Key takeaways

  • American Express typically allows cardholders to upgrade or downgrade credit cards within a common “family” of cards, although not every card or cardmember is eligible.
  • In most cases, upgrading or downgrading a card allows you to move credit from one card to another and without affecting your credit score.
  • Upgrading an American Express card often comes with additional benefits while downgrading can help you save on annual fees.
  • Keep in mind that upgrading or downgrading a card can disqualify you from receiving or earning certain benefits from your new card (like a welcome offer).

Consumers who want to switch credit cards have several strategies to consider, including the option to choose a new credit card altogether. However, there are situations where applying for a new credit card isn’t ideal, such as when you’re planning to apply for a mortgage and hoping to avoid a new hard inquiry.

In any case, you can also try upgrading or downgrading to another product from the same issuer. Upgrading a credit card makes sense when a card issuer offers another option with better benefits or rewards that fit your spending. When you upgrade instead of applying for the credit card, you can benefit from moving your open line of credit to the new card instead of opening a separate account.

Downgrading a card is a common alternative for consumers who want to stop paying an annual fee or need to target different reward categories. This option is especially popular with premium travel and rewards credit cards that charge high annual fees. Similar to upgrading, downgrading your card allows you to move your line of credit to a new card without opening a new account.

Either way, you should be aware of the downsides of upgrading or downgrading your credit card, the most notable of which is that you won’t be eligible for a new card welcome offer. This is important for American Express cardholders, given that the Platinum Card® from American Express card is currently offering 80,000 Membership Rewards points for new cardholders who spend $8,000 within six months of account opening.

Can I upgrade or downgrade my American Express credit card?

From time to time, American Express has been known to send direct mail to its current customers with the option of upgrading to a new card product. Outside of receiving a formal invitation, American Express has some hard and fast rules that can make it difficult to upgrade or downgrade a card.

Upgrade or downgrade eligibility for American Express

For starters, you can only upgrade or downgrade an American Express credit card that earns the same type of rewards. This makes sense since many Amex cards let you earn cash back, yet plenty of others let you earn points in the American Express Membership Rewards program.

Switching cards within American Express’s line of co-branded cards is also problematic. It would get complicated if you were trying to upgrade or downgrade a Hilton Honors credit card to a Delta credit card, for example. Moving among cards with different types of rewards would make the process rather messy, so American Express doesn’t allow it.

Finally, your American Express account needs to be in good standing if you hope to upgrade or downgrade. This means you have made your payments on time and have shown responsible credit use.

With that said, even if you meet the preceding criteria, American Express considers all upgrades and downgrades on a case-by-case basis. For example, I attempted to downgrade an American Express® Business Gold Card to the Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express. Even though both cards earn Membership Rewards points, American Express denied my request.

Does upgrading or downgrading affect your credit score?

One major reason you may opt to upgrade or downgrade your cards is because it doesn’t affect your credit score. New credit makes up 10 percent of your FICO score, and hard inquiries generally take a few points off your score. Since you already have access to the underlying line of credit you are hoping to transfer to a new card, the card issuer doesn’t have to place a new hard inquiry on your credit report.

Many consumers also downgrade a credit card to a no-annual-fee option instead of canceling their card altogether to protect their credit score. Canceling a credit card can reduce the amount of open credit you have, thus increasing your credit utilization. This won’t happen if you upgrade or downgrade your card, as long as the credit limit stays the same. Since the amounts you owe in relation to your credit limits make up 30 percent of your FICO score, this factor is even more important.

Should you upgrade your American Express credit card?

Upgrading a credit card can make sense, but you could give something up if you go this route instead of applying for a new card. Of course, the pros and cons of upgrading depend a lot on the card you have and the card you want.

Upgrading from the American Express® Gold

Here’s an example of a popular upgrade between Amex cards and the potential advantages and disadvantages. Let’s say you have the American Express® Gold Card and you want the Platinum Card. Although the Platinum Card has a higher annual fee, you can also become eligible for a slew of new benefits by upgrading.

What do you have to lose, and what do you have to gain?

Advantages of upgrading

  • Access to the superior benefits that come with the Platinum Card, such as up to $200 in annual Uber Cash (Terms Apply)
  • New benefits with the upgraded Platinum Card from American Express, such as up to $200 in annual credits on eligible prepaid bookings through American Express Travel at Fine Hotels + Resorts or The Hotel Collection (two-night minimum stay required), up to $200 in airline fee credits each year with a pre-selected airline, broad access to airport lounges worldwide, up to $240 in annual digital entertainment credits, up to $300 in eligible Equinox memberships credits (enrollment required), a $189 credit toward CLEAR Plus membership and cellphone protection
  • A higher rewards earning structure; where the Gold Card lets you earn more rewards at U.S. supermarkets and restaurants each year, the Platinum card shines due to the 5X points you earn on flights booked directly with airlines or on flights and prepaid hotels booked through American Express Travel
  • Fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck, which the Gold Card does not offer
  • Gold status with Hilton Honors and Marriott Bonvoy

Disadvantages of upgrading

  • You wouldn’t earn the welcome offer on the Platinum Card, which is a huge downside considering the current welcome offer is 80,000 Membership Rewards points when you spend $8,000 on new purchases within 6 months of account opening.
  • You would lose the up to $120 dining credit the American Express Gold Card offers.
  • You would stop earning 4X points at restaurants worldwide and 4X points on up to $25,000 in spending at U.S. supermarkets each year.
  • You would have to pay the $695 annual fee on the Platinum Card, without the value of a welcome offer to help offset that cost.

