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 the fact 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 100,000 Membership Rewards points for new cardholders who spend $6,000 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.
You also cannot switch a credit card to an American Express charge card, or vice versa. A charge card is a type of card that requires you to pay your balance in full each month, whereas credit cards let you carry a balance from month to month.
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.
Does upgrading or downgrading affect your credit score?
One major reason consumers opt to upgrade or downgrade their cards is because it doesn’t affect your credit score. We all know that “new credit” makes up 10 percent of your FICO score, and that 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 really want the Platinum Card. While the Platinum Card recently upped its 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 Uber credits, broad access to airport lounges worldwide and up to $200 in airline fee credits
- New benefits with the upgraded Platinum Card from American Express, such as up to $200 in credits on eligible Fine Hotels + Resorts or The Hotel Collection bookings, up to $240 in digital entertainment credits, up to $300 in Equinox credits, a $179 credit toward Clear 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 with airlines or 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 bonus on the Platinum Card, which is a huge downside considering the current welcome offer is 100,000 Membership Rewards points when you spend $6,000 on new purchases within six months of account opening.
- You would lose out on the initial spending bonus you can get with the Platinum Card, which is 10X points on up to $25,000 in combined spending at restaurants and when you Shop Small in the U.S. during your first six months of card membership.
- 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 bonus 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 now the highest we’ve seen at $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
- No welcome bonus on the Delta SkyMiles Blue
- The Delta SkyMiles Blue has a lower earning rate than the Delta SkyMiles Gold, which means you might earn miles at a slower pace
- Losing out on Delta SkyMiles Gold benefits like no fee for the first checked bag, and Main Cabin 1 priority boarding on Delta flights
- Losing the Delta Pay with Miles feature
When is a good time to upgrade or downgrade your credit card?
Generally speaking, you should wait at least a year to ask about upgrading or downgrading your credit card. This is because Amex has been known to reduce or decline welcome bonuses from consumers who move between cards too quickly. If you signed up for the Amex Platinum, earned the generous welcome bonus and then immediately tried to downgrade your card, for example, American Express could easily take your bonus 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 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 the Membership Rewards points to, we may freeze the Membership Rewards points credited to, or we may take away the 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 bonus. Not only does upgrading to the Platinum Card prevent you from earning the welcome bonus, 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:
“Welcome offer not available to applicants who have or have had this card or previous versions of the Platinum Card. We may also consider the number of American Express cards you have opened and closed as well as other factors in making a decision on your welcome offer eligibility.”
This doesn’t mean that you should never upgrade. You should just think long and hard about the potential downsides, including missing out on a welcome bonus 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.
Make the most of your upgrade or downgrade
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. Here are some additional tips that can help you upgrade or downgrade in a way that benefits you.
Timing is everything
Make sure you time your upgrade or downgrade in a way that minimizes fees or maximizes perks and rewards. If you downgrade from Platinum Card after you have had it for 14 months and already paid the second annual fee, for example, you might as well keep it another 10 months until the before annual fee is posted again, then make the switch. That way, you can use airport lounge access when you travel and have additional time to use all the travel credits.
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 bonuses
Typically, you become ineligible for a credit card welcome bonus 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 bonus, 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 bonus before you submit a full application. While the Amex website will let you begin a credit card application on its site, the welcome bonus tool alerts you if you’re ineligible for a welcome bonus and lets you opt out from applying before your credit is pulled.