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.)