Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card review: No annual fee for first year
Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card overview
The Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card provides solid earnings at Hilton properties and Hilton Gold elite status, which offers complimentary breakfast, increased earnings and space-available upgrades when you stay at Hilton properties. So the status perk alone may make it easy to justify the card’s $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95 annual fee (see rates and fees). Card Rating*: ⭐⭐⭐½
*Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG’s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
Hilton Honors Gold status is one of the best mid-tier hotel loyalty statuses you can obtain. After all, as a Hilton Gold elite member, you’ll get complimentary breakfast, space-available room upgrades and improved earnings when staying at Hilton brands. Luckily, you can easily earn and maintain Hilton Gold status, since it is an automatic perk of the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card.
The Hilton Surpass is 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 if the Hilton Surpass is right for you.
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Who is this card for?
The Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card is an excellent option for semi-frequent guests of Hilton properties who don’t typically travel enough to reach Hilton Gold (or Diamond) status organically. The Hilton Surpass carries a $0 introductory annual fee for the first year, then $95 annual fee (see rates and fees) but provides some nice perks when you hit the road, both at Hilton properties and the airport.
Since the Hilton Surpass locks you into earning (and then redeeming) points through the Hilton Honors program, you should enjoy staying with Hilton brands. And it certainly helps if you know — or are willing to learn — how to redeem Hilton points and maximize Hilton Honors redemptions.
However, the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card might be a better fit if you’d benefit from complimentary top-tier Hilton Diamond status and don’t mind the card’s high $450 annual fee (see rates and fees). After all, the Hilton Aspire Card comes with an up to $250 airline fee credit each calendar year and an up to $250 Hilton resort credit each account year, which more than offsets the card’s high annual fee. Enrollment is required for select benefits.
The information for the Hilton Aspire Amex Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Read more about the Hilton Surpass and the Hilton Aspire cards:
- Hilton Surpass vs. Hilton Aspire: Which card is right for you?
- How these 2 Hilton credit cards make the perfect pair in my wallet
Welcome offer: $780 in value, plus $0 Intro annual fee
You’ll earn 130,000 Hilton Honors bonus points after you spend $2,000 in purchases on the card in the first three months of card membership.
The points from the welcome offer equate to $780, based on TPG’s most recent valuations. Factoring in this card's $0 intro annual annual fee for the first year of ownership, that's a $780 value right to your wallet. This offer ends on Oct. 26, 2022.
However, note the welcome offer terms, as not everyone may be eligible:
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.
Luckily, you don’t have to guess whether American Express will give you a welcome offer. Instead, you’ll see a message after filling out the application and hitting the apply button if you aren’t eligible to receive the welcome offer. If you get this message, you can decide to proceed without the welcome offer or withdraw your application before Amex performs a hard pull on your credit.
Main benefits and perks
The Hilton Surpass Card’s welcome offer is attractive. But the long-term value for semi-regular Hilton guests comes in the Hilton Surpass Card’s added perks. In particular, a couple of the card’s benefits stand out. Let’s take a closer look at each of these perks.
Hilton Honors status
The Hilton Surpass provides cardholders with complimentary Gold status in the Hilton Honors program. TPG’s director of content Nick Ewen values Hilton Gold status at $1,255. After all, Hilton Gold status includes the following perks:
- 80% points earning bonus on stays.
- Space-available room upgrades up to executive level rooms.
- Elite Rollover Nights.
- Fifth night free when you book a stay completely with points.
If you’re a big spender and charge more than $40,000 on the card in a calendar year, you’ll earn top-tier Diamond status through the end of the next calendar year. Depending on how frequently you stay at Hilton properties — and how much you value the given perks of Diamond status — this can add quite a bit of value to the card. But if you want to jump straight to Diamond status, you should probably apply for the Hilton Aspire card, since it automatically comes with that coveted perk.
However, the Hilton Surpass isn’t the only way to earn complimentary Hilton Gold status. Indeed, cardmembers are eligible to enroll in complimentary Hilton Gold status on the following three cards:
- The Platinum Card® from American Express — $695 annual fee (see rates and fees).
- The Hilton Honors American Express Business Card — $95 annual fee (see rates and fees).
- The Business Platinum Card® from American Express — $695 annual fee (see rates and fees).
So if you already carry any of these cards, getting Hilton Gold status as a perk on the Hilton Surpass won’t provide any additional value.
Priority Pass access
The Hilton Surpass comes with a Priority Pass Select membership, but it won’t allow you unlimited access to lounges. Instead, you’ll receive 10 complimentary lounge visits every year once you’ve enrolled. But you can pay for additional Priority Pass lounge visits. Enrollment is required.
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.
Weekend night reward
Another nice perk on the Hilton Surpass is a complimentary weekend night reward after spending $15,000 on purchases on your card in a calendar year.
Typically, you can use this free night at almost any Hilton property worldwide on any night of the week. Even at a conservative valuation of $300, you’re still looking at an additional 2% return on that $15,000 in spending.
How to earn points
As a cobranded hotel card, you’d expect the Hilton Surpass to be a great way to earn Hilton points. And the Hilton Surpass won’t disappoint you in this area. When you use your card to pay at Hilton hotels and resorts, you’ll earn 12 Hilton points per dollar spent. Based on TPG’s valuations, this is a solid 7.2% return. Notably, this is a better return than you’d get with most of the best credit cards for booking hotels, including the Chase Sapphire Reserve (6%).
