Playing the Hilton Citi to Amex Conversion

Amex and Hilton’s new credit card lineup will be live on January 18th 2018. The new lineup means an end to Hilton Amex foreign transaction fees, a very attractive new ultra-premium card, a first-ever business Hilton card, and more.  Full details can be found here: Hilton Amex Cards. Everything you need to know.  See also: 5 things you need to know about the new Hilton credit cards.

Those with Citi Hilton cards should think through their options.  Should you keep your card and let it convert into an Amex card?  Or, should you cancel before the conversion?  In this post I’ll help you answer those questions.

In a separate post I covered questions for those who currently hold Amex Hilton cards: Playing the Hilton Amex to Amex Conversion.  Since that post was first published I added another great option: Hilton Surpass cardholders should consider downgrading to the no-fee Hilton card before the conversion.  Details can be found in yesterday’s post.

Existing Citi Hilton cardholders will be transitioned by January 30th 2018 to Amex Hilton cards as follows:

Current Card
New Card

Citi Hilton Honors (no annual fee)

Earning Rate: 6X Hilton, 3X grocery, drugstores, gas. 2X everywhere else.

Elite Status: Automatic Silver status. Gold status with $20K spend.

Foreign transaction fee: Yes

Hilton Honors American Express Card (no annual fee)

Earning Rate: 7X Hilton; 5X at U.S. grocery stores, U.S. restaurants, and U.S. gas stations; 3X everywhere else

Elite Status: Automatic Silver status. Gold status with $20K spend.

Foreign transaction fee: No

Citi Hilton Honors Reserve Card ($95 annual fee)

Earning Rate: 10X Hilton, 5X airline & car rental, 3X everywhere else.

Elite Status: Automatic Gold status. Diamond status with $40K spend.

Foreign transaction fee: No

Spend Bonus: Earn 1 weekend night certificate after spending $10,000 each year.

Other Perks: None

Hilton Honors American Express Ascend Card ($95 annual fee)

Earning Rate: 12X Hilton, 6X at U.S. grocery stores, U.S. restaurants, and U.S. gas stations; 3X everywhere else

Elite Status: Automatic Gold status. Diamond status with $40K spend.

Foreign transaction fee: No

Spend Bonus: Earn 1 weekend night certificate after spending $15,000 each year.

Other Perks: 10 free Priority Pass™ Lounge passes

Overall, the new Amex cards are pretty similar to the corresponding Citi cards, but there are a few significant differences.  I’ve underlined the features above where one card had a better perk than the other.

Advantages to keeping your Citi Hilton card through the transition

Here are a number of advantages to keeping your Citi Hilton card rather than cancelling it before the transition:

  • Retention bonus possibility: Amex might offer attractive bonuses (such as for adding authorized users)
  • Upgrade bonus possibility: Amex might offer attractive upgrade offers.
  • Break the Amex 5 credit card limit (maybe):  Amex currently limits cardholders to 5 credit cards (plus any number of charge cards).  If you already have 5 credit cards, it is likely that you will end up with more than 5 after the conversion.  Note though that it’s possible that your account will be closed rather than converted to an Amex.  The Hilton FAQ states: “American Express and Citi are evaluating which Citi Hilton Honors Card accounts are eligible to automatically transfer to American Express on January 30, 2018.”  This implies to me that not all accounts are automatically eligible.
  • Maintain credit history (maybe): It will be very interesting to see how Amex reports the Hilton cards to the credit bureaus.  Will they back-date the account open date to match the date you opened your Citi card?  If so, that would be ideal. If they report a new date then this would be a disadvantage to keeping your Citi card open.  For the record, it seems that when the Costco cards went in the other direction (Amex to Citi), Citi backdated some accounts if not all.

Advantages specific to the Citi Hilton Reserve to Amex Hilton Ascend transition:

  • Earn free weekend night with $10K spend: Citi Hilton Reserve cardholders have until the end of their membership year (even if it goes past January 30th) to get a free weekend night after $10K spend.  But the free night isn’t issued until your card anniversary date — if your account is still open.  If your anniversary date is after January 30th, the only way to get your free night is to keep the account open.  During the transition year, Amex will honor the free night benefit as promised with the Reserve card.  After that, weekend free nights will be based on the Ascend rules (e.g. $15K spend per calendar year to get a free weekend night).
  • Earn two free weekend nights with $15K spend: An ideal situation is if your card anniversary is late in the year.  In that case, you can wait until the card transition to start earning your final Citi Reserve free night.  At the same time, any spend on the Ascend card will count toward that card’s calendar year free night.  So, if you spend $10K after your card turns into an Ascend card, but before your membership year ends, and another $5K before the end of 2018, you’ll receive two free weekend nights.

