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There are a lot of great hotel credit cards out there, and if you’re not already loyal to one brand or another, you might have trouble deciding which one to choose. Today, TPG Contributor William Morse compares two of the top contenders to see which one is the best fit for your wallet.
When it comes to hotel rewards, free nights are the goal for most travelers. That’s why many of the top co-branded hotel cards offer bonus free nights in one form or another, whether for earning a sign-up bonus, meeting a spending threshold, or reaching your account anniversary. In this post, I want to compare two of the most popular hotel cards that come with free nights — The Hyatt Credit Card from Chase and the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card — to see which one offers the best value overall.
Free Night Bonuses
Both of these cards offer lucrative sign-up and anniversary bonuses that involve multiple free nights. However, when you dig into the details of these bonuses, you’ll find several factors that might sway you toward the Hyatt Card.
The Citi Hilton Reserve comes with a sign-up bonus of two free weekend nights after spending $2,500 in the first four months, and carries an annual fee of $95. There are a handful of properties where Hilton will not let you redeem these free nights, but most of them aren’t good options for award nights anyway.
Meanwhile, the Chase Hyatt Visa offers a bonus of two free nights after spending $1,000 in the first three months, and carries an annual fee of $75 that’s waived the first year. To sweeten the pot, the Hyatt card offers you a $50 statement credit and 5,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points when you add an authorized user and make a purchase in the first 3 months. TPG lists Hyatt points at 1.8 cents apiece in his July valuations, so those 5,000 points are worth an additional $90.
Both cards come with a free night on your card anniversary, but you have to earn the Hilton certificate by spending $10,000 each year as a card member, and while you can use it at almost any property, it’s again only valid for a weekend night. The Hyatt card’s anniversary bonus has no additional spending requirements, and can be redeemed anytime, but only at category 1-4 Hyatt properties.
The anniversary bonuses have tradeoffs — Hyatt’s is more flexible, while Hilton’s is potentially more valuable. However, with a lower spending requirement, no annual fee the first year and more straightforward award redemptions, the Hyatt card has the clear advantage when it comes to the sign-up bonus. Either way, there are some amazing options to maximize your Hilton free night certificates as well as your Hyatt free night certificates.
Both of these cards offer bonus categories to help you earn points more quickly. The Citi Hilton Reserve earns 10 points per dollar spent at Hilton properties, 5 points per dollar on airfare and car rentals and 3 points per dollar on all other purchases. Meanwhile, the Hyatt Visa earns 3 points per dollar spent at Hyatt properties; 2 points per dollar on restaurants, car rentals and airfare purchases; and 1 point per dollar elsewhere.
The Hilton card clearly earns more points, but volume does not equal value. As mentioned previously, TPG latest monthly valuations peg Hyatt points at 1.8 cents apiece, while Hilton HHonors points are worth only 0.5 cents each. Taking those amounts into consideration, the Hyatt card is the better option in all categories.
Of course, that doesn’t mean the Hyatt card is necessarily the best option in these categories. For example, the restaurant bonus is nice, but I’d rather use my Chase Sapphire Preferred Card card to earn 2 Ultimate Rewards points per dollar on dining. I can easily transfer Ultimate Rewards to Hyatt at a 1:1 ratio, but I also have the option of transferring points to other programs.
One final note: Hyatt points from the sign-up bonus post within 10 days of qualification, while Hilton asks you to wait 6-8 weeks after purchase requirements are met. Points and miles tend to be a bad long-term investment, so even if you don’t need to use your points immediately, the extra time spent waiting doesn’t help. That’s just one more reason why the Hyatt card takes this round as well.
Both cards offer automatic mid-tier elite status within the respective programs: Hyatt Platinum status with the Hyatt card and HHonors Gold status with the Hilton card. The benefits are mostly similar, including upgraded Wi-Fi, possible room upgrades, bonus points on stays and late check-out. However, there’s one glaring difference — Hilton gives you free breakfast (or certificates toward restaurants on the property) for every day that you stay.
I recently spent two nights at the Hilton Waikoloa Village in Hawaii, which starts at 40,000 points per night or $199 plus taxes, resort fee and parking. As a Hilton Gold elite member, I received four $10 certificates ($20 per night) toward any of ten restaurants on the property. I also stayed at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa, where I again inquired about a free breakfast. All they gave me was a blank stare — not many calories in that.
If you want to aim for top-tier status, these cards can also help. The Hyatt Visa gives you 2 stay credits and 5 night credits toward Diamond status when you spend $20,000 on the card in a calendar year, plus an additional 3 stay credits and 5 night credits when you spend another $20,000 in that same calendar year ($40,000 total). Hyatt Diamond status starts at 25 stays or 50 nights per year, and gets you Club Lounge access, higher upgrade priority, 4 suite night stays per year on paid nights, more points categories and a welcome gift upon arrival (points or food credit, depending on the property).
The Citi Hilton Reserve card offers Diamond status when you make $40,000 or more in purchases on the card in one calendar year. Hilton Diamond status (which normally requires 30 stays or 60 nights) offers a 50% bonus on every HHonors base point you earn, a 48-hour room guarantee and Executive Lounge access. Personally, I’m content with Hyatt Platinum and Hilton Gold, as there are much more lucrative credit cards to take care of your heavy spending.
Both cards come with added features that make them even more valuable. Both cards feature EMV chips for added compatibility and charge no foreign transaction fees. You’ll also get benefits like secondary car rental insurance, extended warranty protection, trip cancellation/interruption insurance and lost luggage reimbursement.
The Hyatt card offers price protection, stating that “If the card purchase you made in the U.S. is advertised for less in print or online within 90 days, you can be reimbursed the difference up to $500 per item, $2,500 per year.” Meanwhile, the Hilton card offers you Citi Price Rewind, which offers a similar benefit, but with the bonus that Citi does some of the legwork for you once you register a purchase.
Overall these added benefits are nice to have, but they won’t help you differentiate the two cards.
Tale of the Tape
Both the Hyatt Credit Card and the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card offer premium benefits with lucrative sign-up bonuses and automatic elite status at their respective properties. Aside from that, both cards have strengths and weaknesses.
The Hyatt card has a lower $75 annual fee that’s waived in the first year, whereas the Hilton card carries a $95 annual fee that isn’t waived. The Hyatt card offers a more flexible sign-up bonus with a lower spending requirement, plus an anniversary free night certificate that doesn’t require any further spending. You’ll also earn more valuable rewards in the various bonus categories.
On the other hand, a large selling point for Hilton is that you can access over 4,000 properties worldwide, whereas Hyatt has only about 600 properties where you can redeem your free nights. Also, Hilton HHonors Gold is probably the most valuable mid-tier hotel status out there.
If you already prefer one to the other, or if you have upcoming stays with either chain where you can make good use of free nights or elite benefits, then the choice should be clear. If not, you could try the Hyatt card first to see how it suits you without having to pay the annual fee up front. For me, it’s a toss-up, which is why I personally found room for both cards in my wallet.
Given their respective benefits, which of these cards do you prefer? Even after the introduction of the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is still a fantastic choice if you want to avoid the Reserve’s $450 annual fee, earn 2x on all travel & dining and earn a 50,000 point sign up bonus.
Even after the introduction of the Chase Sapphire Reserve, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is still a fantastic choice if you want to avoid the Reserve’s $450 annual fee, earn 2x on all travel & dining and earn a 50,000 point sign up bonus.