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Credit card showdown: Hilton Surpass vs. Hilton Amex

Sept. 15, 2022
12 min read
Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi -- The Private Island
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Right now is a great time to apply for a Hilton Honors credit card from American Express.

The Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card and Hilton Honors American Express Card are posting welcome offers of 130,000 and 80,000 bonus points, respectively, after meeting minimum spending requirements. TPG currently values Hilton Honors points at 0.6 cents apiece, meaning these offers are worth $780 and $480 apiece.

That’s enough points for a stay at some of the chain’s top properties around the world and plenty for several nights at many mid-range hotels.

However, even though the Surpass has the higher welcome bonus, the Hilton Honors Amex is a great starter card for folks looking to get into the points game and earn free nights without committing to an annual fee (see rates and fees).

The Hilton Honors Surpass, meanwhile, is an especially strong contender, thanks to an annual fee of just $95 (see rates and fees) and outsized benefits that include automatic Hilton Honors Gold elite status and the chance to earn a free reward night based on spending.

For those trying to decide between these two excellent card options, here are the major points of difference and factors to keep in mind as you decide which is best for your wallet.

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Main benefits and features

Before we get into the details on both cards, here’s an overview of the benefits each has to offer.

CardHilton Honors American Express Surpass CardHilton Honors American Express Card 
Annual fee $95 (see rates and fees).$0 (see rates and fees).
Welcome offer 130,000 Hilton Honors points after you spend $2,000 in the first three months of card membership.Earn 80,000 Hilton Honors bonus points after you spend $1,000 in purchases on the card in the first three months of card membership.
Earning rates 12 points per dollar on eligible Hilton purchases.
6 points per dollar on dining at U.S. restaurants.
6 points per dollar at U.S. supermarkets.
6 points per dollar at U.S. gas stations.
3 points per dollar on other eligible purchases.
Terms apply.
7 points per dollar on eligible Hilton purchases.
5 points per dollar on dining at U.S. restaurants.
5 points per dollar at U.S. supermarkets.
5 points per dollar at U.S. gas stations.
3 points per dollar on other eligible purchases.
Terms apply.
Elite status Hilton Honors Gold — upgrade to Diamond by spending $40,000 in a calendar year.Hilton Honors Silver — upgrade to Gold by spending $20,000 in a calendar year.
Free nightsFree night reward after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases in a calendar year.None.
Other benefits10 Priority Pass visits a year.
No foreign transaction fees (see rates and fees).
Car rental insurance (secondary, but can upgrade to premium car rental protection).*
Extended warranty protection.**
Theft and accidental damage purchase protection.**
Baggage insurance.**Enrollment required for select benefits.
No foreign transaction fees (see rates and fees).
Car rental insurance (secondary, but can upgrade to premium car rental protection).*
Extended warranty protection.**
Theft and accidental damage purchase protection.**Enrollment required for select benefits.
Card reviewHilton Surpass review.Hilton Amex review.

*Eligibility and benefit level varies by card. Not all vehicle types or rentals are covered, and geographic restrictions apply. Terms, conditions and limitations apply. Visit americanexpress.com/benefitsguide for details. Policies are underwritten by AMEX Assurance Company. Coverage is offered through American Express Travel Related Services Company, Inc.

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**Eligibility and benefit level varies by card. Terms, conditions and limitations apply. Visit americanexpress.com/benefitsguide for details. Policies are underwritten by AMEX Assurance Company.

Now for a comprehensive breakdown of how the two cards differ:

Related: Gold status for $95 a year: Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card review

Annual fee

If you’re just getting into Hilton Honors as one of your main points programs, your first consideration may be the annual fee of each card. The Hilton Honors Amex does not charge an annual fee, while the Hilton Honors Surpass costs $95.

It can still be worth it to select the card with the higher annual fee, but you’ll want to do the math for your situation and be sure you come out ahead, especially if you are still getting your footing with the Hilton Honors program. Having said that, it's hard to go wrong with a no-annual-fee card.

Winner: Hilton Honors Amex

Related: Solid entry option into the Hilton credit card portfolio: Hilton Honors Amex card review

Current welcome offer

The next major difference has to do with the cards’ welcome bonus offers.

The Hilton Honors Amex is currently offering 80,000 Hilton Honors points after you spend $1,000 in the first three months of card membership. On the other hand, the Hilton Honors Surpass is currently posting a welcome offer of 130,000 Hilton Honors points after you spend $2,000 in the first three months of card membership.

Here are tips for some everyday bills and expenses you can shift to you card to help you hit that spending target.

That's more than enough points to land a night at most of Hilton’s high-end hotels around the globe, including the Conrad Bora Bora and the Conrad Maldives. Just be aware that it can cost 120,000-150,000 points per night in a standard room at some of the chain’s most exclusive properties.

SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

Winner: Hilton Honors Surpass

Related: Hilton Surpass vs. Hilton Aspire: Which card is right for you?

Earning rates

These cards offer similar earning rates with a few differences.

The Hilton Honors Surpass earns:

  • 12 points per dollar on eligible purchases at hotels and resorts in the Hilton portfolio.
  • 6 points per dollar on dining at U.S. restaurants, including takeout and delivery.
  • 6 points per dollar at U.S. supermarkets.
  • 6 points per dollar at U.S. gas stations.
  • 3 points per dollar on other eligible purchases.

The Hilton Honors Amex earns:

  • 7 points per dollar on eligible purchases at hotels and resorts in the Hilton portfolio.
  • 5 points per dollar on dining at U.S. restaurants, including takeout and delivery.
  • 5 points per dollar at U.S. supermarkets.
  • 5 points per dollar at U.S. gas stations.
  • 3 points per dollar on other eligible purchases.

