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Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve: Banks Fight, You Win

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The Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card has it all: rewards, perks, travel technology and guaranteed luxury. It starts off with a hard-hitting signup bonus: Earn 2 weekend night certificates good at select hotels and resorts within the Hilton portfolio after you make $2,500 in purchases within 4 months of account opening*. The annual fee is $95, which is more than offset by the value of the bonus. And we haven’t even gotten to the ongoing rewards yet.

International travel and elite status made easy

Designed to compete with the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express and Hilton Honors™ Surpass® Card from American Express, 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 rental purchases
  • 3 points per $1 spent elsewhere

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 perks beyond that, including:

  • No foreign transaction fee, a claim not all 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.

You’re also eligible for an anniversary gift of a free weekend night if you spend at least $10,000 a year on the card.

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 Hilton Honors™ Surpass® Card from American Express, and is generally a more traveler-friendly option. But when it comes to the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express, the Citi version just can’t compete.

Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card
vs. Hilton Honors™ Surpass® Card from American Express
Winner: Citi

The Hilton Reserve is meant to poach customers from AmEx, starting with those holding the Hilton Honors™ Surpass® Card from American Express. Which one wins? For most people, the waived foreign transaction fee and automatic Gold elite status will put the Citi on top.

Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card Hilton Honors™ Surpass® Card from American Express Winner
Signup bonus Earn 2 weekend night certificates good at select hotels and resorts within the Hilton portfolio after you make $2,500 in purchases within 4 months of account opening* Earn 75,000 Hilton Honors™ Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 in purchases on the Card within your first 3 months of Card Membership. Terms Apply.
Annual fee $95 $75 AmEx
Foreign transaction fee 0% 2.7% Citi
EMV compatibility? Yes Yes Tie
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 U.S. supermarkets, U.S. gas, U.S. 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.

Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card
vs. Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express
Winner: AmEx

While Citi’s clearly gunning for the Hilton Surpass customers, there’s another heavy-hitting hotel card to contend with: The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express, widely considered to be the best in its class. While the Citi has better technology, the AmEx card’s fringe perks and the versatility and value of Starpoints make the SPG card the clear winner.

Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express Winner
Hotel points valued at… 0.5 cents each 2.3 cents each AmEx, by a mile
Sign-up bonus Earn 2 weekend night certificates good at select hotels and resorts within the Hilton portfolio after you make $2,500 in purchases within 4 months of account opening* Earn 25,000 Starpoints® after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months. Terms Apply. Citi
Annual fee $95 $0 for the first year, then $95 AmEx
Foreign transaction fee 0% 0% Tie
EMV compatibility? Yes Yes Tie
Complimentary elite status Gold, Diamond with $40k spent a year Credit toward elite status; Gold status with $30k spent a year Citi
Hotel rewards rate 10 points per $1 (5%) Up to 5 points per $1 (11.5%) AmEx
Other bonus rewards 5 points (2.5%) on airfare and car rentals 2 points (4.6%) per $1 at Marriott Rewards properties. Citi
Base rewards rate 3 points (1.5%) per $1 1 point (2.3%) per $1 AmEx
Hotel redemption discount None 5th night free, and receive $100 credit at some hotels AmEx
Use points for… Hilton stays at full value SPG hotel stays at 2.3 cents per $1 or airline miles at 1.25 cents per $1 AmEx
Acceptance Visa AmEx Citi

Starpoints are hard to compete with. Not only can you redeem for hotel stays (and get a discount while you’re at it), but you can trade in for airline miles on major airlines, at a better-than-usual value of 1.25 cents per. That’s better than most airline credit cards.