How to Upgrade Chase and Amex Credit Cards | Military Money Manual Podcast Episode 25

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Learn how to maximize your military annual fee waivers in my Ultimate Military Credit Cards course at By upgrading Chase and Amex cards from lower tier cards to higher tier cards, you can earn valuable recurring annual benefits like airline fee credits, travel credits, and much more. For example, you could upgrade an American Express Hilton Honors Surpass card to a Amex Hilton Honors Aspire card even if you already have an Amex Hilton Honors Aspire card. Then you could double your free hotel/resort nights certificates annually and earn $500 of resort credit rather than just $250.

Military Money Manual Podcast Episode 25 Links

Military Money Manual Podcast Episode 25 Transcript

[00:00:00] Spencer: Welcome to the Military Money Manual podcast.

Hello, I'm Spencer the founder of and the author of the new book Military Money Manual and today I'm joined as I am every week by my good friend and co host Jamie. Welcome to the podcast Hello, thank you. 

Today on the podcast, we're talking about upgrading your American Express and Chase cards.

So this is going to be one of those military travel hacking episodes where we really get down into the weeds about the actual tactics, the actual links you need to click to get your cards upgraded. So if you're more interested in the financial independence podcasts and episodes, go listen to those. But this is going to be for those military travel hackers out there who want to maximize their annual fee waived cards.

If you want to learn more about applying for annual fee waived credit cards in the military, check out my course,, I got it all laid out there. It's a hundred percent free five day email course. And I'll walk you through how to apply for top tier cards like the Amex Platinum, the Chase Sapphire Reserve, and Amex Aspire, Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant etc.

[00:01:18] Jamie: Spencer, before we get into the tactics of upgrading, can you explain why we would upgrade? What's the point of taking a lower tier card and upgrading it to a better one?

[00:01:28] Spencer: So the main benefit is going to be the higher tier cards usually have recurring annual benefits that you can reap by holding multiples of the higher tier cards.

So we'll just take Hilton for an example, because that card seems really popular in the military. Although arguably the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant is an even better card. But the Hilton Aspire card is the top tier Hilton card and it's issued by American express. Let me just break it down real quick.

The top tier cards, the Amex Aspire, Hilton Amex Aspire. Then there's the Hilton Surpass card. And then there's the just Vanilla Hilton Honors card. There's also a business Hilton card, but we won't really talk about that one. Cause it's not in the personal card family. So for the Amex Aspire card, for instance, you're going to get a $250 annual resort credit at any Hilton resort.

And you can go to to see the hotels and resorts that count for that benefit. But that's something that doesn't come with the surpass card or the I think it's a no annual fee Hilton honors card, the lowest tier one. And so if you have one of those lower tier cards, you can upgrade them to the higher tier cards and then you get all the annual benefits.

And usually the higher tier cards earn more points, which doesn't really make a difference cause it's not like you can spend more money on the different cards. But. Really, the additional annual benefits is what really drives you to upgrade your lower tier cards, the higher tier cards, right?

[00:02:55] Jamie: So for Hilton you mentioned the resort credit free night certificate. You can get multiple free night certificates, but you can't just go applying. Usually most of the banks, Amex Chase specifically, won't allow you to apply for another Hilton Aspire card if you already have one. Especially if it's still open.

So you have to get a lower tier card and then upgrade to it. Similarly, you can do the same thing with the Amex Platinum, where you can get multiple rounds of the $200 airline fee credit, multiple rounds of the Uber credit, multiple rounds of the Saks credit, and those kinds of recurring benefits. So it's a really great strategy.

And again, this is all annual fee waived for both the military member and their spouse. They can have their, the spouse can have his or her own account, not just an authorized user, additional card holder. And so between you. Player one and player two, as you may hear sometimes you have double benefits.

And then as you upgrade other cards, now you're talking about triple four, maybe nine Amex Platinums. You'll see some crazy people have those kinds of numbers.

[00:03:53] Spencer: Yeah. And you can go back to our episode number 19, how to get Chase and Amex annual fee waivers. That was the episode where we broke down exactly how to apply, but the long story short is it should be automatic as long as you're in the MLA military lending act database.

But if you want more details on how to find out if you are in the MLA database and how to get your fees waiver, go check out episode number 19 or check out my website And I've got it all laid out there as well. I guess another thing we should mention Jamie is before we get too far down this rabbit hole is.

If you are going to be upgrading a lower tier card to a higher tier card, make sure you apply directly or use a referral link or use one of the links on my website. And that way you can earn the bonus because a lot of times when you upgrade a lower tier card to a higher tier card, you're not going to earn the bonus.