Advantages to cancelling your Citi Hilton card before the transition

  • New signup bonuses if you’ve never had the Amex Hilton cards before: If you’ve never had the Amex Hilton cards before, then cancelling your Citi Hilton card will ensure that you’ll be eligible for the signup bonuses on the new Amex Hilton cards.
  • New signup bonuses (maybe) even if you’ve had the Amex Hilton cards before: We still don’t know whether Amex will allow people to get signup bonuses with the new Amex Hilton cards if they’ve had the corresponding old Amex Hilton cards before.  In case they do allow it, there’s an advantage to making sure that none of your cards (Amex or Citi) get converted to the new Amex Hilton cards.
  • No new account for 5/24: If you’re trying to stay under, or get under 5 new accounts in the past 24 months (so that you can signup for Chase cards), then cancelling your Citi card is a good idea.  If you opened the Citi card more than 24 months ago and if Amex back-dates the new account, then it won’t matter.  If you opened the Citi card more recently, though, or Amex doesn’t back date the new account, then the conversion will certainly add a new account to your 5/24 count.

Product changing is not an option

In many cases it would make sense to product change from your Citi Hilton card to a different Citibank card.  Unfortunately, Citi is no longer allowing any product changes from their Hilton cards.

Tough Decisions

According to my records, my wife has never had either Amex Hilton card before (hard to believe!) but she currently has a Citi Hilton Reserve card with about $8K spend towards its annual free night (which requires $10K spend).  Arguably, her best bet would be to signup now for the 125K Surpass offer and keep her Citi Reserve card open to collect the free weekend night after $10K spend.  The problem is that she already has five Amex credit cards and so cannot get the 125K Surpass offer unless she drops one of the other cards.  She will probably drop the SPG personal card (but keep her SPG business card) to make room for the Surpass.

In my case, I’ve had both Amex Hilton cards in the past (but neither right now), and currently have the Citi Hilton Reserve card, also with about $8K spend towards its annual free night.  Since I’ve had the Surpass card before, I can’t qualify for the 125K offer.  But, if I cancel the Hilton Reserve card now there is some hope that I can qualify for a signup bonus for the new Amex Hilton Ascend card.  I’ve warned that there’s a good chance, though, that the Ascend signup offer will say something like  “Welcome bonus offer not available to applicants who have or have had this product or the Hilton Honors Surpass Card from American Express.”  If they do include those terms then I’d be out of luck.

I’m very close to earning a free weekend night with my Citi card.  If I cancel, I’ll gain the possibility of a new signup bonus, but I’ll lose the certainty of the free weekend night.  I think I’ll go with the bird-in-hand rather than the shiny unknown bird in the bush.  In other words, I’ll probably keep my Citi card open.  What do you think?  Please comment below.

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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  1. And then there is the dilemma about what to do if you have the surpass now (I just upgraded for 100,000 points on an offer that allowed it even though I’d had the card before) and you have the Reserve. I’m expecting my Reserve fee to post in a couple of weeks, I’ve done the $10,000 in spending.

      • I’m in the same boat with having both cards, but minus being close to the 10K spend. My concern with canceling the Reserve is losing the 25K credit line and how that might affect my application for the Aspire card when it comes out.
        I would cancel the Surpass, but having just gotten it a few months ago for the 100K bonus, I’m afraid to get flagged by AMEX.
        Such a dilemma!

  2. Man, this is a tough one… Like you and your wife, I’m close to $9K in spend on the Hilton Reserve. Anniversary date is 6 Jan 2018, so in an ideal world, someone – Citi? – notifies Hilton right away, they (Hilton) issue certificate, and I can cancel the card before 30 January.

    But, look around us: Is there any evidence we live in an ideal world? In the past, the free room certificate did not post for another 6-8 weeks post re-up date. Also, things are murky here. When I go to the Citi web site, it says “Earn an anniversary bonus of one weekend night certificate good for one weekend night 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.” But remain a cardmember with whom? And for how long? I get that for those of you whose new anniversary date is post 30 Jan, it is clear that Amex will be picking up the responsibility. For those of us whose date is before then, but whose certificates may not have arrived by then, it’s sort of a twilight zone.

    What are the costs of just letting the card rollover? Well, I can justify $10K spend toward a hotel room that might cost me $425 otherwise, but I don’t think I’ll be wanting to do $15K spend annually. (I don’t MS.) So I really don’t think I want the new card. I have had it more than, two years, but in an exchange between Citi and Amex, isn’t it kind of weird that Chase is in play here, too — isn’t it possible this will come to haunt us (me) with a “new” card that pushes me up against 5/24 again?

