Best Hilton card with no annual fee
Hilton Honors American Express Card
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Although Hilton Honors Points may not be as valuable as other hotel cards’ rewards and the Hilton Honors American Express Card may not carry as many travel benefits as rival cards, few hotel-oriented cards with no annual fee offer such well-rounded bonus categories on day-to-day expenses as this Hilton card.
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The Hilton Honors American Express Card gives consumers the chance to earn valuable hotel points without having to pay an annual fee. On top of the impressively accessible welcome offer, bonus points awarded in categories like gas, dining and groceries can make racking up points for free hotel nights and room upgrades easier than ever.
You won’t get a lot of elite hotel perks with this Hilton card, but it’s geared towards the casual Hilton guest instead of weekend warriors and business travelers. At the end of the day, you should consider applying if you want a base level of hotel loyalty perks and the chance to earn free hotel stays through the Hilton Honors program.
No annual fee, which is fantastic for a hotel rewards card
Bonus rewards in popular categories like dining, groceries and gas
Automatic Silver status as a cardholder, bringing you closer to Gold level
This card does not offer access to the best elite hotel perks like free breakfast and room upgrades
Has lower reward rates on hotel purchases than other Hilton Honors cards
As a new cardmember, you’ll have an opportunity to earn 80,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after spending $1,000 in purchases within your first three months s a cardmember. This new offer is a slight downgrade from the card’s previous offer of 100,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points, plus up to $100 in statement credits on eligible Hilton hotel purchases in the first 12 months. Now that the statement credits offer was removed, the card is a bit less enticing.
Despite the recent offer downgrade, the sign-up bonus is still generous given this card doesn’t have an annual fee. You can frequently find award space at Hilton properties for as little as 5,000 points per night, so this intro offer can stretch quite a bit. It’s also easy to earn since you only need to spend about $334 per month for the first three months in a row, making for an accessible rewards opportunity.
Based on Bankrate’s 0.6-cent point valuation, we estimate 80,000 points are worth$480 — on par with some of the bonus offers you’ll find on the best mid-tier travel rewards cards.
Consumers looking for a card that helps them rack up rewards on regular spending will be happy to see how relevant the bonus categories are with the Hilton Honors American Express Card. Redeeming rewards for free stays can also be a fruitful endeavor, which is especially true if you plan to stay for five nights or longer.
Once you apply for the Hilton Honors American Express Card, you’ll get the chance to earn 7X points for each dollar of eligible purchases charged directly with hotels and resorts within the Hilton portfolio and 5X points for each dollar on U.S. supermarket, U.S. gas station and U.S. restaurant purchases. You’ll also earn a flat 3X points per dollar on all non-bonus spending, which is a higher rewards rate than many hotel cards offer on regular purchases.
If you use your Hilton card often on road trips, you can also use Hilton’s Drive Off With Savings program to earn an extra 500 points per day of your rental car reservation. Make sure to keep an eye on the Hilton Honors car rental page for bonus offers since they’ve been known to stack an additional 500 points per day in the past, typically up to a 4,500-point limit.
When it comes to redeeming points earned in the Hilton Honors program, the most popular redemption option is free hotel nights. Reward stays start at 5,000 points and increase in 1,000-point increments, although a standard night in a premium hotel like the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island will set you back at least 95,000 points. However, keep in mind that, if you’re a Silver elite member or better, your fifth night is free when you book at least five consecutive nights with points.
The Hilton Honors American Express Card doesn’t have an annual fee, so its perks are somewhat limited as a result. However, you do get some cardholder benefits when you apply, including the following:
When you apply for the Hilton Honors American Express Card, you’ll qualify for automatic Hilton Honors Silver elite status. This status level comes with benefits like digital check-in, free internet access, a fifth night free on award stays, two free bottles of water per stay and more. And if you spend $20,000 on your card within a calendar year, you can move up to Gold status through the end of the next calendar year without ever staying in a Hilton property.