The welcome bonus. So for the Hilton Aspire, at the time of this recording it is offering 150,000 points. So if you had the Surpass card, the Hilton surpass card you can earn 130,000 points. Actually the welcome bonus is up to 180,000 points, but it's a pretty high spend to meet that. But if you upgraded the surpass card to an Aspire card and you never applied for an Aspire card directly, you would miss out on those 150,000 points.

If you're, I like to start at the top of the tier and then work my way down. So for the Hilton cards, I started with the Aspire card. Then I opened up a surpass card and then I opened up a vanilla Hilton honors card. And then I, and then once I hit the one year mark, then I upgraded them to the higher tier Aspire card.

[00:05:32] Jamie: So the one year mark is an important thing to remember for all of these. So keep track of. Of when you apply for the card and open the account. Because one year after having the low cost or free card is when you can upgrade it. And that's based on just US law.

[00:05:46] Spencer: Yeah. And I actually ran into this the other day.

I forgot when I opened up my Chase Sapphire preferred last year. And so I called them to transfer some points around and I said, Hey I got you on the phone. Can I upgrade my card to a reserve card? And they were like, yeah, sure. And I was like, oh, great. It must've been a year. And then they're like, ah, it's not giving me the option.

And they're like, oh, it's because you opened the card in April and it's not yet. April. Yeah, so the system, I guess the system worked, although I have seen it on Amex where they are a little bit looser with the upgrades. Sometimes I've seen them where it's 10 months or 11 months since applying for the lower tier card, and they'll offer you the upgrade to the higher tier card.

[00:06:20] Jamie: So speaking of Amex, let's get into the tactical details now of, I, let's say I have an Amex Green card and I'm ready to upgrade it to an Amex Platinum or like you mentioned no, no annual fee Hilton card. I want to upgrade it to the aspire card. How do I go about upgrading an Amex card?

[00:06:40] Spencer: So the easiest way to do it that I found is create a new login on And sorry, let me backup first. You want to remove the card from card management on American So if you go to your Amex account, you log in at the top, there's going to be like I think it's account services, you click that and you click card management.

You'll see the card listed there. And there'll be a link that says remove card from account. And once, and it's still going to work fine. You're just removing it from that login, basically. So if you think about it, let's say you have, I have the Spencer one login. I will remove it from that login.

I'll create a Spencer to log in. Then add the card to that account. And the reason you're doing this is 'cause you, if you have the higher tier card, then the system isn't dumb. It recognizes, Hey, you already have an Amex platinum card and this is a green card, and I'm not gonna offer you an upgrade offer because you already have it.

You already have the higher tier card. But. The system is a little dumb because if you put it on a separate login and the accounts are still connected, like your Amex membership reward points are still connected because it's based on your social security number. And so once you put it on a separate login, like the Spencer two account, then sometimes people have to wait a couple hours, but usually within 24 hours or a day or so they can log in, they can look at the green card.

And then usually if you're on the desktop, it's on the right side, it'll say like a special offer for you. And you can click on it and it'll say, would you like to upgrade to Amex Platinum? Sometimes they even offer a bonus. So I've had it before. Like I think it was a Gold card Offering an upgrade to an Amex platinum and it was $20,000 points If I spent I think it was like a thousand dollars or two thousand dollars in the first three months So that's an awesome bonus right there.

Yeah But you won't always see that so it just depends and I advise most people to move it to a new login the lower tier card and then wait, check it for a week or two and see if you get a Upgrade bonus offer and then if you don't just hit upgrade and away you go.

[00:09:00] Jamie: So then once you get approved for your new secondary or your second premium card, you can then remove it from Spencer two and put it back into Spencer one to make it a little easier to manage again.

[00:09:13] Spencer: Absolutely. Yep. That's right. Yeah, and that's what I do. I usually have my wife's upgrade. Login and then my upgrade login and once I put the card in there, I upgrade it, then I remove it from the account management and slide it back over to my primary account. And so like in my primary Amex login right now if I pull up, there's nine Amex Platinums, two Hilton Aspires, two Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant and the system works just fine.

Yeah. When I call customer service, they can see what my account looks like and I've never had any questions asked about it.

[00:09:49] Jamie: Amex is actually pretty easy for this process. Again, to summarize for Amex, remove it from your online account management, from your primary login. Move it over to a new login, wait a couple of days, you might see a welcome offer, maybe up to two weeks or so, a week or two.

