Which Hilton Card is Better? The American Express Hilton Surpass Or Citi Hilton Reserve?

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Million Mile Secrets reader Nandan emails with a question about which is the better Hilton hotel credit card:

Can you tell which one to go for bonus points and maximum benefits:

1.   American Express Hilton Honors Surpass Card
2.   Citi Hilton Honors Reserve Card

Sunday Reader Question American Express Hilton Honors Surpass Or Citi Hilton HHonors Visa

At The Hilton Moorea

Nandan wants to know which Hilton credit card will give him the most bonus points and the maximum benefits, so let’s take a look at both cards.

Hilton Honors Surpass Card from American Express

Link:  Hilton Honors™ Surpass® Card from American Express

Nandan earns 100,000 points after he spends $3,000 on purchases in the 1st 3 months of opening the Hilton Honors Surpass Card from American Express.

Nandan will get free Hilton Gold elite status as long as he has the card.

Hilton Gold status means free internet & breakfast!  This is very valuable – especially in Europe where breakfast and internet are costly.  He could save ~ $45 per day ($30 for breakfast for 2 and about $15 for internet) just by having Hilton gold status!

Sunday Reader Question American Express Hilton Honors Surpass Or Citi Hilton HHonors Visa

Nandan Gets Hilton Gold Status

And if Nandan is a Big Spender and spends $40,000 in a calendar year, he will get Hilton Diamond elite status which will get him a better shot at upgrades, free breakfast and internet.

Nandan will also earn:

  • 12 Hilton points for every $1 he spends at Hilton hotels
  • 6 points per $1 spent at restaurants, supermarkets & gas stations
  • And 3 points per $1 spent on everything else

So if he spent $40,000 with his American Express Surpass card, he’d earn a minimum of 120,000 points ($40,000 x 3 Hilton points per $1) and Hilton Diamond status.

However, the $75 annual fee is NOT waived the 1st year and the card has a 2.7% foreign transaction fee.

So Nandan shouldn’t use his American Express Surpass card for transactions which are not in US dollars.  Instead, he should use a no foreign transaction fee card, like the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve card.

Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve

Link:  Citi Hilton Reserve

Citibank has a no annual fee Hilton card as well as the Citi Hilton Reserve card which has a $95 annual fee which is NOT waived for the 1st year.

Nandan gets 2 weekend night certificates good at almost any Hilton after he spends $2,500 within 4 months.

The certificates are valid for 12 months from when they are issued.

Nandan can use the certificates at any category 1 to 10 Hilton hotels (including Waldorf Astoria hotels) which cost 5,000 to 95,000 points a night such as the Grand Wailea in Hawaii.  Emily and I stayed there on our Spring Break trip to Maui.

Sunday Reader Question American Express Hilton Honors Surpass Or Citi Hilton HHonors Visa

Emily And Daraius At The Grand Wailea

But Nandan can only redeem the free night certificates for weekends, i.e. Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, so he can’t use them to spend a full week in Maui.

But he could use the certificates on the weekends and use Hilton points for the weekdays since there are many other ways to earn lots of Hilton points.

Nandan also can’t use the free night certificates at all-inclusive, Hilton Grand hotels, or certain Waldorf Astoria hotels that have all suites or villas.  But Hilton has over 3,800 hotels so Nandan has lots of places he could use his certificates.

Nandan could also use his free weekend night certificates at the Conrad Tokyo, or the Hilton in Bora Bora where Emily and I had our second honeymoon.

Sunday Reader Question American Express Hilton Honors Surpass Or Citi Hilton HHonors Visa

At The Hilton Bora Bora Nui

Nandan gets free Hilton Gold elite status as long as he has the card.  And if he spends $40,000 in a calendar year, he would get Diamond elite status.

Nandan will earn:

  • 10 Hilton points for every $1 he spends at Hilton hotels
  • 5 points per $1 spent on airline and car rentals
  • And 3 points per $1 spent on everything else

So if he spent $40,000 on his Citi Hilton Reserve card, he’d earn a minimum of 120,000 points ($40,000 x 3 points per $1).

