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Hilton Honors American Express credit card review

CNN logo CNN 5/11/2021 By Holly Johnson
a store inside of a building: The Hilton Washington Dulles Airport hotel. © Hilton Hotels The Hilton Washington Dulles Airport hotel.

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a sign in front of a building: Grab the welcome bonus on the Hilton Honors American Express card to use at properties like the Hilton San Diego Airport/Harbor Island. © Hilton Hotels Grab the welcome bonus on the Hilton Honors American Express card to use at properties like the Hilton San Diego Airport/Harbor Island.

Our quick take: The Hilton Honors American Express Card helps travel enthusiasts rack up Hilton points without having to pay an annual fee. The welcome bonus is enough for several free nights on its own, but this card's exceptional earning rate on Hilton stays and everyday spending really help it stand out.

Pros:

  • Earn 7 points for every dollar you spend on Hilton purchases
  • Earn 5 points per dollar at US restaurants, US supermarkets and US gas stations
  • Earn 3 points per dollar on all other purchases
  • Complimentary Silver elite status with the Hilton Honors program
  • No foreign transaction fees (see rates and fees)
  • No annual fee (see rates and fees)

map: Redeem the points you earn with the Hilton Honors American Express card at spots like the Hilton Salwa Beach Resort & Villas. © Hilton Hotels Redeem the points you earn with the Hilton Honors American Express card at spots like the Hilton Salwa Beach Resort & Villas.

Cons:

  • No VIP perks other than Hilton Silver status
  • Hilton Honors points are worth less than some competing hotel loyalty programs

Current welcome bonus: Earn up to 130,000 bonus points split into two tiers: 80,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 in purchases on the card in the first three months after opening the account, and another 50,000 bonus points after spending a total of $5,000 in the first six months.

Best for: Infrequent travelers who want a way to earn Hilton Honors points without paying an annual fee.

Digging into the Hilton Honors American Express Card

The Hilton Honors program lets you redeem points for hotel stays at more than 5,000 properties around the world. This includes luxury properties like the Waldorf Astoria and Conrad Hotels and Resorts, yet you can also redeem points for stays at everyday hotels like Hilton Garden Inn and DoubleTree properties. You can book a free night at a roadside motel, or you can save up your points for a once-in-a-lifetime vacation in luxury destinations like the Maldives or Bora Bora. The choice is yours.

If you're interested in earning free hotel stays at properties like these but you're not a full-fledged Hilton enthusiast, the Hilton Honors American Express Card could be an exceptional fit. This card lets you rack up points in the Hilton Honors program without paying an annual fee, so it's a good card to keep for the long haul regardless of how often you travel.

The Hilton Amex Card offers a generous rewards rate on Hilton stays and on regular spending, with 5 points for every dollar you spend at US restaurants, US supermarkets and US gas stations, and 3 points per dollar on all other purchases. However, Hilton Honors points aren't worth as much as other major hotel loyalty programs, so it's important to keep in mind the actual value of your rewards.

Hilton is easily one of the best hotel loyalty programs to consider if you're someone who likes to combine points with other family members before you redeem them. This program lets you pool your points with up to 10 other program members with no fees attached.

Advantages of the Hilton Honors American Express Card

The Hilton Amex Card currently features one of the highest welcome offers we've ever seen on it. New card members can earn up to 130,000 bonus points split across two tiers. You'll earn 80,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 in purchases on the card in the first three months after opening the account, and another 50,000 bonus points after spending a total of $5,000 in the first six months.

Considering free hotel stays with Hilton start at just 5,000 points per night, it's easy to see how this bonus could be the starting point for a ton of free travel.

Not only does the Hilton Amex Card earn points in the program with no annual fee, but you'll also get automatic Silver elite status with the Hilton Honors program. While this is Hilton's lowest-status tier, you'll still qualify for benefits like complimentary internet access, late checkout and two complimentary bottles of water whenever you're staying at a Hilton property.

If you want to climb up toward higher levels of status with more benefits, you can also earn Hilton Gold status when you spend $20,000 on the Hilton Amex Card within a calendar year. However, in that case, you might be better off with the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card, which comes with complimentary Gold status but also carries a $95 annual fee (see rates and fees).

Related: Read CNN Underscored's review of the Hilton Surpass Amex credit card.

Disadvantages of the Hilton Honors American Express Card

The biggest disappointment of the Hilton Amex Card is the fact that it comes with meager benefits for travel enthusiasts. You'll get automatic Hilton Silver status and a few basic hotel loyalty perks, but not much else. The only other benefits of note are secondary auto rental coverage, a Global Assist hotline and no foreign transaction fees.

