Citibank Introduces Awesome New Hilton HHonors Reserve Card

Monday morning Citibank rolls out a new Hilton co-branded premium Visa credit card, and it looks to be really outstanding.

  • Signup Bonus: 2 free weekend nights after $2500 in spend within four months. These free nights are valid at all Hilton redemption categories including Waldorf Astoria properties.
  • Anniversary Bonus: 1 free weekend night each year after $10,000 in spend.
  • Earning: 10 HHonors points per dollar on Hilton spend, 5 points per dollar on air and car rental, and 3 on everything else.
  • Elite status: Instant Hilton Gold status which you retain as long as you have the card and Diamond status after $40,000 in annual spend.
  • No foreign currency transaction fees.
  • Annual fee: $95

I have the Hilton American Express Surpass card, largely because $40,000 in send on that card earns Diamond status. You can generally find a 60,000 point signup bonus on it, it comes with Gold status the first year and then you need to spend $20,000 to retain Gold. The $75 annual fee on that card isn’t waived.

This card is superior: no spending requirement to retain Gold, two free weekend nights are worth 100,000 – 160,000 points if spent at the highest-end properties, Visa acceptance, 10 vs. 9 HHonors points for Hilton spend, and since there’s no foreign currency transaction fees I’ll use it at my Hilton stays outside the U.S. (whereas I’ll use my Chase Sapphire Preferred rather than my Amex Surpass card for non-US Hilton stays currently). And the annual free night for $10,000 spend is also something the premium Amex Hilton card doesn’t offer.

What the Amex does offer, but the Citi card does not, is 6 points per dollar at supermarkets, drugstores, gas stations, and phone/internet/cable. But I prefer other cards for groceries, gas, and telecommunications anyway.

The $20 higher incremental fee seems worthwhile to me considering you don’t have to meet a spending threshold for Gold status and there’s an annual free weekend night award which the Amex doesn’t offer.

Now, it’s worth noting that the signup nights are weekend nights — perfect for resort locations but not when city hotels tend to be the most expensive. On the other hand, the free nights are available even at the top category hotels. That’s similar to signup bonuses on the Hyatt and Fairmont cards. The free night signup with Marriott is capped at a mid-tier hotel. And the annual free nights with Hyatt and Marriott are similarly capped as well, but aren’t on this card.

The free nights are not usable at all-inclusive or Hilton Grand Vacation properties and Waldorf Astoria Hotels and Resorts that do not offer standard rooms. Fewer than 40 Hilton properties are excluded under those conditions. The certificates are valid for 12 months after issuance, and for Friday, Saturday or Sunday night stays (and doesn’t vary by region, so it’s the same in the Middle East for instance).

The anniversary free night is based on $10,000 in spend in your cardmember year and not calendar year. And you’ll receive it 6-8 weeks after the conclusion of your cardmember anniversary.

Here’s my take on what makes the card worthwhile:

  • It’s worth signing up for the 2 free weekend nights at any property worldwide.

  • It’s worth keeping at $95 for the HHonors Gold status.

  • It’s worth putting all Hilton spend on this card.

  • It’s worth spending $10,000 on the card for the annual free night (that’s worth up to 80,000 points, so equivalent to 8 points per dollar bonus on that first $10,000 in spend).

  • It’s worth spending $40,000 on the card for Diamond status.

I view Hilton as the program I go to in cities where there’s no Hyatt or Starwood. I like the HHonors program better than Marriott or Priority Club.

And even with a few nights a year the Gold with the card becomes worthwhile since it means free internet, a occasional upgrade, and breakfast. The fee is worthwhile even without the value of the points or the free nights. (While the Hyatt Visa, for instance, comes with free Platinum status as long as you have the card, that status offers internet but not breakfast. The HHonors Gold level has richer benefits than other hotel chains at a similar qualification threshold.)

I’ve long said there are three kinds of cards — those you get just for the signup bonus, those you get because of the benefits of simply having the card, and those you actually want to put spend onto.

This card satisfies the first criteria — two weekend nights at any Hilton worldwide, worth somewhere between 100,000 and 160,000 HHonors points if used correctly. It satisfies the second criteria — Gold status as long as you hold the card, and Diamond if you put $40,000 on the card in a year.

