Upgrade Cash Rewards Elite Visa® Review: Serious contender for best flat-rate rewards card
It boasts one of the best flat rewards rates out there, but its unique structure may be a deal-breaker
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Upgrade Cash Rewards Elite Visa Card Overview
The Upgrade Cash Rewards Elite Visa is a unique offering that combines features of both an unsecured credit card and a personal loan. The result is a hybrid credit card that earns an unlimited 2.2 percent cash back on purchases with none of the common credit card fees found on traditional credit cards.
The card’s rewards rate and limited fees are standout benefits. Its up to 2.2 percent flat cash back rate beats the rates you’ll find on many of the best cash back cards on the market, and it’s rare to find a rewards card that charges no annual fee, late payment fee, foreign transaction fee or penalty APR. But the Upgrade Cash Rewards Elite doesn’t stop there. It’s also loaded with perks, including a sign-up bonus and cost-saving benefits like pay-per-use roadside assistance and concierge services.
Despite these and a few more impressive features, the Upgrade Elite card won’t be a good fit for everyone. Due to its limited redemption options, it lacks the flexibility found with traditional rewards credit cards and its unique lending structure requires a different level of discipline and responsible use.
Like a personal loan, your Upgrade Cash Rewards Elite card balances must be paid off in equal monthly installments of 24, 36 or 60 months. Fixed monthly payments can be a great strategy to quickly pay off debt with fewer interest charges added on to the cost. But if you haven’t budgeted for what could be higher minimum payments, you could end up wishing you had a traditional credit card and more freedom to make a smaller minimum payment some months.
What are the advantages and disadvantages?
- No intro APR offer, which is unusual for a top-of-the-line flat-rate cash back card.
- Rewards can only be redeemed toward paying down your balance. This limited redemption option will decrease the card’s value for some.
- This is the first Upgrade credit card that isn’t open to people with average credit. You’ll need at least good credit to get this card.
A deeper look into the current card offer
- Rewards rate: 2.2 percent cash back after making payment
- Welcome offer: $200 after opening a Rewards Checking account and making 3 debit card transactions within 60 days
- Annual fee: $0
- Purchase intro APR: N/A
- Balance transfer intro APR: N/A
- Regular APR: 14.99 percent to 29.99 percent
Current welcome offer
As a new Upgrade Cash Rewards Elite cardholder, you can earn a $200 bonus after you sign up for an Upgrade Rewards Checking account and make three debit card transactions within 60 days.
If you’re happy with your current bank, this offer may not sound all that appealing. But if you’re looking to open a new checking account, Upgrade Rewards Checking is worth a look. It isn’t like traditional checking accounts and comes with some interesting features. For example, the Upgrade checking account earns cash back on debit card purchases, including 2 percent back on household expenses like gas and monthly subscriptions and even utilities. Since it’s not always possible to pay certain utilities by credit card, this is a handy feature that can bring in further rewards. Upgrade also states it will provide an up-to 20 percent lower rate on Upgrade loans and cards as long as you maintain an active rewards checking account.
The Upgrade Cash Rewards Elite card is one of the only flat-rate cash back cards that offers at least 2 percent cash back and also comes with a welcome bonus. Plus, its welcome offer goes beyond providing great short-term value. Most traditional credit cards only offer a flat cash bonus after you spend a certain sum within a few months of account opening, with no additional perks beyond the card’s ongoing rewards rate.
For example, the Wells Fargo Active Cash® Card offers a $200 cash rewards sign-up bonus after you spend $1,000 within the first three months of account opening. The Upgrade Elite not only matches that $200 bonus, but also comes with additional benefits. This gives the card great short- and long-term value for people who want to maximize the rewards they earn.
The Upgrade Cash Rewards Elite card earns an impressive flat rate of unlimited cash back rewards for purchases. But unlike most cash back cards, the Upgrade Elite card doesn’t let you see the rewards until you make a payment, and you won’t have the flexibility to redeem your rewards in a variety of ways.