Nandan also gets a free weekend night after he spends $10,000 each year.

However, the $95 annual fee is NOT waived the 1st year.

The Citi Hilton Reserve card also has no foreign transaction fees!  So he could use the Citi Hilton Reserve for stays at Hilton outside the US.


Let’s compare the 2 cards.

I’d pick the Citi Hilton Reserve if I had to pick just 1 of the 2 Hilton cards.

1.   2 Free Weekend Nights Or 60,000 Points

Nandan will get more value from the 2 free weekend nights at almost any Hilton with the Citi Hilton Reserve card than with the 60,000 point sign-up bonus with the American Express Surpass card.

That’s because Hilton has 10 categories of hotels and 60,000 points will get you only 1 night at a Category 7 hotel.

For example, 60,000 points would only get Nandan only 1 free night at the Conrad Bali.

Sunday Reader Question American Express Hilton Honors Surpass Or Citi Hilton HHonors Visa

Nandan Could Stay At The Conrad Bali

But he would get 2 weekend nights with the free night certificates from the Citi Hilton Reserve.

So he could stay for 2 nights at a Category 9 hotel like the Hilton Moorea or a top tier Category 10 hotel like the  Waldorf Astoria Rome Cavalieri.

Sunday Reader Question American Express Hilton Honors Surpass Or Citi Hilton HHonors Visa

Emily And Daraius At The Hilton Moorea

That said, if Nandan prefers staying in category 3 or lower Hilton hotels which cost 20,000 points, he is better off with the 60,000 points from the American Express Hilton Surpass which will get him 3 nights at 20,000 points per night.

The Citi Hilton Reserve will only get him 2 nights at a category 3 or lower Hilton.

Winner:  Citi Hilton Reserve for stays in category 4 or higher Hilton hotels.  American Express Hilton Surpass for stays in category 3 Hilton or lower.

2.   Free Gold Elite Status

Nandan gets free Hilton Gold elite status for as long as he has the Hilton Surpass or the Citi Hilton Reserve card.

So if Nandan just wants Hilton gold status, there’s no advantage in having one card over the other.

He could also get free Hilton Gold status if he has an American Express Platinum card or if he buys a ~$50 Milepoint Premium membership.

Status Matching To Get Free Hyatt Nights In Suite

Nandan might be able to match his Hilton Gold status to a trial Hyatt Diamond status.  Note that matching to Hyatt Diamond status might be a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Hyatt Diamond status gets Nandan:

  • Free breakfast (for up to 4 people in the room)
  • Free internet
  • Free lounge access (free snacks and soft drinks)
  • 4 suite upgrades a year (for paid reservations)
  • Welcome gift (snack or drink) or extra Hyatt points
  • 4 pm late check out

Nandan will  have the trial Hyatt Diamond status for 60 days and 4 confirmed suite upgrades for paid stays.

He keeps Diamond status if he stays 12 nights (paid with cash and not points) within the 60 days of his trial Diamond membership.

Sunday Reader Question American Express Hilton Honors Surpass Or Citi Hilton HHonors Visa

Emily In Our Suite At The Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach

You have to email Hyatt at [email protected] call Hyatt to ask for the trial Hyatt Diamond status match.

Winner:  Tie.  Citi Hilton Reserve or American Express Hilton Surpass

3.   Free Weekend Night After Spending $10,000 Each Year

Nandan gets a free weekend night after spending $10,000 within his membership year (1 year from the date when he is approved and resets each year) on the Citi Hilton Reserve.

But like the free weekend certificate from the sign-up bonus, the free weekend night is not valid at all-inclusive, Hilton Grand hotels, or Waldorf Astoria hotels which have only suites or villas.

Nandan could use it to stay at the Conrad Koh Sumui in Thailand.