This deal is solid since not too many hotel cards with no annual fee offer complimentary elite status off the bat, but Silver status isn’t too hard to qualify for early on since you’d only need to either stay with Hilton twice, for five nights or earn 12,500 base points in one year. It’s more of a bargain with the premium Hilton cards when you start with a higher elite status tier, but the bonus points and other privileges you’ll get on your first booking are nothing to sneeze at.
You won’t pay any foreign transaction fees on purchases made outside of the United States. Cardholders also receive secondary rental coverage insurance as a cardholder perk, as well as access to a Global Assist hotline that can help with lost passports, medical referrals, legal referrals and more when you’re far from home.
It’s a bit underwhelming once you see several rival cards offering stronger travel protections and perks. Still, it might be a better option to book travel with another general travel card anyway since the Hilton Amex card doesn’t earn boosted rewards on travel outside hotels (like airfare) anyway.
As an American Express card, you’ll also have access to the issuer’s Pay It Plan It features. “Pay It” isn’t too noteworthy. It makes it easier to pay off your card by allowing you to immediately pay off individual purchases under $100 in your American Express app, but “Plan It” is a bit more useful.
You can set up to 10 purchases that add up to at least $100 aside into alternative payment plans that won’t accrue interest but instead charge a plan fee based on the pay-off period length and other factors. However, be sure to use Amex’s Plan It calculator to assess whether the plan fees will end up costing more than the initial interest you would owe.
Overall, the Hilton Honors American Express Card is free of any fees you can’t avoid since there are no annual fees or foreign transaction fees to worry about. The main fees to watch out for include a 5 percent cash advance fee (minimum $10) if you use your card to get cash out of an ATM, late payment fees that can be as high as $40 and a returned payment fee that may also be as high as up to $40 (plus a potential 29.99 percent penalty APR if you miss a payment).
If you end up needing to carry a balance, however, you’ll face a 20.24 percent to 29.24 percent variable APR, which is around the current average interest rate if you qualify for the best terms.
Frequent Bankrate writer Holly D. Johnson discovered that switching from the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Credit Card to the no annual fee Hilton Honors card delivers the best personal value for her reduced travel needs:
The Hilton Honors American Express Card may not be the most lucrative travel credit card in the world, but it’s the best hotel credit card for my needs at the moment. With no annual fee, automatic Silver elite status, and an excellent earning rate on paid Hilton stays, what’s not to love?
The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card gave me automatic Hilton Diamond status. While I will definitely miss it, Silver elite status comes with a 20 percent points-earning bonus on stays, free bottled water and elite rollover nights. More importantly, having Silver status unlocks this card’s fifth-night free benefit, which qualifies you for a free fifth award night when you book four consecutive nights with points.
I love the Hilton Honors fifth-night free benefit since it lets me stretch my points considerably farther on longer stays. The last time I used it was for my 40th birthday in Aruba. Thanks to Hilton’s fifth-night free benefit, I was able to book a six-night stay at the Hilton Aruba Caribbean Resort & Casino (where standard rooms start at 67,000 points per night) for 335,000 Hilton Honors points instead of 402,000.
— Holly D. Johnson,Bankrate writer
Deciding whether you want the Hilton Honors American Express Card will come down to your hotel brand preferences versus the convenience of more flexible rewards cards. If Hilton is your preferred hotel chain, you may want a card that offers more premium perks and guaranteed elite status. Or, if you prefer to shop around for the best deals at various properties, a card that earns with a wider variety of brands may be the best option.
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Although the standard, no annual fee Hilton Honors card is excellent for less-frequent Hilton guests that can’t necessarily justify an annual fee for a hotel-specific card, the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card can easily be the more valuable choice if you take advantage of its richer benefits.
Although its rewards rates aren’t a great deal higher than the entry-level Hilton card’s, except for the 12X points rate on Hilton hotel and resort stays, the Surpass card’s $95 annual fee shouldn’t be an issue considering you can easily offset it with its complimentary Gold status. You can enjoy all of the same valuable perks you get with Silver status, plus 80 percent bonus points on stays (a jump over Silver status’ 20 percent bonus points), complimentary room upgrades (when available), free continental breakfast and Milestone Bonuses that can reward you with tens of thousands of bonus points at different tiers per 10 stays throughout the year. Starting out of the gate with Gold status is a much better deal since it normally only takes two stays or five nights (or 12,500 points) to earn Silver status, while obtaining Gold status requires at least ten stays or 20 nights (or 37,500 points).
