Advertiser Disclosure

hilton aspire surpass cards

Big Changes to the Hilton Aspire & Surpass Cards: Higher Fees, New Perks

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. The content on this page is accurate as of the posting date; however, some of the offers mentioned may have expired. For more information check out our Advertising Disclosure.
Terms apply to American Express benefits and offers. Enrollment may be required for select American Express benefits and offers. Visit americanexpress.com to learn more.

For years, we've called the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card the single-best hotel credit card. With a metric ton of benefits and money-saving credits that can rapidly outweigh its annual fee, we've also said it's simply too good to last. In this case, we really hate to say “We told you so.”

Overnight, American Express and Hilton pushed through some drastic changes to the hotel chain's flagship card, according to the card's terms and conditions. Some are classic moves for Amex, like a $100 increase to the card's annual fee and making several benefits much harder to use each year. Yet it's not all bad news.

Some perks are arguably getting better: There's an avenue for cardholders earn even more Hilton free night certificates, and the automatic Hilton Diamond status just for having the card in your wallet doesn't seem to be going anywhere. Oh, and new applicants can get an even bigger welcome bonus now.

These changes are already live, though current cardholders won't be able to use several new perks until the start of the New Year. Hilton and Amex have also retooled the *Hilton Surpass* following a similar script: a higher annual fee with new benefits.

So here's a closer look at what Amex and Hilton have done with their two top cards – and what it means for you, whether you've got one in your wallet or have been considering it.

All information about the Hilton Honors Aspire Card has been collected independently by Thrifty Traveler and has not been reviewed by the issuer.


Hilton Aspire Changes: A Mixed Bag

Big changes to credit cards are rarely a good thing. In the case of the Hilton Aspire Card, it feels like it could have been much, much worse.

The annual fee is higher, but not too much. Some benefits are disappearing, but Amex is adding others to offset them – or sweetening some existing perks. Plus, some of the best features of the card aren't going anywhere:

  • You'll get top Hilton Diamond Status just for holding the card, unlocking perks like free breakfast abroad (or a daily on-property credit at U.S. locations), occasional complimentary upgrades, club access,
  • While other hotel chains make you wait a year to get a free night certificate, the Aspire card gets you a Hilton free night certificate right off the bat – and you can use it at any property, from a Hilton Garden Inn in Des Moines, Iowa to the Conrad Bora Bora Nui
  • You'll still earn 14x Hilton Honors points on purchases with the hotel chain, which is impressive

Add it up with some other new and changing perks, and there's still a fairly easy path to coming out far ahead with this top-tier Hilton card. Oh, and the card itself has gotten a makeover.


hilton aspire card


Apply Here for the Hilton Honors Aspire Card (for full disclosure, this is our personal referral link)


A Higher Annual Fee

At $450 a year, the Hilton Aspire card's annual fee was already too steep for many. But the reality was that it was a steal: Open the card, pay that fee, and you get a set of benefits, perks, and credits that can easily outweigh that fee, each and every year.

Rumors of a fee increase have swirled for years, and now it's official. The annual fee is now $550 a year – a $100 increase. 

Honestly, it could be worse. Some of the Aspire Card's core, easy-to-use credits tally up to more than $600 a year in savings. The current annual free night certificate starting in year 1 and automatic Diamond status could easily bump that up to $1,000 a year or beyond.

Compared to *amex platinum* and its $695 annual fee (see rates & fees), $550 a year still feels like a bargain in comparison for Hilton's top card – especially considering using up the Aspire Card's best benefits is generally much easier.

This higher annual fee is effective immediately for new applicants. Current cardholders will pay the higher fee for any renewals on or after Feb. 1, 2024.


More Resort Credits

Each year you hold the Hilton Honors Aspire card, you'd get a $250 Hilton resort statement credit to use at select Hilton properties around the world. It works at hundreds of participating Hilton properties around the globe – and not just spots with the word “resort” in them.

That sum is getting even bigger.

Starting Jan. 1, 2024, Aspire cardholders now will get up to $400 in resort credits split up into two yearly installments: $200 from January through June, then another $200 from July through December.


amex offers hotels


Just charge your dinner, activities, or trip to the spa to your room, pay with your Aspire card at checkout, and voila – the credit kicks in. Even some room rates will qualify for this resort credit so long as you don't prepay.

This credit alone eats up nearly three-quarters of the card's annual fee, and it's incredibly easy to use. One change to note: Starting next year, this resort credit will be doled out based on the calendar year – not based on your cardmember year, as was the case previously.


Airline Credits Get a Big Makeover

Top Amex credit cards are practically notorious for Amex airline fee credits, which have gotten harder and harder to use. That's changing with the Hilton Aspire Card.