Sunday Reader Question American Express Hilton Honors Surpass Or Citi Hilton HHonors Visa

Nandan Can Use His Free Weekend Night At The Conrad Kum Sumui In Thailand

Winner:  Citi Hilton Reserve

4.   Top Tier Hilton Diamond Status After Spending $40,000

Nandan will get top-tier Hilton Diamond status after spending $40,000 within a calendar year (January to December) on the Citi Hilton Reserve.  The Diamond status is valid for the year earned in and the following year.

Diamond status gets Nandan a 50% point bonus on paid rooms and a good chance at upgrades in addition to the free breakfast and internet.

Nandan also gets Hilton Diamond status after spending $40,000 a year on the Hilton Surpass, but he does NOT get the free weekend night which he gets with the Citi Reserve card when he spends $10,000.

So Nandan will get more value from spending $40,000 on the Citi Reserve card because he’d also get the free weekend night after spending $10,000.

Winner:  Citi Hilton Reserve because you also get 1 free weekend night for spending more than $10,000 each year.

 5.   No Foreign Transaction Fees & Card Has A Chip

Nandan will pay no foreign transaction fees using the Citi Hilton Reserve.  But he will pay a 2.7% foreign transaction fee on the American Express Surpass card.

The Citi Hilton Reserve also has Chip and Signature technology, which could make it easier to use outside the US, but he shouldn’t count on it.

Winner:  Citi Hilton Reserve

6.   Earning Hilton Points

Nandan earns 12 Hilton points for every $1 he spends at Hilton hotels using his American Express Surpass card which is better than the 10 points per $1 spent using the Citi Hilton Reserve card.

But if Nandan is staying at Hilton hotels outside the US, he is better off skipping the 2 extra points with the American Express Surpass and using his Citi Hilton Reserve card because it doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees.

Sunday Reader Question American Express Hilton Honors Surpass Or Citi Hilton HHonors Visa

The Citi Hilton Reserve Has No Foreign Transaction Fees

The American Express Surpass card earns 6 points per $1 spent at restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, and 3 points per $1 spent on everything else.

That could be more valuable to than 5 points per $1 spent on airlines and car rentals with the Citi Hilton Reserve.  But it really depends on your spending patterns.

Winner:  It depends on your spending patterns.   

7.   $95 Annual Fee

Nandan will pay a $75 annual fee for the Hilton Surpass card or $95 annual fee for the Citi Hilton Reserve.

Basically Nandan is paying $75 to get 1 night at a Category 7 Hilton (60,000 points with the American Express Surpass card) or $95 to get 2 free weekend nights at almost all Hilton hotels with the Citi Hilton Reserve card.

Winner:  The American Express Surpass card has a $20 lower fee, so it is the winner if your only criteria is the low annual fee.  But I’d rather have the Citi Hilton Reserve for the 1st year (and get the 2 free weekend nights) and have the American Express Surpass for the 2nd year onward for free Hilton Gold status.

If you spend more than $10,000 a year, you’re better off with the Citi Hilton Reserve for the 2nd year onwards as well because you get 1 free weekend night.

Bottom Line

Nandan will get free Hilton Gold status from the American Express Hilton Surpass and from the Citi Hilton Reserve card.  Both cards will also give him Hilton Diamond status if he spends $40,000 a year.

But Nandan also gets 1 free night at almost any Hilton when he spends $10,000 on the Hilton Reserve.  And 2 weekend nights at almost any Hilton as a signup bonus compared to 100,000 points after meeting minimum spending requirements on the Hilton Surpass card.

In addition, Nandan also pays no foreign transaction fees on the Citi Hilton Reserve.

So, if I had to pick only 1 Hilton card, I’d pick the Citi Hilton Reserve card over the American Express Surpass card.

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45 responses to “Which Hilton Card is Better? The American Express Hilton Surpass Or Citi Hilton Reserve?

  1. You could also consider that spending $10k on the Citi HHonors Reserve will give Nandan an extra 30k points minimum, good for a night at a Cat 4 or Cat 5 (depending on the season) together with the free weekend night cert 🙂

  2. Great analysis. I think my husband is going to apply for the Reserve card next month so we can use the nights when we go to Hawaii this summer.

