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, 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. Thanks! I’ve been waiting to hear about this “mystery offer” that’s been floating around. I’ll look into this more soon

  2. I like this new card. However, the $40,000 for diamond is a bit pointless if I only use the card for Hilton. (What else will I use this card anyway?)
    Even if I book all my nights at a $400/night rate, I would reach diamond with 60 nights for $24,000. Way before I hit that $40,000.

  3. Hilton points are far less useful than SPG points because SPG is the only program that really does not have hidden capacity controls or blackout dates. However it is nice to have another Citibank credit card option.

  4. I like this card for the sign up bonus. I would sign up for it if I was planning a trip where it would be useful in the near future, especially somewhere with Waldorf Astoria hotels like Rome or Maui. I like the gold status, that is valuable for the free breakfast and internet if spending at least 3 nights a year in a Hilton.

    I do not like that the free nights can only be used on weekends, that makes it less valuable than the Hyatt or Fairmont credit cards, which allow spouses to combine awards to effectively get 4 nights in a row. The most you could get with two Hilton Reserve cards is 3 nights in a row on a weekend, unless you use additional points. I probably would pay the second year annual fee on the Citi Hilton Reserve card or spend $10,000 on it.

    I am curious about whether you will be able to apply for two of these credit cards on the same day, like you can apply for 2 Citi AA cards, 2 Citi Thankyou Premier cards, or 2 Citi Hilton Honors Visas on one day.

  5. I meant to say I would NOT pay the second year annual fee, maybe because I’m cheap and I value other cards with annual fees more, such as the Sapphire Preferred Visa. Wish I could edit my typo.

  6. Thanks for the analysis
    But I beg to disagree with your excitement! This card is not a great card. the 2 weekend nights stink because as “heather” pointed out, you cannot combine spouses nights together to get a free four night stay. this is a MAJOR DOWNSIDE for me. Especislly since you can do that with the Hyatt and SPG cards (SPG bonus’s can be used on free nights in a row)
    Also, I think for 99% of people on this site the free gold status doesn’t matter since you had posted ways to get HHonors gold for free in the past (and the majority of people are not spending 40k on this card for diamond)
    overall this card is lukewarm at best IMHO
    (Although maybe i’m just saying this bc i’m bitter about just applying for the 50k citi hhonors card and now i’m missing out on this 😉
    Nice disclosure btw 🙂

  7. There sure are a lot of Hilton points options now with credit cards and transfer partners, and earning/maintaining gold status is easier than ever. Three different card issuers with prime routes to HH points….

    If the no fee Citi Hilton is remaining, one tip to add is that it would likely be wise for those who have not had the no-fee card to apply for it first and bank the points, and then apply for this new card two+ months later to earn the additional new card bonus.

  8. “one tip to add is that it would likely be wise for those who have not had the no-fee card to apply for it first and bank the points, and then apply for this new card two+ months later to earn the additional new card bonus.”

    Why is that?

  9. How long are the free nights good for?

    And are they good for the Conrad at the Maldives? What other aspirational hotels are they good for?

  10. Nice sign-up bonus! (though I would’ve preferred the points equivalent, even at a modest discount)

    However, it doesn’t seem like it provides much value beyond that for the infrequent Hilton guest. If only spending on Hilton stays, I can’t imagine hitting $10,000 to qualify for the annual free night. And so then, the annual fee only provides HHonors Gold status. Since you can already get Silver (+AXON availability!) for free via the Hilton Amex (or on occasion, even Gold via promos like the Visa Infinite loophole you mentioned back in the spring!), that doesn’t seem like a great deal to me.

    Still worth getting for that sign-up bonus though!

  11. @beachfan – the free nights are good for a year. I was told that if the hotel had standard rooms, and wasn’t all inclusive, you could use the certs. I’m waiting for a definitive list of excluded properties.

  12. Thanks for posting this… Sounds like my next churn will be all Hilton cards. Your blog is the first place I read about this.

    But Gary, this sentence is way to difficult to process this early in the morning!-

    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.

  13. So $95 a year for Gold now at most. Now that status becomes even more severely devalued.

    Gold is the new Silver.

  14. Not impressed. You can get 100k points (2 nights when you want instead of weekends only and within a year) with the B of A Virgin Atlantic. Same annual fee of $95. I won’t be spending 10k on the Hilton Card so the bonus night won’t matter. Gold Status would be nice but I already have it with the visa infinite loophole. I may apply if I know I have a trip coming up and my present Gold Status has expired. No foreign fee is no biggie for me as I have Hotel cards with no foreign fee as well.

    Thanks for sharing it early in the A.M with us.

  15. To Hilton, if they’re reading this: Eh. I’ll take the points rather than the weekend nights. I can stretch the points farther because I value staying longer in an interesting city over staying at a high-end hotel. And Gold is valuable only when traveling for work, or if one stays at a lot of Hiltons. (And of course there are other not-too-hard ways of getting Gold.)

    I’ll probably still take the Virgin Atlantic card for the same min spend, $90 fee, and 100K points. After that minimum spending requirement, I can get three nights at a nice property in China, or at the Conrad Bangkok, etc.

