The ultimate guide to credit card upgrades

25 April 2023

Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information and offers.

While it’s easy to get impulsive with your credit card strategy and chase after every 100,000-point welcome bonus you see, it always helps to have a long-term plan in mind.

For each card in your wallet, you should decide whether the card is a keeper or whether you’ll eventually try to upgrade or downgrade it. After all, by upgrading a card, you can enjoy increased benefits. And by downgrading a card, you can pay a lower annual fee — or potentially no annual fee.

Other TPG staffers have previously considered when to downgrade a credit card and even the pros and cons of downgrading your credit cards right now. So, today we’ll take a look at everything you need to know about upgrading credit cards.

What to know before upgrading a card

Before diving into each issuer’s specifics, let’s start with a few essential things to know about upgrading cards.

ORLI FRIEDMAN/THE POINTS GUY

Upgrading shouldn’t affect your credit score

When you upgrade a card, you aren’t opening a new account, so there shouldn’t be a new inquiry on your credit report. Your online login information will stay the same, and while you’ll receive a new physical card in the mail, your account history, credit limit and other factors that affect your credit score won’t change. You may even keep the exact same credit card number.

You probably won’t see the upgrade reflected anywhere on your credit report. You can use this to your advantage, as upgrading a credit card might be a great option if you’re about to close on a house and don’t want any new credit inquiries to mess up your mortgage application process.

You may earn a bonus — but likely won’t

Sometimes, you can earn a bonus for upgrading a card. If a card issuer launches a new product or wants to entice people to move up to the premium version within a certain card family, it may offer bonus points for upgrading. American Express has been known to do this the most, offering upgrade offers from time to time for premium cards such as the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card and the American Express® Gold Card.

However, the majority of cards won’t offer a bonus for upgrading — and there’s another potential drawback along these lines.

You may sacrifice a future bonus

One of the biggest downsides to upgrading a credit card is that many issuers now base your eligibility for new welcome offers on which credit cards you’ve had open, not just which cards you’ve earned a welcome offer on. We’ll dive into the issuer-specific rules below, but this is an important factor in your decision.

You may not be able to upgrade

Generally speaking, issuers only allow you to upgrade within a single family of cards. For example, you couldn’t upgrade from the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card to The Platinum Card® from American Express. You might be able to upgrade your Delta SkyMiles Gold Amex to the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card. However, as we’ll see in a minute, that might not be the best idea.

Finally, issuers generally won’t let you change product between a personal credit card and a business credit card.

Related: Can you downgrade and then upgrade the same card?

Upgrading cards with Chase

Thanks to Chase’s 5/24 rule, many people start their credit card journey with Chase. So, Chase is often the first issuer for which a consumer may attempt to upgrade a card.

Chase may allow you to product change cards within the same family, although your account generally must be at least one year old. If you want to upgrade, you can call the number on the back of your card and ask about upgrade options.

Upgrading a Chase Sapphire Preferred to a Chase Sapphire Reserve

THE POINTS GUY

Chase offers two of the best travel rewards cards in the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve. However, you can only have one of these cards at a time. This means you have to make a choice when you initially apply — but what if you change your mind after a year? This is a great example of when to upgrade or downgrade a card. After the first year, you can pick the Chase Sapphire product that offers you the right mix of travel benefits and bonus categories with an annual fee you’re willing to pay.

People who are on the fence about the Chase Sapphire Reserve now have a strong incentive to pick the Chase Sapphire Preferred instead. Currently, the Chase Sapphire Preferred offers a 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months from account opening.

Meanwhile, the Chase Sapphire Reserve offers just 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months from account opening. So, you might come out ahead by applying for the Chase Sapphire Preferred now, earning the higher sign-up bonus and then upgrading to the Chase Sapphire Reserve after your first card anniversary.

Related: Who’s eligible for the elevated Chase Sapphire Preferred bonus?

Upgrading a Chase Freedom to a Chase Sapphire

CHASE

Another common upgrade is from a Chase Freedom (no longer open to new applicants), Chase Freedom Flex or Chase Freedom Unlimited to a Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve.

It’s generally best to wait until you can apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve and earn the sign-up bonus. However, if you’ve used up all your 5/24 slots and don’t plan to be under 5/24 any time soon, upgrading might be your best option — as long as you’ll enjoy enough value to cover the card’s annual fee.

The information for Chase Freedom has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

You can also downgrade in the reverse direction. If you can’t justify the annual fee on your Chase Sapphire Reserve or Chase Sapphire Preferred, downgrading to a no-annual-fee card such as the Chase Freedom Flex or Chase Freedom Unlimited is a great way to keep your account open. You generally want to keep your accounts open so they continue to age and strengthen your credit report.

Related: Get the most out of Chase with these credit cards

Upgrading cards with American Express

WYATT SMITH/THE POINTS GUY

American Express has some of the stricter rules around upgrades, partly because it offers a wide mix of personal, business and cobranded credit cards.

Amex doesn’t formally require you to wait a year to upgrade or downgrade cards. While you may decide to upgrade in your first year, especially if you get a targeted upgrade offer, we strongly recommend waiting at least a full year before downgrading an Amex card.