    Also, one thing you don’t mention is what if the Amex Hilton card we really want is the new $450 one (Aspire? Altitude? Prestige? Premier? Preferred? [Do they do this on purpose?]) The benefits on that one line up curiously well for me, since I usually do stay once a year at a Hilton Resort property. So I would like that card, and with a bonus if possible. If I keep the current card, I have to start counting my charge vs. credit cards at Amex (does being an AU count)?

    I’ve come too far on the spend not to finish that off … plan for the moment is to hold through 6 Jan 2018 renewal date, probably go ahead and pay AF then to see if that triggers cert, then make some decision as to whether to cancel (and still get AF back from Citi, right?) before 30 Jan.

    This is all taking up too much of my shrinking bandwidth.

    • Re: Really wanting the Aspire card, here are my thoughts just on that topic:

      1) There may be upgrade offers from the new Ascend (formerly Surpass or Reserve). Time will tell.

      2) Personally, I want both the Aspire and Ascend. I want the Aspire for the free annual night, Diamond status, and both $250 credits. But I still want the Ascend to spend at the grocery store (and possibly restaurants) so I can continue to earn the points to put together a few nights with the annual free night (at a resort where I can use the $250 credit I hope) and add an additional night after $15K spend. That definitely comes at a cost of using up 2 credit card slots. I’m OK with that.

      3) Being an AU doesn’t count towards the number of credit cards you have with Amex. There is theoretically no limit on the number of charge cards you can have (provided of course you have the income and credit score to support them). Credit card count is where you’ll run into a hard limit.

    • That’s a tough situation. Most likely you’ll still be waiting for your free night when the card is converted to an Amex. Probably best to let the conversion happen and don’t worry too much about the lost possibility of an Ascend signup bonus. You’ll hopefully still be qualified for an Aspire signup bonus

  3. So if I let my card convert, I will get 10 free lounge passed and not have to pay for lounge access like with the old card? Thanks

      • I recently signed up for the Hilton Surpass Amex. Does that include any priority pass benefits currently? I wasn’t aware it did.

        Once my card converts to the Ascend and I get the 10 free priority passes, when will those be issued? When the card converts in January? on the anniversary of my card (which won’t be until Sept 2018)

        Also with these passes, can multiple be used at one time? (if I’m travelling with my family, can I use one and my other family members use 3?) or are they only for the cardholder?

        physical or virtual passes?

  4. I was told that if I kept my Citi Hilton (No AF) card open through the transition I would receive 5,000 HH points, not that $25 is all that exciting. I was told this retention bonus is universal. Agent didn’t know why it hasn’t been formally announced. Still pondering but leaning to cancel as have the AMEX Surpass card.

  5. I ended up dumping my Citi Hilton card two months ago, when I had upgraded to the AMEX Surpass for their summer bonus. The main reason for doing so was that I am up against the 5/24 rule (was denied a Chase card earlier in the year) and I knew the product was ending. I hadn’t thought that Amex might ‘aquire’ my Citi account, I’d figured that Citi might issue me a new generic card. (This was my experience with a Hong Kong bank when they discontinued a co-branded card a couple years ago. I guess in the US, it’s the co-brand that has the account rights?)

    • There’s no single set way that it’s handled in the US when cards change bank issuers. In this case the portfolio changed hands. In other cases, the original issuing bank converts cardholders to a different card within the same bank.

  6. You didn’t cover the disadvantages. For me, the dilemma is that I don’t want the Citi Reserve card to convert to the Ascend and lock me out of any signup bonus for either version of the Amex card. So my best play seems to be to get the 125k TPG offer by signing up for the Amex now before my Citi Reserve converts.

  7. “So, if you spend $10K after your card turns into an Ascend card, but before your membership year ends, and another $5K before the end of 2018, you’ll receive two free weekend nights.”

    This statement makes me want to have my Reserve convert. My anniversary is not until June, 2018. But I will have seven CCs with Amex if they convert. I really don’t want Amex closing card if I’m over 5 CCs

    • It will be very interesting to see what Amex does. My guess is that they’ll extend accounts to 6 or 7 credit cards if necessary. One reader mentioned having 10 Citi Hilton cards, though. I doubt they would convert all 10 to Amex.

      • I have one surpass and two citi reserves. I have five amex credit cards already, including the surpass. That would be awesome if they let me have 7 total cards, including three surpass cards after the conversion. I would gladly spend $15k on each one to get the Hilton points and the free night.

  8. My dilemma is whether to close my current no AF Citi Hilton card. I’ve met the $1K annual spend at Hilton properties (not mentioned in the card comparison above) which will give me a 10K Hilton bonus on/after 1/1/18. If I wait for the bonus to post before closing this card, it will likely have been transferred to AmEx.

