How to Maximize the Perks of the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card

These strategies can help you take advantage of the sizable welcome bonus, free night certificate and more.

Elina GellerJune 22, 2020

Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This may influence which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own.

The Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card is Hilton’s mid-tier credit card — it offers more perks than the $0-fee Hilton Honors American Express Card but fewer than the pricey Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card. Terms apply.

Nonetheless, the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card offers a slew of useful benefits for Hilton loyalists, along with a sizable welcome bonus that could be redeemed for several free hotel nights. Terms apply. In this post, we’ll look at the most important rewards offered by this card and provide strategies to maximize them.

Summary of perks

For an annual fee of $95, the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card currently has the following welcome bonus and perks:

  • Earn 125,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points with the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card after you use your new Card to make $2,000 in eligible purchases within the first 3 months of Card Membership. Terms Apply.

    • U.S. supermarket purchases: From May 1, 2020, through July 31, 2020, 12 points per $1. Thereafter, you earn 6 points per $1.

    • Hilton hotels: 12 points per $1.

    • U.S. restaurants and gas stations: 6 points per $1.

    • Everything else: 3 points per $1.

  • Earned after spending $15,000 on card purchases in a calendar year.

  • 10 complimentary visits to participating lounges every year.

  • Bonus points toward Diamond status, a ShopRunner membership, no foreign transaction fees and travel insurance protections.

Terms apply.

These benefits provide a solid start to anyone who wants to experience Hilton properties along with elite status. In addition, due to the travel restrictions resulting from the pandemic, Hilton has expanded the benefits on the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card to make it easier for customers to remain loyal to Hilton.

Four enhanced benefits due to COVID-19

  1. An extra 6 points per $1 at U.S. supermarkets from May 1, 2020, through July 31, 2020 (for a total of 12 points per $1).

  2. Free weekend night certificates are now “free night certificates” because they can be used on any night (previously they were only valid on weekends).

  3. Free night certificates are valid until either Aug. 31, 2021, or 24 months after they are awarded (depending on when they were issued).

  4. From May 1, 2020, through Dec. 31, 2020, bonus points earned on purchases are considered Base Points, which count toward elite qualifying spend in 2020 and lifetime Diamond status.

Terms apply.

Analysis: COVID-19 benefit changes

Understandably, Hilton is reorienting its bonus categories to reward consumers for grocery store purchases given that the last few months have resulted in people staying home and cooking instead of going out to restaurants.

The extended expiration date and flexibility on the free night certificates offer a lot more options for redemptions. Hilton is also making it much easier to earn status with bonus points counting toward elite status, especially given the decrease in travel. Overall, these changes are very positive for Hilton loyalists.

Maximizing your sizable welcome bonus

Although Hilton no longer publishes an award chart, you could use the Points Explorer tool to find out how many points are required at various properties. Award nights at Hilton properties range from 5,000 points per night at some economically priced hotels to 120,000 points for the fanciest locations (e.g., Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi).

The welcome offer is enough to get you a two-night stay at the Hilton Garden Inn Los Angeles Marina Del Rey in August 2020.

Comparatively, this stay costs $714, but with points you’re getting a value of 0.6 cent each. By using points, your redemption exceeds the valuation by $114 (NerdWallet values Hilton points at 0.5 cent per point, or $600 total in this 120,000-point example).

If you want to go bigger and fancier for one-night stays you can consider locations such as:

  • The Grand Wailea on Maui: At 95,000 points per night, it’s an expensive rate, but you can get a room that easily goes for over $650 per night with your welcome bonus points (that’s 0.7 cent per point).

  • Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills: Book a standard room that can often run $850 for 95,000 points (a nice 0.9 cent/point value).

  • Conrad Maldives Rangali Island: 95,000 points will get you into the $1,000 (or more) per night ‘standard’ Water Villa at this resort, giving you a value in excess of 1 cent per point.

Bonus categories: Know your earn rates (as high as 12x)

The Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card awards 12x points on Hilton stays and U.S. grocery store purchases (through July 31, 2020). If you’re spending money at grocery stores, using this card could help generate a lot of Hilton points very quickly. This is a solid grocery store earn rate, so if you don’t have another card that exceeds the rate, consider using the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card when grocery shopping to maximize the card’s perks. Terms apply.

When travel resumes, using the card to pay for Hilton stays is a solid option. Premium travel cards like The Business Platinum Card® from American Express and The Platinum Card® from American Express return 5x points per $1 on hotels booked through AmExTravel.com, while the Chase Sapphire Reserve® earns 3x per $1 on all travel. Terms apply.

If you’re not too concerned with earning transferable points (and you’re a Hilton loyalist), 12 points per $1 is a very good earn rate for a mid-tier credit card (only the high-end Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card earns more Hilton points at 14x). Just remember, Hilton points aren’t easily transferable to partners, so make sure you keep your earning preferences in mind when deciding which credit card to use on a Hilton hotel stay. Terms apply.

Automatic Gold Status

Because you receive automatic Gold status when you get the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card, you will earn 80% in bonus points on hotel stays and get free continental breakfast. So for every $1 you spend, you will earn 10 base points and 8 bonus points, for a total of 18 points per $1. This is a great earn rate — and remember this is in addition to the 12 points per $1 you get by charging your stays to your Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card. For example, if you used your card to pay for a $400 stay, you would earn 12,000 Hilton points. Terms apply.

One of the best perks of Gold status is the fifth-night-free perk, which allows you to get a fifth night free when extending a four-night award stay.