Amex has very broad language in its terms and conditions, giving it the ability to claw back your offers if it believes you’re gaming the system. One of the few types of abuse explicitly defined is downgrading a card within the first year. For example, here’s the relevant section of the welcome offer terms and conditions for the Delta Reserve Amex:

“If we, in our sole discretion, determine that you have engaged in abuse, misuse, or gaming in connection with the welcome offer in any way or that you intend to do so (for example, if you applied for one or more cards to obtain a welcome offer(s) that we did not intend for you; if you cancel or downgrade your account within 12 months after acquiring it; or if you cancel or return purchases you made to meet the Threshold Amount), we may not credit bonus miles and MQMs to your account. We may also cancel this Card account and other Card accounts you may have with us.”

Amex also has incredibly stringent rules for welcome offer eligibility in the first place. Specifically, you can only earn the welcome offer on a card if you’ve never held that card before in your life. This means that upgrading a card, whether or not there’s any offer involved, would likely preclude you from ever getting the welcome offer on that card again. This makes the opportunity cost of upgrading Amex cards incredibly high.

As such, you might be better off just applying for a new account and canceling (or downgrading) the card you don’t want.

Upgrading an Amex Gold to an Amex Platinum

THE POINTS GUY

The American Express® Gold Card is compelling to many consumers but still has trouble competing with The Platinum Card® from American Express in terms of overall perks.

There are some great reasons to hold both an Amex Gold and a Platinum, but we strongly suggest you avoid a product change between these cards. Instead, it’s better simply to apply for the cards you want. After all, Amex regularly offers targeted offers on the Amex Platinum Card of up to 100,000 points (worth $2,000 based on TPG’s valuations) after meeting minimum spend requirements; subject to change at any time. This means you’d be giving up as much as $2,000 in future rewards value by upgrading an Amex Gold to an Amex Platinum.

Related: Amex Platinum vs. Amex Gold: Which one is right for you?

Upgrading to the Bonvoy Brilliant or Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card

THE POINTS GUY

It might make sense to upgrade an Amex card if you’re targeted for a bonus to upgrade to the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant Amex or the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card, the premium cards of each respective hotel chain. With the Hilton Aspire, we’ve seen upgrade bonuses of up to 150,000 Hilton points, which is the same as the best-ever public offer for new applicants on that card (after spending $4,000 in purchases in the first three months of account opening).

The information for the Hilton Aspire card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

In that case, upgrading and keeping your credit history is a better deal than closing one card to open a new one.

It’s a bit of a tougher decision with Marriott, as upgrading to the Bonvoy Brilliant means giving up an entry-level card that comes with an up to 35,000-point anniversary free night. You can get several hundred dollars of value out of a 35,000-point free night, so you may choose to have as many Marriott Bonvoy cards as you can rather than take an upgrade offer.

Related: The best hotel credit cards that come with an annual free night

Upgrading cards with Citi

Between increased competition from other issuers and a painful devaluation of many travel protections, Citi has lost a lot of ground in the travel rewards industry in recent years. You can upgrade a Citi credit card if you receive a targeted email invitation. You can also call the number on the back of your Citi card and ask whether there are any upgrade options.

WESTEND61/GETTY IMAGES

Interestingly, Citi’s bonus eligibility requirements don’t seem to be affected by upgrades. Specifically, the landing page for the Citi Premier® Card notes:

Bonus ThankYou® Points are not available if you received a new cardmember bonus for Citi Rewards+℠, Citi ThankYou® Preferred, Citi ThankYou® Premier/Citi Premier® or Citi Prestige®, or if you have closed any of these accounts, in the past 24 months.

So, upgrading or downgrading Citi ThankYou Rewards cards without receiving new cardmember bonuses shouldn’t prohibit you from earning a bonus on a Citi ThankYou Rewards card every 24 months if you time your applications carefully. However, check the language on your application before applying. Likewise, you’ll see similar language on most cobranded Citi cards.

The information for the Citi Prestige Card and Citi ThankYou® Preferred Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Related: Is Citi ThankYou Rewards the most underappreciated and misunderstood program?

Upgrading cards with Capital One

WYATT SMITH/THE POINTS GUY

Capital One allows upgrades within their respective card families. So, you could upgrade your Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card to a Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card, for example, or your Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card to a Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card. The issuer doesn’t have a hard rule about how long you have to wait before upgrading, but we recommend waiting at least six months before attempting a product change — and at least a year if you’re downgrading.

Think twice before changing your Capital One card, though. An upgrade or downgrade could make you ineligible for a sign-up bonus on that card in the future.

Plus, Capital One allows you to hold both the Venture and Venture X at the same time. You may decide it’s worth it to have both cards and get both bonuses rather than upgrade or downgrade between them.

The information for the Savor Cash Rewards Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Related: 7 types of purchases you should make with your Capital One Venture card

Bottom line

Upgrading or downgrading a card can be a great way to manage your wallet without adding too many inquiries to your credit report.

However, there are some significant implications to understand. Not only can a product change affect your eligibility for future welcome offers, but the rules vary by each issuer.

Make sure to do your homework and wait an appropriate amount of time before making a change.

Additional reporting by Emily Thompson and Chris Dong. 

Need Help?

Please use the contact form to get support or send an email to [email protected].