Hilton Amex to drop drug stores & telecom bonus categories

Update: This post includes offers that were valid at the time of publication, but have since expired. Please click here to see the best offers currently available.

UPDATE: Gary reports that changes are coming, but not until May. Plus he has details about other changes: some good, some bad.  Read the details here.

I was notified recently by a few readers, this TravelBloggerBuzz post, and this FlyerTalk thread, that American Express no longer shows drug stores or telecom charges as bonus categories on their online application.  Up until now, both the American Express Hilton HHonors card and the Hilton HHonors Surpass offered 6 points per dollar at grocery stores, drug stores, gas stations, and telecom (phone, internet, cable).  Recently, though, the online applications leave out most of those categories.  For example, the Hilton HHonors application landing page currently shows no hint of bonus categories at all other than Hilton properties:

Earn 6 Hilton HHonorsTM Bonus Points for each dollar of eligible purchases at any participating hotel within the Hilton HHonors portfolio of brands. You will receive 3 HHonors Bonus Points for each dollar of other eligible purchases

Meanwhile, the application landing page for the Hilton HHonors Surpass card shows 6X for groceries and gas stations, but does not mention drug stores or telecom:

Earn 12 Hilton HHonorsTM Bonus Points for each dollar of eligible purchases at any participating hotel within the Hilton HHonors portfolio of brands. Earn 6 Hilton HHonors Bonus Points for each dollar of eligible purchases at U.S. stand-alone supermarkets and on gasoline at U.S. stand-alone gas stations. You will receive 3 HHonors Bonus Points for each dollar of other eligible purchases.

Amex Speaks

I called the customer service line to ask what was up.  The rep told me that for the Hilton HHonors card, as of Feb 1, American Express will no longer offer 6X for drug stores or telecom, but would continue to offer 6X for groceries and gas stations.  She said that, as a cardholder, I should receive notice of these changes from American Express soon.  Yes, if she’s correct, that means that existing cardholders will lose this benefit.

I asked her if the same was true with the Surpass card.  She admitted that changes were coming to that card too, but for some reason she didn’t seem willing to spell them out.  Either that, or the changes are not yet final.  I suspect we will see the same changes to both cards.

Oh no, not drug stores!

As most of you know, many in the points & miles community have been visiting drug stores frequently to buy reload cards.  Many have been paying with Hilton Amex cards in order to earn 6X points per dollar for these purchases.  Sadly, it looks like that particular opportunity will be gone by the end of this month.

You may now wonder what other cards offer bonus points at drug stores.  According to my “Best Category Bonuses” page, the only other options are the US Bank Cash+ card which can earn more than 2% at drug stores, and the Chase Amazon Rewards card which earns 2 points per dollar at drug stores.  I don’t know much about the Amazon card.  Are 2 points worth two cents?  If so, the Cash+ card has that one beat.  Unfortunately, the Cash+ card is also being devalued soon.  You can read complete details about the Cash+ devaluation tomorrow.


About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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  1. “Are 2 points worth two cents? ”

    They are indeed. They can be redeemed (no minimum) at Amazon.com, but that is stupid because purchases at Amazon.com earn 3x.
    They can also be redeemed for cash back (either a check or credited to your account statement), with a minimum of $20. What this means is that if you buy a $500 VR for $503.95 you have an actual dollar profit of $6.05 – not much but free money is free money.

  2. Hopefully this makes VRs more available for meeting spending requirements. HHonors points are cool and all, but 6x is only twice the normal earn rate.

  3. Too bad!

    Could you give examples of – U.S. stand-alone supermarkets and on gasoline at U.S. stand-alone gas stations?

    I never understood which places they were… does it include Safeway / Costco?

    • Apu: Kroger, Safeway, Whole Foods, etc. all count as grocery stores. Usually discounters like Costco would not count. For gas, BP, Shell, etc. count, but a gas station paired with, for example, Walmart, probably wouldn’t count.
      Austin: Yes, I believe they can change the T&C whenever they want to.

