Last week the Hilton no annual fee credit card increased its sign up bonus to 75,000 points and the Starwood Preferred Guest personal and business cards increased their sign up bonuses to 35,000 points.

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So which offer is better?

I use Hilton points for free hotel nights at not-fancy hotels–categories 1, 2, and 3 (out of 10.) I use SPG points for free hotel nights, to transfer to airline miles in obscure foreign programs with great award charts, for SPG Moments, and to transfer to Marriott points to take advantage of the two companies’ merger.

I’ll break down the comparison of the two cards by:

  • value of points
  • sign up bonus
  • category bonuses
  • hotel status
  • annual fee

I’ll foreshadow a bit by saying that overall the SPG cards’ 35k offers are more valuable than the Hilton card’s 75k offer, but the better offer for you depends on your travel goals.

Value of Points

SPG points are worth 2.5 cents each to me, and Hilton points are worth 0.5 cents to me.

This reflects their award charts and the extra uses that SPG and Marriott points have compared to Hilton points.

Award Charts

SPG hotels range from 2,000 to 35,000 points per free nights.

SPG points transfer 1 to 3 to Marriott points, whose rooms cost 6,000 to 45,000 points per night, which would be 2,000 to 15,000 transferred SPG points per night.

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By contrast Hilton free nights are 5,000 to 95,000 points per night.

That means the cheapest Hilton free nights cost two-and-a-half times the cheapest SPG/Marriott free nights, and the top end Hilton free nights cost three-to-six times the top end SPG/Marriott free nights.

In that light, the fact that the Hilton card’s sign up bonus is a little more than twice as many points as the SPG cards’ doesn’t seem so great.

And the comparison only gets more favorable for the SPG cards. They can also transfer to airline miles at favorable rates.

Starpoints can also be used for one-of-a-kind experiences called SPG Moments. I once used 5,500 Starpoints for two backstage passes at a Capital Cities concert.

For other great uses of Starpoints like using them to get a Southwest Companion Pass, see this post.

Overall SPG points are more valuable and more versatile, but if you only want to use the points to book the most free hotel rooms at not-fancy hotel rooms around the world, the gap narrows.

Sign Up Bonus

  • SPG personal card: 25,000 Starpoints after spending $3,000 in the first three months, 10,000 more after spending $5,000 total in the first six months
  • SPG business card: 25,000 Starpoints after spending $5,000 in the first three months, 10,000 more after spending $8,000 total in the first six months
  • Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Visa Signature® Card: 75,000 bonus HHonors points after spending $2,000 on the card in the first three months

Multiply the sign up bonus by your value of the points to figure out how much each sign up bonus is worth. To me, 35,000 Starpoints are worth $875. To me, 75,000 Hilton points are worth $375.

The Hilton card has a much lower minimum spending requirement of $2,000, so that $375 worth of points represents an 18.75% rebate on the minimum spending requirement. The SPG personal card has a $5,000 minimum spending requirement, so the rebate percentage is only 17.5%. The SPG business card card has an $8,000 minimum spending requirement, so the rebate percentage is only 10.9%.

For big spenders, the value of the sign up bonus matters more. For small spenders, the rebate percentage matters more.

Category Bonuses

  • SPG personal and business cards:
    • Earn 2x points on Starwood purchases
    • Earn 1x on everything else
  • Citi® Hilton HHonors™ Visa Signature® Card: 
    • Earn 6 HHonors Bonus Points for each $1 spent at any participating hotel within the Hilton HHonors portfolio.
    • Earn 3 HHonors Bonus Points for each $1 spent on purchases at supermarkets, drugstores and gas stations.
    • Earn 2 HHonors Bonus Points for each $1 spent on all other purchases.

While it looks like the Hilton card has better category bonuses, because SPG points are more valuable than Hilton points, it really doesn’t.

At Hiltons, I’d use the Hilton card to get 6x, which is worth 3% back to me, but everywhere else, the 1x of the SPG card is best, offering 2.5% back.

Hotel Status

Both the Starwood personal and business cards confer 2 stay credits and 5 night credits toward elite status, and they are cumulative, so if you get approved for both cards, you’ll have 4 stays and 10 nights credited to your account, leaving you just 6 stays or 15 nights short of Gold Status.

Gold Status entitles you to free internet and a 4 PM checkout. You also get an extra Starpoint per dollar on Starwood purchases, so cardholders with Gold Status get 5 Starpoints per dollar.

Other than stays, you can also get Gold Status by having an American Express Platinum card or spending $30k per year on a Starwood credit card.

The Hilton card is better for status. The card comes with automatic Hilton Silver status, which earns a 15% points bonus on Hilton stays, late checkout, and free access to fitness centers. Plus only folks with Hilton status get the 5th night free on award stays.

Better yet, if you complete four Hilton stays in the first 90 days of card membership, you get bumped up to Hilton Gold status, which earns free breakfast and a 25% points bonus on Hilton stays.

Annual Fee

The Hilton card has no annual fee ever. The SPG cards have no annual fee for the first 12 months, then charge $95 per year.

If you plan to hold these cards for years, the Hilton card is much better on this metric.

Bottom Line

Don’t be fooled by a big headline bonus like 75,000 points. In this case, the 35,000 point bonuses on the SPG personal and business cards is actually worth more. Similarly earning 1x Starpoint per dollar on purchases is far better than earning 2x Hilton points per dollar on purchases.

However the Hilton card comes with automatic Silver status and an easy way to get to Gold status after just four stays, no annual fee ever, and Hilton points are valuable at Category 1-3 hotels.

Which card is best for you depends on your travel goals, though for most people, the SPG cards represent superior value.

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