Hilton hotels number over 4,000 and are located all over the world, making the chain a solid choice for the prolific traveler. The Hilton HHonors program comes in four credit cards, two with an annual fee and two without.
This article focuses on the two Hilton cards with no annual fee, the Citi Hilton HHonors card and the American Express Hilton HHonors card. Despite being free to hold on to, both of these cards come packed with value, making either a great choice for the non-committal. But which to pick? Here’s the scoop, one feature at a time.
The Citi HHonors card nabs you 40,000 points after spending $1,000 in first 4 months. You also get two HHonors points for every dollar spent, with 6x points at Hilton hotels, 3x points at supermarkets, drugstores, and gas stations.
The American Express HHonors card also has a 40,000 point sign up bonus, but you only need to spend $750 in the first three months. It also has a more generous rewards scheme: you get three HHonors points for every dollar spent, with 7x points at Hilton hotels, and 5x points at restaurants, supermarkets, and gas stations.
As you can see, in the points category the AmEx HHonors card is the clear winner. Both cards offer a 40,000 point sign up bonus, but the AmEx card’s minimum spend is considerably lower. Plus, it offers more points earned for each spending category. The only reason to favor the Citi card is that you spend a lot at drugstores.
By the way, in order to get the hotel category bonus, you must, of course, be staying at a hotel that’s part of the Hilton HHonors portfolio. Just charge the room to your HHonors card and charge all hotel services to the room bill to receive the bonus. Simply using the card at the hotel is not enough.
You can redeem HHonors points for stays at select Hampton Inn & Suites, Embassy Suites, DoubleTree by Hilton, and Hilton Hotels & Resorts. An HHonor point is worth about half a cent. Now, your mileage may vary. The value depends on what category of hotel you will be redeeming at most and what time (peak or off-peak).
Redemptions start at 7,500 points for a standard room in a category 1 hotel, giving you a lovely 1.7 cents per point. But there seem to be only six (6!) category 1 hotels in the US. You can find them at Clarksville, AR; Cleburne, TX; Colombus, GA; Florence, AL; Jacksonville, FL; and Sandston, VA. So for most people, category 1 redemptions are not likely.
Then, for 10,000 points you can get a night at a category 2 hotel. Thankfully, there are 136 of those in the US. It’s 30,000 points per night for a category 4 and 50,000 points for a category 7. The middle range gets you about .4 to .5 cents per HHonors point.
One could also redeem points for merchandise or experiences, but these are lower value options. You can also purchase points directly from Hilton, up to a max of 40,000 per year. However, this is not recommended, since at the price of $10 for 1,000 points, you’re paying a 1.25 cents per point. Buy at least 10,000 at a time and you do receive a 25% discount, but this still doesn’t quite hold up to our point value estimate of half a cent.
There is no cap to how many points you can accumulate, and points don’t expire as long as you stay at a hotel, earn points, or purchase points at least once every 12 months.
Both the Citi and AmEx HHonors cards automatically get you Silver Status, which includes benefits such as:
- Book a reward stay of five nights and get the fifth night free. This applies only to standard rooms and kicks in automatically, you don’t have to do a thing. Needless to say, this perk is packed with value. Never has there been a better excuse for extending your vacation.
- 15% bonus on HHonors Base Points earned on hotel stays. This doesn’t include the bonus points earned from the credit card, just the ones that any HHonors member would get.
- Complimentary access to health club/fitness center
Additionally, both cards offer a way to “fast track” to Gold status. The Citi HHonors card will grant Gold status if you complete four stays at Hilton Worldwide Portfolio hotels within the first 90 days after opening your account. The American Express HHonors card will grant Gold status if you spend at least $20,000 per calendar year. When you do attain Gold status, it remains for the rest of that calendar year as well as the subsequent year. Gold benefits include free Internet access, room upgrades when available, 25% bonus on Base Points, and more.
American Express “AXON” Awards
The American Express HHonors card comes with a unique feature. It opens the door to what are called AXON awards, special redemption options available only to AmEx members. AXON awards are applicable to four-night stays in standard rooms and only in hotel categories 5 through 10. Here are the options, with the equivalent regular redemptions rates per night in parentheses:
- Category 5: 130,000 (vs 30,000-40,000)
- Category 6: 160,000 (vs 30,000-50,000)
- Category 7: 190,000 (vs 30,000-60,000)
- Category 8: 220,000 (vs 40,000-70,000)
- Category 9: 260,000 (vs 50,000-80,000)
- Category 10: 300,000 (vs 70,000-95,000)
Nice options, but AXON awards are not always the best choice. For example, four nights at the 30,000/night rate costs 12,000, which is less than the Category 5-7AXON prices. You also have to factor in the deal you get as a Silver member: stay five nights, get the fifth night free. AXON awards do not stack with that deal, you have to pick one or the other, and often the Silver deal is better.
To book an AXON award, you must call the line at 1-800-920-5649. They will ask for your Diamond number; just explain that you are an AmEx member calling for an AXON stay.
The Citi HHonors card comes with Visa Signature benefits, while the AmEx HHonors card comes with American Express benefits. Both include car rental insurance, luggage insurance, roadside assistance, travel accident insurance, and 24/7 concierge-style customer service. Clearly such benefits are of great value to travelers.
On the other hand, both cards comes with a foreign transaction fee, which is a real bummer. The Citi card sports the usual 3%; the AmEx, 2.7%.
The Bottom Line
Getting an HHonors credit card is a no-brainer for any Hilton diehard. You get a tasty sign-up bonus and automatic Silver status, which includes a considerable discount built right in. Now, as for which no-annual-fee card to get, we think most people would want to get the American Express card, as it has a lower minimum spend for the bonus, better bonus categories, and extra award options. However, if you are planning to complete four Hilton stays in the first three months of card ownership, go for the Citi HHonors card to grab that Gold status.