The Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card offers complimentary Gold elite status that provides extra perks when you stay at Hilton properties
Right now the card comes with a very generous welcome bonus that can easily offset the card's annual fee in the first year
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Our quick take: The Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card offers strong elite benefits along with a solid welcome bonus and a low annual fee, making it an enticing option for consumers who want to earn rewards toward free Hilton hotel stays without paying an exorbitant cost.
- Earn a generous welcome bonus and 12 points for every dollar you spend at Hilton.
- Earn 6 points per dollar at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations as well as 3 points per dollar on other purchases.
- Complimentary Gold elite status in the Hilton Honors program.
- 10 free visits each year to Priority Pass airport lounges worldwide.
- Weekend night when you spend $15,000 on your card within a calendar year.
- No foreign transaction fees (see rates and fees).
Current welcome bonus: Earn up to 180,000 bonus points in two tiers: 130,000 bonus points after spending $2,000 in purchases on the card in the first three months after opening the account, plus an additional 50,000 bonus points after you spend a total of $10,000 on the card in the first six months.
Best for: Regular travelers who want a basic suite of benefits when they stay in Hilton resorts as well as those who want to rack up rewards for free Hilton hotel stays by using their credit card on everyday purchases.
Digging into the Hilton Amex Surpass card
If you want a Hilton credit card with elite benefits but don’t want to pay hundreds of dollars in annual fees, the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card is a thoughtful middle-ground alternative.
Carrying this card will set you back just $95 per year, yet you’ll receive complimentary Hilton Gold elite status with it. Gold is in the middle of the three Hilton status levels and qualifies you for a complimentary continental breakfast on each morning of your stay. You’ll also get annual benefits like 10 Priority Pass airport lounge entries and a weekend night award when you spend $15,000 on your card in a calendar year. Although all certificates issued through 2022 can be used any night of the week (not limited to just weekends).
The $95 annual fee looks even more reasonable when you consider the welcome bonus you can earn in the first year on the Hilton Amex Surpass card. Frequent flyer website The Points Guy values Hilton points at 0.6 cents apiece, so those 180,000 points are worth as much as $1,080 in travel.
The earning rate on this Hilton card is also solid. As a card member, you’ll earn 12 points for every dollar you spend on Hilton purchases; 6 points per dollar at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations; and 3x points on other purchases. However, it’s important to keep in mind that Hilton points aren’t worth as much as many other types of hotel points, so you may be earning less than you think.
Hilton loyalty program members also earn 10 points per dollar spent when they stay with the Hilton brand, and elite status members earn even more. Having Gold status — which you get automatically with this card — means you’ll earn an 80% bonus on base points. So when you stay at a Hilton property, you’ll earn 18 points per dollar as a Gold status member, plus 12 points per dollar when you pay with this card.
And through December 31, 2022, all bonus points earned from eligible purchases on the card will count as base points towards elite tier qualification and Lifetime Diamond status.
Finally, the Hilton Amex Surpass Card gives you a path to Hilton Diamond status, which is the highest tier of elite status the program offers. To reach Hilton Diamond status, you’d need to spend $40,000 on your credit card within a calendar year, which averages out to about $3,333 a month.
Advantages of the Hilton Amex Surpass card
When it comes to the Hilton Amex Surpass Card, several advantages really stand out. The most important benefit is its automatic Gold elite status, which lets you enjoy some VIP benefits now while also making it easier for you to reach Diamond status down the line through spending on the credit card, staying at a Hilton hotel or both.
In addition to free breakfast, there are plenty of other Gold elite status benefits you might value. The most important ones include:
- 80% bonus points on paid stays
- Space-available room upgrades
- Elite rollover nights toward elite status
- No resort fees on award stays
- Milestone bonuses, such as earning 10,000 bonus points for every 10 nights at a Hilton after you’ve stayed 20 nights within a calendar year.
Many card holders also like the fact that the Hilton Amex Surpass grants members 10 free visits to Priority Pass airport lounges worldwide. While this perk isn’t quite as good as having a Priority Pass Select membership with unlimited visits, being able to visit 10 times might be more than enough for those who rarely fly or have infrequent layovers.
