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

May 7, 2021

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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. Hilton Gold status offers complimentary breakfast, increased earnings and space-available upgrades when you stay at Hilton properties. So, the status perk alone may let you quickly justify the card’s modest $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.

Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with the latest information and a new welcome offer. 

Hilton 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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In This Post

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 $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 that more than offsets the card’s high annual fee. Enrollment 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.

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

Welcome offer: Up to $1,080 in value

Hilton Surpass Amex
(Photo by John Gribben/The Points Guy)

The Hilton Surpass currently offers up to a whopping 180,000 Hilton Honors bonus points. This is how it breaks down. First, you’ll earn 130,000 points after you spend $2,000 in purchases in the first three months of card membership. Then, you can earn an additional 50,000 points after you spend a total of $10,000 in purchases on the card in the first six months.

The welcome offer points equate to $1,080 in value, based on TPG’s most recent valuations.

You may be wondering how the Hilton Surpass welcome bonus compares to the other three cobranded Hilton Amex cards. Here are their current offers, as well as links to our reviews of each card:

However, note the welcome offer terms for each card. Generally, each card will state something like the following regarding your ability to receive the welcome offer:

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.

Related: How these 2 Hilton credit cards make the perfect pair in my wallet

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. So, let’s take a closer look at each of these perks.

Hilton Honors status

Hilton DoubleTree Fiji Resort breakfast
Hilton Gold status provides breakfast for two. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

The Hilton Surpass provides cardholders with complimentary Gold status in the Hilton Honors program. TPG Senior Editor 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
  • Daily continental breakfast for you and one guest
  • 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. However, if you want to jump straight to Diamond status, you should apply for the Hilton Aspire card, since it automatically comes with that coveted perk.

However, the Hilton Surpass isn’t the only way to automatically earn Hilton Gold status. Indeed, Hilton Gold status is also an automatic benefit on the following three cards (enrollment required):

So if you already have any of these cards, getting Hilton Gold status as a perk on the Hilton Surpass won’t provide any additional value.

Related: Which credit card earns the most points for Hilton stays?

Priority Pass access

Priority Pass lounge in Punta Cana
Priority Pass lounge in Punta Cana (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

The Hilton Surpass comes with a Priority Pass Select membership, although it won’t allow you unlimited access to lounges. Instead, you’ll receive 10 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.

Related: Best credit cards for airport lounge access in 2021

Weekend night reward

Conrad New York Midtown
The Conrad New York Midtown is a good place to spend a weekend night reward. (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

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 as long as your stay is on a weekend night. Hilton typically defines weekend nights as Friday, Saturday or Sunday night in most parts of the world. However, Hilton will allow you to use unexpired free nights and free nights issued through the end of 2021 on any night of the week.

Related: Maximizing Hilton Amex free night certificates

Other benefits

The Hilton Surpass offers various other benefits. For example, you’ll get secondary car rental loss and damage insurance and no foreign transaction fees (see rates and fees).

Related: 5 reasons to get the Hilton Honors Amex Surpass card

How to earn points

(Photo by Katie Genter / The Points Guy)
Earn 12x points per dollar spent on your stay at the Hilton DoubleTree Resort Fiji. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

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 12x 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 6x 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 3x 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.

Related: Booking direct: How much value does Hilton status provide?

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, 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.”

The lack of an award chart makes it difficult to determine how many points you’ll need for a stay until you book.

To alleviate this uncertainty, Hilton added a Points Explorer tool to its website. The Points Explorer 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.

DoubleTree Resort by Hilton in Penang, Malaysia (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)
My bedroom at the DoubleTree Resort by Hilton in Penang, Malaysia. (Photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy)

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.

Finally, 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.

Related: 5 ways Hilton Honors should improve its loyalty program

Which cards compete with the Hilton Surpass?

(Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy)

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. So, 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 lesser 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:

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. So if you’re willing to pay a higher fee for luxury travel perks, one of these cards might be a better fit.

Related: Choosing the best Hilton credit card for you

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 card(s) 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 3 Free Night Awards (each free night award has a redemption value up to 50,000 bonus points, that’s a value of up to 150,000 total points) after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. Plus, earn 10X total points on up to $2,500 in combined purchases at grocery stores, restaurants, and gas stations within the first 6 months from account opening. Up to 17x Bonvoy points per $1 spent at over 7,000 participating Marriott Bonvoy hotels

2x points 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

4x 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 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 Club Premier Credit Card $89, waived for the first year Earn 150,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening. 10x points at IHG properties

2x points at gas stations, restaurants and grocery stores

1x points 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.

Apply here for the Chase Sapphire Preferred with a 100,000-point bonus.

The Sapphire Preferred’s sign-up bonus is 100,000 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, including transferring to Hyatt, Marriott or IHG for hotel stays. Plus, you’ll earn 5x points on all travel and 3x points on dining purchases.

Related: Should the Chase Sapphire Preferred be your next card?

Bottom line

The Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card is competitive in the crowded mid-tier category of cobranded hotel credit cards.

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 such as 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.

Additional reporting by Chris Dong. 

Featured photo by John Gribben/The Points Guy.

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.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.