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

Nov 4, 2020

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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 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.

Both cards are offering excellent welcome offers of more than 100,000 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 Hilton 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.

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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. In addition to what’s shown in the table below, both cards are offering a number of limited-time perks to address the drop in travel due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Hilton Surpass Card Hilton Aspire Card
Annual Fee $95 (see rates and fees) $450 (see rates and fees)
Bonus 130,000 Hilton points after you spend $2,000 within the first 3 months of card membership.

Plus, earn a one-time $100 statement credit after using your new Card to purchase an Expert Flyer* Premium annual subscription ($99.99 plus applicable taxes, followed by automatic renewal) within your first year.

150,000 Hilton points after you spend $4,000 in purchases in the first three months.

Plus, earn a one-time $100 statement credit after using your new Card to purchase an Expert Flyer* Premium annual subscription ($99.99 plus applicable taxes, followed by automatic renewal) within your first year.

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 One-time $100 statement credit after using your new card to purchase an Expert Flyer Premium annual subscription ($99.99 plus applicable taxes, followed by automatic renewal) within your first year. 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

One-time $100 statement credit after using your new Card to purchase an Expert Flyer Premium annual subscription ($99.99 plus applicable taxes, followed by automatic renewal) within your first year

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

*ExpertFlyer is owned by TPG’s parent company, Red Ventures.

Limited-time pandemic-related perks

The basis of most travel rewards cards, especially premium options like 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.

With worldwide travel limited due to the pandemic, Amex and other issuers have had to make adjustments to keep their cards relevant and valuable to consumers.

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

Both the Surpass and Aspire are seeing a shortcut to lifetime elite status and an extension of unused free night certificates:

  • Bonus points earned through eligible purchases, if they post to the card member’s Hilton Honors account between May 1 and Dec. 31, 2020, will be considered base points and will count towards elite tier qualification and lifetime Diamond status
  • Unexpired free weekend night certificates — plus those issued through Dec. 31, 2020 — can now be used on any night of the week, and those issued between May 1 and Dec. 31, 2020, will be valid for 24 months from the date of issuance (rather than the usual 12 months).
  • Starting Jan. 1, 2021, all newly-issued Free Weekend Night Reward certificates 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 comes out ahead with its 150,000 point welcome bonus, worth $900 based on TPG’s valuations. The Aspire has a higher spending requirement to earn the bonus ($4,000 vs. $2,000 with the Surpass), but in exchange, you get an extra 25,000 points, worth $150 based on TPG’s valuations.

(Photo by Brian Kelly/The Points Guy)

Even beyond the bonus, 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 aspirational Waldorf Astoria Maldives, which is enough to instantly erase the difference in the card’s $450 annual fee (see rates and fees).

Beyond that, the Aspire offers a number of ways to recoup its $450 annual fee. 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: 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. Once you apply, 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.

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 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.

When you combine this all with the higher bonus on the Aspire, the card remains one of the most compelling premium credit cards to ever hit the market. 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.

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 Chris Dong. 

Featured photo courtesy of American Express.

Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card

This card offers 130,000 bonus points after you use your card to make $2,000 in eligible purchases within the first 3 months of Card Membership. Plus, earn a one-time $100 statement credit after using your new Card to purchase an Expert Flyer Premium annual subscription ($99.99 plus applicable taxes, followed by automatic renewal) within your first year. Terms apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 130,000 Bonus Points after you spend $2,000 in purchases with your new Card within the first 3 months of Card Membership. Plus, earn a one-time $100 statement credit after using your new Card to purchase an Expert Flyer Premium annual subscription ($99.99 plus applicable taxes, followed by automatic renewal) within your first year.
  • 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
Regular APR
15.74%-24.74% Variable
Annual Fee
$95
Balance Transfer Fee
N/A
Recommended Credit
Excellent, Good
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.