  16. I hate Citi, which is the # 1 reason I will skip this card.

    As others have mentioned, 2 free weekend nights is a mediocre benefit relative to the competition…

    Tell us more about the party Gary!

    “The New York bank, which has been trying to reinvent its credit card unit, held a glamorous launch party for its Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Visa Signature at the rooftop bar of Hilton’s Conrad hotel in lower Manhattan on Thursday.”

  17. Also from the article that Chad linked to…

    Why in the world would it take two years to come up with this card? Two days or two weeks seems sufficient…

    “Jeff Diskin, a senior vice president of global customer marketing at Hilton, said the hotel chain and Citigroup had spent two years developing their new card. ”

    Jeff goes on to say: “we’re positive it’s going to be really positively received.”

    Well, Jeff, you got Gary excited anyway! 🙂 (“Citibank Introduces Awesome New HHonors Reserve Card!”)

  18. Can the 2 weekend nights be used one night at a time or both have to be taken in one stay?

  19. @Lark yeah 2 yrs to come up with this, generate PR in USA Today and WSJ, and they don’t even have a link up so no one can apply for the card!

  20. @ Travel Lover: Usually Citi only allows you to get a signup bonus once (or 18-24 months later, in reality) per product. If this new card works like the AMEX Surpass, and the no fee card like the regular AMEX Hilton, there has been success applying for the no-fee and then a few months later applying for the Surpass and getting the sign up bonuses for both. No guarantees this will be the same case with Citi, but a good chance.

    Combined with a nice chunk of Hilton points, the weekend nights sticking point of this card becomes less of an issue for a longer stay.

  21. One more card for my wife for her upcoming app-o-rama. Hilton Gold for $95/yr plus 1 night free w/$10K spend–pretty decent.

    Hilton Gold will give free breakfast–especially nice in Europe where the breakfasts cost alot.

    The 2 nights would be used in Europe at high end Hiltons, etc. Maybe in NYC where room rates are quite high. (to us!).

    Gleff: Thank you for posting this!! Too bad you don’t have a link on this one. We will try to use your links whenever possible. 🙂

  22. Does that mean that the Hilton Gold status will be even more devalued?
    It seems that way to me…

  23. I dont understand what people mean when they say “Hilton Gold Status will be even more devalued”? It is true that more people have an option to get Gold by various means, stays, CC or promos, but more members does not mean less benefits. Unlike currency, when it devalues, you have less purchasing power, the more gold members does not mean less benefits.

    And I am surprised at the 10X per $$. This makes HH points easier to get, so recent point redemption or category increases are offset by this.

    The only concern that I can see, is that more Gold members can be chasing a finite number of rewards, but there are so many properties around the world, so many rooms, it is hard to imagine this as a too common experience (except for high demand nights, ie olympics, NYE)

    Anyways, back on topic, I like the card and will apply (two years planning the card and they forgot to post a link!!!!)

  24. @Steelsnow: Actually the limitation you state with Citi only seems to be applicable to the AAdvantage cards. Other cards (including standard Hilton card and the Thank You Premier card) are being churned much more frequently by many of us.

  25. This card is very attractive and provides a great value with annual Gold status. The two free nights could be redeemed at a high end hotel such as Hilton Paris ADT. Thanks for the info.

    PS: Where is the link for the app?

  26. @Mark M

    Would you please tell us about your experience in how frequently you have been able to churn your Citi cards?


  27. To those looking for a link: USA Today or WSJ or Gary are not the advertising arm of CitiBank to provide you with a link for free (without any compensation to them from Citi). Just getting the tip for this new card should be enough to search and find the offer.

  28. This is very opportune for me. Going to Europe for 3 weeks in September. Already booked 2 stays, Rome Cavalieri and Paris ADT using points. Have to pay for stays in Istanbul, Athens and London to the tune of $ 4,200. I was going to use my Amex Surpass card to accumulate the points and absorb the FTF of about $113. I am already Gold from my Amex spend but this card is a no brainer. Pay the $95 fee and save $113 in FTFees, then downgrade the Surpass to the no fee Amex upon renewal. Keep this card and get gold status without spending $20,000 on Amex. Let me know if there are any holes in my logic.

  29. 1) I would prefer the 2 nights worth of points.
    2) I don’t like the weekend restriction.
    3) I won’t be applying for this.

  30. @Ram

    Or, you know, the link wasn’t up yet. That was one weird topic to get upset over.

  31. As a serial churner (like many of the people reading this blog!), I’m not feeling the love here. First, the HHonors program is only mediocre. Being Gold is nice if you stay in traditional Hiltons, but I rarely do so unless I’m overseas. And I have Gold status anyway thanks to the, um, “previous promotions.” If I didn’t have that status, and I had a particular need for it — like a long trip to Europe where I planned to stay at a few Hiltons — I’d apply. But otherwise? Eh.

    I’m wondering who the idiot was at Citi who thought this was a Starwood card killer. Like priorityclub, they needed to AT LESAT give you a free night at any Hilton worldwide for card renewal. Spend $10,000 for a free weekend night? Please. And the sign-up bonus is only worthwhile if you have a specific resort stay in mind.

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