You Better Believe It! Why It Still Makes Sense To Spend On Your Amex Surpass

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Amex Surpass Free Night

Amex Surpass Free Night

A few weeks back I asked the question, has the World of Hyatt card become worthless? That question came about because of the vast improvements made to the Freedom Flex and Freedom Unlimited cards. The World of Hyatt card still offers value to hold long term, because of the annual free night certificate and the 5 elite night credits, but what about actually spending on it? I argued that it no longer made sense, even when spending towards the $15K free night, unless you were chasing status. The Amex Surpass card has a similar $15K free night set up, so what about that card? Is it worth pursuing the Amex Surpass free night and spending on the card? I think that it is, even though it is similar to the World of Hyatt card, and I’ll tell you why.

Amex Surpass Free Night

Amex Surpass Credit Card Overview

The American Express Hilton Honors Surpass earns points in the following ways:
  • Earn 12X Hilton Honors bonus points for each dollar of eligible purchases charged on your Card directly with a participating hotel or resort within the Hilton Portfolio.
  • Earn 6X Hilton Honors bonus points for each dollar of eligible purchases on your Card at U.S. restaurants, at U.S. supermarkets, and at U.S. gas stations.
  • 3X Hilton Honors bonus points for all other eligible purchases on your Card.
The American Express Hilton Surpass has a couple of very valuable perks of card membership:
  • As an American Express Surpass card member, you’ll receive Hilton Honors Gold status automatically and can upgrade yourself to Diamond status with $40,000 in spend during the calendar year. Don’t spend to Diamond though, it isn’t worth it.
  • This card is eligible for Amex Offers.
  • Earn a free night certificate after spending $15,000 on the card within a calendar year.

The one downside to the Amex Surpass, when compared to the World of Hyatt card and other hotel cards, is that it does not come with an annual free night certificate. It does come with the most valuable mid-tier hotel status though. Hilton Gold status will give you a lot of the perks you desire for only $95 a year. So I guess that is the trade off between the two cards even though they have similar annual fees.

Why I Am Still Spending Towards An Amex Surpass Free Night

So what is different between these two cards? Why does it make sense to spend towards the Amex Surpass free night certificate but not the World of Hyatt one? Well, it is the bonus categories and earning structure of the cards that makes the difference. The free night certificate from the Hilton card is better overall too.

Gas returns

Spending Categories

The Hilton Surpass card gives you 6 points per dollar at U.S. gas stations and U.S. supermarkets. Those are two areas of spend that add up to quite a lot for many people. You can also earn 6 points per dollar at U.S. restaurants but that is on par with 2 World of Hyatt points in terms of overall value.

Are you noticing the trend here? This card is only really useful in the US. If you live abroad then you can stop reading now. Which, I have to say, is a curious decision for an international brand like Hilton. But, I digress.

Hilton Free Night Certificate Is Better

While the World of Hyatt free night certificate is category 1-4 capped the Hilton one does not have category limitations. You can use it at their most expensive property in the portfolio, now coming in at 120,000 points a night. The catch is it only works for weekend stays (Friday, Saturday, Sunday). If it is a weekend stay as long as there is a standard room available at the property the certificate can be used. That can lead to some impressive value if maximized (just don’t chase that dragon too much). If you value Hilton Honor points at .45 cents each that is approximately $540 in value. The room cost could be up to double that amount though for some of these higher end hotels though.

The Earning Return Is Superior On The Hilton Surpass

When you combine the 6X points per dollar earning you can get at U.S. supermarkets and gas stations and combine it with the free night cert that equates to a very healthy return. If you use it at a property that costs 95K points a night (or above) that is like earning an additional 6X+ per dollar on the $15K in spend required to earn it.

I tend to hover around 75K-80K for my free night certificate redemptions on average. I just used one of my certificates at the Conrad Washington D.C. that cost 80K a night. If you can average around 75K per redemption that is an extra 5 points per dollar on your first $15K in spend.