Aside from elite status, the Surpass card’s cost can also be easily justified by its additional Free Weekend Night Reward (after spending $15,000 on purchases each year) and 10 free Priority Pass Select airport lounge visits (a $299 value) if you travel enough to utilize them.
Ultimately, the Surpass card is a much more rewarding alternative to the base Hilton card for more regular travelers, but loyal guests may want to consider the Hilton Honors Aspire thanks to its wealth of Hilton perks, travel insurance and annual credits.
Cardholders who don’t want their rewards to be tethered to one hotel chain and who enjoy third-party booking sites’ discounted rates may find more value with the Hotels.com® Rewards Visa® Credit Card. Its unique stamp-based rewards provide one stamp per $500 you spend on purchases, plus another stamp for each night you stay at a property booked via Hotels.com. Redeeming ten stamps will grant a reward night for a stay worth the average value of the redeemed stamps, which can not only go towards Hilton and other popular hotel brands but also towards bed-and-breakfasts, vacation home rentals and more.
The Hilton Honors American Express Card’s points may grant a bit more leeway if most of your rewards would be mostly earned from non-hotel spending (Hotels.com card nights earned solely from spending are worth $110 or less), but even the reward nights from spending-based stamps provide a 2.2 percent return per dollar versus the Hilton Honors points’ 0.6 percent return.
Few hotel cards with no annual fee offer flexibility like these two, but the Hotels.com card does get the edge when it comes to additional features. It offers its equivalent Silver membership status — although Hotels.com’s loyalty program only offers perks like free breakfast and Wi-Fi, spa vouchers and airport transfers rather than boosted rewards — Wells Fargo’s staple cellphone protection and a swath of travel insurance coverages like travel interruption and cancellation protection that you normally wouldn’t find on cards with no annual fee.
Although the Hotels.com Visa card does offer more in the way of benefits and flexibility, the Hilton card has the potential to be slightly more rewarding in terms of everyday spending and Hilton-specific perks. However, you might want to consider a flat-rate rewards card if you need even more freedom with your rewards. The Discover it® Miles card, for example, earns 1.5X miles on every purchase that can either be redeemed for a statement credit to cover travel purchases or for equivalent cash back if you aren’t traveling much.
Since the Hilton Honors program is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, consider pairing this card with a premium travel credit card that lets you earn points in this program. After all, you can rack up American Express Membership Rewards points through regular spending and then transfer them to the Hilton Honors program whenever you’re ready.
A good option right now is the American Express® Gold Card since it offers 60,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $4,000 within six months of Card Membership. You also earn 4X points at restaurants (including eligible U.S. takeout and delivery services like Uber Eats) and on up to $25,000 spent at U.S. supermarkets each year (then 1X points), as well as 3X points on flights booked directly with an airline or with American Express Travel and 1X points on other purchases. There’s a $250 annual fee, but you could have access to up to $240 in dining-related credits, among other valuable ongoing benefits to recoup the cost each year.
The Hilton Honors American Express Card is worth it for Hilton enthusiasts who want to earn rewards for award stays but aren’t traveling a lot right now. After all, you’ll earn a big welcome bonus and rewards on your everyday spending with no annual fee, which you can use for free hotel stays now and later.
With that being said, there are other Hilton credit cards and even other hotel credit cards to consider that offer more in the way of general travel benefits and protections, so make sure to compare all your options before you decide the most valuable option to reward your visits.
Eligibility and Benefit level varies by Card. Terms, Conditions and Limitations Apply. Please visit americanexpress.com/benefitsguide for more details. Underwritten by Amex Assurance Company.
The information about the Hotels.com Rewards Visa Credit Card, Honors American Express Surpass® Card and Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the card issuer.
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