This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here.
I often discuss how helpful credit card sign-up bonuses and spending can be for earning award travel, but some readers are intimidated by the idea of opening too many new accounts. So today, TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Nick Ewen demonstrates how much even a single card can offer you in travel rewards.
Award travel can be a daunting hobby to take up, especially when it comes to credit cards. If you don’t travel regularly for work, your everyday spending habits play a huge role in earning (and then redeeming) points and miles. However, with so many options, you may not know where to start. In this post, I’ll continue my series looking at how easy it is to earn rewards by opening and using even a single card for one year. After highlighting the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card last week, my subject today is another one of my favorites: the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card.
Let’s start with a quick overview of the card and why it’s such a solid product. The usual sign-up bonus is 2 weekend night certificates good at select hotels and resorts within the Hilton Portfolio after you make $2,500 in purchases within 4 months of account opening. However, for a limited time, you can also earn a $100 statement credit after spending $100 or more on your first hotel stay in the Hilton Portfolio within the first 3 months of account opening. There are many ways to utilize this credit, including inexpensive hotel stays. Depending on where you redeem the free night certificates, they can translate to as much as 190,000 points, which is worth $950 according to TPG’s most recent valuations.
In addition to these one-time bonuses, the card is well-suited for everyday use, as you earn 10 points per dollar spent at Hilton properties, 5 points per dollar spent on airline and car rental purchases, and 3 points per dollar everywhere else. You also receive automatic Gold status in the Hilton Honors program, which can be quite valuable for even an infrequent traveler. You can earn another free weekend night certificate on your card anniversary after spending $10,000 in the previous year, and Citi Hilton Reserve also waives foreign transaction fees. It does come with a $95 annual fee, which is not waived for the first year.
So if you open the card, earn the sign-up bonus, and use the card exclusively for the first year, where does that leave you? Obviously the answer depends on your spending patterns, so for this analysis I used consumer expenditures data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2013 and 2014 to estimate what an “average” household would spend (and thus earn) on the Citi Hilton Reserve.
In doing so, I made the following assumptions:
- 60% of “Housing” expenditures cover mortgages or rent, and thus can’t be paid with a credit card.
- “Transportation” expenditures are split evenly between car payments (can’t be paid with a credit card), gasoline, and other transportation costs (parking, tolls, train/subway/bus tickets, etc.).
- Half of the other transportation costs are airline and car rental purchases.
- All “Healthcare” and “Other” expenditures can be paid with a credit card.
- All “Personal insurance and pensions” expenditures can’t be paid with a credit card.
- $500 of the “All other expenditures” category is spent on Hilton stays.
Again, your situation may differ substantially, so feel free to adjust these assumptions in order to calculate your own earning potential.
Here’s a quick table that shows how these spending patterns in the first year of cardmembership translate to Hilton Honors points:
|Food – At home||$3,977||3 points/$||
Food – Away from home
Apparel and services
|Transportation (gasoline)||$3,001||3 points/$||
Transportation (airline/car rental)
|Transportation (other)||$1,501||3 points/$||
|All other expenditures||$2,767||3 points/$||
As you can see, the “average” American consumer would earn 97,931 Hilton Honors points in the first year (in addition to the two free weekend nights). This earning pattern would continue every year afterwards, and you’d also earn the anniversary weekend night certificate by spending more than $10,000. Not too shabby!
What Does This Get You?
Earning points is one thing; knowing how to redeem them for maximum value is an entirely different story. Though not quite as flexible as Ultimate Rewards points, Hilton Honors points can still be used in a variety of ways, including for hotel stays at luxurious properties, and experiences through online auctions. Here’s a sampling of what you can do with this first year’s haul:
1. Three nights in a Category 10 property. Hilton’s top-tier properties include luxurious spots like the Conrad Tokyo and the Conrad Maldives (which TPG visited at the end of 2013). These properties require up to 95,000 points per night, depending on the time of year you visit, so by opening this card (and earning the sign-up bonus), you’ll have two free weekend night certificates plus enough points for a third night. My wife and I spent six nights at the Hilton Seychelles Labriz Resort & Spa back in 2013 for our five-year anniversary and had a WONDERFUL stay, so this is a terrific way to enjoy a luxury getaway.
