The New York Hilton Midtown hotel in Manhattan.
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The New York Hilton Midtown hotel in Manhattan.
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Even if you aren’t traveling right now, there’s a good chance you’re starting to think about your next (much needed) vacation. Whether that’s this summer, later in 2021 or even at some point in 2022, you can start booking many of these hotel stays now. And if there’s a certain Hilton property you’ve been eyeing, there are many ways to rack up Hilton Honors points to get a few free nights on your next stay.

Hilton currently has welcome offers of up to 180,000 bonus points on its credit cards, and you can earn plenty of extra points on paid stays at Hilton properties when you use the right card. Plus, some cards even come with some sweet Hilton perks. So with so many options, there’s no reason not to have the right credit card for your next stay at a Hilton.

The best Hilton credit cards of 2021

Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card: Best for occasional Hilton travelers
Hilton Honors American Express Card: Best for no annual fee
The Hilton Honors American Express Business Card: Best for business travelers
Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card: Best for Hilton benefits
American Express® Green Card: Best for flexible travel

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

Let’s dive into each of these cards to see how they compare to one another, and also take a look at how one credit card that isn’t even from Hilton could potentially maximize the number of miles you earn on all of your travel purchases.

Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card: Best for occasional Hilton travelers

If you’re looking for a strong welcome offer on a Hilton credit card, a reasonable annual fee and some great Hilton benefits, the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card fits the bill perfectly.

Right now, new card members can earn up to 180,000 bonus points, which are broken down into two tiers: 130,000 bonus points after spending $2,000 in purchases on the card in the first three months after opening the account, plus an additional 50,000 bonus points after you spend a total of $10,000 on the card in the first six months.

While the Hilton Surpass card has a $95 annual fee (see rates and fees), based on the point valuations of frequent flyer website The Points Guy, Hilton points are worth 0.6 cents apiece. That makes 180,000 bonus points worth as much as $1,080 in travel.

When you use your Hilton Surpass card for purchases, you’ll earn 12 points for every dollar you spend on eligible purchases at Hilton hotels, and 6 points per dollar at U.S. restaurants and U.S gas stations. All other purchases earn 3 points for every dollar you spend on them.

You’ll get a Priority Pass Select airport lounge membership with 10 complimentary visits a year with the Hilton Surpass card, as well as automatic Hilton Gold elite status, which is one of the best mid-tier statuses available across major hotel chains. Gold status perks include complimentary breakfast, space-available upgrades and late checkout when you stay at a Hilton.

If you want, you can also buy your way all the way up to top-tier Hilton Diamond status by spending $40,000 on the card in a calendar year. But that’s a significant amount of money to put on a hotel credit card, and probably not worth it solely for elite status.

Finally, you can earn a weekend night certificate with the Hilton Surpass card if you spend $15,000 on the card in a calendar year. This certificate can be used at any Hilton property as long as a standard room is available, and due to the pandemic, certificates earned through 2022 can be redeemed any night of the week — they aren’t limited to just the weekend. Also, all certificates issued in 2021 don’t expire until December 31, 2022.

Learn more about the Hilton Honors Surpass Card.

Hilton Honors American Express Card: Best for no annual fee

For a card that never has an no annual fee (see rates and fees), the Hilton Honors American Express Card shines thanks to its current welcome bonus. While the offer might not be as high as the ones that come with other Hilton credit cards, you’ll never have to worry about paying a dime out of your pocket to reap the benefits.

Right now, the Hilton Honors Amex card is offering new card members up to 130,000 bonus points — 80,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 in purchases on the card in the first three months after opening the account, plus an additional 50,000 bonus points after you spend a total of $5,000 on the card in the first six months. Based on The Points Guy’s valuations, this bonus is worth about $780, which is great for a card with no annual fee.

Related: Lower your expenses by getting one of these credit cards with no annual fee.

Use your points from the Hilton Amex Card's welcome bonus to stay at properties like the Hilton San Diego Airport/Harbor Island.
Hilton Hotels
Use your points from the Hilton Amex Card's welcome bonus to stay at properties like the Hilton San Diego Airport/Harbor Island.

With the Hilton Honors Amex card, you’ll earn 7 points for every dollar you spend on eligible purchases at Hilton hotels, and 5 points per dollar at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations. You’ll also earn 3 points per dollar spent on all other eligible purchases.

