A Battle for Diamond

Note: American Express is a Frequent Miler advertiser. Please see our Advertiser Disclosure.

With the introduction of Citi’s new Hilton HHonors Reserve card, there are now two options for big spenders to earn top tier Diamond status with Hilton (besides, you know, actually staying at a Hilton): the Citi HHonors Reserve and the Amex HHonors Surpass.  Both cards grant Diamond status after $40K of annual spend.  Which is better?

In Lucky’s post about the new Citi card, he described reasons the card might be a good fit for you.  For example, he wrote:

If you want to spend $40,000 on the card annually for HHonors Diamond status. My parents are a prime example of how awesome this card is. They own a business where they put well over $100,000 in expenses per year on credit cards, and all the spend is in categories that doesn’t earn bonus points with other cards. They also like to travel, though due to commitments don’t take more than a few trips a year. This is an awesome way for them to not only have their hotel nights covered on points, but also to be treated very well thanks to top tier status with Hilton.

This got me thinking.  Is the Citi card really the better card for earning Diamond status?  I’ve been a fan of the Amex Surpass card for quite a while.  Is it possible that the Citi card is better?  Not counting the sign-up bonuses of either card, let’s look at the advantages of each:

Citi Advantages

  • 10X (10 points per dollar) at Hilton properties (vs. 9X with the Surpass)
  • 5X for airline and car rental purchases
  • 3X for everything else (same as Amex)
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Smart chip for easier use overseas
  • One free weekend night after $10K spend per year

Amex Surpass Advantages

  • 6X for supermarkets, drug stores and stand- alone gas stations; and for service payments for home and wireless phone, cable, satellite TV and Internet service providers.
  • 3X for everything else (same as Citi)
  • AXON Awards: discounted 4-night award redemptions for cardholders
  • $75 annual fee (vs. $95 annual fee for the Citi card)

When Citi is better

I think there are a few situations in which the Citi card is better for earning Diamond status:

  • If you plan to meet much of your $40K spend outside of the United States, then the Citi card has a big advantage with it’s smart chip and no foreign transaction fees.
  • If most of your spend is not within the categories for which the Surpass gives 6X (supermarkets, drug stores, gas, etc.)
  • If a lot of your spend is on airline and car rentals, you’ll earn 5X instead of the Surpass’ 3X.  Or, if you plan to spend a lot at Hilton properties, you’ll earn an extra point per dollar.

Even if you break even with point-earnings compared to the Surpass card, you will come out ahead with the Citi card.  By using the Citi card, you avoid foreign transaction fees and you earn 1 free weekend night each year.

When Amex is better

The Amex Surpass card has the edge when you spend enough in its 6X categories to overcome the loss of a free weekend night (which you would earn with the Citi card).  Personally, I like points better than a free weekend night because points aren’t limited to particular days of the week and points don’t expire if not used within the year.  Let’s arbitrarily value Citi’s free weekend night at 40,000 points.  If so, you would need to spend about $13,500 in the Surpass’ 6X categories in order to earn enough extra points to overcome the loss of the weekend night.  Given that, the Surpass may be the better card for earning Diamond status in these situations:

  • You spend heavily within the Surpass’ 6X categories.  Note that for a large family, this can be quite easy to do.  I know families that regularly spend $300 per week or more on groceries.  If they were to use the Surpass card, they would earn almost 50,000 more points than they would with the Citi card (over the course of a year) and they would be almost half way towards meeting the $40K spend requirement.
  • You are a creative spender.  If you like the idea of going to supermarkets, drug stores, or gas stations to buy gift cards, you may find that you can dramatically increase both your monthly spend and points earned.  You can even save money by buying gas station gift cards at a grocery store that offers fuel points.  This way you will get the same 6X that you would have earned at the gas station, but you also earn discounts off your fuel!  If you want to take things even further (advanced gift card churners only!), see if you can find a supermarket, drug store, or gas station that sells prepaid reload cards and allows credit card purchases.  If so, you can do a trick like the one documented in “One card to rule them all.”

I wouldn’t count the discounted AXON awards as a reason to prefer the Amex.  Even if you put your $40K spend on the Citi card, you can get the no fee version of the Amex HHonors card in order to qualify for the same discounts.

I’m tempted, are you?

I’ll probably wait at least until next year to get started with this, but I am tempted to get the Surpass card and try out some creative spend techniques.  I think that with a little effort it could be a fantastic way to earn oodles of Hilton HHonors points and top tier Diamond status.

How about you?  Are you tempted to go for Diamond?  Which card (if either) is right for you?


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