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The Citi Hilton Reserve and Amex Hilton Surpass are two of the most valuable hotel credit cards. They offer two different, yet very valuable bonus offers and either one could be ideally suited for you depending on your travel plans. With the Amex Hilton Surpass now offering a free anniversary night along with a 100K sign-up bonus, it’s a good idea to compare both cards to see exactly what they offer.
Update: Some offers are no longer available — click here for the latest deals!
Sign up bonuses
The Amex Hilton Surpass offers 100K Hilton Honors points after you spend $3,000 within your first 3 months. It also comes with a free weekend night award after your first anniversary, so you’ll have to wait one year to receive it and pay the annual fee two times.
The Citi Hilton Reserve offers 2 free weekend nights after making $2,500 in purchases within the first 4 months of account opening and often comes with a $100 statement credit after you spend $100 or more on your first hotel stay within the Hilton Portfolio within the first six months of account opening.
So which is offer is more valuable?
The answer requires knowing how much value can be had in the free weekend night certificates.
How valuable are Hilton weekend certificates?
Per the terms of the credit card, the“[w]eekend night certificate is valid for one (1) weekend night standard accommodation, double occupancy, subject to availability, at properties in the Hilton Portfolio.” Note: there are several exclusions where these certificates cannot be used. Here is the list of excluded properties.
Standard room redemptions can still be very valuable. For example, the Conrad in the Maldives has standard room awards for 95,000 Honors points per night. Thus, if you used two weekend nights at this hotel you’d be getting 190,000 Honors points worth of value from them. In case you were wondering, the cash value for two nights could be $1,800 or more, so you’re getting a ton in value!
So which sign-up bonus is more valuable?
Since weekend night certificates can be used for even the top Hilton properties, the Citi Hilton Reserve offers significantly more potential value for its sign-up bonus. After all, with the Amex Surpass you’re only offered 100,000 Honors points so you’d at best be able to cover one night at a top hotel.
But that’s not the end of the comparison because the best value often depends on your redemption strategy.
Here are some reasons why you might not go with the Reserve.
Lower tier properties
If you wanted to stay at a lower tier Hilton property (around 10,000 to 20,000 points per night) and really stretch your points, I’d consider the Hilton Honors Card from American Express. It’s currently offering 80,000 points and comes with no annual fee. While 20,000 short of 100,000 points, you won’t have to worry about an annual fee and can always look into upgrading this card to the Surpass after you’ve had it for one year. (Citi also offers a no annual fee card that offers points.)
If you needed to cover multiple nights at a Hilton mid-tier property requiring around 30,000 to 40,000 points, then the Surpass will offer you more flexibility than the Reserve since you’ll be able to cover more nights and you’ll get the added flexibility of being able to redeem for nights during the week. Plus, you wouldn’t be “losing out” on potential value by redeeming free nights for mid-tier properties.
Multiple nights at a top property
If you’re planning on staying at a top Hilton property like the Conrad in the Maldives for several days, then the Amex Surpass could be a much better fit, especially if you’re a couple.
For example, let’s assume you were wanting to plan an adventure nearly two years in advance. You and your partner could sign up for an Amex Hilton Surpass today and each earn the 100K bonus. This means that in one year’s time you’d have at least 200K Honors points and then two free weekend nights. The flexibility of the points + free nights would allow you to cover four consecutive nights at a top hotel. That’s potentially $3,600 or more in value for paying $300 for two years worth of annual fees and it offers you the added flexibility of using points.
If you both had jumped on the Reserve, however, you’d be stuck with four weekend certificates and while those would be very valuable they wouldn’t help you with a consecutive night stay.
Other combinations could include a Reserve with either a no-annual fee Amex or Cit Hilton card but in either of those situations, you’d need a total of at least three cards to even come close to covering four nights and you’d probably still need a fourth card. Thus, with this new bonus offer and anniversary night, the Amex Surpass definitely has a strategic advantage over the Reserve in certain circumstances.
The Amex Surpass earns the following rates:
- 12X on Hilton purchases
- 6X at U.S. restaurants, at U.S. supermarkets, and at U.S. gas stations.
- 3X for all other eligible purchases on your Card
The Citi Reserve offers slightly less rewarding bonus categories.
- 10X on Hilton purchases
- 5X at U.S. restaurants, at U.S. supermarkets, and at U.S. gas stations.
- 3X for all other eligible purchases on your Card
Keep in mind that while the bonus categories on the Reserve aren’t the best, if you spend $10,000 in one calendar year on your Reserve, you can earn a free weekend night. While the Surpass doesn’t have that benefit, it does offer 500 Hilton Honors Bonus Points when you use your Card to both book online and pay for your Hilton stay. (I’d take the potential for a free night over the 500 point bonus any day.)
Foreign transaction fees
Unfortunately, the Amex Surpass does not waive foreign transaction fees but the Citi Reserve does, so it definitely has an international advantage.
The Hilton Reserve’s annual fee is $95 while the Amex Surpass has a lower fee of $75. Both annual fees are not waived.
Gold status and fast track for Diamond status
Both cards offer automatic Hilton Honors Gold status and allow you to earn Hilton Honors Diamond status when you spend $40,000 on eligible purchases on your Card in a calendar year and you can keep Hilton Honors Diamond status through the end of the next calendar year.
Both cards can offer you substantial value but you should definitely think about your travel goals before applying since each card can offer its own unique advantages in certain situations.
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Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and creator of the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned full-time credit card rewards/travel expert and has earned and redeemed millions of miles to travel the globe. Since 2014, his content has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, US News, and Business Insider. Find his full bio here.