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Which Amex US Credit Card Should You Get First? [2020]

This article was first published in June 2019, and has been updated to reflect a few additional good choices for your first Amex US credit card.

Canadian Amex cardmembers have the opportunity to initiate an American Express Global Transfer to a US-issued Amex card, as long as their Canadian card has been open and in good standing for at least three months. It’s one of the easiest pathways to get started with US credit cards, since you don’t need a SSN or ITIN to get approved via Global Transfer.

Indeed, applying for a US card via Global Transfer is usually as easy as accessing the regular credit card application on the US site, and then selecting “I’ve had a credit card in Canada” in order to transmit your Canadian credit information to Amex US through a service called Nova Credit. After that, you’ll likely receive a call from the Global Transfer team to verify your identity before your application gets approved.

In this article, I wanted to share my thoughts on the best credit card product to choose as your first Amex US credit card during the Global Transfer process. Several factors need to be considered when making this decision, such as:

  • Business credit cards in the US do not contribute to your personal credit history, so your first Amex US credit card should definitely be a personal rather than business card.

  • You’ll want to hold onto this card for the long term in order to build your US credit history, rather than getting it purely for the signup bonus and then dropping it after one year.

So, what are the best choices among the Amex US credit card lineup that satisfy those criteria?

In This Post

1. American Express Hilton Honors Card

Hilton Honors unfortunately doesn’t issue any co-branded credit cards in Canada, so the only way for Canadians to rack up Hilton points quickly is by doing an American Express Global Transfer to one of three Amex Hilton co-branded cards in the US.

The Hilton Honors Card, caters to the entry-level segment of Amex’s customer base, and I think it’s a standout choice for Canadians hoping to obtain their first American credit card.

The card has no annual fee, which means it’ll be a card that you can hold onto for the long term without having to worry about whether you find value in keeping it. Even if you never use the card and no longer get any value out of it, there’s no harm in keeping it around, since it’ll continue to help you steadily build your US credit history. 

Moreover, as a signup bonus, you’ll earn at least 75,000 Hilton Honors points upon spending US$1,000 in the first three months. US$1,000 is one of the easier spending requirements among Amex’s US card products, so it should be a comfortable way for you to test drive your first-ever minimum spend on a US card. 

Redeem 72,000 Hilton Honors points for a night at the Hilton Paris Opéra

Redeem 72,000 Hilton Honors points for a night at the Hilton Paris Opéra

Once you’ve done the spending, 75,000 points will be good for one night at a higher-end Hilton property or several nights at a lower-tier hotel. Unfortunately, Hilton Honors doesn’t publish an award chart like Marriott Bonvoy does; instead, the only way to figure out how many points per night is required is to search for your desired hotel stay. 

Speaking of Marriott Bonvoy, if we look at the big picture of hotel loyalty programs for Canadians, Marriott is the clear winner in terms of the relative ease of earning points through the twin personal and business Amex Bonvoy credit cards. The other big hotel chains are definitely more challenging for us Canadians to participate in, so doing a Global Transfer to the Hilton Honors Card is a great way of diversifying your hotel points and expanding your range of options along your travels. 

After all, despite Marriott’s larger global footprint, there are many places around the world where Hilton retains a stronger presence – New Zealand and Colombia are two places that comes to mind based on cursory searches I’ve done in the past.

Redeem 60,000 Hilton Honors points for a night at the Hilton Queenstown

Redeem 60,000 Hilton Honors points for a night at the Hilton Queenstown

The Amex Hilton Honors Card has no annual fee, a strong signup bonus, and a relatively low minimum spending requirement; on top of that, it represents an easy way for Canadians to diversify into another hotel loyalty program beyond Marriott Bonvoy. If I had to recommend one Amex US offering as your first US credit card, this would be it.

If you’re interested in applying for the Amex Hilton Honors Card, I’d be grateful if you considered using my referral link, which helps support Prince of Travel.

While the public offer will give you 75,000 Hilton Honors points, the referral offer can give you even more. Open the link in incognito mode for best results, and don’t navigate away if you see the increased offer, because it might disappear!

princeoftravel.com/apply/AmexUSHilton

2. American Express Hilton Honors Aspire Card

While the base-level Hilton Honors Card is a relatively simple and straightforward way to dip your toes into the US credit card market, the Hilton Honors Aspire Card is a much stronger product that allows you to hit the ground running immediately with top-tier elite treatment on your Hilton hotel stays.

