Playing the Hilton Citi to Amex Conversion

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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.

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