Should You Get The Amex Hilton Surpass Or Citi Hilton Reserve?

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

Earlier I wrote a post comparing the increased sign-up bonuses on the no annual fee Hilton Honors™ Card from American Express and the $75 annual fee Hilton Honors™ Surpass® Card from American Express. The cards are offering increased sign-up bonuses of 80,000 Honors points and 100,000 Honors points, respectively.

However, one unique aspect of the Surpass Card is that it’s also offering a free weekend night certificate valid at just about any Hilton hotel on your card account’s first anniversary. This is a benefit I don’t ever recall seeing on one of the Amex Hilton co-brand cards before, but rather this is a benefit that might sound familiar with the Citi® Hilton Honors Reserve Card.

So in this post I wanted to address the differences between the two premium Hilton co-brand cards — the Hilton Honors™ Surpass® Card from American Express and the Citi® Hilton Honors Reserve Card.

To start, here’s a table comparing the two 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%

Which card has a more lucrative sign-up bonus?

The Citi® Hilton Honors Reserve Card offers a sign-up bonus of two weekend nights upon completing minimum spend. Those can be redeemed at virtually any Hilton property, though they have to be used within a year. Two nights is great for a weekend getaway to an awesome hotel.


Meanwhile the Hilton HHonorsTM Surpass® Card from American Express is offering a sign-up bonus of 100,000 points upon completing minimum spend, plus a free weekend night on the card’s first anniversary.

Hilton’s most expensive hotels go for 95,000 points per night, meaning that you’ll absolutely come out ahead with the Surpass Card. Furthermore, you have a lot more flexibility with that sign-up bonus, since those 100,000 points could be used for 20+ nights at a hotel, depending on where you stay.

The catch with the Surpass Card sign-up bonus is that you’ll have to wait a year to get the weekend night certificate, so it’s far from instant gratification.

Personally I think the sign-up bonuses on both cards are worth taking advantage of. The cards are issued by different banks, so you could get both cards and receive a total of three weekend night certificates plus 100,000 points upon completing minimum spend. That’s potentially a lot of value.

Which card is more lucrative long term?

It all depends on what you’re looking for:

  • If you mainly want Gold status out of the card, then the Hilton HHonorsTM Surpass® Card from American Express is a better option, given that it has a lower annual fee ($75 vs. $95)
  • If you want to put spend on the card, the Citi® Hilton Honors Reserve Card is a better option, since it offers an annual free weekend night certificate when you put $10,000 of spend on the card per year (you can earn this every year, rather than just on your first anniversary, as is the case with the Surpass Card)
  • If you’re using the card for everyday spend, the Hilton HHonorsTM Surpass® Card from American Express largely offers a better return on spend, as it offers 6x points at U.S. supermarkets, U.S. restaurants, and U.S. gas stations; however, this card has foreign transaction fees, and the Citi Reserve offers a free weekend night certificate after spending $10,000 in a cardmember year

Bottom line

Both the Citi® Hilton Honors Reserve Card and Hilton Honors™ Surpass® Card from American Express are great cards. It could make sense to apply for both cards, which would get you three free weekend nights plus 100,000 points. If I were to apply for just two Hilton credit cards, those are the ones I’d choose.

While the Surpass Card has a limited time increased sign-up bonus, there’s a lot of long term value to the Reserve Card as well, especially if you plan on putting spend on the card, given the annual free night certificate you get when spending $10,000 on the card per cardmember year.

If I were to apply for just one card, though, I’d probably choose the Surpass Card, given that the sign-up bonus is limited time. Meanwhile the sign-up bonus on the Reserve Card has been around for quite a while, and I doubt it will change any time soon.

To those of you who have one of the premium Hilton cards, do you prefer the Surpass or Reserve?

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  1. I recently applied for both SPG branded AMEXs cards (I was approved for both SPG cards) and was denied for the Surpass card. Not sure why…

  2. You put the free weekend night on the first anniversary with the wrong card in the chart….with the Reserve you have to spend $10K. The write up is correct.

