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How these 2 Hilton credit cards make the perfect pair in my wallet

Oct. 14, 2020
9 min read
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Over the last couple of years, I have gone all in on hotel credit cards. From incredible redemption promotions to immediate elite status and generous credits, hotel card benefits can be easily utilized, even during a slower period in travel.

If you're looking for a premium hotel card that gives you perks galore, one of my top considerations is the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card. With the Aspire, you'll get a free weekend night, top-tier Diamond status and a plethora of credits. Plus, Hilton's portfolio of more than 6,200 hotels around the world is massive, with at least a brand or two catering to each person's needs.

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There's another Hilton card, however, that gets a spot in my wallet: the mid-tier Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card. It may come as a surprise that I have two Hilton cards, but there's a method to the madness.

If you have significant everyday spending like I do (that doesn't fall into a typical bonus category), it may make sense to have both of these cards. Here's why I have both the Hilton Aspire and Hilton Surpass — and how I leverage them as a one-two punch.

Related: Win $5,000 toward your dream escape with Hilton Honors

Generous welcome Offers

Currently, both the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card and Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card not only include substantial points bonuses (150,000 points on the Aspire after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months) but also a unique TPG-only offer for readers: a one-year subscription to ExpertFlyer Premium, worth up to $100 after using your new card to purchase an ExpertFlyer Premium annual subscription ($99.99 plus applicable taxes, followed by automatic renewal) within your first year. ExpertFlyer is owned by TPG’s parent company, Red Ventures.

When I had applied for these two cards, I received 150,000 points on the Aspire and 130,000 points with the Surpass after meeting minimum spend requirements. While Hilton points are worth less than Marriott and Hyatt (according to TPG valuations), a combined 280,000 Hilton points is still a significant haul. According to our most recent valuations, that's worth more than $1,680.

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But you may be able to do even better. For instance, I recently redeemed 40,000 Hilton Honors points for one night at the Beverly Hilton in the midst of the pandemic. With cash rates hovering around the $300 mark, that's more than $2,000 in value if I were to redeem all 280,000 points at this hotel.

Related: Review of the Hilton Aspire card

An automatic weekend night certificate with the Aspire

Use your weekend night certificate at Hilton properties such as the Conrad Fort Lauderdale Beach. (Photo courtesy of Hilton)

The Hilton Aspire card comes with a hefty $450 annual fee (see rates and fees) but it's one of the easiest cards with which you can come out ahead, in my book.

One huge perk is a free weekend night certificate at any Hilton property with standard room availability. Because of the ongoing pandemic, unexpired free weekend night certificates, plus those issued through Dec. 31, 2020, can now be used on any night of the week.

You can get $450 in value from this certificate alone, especially when you book at higher-end properties where cash rates can exceed that per night. And while the Hilton Honors program no longer publishes formal award charts, top-tier properties typically max out at 95,000 points for standard awards.

When you’re searching for properties at which to use these free weekend nights, try to get as close as possible to that 95,000-point threshold.

Related: A complete guide to credit card benefit changes

A second free night with the Surpass

Here's the compelling reason why I have the Hilton Surpass alongside the Hilton Aspire: the ability to earn a second free weekend night certificate with $15,000 in spending per year.

While the Aspire gets you an automatic free night, you can earn another by spending a cool $60,000 in a year. Or you can spend just $15,000 on the Surpass, a card that has a $95 annual fee (see rates and fees).

Of course, you should definitely take into account the opportunity cost of spending $15,000 on other points or cash-back earning cards (or hitting multiple welcome bonus spending thresholds).

You can use your two certificates for two nights at the Conrad Bora Bora (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

However, if you have significant everyday (non-bonus) spending that doesn't fall into a typical category, it can make sense to put those purchases on a card that'll get you an incremental perk, like a free night certificate.

Alternatively, you could put $15,000 of non-bonused spending on a card such as The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express, which earns 2x Membership Rewards points on all purchases (on the first $50,000 each calendar year; then 1x). Those 30,000 points you'd earn could then be transferred to Hilton at a 1 to 2 ratio, getting you 60,000 Hilton Honors points.

That's still not quite as valuable as getting a second free night certificate with the Surpass, however.

Related: A review of the Hilton Surpass card

Aspire's premium perks

Last year, I used my weekend night certificate at the Waldorf Astoria Berlin during the weekend of the Berlin Marathon where cash rates were more than $400 per night. And there are many other worthwhile benefits, too.

The breakfast buffet at the El San Juan Hilton Hotel. (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Other top perks include Hilton Honors Diamond status — with free breakfast, lounge access, upgrades and more — and up to $250 in annual airline fee credits.

Cardholders also receive up to $250 in Hilton resort statement credits each cardmember year. This statement credit is not only limited to incidental charges such as meals and spa treatments, but can also be used toward room rates and taxes. Earlier this year, you were able to use the credit toward dining purchases.

Related: 5 ways I use my hotel card benefits to travel in luxury

Earning rates that differ

The mid-tier Hilton Surpass and premium Hilton Aspire have slightly differing bonus categories.

While you'll earn an elevated earning rate at Hilton properties for both cards (with the Aspire coming out ahead), the Surpass has a gas and U.S. supermarket bonus category, while the Aspire has a flight and car rentals bonus category.

Personally, I put my gas spending on the Hilton Surpass card -- it actually makes our list as one of the best cards to use for gas purchases. For supermarkets and other travel purchases, I typically will use other cards that earn more lucrative, transferable points.

Hilton Surpass CardHilton Aspire Card
Annual Fee$95 (see rates and fees)$450 (see rates and fees)
BonusGet 130,000 Hilton points after you spend $2,000 within the first three 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.

Get 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 Rates12x 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; 3x on all other eligible purchases. Terms apply.

Bottom line

While having two Hilton cards isn't for everyone, it can make a lot of sense if you have non-bonused spending and want to earn an extra free night certificate.

Both the Hilton Surpass and Hilton Aspire are both great cards on their own, but they can be even more valuable when stacked together. Just keep in mind that you'll need to maximize the benefits for it to be worthwhile -- there are nearly $550 in annual fees at stake with both of these cards combined.

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 image by Conrad Bora Bora (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
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.