Although this card is lowest on the totem pole in terms of Hilton benefits, you’ll still get complimentary Hilton Silver elite status with the Hilton Amex Card. And while Silver status isn’t nearly the same as Gold, checking into a Hilton hotel with some sort of elite status — versus no status at all — can only help.

You’ll also have the opportunity to upgrade to Hilton Gold status if you spend $20,000 on the card within a calendar year, but again, it’s not something we would necessarily recommend doing.

The Hilton Honors Amex card is best for those who don’t stay at Hilton properties often enough to warrant paying an annual fee, but are still loyal enough to the Hilton brand that the benefits and the points earned from the welcome bonus are useful. The card is also eligible for Amex Offers and doesn’t carry any foreign transaction fees — a big perk on a no-annual-fee card.

Learn more about the Hilton Honors American Express Card.

The Hilton Honors American Express Business Card: Best for business travelers

The Hilton Honors American Express Business Card is very similar to the Hilton Surpass Card, just in a business version, with an identical welcome bonus and annual fee of $95 (see rates and fees).

Right now, new card members can earn up to 180,000 bonus points in two tiers: 130,000 bonus points when you spend $2,000 in purchases in the first three months after opening the account, plus 50,000 bonus points after you spend a total of $10,000 in purchases in the first six months. Based on the point valuations of The Points Guy, those 180,000 bonus points are worth as much as $1,080 in travel.

Like the Hilton Surpass, you’ll get Hilton Gold status simply by being a Hilton Amex Business card member (along with the opportunity to upgrade to Diamond status by spending $40,000 on the card within a calendar year), a weekend night certificate after spending $15,000 on the card within the calendar year and a Priority Pass Select membership with 10 complimentary lounge visits a year. Again, this certificate works in the exact same manner as the one with the Surpass card and certificates issued through 2022 can be used any day of the week (not just limited to weekends).

Related: These business credit cards earn rewards and can get you through a cash crunch.

One big difference on the Hilton Amex Business card is that the bonus categories are catered more toward small businesses, and it’s a much longer list. You’ll earn 12 points for every dollar you spend at Hilton hotels, and 6 points per dollar spent at all of the following:

  • U.S. gas stations
  • U.S. restaurants
  • U.S. purchases for shipping
  • Wireless telephone services purchased directly from U.S. service providers
  • Fights booked directly with airlines or with Amex Travel
  • Car rentals booked directly from select car rental companies

And like all the Hilton credit cards, you’ll also earn 3 points for every dollar you spend on any purchases made outside the bonus categories.

If you stay at Hilton properties occasionally, the Hilton Amex Business card will help you earn as many rewards as possible during your business travels. And even if you don’t own a large formal business, if you sell products online, work as a ride-share driver or even have a side hustle that you do in your spare time, you may already be a business owner.

Small businesses like these are allowed to legitimately apply for many business credit cards using your Social Security number instead of a company Employer Identification Number. Even if you’re just starting out in your new business venture, don’t let that deter you — just always be completely honest on your credit card application.

Learn more about the Hilton Honors American Express Business Card.

Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card: Best for Hilton benefits

If you’re looking for a high-end luxury card that provides plenty of VIP travel benefits — both at Hilton properties and elsewhere — the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card is your best option. Although this card comes with an expensive $450 annual fee, for the right person, the benefits on the card can outweigh the fee by a lot.

The Hilton Aspire currently comes with 150,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within your first three months of card membership. That’s the highest welcome bonus currently available on any Hilton credit card.

And with the Hilton Aspire, every year you have the card, you’ll earn up to a $250 Hilton resort statement credit and up to a $250 airline fee credit. If you’re able to use these credits in their entirety on purchases you would have otherwise paid for in cash, then you’re already saving $500 a year, putting you $50 ahead even after paying the $450 annual fee.

Use your Hilton Aspire benefits to stay at getaway spots like the Hilton Salwa Beach Resort & Villas.
Hilton Hotels
Use your Hilton Aspire benefits to stay at getaway spots like the Hilton Salwa Beach Resort & Villas.

Additionally, you’ll receive a Priority Pass Select airport lounge membership with unlimited visits, and complimentary top-tier Hilton Honors Diamond status without even having to put any additional spending on your credit card — or even having to step foot into a Hilton hotel. Diamond elite status grants you lounge access, space-available room upgrades, complimentary breakfast and late checkout.

