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Downgrading and product changing: What to do if you want that Sapphire Preferred 100,000-point sign-up bonus

Oct. 06, 2021
10 min read
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Shortly after I received a 50,000-point sign-up bonus for the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card in 2016, the Chase Sapphire Reserve launched with a 100,000-point sign-up bonus (neither offers are currently available). It was so popular that the issuer temporarily ran out of metal to make the card.

Although tempted, I hesitated to apply for the new card back then. Unfortunately, Chase has since instituted two very restrictive rules to new applications for the Sapphire cards. The first is that you can't hold two Sapphire cards at the same time. The second is that you can't earn two introductory bonuses for those cards in the same 48-month period.

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That meant I needed to wait four more years before I would be eligible to apply for the Chase Sapphire Reserve's bonus. And in the meantime, I'd have to either cancel or downgrade my Sapphire Preferred so that it wasn't open at the time of my application.

In typical TPG fashion, I spent the last few years preparing for my card switchover by implementing a (somewhat) complicated strategy to increase my Ultimate Rewards points-earning potential while securing my points balance for when I could eventually downgrade my Chase Sapphire Preferred and applied outright for the Chase Sapphire Reserve.

My plan involved applying for an Ink Business Preferred Credit Card so I could continue to earn bonus points on travel purchases and store my Ultimate Rewards for when the time came to say farewell to my Chase Sapphire Preferred card. Then, I opened a Chase Freedom Unlimited so I could earn (at least) 1.5% cash back (1.5 points per dollar) on everyday purchases in the meantime.

Last year, I was finally out from the umbrella of Chase's 48-month signup bonus moratorium. However, with the ongoing pandemic, I didn't want to walk away from the temporary benefits being offered by the Sapphire suite, such as bonus points on grocery store purchases.

With the arrival of 2021, I knew it was finally the year to downgrade my Chase Sapphire Preferred and finally, finally join the echelons of Reserve cardholders. Then, everything changed.

In June 2021, Chase announced that the Sapphire Preferred would be offering a 100,000-point sign-up bonus (after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening), and a bevy of new perks and bonus categories. Suddenly, I wanted the card I already had. At the same time, a number of Reserve cardholders decided they wanted to walk away from their $550 annual card fees and get the Preferred instead.

If you're in the same boat and currently weighing whether to apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred — or if you want to be prepared in case another bonus like this appears in the future — here's everything you need to know if you're ready for a change and a sizable haul of bonus points.

Official application link: Chase Sapphire Preferred.

Who is eligible for the Chase Sapphire Preferred?

(Photo courtesy ofAlexander Spatari/Getty Images)

If you have a great credit score and have had neither the Chase Sapphire Preferred nor the Chase Sapphire Reserve, you might be eligible to apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred. If you take advantage of its current offer, you could soon be working your way toward earning that 100,000-point signup bonus. The Sapphire Reserve is currently offering a lower sign-up bonus of 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.

Before you do, though, take a look in your wallet. If you've spent the last year and a half applying for every credit card under the moon to beef up your post-pandemic vacation points slush fund, you'll need to first make sure you are still under Chase's infamous 5/24 rule. According to this formula, if you've opened five or more credit cards, from any issuer, within the past 24 months, Chase is likely to deny your application for either the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Reserve.

To be eligible for the Chase Sapphire Preferred welcome bonus, you also need to make sure you haven't earned a Sapphire card bonus — with either the Preferred or the Reserve — in the last 48 months.

Even if you have a Sapphire card already, however, you might be able to change products and make yourself eligible for this massive introductory bonus again.

What should I do if I already have a Sapphire card?

Do. Not. Cancel! Say it with me now. If you already have either the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve, do not cancel your card as there are almost certainly other, better solutions, including downgrading or product changing.

In my case, I decided to downgrade my Preferred and apply, again, for the Preferred. I chose not to cancel my card as it's one of my oldest credit cards, and the age of your accounts makes up 10% of your total credit score. So, keeping this account open would continue to buoy my credit score.

Downgrading instead of canceling also allowed me to maintain my overall credit limit, which influences my credit utilization ratio (it helps your score to have access to a lot of credit, but not to be using too much of it). By keeping my utilization low, I also keep my score high.