How you earn
The Upgrade Elite card earns 2.2 percent cash back on purchases. This is one of the highest flat rates around, beating out many of the best flat-rate credit cards on the market. This makes the Upgrade Elite a solid choice as both a standalone cash back card and a supplementary card to combine with cards that earn rewards at a higher rate in specific spending categories.
Many popular cards, like the Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card, only offer 1.5 percent cash back, and only a few, like the Wells Fargo Active Cash and the Citi® Double Cash Card, earn 2 percent cash rewards (1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases). Indeed, only one major card tops the Upgrade Elite card’s flat cash back rate—the Alliant Visa® Signature Credit Card with Cashback, which offers up to 2.5% cash back on your first $10,000 of qualifying eligible purchases (1.5% after that).
How to redeem
You only have one option for redeeming your cash back: When you make your monthly payment, rewards will automatically be credited to your account the following month. This lone option is best if you tend to use your rewards to pay down balances, but some people prefer to have more flexibility.
Many of the best cash back credit cards give you a variety of redemption options, including as a check, for gift cards and even travel. Some cards can be even more versatile. For example, the Citi Double Cash Card lets you combine points with other Citi cards. Depending on your spending habits, this could be a great way to supersize your rewards since redeeming your ThankYou points for travel or transferring to an airline or hotel partner may squeeze more value out of your points.
How much are the rewards worth?
Compared to bonus category cash back cards, flat-rate cards offer a straightforward rewards rate worth 1 cent per percentage point. Since the Upgrade Elite card earns an unlimited 2.2 percent cash back, you’ll get 2.2 cents for every dollar back on all purchases.
Other cardholder perks
The Upgrade Elite card doesn’t have an intro 0% APR offer for purchases or balance transfers. This is a valuable benefit found with many of the top flat-rate and cash back credit cards that typically gives you up to 15 months or longer to make interest-free payments on your balances. Not having this benefit could decrease the card’s short-term value for some since it could potentially save you hundreds of dollars or more.
Here’s a look at the features that do come with the Upgrade Elite card. Many of these perks, like the purchase and travel protections, as well as the concierge services, could come in handy.
Since the Upgrade Elite is a hybrid card, you can use it like a credit card or a personal loan. When you use it like a credit card, you earn rewards on all of your purchases. But you can also have funds transferred to your bank account. This option won’t earn rewards but can be helpful, especially if you need to pay off a credit card with a higher interest rate or don’t have enough funds in your bank account to cover emergency expenses that can’t be put on a credit card.
Prequalification makes it easy to see how likely you are to be approved before applying. It’s a fast process that doesn’t use a hard credit pull, so it won’t impact your credit score. Not every credit card issuer offers this peace of mind.
This is an instant-use credit card, so if you are approved, you get instant access to a virtual card number that lets you begin using the card immediately. Most credit cards tend to make you wait until the physical card arrives in the mail, which can take up to two weeks or longer.
Purchase and travel protections
The Upgrade Elite comes with a slew of protections not typically found on credit cards with no annual fee. On top of an extended warranty program and price protection, cardmembers can take advantage of hard-to-come-by features like travel and emergency assistance as well as a pay-per-use roadside assistance program that only charges a fee when you call for roadside assistance. This last perk can be useful if you don’t want to pay costly annual fees to maintain roadside service in the event of a breakdown.
This perk gives you 24/7 access to a team of customer service representatives that can act like your personal assistants, helping you with tasks like making reservations or purchasing hard-to-find tickets to concerts and other events.
Rates and fees
The Upgrade Elite card doesn’t have many of the fees typically found on rewards credit cards. Since it doesn’t carry an annual fee, it doesn’t cost anything to hold on to the card. It also lacks many of the fees that can make a credit card harder to manage, including late payment, ATM and foreign transaction fees or a penalty APR.