The Hilton Aspire card also comes with a complimentary weekend night certificate every year — including the first year you’re a card member — and the opportunity to earn a second certificate when you spend $60,000 on the card within a card member year (meaning each year starting from the date when you first opened the card).

Like the weekend night certificates on the other Hilton credit cards, this Hilton Aspire certificate can be used at any Hilton property as long as a standard room is available. Any certificates issued through 2022 can be used on any night of the week, and won’t expire until the end of 2022 due to the pandemic.

On top of all these travel benefits, the Hilton Aspire also features the highest points-earning rate when staying at Hilton properties. You’ll earn an amazing 14 points per dollar spent on eligible purchases at Hilton hotels, along with 7 points per dollar at U.S. restaurants, on flights booked directly with airlines and car rentals booked directly from select car rental companies. You’ll also earn 3 points per dollar on all other eligible purchases.

American Express Green Card: Best for flexible travel

If you want just one card for all of your travel needs, then you might want to consider the American Express Green Card. While it’s not a Hilton-specific card, it earns Membership Rewards points, which can be transferred to many airline and hotel loyalty programs, including Hilton Honors.

When you transfer points earned with the Amex Green card to Hilton, you’ll earn 2 Hilton points for every Membership Rewards point you transfer (meaning a 1-to-2 ratio). The Amex Green currently has a welcome offer of 45,000 bonus points after you spend $2,000 on the card within the first three months after opening the account, so those points can be transferred into 90,000 Hilton points if you choose.

While this is another way to earn Hilton points, it’s important to remember that Amex Membership Rewards points typically can be worth even more when transferred to other loyalty partners — especially international airline partners if you’re looking to redeem your points for business and first class travel.

Related: Green, Gold, Platinum: What’s the difference between American Express cards?

With the Amex Green, you’ll earn 3 points for every dollar you spend at restaurants, on transit, and on most travel purchases, not just Hilton stays. And while Hilton’s own credit cards earn 3 points per dollar on all non-Hilton travel purchases, you earn two Hilton points for every one Membership Rewards point you transfer, meaning the points you earn with the Amex Green are worth twice as many Hilton points.

The perks that come with the Amex Green can also be useful if you’re currently traveling, as you’ll earn up to $100 in Clear membership credits, as well as up to $100 in LoungeBuddy airport lounge credits. If you’d normally pay cash for these purchases, they more than make up for the card’s $150 annual fee.

Related: Earn up to $100 a year in airport lounge access with the Amex Green card.

Which Hilton credit card is right for you?

The Hilton Surpass may be the best choice for most Hilton travelers.
American Express
The Hilton Surpass may be the best choice for most Hilton travelers.

With more than 6,300 Hilton properties worldwide, it’s very easy to be loyal to Hilton, regardless of where you’re traveling and whether you’re looking for a budget or luxury property. And if you’re planning a longer stay, one of the best perks in the Hilton Honors program is that you receive the fifth night free on award stays — allowing your points to go even further.

Many Hilton travelers will be best off with either the Hilton Surpass card or the Hilton Amex Business card. Both have great welcome bonuses and come with complimentary Hilton Gold status. The main difference between the two credit cards ultimately comes down to the bonus categories and whether you’re eligible to apply for a business card.

On the other hand, if travel is currently on pause for you right now, but you’d still like to rack up Hilton points without paying an annual fee, then the Hilton Honors Amex card is your best bet — especially with its very solid welcome bonus offer.

If you’re planning on spending a lot of time at Hilton properties in the next 12 months, then the Hilton Aspire card might be worth considering. Although the card has a significantly higher $450 annual fee, the benefits are by far the best. As long as you can take advantage of the up to $500 in annual credits, the weekend night certificate and the unlimited Priority Pass airport lounge membership, your cost will easily outweigh the annual fee.

But best of all, through December 31, 2022, all bonus points earned from eligible purchases on all Hilton Honors American Express Cards will count as base points towards elite tier qualification and Lifetime Diamond status.

And at the end of the day, if you want more flexibility when you’re earning and redeeming travel points, you might find that a credit card outside of the official Hilton lineup is a better option. The Amex Green card earns 3 Amex Membership Rewards points on all travel purchases, and your points can be transferred to your Hilton account at a 1-to-2 ratio — or to many other travel partners at other ratios.

Looking for a credit card but you aren’t traveling right now? Check out CNN Underscored’s guide to the best credit cards of 2021.

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