Now, Amex has refreshed two cards in its lineup: the mid-tier Hilton Honors American Express Surpass® Card and the top-tier Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card. These refreshes include adding new statement credits and bonus-earning categories, removing some perks and raising the annual fees. In all, it’s a mixed bag.
Here’s a breakdown of the changes and what they mean for new and existing cardmembers.
The information for the Hilton Aspire card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Hilton Surpass card changes
Annual fee increase
The new annual fee for the Hilton Surpass is $150 (see rates and fees) — a $55 increase from the previous $95 annual fee. The $150 annual fee is effective immediately for anyone applying as of Thursday; existing cardmembers will see the higher annual fee take effect for renewals on or after Feb. 1, 2024.
Although no one wants to see the annual fee on their credit card increase, you may find the $55 increase is fair based on some new benefits added to the card.
Removal of Priority Pass visits
A negative change to the card is the removal of Priority Pass lounge access. Currently, the Hilton Surpass offers 10 complimentary passes to visit any Priority Pass lounge.
If you signed up for your Priority Pass membership before Jan. 31, 2023, your passes can be used until Jan. 31, 2024. If you’ve enrolled between Feb. 1, 2023, and Jan. 31, 2024, you can use your passes through Oct. 31, 2024.
New spending category
Cardholders will now earn 4 Hilton points per dollar on U.S. online retail purchases. This is a valuable addition as it empowers cardholders to shop online and earn rewards, and can also be used to double dip when using shopping portals.
But while a 4% return on spending may seem high, it’s important to note that Hilton points are only worth 0.6 cents each, per TPG’s valuations, so spending $1,000 will net a $24 return. Compare that to the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express, which offers a 3% return for online shopping at U.S. retailers (on up to the first $6,000, then 1%). The same purchase is worth $30 in cash-back rewards and also receives purchase protection.
Related: The best cards for online shopping
The Surpass card continues to earn 12 points per dollar on eligible Hilton purchases; 6 points per dollar at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations; and 3 points per dollar on other eligible purchases — no changes there.
New Hilton statement credit
A valuable development for the Hilton Surpass is the addition of a statement credit toward eligible Hilton purchases. Each quarter, cardmembers now receive up to $50 in statement credits (up to $200 annually) when using the Hilton Surpass card for Hilton purchases. Eligible purchases include those charged directly with a Hilton portfolio property, including room rates and incidental charges such as room service.
Note that a quarterly statement credit might be hard to maximize if you don’t travel every three months, so not all cardmembers may be able to max out the full $200 every year.
New elite status benefits
As partnerships between issuers and hotel brands continue to strengthen, we often see the inclusion or expansion of elite status benefits. Previously, the Hilton Surpass only offered complimentary Hilton Honors Gold status, worth $1,220, according to TPG’s calculations.
Cardholders now enjoy complimentary National Car Rental Emerald Club Executive status after enrollment in the Emerald Club program. Terms apply. It includes benefits such as increased access to cars for the same price as a midsize vehicle, guaranteed upgrades and no second-driver fees.
If your preferred car rental company isn’t National, you can leverage the Emerald Club Executive status and complete a status match to other car rental companies.
Hilton Aspire card changes
Annual fee increase
The new annual fee for the Hilton Aspire is $550, a $100 increase from the previous $450 annual fee (see rates and fees). Similarly to the Hilton Surpass, the Hilton Aspire’s $550 annual fee is effective immediately for anyone applying as of Thursday; existing cardmembers will see the higher annual fee take effect for renewals on or after Feb. 1, 2024.
Change in airline fee credit
Effective Jan. 1, 2024, this card will lose its $250 airline fee credit, to be replaced with a $50 quarterly airfare statement credit.
Effective immediately, you now receive a $200 statement credit (up to $50 a quarter) on eligible flight purchases made directly with an airline or through amextravel.com. You don’t need to choose one airline, so you could use the $50 quarterly benefit on different airlines across the year.
