Surpassing Expectations

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The Hilton HHonors Surpass Card from American Express might just be worth a second look.

 

I had all but given up on Hilton.  I signed up for the Amex SPG card (Starwood) over the summer and since then have been quite impressed at how valuable SPG points can be.  In addition to the SPG card’s great ability to transfer to airline miles, I found that some of my favorite Starwood hotels (Westin, W, etc.) were available for award nights for only 10K or 12K per night!  Not only that, but SPG often has “points and cash” options where you can get those same hotels for far fewer points and a modest cash copay.  When I compared that to my Hilton experience (usually 30K to 50K per night for awards I was interested in), I was blown away.  Even better, with SPG points you have the option to transfer your points to airline miles and get a 25% bonus in miles for every 20K point transfer!  And, as if that wasn’t enough, SPG also has a “Nights and Flights” option in which you can use your points for hotel awards and mile transfers at the same time.

Recently Hilton changed their program a bit to allow points and cash options (great!) and to make upgraded rooms such as suites available for award redemptions as well.  Unfortunately, these changes were also accompanied by a new award chart and redemption rules which mean that even more points are now needed for many hotel redemptions.  See, for example, this post.

All of the above led me to believe that the idea of using a credit card for earning Hilton points was ridiculous.  Why would I want to earn Hilton points from my credit card spend when I could earn much more valuable SPG points?  [I can’t help but also mention the option of earning valuable Ultimate Rewards points with Chase cards, but let’s not get too much off topic…]

In the course of building the Fair Trading Prices table for points and miles, I learned about the Hilton HHonors Surpass card from American Express.  I knew about the card before, of course, but I had never given it a hard look.  Why pick a Hilton card with a $75 annual fee when there are other Hilton cards available for free?  And, why go with Hilton when SPG is so valuable?  Well, it turns out that there are very good reasons:

  • According to my calculations, the card earns, on average, 4.5 Hilton HHonors points per dollar spent!  So even if you think that SPG points are 3 or 4 times more valuable than HHonors points, this card beats out the SPG card which averages only 1.025 points per dollar spent (but don’t forget that, unlike SPG, you won’t have any decent options for transferring to airline miles).

    The Hilton card earns 9 points per dollar at Hilton properties, 6 points per dollar in bonus categories (supermarkets, drug stores and stand- alone gas stations; and for service payments for home and wireless phone, cable, satellite TV and Internet service providers), and 3 points per dollar everywhere else.

    Note these assumptions I made: 2.5% of spend is with a particular hotel chain (e.g. Hilton or SPG), 15% is for gas, 25% is for groceries, and 5% is spent in other bonus categories such as drug stores, phone, etc.

  • The Hilton Surpass card fasts tracks you to Hilton elite status:  In the first year, you will automatically get Gold status.  After that you need to reach $20K in spend per year to maintain Gold status or if you spend $40K you will get Diamond status.  With just Gold status, I have many times been upgraded to suites, received free breakfast, and received free internet, so this benefit can be quite valuable!
  • There are several other valuable benefits as well.  If you’re interested, go to the Amex web site to read more.

Lately I’ve been concentrating my spend on earning Ultimate Rewards points using my Chase Sapphire Preferred and my Chase Ink Bold cards.  I also continue to put a lot of spend on my Delta Reserve in order to help bump up my elite status with Delta.  So, there isn’t really much room for a hotel card in my wallet, but this Hilton Surpass discovery has me really rethinking things!  Hilton hotels are everywhere and, in general, I really like them.  I probably spend more time in Hilton properties than in the air with Delta.  Should I switch my allegiance from the air to the ground?  Readers, what do you think?

NOTE: I do not receive a referral commission for this card.

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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  1. I’ve used this HH Card for years to get Gold status, which is nice, but Hilton keeps devaluing this status by giving it away on promos and 1st year free. I’m actually looking at the SPG Card. Just goes to show how different people are. Happy New Year!

  2. I currently have the regular HHonors AMEX. The only differences are
    1) you get 6 HHonors points instead of 9 at Hilton properties
    2) no annual fee
    3) you get Gold after 20k spend, but you can’t get Diamond after $40k spend (I don’t think).

    As Bill said, Hilton throws Gold status at anyone (I just got it on Saturday for signing up for a promotion -I’ve had it for 90% of the last four years, and I “earned” it once – 4 years ago).

    So, my question is. Is an extra 3 points/$ spent at Hilton properties worth the $75 annual fee? When you run your math, you may find that you get more average HHonors pts/$ with the regular HHonors AMEX given your spending assumptions, especially since the regular AMEX also gets 6 pts at grocery stores, drugstores, gas stations, home and wireless phone, cable and satellite TV, and Internet service providers.

    For me, Surpass is not worth the annual fee. I’ll sign up for it when 1) I’m going on vacation and need an extra ~40k HHonors points for a reward redemption (upgrade bonus), and 2) I don’t have Gold Status, but I’d like to have the Gold Status for my vacation.

  3. You mentioned:
    “6 points per dollar in bonus categories…stand-alone gas stations”

    What does the stand alone mean? Is this benefit for ANY gas station, from the family independently owned to the BP, Citgo, Shell, etc??

  4. ORD-TGU, I don’t think you’ll get 6 pts/dollar at say – Costco Gas Stations, which will be classified as a wholesale merchandise purchase by AMEX.

  5. I’m surprised no mention of airport lounge access with the Surpass was mentioned while I don’t carry the card that appears to be a nice perk.

  6. A little trick, is to shuffle between Surpass and Regular card every other year. You can upgrade early in the year (2012), get Gold, spend $40k and get Diamond status, and then that is a status through March of 2014. As per T&C you will get the status for the remainder of the year + 1 year, and 3 months. So then you can downgrade to regular card, save money on the fee, you can use that card only for 6pt categories as you don’t need to hit the spend requirements any more. Repeat this again, upgrade in early 2014 and get Gold again, spend $40k and have Diamond through March of 2016, downgrade to regular card. Good way to keep Diamond status if you cannot do it all on stays. Also it frees up your other year for other credit card spending. I am assuming that you can spend $40k quickly enough in 1st Quater, I do understand that this may not be a viable option for all.

    Cheers,

    PedroNY

  7. @TrvlGuru- I agree the HH cards at 6x HH (I value at 0.5c so 3% rebate) are strong in the drugstore category, but I prefer to buy gift cards at supermarkets earning 2x MR pts (I value at 2c) for 4% rebate than 6x HH or 3%

  8. @PedroNY,

    just get the surpass AmEx card every other year and keep the regular AmEx permanently…

    Unfortunately, I was offered Gold only once since beginning of this century…am I bad luck? 🙁

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