But if you can’t pay your balance in full each month, you’ll still have to deal with interest rates. The Upgrade Elite carries a wide-ranging APR of 14.99 percent to 29.99 percent. The low end of that APR is stellar for a credit card and is even competitive with the best personal loan interest rates. But the rate you get is based on your creditworthiness, and you’ll also need to enroll in Autopay. If your credit score doesn’t qualify you for the best rates, it’s a good idea to take some time to compare credit cards and personal loans to make sure the Upgrade Elite has the best rates for your needs.
How the Upgrade Cash Rewards Elite Visa® compares to other cash back credit cards
To see if the Upgrade Elite card is the right card for you, take a look at how it stacks up against two other flat-rate cards: the Wells Fargo Active Cash Card and the Alliant Cashback Visa® Signature Credit Card.
Upgrade Cash Rewards Elite Visa vs. Wells Fargo Active Cash Card
Like the Upgrade Elite, the Active Cash Card is a standout option for rewards seekers thanks to a great flat rate and additional perks not typically found on flat-rate cards, including a sign-up bonus and perks that give the card more value.
The Active Cash stands out for its intro APR offer, cellphone protection and flexible redemption options. Anyone looking to make interest free payments for a limited amount of time will want to seriously consider the Active Cash Card over the Upgrade Elite. But the Upgrade Elite’s unique lending approach, travel and purchase protections and complimentary concierge services could give it the edge in this battle depending on the features that matter most to you.
Upgrade Cash Rewards Elite Visa vs. Alliant Cashback Visa Signature Credit Card
The Alliant Cashback card has a higher rewards rate, but the Upgrade Elite may offer a much more rewarding experience, especially if you keep less than $1,000 in your bank account.
With the Alliant Cashback card, you can earn a maximum cash back rate of 2.5 percent as long as you keep a minimum daily balance of $1,000 in an Alliant High-Rate Checking account. If your balance dips below that, your rate is reduced to 1.5 percent.
The card’s other standout feature is a variable APR of 12.24 percent to 22.24 percent. This doesn’t match the low end of the Upgrade card’s interest range, but it’s still a great APR range for a rewards credit card and won’t potentially saddle you with high rates like the Upgrade Elite will if you end up at the high end of the card’s interest range.
Although the Upgrade Elite falls a bit short of the Alliant card’s cash back rate, it won’t make you jump through as many hoops to earn a consistently high 2.2 percent cash back rate. Plus, the $200 bonus, lower rates on future Upgrade products and chance to earn rewards on certain utilities that exclude credit cards as a form of payment may be better incentives than what you get with the Alliant Cashback card.
Best cards to pair with this card
Since the Upgrade Elite has a flat cash back rate on all purchases, it pairs well with a cash back bonus rewards credit card. Depending on your spending habits, you can earn higher rewards in the areas you spend the most in and then use the Upgrade Elite on all other purchases.
For example, if your household spends a lot on groceries, the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express can help you rake in a lot of cash back, as it earns one of the highest rates you’ll find on purchases made at U.S. supermarkets. It’s a versatile card that also covers a variety of other popular household categories like gas, transit and select streaming services.
If you prefer more flexibility, the U.S. Bank Cash+® Visa Signature® Card earns 5% cash back in two bonus categories that you can customize (up to $2,000 in combined eligible purchases each quarter) and an unlimited 2 percent cash back in one everyday category. Five percent categories include home utilities, fast food and cellphone service.
Bankrate’s Take: Is the Upgrade Cash Rewards Elite Visa worth it?
Yes. This card offers the best of two financial options: It’s a credit card that earns cash back rewards on your purchases, and it’s a personal loan on standby, giving you the ability to quickly transfer whatever available funds you have into your bank account.
The stellar 2.2 percent cash back rate on purchases and the unique welcome offer, which opens the door to earning more rewards, make this card an appealing choice. And while the card’s equal installment payment method could be a challenge if you maintain a high balance and don’t plan ahead, rewards maximizers (especially those who can pay balances in full) should find little downside to considering this hybrid credit card/personal loan offering.