  3. “But Nandan also gets 1 free night at almost any Hilton when he spends $10,000 on the Hilton Reserve.” This statement is slightly incorrect in that you get one free WEEKEND night after spending $10,000 on the card before your next card anniversary. BTW, if you want to see what is excluded from the weekend nights, go to HHonors.com/weekendcertificate and it shows you which properties are not part of this offer.

  4. What about access to GLON and AXON awards? That wasn’t really discussed here but could be a major factor in point redemption.

  5. @D, what if someone (me) has both the Citi Reserve, AMEX Surpass, and AMEX Platinum MB (which comes with Hilton Gold)? I’ve had the Citi card for 8-9 months and just received the last 2 cards last week. I finished spending $10,000 on my Citi Reserve earlier this year. I’m really confused on what to do. Thx D

  6. Recently received Citi Reserve card and met spend. How long does it take to receive free night certificates? Planning on trip to Tahiti . Dont you think using Chase Sapphire Preferred offers a better return than Hilton card even at Hilton properties?

  7. @Grant – I’d keep the Citi Reserve. The $95 annual fee is worth it for the free weekend night and it’s another no forex card.

    @AJB – The free night certificates are issued quickly. I then it was only a matter of weeks. Check your email since they are sent via email. CSP gives you 2X UR and Citi Reserve gets you 10X Hilton at Hiltons, so what do you value more – UR or Hilton points?

  8. One more point to the ‘spend 10k a year to get the free weekend night on your 1 year anniversary’: In the first year, you really only have to spend 7.5k to get that anniversary night since you have to spend 2.5k in 3 months to get the initial sign-up bonus.

  9. Looking into getting a Hilton Card, so thanks for this post! I’m having a bit of trouble deciding which card because I spend $20,000/year on Gas, Supermarket & Restaurant. So I’m looking at 20,000x 6 = 120,000 points extra from Surpass vs. $8,000 spent on airline/car rental = 40,000 addt’l points from Citi Reserve.

    Considering this, which one would you then recommend? Thx!

  10. Can the Citi or Amex cards be churned ? Can someone who has the Amex HHonors cards that does not charge a fee get the Hilton Surpass card for one year then cancel and get the nonfee Amex HHonors cards and get the sign up bonus for the nonfee card again? Can the same thing be done with the Citi card?

    • @Joel – That’s true, but you’d also get the minimum 30,000 points on the Surpass card for spending $10,000. With the Hilton Reserve, you will also get 1 free weekend night.

      @Lively – The Grand Wailea is a vey nice hotel!

      @Jason Tsongas – I write that “Nandan gets a free weekend night after spending $10,000…”in #3 above.

      @Bryan – I didn’t want to pack in too much in the post, but you will get Gold status with both cards so can get the 5th night free. AXOn awards aren’t the bargain they used to be and in many cases, you will pay more points if you use an AXON award than paying the regular price.

      @Grant – If you can spend $10K on the Reserve each year, I’d keep it as long as you use the free weekend certificate in a hotel which costs more than the $95 annual fee. If you plan on keeping the Platinum for a long time, you could cancel the Reserve if you won’t be spending $10K in 1 year.

      @AJB – It takes about 2 to 3 weeks to get an email with the free weekend certificate. It depends on what points you want to collect, but double points on the Sapphire Preferred or Ink Bold/Plus could be worth as much as 10 Hilton points.

      @Ben L – That’s true!

      @John – You could get both the 1st year, and keep only 1 after the 1st year based on which category you end up spending more in.

  11. Since the Citibank cards can be churned every 6-12 months and you have to use the nights in the first 6 months, wouldn’t it be better to have the surpass card to keep the gold status, get the Citibank Reserve for the nights but then cancel before the anniversary/annual fee, wait 6 months and then get it again for 2 more free nights? This seems better than trying to spend $7500 more for one night which could be spent completing the spend on 2 or more other cards.

