Review: Hilton HHonors Surpass Card from American Express

Hilton is an interesting hotel chain for travel hackers because of the array of cards they have available: 2 from Amex and 2 from Citi, and because Hilton hands out points (and free nights) like candy. Unfortunately, there is a downside to this oversupply: Hilton HHonors points are amongst the most devalued loyalty programs out there; category 1 rooms can cost 5,000 points for a standard room (which, when available, is a bargain), but top category 10 rooms can cost 75,000 to 90,000 points, and based upon some arcane, unknowable formula, the cost can shoot up to 210,000 per night or more. Read to the end of the post so I can tell you the story about how I got the (elevated) 75,000 bonus on the Hilton HHonors Surpass Card from American Express not once, but twice.

Hilton HHonors Surpass Card from American Express 

Hilton HHonors Surpass Card from American Express. Image Credit: courtesy of Hilton and American Express.

Benefits:

  • 75,000 point bonus after spend of $3,000 in 3 months
  • Up to 100,000 point bonus (previous offers) after spend of $3,000 in 3 months (125,000 bonus was offered one time, for a few hours)
  • Earn 12x Hilton HHonors points (per dollar spent) at all Hilton properties
  • Earn 6x points at all U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets, and U.S gas stations
  • Earn 3x points for all other purchases
  • Access to Amex Offers, a promotional benefit linked with companies and brands that saves you money or earns you additional Hilton HHonors points
  • Complimentary Hilton HHonors Gold status
  • Spend $40,000 on this card in a calendar year and get HHonors Diamond status through the end of the next calendar year
  • Priority Pass Select benefits for access to airport lounges (value of $99/year,  but $27 is charged per use of lounges for members and guests)
  • American Express card benefits (including free enrollment to ShopRunner)
  • Referral bonus of 15,000 Hilton HHonors points, up to 80,000 points per calendar year

Damage:

  • $75 annual fee, not waived in the first year
  • 15.74% to 19.74% APR variable, based upon your creditworthiness
  • 2.7% foreign transaction fee
  • American Express typically limits cardholders to one initial spending bonus per card per lifetime

Analysis:

If you’re a frequent Hilton business traveler, this card can be a monster for you (especially if you can pay for your travel expenses and get reimbursed). Hilton Honors Gold status (normally achieved by 20 stays, 40 nights or 75,000 HHonors base points earned in a calendar year) comes with, amongst other things, complimentary breakfast for you and a guest at most Hiltons — this benefit alone saved T and I $210 ($35 x 2 x 3 days) when staying at the Osaka Hilton. You also get room upgrades (when space is available),  25% point bonus on base points earned during stays, your 5th night free on award stays, complimentary fitness center and health club access, 2 bottles of water (generally, per day), and additional on-property perks or bonus points.

Hilton Award Chart, Standard Rooms. Image Credit: courtesy of Hilton.

If you’re not a frequent Hilton business traveler and just want to aim for an aspirational property, then consider the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card; you won’t earn quite as much on this card on spend, but the bonus is 2 free weekend standard room nights at (almost) any Hilton property and there’s no foreign transaction fee. There’s also the no annual fee Hilton HHonors Card from American Express (initial bonus up to 75,000, currently 50,000; 7x points at Hilton; 5x U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets, and U.S gas stations; 3x all other purchases).

So here’s the story:

Once Upon a Time (a few years ago), Ryan got the Surpass card with a 75,000 initial spending bonus but then downgraded to the no-annual fee card to avoid the $75 charge the following year. Now, boys and girls, American Express generally limits cardholders to one initial spending bonus per card per lifetime. But sometimes there are exceptions. In the past year, the Amex fairy godmother waved her magic wand and offered Ryan a free-night certificate for spending $1,000 in a month. Done! Another wave, and he was offered 75,000 points for re-upgrading to a Surpass Card, spending $3,000 in 3 months, and paying the $75 annual fee (prorated to $25). Also done! So, Ryan has collected upwards of 150,000 points plus a free night for just $100 in annual fees and making minimum spend! The moral of the story: if you want to be a Princess, pumpkin, first thing is you have to go to the Ball. 

 

Questions, Comments or Criticisms?