If you have considered entering the United States credit card market, you have definitely heard of the American Express Hilton Honors credit card lineup. Comprised of three personal credit cards and one business credit card, the Hilton cards offer a great way to save money on your next hotel stay at any property within the Hilton network.
Let’s look at the best American Express Hilton Honors credit card strategy to maximize the points you can earn in the long term.
Why Should I Be Interested in the Hilton Honors Program?
When it comes to Canadians and earning hotel loyalty program points through credit cards, the only real option we have is Marriott Bonvoy. While both the American Express Marriott Bonvoy and American Express Marriott Bonvoy Business credit cards are great, it is hard to accrue a meaningful amount of points for a stay of a decent length
Thus, the logical next step is to look south of the border where our American counterparts have many more opportunities to earn points in other hotel loyalty programs, including Hilton Honors and World of Hyatt.
The Hilton Honors program is the most prominent hotel loyalty program in the US credit card market, and logically, is the easiest hotel program to earn a large number of points in. Simply put, if you are serious about saving money on your hotel stays, the Hilton Honors program is absolutely one you should be paying attention to.
As mentioned, all of the cards listed below in this article are for United States American Express cardholders. However, Canadians can gain access to these cards by holding an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN); click here to learn about ITINs and click here to learn more about getting US credit cards as a Canadian.
If you are interested in obtaining your first US credit card, consider applying for any of the below cards with Nova Credit to leverage your existing relationship to easily apply for US Amex cards.
The Optimal Strategy for the American Express Hilton Honors Credit Cards
If you have already started in the US credit card game or are interested in starting, the Amex Hilton Honors cards should be near the top of your list. Below, we will walk through the optimal order that you should obtain these cards and whether you should hold them or close them after one year.
Throughout this strategy, we will keep a running total of points and annual fees to determine the total value available from these cards, with a combined review of earnings at the end. Of note, we will be using the currently elevated bonuses that are available until April 2023 as a point of reference.
Our goal with this strategy is to maximize Hilton Honors points earned, minimize the risk of going over 5/24 (in case we want to apply for a card with Chase in the near future), and start with cards that can potentially be upgraded (for even more points) after one year of holding them.
First Card – The American Express Hilton Honors Credit Card
Whether you are new to the US game or new to the American Express Hilton Honors series of cards, we highly recommend starting with the no-fee American Express Hilton Honors credit card.
The American Express Hilton Honors card earns Hilton Honors points and grants cardholders instant Hilton Honors Silver elite status.
70,000 Hilton Honors
This is the best card to start with as it has no annual fee and is a great long-term keeper for your first US credit card. Typically it has a pretty strong bonus with a low minimum spend, making the bonus achievable by the average consumer. With the current bonus, you can earn 100,000 Hilton Honors points after spending $2,000 in the first three months of card membership.
Once the bonus has been earned, the strategy with this card is to hold it for a year and then hope to receive upgrade offers to the other higher-tier Hilton Honors credit cards. We will touch more on upgrade offers in the section below, but it is highly recommended to never close this card, especially if it is your first US American Express card.
Total Points & Annual Fees So Far: 100,000 Hilton Honors & $0 USD in annual fees
Second Card – The American Express Hilton Honors Business Credit Card
The second card you want to sign up for is the American Express Hilton Honors Business credit card. Before you ask, you are absolutely eligible to hold business credit cards as an individual.
The American Express Hilton Honors Business card earns Hilton Honors points and offers cardholders benefits such as instant Hilton Gold elite status and ten complimentary airport lounge passes per year.
150,000 Hilton Honors
This is a great second card to sign up. It doesn’t impact Chase’s 5/24 rule since many business credit cards do not show up on your US credit file. With the current bonus, you can earn 165,000 Hilton Honors points after spending $5,000 in the first three months of card membership for an annual fee of $95 USD.
Unlike the Amex Hilton Honors card, this is one card that you can hold for one year and then cancel once the second annual fee posts. There won’t be any upgrade offers since it is the only business Hilton Honors credit card.
The only use case for keeping this card would be to earn the annual free night certificate provided you can spend $15,000 USD on the card in a calendar year or if you are looking for an easy way to achieve Hilton Gold status. If not, there is minimal value in keeping the card long-term.
Total Points & Annual Fees So Far: 265,000 Hilton Honors & $95 USD in annual fees
Third Card – The American Express Hilton Honors Surpass Credit Card
The third card I recommend signing up for is the American Express Hilton Honors Surpass credit card. This is the mid-tier card in the Hilton personal credit card lineup, offering a good bonus with a minimal annual fee.
The American Express Hilton Honors Surpass card earns Hilton Honors points and offers cardholders benefits such as instant Hilton Gold elite status and ten complimentary airport lounge passes per year.
130,000 Hilton Honors
With the current bonus, you can earn 150,000 Hilton Honors points after spending $3,000 in the first three months of card membership for an annual fee of $95 USD.
Similar to the Hilton business card, the only use case for keeping this card past the first year would be to earn the annual free night certificate provided you can spend $15,000 USD on the card in a calendar year or for easy Hilton Gold status. You can also potentially receive offers to upgrade to the Hilton Aspire card as well.
If you can’t foresee yourself being able to spend $15,000 on the card each year to earn the free night certificate, I would recommend downgrading this card to the Amex Hilton Honors no-fee card to double your chances for upgrade offers (as you will now be holding two no-fee cards).
