Why Hilton HHonors Gold is Worth $95 (And Two Free Nights More than Pays That Back)

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. 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.)

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. […] 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. […]

  2. […] This makes no sense to me whatsoever. You can now spend 30 nights at Hilton properties to earn Gold status, or get a co-branded credit card with a $95 annual fee. You can spend $40,000 in a year on their Citibank Hilton Reserve Visa or the American Express Hilton Surpass card and earn Diaond. Or you can stay even more with Hilton than before. Status becomes increasingly out of reach through actual stays, but has become much easier just by getting a co-branded credit card. (See Why Hilton Gold is Worth $95 and Two Free Nights More than Pays that Back) […]

  3. […] As I mentioned above, this is more mental housekeeping, cleaning out the attic if you will, for next year.  While some frequent travelers feel you need to have Marriott or Hilton status to get by through a year of travel, I found myself in dozens of cities this year, not needing to stay with either of these chains.  Though if you do find yourself needing backup status in something other than Hyatt and SPG, go with View From the Wing’s recommendations on obtaining Hilton status. […]


  1. Gary, but whats the point of getting Hilton Gold if you don’t benefit from it and stay at other hotels? No sense chasing status if you don’t get the bennies.

  2. @mtlfire – it’s for the 5 or 10 times a year you wind up staying at Hilton properties. My analysis is that it’s best to earn status with Hyatt or Starwood, stay at their properties when you can, but they aren’t everywhere. So you wind up in places without Hyatts or Starwoods and it is good to have status then with Hilton. I consider the Hilton program better than the other big alternatives like Marriott and Priority Club. Ad it’s worth the annual fee on this credit card to have status even for say 5 *nights* a year. I’ll probably do 20 nights a year myself even though it’s no my preferred program.

    Meanwhile if you don’t have any hotel status this is a good one for the occasional or leisure traveler who will do 10 hotel nights a year, a reason to stay with Hilton.

  3. Great analysis Gary. But I just booked four nights at the new Conrad Algrave. Diamond rate was 42,500 per night or 170,000 (rather than 200,000), but the AMEX card got me an AXON rate for 145,000 – I think that’s a steal.

    I think there are free Hilton AMEX cards and I would want to switch to that in order to retain AXON availability rather than just cancelling the Surpass card. Does that make sense?

  4. Do you happen to know when the gold status we got for free by entering a few digits into that website several months ago will expire?

  5. @John B – Hilton is sorta strange in that I never predict when elite status will actually expire. With the card at least you know you get status as long as you keep the card. Otherwise it seems to be YMMV.

  6. @Steve S – I wrote exactly that in a prior post about the card, explaining which cards I’m keeping and which I’m cancelling, I have both the Amex Surpass (cancelling) and the free Hilton Amex (keeping, for AXON awards)

  7. This route doesn’t make sense if you only pull 30-40 nights per year, nestled comfortably between the requirements for mid and high level status for HHonors, SPG and Hyatt.

    There’s no point in chasing status in multiple programs since the percentage of non status having nights is much higher with that number of qualifying nights.

    With 30-40 nights per year, I’d personally stick with one program and put the (assuming avg $150/night @ 40 nights) $6,000 spend on the hotel branded card. In the case of this card, it makes sense for HHonors, since you’ll earn 60,000 points just on the CC spend at HHonors properties, plus you’ll enjoy Gold for every stay, no “earning” it the hard way as a no-status having plebe while you ramp up to elite. This card absolutely makes sense to get it and stick with HHonors.

  8. @Gary — You know I’m a big fan and I agree with most of what you wrote in this post — as usual. But I did flinch at one thing you said:

    “it’s insanely generous to give [Diamond status] out for $40,000 In credit card spend”

    I would probably agree that it’s generous, but you lost me at “insanely.” I think that $40,000 is a helluva lot of spend! Remember, you might have the benefit of being able to put work expenses on a card and reclaim that money later, but the average person doesn’t (at least not in the same amounts as you). Keep in mind that credit card spend represents a small portion of one’s total spend. The “big” things don’t go on cards (rent/mortgage, car payments, kids’ tuition, etc.), which means that if you’re spending $40,000 on one card alone then you’re probably spending twice or three times that much overall per year, which means this isn’t for the average person at all and therefore isn’t that “insane” after all.

    Also, look at it from another angle: Hilton knows that if you need to rely on credit card spend in order to get Diamond status then you’re obviously not staying that much at their hotels anyway, so you’re not going to cost them that much in terms of benefits doled out on you. Especially since — you said it yourself — the difference between Gold and Diamond isn’t huge in terms of what you get. The guy who’s getting the Diamond benefits 60 times a year is the one they need to squeeze for revenue and that’s why he needs to get it the hard way.

  9. Gary, is there a list somewhere showing which Waldorf’s you can/can’t use the 2 free weekend nights at?

  10. I believe that Hyatt will accept Hilton Gold status for a Diamond challenge as well? Perversely, the Hilton Visa may be the fastest way to becoming a Hyatt Diamond

  11. I’d also love to see a list of the properties where you can’t use the 2 weekend nights!

  12. So if I’m already Hilton Diamond and want the benefits of the AXON award stays, I’ll need the AMEX Hilton card?


  13. ‘couldn’t agree more. I’m no regular business traveler (yet) and stay at Starwood properties whenever possible. So even though I don’t have the luxury of having my company footing the bill on hotel stays, I’m still GP Platinum and HH Gold thanks to their respective cards…rude awakening to my business-traveler friends who aren’t aware of these offerings.

  14. For a certain number of readers, this card is worthwhile.

    For others like me, not really. Breakfast isn’t a big meal for me, and I can get cheap weekend nights on Priceline or directly from a lot of sites. That leaves Wifi, and with a $95 fee, I would have to stay 6 nights just to break even.

    But I can break even right now-don’t get this card, don’t pay the fee and go back to those free Citi Hilton cards that give you miles you can use any day of the week.

  15. I appreciate your honesty in always noting when relevant that a particular card issuer “offers a referral credit to me if you use my link”. What however is that credit in real terms? Cash, points, nights?

  16. Can the free nights and yearly certificate be used by others or must they be used by the cardholder?

  17. I get all of my citi credit card annual fees refunded since I’m a CitiGold banking member. If I get this card, I pretty much get status for free then.

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