    My options are:

    a. Apply for the AmEx no AF Hilton card now to get a 75K bonus and keep my current Citi no AF Hilton card open to get the 10K bonus (total 85K Hilton points).

    b. Cancel my current Citi no AF Hilton card now, lose 10K Hilton bonus points, and hope that the signup bonus for the new AmEx no AF Hilton card will be worth more than 85K Hilton points.

    I can see where the new signup bonus might be 100K, but it could also be 75K. I’ll probably go with option A unless there is a good chance that the roll-out signup bonus would be 100K or higher.

    FWIW, I have both the AmEx Surpass (opened recently) and the Citi HH Reserve (new membership year started recently) cards, and it is not advantageous to close either of them at this time.

  9. @ECS: The Hilton rep told me that even if I cancelled the card I would get the 10K points for the spend. You might call to verify but I don’t believe you will lose that bonus.

      • No Citi rep. I called to downgrade/switch to Citi no fee card (too late for that) and was told about the 5K bonus for holding as well as the spend bonus. Now I’m reading that you may need to call to get the 5K bonus for holding but the Citi retention rep did say I’d get the 10K spend points even if I canceled. I would call Citi to verify. Just ask for retention and tell them you are thinking of canceling. You’ll get offers. No decision is required on the call.

  10. I’m really glad you wrote about this, because I’ve been thinking about what to do myself. I’ve had the Citi HH (free) for about 5 years so I would like to keep the history if possible. I’ve had the AMEX HH (free, upgraded to Surpass, then recently downgraded to free again) also for 5 years. I have 5 AMEX credit cards (PLUS a couple charge cards). If I keep my Citi open, there’s a small possibility that I’ll get a 2nd AMEX HH card or the option to convert it to Aspire or Ascend, and keep the credit history. But that would put me at 6 credit cards. Do you see this as being a realistic possibility? If not, I suppose they’ll just close it for me. What else could happen? Basically, are there any advantages to preemptively closing my Citi account with this in mind?

  11. My Citi reserve anniversary date is in February. The free night usually posts in April, after I pay the annual fee. I have met the 10K in spend for the free night?

    Are you saying that in order to get the free night, I have to “convert” my visa card to an American Express card and pay the annual fee on that? That seems improper to me and not lawful. I started spending on the Visa card towards the 10K without knowing of that new condition.

    Moreover, they would not just be demanding that I “convert” to another Visa card with a new bank, they would be demanding that I pay the annual fee to “convert” to an American Express card. I travel internationally a lot. American Express cards aren’t as widely accepted. I have no use for an American Express card. I don’t want an American Express card.

    I shouldn’t have to pay the annual fee on an entirely different product just to get promised benefit of my current card, after earning that benefit.

    • Amex has said that the $10K spend free night will post 8 to 10 weeks after meeting the spend. I’m guessing for you that means 8 to 10 weeks after the product conversion since you’ve already met the spend. Hopefully you’ll get the free night in time to cancel the card and get your annual fee back.

  12. Any data or rumor to suggest the timeliness for the free night to post, on the new Ascend card, following $15k spend?
    It’d be a bummer if it’s like Citi Reserve and posts at the end of the year.
    Super if it becomes usable in the statement following $15k spend.

    I definitely spend $40k on my Surpass card, partly for the Diamond status, but mostly for the 240k pts (grocery spend only!) Having a totally free night in there as a ‘gimme’ is great. But I’d like it in my free-nights portfolio on MY timeline/plan, rather than cardmember year..

  13. My citi honors reserve renews ~ April, and I have spent $40k this year, Greg. If you know, will I get Diamond status from 3/1/18 until Feb of 19 if I’m switched to Amex? Thanks so much.

  14. Hi Greg,

    I was on the phone with a Citi representative and he told me that my Citi Hilton Reserve card will not be converted to an American Express card. (This is actually what I was hoping for because I have 5 Amex credit cards already and could be over the limit).

    Instead, he had told me that my Citi Hilton Reserve card will be converted to a Citi Thank You Preferred card some time in January.

    I just wanted to let you know because apparently not all Citi Hilton cards will be converted to American Express cards. Some card holders will maintain their relationship with Citi and the cards will be converted to other products (in my case, the Preferred).

    I thought I’d share my data point.

    Thanks,
    Derek

  15. I have the limit of amex cards (five), one of which is a hilton surpass. I have two Citi Reserve cards. I got letters from Amex indicating both citi cards will be converted to Ascend cards. So I guess I will have seven Amex cards, three of them being Ascend cards.

    • I received the same letters from Amex too. But the Citi representative that I talked to specifically said I will maintain my relationship with Citi and it will be converted to a Preferred card.

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