Disadvantages of the Hilton Amex Surpass card
The biggest downside of the Hilton Amex Surpass card is its lack of benefits aside from Hilton Gold elite status and airport lounge visits, and the fact that Hilton points aren’t worth nearly as much as many other travel loyalty points or miles. Even though you can earn a lot of points with the card, those points might be worth only a fraction as much as the points you could be earning with another credit card.
Also, some of the card’s secondary benefits require spending a lot of money on it each year. In addition to being able to unlock Hilton Diamond status by spending $40,000 on your card within a calendar year, you can also earn a free weekend night at a Hilton property when you spend $15,000 on the card within a calendar year.
Finally, you won’t find many travel protections on this card — the main ones are auto rental coverage (which is secondary to your own personal auto policy) and access to a Global Assist hotline.
Stacking up the Hilton Amex Surpass against our benchmark
CNN Underscored uses the Citi® Double Cash Card as our “benchmark” credit card. That doesn’t mean it’s the best credit card on the market — rather, it means we use it as a basic standard to compare other credit cards and see where they score better, and where they’re worse.
Here’s how the Hilton Amex Surpass card scores against our benchmark. The features of each card in the below chart are colored in green, red or white. Green indicates a card feature that’s better than our benchmark, red indicates the feature is worse than our benchmark and white indicates the feature is either equivalent or cannot be directly compared to our benchmark.
While it’s easy to see where the Hilton Amex Surpass Card comes out ahead — and where it may fall short — it’s important to note how different these cards are, and the fact that they’re targeted at very different types of consumers. The Hilton Amex Surpass is geared toward frequent travelers who like to stay at Hilton properties, while the Citi Double Cash was created for people who want to earn cash back as well as those who want to consolidate and pay down debt with an introductory balance transfer offer.
Before you sign up for a rewards credit card, it can help to consider the different types of credit cards out there and which ones might work best for your situation and goals. You can read our credit card methodology for more details on what we take into account ourselves when it comes to perks, protections and redemption value.
Other credit cards similar to the Hilton Amex Surpass
If you’re interested in earning Hilton hotel rewards in particular, then you’ll want to take a closer look at credit cards within the Hilton Honors loyalty program. For the most part, the Hilton Amex Surpass is the middle-tier card of the program.
For those who don’t like to pay for a credit card each year but still want to earn Hilton points, there’s the Hilton Honors American Express Card, which offers a lower bonus of up to 130,000 bonus points, also in two tiers. You’ll earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 in purchases on the card in the first three months after opening the account, plus an additional 50,000 bonus points after you spend a total of $5,000 on the card in the first six months.
This Hilton card only comes with Silver elite status, and you’ll earn fewer points on paid Hilton stays and regular spending, yet it’s worth considering if you want to earn rewards toward free Hilton nights without paying an annual fee.
Meanwhile, the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card is the luxury travel credit card offered by Hilton. This card comes with better earning rates and perks, including complimentary Hilton Diamond status, up to $250 in annual airline fee credits, an annual $250 resort credit, Priority Pass Select airport lounge membership and more. While this card’s utility is nearly unmatched among luxury hotel credit cards, you’ll pay a pricey $450 annual fee every year you have it.
All information about the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card has been collected independently by CNN. The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card is not currently available through CNN.
And if you don’t stay at Hilton hotels more than once in a while, you might prefer a broader travel credit card that earns rewards that can be used in multiple airline and hotel programs. One option is the classic Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, which also has a $95 annual fee but earns points that can be transferred to 14 different airline and hotel partners, including Marriott, Hyatt and IHG.
Should you get the Hilton Amex Surpass card?
The Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card offers generous rewards for Hilton travelers along with a handful of elite benefits, yet you’ll pay only $95 per year as a card member. Considering other Hilton credit cards are on entirely separate ends of the spectrum, many see the Hilton Amex Surpass as a compromise that gives card members just enough of what they want without a big financial commitment.
With that being said, it makes sense to spend some time comparing rewards credit cards before you decide, especially if you don’t stay at Hilton hotels that often. The Hilton Amex Surpass may be exactly what you need, but don’t be afraid to consider alternatives in other programs.
Find out which cards CNN Underscored chose as our best travel credit cards of 2021.