For example, a five-night stay at the Hilton Sofia in September 2020 would only cost you 120,000 points instead of 150,000 points because of your Gold status.

The cash rate for this property is about $929. By using your 120,000 points on this redemption, you’re getting a value of 0.8 cent per point, $329 over NerdWallet’s $600 valuation (0.5 cent per point). If you were trying to maximize your points, this is a redemption you’d want to consider.

Combining your Gold status, the welcome offer and Hilton’s fifth-night-free benefit, this example illustrates how you’re able to derive almost $1,000 in value out of the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card.

Diamond status

You could also spend your way to Diamond status if you charge $40,000 of purchases on the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card within a calendar year. However, there is an easier way to achieve Diamond.

The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card grants you automatic Diamond status. Although that card has a $450 annual fee, if used strategically, the cash-back credits can essentially reduce the fee to zero. Terms apply.

Free night certificate after spending $15,000

If you manage to spend $15,000 on the card in a calendar year, you’ll end up with a free night certificate, which can now be used on any night of the week. The required spend isn’t astronomical (average $1,250/month), but it's something you’d want to keep in mind if you’re trying to earn the free night certificate. Terms apply.

Hilton has more than 6,100 properties, and only a few dozen do not accept free night certificates. The excluded properties amount to less than 1% of all Hilton hotels, so you'll definitely have a lot of options to choose from.

Given Hilton’s COVID-19-related changes, the certificate expiration date has been extended and is now based on the following timeline:

Certificate

Unexpired as of March 11, 2020

Earned from March 11, 2020 through April 30, 2020

Earned May 1, 2020, through Dec. 31, 2020

Valid until

Aug. 31, 2021

Aug. 31, 2021

24 months from issue date

Terms apply.

Prior to these changes, free night certificates expired one year from the day they were issued and were only valid on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. The extended expiration dates and added flexibility has greatly increased the value of these certificates.

But it's important to note that not all free nights are created equal. Consider combining your free night certificate with the fifth-night-free benefit to maximize the value of your certificate. You can get details around maximizing this strategy in our guide to earning and redeeming Hilton free night certificates.

10 Priority Pass lounge visits

When you get the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card, you will receive 10 complimentary Priority Pass lounge visits, which must be used within the Priority Pass membership year. Each guest that you bring in with you will cost $32. If you were to pay for this membership in cash, Priority Pass prices the annual 10-visit subscription at $299 ($29.90 per visit). Given how expensive airport food can be, sitting back in a lounge and having some snacks, drinks and a quiet place to relax (if the lounge isn’t too crowded) is a nice bonus for frequent travelers. Terms apply.

Once you’ve exhausted the 10 visits, you will have to pay $32 per visit, which is the same as the guest fee. Terms apply.

The best of the rest

Although not as meaningful as the previously mentioned benefits, the following four perks deserve a mention as well.

Bonus points count toward Diamond status

Hilton is making it easier for loyalists to achieve Diamond status. From May 1, 2020, through Dec. 31, 2020, any bonus points earned on purchases are considered Base Points, which count toward elite qualifying spend in 2020 and lifetime Diamond status.

To earn Lifetime Diamond status, you would need to have Diamond status for at least 10 years (non-consecutive) and:

  1. Complete 1,000 paid or award nights, or

  2. Earn 2,000,000 Base Points.

Terms apply.

If you’re a road warrior loyal to Hilton and are after Lifetime Diamond, you could expedite your Base Points earnings by being strategic:

  • Use the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card for all grocery purchases (12x through July 31, 2020).

  • When travel resumes, use the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card to pay for Hilton stays (12x through Dec. 31, 2020).

Terms apply.

Complimentary ShopRunner membership

ShopRunner is a membership site that provides complimentary two-day shipping on items at over 100 online merchants. As a holder of the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card, you get a complimentary membership. This is an awesome perk if you shop online frequently. While some merchants offer free shipping once you meet a specific dollar amount, with ShopRunner, there is no minimum order amount — so you can always get free shipping. Terms apply.

No foreign transaction fees

If you use the card outside the U.S., you will not have to pay any foreign transaction fees. This can be a big savings given that these fees can be as high as 3% in addition to the conversion rate. If you plan on traveling abroad, you’ll really benefit from this feature. Terms apply.

Insurance protections

The Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card comes with a couple of insurance benefits:

Car Rental Loss and Damage Insurance

As a cardholder (and primary renter), you receive coverage if your rental car is stolen or damaged. Terms apply.

Baggage Insurance Plan

If your luggage is lost, you may receive compensation from AmEx in addition to what you may receive from your airline carrier. Terms apply.

The bottom line

The Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card is a mid-tier Hilton product that offers a solid welcome offer and a bunch of useful benefits, including automatic Gold status, a free night certificate after spending $15,000 and a good earn rate on bonus categories. If you want more perks than the $0-fee Hilton Honors American Express Card but aren’t ready for the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card, the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card may be your best bet. Terms apply.

All information about The Platinum Card® from American Express has been collected independently by NerdWallet. This card is no longer available through NerdWallet.

How to Maximize Your Rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2020, including those best for:

We want to hear from you and encourage a lively discussion among our users. Please help us keep our site clean and safe by following our posting guidelines, and avoid disclosing personal or sensitive information such as bank account or phone numbers. Any comments posted under NerdWallet’s official account are not reviewed or endorsed by representatives of financial institutions affiliated with the reviewed products, unless explicitly stated otherwise.