The American Express Hilton Honors Cards are some of the best hotel co-branded cards in the industry. They came into existence after Hilton left Citi to partner with Amex to create a new batch of cards. This post will focus on the three personal Hilton Honors cards: the (regular) Hilton Honors card, the Hilton Surpass, and the Hilton Aspire.
The regular Hilton Honors card comes with no annual fee, making it a great foundational card. It’s also a great downgrade option or card for infrequent travelers. The Surpass Card is the mid-tier option of the bunch. It comes with a $95 annual fee (NOT waived the first year). Furthermore, the Aspire Card comes with a $450 annual fee (NOT waived the first year).
Obviously, the regular Hilton Honors card wins this category because there is no annual fee. However, paying an annual fee for one of the other cards might be a wise investment. That depends on if you can use the benefits or spend enough on those cards.
The sign-up bonus for the regular Hilton Honors is worth 75,000 Hilton Honors (HH) points. You can get this bonus by spending just $1,000 in the first three months. This bonus is easy to get and it gets you in the door with Hilton.
The Surpass Card offers one of my favorite sign-up bonuses. This is because it has a nice balance between minimum spend and points earned. The bonus is worth a nice 125,000 HH points and can be earned by spending $2,000 in the first three months. $2,000 is doable for a lot of people over a three-month period. Plus, you’re getting 125,000 points, which is a great amount for the money.
Finally, the Hilton Aspire card’s bonus is the largest and most expensive of the bunch. It’s worth 150,000 HH points, but you must spend $4,000 in the first three months to earn it. Luxury travelers and heavy spenders should have no problem hitting this bonus.
For me, the winner is the Hilton Surpass card because it earns the most points for a moderate amount of money. You’re only getting 25,000 more points for an additional $2,000 minimum spend with the Aspire card. That’s not very much compared to the Surpass / Ascend.
Remember that American Express might target you with a larger sign-up bonus for any of these cards. The bonuses mentioned here are the normal public bonuses. The winner for you might change if you get targeted.
The Hilton Honors and Surpass cards both earn in the same categories, but with different multipliers. Non-bonus spend is the exception as all three cards earn 3x points outside of the categories.
The Hilton Honors card earns 7x HH points on Hilton hotel purchases. It also earns 5x points for Dining, Groceries, and Gas. Conversely, the Surpass card earns a larger 12x HH points on Hilton hotel purchases. It also earns 6x points for Dining, Groceries, and Gas.
The Aspire card has a different earning structure altogether. It earns 14x HH points on Hilton hotel purchases. It also earns 7x points for US Restaurants, Flights (booked directly with airlines or via amextravel.com), and Car Rentals (booked directly with car rental agencies).
The winner for this category depends on your spending habits. Most people (especially parents with families) will do best with the Surpass card. It has a better earning structure than its no annual fee counterpart and all the same categories. Frequent travelers and those who don’t have a premium card will do best with the Aspire card. Its categories are more suited towards travel expenses than domestic expenses. Plus, it earns more points at Hilton hotels than the other two cards.
Perks & Hotel Status
The three Hilton Honors cards all come with nice perks that can make traveling easier when staying at Hilton hotels. All three cards come with a level of Hilton Honors Elite Status as well. Many of the perks that come with status automatically come with whichever Hilton card you decide to get.
All three cards also come with standard American Express benefits. These include return protection, secondary car rental insurance, and no foreign transaction fees.
The Hilton Honors card comes with complimentary Silver Status. It also has the distinction of being the only no annual fee hotel card that comes with any kind of status.
Silver Status gets you a 20% points bonus for Hilton purchases including room rates and gift shop purchases. You also receive your fifth night free when you use points to pay. The free fifth night could save you some money if you stay at Hilton hotels often for at least five nights.
The Surpass card comes with complimentary Gold Elite Status. Gold Status is where Hilton starts to offer some of their nicer benefits to cardholders. For $95 per year, this level of status is worth the fee for frequent Hilton travelers.
Gold Status gets you an 80% points bonus for Hilton purchases. It also comes with all the perks from Silver Status plus the following:
- Room Upgrades (up to Executive Room)
- Free Breakfast
- Milestone Points Bonuses
- Welcome Gift
Furthermore, you can get one free night per year if you spend at least $15,000 on the card annually. This is a nice perk for heavy spenders, but it might not be worth it for the average consumer. You also get 10 Priority Pass airport lounge passes per year. This is not the same as the free membership seen on many premium cards. But you do get limited access.
Hilton Gold Elite Status also comes as a perk on all versions of the American Express Platinum Card. That might make the Hilton Surpass redundant for Platinum cardholders.
The Aspire card is the closest option to the American Express Platinum Card or any other premium card. That’s because it comes with complimentary Hilton Diamond Elite Status, Hilton’s highest level.
Diamond Status gets you a 100% points bonus for Hilton purchases. It also comes with all the perks from Gold Status plus the following:
- Room Upgrades (up to a Suite)
- Executive Lounge Access
- Premium Internet
- Diamond Status Extension
- Gold Status Gifting
- 48-Hour Room Guarantee
Diamond Status alone should be enough to justify this card’s $450 annual fee. However, the Hilton Aspire card offers more. This card comes with one free night per year plus the chance to earn a second free night. You must spend a whopping $60,000 per year on this card to get the second free night. I don’t recommend spending that much for a single free night unless you plan to do so anyway.
The card also comes with a $250 annual statement credit, a $250 annual airline incidental credit, and a $100 Conrad / Waldorf-Astoria resort credit. That’s $600 in credits if you value them at face value.
The Hilton Aspire card is the clear winner of this category. It simply offers more perks than its brethren and the highest possible level of Hilton Elite Status.
The Hilton Honors Cards are great options for travelers of all sorts. Hilton is the second-largest hotel chain in the world, and they have a hotel for everyone’s needs. However, all three cards have strengths and weaknesses:
The regular Hilton Honors card’s biggest strengths are its easy to hit sign-up bonus and having no annual fee. But its earning structure and perks are weak compared to its more expensive counterparts.
The Hilton Surpass card is the most balanced of the bunch. Its strengths include its modest $95 annual fee, a balanced sign-up bonus, a nice earning structure, and access to Hilton Gold Elite Status. But it doesn’t have access to Diamond Status and the other perks that the Aspire does.
Finally, the Hilton Aspire card is the most expensive, but luxurious of the bunch. Its strengths include a robust earning structure and its numerous perks, including Hilton Diamond Elite Status. However, it as a $450 annual fee and a sign-up bonus that’s hard to hit.
Your mileage may vary with any of these cards. Just because a card works for you doesn’t mean that it will work for someone else.