Key Link: Citibank Hilton Reserve Visa
I’ve written that with the introduction of the Citi Hilton Reserve Visa I plan to replace my current Hilton Surpass American Express card.
I’ve been using the American Express co-branded Hilton card the past few years because it gets me Diamond status with Hilton for $40,000 in annual spend. The new Hilton Reserve Visa also lets you earn Diamond status after $40,000 in spend. But I believe it’s actually better than the American Express Surpass card:
- Hilton HHonors Gold status comes with the card, no spending required to keep it (the Amex Surpass requires $20,000 in spend to keep Gold)
- No foreign currency transaction fees, so I am willing to use the card outside the U.S.
- 10 points per dollar spent at Hilton
Regular readers know Hyatt is my favorite hotel program, Starwood is my second favorite. Both both chains are on the smaller side, they pale in comparison to Hilton, Marriott, and Priority Club.
That means I need a ‘backup program’ where I can get decent and rewarding treatment when I need to stay somewhere outside of my wheelhouse. I view the Hilton program as far more generous than Marriott or Priority Club. And they have properties all over, I can find something in the Hilton chain when I can’t stay with Hyatt or Starwood. The size of the program here matters a great deal, and I want to be able to be treated well even when I veer off from my favorites.
Plus Hilton has some really excellent high-end redemptions that are a great value, their top-end Conrads will usually run 50,000 points per night which isn’t that many more points than a run of the mill Hilton in a medium-sized city. The Doubletree in Manhattan runs 50,000 points per night. The Conrad Koh Samui runs 50,000 points per night — and gets you a standalone ocean villa with its own pool. (When I stayed there I actually paid 200,000 points for 5 nights — just 40,000 points per night with the multi-night discounted redemption for elites… and I lucked into a two-bedroom villa as well.)
(One bedroom ocean villa with private pool at Conrad Koh Samui)
One of the savviest traveler writers I know emailed me when the Citi Hilton Reserve Visa came out,
The more I think about this new Citi card, the more I come to an inevitable conclusion: You’d be insane to actually STAY at a Hilton Family property now if you have a choice and are looking to maximize your hotel stay earnings over the course of a business travel year.
I mean, $95 a year buys you Gold, the only value-for-money elite level in HHonors since Diamond is essentially worthless for extra amenities and Silver is nothing anyway. So why not just take the card, get your gold level each year and then direct all your STAYS to Starwood, Hyatt or even Marriott? I mean, it seems to me THE BEST hotel strategy from now on is to buy HHonors Gold and stay somewhere else as much as possible.
Every business traveler in America should be Hilton Gold and work to getting elite status elsewhere with their stays.
That sums up my strategy in a nutshell. I can buy Hilton Gold for $95 a year and I’m well-positioned with my backup program for decent treatment whenever there’s no Hyatt or Starwood where I’m going.
I used to put $40,000 on the American Express Surpass card for Diamond. That’s because the Surpass card gave Gold free the first year but you needed to spend $20,000 a year after that to keep it. I wanted Gold, but since it was an incremental $20,000 in spend I went for Diamond.
Now that Gold is guaranteed just for having the Citibank card I can get that card, have Gold, and call myself good. No more real need for Diamond.
See, Hilton HHonors Gold is the most rewarding elite tier that you can get for its level of qualifying activity (it normally takes 16 stays, 36 nights, or $6000 spend and is comparable then to Starwood Gold or Hyatt Platinum).
Hilton HHonors Gold gets you upgrades, free breakfast, and free internet. No one else gives breakfast at a similar qualifying requirement, and no one else gives you breakfast just got getting the card.
With these benefits, you’ll ‘earn back’ the $95 annual fee for this card with just a few hotel nights a year spent with Hilton. And of course the card comes with 2 free weekend nights (after $2500 spend) that are valid at most Hilton properties worldwide. There’s no category cap. (Some Waldorf=Astoria properties and hotels without standard rooms are excluded). Plus the card is great for paying for those handful of Hilton nights with 10 points per dollar. Plus since you stay elite you have access to the discounted multi-night awards, fewer points to redeem for four or more nights, that’s how I saved 40,000 points on my Conrad Koh Samui stay. (Although the no-fee Citi Hilton Visa also nets you Silver status and that benefit.)
Meanwhile Diamond status isn’t all that much more rewarding than Gold. Normally Diamond takes 28 stays or 60 nights (or $10,000 in spend) per year to qualify, which is why it’s insanely generous to give it out for $40,000 In credit card spend. It does get you a 50% bonus on points earned (vs. 25% for Gold). And it guarantees not just breakfast but lounge access (at hotels that have a lounge) even when not upgraded to a club floor. Diamonds may get better upgrades than Golds, but that is hit or miss.
Diamond is better than Gold, sure, and I made the gamble personally that it was worth $20,000 in spend more than Gold (although I’m not sure that’s correct). But it’s probably not worth $40,000 in spend more than Gold. So I can drop my $75 annual fee Amex Surpass card, get the $95 annual fee Citibank Hilton Reserve Visa, and free up a bunch of spending.
It’s free status, upgrades, internet, and breakfast and a couple of free nights cover the annual fee the first year.
Great as a backup program, or for folks who don’t have a primary hotel program with elite status currently because they’ll be reasonably well-treated.
(Note: the Citibank Hilton Reserve Visa offers a referral credit to me if you use my link, which provides the best current offer for the card. I do appreciate it if you choose to use my link to sign up.)