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Today I want to share a story from TPG reader Sunny, who took an upgrade offer on her Starwood Amex card:

I’ve had the regular Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express since early 2017, but when the Starwood Preferred Guest® American Express Luxury Card came out, I was tempted to get one. I had two options: either sign-up for the new card with a 100,000-point bonus after spending $5,000 [since lowered to 75,000 points after you use your new card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first three months], or upgrade my existing account and get 50,000 bonus points after spending $2,500. I waited until the end of October, and decided to go with the upgrade.

My thought process was that since the $450 annual fee is prorated and my card anniversary is in January, I would only have to pay three months of the annual fee for my first “year” as a cardholder. I had already paid the $95 annual fee for my SPG card, so I was able to enjoy the luxury card’s benefits without having to pay much more.

An Amex rep confirmed that I would get the full $300 statement credit at Marriott properties in 2018, and another $300 credit after my account anniversary in January. I booked a hotel in Edinburgh and got my $300 reimbursed by Amex in five days. Upgrading so close to my anniversary date also means I’ll get the annual free night certificate much faster, since it’s only awarded at the start of your second year. Finally, all the purchases I put on my card in 2018 counted toward the $75,000 threshold for earning Platinum status.

At the end of day, I got all the benefits of the luxury card by basically paying the standard SPG card’s annual fee.

Sunny’s strategy has its merits. If your card issuer offers a prorated annual fee, upgrading close to your account anniversary can get you superior benefits at minimal additional cost. That approach pays off when you can put those benefits to use right away like Sunny did, as her stay in Edinburgh gave her a chance to redeem the $300 property credit and (presumably) make use of her higher elite status.

Before you follow in her footsteps, however, let me offer a few caveats. First, assuming you’ve considered which card is right for you and settled on the premium version, you have to then decide whether to upgrade your existing account or apply for a new one. If getting approved is a concern or if you’ll have trouble meeting the higher spending requirement, then upgrading is a strong option. Otherwise, I generally recommend comparing the offers and going with whichever one offers the greatest net value.

Second, getting a prorated annual fee is a privilege, and I caution you not to abuse it. You might be tempted to upgrade your account before a big trip when the benefits will be especially handy, and then downgrade once your annual fee hits, but be aware that card issuers are paying attention. Amex, for example, has added language to its bonus offers to discourage such activity, and any bonus you earned can be clawed back if you cancel or downgrade your account prematurely. Violating these terms could also jeopardize your other accounts, so consider the potential repercussions before you make changes that might be perceived as attempts to game the system.

I love this story and I want to hear more like it! In appreciation for sharing this experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending Sunny a $200 airline gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own award travel success stories to info@thepointsguy.com; be sure to include details about how you earned and redeemed your rewards, and put “Reader Success Story” in the subject line. Feel free to also submit your most woeful travel mistakes, or to contribute to our new award redemption series. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure.

Safe and happy travels to all, and I look forward to hearing from you!

Featured image courtesy of Courtyard by Marriott Edinburgh.

American Express® Gold Card

With some great bonus categories, the American Express Gold Card has a lot going for it. The card offers 4x points at US restaurants, at US supermarkets (up to $25,000; then 1x), and 3x points on flights booked directly with airlines or through amextravel.com. It is currently offering a welcome bonus of 35,000 bonus points after you spend $2,000 in the first three months.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 35,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $2,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 3 months.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. restaurants. Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with The Gold Card at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Shake Shack, and Ruth's Chris Steak House. This is an annual savings of up to $120. Enrollment required.
  • $100 Airline Fee Credit: up to $100 in statement credits per calendar year for incidental fees at one selected qualifying airline.
  • Choose to carry a balance with interest on eligible charges of $100 or more.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
See Rates & Fees
Annual Fee
$250
Balance Transfer Fee
See Terms
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.