On the other hand, canceling your card can dent both your average age of accounts and raise your credit utilization ratio by lowering your overall credit limit. It can also delay your ability to apply for a new Sapphire card.

I talked to several TPG staffers about their experiences attempting to apply (or reapply) for a Chase Sapphire Preferred through a combination of methods to find out how successful they were.

Taylor Jenkins, director of SEO at TPG, canceled his Reserve card outright, and when he applied almost a week later for the Preferred card, he was denied. Jenkins was told by multiple Chase representatives, including in person at a Chase branch, that — because accounts can legally be reopened for 30 days — he wouldn't be able to apply for the Preferred card until his current Sapphire account was officially closed a month later.

So, if you ever want to apply for the Preferred card without a lengthy delay, be careful not to cancel your existing Sapphire card outright.

With Chase cards, specifically, you'll want to downgrade to a card where you won't be devastated when you aren't eligible for a sign-up bonus for that product. The Chase Freedom Unlimited is a great example. Its welcome offer is low enough that you might not feel like you're missing out on much by not earning it, and there's no annual fee to worry about.

What if I'm denied?

(Photo by Ezra Bailey/Getty Images)

Many TPG staffers who downgraded a Reserve card to apply for the Preferred card had to move around lines of credit to be approved. In other words, Chase looked at their overall financial pictures and decided it had extended them as much credit as it was going to. But by speaking to representatives and by agreeing to move some of the lines of credit from other cards to a new Sapphire Preferred, they were able to convince the issuer's representatives they could responsibly open a new card.

Others had to call the bank's reconsideration line and verify their income and mortgage information to be approved. Although that was a few extra hoops to jump through, in all the cases I came across, former Chase Sapphire cardholders who were securely out of the 48-month window were eventually approved for the Chase Sapphire Preferred and received the full 100,000-point bonus opportunity.

For example, TPG's senior aviation business reporter, David Slotnick, transferred his Ultimate Rewards points to his wife's Reserve account before downgrading his own Reserve card (opened in 2016) to the Chase Freedom Flex in July. Slotnick was ultimately approved for the Sapphire Preferred, but said he first had to call the consideration line, where he was given two options: He could either move credit over to the new account and be approved on the spot, or he could be considered for additional credit, which would basically be like reapplying and being either approved or denied.

He went with the former, and in addition to moving credit, simply "verified [his] income and mortgage verbally."

And Josh Leibner, senior director of growth marketing at TPG's parent company, Red Ventures, also downgraded his Reserve card to the Freedom Unlimited, but had to "move credit" from that account to his new Sapphire Preferred account to be approved. Leibner also applied in-person at a Chase branch to have the annual fee waived for the first year.

In short, make sure your hard-earned points are safe before attempting to downgrade your existing Sapphire card. Then, even if your application is initially declined or put into pending status, call Chase and see if the issuer will be willing to work with you to get your application approved.

Bottom line

Although it can get a bit complicated, you can earn the welcome bonuses if you're strategic and flexible and get through Chase's application restrictions for the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Sapphire Reserve cards, even if you've already had (or still have but are willing to downgrade) one of them in the past.

Start by taking a look at all your credit card accounts (Credit Karma can be helpful for this), and determine if you're out of the 48-month bonus eligibility window for these cards, as well as under Chase's 5/24 limit.

If all that is the case, then consider whether you might be able to downgrade to another Chase card — both to preserve your credit history as well as your overall line of credit — and then apply for the new card when you're ready. It's safer to wait at least a month after downgrading or canceling (as a last resort) your existing card. But, most TPG staffers who used this strategy waited between just a few days and a week or two.

Even if you're initially denied, you might have luck getting approved in the end by calling Chase's reconsideration line, providing more financial information to the bank and offering creative solutions like shifting your lines of credit around.

Finally, although you might not have been able to accomplish these credit card acrobatics in time to apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred's current 100,000-point bonus, keep these tips in mind for if and when another excellent card offer comes along.

Official application link: Chase Sapphire Preferred

Featured image by (Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.