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Which Amex US Credit Card Should You Get First? [2020] Ricky May 14, 2020

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.

Top Offers

American Express Business Platinum Card

75,000 American Express Membership Rewards points
upon spending $7,000 in the first three months

  • 1.25x MR points on all purchases
  • Points transfer to Aeroplan and British Airways Avios at a 1:1 ratio
  • Unlimited Priority Pass access
  • Marriott Gold Elite status
Signup bonus
75,000 MR points
Annual fee
$499
44 Comments
  1. Avatar
    gordon

    Does an AMEX Marriott business card count over must it be a AMEX personal card, in order 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?

    1. Ricky
      Ricky

      Business cards can initiate Global Transfer too.

  2. Avatar
    Chris

    Hi Ricky,
    your referral links for the Amex HH and Amex H Aspire is not working now.
    can you send to me directly or update the link?

    1. Avatar
      Tat

      Hi there, the links for the cards are not working. I’d love if you could sent them to me. Also note I opened a HHonors Free Card like you suggested in the summer. I did not have a US account. And I was able to pay it directly using my Basic Bank Account on my Scotia Bank app by adding the HH it as a bill payee.

  3. Avatar
    Chris

    The Hilton Hones (no fee) card bonus is currently at 95k HH pts. via referral link!
    To clarify the ‘upgrade’ option, if I upgrade to Hilton Aspire card in a couple years (via a new application) will I still get the prevailing sign up offer? Does that mean I will have two HH cards or will the upgrade deactivate my HH basic card and replace it with the Aspire card?

  4. Avatar
    Peter

    If we have referral bonuses as part of our earning plan in 2-player, are there specific cards to target that give bigger bonuses for specific card families? My Hilton Aspire card offers 15k points per referral and my Hilton Honors offers 20k. These don’t seem to be published publicly like on the product page for Canadian Business Platinum. I’m looking at the Green card now with their 50k MR bonus but would it be more worthwhile to be targeting a different card that might have a higher referral bonus?

  5. Avatar
    wheels

    Appreciating the haгd work you put into your website and detailed information you present. It’s awesome to come across a blog every once іn a
    while that isn’t the same old rehashed material. Fantastic read!
    І’ve bookmarked yоur site and I’m including your RSS feeds to my Google account.

  6. Avatar
    Bryan

    Does the American Express EveryDay Credit Card now earn 10,000 MR points instead of 20,000–25,000 US MR points?

  7. Avatar
    guest

    Hilton Honors has no foreign transaction fees

  8. Avatar
    Zas

    Is there anyone who has used Cross-Boarder Bank account set-up with CIBC or RBC with their related U.S. Dollar CC – does this work to build US credit? Thoughts of why this wouldn’t work?

    1. Avatar
      J

      Canadian domicile US dollar CC has zero effect on U.S. Credit history

  9. Avatar
    Michael

    Amex Everyday card only have 10000 MR bonus at the moment at the moment with or without referral, such a bummer.

    Another thing, assume I got approved from Amex after global transfer, can I ask UA Amex to send my card to my Canadian address?

    1. Avatar
      FrankM

      If it’s your first card they won’t. But maybe with the current Covid situation you might be able to make a cogent argument. Otherwise you need a reliable mail forwarding service.

  10. Avatar
    Chad

    What about Non AMEX Cards?

    1. Avatar
      FrankM

      Need a SSN or ITIN.

  11. Avatar
    T

    I was rejected when I applied for a first US based Amex card a few months ago through the American Express Global Transfer … I never even got a email of the rejection only a letter to my USA address. Now I’m trying once again online but with a different USA address. I downloaded my credit score from Amex it looked good but I’m not sure.

    If I’m rejected a second time…should I call Amex?

    1. Avatar
      MJ

      Did you end up getting the card?

  12. Avatar
    shirley

    So I think I may have gotten flagged by AMEX Canada when I was applying for the Gold card which I had previously held. If so will AMEX US be able to access any such notes on the Canadian side?

    1. Avatar
      Ricky

      I highly doubt that!

  13. Avatar
    Amy

    So after you do the first global transfer, what’s the process in applying for a second US card through amex after 3-6 mths? Do another global transfer? Or is it easier because you already have a US credit card with them?

    1. Avatar
      Ricky

      After the first Global Transfer you should be able to apply for all future Amex US cards on the basis of your existing relationship with them.

      1. Avatar
        mechu

        Just curious, would you not need to show you are employed in the US and earning an income before getting approved for subsequent Amex US cards? If not does it mean that your initial credit limit granted (usually quite low it seems based on comments here) will always remain the same?

        1. Avatar
          Ricky

          You would likely need to state that you have some income in order to be approved, but there’s nothing requiring that you be employed in the US.