Should you downgrade your American Express credit card?

Downgrading an American Express credit card is a popular option when you want to avoid an annual fee, or at least pay a lower annual fee. This usually happens when consumers no longer use the benefits and perks their American Express credit card offers, or when someone’s financial situation changes enough that they prefer not to pay a high annual fee anymore. Since the annual fee on the Platinum Card is a whopping $695, for example, canceling or downgrading is worth considering if you find yourself struggling to use all the perks.

However, you may also want to consider downgrading between cards from other rewards “families” in order to save on annual fees for perks you’re not using as we illustrate below.

Delta SkyMiles downgrade

Here’s an example of a popular downgrade among American Express credit cards. What do you stand to gain when you downgrade from the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card to the Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card? And what do you stand to lose?

Advantages of downgrading

  • The Delta SkyMiles Blue doesn’t charge an annual fee
  • No damage to your credit

Disadvantages of downgrading

  • You will not receive a welcome offer on the Delta SkyMiles Blue
  • The Delta SkyMiles Blue earns elevated rewards in fewer categories than the Delta SkyMiles Gold (like groceries), which means you might earn miles at a slower pace
  • You’ll lose out on Delta SkyMiles Gold benefits like no fee for the first checked bag, and the Zone 5 priority boarding on Delta flights
  • You’ll lose the $200 annual Delta flight credit after spending $10,000 on your card in a calendar year

When is a good time to upgrade or downgrade your credit card?

Generally speaking, you should wait at least a year after getting a card to ask about upgrading or downgrading your credit card. This is because Amex has been known to reduce or decline welcome offers from consumers who move between cards too quickly. If you signed up for the Amex Platinum, earned the generous welcome offers and then immediately tried to downgrade your card, for example, American Express could easily take your welcome offer back and even cancel your card. The exact wording in the terms and conditions of this card offer tells the whole story:

“If we in our sole discretion determine that you have engaged in abuse, misuse, or gaming in connection with this offer in any way or that you intend to do so (for example, if you applied for one or more cards to obtain an 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, we may freeze, or we may take away Membership Rewards points from your account. We may also cancel this Card account and other Card accounts you may have with us.”

Second, the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure (CARD) Act of 2009 does not allow card issuers to increase the annual fee or other finance charges on a card within the first year. This is yet another reason you’ll want to wait a year before you try to upgrade your card.

Also note that American Express has a “once in a lifetime rule” that can make upgrading in particular somewhat problematic. This rule states that if you have had an Amex card product before, you are ineligible for the welcome offer. Not only does upgrading to the Platinum Card prevent you from earning the welcome offer, but you also can’t earn it by applying for the card again later, even a few years down the line. Here’s what the terms and conditions for this card state:

“You may not be eligible to receive a welcome offer if you have or have had this Card, the Platinum Card® from American Express Exclusively for Charles Schwab, the Platinum Card® from American Express Exclusively for Morgan Stanley or previous versions of these Cards. You also may not be eligible to receive a welcome offer based on various factors, such as your history with credit card balance transfers, your history as an American Express Card Member, the number of credit cards that you have opened and closed and other factors. If you are not eligible for a welcome offer, we will notify you prior to processing your application so you have the option to withdraw your application.”

This doesn’t mean that you should never upgrade. You should just think critically about the potential downsides, including missing out on a welcome offer altogether, before you do.

How to upgrade or downgrade your American Express credit card

If you want to upgrade or downgrade your Amex card, the next step to take is to call the issuer. Use the customer service number on the back of your credit card, and a representative will help.

American Express also has a helpful online chat feature you can use to see about upgrading or downgrading your card. However, you may still be asked to call in depending on your unique situation.

The bottom line

Whether you choose to upgrade to a credit card with better perks or downgrade in order to save money on annual fees, there are steps you can take to make the most of the transaction.

Timing is everything

Make sure you time your upgrade or downgrade in a way that minimizes fees or maximizes perks and rewards. For example, if you downgrade from Platinum Card after you have had it for 18 months and already paid the second annual fee, you won’t receive the full fee as a refund. Instead, it will be a prorated refund. Do the math and decide whether getting half the annual fee back is worth losing the card perks for the rest of the year.

Ask about rewards transfer

If your current credit card has a rewards balance you want to keep, make sure you ask about the transfer of those rewards ahead of time. Some upgrades or downgrades within the same program may not result in any change at all. On the flip side, there may be instances where the value of your rewards will change due to the new card you chose. Either way, find out before you make a move you can’t undo.

Check eligibility for welcome offers

Typically, you become ineligible for a credit card welcome offer when you upgrade or downgrade a card instead of applying for a new account. However, you can always call the card issuer and ask for an exception. It’s possible you could earn a new welcome offer, but you’ll never know unless you ask.

As a side note, American Express makes it possible to find out if you’re ineligible for a welcome offer before you submit a full application. While the Amex website will let you begin a credit card application on its site, the welcome offer tool alerts you if you’re ineligible for a welcome offer and lets you opt out from applying before your credit is pulled.