For a US$450 annual fee, the Hilton Aspire provides you with a signup bonus of 150,000 Hilton Honors points, instant Diamond status (which entitles you to suite upgrades, executive lounge access, free breakfast, and other perks), an annual free weekend night certificate, and unlimited Priority Pass access.

To help offset the annual fee, you are also offered a US$250 airline incidental fee credit and a US$250 Hilton resort credit per year. Moreover, as part of Amex US’s recent COVID-19 relief measures, the US$250 Hilton resort credit will also be temporarily valid at US restaurants, while the free weekend night certificate has been relaxed to be redeemable on weeknights as well.

You can watch this video for a full rundown of the Hilton Aspire’s benefits:

 

The one complicating factor with the Aspire, as compared to the no-fee card, is the US$450 annual fee. Since this will be your first US credit card, what if the perks and benefits get devalued in the future or you no longer find value in the card for any other reason?

In that case, you might think that you’d be in a situation where you’d either have to keep the card around for US$450 per year, or face the prospect the cancelling your oldest US card and negatively affecting your credit score.

However, the good news is that there is an upgrade/downgrade path among all the Hilton Honors credit cards, which means that you can actually downgrade your Hilton Aspire to a no-fee Hilton card if you no longer find value in it in the future. Doing this allows you to stop paying the US$450 annual fee, while keeping your oldest credit account open to prop up your credit health.

Enjoy complimentary beverages at Hilton hotels as a top-tier Diamond member

Enjoy complimentary beverages at Hilton hotels as a top-tier Diamond member

And indeed, it’d also be possible to upgrade from the no-fee card to the Aspire Card; however, you’ll want to make sure you’ve already applied for the Aspire Card directly as a new applicant before you do this, because you won’t be eligible for the signup bonus if you’ve held the card before (even if it was an upgrade).

Therefore, there’s no downside to going for the Aspire Card over the no-fee Hilton Honors Card if you’d prefer to enjoy an elevated level of elite treatment as soon as you start staying at Hilton hotels as an Aspire cardholder. If you’re interested in getting the Aspire, do consider using the link below if you’d like to support the website.

princeoftravel.com/apply/AmexUSHiltonAspire

3. American Express EveryDay Credit Card 

As I mentioned, I believe the absence of an annual fee is one of the most important factors when selecting your first US credit card, and the Amex EveryDay Credit Card fits that bill. By applying through a referral link, you’ll earn 20,000–25,000 US MR points as a signup bonus after spending US$1,000–2,000 in the first three months.

Beyond the signup bonus, though, the main reason I might recommend the EveryDay as your first Amex US credit card is that it operates on the Membership Rewards points system, which is one of the most lucrative points currencies you can collect in both Canada and the US. This has a few important implications:

  • In the future, when you’re collecting US MR points on more powerful credit cards like the Amex Gold Card or the Amex Business Platinum Card, you’ll be able to consolidate all those points into your EveryDay Card if you wish to cancel those higher-end cards and stop paying the annual fees

  • Once you have a US MR account with the EveryDay card, you’ll be able to transfer MR points between Canada and the US and take advantage of sweet spots on both sides of the border

In addition to all that, one very interesting thing about the EveryDay Card is that it’ll allow you to earn 20% more points as long as you use your card 20 or more times in one billing period.

The card ordinarily offers 2 US MR points per dollar spent at US supermarkets (up to US$6,000 per year) and 1 US MR point per dollar spent on all other purchases, but with the 20% bonus in play, those earning rates are boosted to 2.4 and 1.2 US MR points per dollar spent, respectively.

For a no-annual-fee card, that’s a pretty appealing return. Importantly, though, it’s worth noting that you should only use this card in the US itself, because this is one of the few Amex US products that does levy a foreign transaction fee of 2.7%. 

Overall, the Amex EveryDay Credit Card is a very strong contender to be the first US credit card in your wallet, as it gives you easy long-term access to the US MR program and allows you to safeguard your points in the future when you’re dealing with the higher-end MR products.

If you have limited interest in the Hilton Honors program, or if you’d simply like to get access to an US MR points as fast as possible, then I’d recommend the EveryDay Card for your Global Transfer.

