With chip technology and no foreign exchange fees, the new premium Hilton Visa is designed to appeal, in particular, to overseas travelers. Credit cards with magnetic strips have become harder to use outside the US since Europe began adopting chip-and-pin cards in 2004. Some 80 countries use them now, and US card issuers such as Chase and Citi are finally coming around.
This new card requires a signature, not a PIN, but will be accepted in most overseas destinations, as long as you don’t travel too far off the beaten path. The transition to EMV cards (EuroPay, MasterCard, and Visa) should help curtail credit card fraud on these shores as well.
Hilton Reserve Visa offers sweet perks for any frequent traveler, here or abroad: a sign-up bonus of two free weekend night stays (after $2500 spent) at any Hilton property, including Waldorf Astoria, and a free weekend night each year after $10,000 of charges. The card earns 10 HHonors points per dollar spent on Hilton, 5 points per dollar on airfare and car rentals, and 3 points on everything else.
This Hilton card also brings instant Gold-level elite status in the Hilton loyalty program. That will get cardholders free WiFi and breakfast at Hilton, as well as occasional room upgrades.
Those are big advances over existing Hilton credit cards. This new premium version charges a $95 annual fee, while the existing Hilton Visa is free. But for frequent travelers, especially Hilton loyalists, the fee may pay for itself quickly by offering far more points per dollar spent, along with elite-status perks. (Both cards come with the travel benefits of Visa Signature.) The Hilton American Express Surpass card offers Gold status the first year but requires $20,000 in annual charges to keep it.
Citi and Hilton are hoping, with this new credit card, to compete with Starwood Hotels’ extremely popular Preferred Guest program, but that one will be hard to beat.