If you’ve already maxed out your $250 airline fee credit for this year, you can use the new $50 quarterly flight credit immediately in the last quarter of 2023.
Removal of Priority Pass lounge membership
A major loss for the Hilton Aspire is the removal of Priority Pass Select membership, which currently allows unlimited visits and up to two guests.
If you signed up for your Priority Pass membership before Jan. 31, 2023, your membership is valid until Jan. 31, 2024. If you’ve enrolled between Feb. 1, 2023, and Jan. 31, 2024, your membership is valid through Oct. 31, 2024.
The lack of notice of the removal of this perk is disappointing, given that long-term cardmembers only have 3 1/2 months left to use their Priority Pass membership.
New statement credits
The inclusion of additional statement credits helps balance things out in this card’s refresh.
Effective Jan. 1, 2024, the $250 annual Hilton Resorts statement credit will be replaced by up to $400 (up to $200 biannually) in statement credits for eligible purchases at participating Hilton resorts. Although more than the previous credit, it is limited to being used twice yearly and not all at once to help cover a larger Hilton purchase.
This benefit can possibly be combined with the card’s existing $100 credit when booking a two-night minimum stay at participating Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts and Conrad Hotels & Resorts properties.
Also, the Hilton Aspire has added up to $189 in statement credits per year when you sign up for a Clear Plus membership and pay with the Hilton Aspire card. Clear offers expedited security, different from TSA PreCheck, at more than 50 U.S. airports, stadiums and large event venues.
A Clear Plus membership is a great addition to your travel wallet, even if you have a TSA PreCheck membership. TSA PreCheck lines can sometimes have long wait times, so a Clear Plus membership would be useful to more quickly speed through security.
New elite status benefits
Similarly to its sibling, the Hilton Aspire now includes complimentary National Car Rental Emerald Club Executive status after enrollment in the Emerald Club program. Terms apply. While not a groundbreaking addition to the most premium Hilton-branded Amex card, frequent travelers will find some benefit to this new perk.
Additional free night reward
While the card provides an annual free night reward every year upon renewal and another free night reward after spending $60,000 in a calendar year, there’s now an opportunity to earn a third annual free night reward. Cardholders can earn a free night reward after spending $30,000 on the Hilton Aspire card within a calendar year.
For those who spend an average of $2,500 a month, you can expect two free night rewards; those who spend an average of $5,000 a month will receive three free night rewards.
Like some other American Express credit cards, the Hilton Aspire now provides cellphone protection.* Cardmembers will now be reimbursed for the repair or theft of a device for a maximum of $800 per claim when the wireless bill for the specific cellphone line is paid using the Hilton Aspire card. Note that you’re limited to two approved claims within a 12-month period, and each claim carries a $50 deductible.
*Coverage is provided by New Hampshire Insurance Company, an AIG Company.
Refreshes to credit cards can be a mixed bag of good news and bad news.
The $55 increase in the annual fee on the Surpass should be mostly offset by the $50 quarterly Hilton credit, even if you just stay at a Hilton once per year. Adding a bonus category for online retail purchases and National Car Rental elite status is welcome, but removing 10 Priority Pass visits a year is a drawback.
Aspire cardmembers may have a tougher time digesting these changes. With a high annual fee of $550, you will no longer get a Priority Pass lounge membership. The airfare and Hilton resort credits now require you to maximize them either quarterly or biannually, adding to the mental cost of keeping track of your cards’ benefits. But on the plus side, Aspire cardmembers now get cellphone protection, a Clear Plus statement credit and National Car Rental elite status.
Our advice would be to analyze whether you’re willing to put in the work to maximize your Surpass and Aspire card benefits. If you are able to and enjoy doing that, then you’ll probably find these changes to be acceptable. We’ll update our monthly checklist of credit card perks and benefits with these changes to ensure you’re not missing out on any value.
However, if you are considering not renewing your Surpass or Aspire card, make sure to ask for a retention offer first, as it may make sense for you to hold on to your card for another year.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Honors Surpass, click here
For rates and fees of the Hilton Honors Aspire, click here