The card's longtime $250 airline fee credit – to use on costs like seat selection, baggage, and award ticket taxes – is out the door. In its place, Amex is adding an entirely new setup for airline credits.

Starting Jan. 1, 2024, Hilton Aspire cardholders will get up to $200 in what they call “flight credits,” meaning they can easily be used for airfare outright. Just use your Hilton Aspire Card to pay for a ticket and the credit should kick in.

But it's now a quarterly benefit, with $50 available every three months. These are use-it-or-lose-it benefits, so every quarter you forget to use it would mean you'd lose $50.


delta jetblue planes


There's a term for this in the world of accounting and finance: breakage. From the perspective of the banks, breakage basically means: “How can we make it harder to use these perks … so that fewer people actually use them?”

And American Express is the undisputed king of breakage. That's why the bank doles out its “up to $200 in Uber credits each year” to Amex Platinum cardholders in smaller monthly installments, knowing that many cardholders will forget or let a few months go to waste. It's how Amex can tout $1,500-plus in annual perks when most travelers won't bother keeping track of the virtual coupon book of nearly a dozen different credits to actually make that a reality.


Earn More Free Night Certificates

Hilton's free night certificates are arguably better than any other hotel chain. In easily the best-proposed change on this list, Amex and Hilton are making it easier to earn another one – at least if you can responsibly spend another $30,000 on your Aspire Card.

You'll still get a free night certificate right off the bat on the Hilton Honors Aspire Card from American Express  – typically within eight to 12 weeks of opening the card – and again every year you re-up your card. But now you can also earn a second free night certificate after spending $30,000 in a calendar year, plus a third after spending $60,000 annually.

That's up to three free Hilton nights each year potentially on the table, even before you factor in any points you'd earn on the card. And these are some of the most valuable free hotel nights you can get.

Other big hotel chains cap these annual certificates, which means you generally can't use them at the most expensive, top-tier properties. Not Hilton: Nothing is off-limits. If you can find standard award availability, you can book it with a Hilton free night certificate. You can now book these free nights any day of the week, too – not just weekends.

For example, there is still plenty of standard award availability at the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island bookable for 120,000 points per night. Those rooms (and dreamy overwater villas) regularly sell for north of $900 a night. That's just not possible with certificates from other hotel chains.


conrad maldives


Now, let's be honest: Whether it's $30,000 or $60,000, that's a ton of money to spend on a Hilton credit card in a year. If that amount of money sounds absurd to you, you can move on and disregard this change.

But for others, it's a new avenue to earn more of those ultra-valuable Hilton free night certificates.


A Bigger Welcome Bonus

For years, the Aspire Card has had the exact same welcome offer to lure in new customers: 150,000 Hilton Honors points after spending $4,000 within the first three months. That's finally getting a boost … for a price.

New applicants can now earn 175,000 Hilton Honors points after spending $6,000 within the first six months.

Another 25,000 points is nice. And while it'll require spending another $2,000 compared to the previous welcome bonus, you've got three additional months to meet that spending requirement.


hilton aspire card


Apply Here for the Hilton Honors Aspire Card (for full disclosure, this is our personal referral link)


A New Credit for CLEAR

Add Hilton's top card to the roster of cards that will get you complimentary CLEAR® Plus.

CLEAR® Plus bills itself as a must-have for frequent travelers, putting you at the front of the airport security line – or cut to the front of the TSA PreCheck queue, if you have that separate service, too. But it comes at a steep price of $189 a year. The price is certainly steep … and it can be hit or miss, as sometimes it won't be quite as speedy.

But now the Hilton Aspire Card will cover the entire cost with an annual credit of up to $189. Just use your Aspire Card at checkout and it'll kick in.

Once upon a time, offering an annual credit to cover the otherwise high cost of signing up for CLEAR® Plus was a novelty. That's no longer the case: Both the Amex Platinum Card and *Amex Green Card* offer an annual credit of up to $189 for the program.


National Car Status and Cell Phone Protection, Too

They're not huge additions, but they can help further justify the higher annual fee. Amex and Hilton are adding two brand-new, worthwhile perks to the Aspire Card:

  • Cardholders can get complimentary National Car Emerald Club Executive Status – easily our favorite status with a rental car chain
  • So long as you pay your monthly bill with the Aspire Card, you'll also get built-in cell phone protection: American Express will reimburse the cost of repair or replacement for up to two approved claims for a maximum of $800 per claim or $1,600 over a 12-month period. You'll pay a $50 deductible for each claim.


No More Priority Pass Membership

If you were relying on your Aspire Card for lounge access, you'll soon be out of luck.

