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Credit Card Review: Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card

The Points Guy logo The Points Guy 8/5/2019 The Points Guy
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We learned in early June that Hilton’s mid-tier credit card would re-adopt the Surpass name as of July 18, 2019 to become the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card. Not much besides the name is changing, though, as the Surpass Card offers the same earning rates and perks as its predecessor. But the Surpass card is offering a limited time elevated welcome bonus that includes additional points and a free weekend night award.

The elevated welcome bonus coupled with an array of perks make the Hilton Surpass card an ideal choice for Hilton loyalists in need of a cobranded credit card with a modest annual fee. In this guide, I’ll present all the relevant information about the card and its closest competitors so you can decide for yourself whether the Surpass Card is right for you.

Who Is This Card For?

The Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card is a great option for semi-frequent guests of Hilton properties who don’t typically travel enough to reach Gold (or Diamond) status organically. Since you’re locked into earning (and then redeeming) points through the Hilton Honors program, a baseline requirement for this card is that you recognize the value of the Hilton Honors program. The Surpass Card carries a low annual fee ($95) (see rates and fees) but provides some nice perks for when you hit the road, both in hotels and at the airport.

Bonus

The Hilton Amex Surpass currently offers an elevated welcome bonus of 130,000 points after you spend $4,000 in purchases with your new card within the first four months of cardmembership, as well as a free weekend night award. The welcome bonus points equate to $780 in value based on TPG’s most recent valuations, but you may be able to get more value if you chose when and where to use your points strategically. And, the free weekend night can be used at almost any Hilton property including some of the top properties in the Hilton portfolio.

Here’s how the Surpass Card’s welcome bonus compares to the other three Hilton Amex cards currently available:

Each card states the following regarding your ability to receive the welcome bonus:

Welcome offer not available to applicants who have or have had this Card. We may also consider the number of American Express Cards you have opened and closed as well as other factors in making a decision on your welcome offer eligibility.

Earning

As a cobranded hotel card, you’d expect the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card to offer a solid bonus on purchases at Hilton properties worldwide and you’d be right. As a cardholder, you’ll earn 12 points per dollar of spending on these stays (in addition to the normal points you’d earn through the Hilton Honors program). This is a solid return of 7.2% on these purchases, based on TPG’s valuations, more than other popular cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve (6%).

water next to a palm tree: Earn 12 points per dollar spent on your stay at the Hilton DoubleTree Resort Fiji . (Photo by Katie Genter / The Points Guy) © The Points Guy Earn 12 points per dollar spent on your stay at the Hilton DoubleTree Resort Fiji . (Photo by Katie Genter / The Points Guy)

You’ll also take home 6 points per dollar spent at US restaurants, US supermarkets and US gas stations, giving you a solid return of 3.6% on these purchases. Finally, you’ll get 3 points per dollar spent on all other purchases, equating to a return of 1.8%. Neither of these rates is spectacular, but it’s still a decent return for purchases away from the main program with which the card is aligned.

Related: The Ultimate Guide to the Best Cards for Each Bonus Category

Redeeming

When it comes to the Hilton Honors program, your best bet is to redeem your points for free stays. Unfortunately, in 2017, Hilton pulled its full award charts and instead added the following language:

“The amount of Hilton Honors points required to redeem hotel rewards varies by hotel, room, booking date and length of stay.”

So the award night cost for a specific property will vary. This makes it difficult to determine how many points you’ll need for a stay until you actually book the stay.

a room with a bed and a desk: The Home2 Suites by Hilton New York Long Island City, NY can cost up to 60,000 points per night. (Photo by Darren Murph / The Points Guy) © The Points Guy The Home2 Suites by Hilton New York Long Island City, NY can cost up to 60,000 points per night. (Photo by Darren Murph / The Points Guy)

To alleviate this uncertainty, Hilton recently added a Points Explorer tool to its website. The Points Explorer tool allows you to check the maximum number of points required to book a standard room at a particular property or for multiple properties in a specific area. The tool also shows the least number of points required to book a room at the property recently, but in many cases this information is missing or simply the same as the maximum number of points required. In the end, it’s best to assume your stay will cost the maximum number of points — and then you have points to spare if the cost happens to be less for the nights you need.

Alternatively, you can book stays using Hilton’s Points & Money option. As the name suggests, this option allows you to decrease the number of points and increase the amount of cash you pay when booking a stay. The premise is simple: You can redeem points to cover an entire stay, pay cash for the entire stay or adjust these amounts to use a combination of the two. This provides valuable flexibility for your Hilton Honors points, since you’re in charge of how many (or few) points to use on a given redemption.

a bedroom with a bed and desk in a room: You can save on points and cash by using Points & Money. (Photo of a suite at the DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Penang by Katie Genter / The Points Guy) © The Points Guy You can save on points and cash by using Points & Money. (Photo of a suite at the DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Penang by Katie Genter / The Points Guy)

Like most other programs, Hilton Honors also allows members to redeem points for various non-hotel rewards. Most of these options provide relatively low value for your points and should be avoided. Here are three guides that will help you get solid value from your Hilton points:

Perks

The card’s welcome bonus and earning rates are attractive, but the value for semi-regular Hilton guests comes in the card’s added perks. Here are four benefits that stand out:

Complimentary Hilton Honors Gold status (and an upgrade to Diamond when you spend $40,000 in a calendar year). The card provides cardholders with automatic Gold status in the Hilton Honors program, which TPG‘s Nick Ewen valued at $1,260 in his most recent valuation. Gold status includes perks like bonus points, room upgrades and complimentary breakfast. If you’re a big spender and plan on charging over $40,000 on the card in a calendar year, you’ll be bumped to top-tier Diamond status. Depending on how frequently you stay in Hilton properties (and how much you value the given perks of the applicable status), this can add quite a bit of value to the card.

