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

Feb. 04, 2022
11 min read
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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.

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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, 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 midlevel credit card better than any other pair I know. 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). The Surpass offers solid rewards and perks for less-frequent travelers at a much more manageable $95 annual fee (see rates and fees).

And with a new, lucrative welcome bonus that just launched on the Surpass, it may be an even closer decision.

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

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 CardHilton Aspire Card
Annual fee$95 (see rates and fees).$450 (see rates and fees).
Welcome offerEarn 130,000 Hilton Honors bonus points plus a free night reward after you spend $2,000 in purchases on the card in the first three months of card membership.Earn 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 rates12 points per dollar on eligible Hilton purchases; 6 points per dollar at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations; 3 points per dollar on other eligible purchases. Terms apply.14 points per dollar on eligible Hilton purchases; 7 points per dollar on U.S. restaurants, select car rentals and flights booked directly with the airline or at amextravel.com; 3 points per dollar on other eligible purchases. Terms apply.
 CreditsNone.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 is required for select benefits.

Elite statusHilton Honors Gold; upgrade to Diamond by spending $40,000 in a calendar year.Hilton Honors Diamond.
Lounge access10 Priority Pass visits a year (enrollment required).Priority Pass Select membership, with up to two free guests per visit (enrollment required).
Free nightsFree 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 benefitsNo foreign transaction fees (see rates and fees).

Car rental insurance* (secondary, but can upgrade to Premium Car Rental Protection). (Underwritten by AMEX
Assurance Company. Car Rental Loss or Damage Coverage is
offered through American Express Travel Related Services
Company, Inc.)

Extended warranty protection* (Underwritten by AMEX Assurance Company.)

Return protection*.

Theft and accidental damage purchase protection*. (Underwritten by AMEX Assurance Company.)

Enrollment is required for select benefits.

 

No foreign transaction fees (see rates and fees).

Car rental insurance* (secondary, but can upgrade to Premium Car Rental Protection). (Underwritten by AMEX
Assurance Company. Car Rental Loss or Damage Coverage is offered through American Express Travel Related Services Company, Inc.)

Baggage loss and damage insurance.

Extended warranty protection* (Underwritten by AMEX Assurance Company.)

Return protection*.

Theft and accidental-damage purchase protection*. (Underwritten by AMEX Assurance Company.)

Enrollment is required for select benefits.

 

Card reviewHilton Surpass reviewHilton Aspire review

*Eligibility and Benefit level varies by Card. Terms, Conditions and Limitations Apply. Please visit americanexpress.com/benefitsguide for more details.

It's worth noting that Hilton has announced multiple extensions and added flexibility on existing and newly-issued free-night certificates. Those issued on both the Surpass and Aspire in 2022 are valid for 12 months from the date of issuance, but their validity has also been expanded to cover any night of the week — providing valuable flexibility for cardholders.

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 a 130,000-point bonus, worth $780 based on TPG’s valuations.

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

However, it's not just about the points. The new offer on the Surpass also includes a free night certificate, valid at virtually any Hilton Honors property around the world (with very limited exceptions, detailed here). It also requires just $2,000 in spending over three months to earn the bonus — or just $666.67 per month.

This puts the two cards on much more equal footing, since the Hilton Aspire requires double the spending of the Surpass ($4,000 in three months, or $1,333.33 per month) and also provides a free night certificate to new cardholders — though it's part of the standard suite of perks, not a limited-time offer.

This means that, on both cards, you could treat yourself to a free night at aspirational properties like the Waldorf Astoria Maldives and the Conrad Bora Bora Nui — though you need to spend more on the Aspire to earn the full bonus, and you're paying a higher annual fee on the Aspire ($450, see rates and fees) than the Surpass ($95, see rates and fees).

That said, the Aspire offers several ways to recoup that difference. The Hilton Aspire Card offers an up-to-$250 annual credit for airline incidental fees, an up-to-$250 resort credit every cardmember year and automatic Diamond elite status — plus a free night certificate 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. Many cardholders 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)

However, there are some important reasons why the Surpass card might be a better option.

For starters, if you've held the Aspire card before, you won't be eligible for the welcome bonus 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 who 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 (or a food and beverage credit for U.S. properties) and space-available room upgrades when staying at Hilton brands.

Another appealing aspect of the Surpass is the free-night reward that's part of the current welcome offer. This can easily get you $500 (or more) in value — and if you can spend $15,000 within the calendar year, you'll wind up earning a second one. As long as both are issued in 2022, they're valid any night of the week.

To earn a second certificate on the Aspire Card, you'd need to hit $60,000 in spending by the end of 2022 — a much harder prospect.

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. 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 130,000 bonus points plus a free-night reward with just $2,000 in spending — and moderate $95 annual fee (see rates and fees) — this card may be more compelling for many new applicants.

Application link: Hilton Honors Amex Surpass available with 130,000 bonus miles and a free-night reward.

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

Additional reporting by Chris Dong and Stella Shon.

Featured image by (Photo courtesy of LXR Kyoto/Hilton Hotels)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.