What is the American Express Hilton HHonors Surpass Card?

By J.R. Duren
HighYa Staff

Are you a fan of Hilton hotels? The AmEx Hilton HHonors card’s huge intro bonus might draw you in, but read our review before you sign the dotted line.

Frequent travelers and fans of Hilton hotels have probably run across ads for the American Express Hilton HHonors Surpass card.

This hotel rewards credit card has (at the time of our research) a 75,000-point bonus for new cardmembers who spend at least $3,000 in the first three months.

At first glance, this seems like a lot of points, but choosing the right credit card is more about what lies behind the glamorous bonuses and less about what you get in the short-term.

We’re going to take some time to work through everything you need to know about this credit card:

  • How much is the intro offer really worth?
  • What are the long-term benefits?
  • What are the fees and penalties can I expect?
  • What do fellow consumers say about this card?

Once we research and discuss these important topics, we’ll give you our overall impressions of the card.

How Much is the Hilton AmEx Offer Really Worth?

So, a few seconds ago we told you the AmEx Hilton HHonors is offering a 75,000-point bonus to new cardmembers, right? Well, first off, you need to know that “new cardmember” means someone who hasn’t owned this card in the past 24 months.

Second, we’ve got to figure out how much those bonus points are actually worth. Hotel rewards programs usually break their hotels down into categories, with Category 1 hotels costing the least amount of points.

If a Category 1 Hilton costs 40,000 rewards points, for example, then the intro offer isn’t that valuable.

Here's a list of the Hilton rewards categories along with the rewards-points cost for each level up to 75k points per night:

  • Category 1: 7,500
  • Category 2: 12,500
  • Category 3: 25,000
  • Category 4: 30,000
  • Category 5: 35,000
  • Category 6: 40,000
  • Category 7: 50,000

The Hilton rewards program also includes seven specific, ultra-luxury hotels (Waldorf Astoria properties can be found here), but the per-night fee for a Category 1 in this tier is 80,000.

It’s also important to note that Hilton Grand Vacation properties can be booked at a rate of 35,000 points per night.

A Quick Breakdown of “Categories”

Hotel categories are usually determined by how luxurious the property is and where it’s located. A Hampton Inn located in Times Square is a Category 8 hotel and costs 70,000 points, whereas a Hampton Inn in Addison, TX, is a Category Two hotel and costs 10,000 points.

How Far Do Your Points Go? Pretty Far, Actually

Judging by the rewards chart, we think you can actually get a lot of use out of your rewards points. You can book 10 individual nights in Category 1 hotels. However, there’s a huge catch here. Hilton offers just two Category 1 hotels in the United States: one in Cleburne, Tx., and one in Columbus, Ga.

We checked out Hilton’s Category 2 hotels and found 66 locations in the United States, most of which were Hampton Inn & Suites properties. So, if you’re looking to cash in your points for a more luxurious stay, you should expect to pay at least 25,000 points for a Category 3 stay and more as you move up the tiers.

In our opinion, the offer of 75,000 points is a good value if you don’t mind staying at a Hampton Inn. These properties offer free Wi-Fi and free breakfast, two great perks if you’re travelling for business or you’re looking for sensible vacation accommodations.

In the big picture, though, introductory bonus points are just one factor among many when choosing a good credit card.

The Long-Term Benefits of This Card

Most consumers get lured into a credit card offer without thinking about how a card can benefit them two or three years down the road.

The AmEx HHonors card’s long-term benefits are, for the most part, focused on the Hilton HHonors program. Here’s a quick list of those benefits…we’ll explain them afterwards:

  • Complimentary Gold status
  • Diamond status if you spend $40,000 in one year
  • 12x points at Hilton properties, 6x points on gas, groceries and restaurants, 3x on everything else
  • Complimentary base-level Priority Pass membership

These long-term benefits are pretty impressive, especially compared to other hotel rewards cards. Take a look at our Best Hotel Rewards Card of 2016 article to get a sense of how it stacks up against the AmEx Starwood Preferred Guest, Chase Hyatt Visa, Chase Marriott Rewards Premier and other cards.

Gold Status

Nearly any hotel loyalty program you join will have tiers of membership; the higher you go, the more perks you receive. Hilton’s Gold status is second only to Diamond status, which you can get if you spend enough in one year.