  12. Thanks for the suggestion. Since the only way I spend $10,000 on the Citi HH Reserve card is with VRCs, that would be 20 VRCs and $80 in fees plus the $95 annual fee means my free weekend night is $175. I would earn 30,000 HH points anywhere from $100-$200. Hmmm what to do…

  13. Will Amex let you have both the Surpass and regular Hilton Amex at the same time?

  14. @hjk62 I haven’t heard of anyone churning the Res card.

    Where did you hear about the 6 month window to reapply?

    By the way, the certificates are good for a year, not 6 months. I have a reservation for next July with certificates I got last July.

  15. To me, citi reserve is better if you want to apply for the bonus free nights. But after the 2 free night, you need to accumulate points for FUTURE hotel nights. What good is it if you’re hilton gold but no points to redeem. I would say amex surpass gives you 6 points for grocery vs 3 points on citi reserve. Keeping the citi reserve would mean slower in accumulating points comparing to the surpass.
    For those who has amex platinum , using surpass to accumulate hilton points is better.
    Also, for those who also have hyatt, IHG cards, keeping citi reserve means more annual fee. Those fees add up.
    Your post is mostly pimping citi reserve card.

  16. @Daraius To get the HH Gold benefits on an award stay, {breakfast internet and room upgrade}, does the person reserving the room with their HH points need to be Gold? Or is it enough if the other person staying in the room is Gold? HH reservation forms usually let you add the name of the other guest in the room. And you could note in the message field that person is Gold, or even email them about it.

  17. I just read that the free certificates expire if you cancel the Res card. 🙁

    What I don’t know for sure is whether HH cancels reservations already made with them, or if they simply don’t let you make a new reservation with unused certificates. My AF comes up around March 1st, but my reservations are for July. Does anyone know if Citi/HH will cancel my certificate reservations if I don’t renew the card?

    • @Robert Hanson – The terms say ” a complimentary continental breakfast for you and up to one additional guest registered to the same room each day of your stay.” I interpret that to mean that you should get the benefit as long as you are “registered” to the same room, and sending an email or letting the hotel know should help. That said, if the stakes are high (say a week stay in Europe) where breakfast/internet can add up, it could be worth getting Gold status for the person making the booking via MilePoint Premium etc.

      Where have you read that you need to have the Hilton Reserve card open when you stay in the hotel? All I see is “Your Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve card account must be open and current at the time the certificate is issued.” I believe you have to have the card open to get the certificates issued.

  18. “Where have you read that you need to have the Hilton Reserve card open when you stay in the hotel?”

    At some lessor blogs that are not as well informed as this one. 😉

    No, they didn’t make clear whether the card had to be open to use the cert, to make a reservation with it, or simply to have it issued. From the T/C you linked I see it’s only to have it issued. So my wife and I can cancel our Res cards to avoid the AF, and still use our certs next summer. Thanks for saving us $190 !

    • @Robert Hanson – After re-reading the terms of the free breakfast and internet for Gold members, it can also be interpreted as meaning that the Gold member has to the primary “registered” guest. I haven’t heard of this happening especially when you show your Gold Hilton card and explain that your partner booked the room and that you would have booked the room instead if you knew that you weren’t going to get the free breakfast etc.

  19. Thanks for that info. My wife will be upgrading her AMEX HH to Surpass, so she will Gold for another year. But I’m dropping both the Surpass and the Citi HH Res to avoid the AF.

    Since we are spending much of next July on award stays at European Hilton properties, we don’t want to find out the hard way that we won’t get Gold benefits when using my points.

    And yeah, it will be far cheaper to sign up for MilePoint Premium than to renew my Citi Res card.

  20. Thanks for that. I already have reservations for using them this summer in Paris. Ironically the only day we could find 2 FC TATL seats on AA, out of the entire summer, is July 1st. And my two certs expire on July 4th. So we come in just under the wire. Thank you Travel Gods…. 😉

  21. Great detailed analysis, Daraius! I agree with you and looks like Citi version is better. The only wrinkle that’s worth mentioning is the Surpass gives 6 pts at supermarkets and gas stations, so that’s a better candidate if the cardholder wants to buy some gift cards or vanilla reloads.