At first glance, you might think the Hilton Honors Surpass is the far better option. It actually depends, though. The Hilton Honors Amex only earns 1 point per dollar less in most of the bonus categories and the same 3 points per dollar on non-bonus purchases.

The key difference is that the Hilton Honors Surpass earns 12 points per dollar on Hilton purchases while the Hilton Honors Amex earns just 7 points per dollar.

The difference of 5 points is worth around 3 cents per dollar you spend, according to TPG’s valuations. So if you spend more than $3,167 per year at Hilton hotels to offset its $95 annual fee, the Hilton Honors Surpass is the card of choice, not including those other bonus categories.

SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

Winner: Hilton Honors Surpass

Related: 16 best ways to earn more Hilton Honors points

Elite status

This category is an easy one to decipher. With the Hilton Honors Amex, you receive automatic Hilton Honors Silver status and can spend your way to Gold with $20,000 in purchases per calendar year.

With the Hilton Honors Surpass, you get Gold status automatically — without having to spend $20,000 — and can spend your way to Diamond with $40,000 in purchases in a calendar year.

In this respect, the Hilton Honors Surpass pulls far ahead since Hilton Honors Gold status includes perks such as earning 80% bonus points on stays, space-available room upgrades and a daily food and beverage credit (at U.S. hotels) or continental breakfast (at non-U.S. hotels). (Enrollment required.)

In short, why spend $20,000 extra on the Hilton Honors Amex when you can just pay the $95 annual fee on the Hilton Honors Surpass for the same perk?

SUMMER HULL/THE POINTS GUY

Winner: Hilton Honors Surpass

Related: What is Hilton Honors elite status worth?

Other benefits

There’s really no contest in this category, either. The Hilton Honors Amex includes standard perks such as waived foreign transaction fees (see rates and fees), secondary car rental insurance* with the chance to upgrade to Amex’s premium car rental protection, plus extended warranty and purchase protection.**

*Eligibility and benefit level varies by card. Not all vehicle types or rentals are covered, and geographic restrictions apply. Terms, conditions and limitations apply. Visit americanexpress.com/benefitsguide for details. Policies are underwritten by AMEX Assurance Company. Coverage is offered through American Express Travel Related Services Company, Inc.

**Eligibility and benefit level varies by card. Terms, conditions and limitations apply. Visit americanexpress.com/benefitsguide for details. Policies are underwritten by AMEX Assurance Company.

The Hilton Honors Surpass includes all that plus 10 Priority Pass lounge visits per year.

More importantly, though, Hilton Honors Surpass cardholders who spend $15,000 or more in a calendar year can earn a free night reward, which is redeemable at nearly any Hilton Honors property around the world, including ultra-expensive ones such as the Waldorf Astoria Los Cabos Pedregal.

HILTON

If that type of annual spending is within your budget, then this one benefit alone would be worth opting for the Hilton Honors Surpass over the Hilton Honors Amex, since it can be worth hundreds of dollars each year.

Both cards offer the same purchase protection of up to $1,000 per item and $50,000 per account, but only the Hilton Honors Surpass includes baggage insurance if your luggage is lost or stolen.**

**Eligibility and benefit level varies by card. Terms, conditions and limitations apply. Visit americanexpress.com/benefitsguide for details. Policies are underwritten by AMEX Assurance Company.

Winner: Hilton Honors Surpass

Related: How to maximize Hilton free night certificates

Bottom line

All things being equal, the Hilton Honors Surpass is the runaway winner in our estimation given its higher welcome offer, its more lucrative earning structure and its more valuable ongoing benefits. However, there are times when that conventional wisdom isn’t true in an individual situation.

If you are just starting out with Hilton Honors, you might want to opt for the Hilton Honors Amex for now and earn a bonanza of bonus points and enjoy Silver status without worrying about an annual fee. You can always upgrade to the Hilton Honors Surpass at a later time. Additionally, if you aren’t eligible for the Surpass bonus again as you have already had it, then the Hilton Honors Amex can be the better option in that situation.

If you do tend to stay at Hiltons several times a year, though, you should definitely consider the Hilton Honors Surpass as your top choice. Not only is it offering the opportunity to earn more bonus points — more than enough for an award night at thousands of mid-range hotels — but you can also earn a lot more points on both Hilton stays and everyday purchases.

Plus, for just a $95 annual fee, you get oh so many extra benefits including a bump up to Hilton Honors Gold status and the chance to earn a free weekend night reward based on spending.

You could earn the Surpass bonus now, take advantage of the benefits and then downgrade to the Hilton Honors Amex if you find you’re not getting enough value from the Surpass to justify its annual fee. Or better yet, hang onto the Surpass and then apply for the Hilton Honors Amex at a later date when its welcome bonus is high again and score another stash of bonus points for future stays.

Apply here: Hilton Honors Amex Surpass Card: Earn 130,000 Hilton Honors points after you spend $2,000 in the first three months of card membership.

Apply here: Hilton Honors American Express Card: Earn 80,000 Hilton Honors bonus points after you spend $1,000 in purchases on the card in the first three months of card membership.

For rates and fees of the Hilton Surpass Card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Honors Amex, click here.

Additional reporting by Ryan Wilcox.

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

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How we chose these cards

Our points-obsessed staff uses a plethora of credit cards on a daily basis. If anyone on our team wouldn’t recommend it to a friend or a family member, we wouldn’t recommend it on The Points Guy either. Our opinions are our own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our advertising partners.
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