Gold status usually takes 20 stays or 40 nights to achieve, so getting it free with your AmEx is a great deal. Here are some perks of the Gold program:

  • A free fifth night when you book four rewards nights
  • 25% bonus when you book with points (10,000 points is worth 12,500, for example)
  • Complimentary late check-out (must be requested)
  • Free upgrades, when available, at the following hotels: Hilton, Waldorf Astoria, Curio, Conrad and DoubleTree

Let’s examine each one of these Gold benefits.

Points per Dollar

One of the keys to a good reward credit card is the points you get for every dollar you spend. Most cards will give you a bonus for spending money on their properties and travel or dining purchases. However, none of the cards we’ve researched gives you quite the points bonuses you get with the HHonors card.

The 12x bonus on Hilton purchases is pretty much unheard of, while the 6x bonus on groceries/restaurants/gas is equally top-notch. The 3x bonus on all other purchases is unrivaled by even the best cash back cards.

How many points can those bonuses get you? Based on what we’ve seen from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American family spends about $4,000 on groceries, $3,000 eating out and $2,100 on gas. When you multiply that spending by six, you get 54,600 points.

In addition to the $9,100 mentioned above, we estimate you could spend around $15,000 more on your card for entertainment, travel and other miscellaneous purchases. These purchases earn you triple points, which equals 45,000, and when you add that to your other bonus purchases, you’re looking at around 100,000 points a year.

In our opinion, the points potential of this card is good for the consumer who is looking for free nights at modest hotels like Hampton Inn & Suites.

Priority Pass Membership

Priority Pass is an international network of airport lounges at which travelers can rest, relax, get complimentary snacks and beverages and, in some cases, showers. The network has more than 900 locations around the world.

Your HHonors Surpass card gets you a free Standard membership, which includes discounted entrance ($27 per visit) into the network’s lounges.

IN our opinion, this is a pretty good perk because it is the only card we know of with an annual fee of less than $100 (more on that in a second) that gives you free membership to Priority Pass.

Fees, Penalties and the Fine Print

Every credit card has fees, and it’s important that you know what they are before you sign the proverbial dotted line. Here’s what you can expect from the HHonors Surpass:

  • $75 annual fee
  • 15.49%-19.49% APR
  • 29.49% penalty APR (kicks in for at least 6 months when you make a late payment)
  • Up to $37 late/returned payment fee
  • 2.7% foreign transaction fee

These charges are pretty standard, although not every hotel rewards card will have a penalty APR, which can cost you a lot of money. For example, if you have a $4,000 balance, the yearly interest with a 15.49% APR is $619.60, while yearly interest on the same balance with the 29.49% penalty APR is $1,1179.60.

The penalty APR isn’t permanent, though. American Express says in the fine print of their terms and conditions that they will review your account every six months and decide whether or not you’ve earned a better interest rate.

Other Consumers’ Opinions About This Card

Looking at the reviews of HHonors Surpass customers is a great way to get insight into how they enjoy their cardmember experience. Unfortunately, reviews on this card are pretty thin. We’re not sure why, as the card has been around for at least a couple of years.

The lack of reviews may be due to the fact that American Express’ most popular hotel card is their Starwood Preferred Guest card, and because people are flocking to the travel rewards offered by the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Reserve.

Our Conclusions About the American Express Hilton HHonors Surpass Card

This card is very interesting to us because average consumers can get tons of points from everyday purchases – the 100,000 estimated total far exceeds anything you’d find from other hotel cards.

But that huge point total comes with the reminder that you only get maximum value out of those points if you use them on Category 2, 3 or 4 hotels. Properties on those tiers can get you between three and eight nights. Also, the point totals for Category 2 (12,500) and Category 3 (25,00) are low enough to where you can cash in on the free fifth night you get with your Gold membership.

In terms of fees and penalties, we’d say that this card has the potential to cost you a lot of money if you tend to make late payments.

The penalty APR is nearly 30% and could double your interest payments, depending on which APR you get when you’re accepted. Keep in mind that this card comes with a 2.7% foreign transaction fee, too, which will cost those who travel abroad on a regular basis.

The research we’ve done on this card and other hotel rewards cards leads us to believe that you’re getting a pretty good value here if you’re looking for sensible hotel stays.

If it’s luxury you’re seeking, you may want to research the American Express Starwood Preferred Guest card (SPG points tend to go farther with fancier hotels) or take advantage of the Chase Sapphire Preferred’s points exchange program, which lets you transfer your points 1:1 to the Hyatt Gold Passport program, where some luxury Grand Hyatt properties are just 12,000 points per night.

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