Effective Feb. 1, 2024, the Hilton Aspire Card will lose its complimentary Priority Pass Select membership, which gets you into 1,300-plus airport lounges worldwide.


turkish airlines lounge priority pass


This is the only benefit being eliminated outright from the card. But really, it isn't a huge loss. Many credit cards offer an identical Priority Pass membership, from the *amex platinum* to the *chase sapphire reserve* to the *venture x* and several more.

Read more: The Best Credit Cards for Airport Lounge Access


Hilton Surpass Gets an Overhaul, Too

Smack-dab in the middle of its portfolio, the *Hilton Surpass* doesn't get the same love or attention. But it's changing, too.

Not everything is changing, though. You'll still get:

  • Automatic Hilton Honors Gold status, which comes with perks like free daily breakfast abroad (or a daily on-property credit at U.S. locations) for two
  • Earn 12x points per dollar spent at Hilton properties
  • You can get a free night certificate by spending $15,000 in a calendar year on the Surpass Card


A Higher Annual Fee

Wash, rinse, repeat.

The Hilton Surpass Card's longtime annual fee of $95 will see a slight bump. Effective immediately, new applicants will now pay $150 a year for the Surpass Card.

Current cardholders who renew on or after Feb. 1, 2024, will pay this higher fee.

Even if it's just another $55, no one likes to pay higher annual fees. But many travelers may find a new benefit easily offsets that hike – as well as a massive new welcome bonus.


A Huge Welcome Bonus & A New Look

Bonuses on mid-level credit cards don't get much bigger than this. *Surpass Bonus Offer*

That's one of the biggest bonuses we've ever seen on this Hilton Card. And much like the Aspire Card, the Surpass is getting a facelift as well.


*Hilton Surpass*


Learn more about the *Hilton Surpass*.


Up to $200 in Hilton Credits

Stay at a Hilton once a quarter, pay with your Surpass Card for nightly rates or room charges, and the card will now save you $200 a year.

That's because Hilton and Amex are adding a Hilton statement credit of up to $200 a year, eligible to use at any Hilton property worldwide – it's not just usable at Hilton resorts, as is the case on the high-end Hilton Aspire. And it's available right now.

But this is a quarterly benefit: You'll get $50 in statement credits to use at Hilton properties once every three months. If you don't use it from October through December, you'll lose it.


hilton chicago


If you travel frequently and often stay in Hilton hotels, this new credit is an easy way to zero out the entire $150 annual fee on the Surpass Card – and then some. If not, this new benefit may not move the needle much.


Earn 4x Points When Online Shopping

Well, that's new!

Amex and Hilton are adding a brand-new bonus category – something we've never seen on a card before, period. You'll now earn 4x Hilton points on all U.S. online retail purchases, up from the usual 3x points that the Surpass Card earns on all purchases.


New Rental Car Status, No More Priority Pass Visits

The rest of the changes are a mixed bag for current and new Surpass cardholders.

  • Just as with the Aspire Card, Surpass cardholders can enroll in complimentary National Car Emerald Club Executive Status – easily our favorite status with a rental car chain
  • But come Feb. 1, 2024, the Surpass card will lose its 10 complimentary visits to Priority Pass lounges


Bottom Line

Hilton and American Express have made some substantial changes to both the fan-favorite Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card as well as the Hilton Honors American Express Surpass Card.

Annual fees are going up, but so are welcome bonuses to lure in new travelers to get these cards. But have Hilton and Amex sweetened the deal enough on either card to justify the higher annual fees?

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

10 Responses

  • The credits on the Hilton Aspire are already too restrictive. Why bother with any American Express card when they don’t grandfather in benefits like other card issuers?

    • I’d also drop the card. The problem with trying to use credits like clear to add value is the overlap with their other cards. I actually value that benefit but I don’t need it twice. (from platinum) the resort credit is already not super easy to use every year and the airline credit requires shenanigans methods to be really useful that could be justly taken away at any time.

  • Hilton has already made discouraging change’s during Covid. No more FREE breakfast for Diamond level. The credit hardly makes ends meet at some hotels.
    I did enjoy a 3 night reward stay at the Bakers Cay resort in Key Largo due to banked night from Covid rollovers.
    Anyway if these changes are true, looks like a transfer to Hyatt or Marriott for us.

  • No way for me… I cancelled as soon as I received the communication. Why pay $550 for the chance to get $650 back if you play all the games right? Not for me

  • “Amex and Hilton are adding a brand-new bonus category – something we’ve never seen on a card before, period.”

    FYI BOA Cash Rewards has an online shopping category at 3x, which compares to 4x HH points. Even more if you’re in the BOA rewards program.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Get Free Flight Alerts

Cheap international and domestic flight deal email alerts

Get Cheap Flight Alerts