Also keep in mind that this card is relatively weak when you compare it to other Hilton credit cards that offer bigger welcome bonuses and more generous earning rates. However, all other Hilton credit cards in the American Express portfolio carry an annual fee — the Hilton Amex Card is the only one that doesn't, which may be more appealing to some people than extra benefits.

It's also important to keep in mind that not all travel rewards are equal, and Hilton Honors points are worth less than many other airline and hotel loyalty programs. Frequent flyer website The Points Guy values Hilton Honors points at just 0.6 cents apiece, so even if you're earning 3 points per dollar on all your everyday purchases with the Hilton Amex Card, that's an effective return of only 1.8%, which is lower than the return you'll get with our benchmark credit card, the Citi® Double Cash Card.

Related: Read CNN Underscored's review of the Citi Double Cash Card.

Stacking up the Hilton Amex Card against our benchmark

CNN Underscored uses the Citi Double Cash Card as our "benchmark" credit card. That doesn't mean it's the best credit card on the market — rather, it means we use it as a basic standard to compare other credit cards and see where they score better, and where they're worse.

Here's how the Hilton Amex Card card scores against our benchmark. The features of each card in the below chart are colored in green, red or white. Green indicates a card feature that's better than our benchmark, red indicates the feature is worse than our benchmark and white indicates the feature is either equivalent or cannot be directly compared to our benchmark.

As you can see, there are some areas where the Hilton Amex Card beats our benchmark card. However, since the Hilton Amex Card is a hotel credit card, it works best for people who really want to rack up points for free hotel stays with the Hilton brand.

On the flip side, a cash back credit card like the Citi Double Cash can be a better option if you prefer to earn cash back without having to worry about redeeming travel points or miles.

Other credit cards similar to the Hilton Honors American Express Card

If you're looking to earn Hilton points, there are two other personal Hilton credit cards to consider. The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card comes with a bigger bonus and better earning rates as well as benefits like a free weekend night each year, automatic Hilton Diamond status, a $250 airline fee credit, a $250 resort credit, Priority Pass Select airport lounge membership and more. But a $450 annual fee applies (see rates and fees), so all those great benefits come at a price.

All information about the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card has been collected independently by CNN. The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card is not currently available through CNN.

Related: These are the best credit cards to use at Hilton hotels in 2021.

However, if you don't want to pay such a high annual fee but still want more benefits than the basic no-frills Hilton Amex Card, the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card might be a good compromise. It offers a generous welcome bonus, complimentary Hilton Gold elite status and 10 free visits to Priority Pass airport lounges worldwide for just a $95 annual fee.

The card also earns 12 points per dollar on Hilton purchases, 6 points per dollar at US supermarkets, US restaurants and US gas stations, and 3 points per dollar on all other purchases. And you'll earn a weekend night award when you spend $15,000 on the Hilton Surpass Card within a calendar year.

As a final thought, it's also worth noting that the Hilton Honors program is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards. This means that you can also consider premium Amex cards like the American Express® Gold Card or The Platinum Card® from American Express. Both earn flexible points in the Membership Rewards program, which you can transfer to your Hilton Honors account at a 1-to-2 ratio, meaning for every 1,000 Amex points you transfer, you'll get 2,000 Hilton Honors points.

Related: Read how the American Express Gold Card can practically pay for itself.

Should you get the Hilton Honors American Express Card?

If you're someone who wants to earn Hilton points but you're averse to annual fees, the Hilton Amex Card may be what you need. You can earn a generous welcome bonus, and the excellent rewards rate can help you rack up more points quickly. You'll even get automatic Silver elite status and the ability to reach Gold status when you spend $20,000 on your card within a calendar year.

That being said, it always makes sense to compare multiple credit cards before you pick a new one. You may want to consider other hotel programs with more valuable loyalty points like Marriott Bonvoy and World of Hyatt. Even if you're obsessed with Hilton, getting a credit card that's part of Amex's Membership Rewards program can let you transfer points to Hilton only when you really need them.

But don't forget that up to 130,000 bonus points are currently available to new card members on the Hilton Honors American Express Card. So if you want to get your Hilton balance off to a flying start by scoring a welcome bonus on a card with no annual fee, this is a card that might be worth a good look.

Learn more about the Hilton Honors American Express Card.

Find out which cards CNN Underscored chose as our best travel credit cards of 2021.

Get all the latest personal finance deals, news and advice at CNN Underscored Money.

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