  4. I called AmEx today and the rep knew nothing about any changes.

    What about Gold status benefit with $20k spend?

    The Citibank Hilton HHonors Signature Visa card earns 3X points at drugstores.

  5. Man! This sucks. I just got the card about 2 weeks ago! And now they change the terms? That is not fair. I would have never gotten the card if it was not for the 6X.

  6. For this quarter, both Chase Freedom and Citi Dividend give 5% CB on purchases at drug stores, to me, they are more valuable than Hilton points. Freedom has limit of $1500 spending and Dividend card has $6000 spending at drug stores. If max them out, that’s $375 CB minus card charges.

  7. this will get me flamed and all, but this is why everyone shouldn’t go for a million points all together in the same month… you’ll hit the same places with the same cards too much, and stuff like this will happen… flame away

  8. Looks like it’s time for me to start getting ready to convert the card to something else in the AMEX family. 6x isn’t even what it used to be given Hiton’s devaluation. I’m very happy that I picked up the Citi Hilton reserve card.

  9. Crap… I was the one that originally noticed this I think (GlockLT4 on flyertalk). I had been checking the categories all weekend while in SFO since I couldn’t remember. Was fine until I checked again yesterday (change may have been Mon). Not good news if they really plan to end it Feb 1 for existing too. I got a confirmation that my account is 6x via secure message last night.

  10. Really Disappointing. As someone else mentioned, VR’s are best at meeting minimum spend, but in between the 6x from my Surpass was great. Looks like I will be downgrading it before my annual fee hits and then using the Citi Hilton for a free night at $10k. As others have mentioned, I think its pretty shitty to change something like that with very little advance notice. It’s a big reason to hold onto that card.

  11. This is quite strange. Last week I upgraded my Hilton AMEX to Surpass (since they offer 50K bonus for it) and new card arrived on Monday with welcome package. In this package I didn’t see any new changes – in other words, 6 points for purchases at drugstores are supposed to be awarded.

  12. Maybe you should have titled this one “3X Everywhere”.

    Amex doesn’t allow upgrading to the Surpass card until the no fee Amex has been open for over a year. They cite consumer protection regulations as the reason for this.

  13. As Miguel said, the Amazon card points are worth a penny each. There is a better option, though I’ve been having a hard time trying to use it: 25k points for a domestic flight up to $400 (and if it’s more than that, you can pay for the balance.) That makes them worth 1.6c each, if you redeem for an expensive enough flight. The restrictions are a problem, though:
    Must book 21 days in advance, must have a Saturday overnight, and must all be on the same airline.

    I have 75k+ points on this card (it was my primary card for a 10+ years before getting into miles and points) but I have yet to find a flight I find it worth using those points on. My domestic flights just rarely cost $400+, and if they do, it’s because I’m booking close-in.

    Kinda hoping when I apply for my next Chase card, they’ll let me cancel that one and transfer the points to UR points as a courtesy. Dunno, though.

    • alan: Thanks for the tips about the Amazon card!
      david: Managers at other Office Depot stores have reported that the VR cards were pulled because of fraud. I doubt we’ll ever know for sure which was true (could be both).

  14. “Kinda hoping when I apply for my next Chase card, they’ll let me cancel that one and transfer the points to UR points as a courtesy. Dunno, though.”

    @alan, I’ve seen reports that they do allow this. Never tried myself though, only use Amazon card for Amazon purchases and my drugstore addiction, and normally after getting $20 I request statement cashback.
    Thanks for the info on the ability to also use the points for flights.

  15. I cannot believe it! But, I had expected it…..I have been sucking down the points on my wife and my Hilton Cards and will continue to do so until 2/1/13. I already have hooked myself up with a number of hotels for upcoming trips….but I wanted it to be endless. Oh well, I will just buck up my Starwood card in the future.

  16. I forgot to mention, some time back, that the manager of my Office Depot said the reload cards were pulled at the request of Chase, who is apparently their bank.

