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Can I churn my Hilton credit cards for more sign-up bonuses?


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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

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Question for the expert Dear Cashing In,
I'm new at this credit card churning. I have all of the Hilton credit cards: two American Express cards and two Citi cards. My question is, can these Hilton cards be churned? When is the best time to do this? Can you give me your thoughts on how and when to churn cards from Citi, Chase, AmEx and Visa? I hope I didn't confuse you. Thank you. --  Chris

Answer for the expert Dear Chris,
Chase cards cannot be churned because Chase will generally deny you a new sign-up bonus if you've already had the card, dropped it and then reapply for it later. All your Hilton cards are churnable, though two require a waiting period to reapply.

You must have racked up a pile of rewards when you signed up for them. If you didn't already have those cards, signing up for them all now would get you 240,000 total HHonors points in sign-up bonuses -- 60,000 for the premium Hilton HHonors Surpass American Express, 40,000 for the standard Hilton HHonors AmEx, 40,000 for the Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature, and two free weekend night stays -- worth 100,000 points  -- for the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve card.

You can dump your Hilton cards and sign up again, but you'll have to wait a year at least to reapply for the AmEx cards. Rules at Citi are more relaxed. This Flyertalk thread claims you can sign up for another Citi Hilton HHonors Visa without canceling your current one and collect a second sign-up bonus. In fact, miles collectors claim you could keep collecting on that one indefinitely, as long as you don't sign up for more than two Citi cards every 65 days.

If you don't cancel your Citi Reserve card, you'll be able to maintain the Gold status it gets you. AmEx Surpass gives you Gold status the first year. Gold gets you, among other things, free breakfast and Wi-Fi and a 25 percent bonus on HHonors points earned. Normally it takes 20 stays or 40 nights in a calendar year to achieve Gold. Your other AmEx and Citi Visa cards get you Silver.

Dumping your AmEx cards to reapply in a year or two means you won't have access to AXON rewards, a redemption option available only to AmEx cardholders. AXON rewards are available for four-night stays at hotels in categories 5 through 10 and, in some cases (not all), can get you more bang for your point, especially with upscale hotels.

In terms of the annual fees you'd be avoiding by churning, the Citi Reserve card comes with the highest annual fee ($95) and earns 10 points per $1 at Hilton, 5 points per $1 with airlines and car rentals, and 3 points per $1 on everything else. You're getting more points (12 per $1 spent at Hilton, 6 per $1 at restaurants, supermarkets and gas stations and 3 points per $1 on everything else) at a lower fee ($75) from the HHonors Surpass American Express.

But the Reserve beats the Surpass sign-up bonus by offering certificates for two free weekend nights (after spending $2,500 in four months), equivalent to 100,000 points. At the end of each year if you have spent $10,000 on the card, you earn one weekend night certificate as an anniversary bonus.

Those free nights are vulnerable if you churn, by the way, so be sure to use them before canceling a card. Any time you dump hotel cards where free stays are offered as bonuses in lieu of points, you risk losing them. Points stashed in a loyalty program, in this case Hilton HHonors, are not affected by card cancellations but free nights tied to your card must be used within the first year while the account is active.                                                                                                                         

One other thing to keep in mind. Every time you apply for a new card, your credit score takes a temporary hit as the issuer does a hard pull on your credit report. If you've got excellent credit and are not thinking of applying for a mortgage or other loan in the next six months, you probably don't need to worry about this too much. Otherwise, keep the cards you've got and concentrate on getting that score in the best shape possible.

See related: Credit card churning: not a game to play while house-hunting, Which cards can you churn for multiple rewards bonuses?, Canceling card, reapplying won't earn multiple sign-up bonuses, Multiply reward points with prepaid and reload cards

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Published: August 20, 2013

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