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Update: Oops, the normal Hilton card gives only Silver status. Thanks for the correction.

Here are some of the day’s hot topics being discussed on the message boards at FlyerTalk and milepoint.

50,000-60,000 HHonors Point Sign up Bonuses with American Express HHonors cards

A poster in this FlyerTalk thread has come across big-number sign up bonuses for the two different American Express Hilton credit cards. The standard Hilton American Express comes with no annual fee and a 50,000 point bonus after spending $750 in the first three months of card membership.

This is a low minimum spend given current trends, and the card also comes with complimentary Hilton Silver status for one year. Having elite status with Hilton allows access to the special GLON awards, which are discounted award bookings for all Hilton elites on stays of four nights or longer.

This card also gives access to AXON awards, which are available only to those with a Hilton co-branded American Express.

AXON awards are discounted stays of exactly four nights or multiples of four nights on category 5, 6, and 7 hotels. They must be booked by calling 800-920-5649. I made sense of this alphabet soup of discounted Hilton awards in my Anatomy of an Award post about my upcoming Hilton stay in Sydney. See Anatomy of an Award: Hilton AXON Award for Four Nights at the Sydney Hilton.

The other, very similar, AMEX Hilton card is the American Express Hilton HHonors Surpass card. It has 40,000 point bonus after first purchase and 20,000 additional points after spending $3,000 in the first three months of card membership.

With a $75 annual fee (not waived first year), the Surpass card also comes with Hilton Gold status for the first year and access to all Priority Pass lounges for $27/visit. The list of Priority Pass lounges can be found here, and also includes access to Alaska Airlines board rooms.

Lounge access is great, but paying $27/visit for the privilege makes this benefit nothing more than a throw in. You can get free lounge access with the American Express Platinum Card or by booking an international premium class award.

Both cards feature spending bonuses in several categories. The Surpass card gives 9X points for every dollar spent at Hilton family hotels, making it a great card for travelers with heavy Hilton spend. The Surpass also offers 6X points when used on gas, groceries, and cable, internet, wireless, and satellite TV purchases.

The standard Hilton card gives 6X points for spending at Hilton hotels and the same 6X bonus on gas, groceries, and internet, phone, and wireless providers. All other eligible spending on both cards earns 3 HHonors points per dollar.

Despite the big point bonuses, the best way to get Hilton points is…neither of these cards.

Both Hawaiian Miles and Virgin Atlantic miles transfer at a 1 mile to 2 Hilton points ratio, and I’ve described both processes in other posts. See Transferring Virgin Atlantic Miles to Hilton Points and Transferring Hawaiian Miles to Hilton points.

Though both Hilton cards offer access to the potentially useful AXON and GLON awards, don’t be fooled by the large sign up bonuses! I estimate the value of a HHonor point at 0.4 cents. HHonors points are easy to acquire, and rooms at premium Hilton branded properties require a large amount of points per night–50k for Category 7.

Take a look at my post on the two ways to calculate and compare credit card sign up bonuses. By using my 0.4 cents, valuation, I calculate the absolute value of the standard Hilton card and Surpass card at $200 and $165, respectively.

A brief glance at my Best Current Credit Card Offers reveals that these two Hilton cards don’t even come close to cracking the list. The sub-$400 value pales in comparison to the other cards, including the Bank of Hawaii card which offers 35,000 Hawaiian miles–miles that can be converted into 70,000 HHonors points!

I would certainly favor the Bank of America cards over either Hilton card, especially if you are in need of HHonors points quickly.  As always, don’t be fooled by big sign up bonuses until you crunch the numbers to see if they stack up with other cards on the market.

If you’re really in the market for Hilton points, it is worth noting that these application links will expire on October 31st.

Air Canada announces  changes to its elite program, rebranding

There has been a lot of discussion on the Air Canada forum about recent changes to their elite program.

Rebranded as Air Canada Altitude, the program will introduce two new elite tiers as well as a host of other changes.  One of the adjustments getting the most buzz is the loss of Maple Leaf lounge access for 35K flyers located in international zones (e.g. London Heathrow and Paris).

The number of eUpgrade credits needed will also decrease on flights under 500 miles.  The post notes that the number of eUpgrade credits needed for flights of 11,000 miles or more will increase, though the exact number has not yet been specified.

All changes will begin with the 2013 benefit year beginning on March 1, 2013.  More details about the upcoming changes can be found at Air Canada’s Altitude website here.

Southwest Flight Attendants Approve Over Water Flights, Hawaii Next?

Speculation about whether Southwest will start flights to Hawaii is of special interest to me, since most of my family lives there, so I’ve been following with interest any buzz related to Southwest entering the market.

The downward pressure Southwest’s entry would put on fares, the ability to check a golf bag for free, and the possible ability to go to Hawaii for 19,200 points roundtrip all have me intrigued.

Via this Flyertalk thread, Southwest announced on Friday that their flight attendants have approved contract language permitting the Dallas-based carrier to launch over water flights.

AirTran, Southwest’s recent purchase, already serves some international destinations in the Caribbean. However, this decision is seen as paving the way for Southwest to begin routing to Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and other markets not currently served by either Southwest or AirTran.

I will definitely be keeping an eye on this story for personal and blogging reasons, and I’ll be ready to add Southwest to my list of the Cheapest Ways to Get to Hawaii should it announce service.

I’ve been seeing great fares to Hawaii all year–I jumped on a $360 fare from LAX last month for December–possibly because of increased competition from this year’s new entrant–Allegiant Air. Southwest’s entry could only help sun, sand, golf, plate lunch, and Pidgin lovers further.

Recap

Don’t get the Hilton cards unless you are desperate for Hilton points and already have the Hawaiian Airlines and Virgin Atlantic Cards. 50k points doesn’t equal 50k points doesn’t equal 50k points. HHonors points are among the least valuable currency around.

Aeroplan is rebranding. There are positive and negative changes, so whether it benefits you depends on your circumstances.

Southwest is inching closer and closer to Hawaii. That’s good news for everyone except the legacy carriers!

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