That example would give you the following return:
  • 11X earning at U.S. supermarkets, gas stations and restaurants.
    • At $0.0045 per point that is a return of 4.95%
  • 8X earning everywhere else.
    • A return of 3.6% on average

Amex Surpass Free Night

How The Amex Surpass Compares

Those average expected returns put this card towards the top of each category offered. Where the World of Hyatt card could be supplanted by no fee cards offered by the same bank, that is not the case with the Amex Surpass card. Which is an especially true statement if you are only comparing it to cards in the same $95 or less category.

The best comparisons would be the Blue Cash Preferred which earns a bit better rate netting 6% back at U.S. supermarkets. The card only earns 3% back at U.S. gas stations though. Another knock on the Blue Cash Preferred is that 6% is also capped at $6,000 per year. That is well below the $15K we are looking at with the Surpass.

The Citi Premier card earns an uncapped 3X for all of the same categories listed for the Amex Surpass. That is what makes this card beloved by many in the space. If you pair it up with a Citi Rewards+ then your return is even better since you can get 10% in points back, capped at 100K a year. Those two paired give you a max return of 3.3% in cash back for the categories listed. If you instead use Citi ThankYou transfer partners and value the points at 1.5 cents each you are still only coming in at 4.5% in return, below the Surpass’ 4.95% return. You would need to combine it with a Rewards+ card to match the Surpass’ higher return.

It is safe to say the Amex Surpass holds up!

Amex Surpass Free Night: Final Thoughts

Those are the reasons I will continue to spend towards the Amex Surpass free night. Where with the World of Hyatt card you are giving up value, or flexibility, the Amex Surpass offers top of its class level returns. Whether it be in the gas, grocery, restaurant, or for non bonus spend, you are not giving anything up to use it.

That is of course assuming that you can use Hilton Honors points and don’t struggle to redeem the free night certificate. Your average free night cert redemption level will play a role into your decision as well. As long as you use it on 60K or above redemptions (fairly easy to do) you should be good to go. At that level you are still averaging 4.5% back on the 6X earning categories.

If you don’t find yourself reaching the $15K in spend threshold every year then the card may not be worth carrying. Where I think everyone can get over $95 in value from the World of Hyatt anniversary certificate, the Surpass card does not have that up front easy win. While Hilton Honors Gold status will likely cover the cost for anyone that stays at a few Hilton hotels a year, it isn’t as much of a slam dunk for everyone. For example, the Conrad D.C. gave me $50 in property credit to use during my one night stay. That is half the annual fee right there.

Mark Ostermann
Mark Ostermann is a father, husband and miles/points fanatic. He left the corporate world after starting a family in order to be a stay at home dad. Mark is constantly looking at ways to save money and stay within budget while also taking awesome vacations with his family. When he isn't caring for his family or taking a weekend trip, Mark is working towards his goal of visiting every Major League Baseball ballpark.

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5 COMMENTS

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5 COMMENTS

  1. I agree with your assessment, the 6X earning on gas and grocery on top of the free night cert makes it a keeper for me with the effective 11-13X earning.
    As a plus, spending 15K on the card got me diamond status due to the points I earned counting toward elite qualification.

  2. Agree the Surpass card is worth it and I actually do spend over $40,000 a year to maintain Diamond (unbonused categories only – retired so have monthly health insurance premiums of over $2000 which accounts for most of the spend). However, I have pretty much taken this card out of my wallet except when staying at a Hilton property. The gas bonus doesn’t apply for Costco and BJs (where I get most of my gas) and my Amex Gold has 4x for groceries and restaurants (and Amex points are worth around 3x Hilton points).

  3. We have never been big Hilton fans. We use the free nights we get on nice properties, but otherwise stay more at Hyatts and Marriotts. More recently we redeemed the free nights for a stay in Asheville and a stay in Dubai. In both cases we were upgraded to the nicest suites. That rarely happens at Hyatt or Marriott.

    Are you capped at only one free night for the 15K, or do you get 2, 3, 4 at multiples of 15K spend?

    • Capped at one unfortunately. We have the Hilton Business card that has another one you can earn at $15K spend too so may hit that up towards the end of the year if I am looking for options.

      • I got a surpass in June 2020 And the business card in 2021. In less than two years I have amassed 500,000 points and 3 FNC. Hilton points aren’t worth much but they grow so fast.

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