Key Link: Citibank Hilton Reserve Visa
Ever since American Express came out with the ‘Surpass’ co-branded Hilton card, I’ve been a Hilton Diamond member. That card gives you Gold the first year free, or $20,000 annual gets Gold and $40,000 spent on the card gets you Diamond.
Admittedly $40,000 is a lot of spend, but I wanted top tier with Hilton, it’s my ‘backup’ hotel program, since it’s really improved quite a bit as an overall program over the past couple of years.
See, I like Hyatt Gold Passport and Starwood Preferred Guest the best, I find that overall their properties are better and elite treatment offers the best value. But they’re both smaller chains than Priority Club, Marriott, and Hilton. Sometimes you just have to travel somewhere that there’s no Hyatt or Starwood. And in those cases, for a frequent traveler, it’s important to have a backup.
Some people choose Hilton, Marriott, or Priority Club precisely because they’re everywhere, so they earn status with that program. I am a bit too aspirational in my stays and my award desires, so I can’t quite do that. But I don’t want to walk into a small town and have no recognition, either.
That’s why I make an effort to ‘earn’ status with Hilton through credit card spend.
But I’m giving up on Diamond. The Surpass card gave me Gold at $20,000, Diamond was ‘just’ an additional $20,000.
Now Citibank has come out with the Hilton Reserve Visa which gives you Gold just for having the card, no spend required. That makes Diamond an incremental $40,000. And Diamond isn’t that much better than Gold. Considering the tradeoffs in stays or spend, Hilton Gold really is the sweetspot, the best elite HHonors level to have. Which makes this card a killer app for travel.
I’ve already earned Diamond for next year, so I won’t be getting the Reserve card yet. I’ll wait until my status drops down. But it’s clearly the go-to card, something that anyone who approaches travel the way I do should get. It’s a $95 annual fee, and that gives you Gold status. Period. The free nights the card earns are worth more than the fee, of course. But the fee along for Gold is an easy decision, since Gold gets you free breakfast, free internet, and upgrades. You can break even on a single stay quite easily, stay more than once a year at Hilton and there’s no excuse not to be Gold if you are in a position to get this card.
The card offers:
- Two free weekend nights after $2500 in spending as a signup bonus
- Gold status as long as you have the card or Diamond status after $40,000 spend
- No foreign currency transaction fees
- 10 points per dollar spent at Hilton, 5 points per dollar on airline and rental car spend, 3 points on everything else
- An annual free weekend night each year you put $10,000 on the card
One Mile at a Time and I had a debate where he argued that HHonors points are worth 0.8 cents apiece, 3 HHonors points per dollar amounts to a 2.4% rebate which is as valuable or more valuable than any card for spending. I argue that HHonors points are worth less than that, but the free night after $10,000 in spending makes this card exceptionally valuable to put $10k on, probably the most valuable use of $10,000 in spending you can have besides using that spend strictly to meet the requirements of signup bonuses.
So it’s a strong card, but my argument here is limited to status.
And about making the case that Gold is the sweet spot in the HHonors program, going for Diamond is probably a waste.
- Diamond status normally requires 28 stays, 60 nights or $10,000 in spending with Hilton (if you didn’t earn it via the credit card)
- Gold status normally requires 16 stays, 36 nights, or $6000 in spending with Hilton (if you didn’t earn it via the credit card)
Given how easy it is to get these status levels, it seems crazy to me to actually stay at Hilton hotels to earn status unless you have no choice. Stay with Starwood or Hyatt, and pay $95 a year for Hilton Gold with this credit card.
Let’s compare benefits:
- Bonus points: 25% for Golds, 50% for Diamonds
- Lounge access:Golds get Executive floor upgrades when available, Diamonds get access to the club even if no upgrade
- Breakfast:When there’s no Executive lounge, or Golds don’t have access, both sets of elites get (technically continental) breakfast
- Upgrades: Language for both Golds and Diamonds are murky, even Diamond upgrades aren’t guaranteed but no longer exclude suites in the terms and conditions (but suites aren’t an entitlement, either). In practice I find the upgrades similar. Upgrades apply only at Conrads, Hiltons, and Doubletrees.
- Internet: Both Golds and Diamonds get free internet
- Points amenity: Diamonds get 1000 bonus points per stay, Golds would have to give up breakfast to get the points
Ultimately the difference between Gold and Diamond isn’t that great, and if Hilton isn’t your ‘primary’ program it’s not worth going to much extra effort for most folks to get there. Some hotels do go above and beyond for Diamonds, but in terms of what you are entitled to expect there’s only a little daylight between the two levels.
If you do stay at Hiltons, getting the Citi Hilton Reserve Visa is probably a no-brainer for the 10 points per dollar on Hilton spend, and you might even make the $10,000 or much of it on heavily bonused spending.
If you don’t stay at Hiltons regularly, it seems worth getting the card, hitting the $2500 minimum spend on the two nights, and then possibly making it to $10,000 for the extra free night but then putting it in a drawer.
Unquestionably the introduction of this card means that I’m going to stop spending on my Surpass card, something I’ve done for 2012 anyway now that I’ve put $40,000 spending on the card — but I won’t use it next year, I’ll cancel instead (after transferring all of the credit off the card, since American Express allows you to move your credit lines around on their website again). I do still have the ‘free’ Hilton American Express (non-Surpass) from before the Surpass card came out, I haven’t used it in years but there’s been no reason to cancel. I have the credit line down to $1000. I’ll keep it in a drawer, if only to continue to have access to ‘AXON’ discounted awards.
But the only ‘value for your dollar’ elite level with HHonors is Gold, Diamond doesn’t get you much more and Silver only really gets you access to discounted elite multi-night redemptions. Take this card, get your Gold status locked in, and then stay where you wish… (Some will even use the Gold status to match to other hotel programs, though there are fewer programs where having Gold without stays will get you a match, in part because status challenges have become a common replacement for matches and in part because Marriott doesn’t generally even ask for proof of status with asking for the challenge.)
And at the end of the day, you take your free nights or points from the card and the occasional stay where you use your status, and burn them at Conrads in Asia which are overall spectacular and also a reasonable value on points.
(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.)