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I recently wrote a post about manufactured spending your way to the best hotels in the world, and I wanted to follow that up by taking a deeper dive into some strategies to manufacture Hilton points specifically so this post explores those options. Despite the massive devaluation that occurred recently, Hilton remains one of the best values in manufactured spending.
Hilton Credit Cards
There are several different credit cards across multiple banks, but I’ll only discuss the two relevant ones here:
- Hilton HHonors Reserve Card (Citi): 10X on Hilton spend, 5X on airlines & car rentals, 3X everywhere else. Also get a free weekend night after $10K in spend. $95 Annual Fee.
- Hilton HHonors Surpass (Amex): 12X on Hilton spend, 6X on restaurants, supermarkets, and gas stations; 3X everywhere else. $75 annual fee.
Both cards come with free Hilton Gold status and allow you to attain Diamond status with $40K in annual spend.
The key difference is in the bonus categories – the Reserve card doesn’t have any bonus categories that are good for manufacturing points, but the Surpass card earns 6x on grocery store purchases, which could be useful.
Which Card is Better for Manufactured Spending?
Lets look at the cost breakdown of manufacturing points with each of them to determine this. We’ll also take a look at earning top-tier Diamond status through spend as well.
If you’re buying Visa/MasterCard gift cards from a grocery store, the best value you normally get is a $500 gift card for a $5.95 fee. If you’re using the Surpass card you’re earning 6x, and that means you’ll earn 6 x $506 = 3,036 points for a cost of $5.95/3,036 = .00196 each.
If you’re buying gift cards from your favorite mall, the most well known value you get is a $500 gift card for a $2.95 fee. Using either the Surpass or Reserve card you’ll earn 3x, and that means you’ll earn 3 x $503 = 1,509 points for a cost of $2.95/1,509 = .00195.
So Which is Better???
As you can see by the calculations, it’s pretty much identical on which card is best to use if you manufacture the points the way I described. The decision you make should come down to how much you actually plan to manufacture.
No one wants to deal with more gift cards than they have to, so if everything else was equal, it would be best to use the Surpass card because it would require fewer gift cards and trips to the store(s). But the one benefit of the Reserve card I highlighted above was that you get an annual free night after $10K in spend, which may tilt that scale a bit.
That free night certificate can be used at any Hilton hotel, including those that are priced 80K to the max of 95K a night like the Conrad Koh Samui. To manufacture 95K points with the Surpass card, which would be the equivalent of the free night you get with the Reserve card, you’d need to buy an extra ~$16K in gift cards.
So here’s my recommendation:
- If you’re going to manufacture less than $10K, use the Surpass card.
- If you’re going to manufacture $10K-$31.5K, use the Reserve card.
- If you’re going to manufacture $31.5K+, use the Surpass card.
At around $31.5K, you should be roughly indifferent between the free night and the extra points because the value would be roughly the same. On the reserve card, 3 x $31.5K = 94,500 points plus a free night (valued at up to 95K), so in total worth a value of up to 189,500 . On the Surpass card, 6 x $31.K = 189K points.
The difference here is that having the points will be more flexible for everyone, so for most people I will recommend the Surpass card.
Manufacturing Diamond Status
Remember, to manufacture Diamond status you’ll need o get to $40K on either card. If you’re going of my analysis above, getting to $40K would be a smarter thing to do with the Surpass card. You’ll earn roughly 240K points (6 x $40K). That’s two nights at a top tier hotel (190K) plus another 50K leftover. On the Reserve you’d earn 120K plus a free night, which is enough for 2 nights at a top tier (with one of the nights restricted to the weekend only) and 25K points leftover.
Again, the Surpass card is my recommendation for almost all cases here.
When to Manufacture Diamond Status
As with many points-related things, there’s an optimal strategy here to earn Diamond status. When you spend $40K on either card, you earn Diamond status for the rest of that calendar year and the following calendar year. That means that the best strategy then is to achieve the $40K spend as early as possible in the year.
For example, if you completed $40K spend in January 2014, you’d have Diamond status for all of 2014 and all of 2015. The optimal way to complete the spend requirement for Diamond status is to spend $40K as early as possible every 2 years. In this example, that would mean another $40K in January 2016 that would give you status through the end of 2017.
Plan ahead 🙂
You can read more detail about manufacturing Hilton Diamond status in this post from Frequent Miler.
For most manufactured spenders, the Hilton Surpass Amex will be the better option. It has a lower annual fee and also gives you Gold status (and Priority Pass membership to boot), all for a lower annual fee versus the Reserve card.
If, however, you’re only looking to meet the minimum spend requirement and get a good bonus, the Reserve card is the one you want. It will get you two free nights at any hotel, whereas the Surpass only gives you a 75K bonus (offer fluctuates).
Do you manufacture Hilton points?