As above, if you’d like to get this card, consider applying through my referral link to support the website. The referral offer seems to vary from person to person, but generally gives you 20,000–25,000 US MR points, which is significantly higher than the public offer of 10,000 US MR points. (Again, open it in incognito mode for best results.)

princeoftravel.com/apply/AmexUSEveryDay

4. American Express Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Card

As of March 2020, there’s a very good reason for travellers who frequently stay at Marriott hotels to make the Amex US Bonvoy Brilliant their first US credit card.

That’s because the US-issued Marriott Bonvoy credit cards now represent the fastest route to attaining Platinum Elite status within the program without having to actually stay the required 50 nights per year.

When you hold both a personal US-issued Marriott Bonvoy card and a business US-issued Marriott Bonvoy card, then both cards will offer you 15 elite qualifying nights per year, adding up to a total of 30 elite qualifying nights. For a Canadian resident, the easiest combination of personal and business card to obtain would be the Amex US Bonvoy Brilliant and the Amex US Bonvoy Business.

An easy 30 elite qualifying nights leaves you with only 20 nights of hotel stays to reach the 50-night threshold, at which point you unlock all the Platinum Elite benefits, such as free breakfast, lounge access, suite upgrades, and late checkout, which I’d value collectively at $2,700/year.

Enjoy access to the Executive Lounge as a Marriott Platinum Elite member

Enjoy access to the Executive Lounge as a Marriott Platinum Elite member

Note that the Canadian-issued Bonvoy cards do not offer this ability, and will only give you 15 elite qualifying nights even if you held both a personal and a business card. Hence, you’ll need to get both the US Bonvoy Brilliant and the US Bonvoy Business, and it makes sense to start with the personal Bonvoy Brilliant because the business card won’t contribute to building your credit history.

The Bonvoy Brilliant offers a signup bonus of 75,000 Marriott Bonvoy points, although we’ve seen 100,000-point bonuses in the past, so it may make sense to wait for that offer if you aren’t in a rush.

The card has an annual fee of US$450, which is offset by a US$300 annual Marriott credit that can be used towards the room rate and incidental spending at any Marriott hotels. Thus, most Marriott loyalists consider the annual fee to be a net US$150, which should more than justify the anniversary free night certificate worth up to 50,000 Bonvoy points, making it an easy card to renew year after year.

If elevating your Marriott status is your priority, then the Amex US Bonvoy Brilliant would be the natural first-choice Amex US card for your Global Transfer. Consider using our referral link below to apply if you’d like to support the website.

princeoftravel.com/apply/AmexUSBonvoyBrilliant

What About Other Amex US Credit Cards?

The above four cards are what I’d consider to be the best first Amex US credit cards to get via Global Transfer, but by no means are they the only Amex US credit cards worth getting. After you’ve obtained your first card, you can then begin applying for the other strong offers after having 3–6 months of history with Amex US. 

These might include the Hilton Surpass Card to round out your Hilton portfolio, the Platinum Card for its 5x earnings on airfare, the Gold Card for its 4x earnings on dining worldwide, or the Green Card as an alternative mid-range card with 3x earnings on restaurants, transit, and travel.

Furthermore, you can look towards Amex US business cards as well – in fact, if you have an eye on Chase credit cards in the future, you arguably should focus on the Amex business cards in the meantime, since they do not contribute towards your 5/24 totals.

If you chose the Bonvoy Brilliant as your first Amex US card above, then the natural business card to get next would be the Marriott Bonvoy Business Card to complete the 30 elite qualifying nights. Otherwise, the Business Platinum Card for its strong signup bonus or the Hilton Honors Business Card for another chunk of Hilton points would be solid choices as well.

Conclusion

There’s no better time than the present to get started with US credit cards if you haven’t already, and if you’re trying to decide on which Amex US credit card to get as your first, I’d recommend choosing between the Amex Hilton Honors Card, the Amex Hilton Honors Aspire Card, the Amex EveryDay Card, and the Amex Bonvoy Brilliant Card.

The first two options allow you to diversify your game when it comes to hotel points, the third option gives you access to the world of US MR points for no annual fee, while the last option opens the door towards earning Marriott Platinum Elite status very easily. All four cards are easy to justify as long-term keeper cards, making them ideal for building up your US credit history in the long run.