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Credit Cards

Changes to the Hilton Honors Surpass Card: a Mixed Bag

Big news for fans of Hilton Honors and American Express – the Hilton Honors Surpass Card has recently undergone some significant changes. Some of these updates are positive, while others may leave you wondering if it’s still the right card for you. Let’s dive into the details.

Annual Fee Increase; Quarterly Credits Added

First up, the annual fee on the Surpass Card has seen a notable increase, jumping from $95 to $150. While this might seem like a step in the wrong direction, there’s a silver lining. AmEx is offsetting this fee hike with a $50 quarterly Hilton statement credit, which can be a boon for those who frequently do revenue stays at Hilton properties.

Saying Goodbye to Priority Pass

One significant change that might disappoint some cardholders is the removal of Priority Pass as a card benefit. Previously, you could enjoy up to 10 Priority Pass visits per year, with the option to purchase additional visits for $35 each. While many of us have a Priority Pass from other cards, a second Priority Pass could be used to bring additional guests into a lounge, extend your time at Minute Suites, or burn your one free annual visit to the Chase Sapphire Lounge network. It’s worth noting that the card’s big brother, the Aspire Card, has also lost Priority Pass access. This was one of the most economical ways for a points & miles beginner to dip their toes into lounge access for a low cost of entry, so it’s sad to see this removed. Notably, this was the only U.S. card from a major bank to offer a limited Priority Pass subscription.

Exciting Welcome Offer

Now, let’s talk about the good news. The Hilton Honors Surpass Card has launched its best-ever welcome offer. Earn a whopping 170,000 Hilton Honors points after spending $3,000 in the first six months. Keep in mind that the once-in-a-lifetime rule applies, and AmEx has been on a roll adding “waterfall” language to other card families, so make sure you time your application strategically.

Earning Potential and Point Valuations

The card has also upped its game when it comes to earning points. You’ll now earn 12x points on Hilton purchases, 6x points on U.S. restaurant, supermarket, and gas station purchases, and 4x points on U.S. online retail purchases. However, it’s worth noting that the value of Hilton points is relatively low (I value them around 0.5 cpp), which makes the 4x earning on online retail purchases less appealing when compared to other cards like the Chase Freedom Unlimited – even without a bonus category. Personal valuations vary, but it’s something to consider.

National Car Rental Emerald Club Executive Status

The Surpass Card has also thrown in National Car Rental Emerald Club Executive status as a new benefit. While it’s a nice addition, it’s worth mentioning that several other credit cards also offer this perk, especially if you’re already carrying something like the AmEx Platinum.

Aesthetic Upgrade

One thing that’s not just about numbers and benefits is the new card design. Let’s be fair; the new look is a welcome change and a visual upgrade from the previous design. The odd blue/purple design never did much for me, but the new design is vaguely reminiscent of the Marriott Bonvoy cards (in a good way).

Elite Status and Spending Thresholds

For those looking for elite status benefits, the Surpass Card offers Gold status for being a cardmember and an upgrade to Diamond status if you spend $40,000 on the card in a calendar year. Keep in mind that Diamonds aren’t promised suite upgrades or guaranteed late check-out. Additionally, spending $15,000 on the card in a year will earn you a free night certificate, which is a nice bonus.

My Change in Perception

Now, I have a nostalgic connection to this card as it was my very first travel rewards credit card and my gateway into the points and miles game. I still keep the card to this day, primarily to anchor my Average Age of Accounts, but its value to me has shifted over time, and it’s been largely relegated to my sock drawer.

I used to champion the Surpass as one of the best starter cards for beginners – admittedly this was a rather contrarian opinion, but one I stood by at the time. It offered mid-tier elite benefits at Hilton properties (including breakfast at every single property which is no longer a benefit domestically), a substantial number of Hilton points, and a respectable return on everyday spending. Unfortunately, the landscape has changed, with Hilton cutting back on elite benefits and domestic service quality taking a hit. And while the earn rates remain the same, we’ve seen fewer good stackable promotions from Hilton, and the points have been devalued to the point where I wouldn’t actively chase after them anymore.

Who Should Consider the Surpass Card?

Despite the changes, the Hilton Honors Surpass Card still has a place for certain groups of people. If you already have Priority Pass through another card and will genuinely use the quarterly $50 Hilton credits, it’s worth considering. Also, if you can take advantage of the fantastic new signup bonus, it might be the right card for you.

The Hilton Honors Surpass Card has evolved. Whether it’s a better fit for your wallet depends on your travel habits, elite status preferences, and how you plan to maximize the new benefits. The landscape of travel rewards cards is continually changing, so doing your research and staying informed is key to making the best choices for your wallet.

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