a palm tree in front of a building: On my most recent Hilton stay , my husband JT and I were upgraded to the property’s best room type (an ocean view bure) thanks to JT’s Hilton Diamond status. (Photo by Katie Genter / The Points Guy) © The Points Guy On my most recent Hilton stay , my husband JT and I were upgraded to the property’s best room type (an ocean view bure) thanks to JT’s Hilton Diamond status. (Photo by Katie Genter / The Points Guy)

Keep in mind that Gold status is also an automatic benefit on the Platinum Card® from American Express. So if you already carry that card in your wallet, this particular perk drops in value quite a bit. Likewise, if you want to jump straight to Diamond status, you’ll want to consider the higher annual fee Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express.

Priority Pass Select. The Surpass Card comes with a Priority Pass Select membership, though it won’t allow you unlimited access to Priority Pass lounges. Instead, you’ll receive 10 lounge visits every year once enrolled. You can pay for additional visits. As I mention above, if you’re a semi-frequent traveler who goes through an airport with a Priority Pass lounge a handful of times a year, this is a great perk that won’t break the bank like similar benefits on premium travel-rewards credit cards.

Related: The Best Credit Cards for Airport Lounge Access

Weekend night reward. Another nice perk on the card is another complimentary weekend night reward after you spend $15,000 on purchases on your card in a calendar year. You can use this free night at almost any Hilton property worldwide as long as your stay is on a weekend night, which is defined as a Friday, Saturday or Sunday night in most of the world. Pair this second weekend night reward with the weekend night you get as part of the welcome bonus and enjoy a two-night stay at one of Hilton’s top properties.

Shopping protections. As other cards cut shopping protections, the Hilton Surpass offers three important types of protection. The card’s extended-warranty protection may add up to two years to the manufacturer’s original warranty; the card’s return protection may reimburse you when you attempt to return a recently purchased item but the merchant won’t accept it, and the card’s purchase protection covers recent purchases against theft and accidental damage.

Which Cards Compete With the Hilton Surpass?

The other personal cobranded Hilton credit cards — the Hilton Honors American Express Card and the Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express — are certainly competitors of the Hilton Surpass. The Hilton Honors American Express Card offers weaker benefits and lower earning, but it charges no annual fee (see rates and fees). Meanwhile, the Hilton Aspire Card has a $450 annual fee (see rates and fees) but it offers stronger benefits including Diamond status, a $250 resort credit each year of cardmembership, 14x earning at Hilton properties, a $250 airline fee credit each calendar year and a full-fledged Priority Pass Select membership.

Related: How to Choose the Best Hilton Credit Card for You

Mid-tier cobranded hotel credit cards from other major brands also compete with the Hilton Surpass Card. The choice of which card(s) are a good fit for you will depend on how much you can utilize the benefits and earning offered by each card. Here are some cobranded hotel credit cards that compete with the Hilton Surpass:

CardAnnual FeeWelcome BonusEarning CategoriesBest Benefits
Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card$9575,000 Marriott Rewards points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in your first three months from account opening6x points at participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels; 2x points on all other purchasesA free-night certificate every year (up to 35,000 points); Marriott Silver status; 15 elite credits each calendar year; no foreign transaction fees
The World of Hyatt Credit Card$9525,000 World of Hyatt points after you spend $3,000 on purchases in your first three months from account opening; 25,000 additional World of Hyatt points after you spend $6,000 total on purchases in your first six months from account opening4x points at Hyatt properties; 2x points on local transit and commuting, dining, airline tickets purchased directly from airlines and fitness club and gym memberships; 1x points on everything elseA free night after each account anniversary (valid at a Category 1-4 property) and earn a second free night after spending $15,000 during your cardmember anniversary year; World of Hyatt Discoverist status; five qualifying-night credits each year as well as two more for every $5,000 you spend; no foreign transaction fees
IHG Rewards Club Premier Credit Card$8980,000 points after spending $2,000 on purchases in the first three months10x points at IHG properties; 2x points at gas stations, restaurants and grocery stores; 1x points on everything elseAnniversary free night after each account anniversary (valid at a property costing 40,000 points per night or less); Platinum Elite status; fourth reward night free; save 20% on IHG points purchases with your card; a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit every four years; no foreign transaction fees
 

If you’re not looking to be locked into a single program, another competing product is the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, which also carries a $95 annual fee. The bonus (60,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening) can be used in a variety of ways, including transferring to Hyatt, Marriott or IHG for hotel stays. You’ll earn double points on all travel and dining purchases, including a variety of merchants. You’re covered with trip-delay and trip-cancellation insurance plus primary car-rental coverage, and like the others above, it also waives foreign transaction fees.

Bottom Line

The Hilton Honors Surpass Card is certainly competitive in the crowded mid-tier category of cobranded hotel credit cards. Although some of these cards offer an annual free night that’s valid at low- to mid-tier properties, the Surpass offers a free weekend night that’s valid at mostly any property in the Hilton portfolio — and you can even get a second free weekend night after you spend $15,000 in a calendar year.

The Surpass Card currently offers a lucrative welcome bonus, solid earning rates and an array of valuable perks which make it a great option for those who visit Hilton properties semi-frequently. It doesn’t offer the flexibility of a card like the Sapphire Preferred, but it could be just what you need to make your next stay with the Hilton Honors program even more rewarding.

Additional reporting by Nick Ewen.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.
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