If you get a welcome offer to upgrade, or a welcome bonus upgrade offer, that's even better. And then once you're approved for the new card, you can move it back to your normal login again, and it's pretty straightforward.

[00:10:14] Spencer: Yeah, and I guess I'll just mention before we move on to Chase the cards that you can do this with for Amex would be The Amex green, you can upgrade it to a Gold or a platinum, and then the Gold, you can upgrade to a platinum.

You can actually downgrade to I don't know why you would, unless you're looking for a certain spending bonus, but once you've upgraded the cards, here's the other trick too. So for instance, A couple of years ago, I upgraded my Amex Gold to a Platinum. I really missed my Amex Gold because first of all, it's a cool looking card.

I got the rose Gold, of course. And more importantly, it earns 4x membership reward points on groceries and dining. And if you're missing out on 4x points and you're only getting 1x points with a Amex platinum card. Oh, yeah, especially if you're a millennial or a Gen Z or Jamie and I are millennials.

We're not those boomers, but you're missing out on a lot of good points, especially if you go out to eat a lot or..

[00:11:11] Jamie: Groceries, it just adds up commissaries overseas commissaries, you got an article about that on the website of over when you're overseas, the commissary, they're still triggers as a US grocery store.

That's right. 4X, that's a great earning potential. I'm a big fan of the Gold card to the point where, like I mentioned before, I don't know if I want to upgrade it. I put a lot of my spending on the Gold card right now. But anyway, I distracted you from what other cards you can do. 

[00:11:40] Spencer: I was just saying, but if you upgraded your Gold card to a Platinum, you can apply for another Gold card again.

So once you've up, once you have that, that basically that space is free, right? There's nothing that says you can't apply for another Gold card and you probably won't get a welcome offer on it because you've had a Gold card before. But I have seen examples, guys wait a year or two.

And sometimes, they find a no, no lifetime language offer and they can get another bonus on the Gold card or the lower tier card. And then finally, so you've got the Amex green, Gold and Platinum are in the family. Then you've got the Delta Blue, Delta Gold, Delta Platinum can all be upgraded to Delta Reserve.

That's a pretty powerful one right there. Because the Delta Reserve card, you get Companion Passes on. Let's say that you and your spouse both have a Delta Reserve. You've also got two kids. All of a sudden, you've got an annual round trip companion pass domestic, I think up to first class. 

[00:12:38] Jamie: They don't do Delta one lie flat anymore. They just devalued it a little bit.

[00:12:42] Spencer: Yeah. No Delta One. Okay. Yeah. But yeah you can make your kids, your companions, and then all of a sudden you've just cut the cost of airfare in half for whatever trip you're doing. And that one's also really powerful if you're living in Hawaii too, because it does allow you to get round trip airfare, Hawaii or Alaska.

It does allow you to fly Delta round trip, domestic first class back to the mainland and then back to Hawaii or Alaska, but you have to have a Hawaii or Alaska address in your Delta account. So make sure that's updated and that's current. And if it's, if you do have that, then yeah, you get the round trip.

Otherwise, I think Alaska and Hawaii, you can't fly to, it's only the lower 48 for the companion.

[00:13:25] Jamie: Yep. It's only from Hawaii or Alaska back, and back to Hawaii. You, and it's, there's a lot of caveats with this one. It can be difficult to use. And when you go to redeem your companion pass with Delta.

It limits your options. So it's tough companion passes sitting right now. We have three Delta reserve cards in total between us, the platinum, the Delta platinum also has companion pass, but it's only an economy and the reserve offers up to first class.

[00:13:53] Spencer: All right. And then the final Amex family I'll talk about is the Hilton, which we just, I think we beat that to death, but that's the Amex Aspire, Amex surpass, and then the Hilton honors card, just a Vanilla. 

[00:14:01] Jamie: There's no lower tier Bonvoy card you could upgrade to or from.

[00:14:05] Spencer: Don't believe so anymore. I think I'll look it up while you're talking. Yeah, they used to have the SPG card, which was an awesome card back when, before Marriott bought SPG and completely ruined the brand.

But yeah, there's I'm pretty sure there's just the Bonvoy card. I don't think there's a lower tier. Marriott card Chase has a couple lower tier ones, but obviously it's a separate bank,

[00:14:29] Jamie: So you can't give them at first glance. I'm only seeing that one, but okay, so that's Amex. Very user friendly process.

