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Is the Hilton AmEx Surpass Card Worth Its Annual Fee?

Nov. 26, 2019
Travel, Travel Credit Cards
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The Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card made a splash last year with a set of perks designed to get the attention of anyone looking for a new rewards credit card. The Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card offers an impressive welcome bonus: 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.

But the card also carries a $95 annual fee. Like all out-of-pocket credit card costs, this raises the question: Is it worth it? That is, are the perks you get with this card enough to offset the fee?

A little math shows that for people who value a little bit of travel, the answer is a clear “yes.”

Using your bonus points for stays

Let’s start off by talking about what you could get with those points from the welcome bonus. You could stay four nights for free at many lower-cost Hilton properties, or a couple nights at some pretty stunning resorts. For example, at the Hampton Inn and Suites Los Angeles/Anaheim/Garden Grove, which is near Disneyland, rooms are available starting at 30,000 Honors points per night. You could stay for four nights with just your welcome bonus.

Compare that to the cash rate for that Hampton Inn, where rooms are often around $147 per night, and you’re getting about $588 worth of Hilton stays — well above the $95 annual fee.

» Learn more: Your guide to booking award nights with Hilton Honors

Thinking of something swankier and more exotic? At the stunning Waldorf Astoria Bangkok, you can find rooms for 76,000 Hilton points a night. In the sunny southern Caribbean, rooms at the Hilton Aruba Caribbean Resort and Casino often start around 80,000 points per night.

The points leftover in your Hilton account have immediate value, too. With Hilton’s “Points & Money” payment option, you can redeem all your points at once and pay cash for the difference. Or you can save them up until you have enough points to cover a stay entirely with points.

» Learn more: Hilton Honors: The complete guide

Other card perks

The welcome bonus isn’t the only attribute making the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card worth its $95 annual fee. An array of other perks tip the balance sheet even more in favor of this card.

For example, the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card comes with no foreign transaction fees. Terms apply. For anyone who plans to make credit card charges outside the country, that’s money in the bank, saving you around 3% over the fees some other cards charge. (Keep in mind that American Express cards are not accepted as widely abroad as Visa and Mastercard, so you’ll want to make sure you travel with a backup.)

This card also comes with airport lounge access that could prove extremely valuable to certain cardholders. Every year, you’ll get up to 10 complimentary admissions to lounges in the Priority Pass Select network. With more than 1,200 lounges worldwide, you’re likely to travel through an airport that has one if you’re a regular flyer. For travelers who don’t value lounge access and for those who will use airport terminals where lounges aren’t available, this perk doesn’t go far. But for anyone who can use the passes, this benefit alone could make the annual fee worthwhile. Terms apply.

For travelers who plan to stay at Hilton portfolio hotels in the future, the accelerated points earning that come with this card makes it well worth it. For every $1 you charge on the card at a Hilton property, you’ll earn 12 Hilton Honors points. That’s on top of the points you earn just for being a member — and with the card, you’re also upgraded to Gold status (which will accelerate your points earning at Hilton hotels even further). NerdWallet values Hilton Honors points at about 0.5 cent each, so at 12 points per $1 you’re getting back about 6 cents for every dollar you spend using the card at Hilton hotels. Terms apply.

The Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card comes with automatic Gold status in the Hilton Honors program, and if you spend $40,000 a year, you’ll get upgraded to Diamond status. But at $15,000 in qualifying purchases on the card in a year you’ll get a great reward: a free weekend night at a wide range of properties. Terms apply. Depending on what you’re spending money on, there might be cards out there that could offer more of a return, but a free weekend night, especially when used at a high-end property, could be worth quite a bit.

» Learn more: Hilton credit cards: Which one should you get

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:

Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice:
Find the best hotel credit card for you
Snag these hotel loyalty perks, even if you’re disloyal
Hilton Honors AmEx Ascend to change name back to Surpass

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