Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve: Travelers, Techies and Luxury-Lovers Rejoice

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The Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve card has it all: rewards, perks, travel technology and guaranteed luxury. It starts of with a hard-hitting signup bonus: 2 free weekend nights, with a bonus weekend night every year. This can be worth as much as $325 a night, if you redeem for a Tier 7 hotel – that’s a $650 signup bonus, one of the best in the business, and more than enough to offset the $95 annual fee. And we haven’t even gotten to the ongoing rewards yet. If you’re a Hilton guest, sit up and take note.

Citi® Hilton HHonorsTM Reserve Card
Citibank Hilton HHonors Reserve Credit Card
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  • Earn 2 weekend night certificates good at select hotels and resorts within the Hilton HHonors portfolio after $2,500 in eligible purchases within 4 months of account opening*
  • Earn 10 HHonors Bonus Points per $1 spent on hotel stays within the Hilton HHonors portfolio*
  • Earn 5 HHonors Bonus Points per $1 spent on airline and car rental purchases*
  • Earn 3 HHonors Bonus Points per $1 spent on all other eligible purchases*
  • Enjoy the benefits of HHonors Gold status as long as you are a cardmember*
  • No foreign transaction fees on purchases*
  • Travel with ease and enjoy global acceptance with your Citi chip credit card
thumbsupPros
  • High rewards rate
  • No foreign transaction fee
thumbsdownCons
  • Has annual fee
  • Needs excellent credit
Annual Fee Signup Bonus APR , Variable* APR Promotions
$95* Earn 2 weekend night certificates good at select hotels and resorts within the Hilton HHonors portfolio after $2,500 in eligible purchases within 4 months of account opening* 15.24%* (Variable) Purchase: N/A
Transfer: N/A

International travel and elite status made easy

Designed to compete with the American Express Starwood and Hilton HHonors Surpass, the Citi Hilton Reserve puts its best foot forward. Let’s start with rewards:

  • 10 HHonors points per $1 spent at Hilton hotels
  • 5 points per $1 spent on airline and car rentals
  • 3 points per $1 spent elsewhere

Now, we value HHonors points at about 0.5 cents apiece, so your effective rewards rate is 5%, 2.5% and 1.5% for the above categories. But you receive a host of perks beyond that:

  • EMV chip-and-signature compatibility, making the card easier to use abroad;
  • No foreign transaction fee, a claim that the Amex Hilton cards can’t make; and
  • Complimentary Gold elite status for the lifetime of the card, and Diamond status if you spend more than $40k a year.

As mentioned above, you do receive an anniversary gift of a free weekend night, which can be worth anywhere from $100 to $325. But there is a caveat: you must spend $10,000 a year to get the bonus. Unfortunately, Citi isn’t as upfront about that requirement as it could be. Remember also that you must spend $2,500 in the first 4 months to get the signup bonus of 2 free nights.

How does the Citi Hilton card compare with the best-in-class American Express hotel cards? It offers a better signup bonus and elite status than the Amex Hilton HHonors Surpass; it has EMV capability, and it has no foreign transaction fee – key for travelers. So yeah – the Reserve takes the gold.

Citi Hilton Reserve vs. Amex Hilton Surpass. Winner: Citi, easily

The Hilton Reserve is meant to poach customers away from Amex, starting with those holding the current Hilton champ, the American Express Hilton HHonors Surpass. Which one wins out? For most people, the waived foreign transaction fee, automatic Gold elite status and EMV compatibility will put the Citi on top.

Citi Hilton Reserve Amex Hilton Surpass Winner
Citibank Hilton HHonors Reserve Credit Card
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on Citibank's
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Signup bonus 2 weekend nights 40,000 points with your first purchase, and 20,000 more when you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months
Annual fee $95 $75 Amex
Foreign transaction fee 0% 2.7% Citi
EMV compatibility? Yes No Citi
Complimentary elite status Gold Silver
Gold first year, and every year with $20k+ spend
Citi
Complimentary Diamond status With $40k+ annual spend With $40k+ annual spend Tie
Hilton rewards rate 10 points per $1 (5%) 9 points per $1 (4.5%) Citi, barely
Other bonus rewards 5 points (2.5%) on airfare and car rentals 6 points (3%) on supermarkets, gas, drugstores, and cable Amex
Base rewards rate 3 points (1.5%) per $1 3 points (1.5%) per $1 Tie
Lounge access None Discounted Priority Pass ($27/visit) Amex
Hotel redemption discount None 15,000-point discount on Category 5 and 6 hotels Amex
Acceptance Visa Amex Citi

As you can see, the Citi dominates in terms of technology, signup bonus and elite status, but the Amex offers a slight discount, improved bonus categories and more fringe benefits. It all depends on which you value more – though an international traveler would do well to avoid foreign transaction fees.

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  • pwc122

    I redeemed my two free nights at the Waldorf-Astoria in Park City during peak season. It wasn’t easy, but rooms there go for $600+/night. I then parlayed my HHonors Gold status into a room upgrade to a 1br/2ba “residence” that can go for north of $900/night.

    Overall, $1800 value out of the card. And, that’s not including the Gold status.

    I wouldn’t value HHonors points at half a cent anymore. The devaluation probably pushes them down to a third or a quarter cent each.

    • amynerdwallet

      Great point, the announcement of the Hilton HHonors 2013 program changes does lead to a devaluation. Currently, there are 8 hotel categories (including Waldorf Astoria) with point redemption ranging from 7,500 to 80,000. The new program which is effective March 28, 2013 has 10 hotel categories with point redemption ranging from 5,000 to 95,000 points. As you have already noticed, the upper point threshold has increased from 80,000 to 95,000 points. This means HHonors members will have to spend 15,000 more points for the most coveted high end hotels!

      Not only are redemptions more expensive, Hilton will also have seasonal pricing, which means that popular dates will cost you more points.

      We will be re-evaluating the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve card prior to March 28 (when the program changes begin) to ensure that the value accurately reflects the devaluation. Thanks for the comment – use up those Hilton points before March 28th! I know I will.

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