  22. But in terms if earning points on everyday spend, the 6 points per dollar for groceries and gas much outweigh the one point from the other card.

  23. My Amex HHonors card does not have an annual fee (I may be grandfathered, I have had it since 1998), but I have to spend $20,000 to get gold status and I always have a hard time doing that. So I recently got the Citi Hilton Visa card that gives me automatic gold status plus a free night every year if I spend $10,000, which I can easily meet. I already met my $2500 spend to get the two free nights. After I spend $7500 more to get an additional free night, I will then switch back to using my Amex Hilton Honors card because I can earn 2x the points than the Citi card for groceries, gas, and drug stores, where I have most of my expenses. I will keep both cards and do this every year (since the Amex card has no AF), to maximize my points earned. In addition, when I opened the Citi card, I called customer service and asked them to waive the AF for the first year, and much to my surprise, they did!

  24. If I have the free HH CITI card, can I apply for the Reserve as a new customer? Have both, not upgrade.
    I have had the free version for 7 years, simply b/c it has a $20K limit, I keep it to help my credit score for both age and % debt ratio.

  25. Hi. I can’t seem to locate the link but I think you mentioned before that if a person intends to apply for a mortgage that he/she shouldn’t apply for several credit cards. Could you please help me understand the implications if I plan on applying for a second mortgage? I have several cards I’d like to sign up for in the next few weeks. Thanks!

  26. Pingback: American Express Hilton Surpass Card Increases to 75,000 Hilton Points | Million Mile Secrets

  27. I want to point out something:
    “Nandan can use the certificates at any category 1 to 10 Hilton hotels (including Waldorf Astoria hotels) which cost 5,000 to 95,000 points” ===> this might not true, as I know it only valid to use for category 1 to 7 Hilton hotels only according to your post and the screenshot of the certificates that you posted here:

    Please advise if I made a mistake….thank you and kudos for the well maintained and responsive blog!

  28. Pingback: Miles And Points To Italy | Million Mile Secrets

  29. The Hilton free weekend nights can also be used on Thursday nights.

  30. The amex has a 75000 promo until end of Feb. Also if you are like myself and have a decent gas/grocery/restaurant bill, the 6x vs 3x difference could lessen the gap. In my case that difference is about 50,000 points. That doesn’t include the 2x difference in the hotel reward, or an effective 4000 points for the $20 difference in fees. This makes citi worthwhile by a little bit above category 7, oth.

  31. I have a amex Hiltons card. Can i upgrade to surpass card and get 75000 pt bonus? Then can I downgrade back later?

  32. I recently cancelled my amex Hilton Honors card (to apply for another amex card and I can only have max 4). I had booked my upcoming stay using axon to save some pts. Since I no longer have the card is my reservation safe?

  33. Pingback: Limited Time Offer: 75,000 Points on American Express Hilton Surpass Card | Million Mile Secrets

  34. Great comparison ! I must add that a citi reserve free nigh certificate is not flexible . Once you make a reservation, you can’t change it. I learned it the hard way and want potential applicants know about it. Travel plans can change and if that happens you lose your hard earned free night certificate.

  35. I have the amex hilton surpass and gold status. If I add my wife as an authorized user will she get hhilton gold also?

  36. Points not awarded. I have had the Citi hilton reserve for the past 2 years and recently stayed at the Hilton Paris Opera and realized that I did not get the promised 10X points from Citi Hilton. So I called Citibank only to be disappointedly informed that the hotel placed the charge under another business code so despite the fact that it is a Hilton Property they could not award the 10X bonus points. So I went through my prior Hilton Stays over the past year and found that the same thing as occurred on my Hilton stays stateside. Why have a card and a bank that you can not trust to awarded the stated point based upon a computer code entry that they don’t recognized. Hopefully AMEX Surpass is not as shady.

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