  17. This is annoying on the face of it but could be way worse. There are still about 1000 different ways to earn Hilton points, and for most people, getting 6 Hilton points per dollar is only somewhat, not significantly better than (say) 1 Ultimate Rewards point.

    What I least appreciate is the short notice, and the changing of T&C for a card I already had. When United stopped offering their Select card, they still keep the same perks that they had, they just won’t accept new applicants. You’d think this type of thing would be grandfathered as well.

  18. according to one poster on FT, he did call Amex like you and got a different answer.
    For the time being, the bonus categories ARE NOT changing. Last night I sent a SM on my wife’s account (just upgraded from the free AMEX to the Surpass card earlier this month). The response was that we will continue to receive the bonus miles on drug stores, phone etc.

    So maybe AMEX is planning a change, or had thought about a change or something but they are not implementing the change at this time.

    do you think this is true ???

    • choi: I guess we’ll find out pretty soon. My guess is that the bonus categories are changing as I wrote above. As to why others are hearing different things: It’s not surprising to me if call center agents are often misinformed.
      Adam: For hotels, I think that 6 Hilton points are worth at least 2 UR points. To stay in a top tier Hilton, you would need to spend about $8K at 6X, whereas to stay at a top tier Hyatt on UR points you would have to spend $11K at 2X.

    • kyunbit: I find the Citi flight points program too complicated to deal with personally.
      Dan: Good point! “BTW, if this is all about VR purchases why are they killing the 6x for telecom?”

  19. Not worthless to me, I liked the balance I had with Hilton Points for Hotels and UR’s for Flights, but now I need to figure out a better way to maximize my spend.

  20. the citi thank you premier does not do 3% on drugstores. i’ve had the card for about 7 years. 5 to 3 to 1.2 back at drugstores over those years

  21. I reiterate, you can use flightpoints and redeem for airfare to convert 1.2 TY points to 3% yield on drugstore purchases.

  22. Ran into problems at Walgreens recently. Of the three stores in Redmond / Bellevue, one does not carry VRs, the other two will now accept cash only. I had a cashier attempt to run a credit sale, but she got a message on the screen – “Cash only”

  23. Just sent secured messaged to Amex. They stated no change in terms and still at 6X on drugstores. They also stated if they do change terms, they will notify clients “way in advance”.

    So I’ll being maxing it out this month to about 12K or so. and hopefully it will at least continue next month.

  24. Something is going to change. If not Feb 1 then soon. I check out the current T&C and it talks about a 6-6-3 structure but only specifically mentions Hilton spend as generating 6x points. No mention of any other category. AMEX did the same thing with the Delta Gold card. They stopped advertising the companion ticket benefit and then about 6 months later they officially killed it. BTW, if this is all about VR purchases why are they killing the 6x for telecom?

  25. @Biggles209: IF you were able to use a CC at Walgreens for VR up until recently, consider yourself lucky.

    The VR is next on the chopping block, I’m sure. No way a free(ish) 5K of spend is going to last forever. Don’t over commit on your next churn.

    FM: Please do not do your MM thing in March. It will only bring unneeded attention to yourself and this blog. I don’t see how you going for 1MM will do anything to benefit the community. If you have new-fangled ways of earning miles blog about it, but rubbing the bank’s nose in it is just going to poke the dragon.

    I am of course curious to see if you can actually do it, and am very grateful for all your advice, but maybe this is one of those things people will look back on as the straw that broke the camel’s back. I could be completely wrong, just my 2 cents.

    • Kyle: I’m committed to doing the Million Mile Madness challenge in March. I don’t think that the things I have in mind will be deal killers. I certainly hope not and will try to avoid that.
      Frequent Churner: Yep. If only CC will build more new Blu properties across the world!
      David: The Club Carlson card gives you a free night when you book a stay of 2 nights or longer. If you book exactly 2 nights, one of those 2 nights is free! So, you can get two nights for the price of one.