Where it is a role player rather than a killer app is on the use side. It’s worth using — for all of your Hilton spend for sure, I would argue it’s worth putting $10,000 in a year on the card for the annual free night. And for those who will stay at Hiltons enough, the $40,000 is worth it for Diamond.

But it’s not the card that’s most rewarding for everyday spend, I’ll certainly take a Chase Ultimate Reward point or a Starwood point over 3 Hilton HHonors points.

I spoke with someone at Visa who was describing this informally as “a Starwood killer” but that doesn’t ring true to me. It’s a great card for foreign spend and for Hilton spend and to put $10,000 a year on or $40,000 a year on. But it isn’t the most rewarding for most everyday spending.

One Starwood point is probably worth 3.5 – 4 Hilton points in hotel redemptions. Starwood offers the most expensive redemption options at the highest end hotels whereas programs like Hilton and Hyatt’s top end hotels are capped, a $400 hotel night generally takes as may points to redeem for as a $1000 hotel night in those programs but Starwood’s category 7 and hotels requiring double points because they’re ‘all suites cost a choke-worthy number of points. But most upper end big city hotels will take less spend on a Starwood Amex to redeem for than on the Hilton card. And Starwood is much much much more generous and flexible when it comes to airline points transfers, 1:1 and a bonus for transferring 20,000 miles into an airline program, Hilton doesn’t come close with that.

So, to be clear, the Starwood American Express is more rewarding for most spending apart from putting spend on this new card to meet their $10,000 and $40,000 thresholds.

I do like that it’s a Citibank card, there aren’t nearly as many outstanding Citi products as Chase cards or to a lesser extent Amex offerings, which means it’s easier to choose to get this without crowding out other credit card options.

(Disclosure: I do not receive any referral credit for this new Hilton credit card. I did attend a briefing event on the card, and there was a gift bag that contained a bottle of wine. Since I was flying and had no interest in checking a bag, I left the bottle behind. I have no idea whether it was any good or not. Update: I’ve since replaced the link with one that does offer referral credit to me, and is also the best available offer to you for the card.)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. […] On Friday, I wrote “Rumor: Something great from Citi…”  In that post I replayed hints given by Gary Leff (View from the Wing) about a new Citi Hilton card on its way.  Today, Gary revealed the details of the new card in his post “Citibank Introduces Awesome New Hilton HHonors Reserve Card”.  […]

Comments

  1. Thanks for the detailed write-up.

    One additional thing to consider is the Amex 500pt booking which could neutralize the additional point(s)(10 vs 9/6) on domestic stays.

    Doesn’t make me want to shift spending away from more lucrative options as you state, but it will clearly kill any value that the Amex Surpass card has. Will be interesting to see if Amex does anything to enhance the surpass card. If not I could see a large amount of holders downgrading to the no-fee and picking up this card.

  2. @ Mark M: Thanks for the tip, haven’t churned the rest as they weren’t as interesting. No fee and more churnable is something to consider.

  3. It is an interesting card indeed. Unfortunately Citi waited till the middle of the year to introduce it which means that I am almost done with the 20K spend on the Amex that would give me Gold for next year. As well as having all my vacation time already committed for the year. At this point, I would probably wait for next year prior to applying (and I will bet that at one point the first year fee will be waived, and Amex will enhance their offering as well).

  4. @Mark M., Thanks for the data point. I sure could use these benefits more frequently than once every two years or so.

  5. @Maury I just put some random dates in for Aug and that resort in Puerto Rico is going for $175 a night..so may not be the best use of your 2 free nights. just my 2 cents..love that property btw

  6. Awesome? Its questionable whether its better than the Surpass Card. Frankly the build up for this card was way better than the actual offer. I wouldnt call it a game changer, awesome or the best deal out there. Not even close.

  7. It seems to me that this card combined with the no-fee amex is a pretty solid combo. Especially since neither take up a Chase slot.

  8. Good article Gary but you left out the AXON awards – a big benefit of the AMEX card. Anything like that with this Visa?

