Amex Surpass Vs. Citi Reserve: Which Hilton Sign-Up Bonus Is Better?

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Update: The below links for the Hilton Honors™ Surpass® Card from American Express are expired, but you can learn more about best available offers here.

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Yesterday I posted about how we’re seeing the highest ever sign-up bonuses on the Hilton HHonorsTM Card from American Express and Hilton HHonorsTM Surpass® Card from American Express. The cards are offering sign-up bonuses of 75,000 and 100,000 points, respectively, which are much higher than usual for these cards.

The first comment on that post was by reader Ryan, who asked the following:

When looking primarily at the sign-up bonuses, even at 100,000 points, wouldn’t getting the Citi® Hilton HHonors Reserve Card card be better even with the additional $20 AF compared to the Surpass? Two free nights at any Hilton could easily be way more than 100,000 points right?

It’s a great question, as Hilton is unique in having co-brand agreements with both American Express and Citi. I’ve written in the past about the Citi Hilton Reserve Card, which is the premium co-brand credit card offered by Citi.


As a starting point, here’s a comparison of the benefits of the Surpass Amex and the Citi Reserve cards:

Hilton HHonors™ Surpass® Card from American ExpressCiti® Hilton HHonors™ Reserve Card
Annual fees:$75$95
Sign-up bonuses:100,000 Hilton Hhonors Bonus Points after you spend $3,000 in purchases on the Card within your first 3 months of Card Membership
Terms and Restrictions apply
Two free weekend nights at most Hilton family properties after spending $2,500 within four months of account opening, plus a free weekend night valid at any Hilton Honors hotel on your first anniversary
Terms and Restrictions apply
Earnings rates:• 12X Hilton HHonors Bonus Points for each dollar of eligible purchases charged on your Card directly with a participating hotel or resort within the Hilton Portfolio
• 6X Hilton HHonors Bonus Points for each dollar of eligible purchases on your Card: at U.S. restaurants, U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations
• 3X Hilton HHonors Bonus Points for all other eligible purchases on your Card
• 10x points for every $1 spent on hotel stays within the Hilton Portfolio
• 5x points per $1 spent on airline and rental car purchases
• 3x for every $1 spent on all other purchases
Elite statusWith the Hilton HHonors™ Surpass® Card, you will receive complimentary HHonors Gold status.

Earn an upgrade to HHonors Diamond status when you make $40,000 or more in purchases each calendar year.
Enjoy HHonors Gold status as long as you’re a Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve cardmember.

Earn an upgrade to HHonors Diamond status when you make $40,000 or more in purchases each calendar year.
Other perksAccess to over 700 airport lounges around the world with complimentary Priority Pass membership valued at $99. With this complimentary membership, all lounge visits are subject to a fee of U.S. $27 per person per visit.Earn an anniversary bonus of one weekend night (standard room, double occupancy) at select hotels and resorts within the Hilton Portfolio after you spend $10,000 on purchases each year (starting from your Annual Fee Date) and remain a cardmember.
Foreign transaction fees:2.7% | See Rates & Fees0%

As you can see, these cards are comparable in many ways. Which card is better depends on what you’re looking for. Ignoring the sign-up bonus, I’d say:

  • The Surpass Amex is better if you stay primarily at US Hiltons (since the card has foreign transaction fees), and/or if you’re simply looking for the lowest annual fee credit card which gives you Gold status (since the fee is $20 lower than on the Citi card)
  • The Citi Reserve is better if you plan on using the card internationally (since it has no foreign transaction fees), and/or if you spend at least $10,000 on the card per year (since you get an annual free weekend night certificate at that threshold)

But what about the sign-up bonus itself? I’d say it all depends what you’re after. If you’re looking for an aspirational redemption, then the sign-up bonus on the Citi Reserve Card is probably your best bet. It offers two free weekend nights at virtually any Hilton property worldwide, so it doesn’t matter whether you’re staying at a Category 1 or Category 10 property.

In other words, you could redeem your two free weekend nights at the Conrad Maldives, which ordinarily costs 95,000 Hilton HHonors points per night.


In that instance the sign-up bonus is essentially worth 190,000 points, with the assumption that you’re redeeming on a weekend and would otherwise stay at that property.


If you have more average redemption patterns, you might come out ahead with the Surpass Amex Card sign-up bonus. As a reminder, here’s Hilton’s award chart (you’ll notice there’s variable pricing for Category 4-10 hotels):


For example, a free night redemption at the Doubletree Kuala Lumpur costs 10,000 points per night, and you get the fifth night free. So in theory 100,000 points would get you 12 nights at this hotel. Admittedly this is the other extreme as far as examples go, and the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.


The main reason I might choose the Surpass Amex Card is because this is a promotional sign-up bonus, which is only valid for about a month. Even without a specific use for the points in mind, it’s useful to have a balance of Hilton points, because most of us will find ourselves in a situation where staying at a Hilton on a weekday is the best option, and we’d rather redeem points.

If you’re eventually open to getting both cards, I’d probably get the Surpass under the current offer, and then the Reserve in the future. But if you’re aspirational about redeeming points and only want to apply for one card, then I’d say the Reserve has an all around more compelling sign-up bonus.

Bottom line

For those into aspirational redemptions, the Citi® Hilton HHonors Reserve Card is probably the all around more compelling option. That being said, the increased sign-up bonus on the Hilton HHonorsTM Surpass® Card from American Express is limited time, and there’s value to be had in having a balance of HHonors points.

So I’d decide which card to get based on what you’re hoping to get out of the card long term, and also whether you just want one card or the other long term.

Which card do you find more compelling, in terms of the sign-up bonus and in terms of the long term value?

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  1. Totally confused. I thought the bonus categories for Amex Surpass were gas stations, restaurants and supermarkets.

  2. Ben –
    I already have the Surpass Card, so since the Reserve is a Visa card, and in consideration of the regular, no -fee Amex Hilton Card is 75,000 points, could I sign up for both of those to earn 2 weekend nights (Reserve) and 75,000 points (No-fee Amex)?

  3. But is it worth an additional 2,000 minimum spending to get 25k more points? Sure there’s the status, but what if one already has that?

  4. Thanks for the shout-out. I was thinking more in terms of aspirational properties but the points accumulation aspects does allow flexibility.

  5. @lucky – I know Hilton offers 5th night free on 4 nights HHonors rewards, but Can you combine 2 night certificate and 2 night points redemption to get the 5th night free as well?

  6. Thanks for this review and comparison. I have the Citi Reserve card now, and I was thinking of getting the Amex Surpass, but based upon this chart, I think I will stick with the Citi Reserve alone for a while. I enjoy the annual free weekend night. I used it last year as part of a stay at the DoubleTree Amsterdam. This year’s free weekend night is being applied to a stay at the Conrad Singapore. The certificates are really easy to use and I had no problem getting it to apply to an existing reservation. For me the 20% extra spending bonus at Hilton properties with the Surpass would be negated by the foreign transaction fees. Especially since I would need to use overseas hotel expenses to meet the $3K purchases in 3 months requirement to get the bonus.

  7. Reminds me of Vizzini’s thought process:

    Man in Black: All right. Where is the poison? The battle of wits has begun. It ends when you decide and we both drink, and find out who is right… and who is dead.
    Vizzini: But it’s so simple. All I have to do is divine from what I know of you: are you the sort of man who would put the poison into his own goblet or his enemy’s? Now, a clever man would put the poison into his own goblet, because he would know that only a great fool would reach for what he was given. I am not a great fool, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But you must have known I was not a great fool, you would have counted on it, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.
    Man in Black: You’ve made your decision then?
    Vizzini: Not remotely. Because iocane comes from Australia, as everyone knows, and Australia is entirely peopled with criminals, and criminals are used to having people not trust them, as you are not trusted by me, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you.
    Man in Black: Truly, you have a dizzying intellect.
    Vizzini: Wait till I get going! Now, where was I?
    Man in Black: Australia.
    Vizzini: Yes, Australia. And you must have suspected I would have known the powder’s origin, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.
    Man in Black: You’re just stalling now.
    Vizzini: You’d like to think that, wouldn’t you? You’ve beaten my giant, which means you’re exceptionally strong, so you could’ve put the poison in your own goblet, trusting on your strength to save you, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But, you’ve also bested my Spaniard, which means you must have studied, and in studying you must have learned that man is mortal, so you would have put the poison as far from yourself as possible, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.
    Man in Black: You’re trying to trick me into giving away something. It won’t work.
    Man in Black: Then make your choice.
    Vizzini: I will, and I choose – What in the world can that be?
    Man in Black: [Vizzini gestures up and away from the table. Roberts looks. Vizzini swaps the goblets]
    Man in Black: What? Where? I don’t see anything.
    Vizzini: Well, I- I could have sworn I saw something. No matter. First, let’s drink. Me from my glass, and you from yours.
    Man in Black, Vizzini: [Vizzini and the Man in Black drink]
    Man in Black: You guessed wrong.
    Vizzini: You only think I guessed wrong! That’s what’s so funny! I switched glasses when your back was turned! Ha ha! You fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders – The most famous of which is “never get involved in a land war in Asia” – but only slightly less well-known is this: “Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line”! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha…
    Vizzini: [Vizzini stops suddenly, his smile frozen on his face and falls to the ground dead]

  8. @Mark — Just make sure that the Citi Reserve awards you the full 10HH points/$ when you use it to pay for Hilton stays. I used to the have it (and the AMEX Surpass) but got rid of it when I noticed that for a full year, they consistently failed to award me full credit for Hilton stays @10HH/$, which they invariably treated as general spend and awarded me 3HH/$. When I noticed that this was happening, they had already shortchanged me for ~50K HH points. Their excuse? The “merchant code” did not indicate that a stay at HILTON Milan or at HILTON Sydney was a stay at a Hilton property!!!

    In the end, they gave me retro-credit for every points and then some for the error, but the bad practice continued and I decided to get rid of the card after I was told the Citi Reserve was not a large enough account for them to devote the resources required to find out what might have been the problem.

    The HH AMEX Surpass has never shortchanged me a single time, and nor has the no-fee Citi HH card, which I got after I got rid of the Citi Reserve.

    I fully documented the fiasco here:

    Bottom line:
    Check to make sure that you got or are getting all the HH bonus points that one should get for using the Citi Reserve to pay for Hilton stays!

  9. Don’t believe everything you read here no matter who says it. here are the exact benefits from the Hilton site.

    Lucky makes it sound like that the gold benefits include a complimentary breakfast at any Hilton.. That’s not the way its worded here…

    Remember he makes a cut out of every sign up so he’s going to make it sound incredible…


    To achieve or retain HHonors Gold status, you need to earn either:
    (1) 20 stays in a calendar year, or
    (2) 40 nights in a calendar year, or
    (3) 75,000 HHonors Base Points in a calendar year

    Benefits of HHonors Gold status include:


    With Gold elite status, you automatically receive a 25% bonus on all the HHonors Base Points you earn.


    Silver, Gold and Diamond elite members will receive every 5th night free4 on Standard Room Reward stays of 5 nights or more.


    Members with Gold status receive all the benefits in the lower tiers:

    Guaranteed Discount: A discounted, changeable & refundable rate is exclusively available for Hilton HHonors members.
    Digital Check-In: choose your room, and customize your stay from your mobile device up to 24 hours in advance.
    Complimentary in-room and lobby Standard Internet access during stays at Waldorf Astoria™ Hotels & Resorts, Conrad® Hotels & Resorts, Curio – A Collection by Hilton, Hilton Hotels & Resorts, DoubleTree by Hilton™, Canopy™ by Hilton, Embassy Suites Hotels™ and Hilton Grand Vacations™
    Quick reservations and check-ins based on your room preferences
    Late check-out2
    Express check-out
    2nd Guest stays free3
    Complimentary access to fitness centers and health clubs5
    Two complimentary bottles of water per stay (at Waldorf Astoria™ Hotels & Resorts, Conrad® Hotels & Resorts, Curio – A Collection by Hilton, Hilton Hotels & Resorts, DoubleTree by Hilton™, Embassy Suites Hotels™, Hilton Garden Inn™ and Hilton Grand Vacations™ hotels)1


