Credit card showdown: Hilton Surpass vs. Hilton Amex

May 22, 2021

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Right now might be the best time – possibly ever – to apply for a Hilton Honors credit card from American Express.

Not only is travel on a massive rebound with millions of those in the U.S. gearing up to take a trip, but some Hilton credit cards are offering the highest number of points we’ve ever seen.

Both the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card and Hilton Honors American Express Card  are posting their best-ever welcome offers, with up to 180,000 bonus points (after meeting minimum spend requirements) on the table.

Keep in mind that TPG currently values Hilton Honors points at 0.6 cents apiece thanks to rising award prices, but with up to 180,000 points at stake, that’s still a bonus worth more than $1,000.

That’s enough points for two nights at some of the chain’s top properties around the world and plenty for several nights at many midrange hotels.

But 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 outsize benefits that include automatic Hilton Honors Gold elite status and the chance to earn a free weekend 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.

New to The Points Guy? Sign up for our daily newsletter and check out our beginner’s guide.

In This Post

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

Main benefits and features

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

Card Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card Hilton Honors American Express Card 
Annual fee $95 (see rates & fees) $0 (see rates & fees)
Welcome offer  180,000 Hilton Honors points — 130,000 after you spend $2,000 in the first 3 months of card membership, plus an additional 50,000 after you spend $10,000 in the first 6 months. 130,000 Hilton Honors points — 80,000 after you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months of card membership, plus an additional 50,000 after you spend $5,000 in the first 6 months
Earning rates  12x points on eligible Hilton purchases
6x on dining at U.S. restaurants
6x at U.S. supermarkets
6x at U.S. gas stations
3x on other eligible purchases
Terms apply
7x on eligible Hilton purchases
5x on dining at U.S. restaurants
5x at U.S. supermarkets
5x at U.S. gas stations
3x 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 nights Free weekend night reward after you spend $15,000 on eligible purchases in a calendar year None
Other benefits 10 Priority Pass visits a year
No foreign transaction fees (see rates & fees)
Car rental insurance (secondary, but can upgrade to premium car rental protection)
Extended warranty protection
Theft and accidental damage purchase protection
Baggage insuranceEnrollment required for select benefits.
No foreign transaction fees (see rates & fees)
Car rental insurance (secondary, but can upgrade to premium car rental protection)
Extended warranty protection
Theft and accidental damage purchase protectionEnrollment required for select benefits.
Card review Hilton Surpass review Hilton Amex review

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 a year to carry.

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. 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 up to 130,000 bonus points – 80,000 after spending $1,000 in purchases within your first three months of card membership, and an additional 50,000 bonus points after spending a total of $5,000 in purchases on the card in the first six months.

That means you can earn the full 130,000 bonus points with $5,000 in spending in six months.

The Hilton Honors Surpass is currently posting a welcome offer unlike any it has extended before. New applicants can earn up to 180,000 bonus points – 130,000 after spending $2,000 in purchases in the first three months of card membership, then an additional 50,000 points after spending a total of $10,000 on the card in the first six months.

Although the spending requirements for the Hilton Honors Surpass are higher, you can earn the equivalent of the Hilton Honors Amex’s entire welcome bonus right off the bat by spending $2,000 in three months instead of $5,000 in six months, and then cap it off with an additional 50,000 points (worth around $300 according to TPG’s most recent valuations) by hitting that higher mark of $10,000 in six months. Here are tips for some everyday bills and expenses you can shift to the card to help you hit that number.

For a little context on the value of this bonus, 180,000 bonus points should be enough for two nights (at 95,000 points each) at most of Hilton’s high-end hotels around the globe, including the Conrad Bora Bora and the Conrad Maldives. Just be aware that recent price increases mean that it can cost 120,000-150,000 points per night in a standard room at some of the chain’s most exclusive properties.

Conrad Bora Bora
The Conrad Bora Bora. (Photo by 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 12x on Hilton purchases while the Hilton Honors Amex earns just 7x.

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.

The Conrad New York Midtown. (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Winner: Hilton Honors Surpass

Related: 16 best ways to earn more Hilton Honors points in 2021

Elite status

This category’s 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 free continental breakfast at most full-service properties. (Enrollment required).

Free Gold breakfast at the Conrad Bora Bora. (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

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?

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.

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 weekend 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.

The stunning tunnel entrance to the Waldorf Astoria Los Cabos Pedregal in Mexico. (Photo courtesy of 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.

Winner: Hilton Honors Surpass

Related: How to maximize Hilton free night certificates

Which card should you choose?

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 elite 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 50,000 more bonus points — more than enough for an award night at thousands of midrange 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 elite status and the chance to earn a free weekend night reward based on spending.

Earn the 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 Hilton Honors Surpass to justify its annual fee. Or better yet, hang onto the Hilton Honors 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.

No matter which card you choose, the current welcome offers are better than they have ever been before, and there’s no telling if they will hit these highs again. So if you’ve been thinking about getting a Hilton Honors card but have not yet applied, now is definitely the time to do so.

Application link: Hilton Honors Amex Surpass: Earn 130,000 bonus points after you spend $2,000 in purchases in the first three months of card membership and an additional 50,000 bonus points after you spend a total of $10,000 in purchases in the first six months

Application Link: Hilton Honors American Express Card: Earn 80,000 after spending $1,000 in purchases within your first three months of card membership, and an additional 50,000 bonus points after spending a total of $5,000 in purchases on the card in the first six months

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

Featured photo courtesy of the Waldorf Astoria Maldives.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

WELCOME OFFER: 100,000 Points

TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $2,000

CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Our best offer ever! Earn 100,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,250 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
  • Earn 2X points on dining including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out and travel. Plus, earn 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 100,000 points are worth $1,250 toward travel.
  • With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 25% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories.
  • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on eligible orders over $12 for a minimum of one year with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more.
  • Get up to $60 back on an eligible Peloton Digital or All-Access Membership through 12/31/2021, and get full access to their workout library through the Peloton app, including cardio, running, strength, yoga, and more. Take classes using a phone, tablet, or TV. No fitness equipment is required.
Regular APR
15.99%-22.99% Variable
Annual Fee
$95
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good

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.