However, Chase is the theme of some of our comparisons. Not quite as easy. If you've ever opened a credit card over the phone and had the representative read you the disclosures and the terms and conditions ha. It is painful and Chase actually makes you, yeah, Chase actually makes you call the number on the back of your card to upgrade.

So what other, Chase pretty straightforward. You have to call them and you can ask them if you can upgrade and then they're going to read all the legalese there 15 minutes later, you say I accept and then it's done. So it's not really much to talk about with Chase other than maybe what cards.

You might want to look at that for.

[00:15:13] Spencer: Yeah, like you said, pretty simple process, call the number on your back or card asked to upgrade. And that's about it. The biggest thing I actually haven't upgraded a lot of my Chase cards because most of my Chase cards were opened before 2017. So I haven't been able to fall under the Military Lending Act for most of my cards.

But the biggest advantage to Chase cards. Is the ability to upgrade the no annual fee Chase Freedom Unlimited and Chase Freedom Flex to a Chase Sapphire Reserve. I only know of guys who have two Sapphire Reserves, but I'm sure there's somebody out there and hit me up on Instagram or or Instagram @MilitaryMoneyManual. And let me know if you've got more than two Chase Sapphire Reserves. Cause I know those hackers are out there and I'd love to talk to them about their strategy, but yeah, you can upgrade the Chase Freedom cards to more CSRs and then you're unlocking 300 annual travel credit.

What else are you getting from them annually?

[00:16:14] Jamie: They don't really have that much anymore in 2021. They had a lot of temporary COVID benefits, but the $300 travel credit is the biggest one. And then they have pretty decent earning potential, but that would be the same, whether you had one card or two.

[00:16:27] Spencer: Yeah. And then the other one is the Chase Sapphire Preferred, or there's even a no annual fee lowest tier Chase Sapphire card, just Vanilla Chase Sapphire card. Now people, might, if they know a little bit about travel hacking, they might say doesn't that violate the one Sapphire rule.?

You can only have one Sapphire open at a time. You can only have one Sapphire open at a time. You can't apply for another Sapphire then, but you can upgrade Chase the lower tier card. So for instance, if you had a Chase Sapphire Reserve, you couldn't apply for Chase Sapphire Preferred, but you could apply for the Chase Freedom cards and then upgrade them to Reserves.

And then the one that I'm about to do is I opened up a Chase Sapphire Preferred because I had a really high welcome bonus last year. And a year later later this year in 2022, I'll be able to upgrade that to a Chase Sapphire reserve. So that's the one I'm working on there.

[00:17:22] Jamie: Yeah, my wife and I have both. So I did the Chase Sapphire Reserve upgrade last year from the Chase Freedom Unlimited. I can't, I think not either Unlimited or Flex. I think Unlimited. And then my wife now has the Unlimited and we're waiting for her a year to upgrade to her second Chase Sapphire reserve.

So I'm looking at our spring break trip and I'm totaling up. Okay. City premier, $250 travel credit Chase Sapphire Reserve, one, $200, $300 travel credit. Number two, $300 travel credit. Number three, $300 travel credit. Hilton $250 resort stay. And so you just add up all these benefits and Okay.

It allows you to, to splurge or to budget differently. If no matter what point of the game you're at FIi, having free money is a big win and I'll gladly take it. Amex and Chase like we've talked about before, they don't necessarily have to interpret the MLA the way that they do.

Take advantage of it while you can, because one day they, the lawyer, the head lawyer at Amex may interpret the rules differently.

[00:18:20] Spencer: Yeah, and I think a lot of people are, I have gotten some messages, people saying don't talk about this the less people know about it, the more advantage will be able to take of it but you don't want the cats out of the bag.

You can go into any military unit and I guarantee someone in that unit has an Amex Platinum card and they probably won't shut up about it because they want to get up, they want to give out the referral link. The credit card companies know what we're doing. The cat's out of the bag, if they ever rescind it or take it away, it's. It's going to be way over our heads. There's going to be lots of lawyers involved and I don't know what the reaction from the community would be, but, or whether they would grandfather in people who already have their annual fees waived.

Man, that would be quite an interesting PR move.

[00:19:16] Jamie: I was just thinking if they do I would encourage our listeners to not pitch a fit about it. Like it'll sting a little bit. It'll change your, it'll change your spending habits, maybe a little bit of the way you vacation, Amex, I just Googled their Amex profit, their September.

2021 quarterly, their net income was almost 2 billion. The quarter before that was over 2 billion, the quarter before that 2 billion and December 2020 was one measly 1.44 billion in quarterly profit. Given out $695 or whatever the annual fee is now waivers to less than a million Americans, if everyone in the military had it like they don't even care.