  3. AMEX is serious about loyalty, dependable with respect to crediting the correct number of category points, and delivering consistent service and support. Citi, on the other hand, seems to be in the loyalty business half-heartedly. They failed so many times to credit me the correct number of category points on the Reserve visa I got rid of it after they told me point blank that the Reserve portfolio was not large enough for them to use the resources necessary to fix the problem. Well, just consider what’s happened to the much hyped and touted Citi Prestige…

  4. Does the foreign transaction fee also apply to Hilton Properties overseas?
    What about if you book on the Hilton site using the card, but the rate is in another currency?


  5. Do you know if Amex/Hilton is going to give the free night on your anniversary for existing Amex Hilton Surpass card holders?

  6. @Lucky – I just reached anniversary with my Citi Reserve after I spent $10,000 on it. Do you know if I can CANCEL the card and still get the free night certificate or do I have to wait until I receive or redeem it to cancel? I’d like to pay $95 just once instead of twice. I’m planning on using it on Sunday night at Koh Samui where I redeemed my 2 night certificate for Friday and Saturday already.

  7. @Raj. Yes, the foreign transaction fees apply to anything outside of the home country and the includes Hilton International Hotels. For example, if you book at a Hilton hotel at France, you will pay for the hotel room as well as an extra charge of foreign transaction fee of 2.7 percent. I love Hilton and AMEX, so I personally won’t mind it.

  8. @Raj, yes — as Stanley Chen wrote above, the FTF applies to anything charged outside of the United States (on the US-issued American Express card).


    @Lucky, you asked at the end, “To those of you who have one of the premium Hilton cards, do you prefer the Surpass or Reserve?” I would *think* the answer is simple: the one you have is the one you prefer.

    Now, that said, I looked long and hard at both cards, and decided to go for the Hilton [H]Honors Surpass card from American Express . . . DESPITE the stupidity of an international hotel chain discouraging the use of their own co-branded card internationally. It boils down to points: a) I get 12x (vs 10x) for Hilton stays, in the US or abroad; I get 6x at US *only* supermarkets, restaurants, and gas stations (vs 5x for air fare and car rentals). Only the 3x “everyday” spend is the same. I have other cards that will give me a better return on air fare and car rentals, AND will provide primary rental coverage. I’d rather have the extra at supermarkets. (And, other cards equal or “surpass” this card for gasoline and at restaurants.) Simply put, the points will accrue just that much faster with the Amex (compared to Citi), AND the AF is lower. To me, it was a no-brainer.

    Although Hilton Honors points only have an estimated value of 0.5-0.6¢/point, when staying at a US property I earn 27 points per $1 on the stay and the spend combined. And that adds up fast!

  9. “ALTHOUGH Hilton Honors points ONLY have an estimated value of 0.5-0.6¢/point…” [CAPS added]

    Sounds like a bad thing that each HH points is worth on average 0.5-0.6 cpp except that’s cents PER HILTON HONOR POINT. If you converted that value to starpoints, each HH point would be 3.0-3.6 cents PER STARPOINT; or 1.5-1.8 cents PER WoH POINT.

    If you are given $1 in Australia and $0.76 in the US, which is worth more? Not exactly a brain twister 🙂

  10. The overseas transaction fees for Hilton stays led me to cancel the card…seemed a bit obtuse to not waive it for Hilton stays (which would encourage me to stay at Hilton properties and also use the card more often). But if you travel a lot and put $10K worth of Hilton hotels on it that is a $200 in fees…no thanks!

  11. Is there a way to upgrade from the No Fee Hilton to Surpass and get the 100k points AND the free weekend night? I see the 100k upgrade offer in my AMEX account, but not the free weekend night that a new signup will get.

  12. The FTFs are — for me — a non-issue. I simply don’t use the card overseas¹. I use a card w/o FTFs, be it my Amex SPG, or Citi Prestige and the 4th night free. But *most* often, I’m using my points for free stays when traveling abroad . . . any local fees go on a cash back card (with no FTFs), and then I use the points from that card to cover the fees.

    ¹ I agree with you, and have said so frequently: it’s stupid for the Hilton Amex card to charge FTFs.

  13. @thomas – I doubt it. I would just sign up for the surpass as a new card. You can have both. I do. Then just cancel the surpass after the second year and upgrade the no fee card soon after when the offer the 100k again.

  14. @ken – yes it’s dumb this card has ftf. I don’t understand Amex sometimes but there is still value to be had it you can use at hiltons domestically. The points rack up very quickly.