You’ll also take home 6 Hilton points per dollar spent at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations, giving you a return of 3.6% on these purchases. Finally, you’ll get 3 points per dollar spent on all other eligible purchases, equating to a return of 1.8%.
These returns on non-Hilton spending aren’t spectacular. But, if you’re looking to boost your Hilton points balance, the Hilton Surpass provides a decent return even for purchases outside of the Hilton Honors program.
How to redeem points
When it comes to the Hilton Honors program, your best bet is to redeem your Hilton points for free nights. Unfortunately, Hilton doesn’t publish an award chart, as the actual number of points needed may vary based on a number of factors, including the specific hotel, time of year and paid rate.
The lack of an award chart makes it difficult to determine how many points you’ll need for a stay until you book. And the program recently increased the top award rate for select resorts.
To provide some clarity on expected prices, Hilton has a Points Explorer tool on its website. The tool allows you to check the minimum and the maximum number of points other Hilton Honors members have recently used to book a standard room. You can search for properties in a particular city, state or country. You can also filter your choices by brand and the number of points you’re willing to use.
However, since this tool uses historical data instead of current pricing information, you may occasionally find that you need to pay more (or less) than the tool shows.
There are many ways to maximize redemptions with the Hilton Honors program. One of my favorite options is to focus on properties that cost relatively few points but provide great value. For example, here are 20 of the best Hilton hotels in the U.S. bookable for 20,000 points or less per night. And here are some of the top Hilton properties overseas bookable for 10,000 points or less per night.
You can also 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 Points & Money option 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.
In addition, like most other programs, Hilton Honors also allows members to earn and redeem Hilton points with partners. But most non-hotel redemption options provide relatively low value for your points. So I recommend avoiding these low-value options.
Finally, remember that Hilton allows you to pool your points with up to 10 other members — so if you want to combine balances with a friend or family member to put an even more luxurious award stay within reach, Hilton Honors allows you to easily do so.
Which cards compete with the Hilton Surpass?
Several other cards can compete with the Hilton Surpass. These cards generally fall into two categories: cards that offer benefits with Hilton and mid-tier travel rewards cards. Let’s take a quick look at these competitors.
Cards that offer Hilton benefits
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 rates, 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 offers the following benefits:
- Hilton Diamond status.
- Up to $250 resort credit each year of card membership.
- 14 points per dollar at participating Hilton properties.
- Up to $250 airline fee credit each calendar year.
- Priority Pass Select membership that provides unlimited visits.
Finally, remember that the Amex Platinum and The Business Platinum Card® from American Express offer both Hilton Gold and Marriott Gold Elite status as a cardmember benefit (enrollment required). So if you’re willing to pay a higher fee for luxury travel perks, one of these cards might be a better fit.
Mid-tier travel rewards cards
Mid-tier cobranded hotel credit cards from other major brands also compete with the Hilton Surpass. The choice of which cards are a good fit for you will depend on how much you can utilize each card’s benefits and earning rates. Here are some mid-tier hotel credit cards that compete with the Hilton Surpass:
|Card||Annual fee||Sign-up bonus||Earning categories||Best benefits|
|Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card||$95.||Earn 100,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases in your first three months from account opening.||6 points per dollar spent at over 7,000 participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels.
3 points per dollar on the first $6,000 spent in combined purchases each year on gas stations, grocery stores and dining.
2 points per dollar spent on all other purchases.
|A free-night certificate every account anniversary (up to 35,000 points); Marriott Silver status; 15 elite credits each calendar year.|
|World of Hyatt Credit Card||$95.||30,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first three months from account opening. Plus, up to 30,000 more bonus points by earning 2 bonus points total per $1 spent on purchases that usually earn 1 bonus point, on up to $15,000 in the first six months of account opening.||4 points per dollar spent at Hyatt properties.
2 points per dollar spent on local transit and commuting, dining, airline tickets purchased directly from airlines and fitness club and gym memberships.
1 point per dollar spent on everything else.
|A free night after each account anniversary (valid at a Category 1-4 property) and 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.|
|IHG Rewards Premier Credit Card||$99.||Earn 140,000 bonus points and 1 free night after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.||10 points per dollar spent at IHG properties.
5 points per dollar spent on travel, gas stations, and restaurants.
3 point per dollar spent on everything else.
|Anniversary night after each account anniversary (valid at a property costing 40,000 points per night or less); Platinum Elite status; fourth night reward; save 20% on IHG points purchases with your card; a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee credit every four years (up to $100).|
Finally, if you don’t want your card to lock you into a single program, you may be better off with the $95 annual fee Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.
The Sapphire Preferred has a sign-up bonus of 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
You can use this bonus in many ways, and a popular option is to transfer Ultimate Rewards points between accounts. This includes transferring to Hyatt, Marriott or IHG for hotel stays. Plus, you’ll earn 5 points per dollar on all travel booked through Chase and 3 points per dollar on dining and online grocery purchases.
These are solid perks for anyone thinking of making the Chase Sapphire Preferred their next card.
Read more about transferring Ultimate Rewards points:
- When and how to transfer Ultimate Rewards points to World of Hyatt
- When to transfer Ultimate Rewards and when to book directly
- Best ways to use Chase Ultimate Rewards points
With a lucrative welcome offer, solid earning rates, complimentary Gold elite status and an array of valuable perks, the Hilton Surpass is an excellent 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.
Official application link: Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Surpass Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Amex Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Aspire Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Business Platinum Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Honors Amex Business Card, please click here
Additional reporting by Ryan Wilcox, Stella Shon, Chris Dong and Robert Thorpe.
Featured photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy.