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Since Amex recently launched elevated welcome bonuses on three of its cobranded Hilton Honors cards, now is the perfect time to add a Hilton card to your wallet. 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 an increased welcome bonus; the Aspire Card is offering its standard bonus. So, 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 card 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 130,000 Hilton points and a free- weekend-night reward after you spend $4,000 in your first four months. Terms apply. 150,000 Hilton points after spending $4,000 in the first three months. Terms apply.
Earning Rates 12x points on eligible Hilton purchases; 6x at US restaurants, US supermarkets and US gas stations; 3x on all other eligible purchases. Terms apply. 14x points on eligible Hilton purchases; 7x on US 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 card member 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 spending $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 spending $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)

Travel accident insurance

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

Travel accident insurance

Premium roadside assistance

Extended-warranty protection

Return protection

Theft and accidental-damage purchase protection

Card Review Hilton Surpass review Hilton Aspire review

So, which card is right for you?

The Hilton Aspire Card offers a $250 annual credit for airline incidental fees, a $250 resort credit each card member year, Diamond elite status and a free-weekend-night reward 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 use the $250 credit for airline incidental fees and the $250 resort credit on expenses you’d normally incur. Even if you can’t fully use these credits, you may find the value you get from the elite status, free-weekend-night reward and other card benefits justify the annual fee.

So, the Aspire seems like an easy choice for anyone who can get at least $450 of value from the card’s benefits. I can certainly get at least $1,000 of value from the card each year between the credits and the free-weekend-night reward.

(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)

Yet, I applied for the Hilton Surpass Card tonight. 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.

So, 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 an increased welcome bonus.

Consider the current welcome bonuses on the two cards. The Aspire offers 150,000 Hilton points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months; the Surpass offers 130,000 Hilton points and a free-weekend-night reward after you spend $4,000 in the first four months. So, as long as you value the free weekend night at 20,000 Hilton points or more — which you should, since you can spend it on almost any property in Hilton’s portfolio — then the Surpass Card is a better choice before we even consider the difference in annual fees.

If you decide to apply for the Hilton Surpass Card now, the option remains for you to apply for the Hilton Aspire Card in the future. If you aren’t eligible for the welcome bonus or don’t get accepted for the Surpass, you might be able to product change it into an Aspire Card.

But, as product changing to an Aspire would prevent you from ever getting a welcome offer on the Aspire, I don’t really recommend this path. So, if you’re set on having the Hilton Aspire Card within the next year or so, it might be safest to simply apply for it now.

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, $250 Hilton resort credit and $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 that is being offered through August 28, 2019. American Express doesn’t offer welcome bonuses on its cobranded Hilton cards if you have or have had the card, so it’s best to apply for these cards when an elevated welcome bonus is offered. 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.

Featured photo courtesy of American Express.

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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.

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