  15. @dcs – makes a good point as usual. People complain about the value of Hilton points but you accrue them much quicker. One can easily earn 20-40k per visit especially given their promotions such as 2k a day. I find for the value hiltons offer the most consistent product across the board for my travels and there’s usually always at least one brand wherever I travel.

  16. @Shawn —>

    1) ” . . . yes it’s dumb this card has ftf. I don’t understand Amex sometimes . . . ” As, I think, the WORLD agrees that it’s dumb for this card to have FTF’s, I would only ask if this is the “fault” of Amex, of Hilton Honors, or of both — I don’t know at which company’s “feet” to lay the blame . . .

    2) “People complain about the value of Hilton points but you accrue them much quicker. One can easily earn 20-40k per visit especially given their promotions such as 2k a day.” Yes, precisely my point when I spoke of the 27x per $1 that I receive on spend + stay. Now add to that both their special and their on-going promotions like the 2k/day or the extra 500 pts. for booking with their app or . . . or . . . and it’s like the dials on my electric meter: they never stop spinning upwards.

  17. The article shows a list of dates at 4,000 points per night. WHERE OH WHERE IS THAT PROPERTY ?!?!?!
    Have never found hotels requiring less than 10K points.

  18. The new Hilton Surpass offer is 100,000 points **and a free weekend night on your one year anniversary**! Depending on where you use it, the weekend night could be worth just as much (or more) than the 100,000 points! Link to the updated offer:$Bk&om_mid=_BY08sVB9ZVPsxP&om_lid=axp6

  19. I just received my Amex HHonors Surpass and was told that my Hilton Honor status will be updated to gold after 10-12 weeks. Is this normal? I only see this timeframe mentioned for upgrade to the diamond status after spending $40,000.

    I’m trying to book a room in April and take advantage of the gold status.

  20. @Nathaniel —> it doesn’t *sound* normal. I would call Hilton and make sure they have your Amex acct. number and your Hilton Honors acct. linked. Then, do the same with Amex. I can understand why it might take one billing cycle, but it shouldn’t take more than 5-10 working days max.

  21. I just used my Surpass card at Hilton Odaiba in Tokyo. Paid foreign transaction fee. Ouch. Did it to earn 12x points. Guess what? Only awarded 3 points per dollar on statement cuz Amex rep says foreign charges don’t earn at 12x!!! Called back 5 times to get adjusted. That rep said wasn’t really sure what the earn rate was, but would adjust for being a good customer. Lucky, what do you have to say about that? Anyone else?

  22. Belinda, I have never heard of that. OTOH, I have never tried to use my Amex Hilton [H]Honors Surpass card outside the US due to the accompanying FTFs . . .

    I’ve long said it’s STUPID for an international hotel chain to charge FTFs on their co-branded credit card¹ — it is an overt DISincentive to use their card, and/or stay at their hotels. (Since obtaining the card, I have only stayed at Hilton properties outside the US when fully paid using points. I use a different credit card to cover “incidentals” while staying there, one where hotel spend is a bonus category and their are no FTFs.)

    If overseas spend does not get the 12x points, that’s even WORSE!

    ¹ Not knowing how co-branded card benefits are determined, I don’t know whether the blame lies with Amex, with Hilton, or both for this. In the end, of course, it’s irrelevant: no matter where the blame lies, it’s just plain stupid!

  23. @Jason: Are we earning base points from staying using rewards/bonus points to stay?
    @Belinda: I’m trying to buy Hilton points (that come with bonus points) and use the points for rewards stay abroad.

  24. I upgraded my Hilton Honor with no annual fee to Hilton Surpass and got the card in two days. Received an email about the upgrade to Gold status also in two days.

    There is no mention of the anniversary weekend night anywhere. I may hold onto the card to keep the Gold status if I find there is a value in it or downgrade it back to the Hilton Honor with no annual fee.

  25. The free weekend night certificate each year in which you spend $10k is a terrific benefit of the Citi HHonors card, plus of course the lack of fx fees.

    With Citi being dropped as of 1/1/2018, I wonder if we will still get our weekend certificates 12/31/17?

    Also, I hope in 2018 AmEx enhances the HHonors card to include an annual weekend night certificate and no fx fees.

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