2. Five nights at a Category 3 or (potentially) Category 4 property. One of the nice things about the Hilton Honors program is that all elite members get the fifth night free on all award stays, and since you’ll have Gold status automatically just for having the Citi Hilton Reserve, you can take advantage of this benefit. All Category 3 properties require 20,000 points per night, while some Category 4 properties require the same number of points at certain times of year (thanks to Hilton’s seasonal pricing, introduced in 2013’s devaluation). This five-night stay would set you back 80,000 points, leaving you 17,931 for future redemptions.
While these properties may not be truly aspirational, there are still some solid values out there, including:
3. Paramore concert tickets + meet & greet and 2 nights in LA. One of the newest ways to redeem your Hilton Honors points is through the Redemption Experiences platform. The site is still new and has a limited number of options, but if you’re a Paramore fan, there are packages left for their concert in Los Angeles on Saturday May 23rd. 75,000 points gets you two tickets and a meet & greet (including photo) with the band. In addition, the Hilton Garden Inn Los Angeles/Hollywood is just a half mile from the theater, so you could use your two free weekend night certificates there.
The hotel still has standard rooms available for $219/night, so with taxes & fees, your total out-of-pocket savings for the hotel alone would be over $500. Remember too that the card grants you automatic Gold status, so you’d receive free breakfast for you and another guest both mornings of your stay.
Other concert options (without a meet & greet) include:
- Ed Sheeran in Uncasville, CT for 50,000 points
- Neil Diamond in San Diego or Dallas for 100,000 points
- Maroon 5 in Milan for 100,000 points
- Fleetwood Mack in Antwerp, Belgium for 100,000 points
4. Train tickets and 2-3 nights in a high-category Hilton hotel. Generally speaking, transferring hotel points to other travel partners is a poor redemption value (Starwood Preferred Guest is a notable exception). However, one relatively attractive transfer rate with Hilton Honors is to Amtrak, as you can convert 10,000 Hilton Honors points to 1,500 Amtrak Guest Rewards points. Transferring just 20,000 points is enough for a round-trip ticket on one of Amtrak’s “Special Routes” (like San Diego to Los Angeles or Chicago to St. Louis). You’d then have almost 80,000 points remaining (plus the two free weekend night certificates) to spend on a long weekend in the city of your choice.
5. Two nights plus private golf lessons and 36 holes of golf at one of four Hilton golf resorts around the U.S. A final way to redeem these points should appeal to any golf lovers out there. You’d use the two free night certificates at one of the following properties:
- Hilton Tucson El Conquistador Golf & Tennis Resort (May – December)
- Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort (May – December)
- Hilton Santa Fe Golf Resort & Spa at Buffalo Thunder (November – March)
- Hilton Myrtle Beach Resort (June – February)
During those specified months, a day of golf academy (including an 18-hole round) at each resort is 60,000 points, and you can add another round the following day for 25,000 points.
While Hilton Honors points are (by definition) less flexible than transferable points like Ultimate Rewards, the Citi Hilton Reserve card is a great one to have, and if you’re primary goal is free hotel stays, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better collection of benefits and earning potential! Keep in mind too that this calculation may be a bit conservative:
- The calculation doesn’t include any online shopping portal bonuses.
- The calculation doesn’t include any Hilton Honors points you earn from actually staying at Hilton properties, including bonuses in effect at the time of your stay.
- The calculation assumes that you’re the average consumer. If you typically spend more in some of the bonus categories each year (I definitely do at restaurants), then your points earnings will be even higher.
- The calculation assumes that you ONLY open one card. Other products (like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or the Hilton Honors Surpass Card from American Express) can be opened and used alongside the Citi Hilton Reserve for even more earning potential.
These items notwithstanding, I hope I’ve illustrated that one card (especially in the first year) can open up a wealth of redemption possibilities.
How would you redeem one year of Hilton HHonors points from the Citi Hilton Reserve?
Know before you go.
News and deals straight to your inbox every day.