  9. this card will allow me to churn other cards more since i wont have the 20k i need to spend on my free amex hilton card to get gold and just 95 per year is great. we have about 6 stays a year on hilton and all are on weekends and paid by me so the 2 weekend night will come in real handy in san diego in the summer when rates are 250+ or in palm springs in the winter when they are 300+.
    I think people are overlooking the benefits of gold with the free breakfast and iternet.
    I think citi did a good job looking at this card as one who will benefit people who want to saty at hilton and have a card for a long time. it offers great benefits but not very good as a churn card so they dont waste the sign up bonus on someone who will not stay(i say this as a citi visa hilton customer whom has had the card 6 times in the last 20 months just for the sign up bonuses)

  10. After thinking about this today, i really don’t thing it’s a great card. We also have to see how hard it will be to redeem these nights and which properties are excluded. Overall this card is certainly no “game changer” and as another poster said, i’d rather 100k points (as with b of a virgin atlantic) where I get some flexibility with the nights.
    Thanks for the post and analysis

  11. As there are a couple of aspirational awards I want (Maldives, Moorea), I’m thinking of taking out both the Surpass and this one, but not at the same time.

    As the points don’t expire but the nights do, am I correct is that the order to do it in is first Surpass, then this one?

  12. @Maury Best deal at the El Conquistador in Puerto Rico is Hotwire. I think their tripadvisor review explains how to be certain you’re getting the El Conquistador from their “secret” list. Seems to run about $100/night. Not everyone likes it (it’s probably not as good as most W-A hotels), but it’s my favorite resort in that area.

  13. While ok, it seems to me the best part is the Gold status. It may be worth it if someone doesn’t have a chance to get status via hotel stays.

    However, either AMEX will earn more points overall (9 pts with Surpass or 6 points with no-fee) due to the 6 pts for gas, groceries, phone, internet. This provides significantly more points than the 3 pts at these venues with Citi plus no AXON.

    This does seem to be a Hyatt wanna-be, though. Hyatt offers the same 2 nights, but with first purchase not $2k. Hyatt offers 1 free night annually with no minimum spend, and mid-tier as well.

    Doesn’t really get me excited as $95 for Gold instead of AXON and Silver isn’t as good of a deal. I wish Citi thought proactive about the “whole package” of travel. Maybe a transfer bonus to move Hilton points to AA and AA points to Hilton or some sort of bonus for points if someone owns both cards would be savvy.

    I need a Hilton card, as I will be staying about once per month starting soon in a Hilton property. This is interesting, but the AXON for no annual fee is nice, bonus points for gas, groceries, telecom will bring me closer to meeting AXON 4-day cost, and $20 less gets me gold to start my adventure and an ancillary benefit of Priority Pass (not terribly useful but there).

    I just wish there were Hyatts at my travel locations, as I am currently on the fence on getting this. If Citi was able to be a Hyatt clone, then I would jump on it despite AXON.

  14. “El Conquistador in Puerto Rico….Not everyone likes it”

    That’s for sure: On Trip Advisor 269 people rated it “poor”, 174 rated it “terrible”. And reading those reviews, the people who rated it terrible really, really hated it….

    So what’s the story, do the elites get really nice refurbished rooms, and superior service, and non-elites get never refurbished rooms and terrible service. Or is it simply a matter of “you can’t please everybody”. There are around 1300 “good” and “excellent” reviews, after all.

  15. Regarding acceptance- the AmEx still has its niche in that regard, as merchants overseas can impose region locks on Visa/MC cards, but not AmEx. For example, certain merchants in Japan will say they don’t take foreign CCs, and if you swipe (or insert) your US-issued HHonors Visa, it will not work. But the HHonors AmEx will work just fine.

  16. I have a question about this paragraph on the sign up page for this card:
    “Weekend night certificate(s) is (are) earned after purchase requirements have been met with the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card. Weekend night certificate is valid for one (1) weekend night standard accommodation, double occupancy, subject to availability, at any property in the Hilton HHonors portfolio, excluding those listed at HHonors.com/weekendcertificate. Weekend night certificate is valid at participating hotels in the Hilton HHonors portfolio for twelve (12) months after the date of issuance, as noted on the certificate. The weekend night certificate applies to one (1) weekend night in a standard room and corresponding taxes; and does not apply to gratuities, resort fees or incidental charges.”

    So does this mean that:

    1. You cannot use the 2 nights (weekend only) consecutively

    OR

    2. They will send you 2 certification worth one free weekend night each

    The language about “Weekend night certificate is valid for one (1) weekend night standard accommodation” has me confused.

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