The American Express Hilton Honors credit cards are some of the best hotel co-branded credit cards in the industry. They came into existence after Hilton dissolved its partnership with Citi in 2017. In the process, Amex and Hilton created a new batch of cards. This comparison focuses on the three personal Hilton Honors credit cards: the (regular) Hilton Honors Card, the Hilton Surpass, and the Hilton Aspire.

Furthermore, I recently acquired the Hilton Honors Surpass Card, the middle card of the bunch.

 

Annual Fee

The regular Hilton Honors Card comes with no annual fee, which makes it a great foundational card. It is also a great downgrade option and a decent 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, you are giving up a plethora of useful perks and earning opportunities if you choose this card. 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.

 

Sign-Up Bonus

All three Hilton Honors Credit Cards have great sign-up bonuses. But they differ, depending on which card you apply for.

The sign-up bonus for the regular Hilton Honors Card is worth 75,000 Hilton Honors (HH) points. You can earn this bonus by spending just $1,000 within the first three months. This bonus is easy to get and it is a great way to get started earning HH points.

The Surpass Card offers one of the most balanced sign-up bonuses in the industry. Such balance is struck between minimum spend and points offered. It is worth 125,000 HH points and can be earned by spending $2,000 within the first three months. $2,000 is doable for a lot of people over a three-month period.

Finally, the Hilton Aspire Card’s bonus is the biggest of the bunch. But it also has the largest bonus worth 150,000 HH points. You must spend $4,000 within the first three months to earn it. Luxury travelers and heavy spenders should have no problem hitting this bonus.

The winner of this category is the Hilton Surpass. You can earn a lot of 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. That’s not much compared to the Surpass.

Remember that American Express offers larger promotional sign-up bonus for all three cards several times per year. The bonuses mentioned in this post are the normal public bonuses.

 

Earning

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 bonus categories.

The Hilton Honors Card earns 7x HH points on Hilton hotel purchases. It also earns 5x points for Dining, Groceries, and Gas. Additionally, the Surpass Card earns a larger 12x HH points on Hilton hotel purchases. It also earns 6x points for Dining, Groceries, and Gas.

Conversely, the Aspire Card has a different earning structure. It earns 14x HH points on Hilton hotel purchases. The Aspire Card 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 of 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 in the same categories than its no annual fee counterpart. Frequent travelers and those who don’t have another premium card will be best with the Aspire Card. Its categories are more suited towards travel expenses than everyday expenses. Plus, the Aspire Card earns more points at Hilton hotels than the other two cards.

 

Perks & Hotel Status

The Hilton Honors Credit Cards come with perks that can make traveling easier when staying at Hilton hotels. All three cards come with a increased 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.

Hilton Honors Card

The Hilton Honors Card comes with Silver Elite Status. It also has the distinction of being the only no annual fee hotel credit card that comes with any kind of status.

Silver Elite Status nets you a 20% points bonus on Hilton purchases including room rates and gift shop purchases. You can also receive a fifth night free when you use points to pay for your stay. The free fifth night could save you some money if you stay at Hilton hotels often for at least five nights.

Hilton Surpass

The Surpass Card comes with complimentary Gold Elite Status. Gold Elite 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 Elite Status gets you an 80% points bonus for Hilton purchases. It also comes with all the perks from Silver Elite 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 will also receive 10 Priority Pass airport lounge passes per year. This is not the same as the complimentary membership offered with many premium credit 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.

Hilton Aspire

The Hilton Aspire is the premium credit card of the bunch. It is the closest option to the American Express Platinum Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve. That’s because it comes with complimentary Hilton Diamond Elite Status, the highest level offered.

Diamond Elite Status earns you a 100% points bonus for Hilton purchases. It also comes with all the perks from Gold Elite 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 Elite Status alone should be enough to justify this card’s $450 annual fee. However, the Hilton Aspire Card offers more in value. 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 for select Hilton resorts, 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.

Therefore, the Hilton Aspire Card is the clear winner of this category. It offers more perks than its brethren and the highest possible level of Hilton Elite Status.

 

Final Draw

The Hilton Honors credit 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 no annual fee Hilton Honors Card’s biggest strengths are an inexpensive sign-up bonus and lack of an annual fee. But its earning structure and perks are weak compared to the other Hilton cards.

Furthermore, the Hilton Surpass Card is the most balanced of the bunch. Its strengths include a 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 Elite Status and other luxury perks that the Aspire does. I recently acquired this card for the reasons presented.

Finally, the Hilton Aspire Card is the most expensive, but luxurious of the bunch. Its strengths include a robust earning structure and numerous perks for frequent travelers, including Hilton Diamond Elite Status. However, it as a $450 annual fee and an expensive sign-up bonus.

 

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