Is the Hilton Surpass Amex the Best Card for Hilton Stays?

Nov 24, 2017

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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – Hilton Honors Surpass Card from American Express, The Business Platinum Card® from American Express,The Platinum Card® from American Express, Chase Sapphire Reserve

 

Currently, the Hilton Honors Surpass Card from American Express is offering a limited-time sign-up bonus of up to 125,000 Hilton points when you apply through The Points Guy. You’ll need to spend $3,000 on the card in the first three months to earn 100,000 points, plus another $1,000 in the first six months to get an additional 25,000 points. This is the highest-ever sign-up offer we’ve seen on this card, and it’s a great opportunity to boost your Hilton Honors account balance just in time to book some award stays in the new year.

In addition to offering a stellar sign-up offer at the moment, the Hilton Surpass Amex includes some solid perks for frequent Hilton guests. These include complimentary Hilton Honors Gold status — with benefits such as a 25% point bonus, a fifth night free on award stays and space-available upgrades to preferred rooms — along with the ability to upgrade to Diamond status when you spend $40,000 on the card in a calendar year. The card also earns you 12x points on Hilton stays, compared to 7x points on the no-fee Hilton Honors Card from American Express.

Hilton Waikoloa Village, Big Island Hotel
Perks for frequent Hilton guests include complimentary Hilton Honors Gold status. Photo of Hilton Waikoloa Village, Big Island Hotel by Hilton Hotels.

The Hilton Surpass, with its $75 annual fee, is the higher-end option of the two Hilton Amex cards that are currently available. But how does it stack up against other, non-Hilton co-branded options, since you can earn bonus transferrable points on hotel stays if you choose to go that route? And what will be the best way to maximize your Hilton stays after Amex launches three new Hilton cards in January?

How the Surpass Card Stacks Up to the Competition

Based on TPG’s latest monthly valuations, the Hilton Surpass card’s 12x points earned at Hilton hotels equal a return of 7.2%. However, Hilton co-branded cards aren’t your only options for earning bonus rewards on a Hilton hotel booking. Below, I’ve compared the earning rates — and the return on spending — you’d get with the two current Amex Hilton cards and a handful of other top travel rewards cards that offer bonus points on hotels.

Card Points Per Dollar at Hilton Hotels Return on Spending (Based on TPG’s Valuations) Notes
Hilton Honors Surpass Card from American Express 12 7.2% Will convert to Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card as of 1/18 (see below)
Hilton Honors Card from American Express 7  4.2%
Chase Sapphire Reserve 3 6.6% 3x points on all travel
The Platinum Card® from American Express 5 9.5% Must book prepaid hotels at Amex Travel.
The Business Platinum Card® from American Express OPEN 5 9.5% Must book prepaid hotels at Amex Travel.
Citi Prestige 3 4.5%

As you can see, a number of cards are great for earning bonus points on Hilton stays and on hotel purchases in general. But the cards that offer the highest return on hotel purchases — the Amex Platinum and the Amex Business Platinum — require that you book prepaid reservations through Amex Travel, limiting your ability to make changes after booking. Beyond those two cards, the Hilton Surpass Amex is currently the best bet for Hilton stays.

Of course, it also depends on which points are the most valuable to you — if you’d rather earn points in the Ultimate Rewards program than Hilton points, the higher return on spending with the Hilton Surpass Amex doesn’t mean much.

The Upcoming Hilton Honors Aspire Card

Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card. Photo courtesy American Express.
Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card. Photo by American Express.

Hilton previously offered co-branded credit cards through both American Express and Citi, but it’s in the process of ending its partnership with the latter, bringing its current lineup of cards down to just the two Amex options. However, the hotel chain will be beefing up its selection of Amex cards soon — it has announced three new cards to launch on January 18, 2018, in addition to a few updates to the existing Hilton Surpass Card and the no-fee Hilton Amex.

Once these new cards are available, the Hilton Surpass Card will no longer be the highest Hilton points-earning pick for Hilton stays — that title will be taken by the new Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card. This upcoming card will earn 14x Honors points at Hilton properties, in addition to offering premium perks like a $250 annual airline incidental fee credit and a $250 annual Hilton resort statement credit. It will also carry a $450 annual fee (with no foreign transaction fees) which means it won’t be an ideal pick for everyone, but it does justify that high rate with $500 per year in travel credits, among its other perks.

Eventually in 2018, Hilton Surpass cardmembers will be converted to the new mid-tier Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card. It will largely keep the same benefits as the Surpass — including the 12x earn rate at Hilton hotels — but it will add the ability to earn a free weekend night after you spend $15,000 on the card in a calendar year. Additionally, its current Priority Pass lounge perk will change from a base membership that doesn’t include free visits to 10 free Priority Pass lounge passes. The annual fee will also increase from $75 to $95, but if you apply for the Surpass now or by January 17, you’ll get the $75 fee for the first year. Finally, the Ascend Card will waive foreign transaction fees.

Once the new cards are launched and the Hilton Surpass cards are converted to Hilton Ascend cards, the return of 8.4% percent you’ll get at Hilton properties with the yet-to-launch Hilton Aspire card will be the new top earner. So clearly, at that point the Aspire card will be the better pick for maximizing your spending at Hilton properties, provided you’re willing to stomach that significantly higher annual fee.

Bottom Line

Until January 18, 2018, the Hilton Surpass Amex will get you the highest return on Hilton purchases. After that date, the Hilton Aspire Amex will take the crown with 14x points at Hilton properties, and the Surpass will become the Ascend card, keeping the same 12x earning rate.

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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