Most mid-range hotel-branded credit cards (like the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card or the World of Hyatt Credit Card) offer the same basic value proposition: Pay a ~$100 annual fee, and you'll get some minor status perks, solid bonus earnings at the hotel chain, and an annual free night certificate. The Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card essentially follows this script, but with a few interesting deviations.
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The Hilton Honors Surpass card carries a fairly standard $95 annual fee, and currently offers a 125,000 point welcome offer after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first three months.
You'll earn a whopping 12 Hilton Honors points per dollar spent at participating Hilton hotels and resorts (in addition to the points you'd earn for the stay as a Hilton Honors member regardless), 6 points per dollar at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets, and U.S. gas stations, and 3 points per dollar on all other purchases.
That's a lot of points per dollar! Unfortunately, Hilton Honors points are worth less, individually, than most other hotel rewards currencies, clocking in at .6 cents each in The Points Guy's latest valuations. Still, that equals a 1.8% return on all purchases, 3.6% at U.S. restaurants, supermarkets, and gas stations, and 7.2% at Hilton properties. That's not too shabby!
Unlike most other hotel chains, Hilton utilizes dynamic award pricing, and the number of points it'll take to redeem a room can vary considerably from one day to to the next. When deciding whether to utilize points, you should use that .6 cent valuation as a baseline to determine whether it's a good value or not for a given stay.
On the plus side, Hilton alone lets you pay for a portion of your stay with points, and the rest with cash. Other chains offer Points + Cash redemptions, but only Hilton gives you a slider and lets you pay for any portion of the stay with points. You'll just have to put up a minimum of 5,000 points per night, and pay in 1,000 point increments. However many points you spend will subtract the equivalent percentage of the cash rate that you're responsible for paying.
Aside from its pretty standard purchase protection benefits, secondary rental car insurance, and no foreign transaction fees, the value proposition of the Hilton Honors Surpass card lies mostly in three eye-catching perks.
Hilton Honors Gold Status
The flashiest perk of the Surpass card is its automatic Hilton Honors Gold status, which is more valuable than the Hyatt Discoverist or Marriott Gold status that you'd get with those brands' equivalent credit cards.
Gold elites receive an 80% points bonus on all stays, bringing their base earnings to 18 points per dollar spent at most properties, or 9 points per dollar at Home2 Suites by Hilton™ and Tru by Hilton™ properties. When combined with the 12x points you'd earn by paying for your stay with your Surpass card, you stand to earn 30 points per dollar spent on most Hilton stays, or a roughly 18% return based on the aforementioned .6 cent valuation.
Gold elites also get free breakfast, room upgrades (based on availability), and a fifth night free on all four-night award redemptions, along with numerous other perks. Plus, if you spend $40,000 on eligible purchases with the Surpass card during a single calendar year, you'll get bumped up to Diamond status through the end of the following calendar year.
10 Priority Pass Select Visits Annually
Many cards with ~$400-$600 annual fees include complimentary Priority Pass Select memberships, but the Surpass card is unique among mid-range cards in offering 10 Priority Pass lounge visits per year.
The Priority Pass network now covers over 1,200 airport lounges worldwide, but for the vast majority of travelers, 10 visits annually should be more than enough. It's not a full membership, no, but the Hilton Honors Surpass card has the lowest annual fee of any consumer card that offers Priority Pass benefits by a whopping $305. Depending on the airports you frequent, that could be reason enough to apply, even if you aren't a regular Hilton guest.
Weekend Night Certificate
The bad news: unlike other hotel credit cards, the Surpass won't award you with an annual free night just for having the card. You'll only get it if you spend $15,000 during the calendar year.
More bad news: If you do spend $15,000 and get the free night certificate, it'll only be valid on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
The very good news: Unlike Hyatt (Category 4 and below) and Marriott (Category 5 and below), Hilton's weekend night certificates don't exclude most high-end properties. There are a handful of exceptions, including Hilton's all-inclusive resorts, but you'll still be able to use your free night on a truly splurge-worthy stay.
If you stay at Hilton properties somewhat frequently, earning 30 Hilton Honors points per dollar on your stays is reason enough to get the Hilton Honors Surpass card. And even if you aren't a Hilton loyalist, anyone that flies regularly through an airport with a Priority Pass lounge will get a ton of value out of the card's 10 annual Priority Pass Select lounge visits.
Do Priority Pass visits and Hilton's generous Gold elite status make up for the fact that you have to spend $15,000 per calendar year to get an anniversary award night, while other hotel cards include it automatically? That's entirely dependent on your priorities and spending patterns, but we give Hilton a lot of credit for offering something that breaks the hotel credit card mold.
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.
Photo: The Points Guy