Is The Hilton Honors American Express Card Truly Worth The Cost?

If you're a thrifty traveler looking to expand your credit card collection into the world of hotel-branded reward cards, you might have heard of the Hilton Honors card issued by American Express. New cardholders automatically receive Silver status in Hilton's Honors loyalty program, with the option of getting bumped up to the Gold level, if certain spending criteria are met ($20,000 per calendar year).

Additionally, there's an 80,000 point welcome bonus, available at the time of this writing. If you spend $2,000 in the first six months after opening the account, you'll qualify for the welcome bonus. That might seem daunting, but $2,000 is actually a fairly modest amount to spend in the world of credit card sign-up bonuses. Likewise, six months is a generous time frame to accomplish that spending.

The Hilton Honors American Express Card has no annual fee; that begs the question of why this article discusses whether obtaining the card is worthwhile. Well, there might not be a literal cost in the form of an annual fee, but there is the opportunity cost of where to direct your spending for maximum benefit. Also, credit card issuers are only going to approve you for a certain number of cards based on factors like your income and credit score, so should you make the Hilton Honors American Express card one of those cards? Let's dive in.

What can you get at Hilton with 80,000 points?

At first glance, the welcome bonus of 80,000 reward points seems like an awful lot. Yet, Hilton Honors points aren't as valuable as some other hotel chain loyalty points. Once upon a time, Hilton had an awards chart with fixed redemption amounts required for booking free nights. Nowadays, those awards are dynamic, loosely tied to the cash price of rooms, which is subject to seasonal fluctuations, day of the week, and other factors.

Currently, the minimum number of points required to book a room is 5,000 and this ranges up to around 120,000 points per night at ultra-premium Hilton properties. Therefore, your 80,000-point welcome bonus can theoretically get up to 16 free nights, or, alternatively, isn't even sufficient for booking a single night at certain locations. In reality, you're likely to find yourself somewhere in between those two extremes, with perhaps one to three free nights being realistic.

Hilton operates more than 7,000 hotels worldwide, including brands like Doubletree by Hilton, Embassy Suites by Hilton, Hilton Garden Inn, Waldorf Astoria, and many more brands (featured in above image). If you'd like to perform some due diligence about how far the credit card's welcome bonus can take you before applying for it, visit Hilton's Points Explorer tool. Finally, cardholders get a fifth night free on stays of five nights or longer, meaning a five-night stay will cost four nights worth of points.

Accumulate points from ongoing spending

Welcome bonus aside, Hilton Honors American Express cardholders will also accumulate points from everyday spending with their credit card. For instance, charges made to the card from hotels within the Hilton network will be awarded seven points per dollar spent. Spending at grocery stores, gas stations, and restaurants located in the United States will net cardholders five points for every dollar spent, while all other purchases are awarded three points per dollar spent. Those terms are actually quite generous for a credit card with no annual fee. A few other perks of the Hilton Honors American Express card include no foreign transaction fees, free (secondary) insurance coverage for rental cars in many parts of the world, and exclusive discounts that are periodically extended to American Express customers from retailers like Amazon.

In summary, travelers seeking a hotel-branded credit card with no annual fee will find the Hilton Honors American Express stacks up favorably against competitors. However, true Hilton aficionados may be better served to investigate the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card; though that card has a $150 annual fee, it comes with automatic Hilton Gold status, regardless of the cardholder's spending habits. That Gold status entitles guests to free breakfasts or food and beverage credits, as well as increased potential to receive an upgraded room. Plus, points for regular spending with the Surpass card are awarded at a higher rate than the no-fee version. Lastly, a free night is offered to cardholders spending $15,000 or more on the Surpass card each year.