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- Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card
- Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card
When I attended the launch event for the Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card at the Conrad in New York at the end of last month, the senior team member from Visa who was there was telling me he thought they had a “Starwood killer.” I told him that they had built a great card, but that I didn’t agree.
The Starwood Amex has been set the standard for most rewarding card for a decade or more.
In the very first month of this blog, in May 2002, I wrote:
[T] he credit card I recommend most often for earning miles is the Starwood American Express, because points transfer 1:1 into most airline programs and you get a 5k mile bonus for transferring 20k points — equivalent to earning 1.25 miles per dollar on all purchases.
Simple value proposition: 1 Starpoint is worth more than the 3 Hilton HHonors points per dollar that the Hilton Reserve Visa earns on un-bonused spend. The basic value on a non-bonused dollar of spend is higher with the Starwood card.
Starwood points are the single most valuable points currency. I value a Starpoint at somewhere between 2.2 and 2.4 cents apiece. Lucky thinks a Hilton point is worth 0.8 cents apiece (so each dollar of spend on the Hilton Reserve Visa would be worth 2.4 cents). I disagree — I value a Hilton point somewhere between 0.5 and 0.6 cents each.
Now, the Hilton Reserve Visa is actually better than that.
There’s no question that the Citi Reserve Visa has better benefits. I plan to get it myself (next year, since I’ve already put $40,000 in spend on my American Express Hilton Surpass card to earn Diamond status). I think every business traveler should have it, it’s worth a $95 annual fee to have Gold status with Hilton. It really is a business travel killer app.
I’ve frequently written that there are 3 basic types of cards:
- Those you get for the signup bonus, there’s an incredible upfront offer that’s tough to say no to. But you don’t want to put more spending on the card than necessary to earn the bonus, because the card itself isn’t that rewarding. Both cards come with good signup offers–the Hilton Reserve comes with 2 free weekend nights at most any Hilton property after $2500 spend, the Starwood Amex has up to 25,000 points as a signup bonus.
- Those you get for the benefits. Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card is a no-brainer here. Probably the king of this category is American Express Platinum (primarily for the airport lounge access). But that gets you to carry the card, to keep it on an ongoing basis, not to useit.
- Those you get because they reward your spending. Here are the most rewarding cards for different kinds of spending. But for spending that isn’t in a bonus category, and isn’t being used to earn a signup bonus, there’s no card more rewarding than the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express.
I believe every frequent traveler should get the Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card. The Hilton Gold status that comes just from having the card and which you keep as long as you are a cardmember is worth the $95 annual fee, spend a handful of nights each year with Hilton and you’ve got yourself covered with free breakfast, free internet, and the occasional upgrade. (You can then concentrate on Starwood and Hyatt’s elite tiers which are the most rewarding but which don’t have properties everywhere the way that Hilton, Priority Club, and Marriott do.)
But whether everyone should use it instead of the Starwood Amex? That’s a more complicated question. For the first $10,000 in spend, yes, if you are going to put $10,000 on the card in a cardmember year — no more, no less. It’s also better for foreign spend since it has no foreign currency transaction fees, while the Starwood American Express does.
SIDE-BY SIDE COMPARISON:
- Signup bonus: 25,000 points vs 2 free weekend nights. Points are always more flexible, they can be used any time versus weekend only and only within a year. They can be transferred to airline miles. Personally I prefer the 25,000 points for the flexibility, but it’s possible to get more value out of the 2 weekend nights if you were to use them at a top Conrad hotel property for instance. Winner:SPG Amex, by a little.
- Benefits: Hilton card gets you an annual free night after $10,000 spend, there’s no annual free night with SPG Amex (as you’ll also find with Hyatt, Marriott and Priority Club, the first two of which cap the redemption category of their annual free night). Automatic Gold status for having the Hilton card, have to spend $30,000 on the SPG Amex for Gold, and SPG Gold isn’t as valuable as Hilton Gold. You can earn top tier status after $40k in spend on the Hilton card, the Starwood card just gives you 2 stays and 5 nights towards status. Hilton Reserve has no foreign currency conversion fees, SPG Amex does, that means I’d rather put spending on the Hilton card when traveling abroad – even if I was paying a bill at a Starwood hotel. Winner:Hilton Reserve, by a wide margin.
- Rewards spending: 1 Starpoint is worth more than 3 HHonors points. Whether it’s comparing similar hotels, and with the exception of a handful of hotels at the very top of Starwood’s pyramid, you’re going to get better value out of a dollar of spend with the Starwood Amex. Starpoints are the gold standard, the most valuable currency there is. Part of that is the flexibility. If you want airline miles there’s generally no better card for earning than the SPG Amex. $20,000 spend on the Starwood Amex earns 25k miles in most airline programs you’d be interested in. You’d have to spend over $50,000 (excluding bonus categories) on the Hilton Reserve card to earn the same number of airline miles. Now, if you include spending the first $10,000 on the Hilton Reserve card to earn the annual free weekend night (something the Chase Hyatt, Marriott, and Priority Club cards throw in without spend) then it’s likely the case that the $10,000 spend is more rewarding on the Hilton Reserve card. Winner: SPG Amex
Bottom-line: The Starwood Preferred Guest American Express is still the go-to every day top of wallet choice. The Hilton Reserve Visa isn’t a “Starwood killer.” But it is a must-have for the serious traveler.
Editorial note: any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer. Comments made in response to this post are not provided or commissioned nor have they been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any bank. It is not the responsibility of any advertiser to ensure that questions are answered, either.