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

Dec 18, 2019

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.

Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card

Editor’s note: This post was originally published on Nov. 16, 2019. 

If you’re in the market for a personal Hilton credit card and are willing to pay an annual fee to receive a great welcome bonus and benefits, you may be wondering whether to apply for the newly rebranded Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card or the benefits-heavy Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express.

The Hilton Surpass Card is currently offering a limited-time increased welcome bonus, while the Aspire Card is offering its standard bonus. Which card should you apply for now? I answered this question for myself today, as I knew I wanted to apply for one of these two cards. Here are the important details for both cards, and some tips for deciding which is right for you.

Main benefits and features

Hilton Surpass Card Hilton Aspire Card
Annual Fee $95 (see rates and fees) $450 (see rates and fees)
Bonus 150,000 Hilton points after you spend $3,000 in purchases in your first three months, and a $100 statement credit after your first purchase on the card in the first three months. Offer ends 12/31/19. Terms apply. 150,000 Hilton points after you spend $4,000 in purchases in the first three months. Terms apply.
Earning Rates 12x points on eligible Hilton purchases; 6x at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations; 3x on all other eligible purchases. Terms apply. 14x points on eligible Hilton purchases; 7x on U.S. restaurants, select car rentals and flights booked directly with the airline or at amextravel.com; 3x on all other eligible purchases. Terms apply.
 Credits n/a up to $250 annual credit for airline incidental fees

up to $250 Hilton resort statement credit each cardmember year valid at participating resorts

up to $100 property credit on eligible stays of two or more nights at Waldorf Astoria and Conrad hotels

Elite Status Hilton Honors Gold. Upgrade to Diamond by spending $40,000 in a calendar year. Hilton Honors Diamond
Lounge Access  10 Priority Pass visits a year Priority Pass Select membership, with up to two free guests per visit
Free Nights Free weekend night reward after you spend $15,000 in a calendar year One free weekend night reward within your first year, and another every year after you renew

A second free weekend night reward after you spend $60,000 in a calendar year

Other Benefits No foreign transaction fees (see rates and fees)

Car rental insurance (secondary, but can upgrade to Premium Car Rental Protection)

Extended warranty protection

Return protection

Theft and accidental damage purchase protection

No foreign transaction fees (see rates and fees)

Car rental insurance (secondary, but can upgrade to Premium Car Rental Protection)

Baggage loss and damage insurance

Extended-warranty protection

Return protection

Theft and accidental-damage purchase protection

Card Review Hilton Surpass review Hilton Aspire review

Which card is right for you?

The first thing to look at when considering a new credit card is the welcome bonus it offers. From a pure points perspective, these cards are tied. New applicants to either the Surpass or Aspire can earn 150,000 Hilton points, worth $900 based on TPG’s valuations, but there are a few differences. For starters, the Aspire requires an extra $1,000 of spending to earn the bonus ($4,000 in the first three months vs. $3,000 in the first three months with the Surpass). The Surpass also comes with a $100 statement credit after you make your first purchase, and this isn’t limited to just Hilton purchases.

However, I still think the Aspire offers a better first-year value proposition. The big reason why is that you’ll get a free weekend night certificate when you open your account (and each year on account renewal) that can be used at just about any Hilton property in the portfolio. This means you could treat yourself to a free night at the brand new Waldorf Astoria Maldives, which is worth much more than a $100 statement credit.

Beyond that, the Aspire offers a number of ways to recoup its $450 annual fee (see rates and fees). The Hilton Aspire Card offers an up to $250 annual credit for airline incidental fees, an up to $250 resort credit each card member year, Diamond elite status and a free weekend night after you are approved for the card and every year after you renew. So, you’ll easily get more value than the $450 annual fee if you’re able to fully use the credits. Even if you can’t, you may find the value you get from the elite status, free weekend night reward and other card benefits justify the annual fee.

If that sounds like you, the Aspire is an easy choice. I could certainly get at least $1,000 of value from the card each year between the credits and the free weekend night.

(Photo by Samantha Rosen / The Points Guy)
Use your free weekend night at almost any property in Hilton’s portfolio, such as the Conrad Tokyo. (Photo by Samantha Rosen/The Points Guy)

So you might be surprised to hear I applied for the Hilton Surpass Card instead. Here’s why:

The Amex Hilton cards all include the following language when you click on “Offer & Benefit Terms” from the application page:

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.

This means you can only receive a welcome bonus for a particular Hilton card once in your lifetime. Once you apply, Amex will warn you before pulling your credit if you aren’t eligible to receive the welcome bonus. Unfortunately, I received this message tonight when I applied.

Amex’s once-in-a-lifetime rule means you may want to apply for the Hilton Surpass Card while it has an increased bonus, since this will be the only bonus you’ll ever receive for the card. Plus, this will also allow you to ‘save’ your Hilton Aspire application for a time when it’s offering its own increased welcome bonus.

Remember, the Aspire offers 150,000 Hilton points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months, while the Surpass offers 150,000 Hilton points and a $100 statement credit after you spend $3,000 in the first three months. The Aspire might be the more valuable card in the long term, but getting the Surpass now with the elevated bonus might make more sense.

You could also apply for the Hilton Surpass Card now and try to product change it into an Aspire Card. But since that would prevent you from ever getting a welcome offer on the Aspire, I don’t really recommend it.

Bottom line

Frequent readers of TPG know that I believe the benefits offered by the Hilton Aspire more than justify its $450 annual fee for travelers that can use the free-weekend-night reward, up to $250 Hilton resort credit and up to $250 airline-fee credit. Even if you take just one trip a year, you may find that you can get more than $450 of value from the weekend night and credits. And, more frequent travelers will have even less trouble taking advantage of the free weekend night, statement credits and Hilton Diamond status.

This being said, the Hilton Surpass is my current recommendation because of the increased welcome bonus. Plus, the current welcome bonus on the Hilton Surpass Card is more valuable than the Hilton Aspire Card, making it easy to choose the lower-annual-fee card.

Ready to apply? Here are the official application links for the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card and Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express 

For rates and fees of the Hilton Surpass Card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Aspire Card, please click here.

Additional reporting by Ethan Steinberg.

Featured photo courtesy of American Express.

Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card

This card offers 125,000 bonus points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first three months. Terms apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 125,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points with the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card after you use your new Card to make $2,000 in eligible purchases within the first 3 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn a Weekend Night Reward from Hilton Honors after you spend $15,000 on purchases on your Card in a calendar year.
  • Earn 12X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for each dollar of eligible purchases charged on your Card directly with a hotel or resort within the Hilton Portfolio.
  • Earn 6X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for each dollar of eligible purchases on your Card at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets, and U.S. gas stations.
  • Earn 3X Hilton Honors Bonus Points for all other eligible purchases on your Card.
  • Spend $40,000 on eligible purchases on your Card in a calendar year and you can earn Hilton Honors Diamond status through the end of the next calendar year.
  • $95 annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
17.24%-26.24% Variable
Annual Fee
$95
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 3% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Good, Excellent
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

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.