Hilton Surpass vs. Hilton Aspire: Which card is right for you?
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.
Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information
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. 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.
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.
Interested in more credit card news and advice from The Points Guy? Sign up for our daily newsletter.
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||130,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after you spend $2,000 in eligible purchases on the Card in the first 3 months of Card Membership.||150,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after you spend $4,000 in eligible purchases on the Card in the first 3 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 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||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
|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 & fees)
Car rental insurance (secondary, but can upgrade to Premium Car Rental Protection)
|No foreign transaction fees (see rates & fees)
Car rental insurance (secondary, but can upgrade to Premium Car Rental Protection)
Baggage loss and damage insurance
|Card Review||Hilton Surpass review||Hilton Aspire review|
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.
Both the Surpass and Aspire are seeing an extension of unused free night certificates: 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.
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 offs a 130,000-point bonus, worth $780.
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).
The Aspire also 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 (see rates and fees) 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.
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.
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 complimentary breakfast, space-available room upgrades and improved earnings when staying at Hilton brands.
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.
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.
Additional reporting by Chris Dong.
Featured photo courtesy of American Express.
Welcome to The Points Guy!