We devote thousands of hours of research to help you get Big Travel with Small Money. You support us by signing-up for credit cards through partner links which earn us a commission. Here’s our full Advertising Policy.
Update: One or more card offers in this post are no longer available. Check our Hot Deals for the latest offers.
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
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
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!
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
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.
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 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.
COMPARING THE TWO HILTON CARDS
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.
But he would get 2 weekend nights with the free night certificates from the Citi Hilton Reserve.
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.
You have to email Hyatt at email@example.com 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.
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.
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.
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.