Yesterday, I published a post about dummy booking offers. Within that post was a section about the Hilton Honors Surpass card. I later realized that the several current offers available on the Hilton Honors Surpass card are all pretty interesting. It can be hard to decipher which is best (and with Hilton’s rumored permanent breakfast changes, the word “best” is clearly meant to mean “out of these offers” and no longer necessarily the best hotel card for mid-tier breakfast status). Greg and I recorded this week’s podcast early this week and we discussed these offers, so this post is something of a sneak preview into one segment of this weekend’s show where I sprung the offers on Greg to see which he picked as best. You’ll have to listen in to the show to hear his full thoughts, though the analysis here closely mirrors what we’ll say on the show. Which Surpass offer is the best offer? It’s not so easy to say.
This is the referral offer and we have had this one listed as the “best” offer on our Best Offers page for quite a while. But is it really the best?
The following offer was found while browsing the hotel Wi-Fi at a Hilton hotel. Hilton has displayed different credit card offers to those connecting to the hotel Wi-Fi for a few years now and there are several different Wi-Fi offers.
This offer was also found while browsing Hilton hotel Wi-Fi.
This final offer was also found while on the Wi-Fi at a Hilton property.
Which of the above is best?
To recap, the four offers are:
- 130K points after $2K + 50K points after $10K total spend
- 125K points after $2K + $100 statement credit
- $500 in statement credits for Hilton purchases (no spend requirement)
- 2 free weekend nights at any Hilton property (pending standard room availability)
I find these four offers very interesting because they are different enough so as to make it a bit difficult to decipher which is best. It certainly wouldn’t be easy for the average customer to know which offer is better at a quick glance. I imagine that’s part of the intent as Hilton and Amex try to determine which offer(s) are more popular.
To make the offers easier to compare side-by-side, it probably makes sense to think of them in point equivalents by turning statement credits above into Hilton points. Since Hilton so frequently sells points for 0.5c each (as they are right now), that’s the metric on which I based the conversion of statement credits for the sake of comparison. Thought about as all points, the offers look like this:
- 130K after $2K + 50K after $8K more
- 145K after $2K
- 100K no spend
- 190K (questionable valuation) after $2K
Let’s now compare side-by-side starting at the top:
- Offer 1 vs Offer 2: Offer 2 is clearly better for someone who will only spend $2,000. Offer 1 makes sense for someone who will spend $15K for a free weekend night certificate anyway, but if you were going to stop at $10K spend then keep in mind that you would be looking at 35K additional points over offer #2 with $8K additional required spend.
- Offer 2 vs Offer 3: Offer 2 awards “more points” than the statement credits from offer #3, but is it worth spending $2K for a 45k bump in Hilton points? Honestly, I think so. Even at a value of just 0.4c per point, that’s worth $180 which when combined with the card’s ordinary earnings makes for a return on spend that is still pretty good and the points remain flexible and valid for a long time rather than statement credits that are only valid for a year
- Offer 2 vs Offer 4.The valuation for offer #4 above is a stretch that assumes you use the two certificates at properties costing 95K points per night. Further, the certificates expire in a year (and must be used on weekend nights). If you’re missing out on 5th-night-free savings by using the certificates, their value drops as well. I therefore think that unless you have a surefire plan to use these certificates at really strong value, I’d rather have the points.
I think offer #2 is best for anyone who is only going to spend $2K. Keep in mind that the offer doesn’t really award 145K points but rather 125K and a $100 statement credit, but since Hilton points are so frequently on sale for half a cent each we can interpret that $100 as being worth 20,000 points.
While I know that some will see the offer for 2 free nights and feel like that is better because the nights are uncapped, keep in mind that the free night certificate offer is only better with a pretty limited set of circumstances. The 190K valuation assumes using the certificates at a top-tier 95K per night property (keep in mind that standard rooms at the Waldorf Astoria Maldives go for even more, but other hotels top out at 95K). But that 95K value also assumes a number of other things: that you find a 95K hotel where you want to stay that is available for award stays on the weekend and where you wouldn’t have otherwise booked a 5-night stay. That last point is key: since the 5th night is free on an award stay booked with points, a five night stay averages 76K per night — meaning two nights are worth about 152K points in a 5-night scenario. That’s not much over the 145K “value” of offer #2 and it locks you in to two certificates that are only valid for one year. I wouldn’t give up the flexibility of points that can be kept alive and split up differently as circumstances dictate for an additional 7K Hilton points in value.
In a pre-pandemic world, I probably would have looked at these offers and committed myself to planning a trip around when I found availability for two weekend nights at a place like the Conrad Bora Bora or Waldorf Astoria Maldives. That’s due to a combination of the fact that I enjoy far more flexibility to travel than most people do and because it was more realistic to wing it on international travel in that previous time in our lives before red list countries and quarantine requirements, etc. In a world in which I have no idea what travel restrictions may be in place a couple of months from now when the certificates are issued and even less of a clue as to what things will look like 6 or 8 or 10 months from now, I just don’t feel like two free night certificates make much sense. I can’t really plan a future trip around using them right now. Sure, I could probably commit myself to making a last-minute booking when award availability opens for like a week in the future, but I’m not feeling the fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pans trip planning right now. I’d sock away the points for a rainy day.
All of that makes it sound like I prefer Offer 2 (125K points + $100 statement credit) over the rest of the options. That is true if you only want to spend $2,000. And that’s not unreasonable: people often (correctly) point out that big spending requirements like the additional $8K for the second tier of Offer #1 aren’t worth it because that $8K in spending could alternatively be used to trigger two or three more welcome bonuses on other cards. That’s totally true. If you’re willing to open more cards and don’t have unlimited capacity for spend, you have to carefully consider whether a big spend bonus makes any sense.
I imagine that many people who get the Surpass card intend to do $15K spend per calendar year because that amount of spend yields a free night certificate. If you focus your $15K spend in categories that earn 6x points, you’ll end up with 90K points and a free weekend night certificate. In an ordinary world, I would say that is a solid return given that the Hilton points are worth about $450 (an equivalent of about 3% back) and the free night certificate is easily worth $200 or more even if not used to absolute maximum value. Given that this is one of the rare instances where it is worth spending money on a hotel card, I could certainly see some people still going after that free night certificate spend and if that’s the case then I think it makes sense to get the extra 50K points from Offer #1 by doing $10K of that spend in the first 6 months of having the card. That’s why we still have the two-tiered offer listed as out best offer and the other offers listed as alternatives, though I could probably be convinced to put the 125K + $100 offer as the headline offer.
Clearly, “the answer” is anything but clear. Debates like these are part of the fun that usually happens behind the scenes at Frequent Miler. While our Best Offers page is powered by a spreadsheet that makes most of the decisions as objectively as possible, there are times when things come down to a judgment call like this. On this week’s Frequent Miler on the Air, you can listen in as we work through that same analysis live. While I don’t imagine that either of us will apply for a Hilton card any time soon (and given the rumored breakfast changes, we probably aren’t alone in that), we enjoy thinking about this stuff and hopefully readers find it useful that we do because our aim is always to help you get the best deal.