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

May 13, 2021

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

Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information.


If you’re in the market for a personal Hilton card and are willing to pay an annual fee to receive a great welcome offer and benefits, you may be wondering whether to apply for the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card or the benefits-heavy Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card. Or, in the case of this TPG staffer, perhaps having both cards is a viable option for you, too.

The information for the Hilton Aspire 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.

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Both cards have excellent welcome offers of at least 150,000 points, but you’ll have to keep in mind that TPG only values Hilton points at 0.6 cents each.

Beyond that, these two cards exemplify the conundrum of deciding between a premium and entry-level credit card better than any other pair I can think of. The Aspire has an incredibly compelling value proposition and can pay for itself (and then some) over time, but there’s no way around the upfront $450 annual fee (see rates and fees). Meanwhile, the Surpass offers solid rewards and perks for less-frequent travelers at a much more manageable $95 annual fee (see rates and fees).

Today we’re going to walk through the ins and outs of both cards to help you decide which one is right for you.

In This Post

Main benefits and features

Before we dive into the comparison, let’s start with an overview of the main benefits each card offers.

Hilton Surpass Card Hilton Aspire Card
Annual fee $95 (see rates & fees) $450 (see rates & fees)
Welcome offer Up to 180,000 Hilton Honors bonus points. You’ll earn 130,000 points after you spend $2,000 in purchases in the first three months of card membership. Plus, you can earn an additional 50,000 points after spending a total of $10,000 in purchases on the card in the first six months. 150,000 Hilton Honors bonus points after you spend $4,000 in eligible purchases on the card in the first three months of card membership.

 

Earning rates 12x points on eligible Hilton purchases; 6x at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations; 3x on 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 other eligible purchases. Terms apply.
 Credits None 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

Enrollment required for select benefits.

 

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 (enrollment required). Priority Pass Select membership, with up to two free guests per visit (enrollment required).
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 & fees)

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

Extended warranty protection

Return protection

Theft and accidental damage purchase protection

Enrollment required for select benefits.

No foreign transaction fees (see rates & 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

Enrollment required for select benefits.

Card review Hilton Surpass review Hilton Aspire review

Limited-time pandemic-related perks

The basis of most travel rewards cards, especially premium options such as the Hilton Aspire, is that in exchange for an upfront annual fee, you can expect to enjoy luxury travel and lifestyle perks for the duration of your card membership.

Related: The credit card benefit changes you need to know about this month

Both the Surpass and Aspire are seeing an extension of unused free night certificates. All newly issued Free Weekend Night Reward certificates in 2021 will be valid through Dec. 31, 2022. And like current certificates, their validity has been expanded to cover any night of the week — providing valuable flexibility for cardholders.

Related: Hilton extends loyalty benefits for the second time

Which card is right for you?

The first thing to look at when considering a new credit card is the welcome offer.

From a pure points perspective, the premium Hilton Aspire offers a 150,000-point bonus, worth $900 based on TPG’s valuations, while the Hilton Surpass offers up to a 180,000-point bonus, worth $1,080 based on TPG’s valuations.

The Hilton Rose Hall Resort in Montego Bay, Jamaica. (Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

Even though the Surpass welcome bonus is currently better, I still think the Aspire offers a better first-year value proposition. That’s because you’ll get a free weekend night certificate upon account opening and renewal, which are valid at just about any Hilton property in the portfolio. This means you could treat yourself to a free night at the aspirational Waldorf Astoria Maldives, which is enough to instantly erase the difference in the card’s $450 annual fee (see rates and fees).

The Aspire also offers several 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 every cardmember 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 (see rates and fees) if you’re able to use the credits fully. 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.

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: Nearly all Amex cards, including the various cobranded 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 offer for a particular Hilton card once in your lifetime. Amex will warn you before pulling your credit if you aren’t eligible to receive the welcome offer. If you’ve ever held either of these Hilton cards in the past, your only option moving forward is to apply for one you haven’t had yet. This is also a good reason not to upgrade or downgrade your Amex cards unless there’s a hefty bonus involved.

Related: A complete guide to Amex one-bonus-per-lifetime restrictions

The Surpass may also be a better option for travelers that don’t stay at Hiltons that often. The included Hilton Gold status is one of the best mid-tier hotel loyalty statuses you can obtain. As a Hilton Gold elite, you’ll get perks such as an 80% point bonus on paid stays, complimentary breakfast and space-available room upgrades when staying at Hilton brands.

Bottom line

Frequent readers of TPG know that I believe the benefits offered by the Hilton Aspire more than justify its $450 annual fee (see rates and fees) for travelers that can use the free-weekend-night reward, up to $250 annual Hilton resort credit and up to $250 annual 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. In fact, the card is so valuable that if you’re starting from scratch, it’s all the reason you need to pick Hilton over another hotel chain.

But due to the outstanding welcome offer on the Surpass of up to 180,000 bonus points, this card may be more compelling for many new applicants.

Application link: Hilton Honors Amex Surpass available for up to 180,000 bonus miles.

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 Chris Dong and Stella Shon. 

Featured photo courtesy of John Gribben for 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.