    Waldorf Astoria™ Hotels & Resorts

    Space-available upgrade to a preferred room
    1,000 HHonors Bonus Points per stay or one in-room movie1 per stay

    Conrad® Hotels & Resorts, Curio – A Collection by Hilton, Hilton Hotels & Resorts, DoubleTree by Hilton™

    Space-available upgrade to a preferred room
    1,000 HHonors Bonus Points per stay or a complimentary continental breakfast for you and up to one additional guest registered to the same room each day of your stay

    Embassy Suites Hotels™

    500 HHonors Bonus Points per stay or two snack/refreshment choices per stay

    Hilton Garden Inn™

    750 HHonors Bonus Points per stay or a complimentary Hot Cooked-to-Order Breakfast for you and up to one additional guest registered to the same room each day of your stay


    250 HHonors Bonus Points per stay or choice of snack and non-alcoholic beverage

    Homewood Suites by Hilton™

    250 HHonors bonus points per stay or two bottles of water and Pepperidge Farm cookies per stay

    Home2 Suites by Hilton™

    100 HHonors Bonus Points per stay or choice of snack and bottled water per stay

    Hilton Grand Vacations™

    1,000 HHonors Bonus Points per stay

    For members visiting our properties in the Maldives, please click here to view our specific HHonors offerings in this region.

    Terms and Conditions

    1Eligibility for all on-property HHonors benefits subject to full HHonors Terms and Conditions. Fitness Center / Health Club Access and Bottled Water benefits may not be complimentary at properties with a resort charge. Internet Access may not be complimentary in meeting spaces or at properties with a resort charge.

    2Late check-out must be requested and is subject to availability.

    3A second guest stays free in the Member’s room on qualifying stays at hotels when there are additional charges for double occupancy. This benefit excludes stays at any hotel when the rate includes additional components (e.g., meals, activities, parking), or specialized rates (e.g. package rates, bed & breakfast rates) that are quoted as a per person or per room charge.

    4Free night value based on the average nightly value of the stay, up to 4 free nights on a stay of 20 consecutive nights within the same stay. See HHonors Program Terms & Conditions.

    5Complimentary access is to hotel-owned-and-operated fitness centers/health club facilities, only during stays. This benefit may not be complimentary at properties with a resort charge.

    6Restrictions and exclusions apply. Not all benefits apply at all properties. See Terms & Conditions for details.

    7Executive Floor Lounge Access Policy: The following policy applies at all Conrad® Hotels & Resorts, Curio – A Collection by Hilton, Hilton Hotels & Resorts, and DoubleTree by Hilton™ hotels with Executive Floor Lounges. Executive Floor Lounges are available only at select properties.

    If you are an HHonors guest with Gold status, you and up to one additional registered guest in the same room will be granted complimentary access to the Executive Floor Lounge only if you receive a room upgrade to the Executive Floor or an upgrade to a room type that confers Executive Floor Lounge access benefits.
    If you are an HHonors guest with Diamond status, you and up to one additional registered guest in the same room will always enjoy complimentary access to the Executive Floor Lounge, even if you do not receive a room upgrade to the Executive Floor.

    8Restrictions apply on guaranteed availability. See HHonors Terms & Conditions.

  10. Please think twice before applying for Hilton HHonors Reserve credit card. I paid my $95 membership fee last year and have spent more than $10,000 till my anniversary date this February. I cancelled my card late April. Citi said I would not qualify for the free night certificate because I was not a card holder when Citi was ready to dispense the certificates. It is just not fair and not right!

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