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If you frequently stay at Hilton properties or just want to rack up enough HHonors points to enjoy some free award stays, it’s important to have the right cards in your wallet. TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Jason Steele helps you decide which products are best for you below.
While most airline and hotel programs are in committed relationships with a single banking partner, Hilton has long offered credit cards through both Citi and Amex that earn Hilton HHonors points. In addition, there are other credit cards that you might wish to carry to complement the Hilton co-branded card of your choice. In today’s post, I want to explore these options to help Hilton guests find the best cards for their needs.
HILTON CO-BRANDED CARDS
The entry-level Hilton cards from Citi and Amex are two of the rare no-fee hotel-branded cards available, and the Amex version earns a respectable 7x points on Hilton purchases; 5x points at US restaurants, gas stations and supermarkets; and 3x on everything else. The current sign-up bonus for this card is 50,000 points after making $750 in purchases in the first three months.
Cardholders receive HHonors Silver status, which offers a 15% elite status bonus, the fifth night free on award nights, late checkouts and complimentary access to fitness centers and health clubs. You can also earn Gold status when you spend $20,000 on the card in a calendar year. There’s a 2.7% foreign transaction fee.
Amex’s higher-end HHonors card is currently offering new applicants 75,000 points after spending $3,000 within three months of account opening. With this card, you immediately receive Gold status to enjoy for as long as you’re a cardholder. You receive 12x at Hilton hotels; 6x at US restaurants, gas stations and supermarkets; and 3x on all other charges. This card also includes a Priority Pass membership, which offers discounted access ($27) to this airport lounge network. There’s a $75 annual fee for this card, and unfortunately, a 2.7% foreign transaction fee.
Citi’s Hilton card with no annual fee is currently offering new applicants 75,000 bonus points after spending $2,000 within three months of account opening. Cardholders earn 6x points for Hilton charges; 3x points for spending at supermarkets, drugstores and gas stations; and 2x on all other purchases. All cardholders enjoy Silver status, and you can earn Gold status after completing four stays within 90 days of account opening, or by spending $20,000 on your card within a calendar year. Finally, this card offers an annual loyalty bonus of 10,000 points at the end of each calendar year when you spend at least $1,000 or more on stays at Hilton hotels. This card has a a 3% foreign transaction fee.
Citi’s Premium Hilton card offers two free weekend night certificates (valid Friday, Saturday or Sunday nights) when you make $2,500 in purchases within the first four months of account opening. You also receive a weekend night certificate each year on your account anniversary. Cardholders earn 10x at Hilton properties, 5x on airline and rental car purchases and 3x elsewhere.
You also receive immediate Gold status and an upgrade to top-tier Diamond status when you make $40,000 in purchases within a calendar year. To be clear, Diamond status only offers a few benefits above Gold status, such as a 50% elite status bonus and a 48-hour room guarantee. Still, you’re more likely to receive a better room upgrade when you hold the highest level of status as opposed to being in a mid-level tier. There’s $95 annual fee for this card and no foreign transaction fees.
COMPARING THE FOUR HHONORS CARDS
I’d love to be able to recommend a single card of the four, but surprisingly, there’s a strong case to be made for each of them, depending on your needs.
The no-fee Amex and Citi cards are clearly best for those who plan on staying at Hilton properties only a few times a year. The Hilton HHonors Card from Amex offers 3x rewards for spending outside of any category bonuses, while the no-fee Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature Card offers just 2x. Considering that HHonors points are only worth 0.5 cents each according to TPG’s latest monthly valuations, these are probably not the cards that you want to use for most purchases, since the Amex will get you a return of 1.5% while the Citi card will get you a return of just 1%. On the other hand, the Amex card offers a reasonable 5x points at US restaurants, gas stations and supermarkets while the Citi version only offers 3x points for spending at grocery stores, drugstores and gas stations. If you’re able to get a higher sign-up bonus on the Citi Hilton Visa Signature Card — such as the 75,000-point offer that currently available — this card could be the better option, provided you use it mainly for Hilton charges.
When it comes to the higher-end cards for those who stay at Hilton properties more frequently, the choice is even more difficult. While both cards offer 3x on non-bonus purchases, the Hilton HHonors Surpass Card from American Express goes all in by offering 12x at Hilton hotels and 6x at US restaurants, gas stations and supermarkets, while the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card offers a lower 10x at Hilton properties and 5x on airline and rental car purchases. In this case, it really comes down to how much value you’d get out of the respective sign-up bonuses. The current 100,000-point offer for the Surpass Card could get you a free night at a top-tier Hilton property like the Conrad Maldives, but the Citi Hilton Reserve’s two free weekend nights could potentially be worth more depending on how you use them. For more information on how to utilize these certificates, see TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Nick Ewen’s post, 8 Hilton Properties that Make for Awesome Award Redemptions.
OTHER CARDS HILTON GUESTS SHOULD CONSIDER
There are several reasons why the Citi Prestige could be a strong complement to any of the Hilton HHonors cards. First, this card offers a fourth night free on any consecutive four-night paid stays booked through the Citi travel agency. For an extreme example of how to use this benefit, read how TPG Editor-in-Chief Zach Honig saved $1,490 on single hotel booking.
This card also offers access to American Airlines Admirals Clubs (when you’re traveling on American) and Priority Pass Select airport lounges (including access for two guests), a $250 annual air travel credit and a $100 fee credit toward the application fee for the Global Entry or TSA PreCheck. You also earn 3x points for purchases from airline and hotels, 2x on dining and entertainment and 1x on all other purchases. The current sign-up bonus is 50,000 ThankYou Points after spending $3,000 within three months of account opening.
When you use this card to book reservations at a Hilton property, you can save the cost of the fourth night, substituting the 7x-12x points that you could earn from an HHonors co-branded card for 3x ThankYou points. Citi ThankYou points are worth 1.6 cents apiece according to TPG’s valuations versus just 0.5 cents each for HHonors points, so unless you hold one of the premium Hilton cards with the higher earning rates for Hilton charges and you only want to redeem points with this hotel brand, earning ThankYou points could be a better option.
Finally, you can transfer your reward points to airline miles or the Hilton HHonors program at a 1:1.5 ratio and redeem points for 1.6 cents toward airfare purchased from American Airlines or 1.33 cents each toward tickets from other carriers. There’s a $450 annual fee for this card, and no foreign transaction fees.
Citi ThankYou Premier Card
This card doesn’t currently have a sign-up bonus, but it offers 3x rewards on all travel, including gas; 2x on dining and entertainment; and 1x on all other purchases. As with the Prestige Card, points can be transferred to airline miles or to the Hilton HHonors program at a 1.5:1 ratio, but in this case points are only worth 1.25 cents when redeemed toward airfare, hotels, cruises and car rentals through the ThankYou Travel Center. There’s a $95 annual fee for this card that’s waived the first year, and no foreign transaction fees.
Clearly, the best Hilton card for you depends on how often you travel, what your priorities are and which sign-up bonuses appeal to you, among other factors. Hopefully this post has given you some ideas when it comes to credit cards that will help you get the most out of your stays with this brand.
Featured image courtesy of the Conrad Maldives.
Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card
|Intro APR||Regular APR||Annual Fee||Foreign Transaction Fee||Credit Rating|
|N/A||15.49% (Variable)||$95||0%||Excellent Credit|