I agree with you that I think they know, but it's not even a drop on their, it's not even worth a blip on their radar to have their people look into it because they're making so much money and don't, don't be fooled too. They're making money off of us every time we swipe a card and you spend more on your credit card than you do with cash or a debit card.

And if it's, they're making money off of you every single time and good for them.

[00:20:22] Spencer: Yeah, one thing I would caveat about everyone's always Oh, but I swiped my card all the time. A $695 annual fee, which is the Amex Platinum annual fee right now. If they're making a 2 percent swipe fee, which is probably pretty average.

You'd have to spend $34,000 on your car to make up for that fee. Maybe as you're progressing in your career, like you could spend that much money, but for a lot of guys, like that's what they make, so

[00:20:50] Jamie: You know, obviously the business model works out there. Yeah, no,

[00:20:53] Spencer: Absolutely.

Absolutely. But I think people have ascribed the swipe, the swipe fee. It's a, you gotta move a lot of money through your Amex card to make up for that $695 annual fee. Yeah. Okay. So I think we, just looking at the Chase website here, oh It doesn't look like there's that many cards that you can upgrade really.

Chase doesn't really have the same kind of family structure that that you find over at Amex. I guess they do have two Marriott cards, the Southwest cards, I guess you could upgrade up and down. But again, they don't really have that many bonus points. I don't know why you wouldn't just upgrade or you wouldn't just apply for the straight the best Southwest card, which I think is the, let me see. I can't remember if, I, there's not many, I said before my wife and I had opened up double Chase cards and got companion passes and we took advantage of flying around Hawaii to buy one, get one free on 29 flights. There's not many scenarios where putting a lot of work into travel hacking Southwest is going to be worth your time.

[00:22:06] Spencer: Yeah, I know some people love it, but yeah. And then yeah, for hotel cards, they do have the lower tier IHG card. So I guess you could open that up and then upgrade it to a IHG rewards card.

World of Hyatt. They just got the one Hyatt card there.

[00:22:24] Jamie: The big ones though, like we mentioned before the Chase Freedom Unlimited or Flex up to the Sapphire Reserve would be a great upgrade or the Chase Sapphire Preferred up to a reserve, like you talked about, because the Preferred sometimes has a higher signup bonus, but the Reserve has better recurring annual benefits.

So those are the main ones. And then you can definitely look around at some of the other offers. I did look up Amex. The Bonvoy card is the only one, except for a business Bonvoy. So there's no opportunities there for Marriott fans.

[00:22:56] Spencer: That checks. That checks. All right. I think we covered upgrading Amex and Chase cards pretty well.

You got anything else to add, Jamie?

[00:23:04] Jamie: No, it's a great strategy to advance your travel hacking journey. And when you get all this extra money, put it towards maxing out your Roth IRA. And then we'll cover the financial independence side of our podcast as well

[00:23:16] Spencer: There you go. Yeah. Combining our two loves the FI and the travel hacking.

Yeah, I think, especially when travel hacking is your hobby and or one of your hobbies and you're able to travel with your family for either free or extremely reduced prices, it does make having a higher savings rate that much easier. So I think the two strategies, of it's the same side of the equation, right?

It both increases your income because you're getting all these free benefits. And it decreases your expenses because you're not paying for it, we just took this big trip. We went to Vail, Colorado, and went skiing for three days. The Hyatt, Grand Hyatt, Vail, we were staying at $800 a night and we paid for $300 worth of food and we walked out of there.

And we didn't pay for any, like we used all 75,000 points for the room. So that's $2,400. That's a $2,400 hotel stay that we didn't pay for.

[00:24:15] Jamie: So we talked about when we were doing the financial independence episodes before, how it doesn't have to feel like you're miserable and the budget is just like this big overbearing thing.

This is one way where you can have some freedom and some flexibility in your FI journey. By splurging on a nice hotel room in Vail or upgrading because you're basically getting buy one, get one free. I flew recently from Alabama to Baltimore and using our Delta Reserve companion pass in first class was, effectively the same price as one economy ticket. So it's a no brainer to take advantage of that. Buy one, get one free pass with the Delta reserve card. So there's a lot of opportunities like that. It's pretty money.

[00:24:57] Spencer: Yep. That's awesome. Okay. We'll see you guys next week on another episode of the military money mail podcast.

Again, we talked about upgrading your Amex and Chase cards and how it can fit into your military travel hacking strategy. We'll see you next week.

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