the world. Pay attention to the details he digs up about which card is best for you.

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