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AirTran, Hilton HHonors cards change; how it affects you

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Cashing In
Cashing In columnist Cathleen McCarthy
Cathleen McCarthy is a journalist whose articles on travel, commerce and consumer topics have appeared in dozens of publications. She writes "Cashing In," a weekly column about credit card rewards programs, for CreditCards.com

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Question for the CreditCards.com expert Dear Cashing In,
I travel a lot for work and use a couple different credit cards to take advantage of that. One is the AirTran card, since I do a lot of flying on one of their routes. I also signed up for the Hilton Reserve card last year. Now both cards are being overhauled. Is this good news or bad? I'm particularly worried about my Hilton rewards, including the free nights I was promised when I signed up. -- Tom

Answer for the CreditCards.com expert Dear Tom,
Let's start with your AirTran card. What you're now carrying is a Barclays card. Beginning April 25, 2013, your account will held by Chase instead -- I'd say you're in pretty good hands there -- and your rewards will extend to Southwest Airlines and its partner airlines, as well as AirTrain. You can use the Barclays card until April 29, when Chase replacements will begin arriving in the mail.

A+ Rewards Dollars will automatically transfer to the new Chase credit card account, which can be accessed at chase.com/airtran or through the Chase Mobile App. The A+ Rewards you earn on your new card can be redeemed for flights on AirTran or Southwest (you can convert points through rewardsfarther.com).

Overall, you're benefitting from the fact that Southwest acquired AirTran, adding more than 30 additional destinations for you to choose from. I don't see much to mourn.

As for your Citi Hilton HHonors card and loyalty program, Hilton introduced a downgrade in the redemption values of its points in March. However, those two weekend-night certificates you earned at sign-up (after $2,500 of charges) are still valid at any Hilton property except those listed at HHonors.com/weekendcertificate, as is the additional weekend-night certificate you score for charging $10,000 or more per year on that card. Your certificates state they're good for hotels in categories 1-7, but the chain will reportedly still honor them for properties newly upgraded to category 8 or above.

The biggest devaluation affects high-end properties in exotic locations. For example, Hilton Bora Bora Nui, Conrad Maldives and Conrad Koh Samui in Thailand -- all category 10 resorts now, charging $625 to $1,300 per night -- were available most of the year for 37,500 to 50,000 points per night. As of March 28, one night at each requires at least 95,000 points.

That's disappointing news for folks who save up hotel points for glamorous overseas vacations. However, if you prefer to spread your points out a bit on somewhat more accessible destinations, you shouldn't notice a huge dent in your redemption value. Hotels in categories 1 to 7 are not affected by the devaluation, and you've probably noticed that Hilton points accrue much faster than most hotel loyalty points -- 10 points per dollar spent on Hilton, 5 points on airline and rental cars, 3 points on everything else. The least expensive free hotel using HHonors points requires half -- or less -- of the spending needed to score a free night through the loyalty programs of Hyatt, Starwood or IHG.

Along with the opportunity to earn a free weekend night every year for $10,000 in charges, your card comes with no foreign transaction fees and automatic Gold status, which gets you 25 percent bonus points, free Wi-Fi and room upgrades when available. Achieving Gold without the card requires 16 stays, 36 nights or $6,000 spent on Hilton, so that is a significant benefit. Plus, Hilton hotels are available in a lot of places where other hotel chains are not represented -- which is probably one reason you favor it for business travel.

See related: Get elite status at hotels faster with rewards cards, promotions, What to consider before getting a hotel credit card, Canceling card, reapplying won't earn multiple sign-up bonuses

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"Opening Credits"

Published: April 9, 2013



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