          In general, Amex US tends to give higher credit limits as the relationship progresses, not necessarily based on your income (for which they do not impose any minimum requirements anyway).

      2. Avatar
        Russ

        Hi Ricky, can you expand on this a little? When applying on this basis what do you put in for your SSN on the application? Any other quick pointers? Thanks.

  14. Avatar
    Daniel

    What information does amex US need to do the GT?
    1. US phone #?
    2. US address? I saw a comment here that they wanted a copy of US lease agreement?
    Daniel

    1. Avatar
      Ricky

      You can just use a Canadian phone number. You will need a US address to do the GT though.

      The lease agreement thing is pretty YMMV. If asked, either provide a lease agreement or wait a while to retry the application, since they don’t always ask.

  15. Avatar
    Sam

    How about BOM Alaska business card. 40K sign up bonus. Anyone had approval?

  16. Avatar
    TJ

    Can you get Amex Business cards in the US if you’re living in the US on a temporary visa?

    1. Avatar
      Ricky

      Yes, you should be able to get Amex business cards as long as you have a US credit file.

  17. Avatar
    Alex

    Got a question regarding the CDN and USA Marriott cards. Can the free night certificates that you get on the anniversary be pooled together?

    For instance if you have both the personal and business CDN Marriot cards and the USA Marriot cards you should have a total of 4 nights free after the anniversary. Could you then book them back to back?

    1. Avatar
      Andrew

      Hi Alex,

      You’d need to book 4 1-night stays and then liaise with the hotel to try to have them keep you in the same room for your stay. No guarantees that it’ll work however, but most properties should be able to accommodate you.

  18. Avatar
    steve

    Is there no credit check via the Canadian transunion or equifax if going the Amex global transfer route?

    1. Avatar
      Andrew

      Data points have referenced that doing the global transfer through Nova Credit leaves a hard check on your credit report. Doing the "traditional" global transfer by calling in doesn’t seem to have resulted in a hard check for anyone.

  19. Avatar
    Nikki

    Hey Ricky, to add, I’d further recommend to GT your highest limit AMEX card if you’d like to receive a higher limit equivalent US card, which might make a difference if you plan to use it often.

    1. Avatar
      Andrew

      I don’t think that really matters when doing a GT, income and other factors probably matters more. Based on my experience, I did a GT from a Canadian Amex Gold (which has no preset spending limit but the check spending tool would approve $15k+ for me) and only got a $1k limit in the US.

      1. Avatar
        Nikki

        Probably, but charge cards don’t have a limit, $15k spending allowance notwithstanding, so in the same way that charge cards don’t help much with credit scores, they can’t be counted on to be converted to an equivalent credit limit.

    2. Avatar
      Jimmy

      I don’t think that makes a difference. I used an Amex credit card that had a limit of close to C$50k, and they gave me a limit of less than US$10k. I think what may be more important is the amount of spend you’ve done in recent months vs. the credit limit. I should have used my Platinum or Gold card.

      1. Avatar
        Nikki

        $10k limit for a first US card is reasonably high from a creditor standpoint, don’t you think? My $10k SPG Biz gave me an $8k USD Bonvoy Pers card, which I thought was impressive after surfing some forums where $2k limit was humblebragworthy.

        1. Avatar
          Jimmy

          If it were based on my U.S. credit history at the time (which was nil), sure, I’d agree that a $10k limit is very high. But because it was based on an established history with Amex Canada, I don’t think it’s high at all. TD (US), RBC (US) and Chase all give me significantly higher limits on the first card I got with each of them (TD and RBC pulled my Canadian history).

    3. Avatar
      Ricky

      That’s a great tip that I hadn’t considered before. Thanks for your input!

  20. Avatar
    Sam

    Hello Ricky, might be a dumb question, but how does one go about paying their US credit card bill if they live in Canada? I’ve never done that before so I am not sure if the US Amex company will show up in my list of payees when I log into my Scotiabank account.

    1. Avatar
      Ricky

      One way is to use a US-domiciled bank account linked to one of the Big 5 banks. Examples include TD Bank USA, RBC Bank USA, CIBC Bank USA, or BMO Harris Bank.

      You can also pay US billers directly from certain premium Canadian chequing accounts. For example the BMO Premium Banking package allows you to pay US billers from your associated USD account over telephone banking. I’m not sure if Scotiabank offers this.

  21. Avatar
    Linda

    Hi Ricky,
    The link seems to have died?
    Tx Linda

  22. Avatar
    Steph

    tried to apply through the Nova (WITH) and SSN and they required a copy of US lease agreement with address on it, so no go.

Ricky

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