Total Points & Annual Fees So Far: 405,000 Hilton Honors & $190 USD in annual fees
Fourth Card – The American Express Hilton Honors Aspire Credit Card
The final card that I would recommend signing up for is the American Express Hilton Honors Aspire card as a result of the higher annual fee. Many consumers don’t often see the value in paying significant annual fees for premium credit cards, and on the surface, the Hilton Aspire card has a relatively average welcome bonus for a premium card so I can understand the hesitation.
The American Express Hilton Honors Aspire card earns Hilton Honors points and offers cardholders an annual $250 Hilton Resort credit, a $200 airline fee credit, instant Hilton Diamond Elite status, an annual free night, and more.
150,000 Hilton Honors
While this card has the highest annual fee of the bunch at $450 USD, it has multiple benefits that far outweigh the high annual fee. The Amex Hilton Aspire card offers 1 Hilton free night per cardholder year, $250 USD in Hilton Resort credits per cardholder year, $250 USD in airline fee credits per calendar year, complimentary Hilton Honors Diamond status, and Priority Pass Select membership.
Related: The Best Hotels to Redeem a Hilton Free Night Certificate
Provided you can squeeze the full value out of the credits and are able to use the free night certificate every year, this is definitely worth a place in your wallet as a keeper card for the long term. With the current bonus, you can earn 150,000 Hilton Honors points after spending $4,000 in the first three months of card membership.
Total Points & Annual Fees: 555,000 Hilton Honors & $640 USD in annual fees
Total Value Earned From This Strategy
Let’s recap everything that we have earned from signing up for these cards to determine the total value:
- All Cards Combined
- 550,000 Hilton Honors points (worth $2750 at 0.5 cents per point)
- Hilton Honors Aspire Card Benefits
- 1 Hilton free night certificate worth up to 85,000 points (worth $425 at 0.5 cents per point)
- $250 USD Hilton resort credit (per cardholder year)
- $250 USD Airline fee credit x2 (since you can redeem it twice during your year of holding the card, as it is per calendar year)
- Hilton Honors Diamond Status
- Priority Pass Select membership (complimentary airport lounge access for the cardholder and two guests)
- Total Value: $3,925 USD
When you consider that we are only out of pocket for $640 USD in annual fees, this leaves us with an overall value of $3,285 USD. Considering all we really did was sign up for four credit cards following a basic strategy and meet the minimum spending requirements, this is fantastic value.
However, this is only the start. Let’s look at some other opportunities as to how we can continue to build our Hilton Honors points balance.
Earning More Hilton Honors Points After Signing Up for All Cards
While we were already able to earn a massive stack of Hilton Honors points simply by signing up for credit cards, the game has only begun.
In the above strategy, I noted that it is important to keep the Amex Hilton Honors and Hilton Honors Surpass cards open past the one-year date. The reason for this is that Amex often sends out upgrade offers that give you the chance to earn even more Hilton Honors points. While you may receive an email with this upgrade offer, it can also be found in the Amex Offers section of your account.
An example of an offer to upgrade an Amex Hilton Honors card to the Amex Hilton Surpass can be seen below. There is no limit on earning Hilton Honors points from upgrades, meaning you can upgrade and downgrade, and repeat, as many times as you are offered an upgrade on each credit card.
There is one caveat with upgrades: do not upgrade to a Hilton Honors card that you have not held before. For example, if you hold the no-fee Hilton Honors Amex and receive an offer to upgrade to the Hilton Surpass Amex, but you have never held the Hilton Surpass card, do not upgrade. Upgrading will mean that you can no longer earn the welcome bonus on a new application for the Amex Hilton Honors Surpass card since the upgrade will count as your “lifetime” welcome bonus on the card.
In this scenario, the best play would be to apply for the Amex Hilton Surpass card, get approved, and then upgrade your no-fee card to double dip on the welcome bonus offer and the upgrade offer. You can hold multiples of any Amex Hilton Honors cards with no issues.
While it can be worth it to keep multiple base-level no-fee Amex Hilton Honors credit cards in the hope of receiving upgrade offers, remember that you are only able to hold five credit cards at a time with US American Express. With this in mind, ensure you are not shorting yourself on other potential points earning opportunities by only waiting for an upgrade offer that may or may not ever show up.
In addition to keeping an eye out for upgrade offers, you can also quickly bolster your Hilton Honors balance if you are churning with a significant other or player two. Not only can you easily refer them to any of these cards to earn even more points, but they can also transfer you up to 500,000 Hilton Honors points per year at no charge.
We recommend anyone starting out with US credit cards to heavily consider the Hilton Honors series of cards to diversify their hotel loyalty program points balances. This strategy can be executed over a delayed period of time, depending on your comfortability with meeting minimum spending requirements and signing up for new cards.
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2 comments on “The Best Amex Hilton Honors Credit Card Strategy”
Can you apply for HH toady and then tomorrow apply for the Surpass card. This way you only get one credit hit. Or there should be some delays between applying for these cards.
Typically Amex USA restricts to two credit cards per 90 days. You could definitely apply for two cards in one day with no issues, however, the second application may go “Pending” as we see with many issuers when applying for multiple cards on the same day. If that happens, you could just as easily call in and inquire about the status (e.g. perhaps they just need to confirm that both applications were valid).
That being said, with the “once per lifetime” language for American Express USA, ensure you sign up when there are strong welcome bonuses.