  26. Club Carlson card is looking better anyway. With one free night, you can get 2 nights for 25k or 3 nights for 33k, which is just as good as Hilton, but the earning is always 5x and a whopping 30-40x on Club Carlson hotel stays.

  27. @Frequent Churner,

    How do you get 3 nights for 33K? wouldnt you have to pay for 2 nights and get the 3rd free? Shouldnt it be 50K for the 3 nights?

    Man, I had 700K CC points prior to the card being out, now I’m down to 200K, but I’ll be getting the card on my next Churn for sure!

  28. @Kyle – I’ve had no problems at Walgreens up to now. The store manager had a limit of 1 VR per day, and you had to show ID that matched the credit card. He said he was worried about fraudulent purchases and charge-backs

  29. The changes DO show up when I go to americanexpress.com and view the cards.

    Surpass-12x Hilton; 6x for grocery and gas; 3x everything else

    NAF Hhonors card – 6x on Hilton; 3x on everything

    AND this is the most distressing part…it asked me to upgrade my NAF Hhonors card and I WASN’T EVEN SIGNED INTO THE SITE. Creepers!

    Time to try Citibank or Hyatt card..hmmm….

  30. FWI, enjoy while you can. Won’t be long till CVS via Credit Card dies. A store manager there mentioned that they are not profitable to the stores + are bringing unwanted attention.

  31. I do agree that they can probably change the terms of bonus points any time, however since I just recently got my card, if they do, I will definitely file a complaint and get annual fee back or they will no receive some payments.

  32. @David — what FM said…50k points will get you 2 nights on a 2-night stay, or 100k points will get you 3 nights. The Club Carlson card also gives you Gold status so there’s potential to earn obscene amounts of points on paid stays as well, especially combined with the various promos. It’s going to be the next big thing in churning! Time for some Reloadit cards.

  33. …and of course the annual fee of $60 / $75 gets you 40k CC points, which combined with another $5k in fake spend is 2 free nights again at any CC hotel! I was able to get both biz and personal recently and will definitely keep them for a while.

  34. @DRE and Frequent Churner,

    How are you guys using Reloadit? I see plenty of these at cvs. Just wondering where you load it to and how you exit from it? Anyone got a link to a thread/site? So far, all I’m doing is Vanilla. Also, I’ll be getting CC cards on my next churn probably in May/June.

  35. David — without going into too much detail and killing the deal…just read the reloadit website and try some of their “partner” cards that accept them for loads. I found one with no fee if you load $2500+ per month, no transaction fee, and allows full pin debit transactions and bill payment. I just wish ink did 5x at grocery stores instead!

  36. time to take out that stack of liberated beans and hit them CVSs harder than ever on the HH Amex lol
    woo hoo! FR here we come!

  37. Got the Hilton AMEX in the mail on Tuesday- the info that accompanied the card only mentioned 6X on Hilton spending.

    IMO this card is still valuable because it gives you access to GLON and AXON rates- they actually make Hilton points a decent value if you are booking rooms for 4-6 nights.

  38. Well, in my little midwest town, I’ve been buying about 1 VR card a week at Walgreens. Last night, I was told that they no longer accept credit cards on those purchases. Bummer.

  39. Just stopped by CVS in Costa Mesa, CA over lunchtime. Tried to buy 2 Vanilla reloads. Manager said that they are cash only now. They got a memo just after X-mas to go cash only. “Fraud prevention issues”. Oh well!!!

  40. @SP I guess individual stores vary in policy, just bought 6 VR x $500 each from 3 different CVS,s -they limit to $1000 per transaction or per day- with Freedom and Hilton cc with no problem, have been doing this for months now.

  41. I logged into my HH Amex Surpass account, clicked on card Benefits then downloaded the Benefits Guide; it still lists Rx and Telecom as 6x categories.
    ”Double point categories
    You can earn 6 HHonors bonus points for every $1 spent when you use your Hilton HHonors Card to pay at supermarkets; drug stores; standalone gas stations; and home telephone, wireless, cable, satellite TV, and
    internet service providers.”

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