American Express Hilton Surpass – is it worth the fees?

The Hilton chain of hotels is one of the largest in the world, with over 4,200 hotels in 93 countries. And their rewards program makes it easy to earn points via credit cards – with four cards from two issuers. The American Express Hilton Surpass card is AmEx’s best offer – read on whether it’s the best of the bunch for you!

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The HiltonHHonors Surpass card from American Express stands out with offering Hilton Gold status and offering the best earning rates of the pack – check out the summary below:

  • AmExHiltonSurpassTableSign-up bonus of 60,000 points, worth about US$240, after spending $3,000 in three months – that’s not a great sign-up bonus despite the high minimum spend!
  • Earn Points for Spend
    You earn 12 points per US$ spent at Hilton, 6 points/$ spent at US restaurants, supermarkets and gas stations and 3 points/$ on everything else. At a value of 0.4 cents/point, that’s an earnings rate of 1.2 to 4.8 cents – very good for the Hilton category spend, but just average for the general spend
  • HHonors Gold status; very valuable with upgrades and free breakfast
  • HHonors Diamond status with $40,000 annual spend
  • HHonors points can be redeemed for stays at Hilton hotels or transferred to a long list of partners, including airlines, car rental companies and railroads.
  • HHonors points can be transferred to other members, making it great for couples, families and friends
  • You receive 500 points for any online reservation made directly with Hilton and paid for with the AmEx card
  • Priority Pass Lounge membership
  • Basic travel and shopping protection
  • $75 annual fee, foreign exchange fee of 2.7%, no EMV chip

The high earn rate on Hilton hotel spend beats the Citibank reserve card and other Hilton cards on offer. Unfortunately, the sign-up bonus of 60,000 points is mediocre – even the no-fee Citibank Hilton card offers more at 75,000 points with less spend.
The combination of a foreign exchange fee of 2.7%, no EMV chip and the bonus category only applying to US merchants makes this card unattractive to people traveling internationally.
HHonors Gold status is the mid-tier level and very valuable. In addition to the silver benefits (of the regular Citi Hilton card), you get a 25% bonus on earning points, upgrades and free breakfast (or lounge access) – that’s a benefit not even higher elite levels at IHG Rewards, Accor LeClub or Club Carlson will get you! I would not put $40,000 spend on this card to get Diamond benefits – the difference to Gold wouldn’t be worth it to me!
The Priority Pass Lounge membership is of limited value – you still have to pay a $27 fee per person each time you go – that pales to the free access with two guests that comes with the Citibank Prestige card (reviewed here)!
The other benefit of holding this card is access to American Express customer service. Of all the cards I have held, American Express has consistently delivered the best customer service. AmEx has some of the best fraud protection I have encountered, without the annoying card blocks other companies use (looking at you, CapitalOne!). They have also been great to work through disputes with merchants over charges, much better in my experience than other providers. A downside is worldwide acceptance of the card – Visa and MasterCard are more widely accepted, so this should not be your only credit card.

If you already have the regular AmEx Hilton card, it’s easy to upgrade – no change of account and 50,000 points in exchange for the $75 fee – that would be worth it and I have personally considered it for the Gold benefits. If you want the AmEx service levels and travel mostly in the US, this card is a good deal. Otherwise, it’s hard to recommend the card over it’s competitors. If you want access to AmEx service, you can get the regular card. If you want Gold status, I’d recommend the Citibank Reserve card because of the better sign-up and anniversary bonus as well as the lack of foreign exchange fees.  Let’s hope AmEx ups their game soon to make this card more competitive!

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