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Should you upgrade your credit card?

You’re considering upgrading your credit card. Maybe you’re thinking of applying for a new premium credit card, but you have an old credit card you no longer use. Or perhaps you received an offer from a bank to “upgrade” your credit card and receive points or a waived annual fee. Should you go for it?

I recently got an offer to upgrade my Citi Rewards+ credit card to a Citi Premier credit card. In my case, the upgrade mailer offered to waive the Premier’s $95 annual fee for the first year after I upgraded. For me, in that instance, the answer was to not upgrade my card. But should that be the answer for you?

Sometimes a credit card upgrade makes sense, but sometimes it doesn’t. Here’s what to consider.

Upsides to upgrading your credit card

Card upgrade offer from American Express

Sometimes there can be very good reasons to upgrade your credit card. You might only be able to get a card through an upgrade, or you might be avoiding new inquiries to your credit report. But an upgrade can also be a strategic way to get a better welcome bonus in some cases.

Some cards are only available through credit card upgrades

Sometimes upgrading a credit card can be the key to getting a card that isn’t available to new cardmembers, but hasn’t been discontinued. The Chase Ritz-Carlton Card is one card. Among other benefits, the card offers a 50,000 point free night certificate at Marriott Properties annually and $300/year in airline fee reimbursements. Plus the card offers a Priority Pass Select membership with unlimited guests for both the primary cardmember and authorized users. (Authorized users cost $0/year with the Ritz-Carlton Card.) Currently, the card is not available to new cardmembers. The only way to get this card is to get this card is to upgrade from a Chase-issued Marriott credit card.

New new accounts, credit inquiries, or 5/24 hit

If you’re trying to avoid credit inquiries hitting your credit report or you don’t want a new account to show up because you’re trying to stay under 5/24, upgrading your card might be a better option than opening a new account. In most cases, an upgraded account will keep the same number and won’t show up as a new account. Even better, you’ll keep your credit line and account age, improving your credit score. Check with your credit card issuer before upgrading to make sure that you’ll keep your account number though. If the processing network (Visa/Mastercard) changes or you get a new account number, the upgraded card might show up on your credit report as a new account.

Better welcome bonuses

Sometimes it can make sense to upgrade a credit card to get a better welcome bonus. Interestingly, in the last few years, Chase has offered better welcome bonuses on the Chase Sapphire Preferred card than the Chase Sapphire Reserve.

For the last few months, you could earn up to 30,000 more points for signing up for the Sapphire Preferred card than you could with the Reserve. That’s great if you’re after the Chase Sapphire Preferred, but what if you wanted the Reserve card for its $300 travel credit and increased point redemption value? Because Chase only allows you to have either the Sapphire Preferred or Sapphire Reserve card, you had to choose. In many cases, the best way to get the Sapphire Reserve was to apply for the Sapphire Preferred, get the larger welcome bonus, and then product-change to the Sapphire Reserve after one year.

Downsides to upgrading your credit card

Of course, upgrading your credit card can also have a some downsides

You won’t get a welcome bonus on the upgrade

If you’re thinking that you’re going to get a juicy welcome bonus when upgrading your card, you’re going to be disappointed. New cardmember welcome bonuses are only available to customers who open a new account with a bank, not people upgrading to a different card. If it’s a welcome bonus you’re after, applying for a new card account is likely the only way to get it.

You may become ineligible for a welcome bonus on the same card

Not only will you not get a welcome bonus for a card upgrade, but upgrading your card might means you’re not eligible for a welcome bonus on that card in the future. This varies based on the terms of each welcome bonus offer. Some issuers require you to not have the card for a certain amount of time before you’re eligible for a a welcome bonus again.

American Express is the most strict bank when it comes to previous cardmembers getting welcome bonuses. The bank only gives new cardmember bonuses if you’ve never had the product before. In practice, this means you won’t be eligible for a new cardmember welcome bonus on either the card you’re upgrading to or from until seven years after the card is closed. If you’re offered an upgrade from Amex, you’ll usually earn more points by applying for the new card directly.

Higher annual fee

If you’re “upgrading” your credit card, that probably means you’re giving up a card with a low annual fee for a card with a higher annual fee. Of course, the benefits you’re getting are worth something as well. And those benefits are likely the reason you’re upgrading. In every case, be sure that the total value you get from your card exceeds the card’s cost.

Frequently asked questions

Do I keep the same number with a card upgrade?

Usually yes. If you’re upgrading within a card “family” like Marriott or United cards, if your previous card was a Visa, your new one will be, too. And if the network (Visa/Mastercard) stays the same, you can usually keep your same number within an account family. Check with your card issuer for details on your specific card.

Can I get a welcome bonus with a card upgrade?

New cardmember welcome bonuses are available to new applications, not card upgrades. Some issuers may offer you an incentive to upgrade. Generally, this won’t be as generous as a new cardmember sign-up bonus.

About the author

  • Aaron Hurd

    Aaron Hurd is a credit card, travel rewards, and loyalty program expert. Over the past 15 years, he has authored over a thousand expert contributions published by leading outlets including WSJ, TIME, Newsweek, Forbes, NerdWallet, The Points Guy, Bankrate, CNET, and many others. He has also served in consulting roles for many of these same outlets, designing content strategy, hiring teams of teams of editors and contributors, developing thought-leadership pieces, and ghost-editing for senior editors. Aaron is well-known in the miles and points community and regularly presents about travel rewards at conferences like the Chicago Seminars and Minnebar. Aaron has enjoyed the game of optimizing credit card rewards since getting his first credit card shortly after he turned 18. He started learning about credit cards and travel rewards from the (now defunct) FatWallet Finance forums and FlyerTalk. He holds more than 40 open credit cards and has first-hand experience with almost every major credit card product.

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