Playing the Hilton Amex 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 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.

Everyone who currently has an Amex Hilton card should think through the pros and cons of keeping their cards through the transition.  Similarly, everyone who is thinking of getting an Amex Hilton card before the new cards are released should think through the pros and cons of doing so.  And those with Citi Hilton cards should think through the pros and cons of keeping those cards through the conversion to Amex cards.  In this post, I’ll tackle the questions around the Amex to Amex conversion.  I covered the Citi to Amex conversion questions in a separate post: Playing the Hilton Citi to Amex Conversion.

Amex Hilton cardholders will be transitioned to new cards on January 18th 2018 as follows:

Current Card
New Card

Hilton Honors Card from American Express (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: 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 feeNo

Hilton Honors Surpass Card from American Express ($75 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: Yes

Spend Bonus: None

Other Perks: Priority Pass™ membership: $27 per person for each airport lounge visit.

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 Perks10 free Priority Pass™ Lounge passes

Advantages to keeping your Amex Hilton card through the transition

Here are a number of advantages to keeping your Amex 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.
  • No credit impact: If you want a Hilton card, there will be no new credit inquiry and no new account on your credit report as would happen if you cancelled your Amex card now and later applied for a new card.
  • Earn recent welcome bonus: If you’ve had your Amex card for less than a year and haven’t yet earned the full welcome bonus, then cancelling your card will endanger that bonus.  Recent welcome bonus terms state “...if you cancel or downgrade your account within 12 months after acquiring it… we may not credit Bonus Points to your account...”  A good example is that there was a intro offer for the Surpass card early this year that included a free night upon the card’s anniversary.  If you cancel before earning that free night, then it’s gone.
  • Lower annual fee for a bit: The Surpass card’s current annual fee is $75, but the new Ascend card’s fee is $95.  If you allow your Surpass card to convert to the Ascend card, you’ll keep the $75 fee at least until the end of your membership year.

Advantages to cancelling your Amex Hilton card before the transition

  • Possible new welcome bonus: It’s possible that Amex will treat the new cards as new products.  Since most Amex intro offers state that you are ineligible for the bonus if you’ve had this product before, the new products may introduce a loophole.  This is especially true with the Surpass / Ascend transition since the card will have a new name and annual fee.  That said, I think it is very likely that the new Ascend welcome bonus will have language like this: “Welcome bonus offer not available to applicants who have or have had this product or the Hilton Honors Surpass Card from American Express.”

Downgrading your Amex Hilton Surpass card before the transition

Another option for those with Hilton Surpass cards is to downgrade to a no fee Hilton card before the transition.

Advantages:

  • Keep account intact
  • Possibility of earning new welcome bonus for the Ascend card if they do not rule out prior Surpass cardholders

Disadvantages:

  • If you’ve never had the no-fee Amex Hilton card, this will take away the option to get a bonus by signing up for it

Should you keep or cancel your Amex Hilton card?

I think that the advantages of keeping your card outweigh the advantages of cancelling.  The one disadvantage to keeping your card is that you’ll give up the chance of a new welcome bonus.  In my opinion, though, the chance is very low that a past cardholder would be allowed to get a new welcome bonus on the new cards that map from the old cards.

Recommendation: Keep

Should you downgrade your Hilton Surpass card?

Downgrading the Surpass card could be a great alternative to cancelling it.  It has the advantage of keeping your account alive and makes it possible to get a new intro bonus for the Ascend card if Amex doesn’t rule out those who had the Surpass card before.  The only downside I see is that it would take away your ability to get the welcome bonus for a new no-fee Hilton card if you’ve never had that card before.

Recommendation: Downgrade if you’ve had the no-fee card before

Advantages to signing up for Amex Hilton cards before the transition

Both the no-fee Amex Hilton card and the Amex Hilton Surpass have excellent current welcome offers.  If you have an open Amex credit card slot (Amex allows each person to have up to 5 credit cards and any number of charge cards) and have never had the card before, you could apply now for the bonus.

Advantages:

  • Excellent welcome offers: We don’t know yet what the new welcome offers will be for the equivalent cards next year. The current offers might be better (but personally, I wouldn’t bet on that).
  • Point based bonus preferred over free night offers: There’s a chance that the intro offers for the new cards will involve earning free weekend nights rather than points.  To me, free night offers are far worse than free point offers.  Points can be kept alive forever through occasional account activity whereas free nights usually expire one year from issue.
  • Lower first year annual fee on Surpass card: The Surpass card has a $75 annual fee. When it is converted to the Ascend card it will then have a $95 annual fee.  Theoretically you’ll keep the $75 annual fee at least until your first membership year is over.

Disadvantages to signing up for Amex Hilton cards before the transition

  • Amex War on Gaming: If you cancel before January 18th in order to possibly be eligible for intro bonuses on the new cards, you’ll likely be put on Amex’s naughty list.  See: The Amex war on gaming heats up.
  • Miss out on attractive new welcome bonus: It’s possible/likely that the new cards will have especially attractive bonuses upon launch.

Should you sign up for an Amex Hilton card before the transition?

With the current huge Hilton Surpass offer it’s possible to pickup a ton of Hilton points quickly.  I think it is very likely that the Ascend card will also have a great welcome offer, but it might be an offer for free nights rather than points.  If you prefer points (like I do) and you’re willing to bet that the new offer won’t be better, then go for the Surpass card now.  I definitely do not recommend cancelling the card before January 18th though.  The no-fee Hilton card currently has a good offer (75K points), but we’ve seen better in the past.  For that card, I’d wait for the new cards to be introduced.

Summary of Recommendations

  • If you currently have an Amex Hilton card, keep it.
  • If you have the Amex Hilton Surpass card, consider downgrading it to the no-fee card (as long as you’ve already earned the full intro bonus for the Surpass card, including the end of membership year free night)
  • If you’ve never had the Hilton Surpass card and you prefer points over free nights, then consider going for the 125K offer.
  • If you have never had the no-fee Hilton card before, there’s no reason to hurry to get it.  I recommend waiting to see what Amex offers when they introduce the new cards.
  • If you sign up for an Amex card now, do not cancel the card before January 18th.  Instead, wait until you’ve had the card a year to decide whether it is worth keeping or cancelling.

As a reminder, I covered the Citi to Amex conversion questions in a separate post: Playing the Hilton Citi to Amex Conversion.

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