Middle Age Miles

Our Amex Hilton 2-card Aspire-Surpass Upgrade-Downgrade Strategy – How Has It Worked?

american express amex hilton aspire ascend surpass credit card upgrade downgrade strategy data points
Middle Age Miles had a fantastic stay at the beautiful Waldorf Astoria Trianon Palace in Versailles using Free Weekend Night certificates and other Amex Hilton card benefits!


Amex has a terrific lineup of Hilton co-branded credit cards with some terrific sign-up/upgrade offers and benefits. Back in late May/early June, we posted two articles about using two of these cards – the premium Aspire card and the mid-level Surpass card (formerly Ascend) – in an upgrade-downgrade strategy to maximize the annual benefits from each card:

We promised to report back on how our 2-card upgrade-downgrade strategy worked, and that’s what we’ll cover in this article.

The 2-Card Upgrade-Downgrade Strategy

In short, the 2-card Amex Hilton upgrade-downgrade strategy works like this:

  • Start the year with one Aspire card and one Surpass card
    • Collect your annual benefits on each card during the first part of the year
      • Aspire: (1) Hilton Free Weekend Night certificate upon approval/card issuance and after your cardholder anniversary each year; (2) $250 Hilton resort credit per cardholder year; (3) $250 airline fee credit per calendar year
      • Surpass: Hilton Free Weekend Night certificate after $15k spend on the card in a calendar year
  • Once you’ve collected these benefits, then downgrade the Aspire card to Surpass, and upgrade the Surpass card to Aspire
    • With any luck, you’ll be eligible for an upgrade offer when you product-change the Surpass to Aspire
    • The current upgrade offer (through 11/21/19) is for 150,000 Hilton Honors points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within 3 months – you can access this offer here (hat tip to Doctor of Credit for the updated link)
Current Amex Hilton Surpass-to-Aspire upgrade offer
  • Then, collect the annual benefits on each card for a second time during the latter part of the year
    • Aspire: (1) Hilton Free Weekend Night certificate after the upgrade (takes about 60-70 days); (2) another $250 Hilton resort credit during your cardholder year; and (3) another $250 airline fee credit during the latter part of the calendar year
    • Surpass: Spend another $15k on the card after the downgrade, during the same calendar year, and receive another Hilton Free Weekend Night Certificate

How Has the Upgrade-Downgrade Strategy Worked for Us?

Perfectly – or at least very close to it.

For nomenclature purposes, we’ll use “Card #1” to refer to the card that started the year as Aspire and was downgraded to Surpass, and we’ll use “Card #2” to refer to the card that began the year as Ascend/Surpass and was upgraded to Aspire.

Also, for purposes of this analysis, it’s important to know that Card #1 has an anniversary date of May 23, and Card #2 has an anniversary date of October 5.

(1) During the first part of the year, we maxed out our benefits on both cards:

  • Card #1 airline fee credit – We used our $250 airline fee credit early in the year, when AA gift cards still worked to trigger the credit.
  • Card #1 Hilton resort credit – We used our 2018-19 cardholder year $250 resort credit on a nice stay at the Waldorf Astoria Las Vegas. On our anniversary date of May 23, the resort credit reset. We also used our 2019-20 $250 resort credit at the Waldorf Astoria Trianon Palace in Versailles.
  • Card #1 Hilton Free Weekend Night certificate – We received the 2018 certificate back in September 2018 and used it for our stay at the Waldorf Astoria Trianon Palace. After our anniversary date of May 23, we received our 2019 certificate on August 1, 2019 (70th day after our anniversary date).
  • Card #2 Spend $15k for Hilton Free Weekend Night certificate – We hit the $15k spend threshold on May 20, and we received our certificate only 3 days later.

(2) In early June, we found that Card #2 (at that time, an Ascend/Surpass card) was eligible for the upgrade bonus, and we upgraded on June 7:

  • We completed the $4,000 spend requirement on July 19, and our 150k bonus HH points posted on July 23 (only 4 days later).

(3) After we upgraded Card #2, we’ve gone to work maximizing the Aspire benefits on that card:

  • Card #2 Hilton Free Weekend Night certificate – We received the certificate on August 9 (63 days after upgrading)
  • Card #2 Hilton resort credit – We used our 2018-19 $250 resort credit at the Waldorf Astoria Trianon Palace. This resort credit will reset on our October 5 anniversary date, and we can use the 2019-20 credit sometime after that date.
  • Card #2 airline fee credit – The demise of AA gift cards triggering this credit has made it harder to use. So far, we have used about $140 of the $250 credit on “seat selection fees.” We’ll need to use the rest of the $250 credit before the end of 2019.

(4) On August 3, we downgraded Card #1 from Aspire to Surpass:

  • We downgraded only after we had used our 2019-20 $250 resort credit (in July), and immediately after we received our anniversary Free Weekend Night certificate on August 1.

(5) Now that Card #2 is a Surpass card, we’ll begin meeting our $15k spend threshold to earn another Free Weekend Night certificate during calendar year 2019:

  • We’ll probably do a lot of this spend by purchasing Visa gift cards or Mastercard gift stores at grocery stores and gas stations, which are bonus categories where we can earn 6x Hilton Honors points per dollar.
    • We’ve covered some grocery store opportunities in Episode 3, Episode 6 and Episode 8 of our recent Manufactured Spend Data Points series (note that the Dosh offer for Central Market that we used in Episode 3 is no longer available at this time).

(6) Once the calendar crosses over into 2020, we’ll start this upgrade-downgrade cycle all over again.

Collecting Data Points from This Strategy

We thought it would be helpful to summarize a few of the things we’ve learned from executing on this upgrade-downgrade strategy, in a series of data points:

  • How long does it take to post points and earn certificates?
    • Aspire upgrade 150k bonus points – 4 days after meeting spend requirement (no need for statement to close)
    • Aspire upgrade Free Weekend Night certificate – 63 days after upgrade
    • Aspire anniversary Free Weekend Night certificate – 70 days after anniversary date
    • Surpass $15k Free Weekend Night certificate – 3 days after meeting spend requirement (no need for statement to close)
  • How did the prorated fees work?
    • On the Card #2 upgrade:
      • Upgraded on June 7
      • Fees posted on July 26 (49 days after upgrade)
      • Aspire fee charged: $112.19
        • This is 24.93% of the $450 annual fee (91 days)
      • Ascend fee refunded: -$18.75
        • This is 19.74% of the $95 annual fee (72 days)
      • We have no idea why the proration is different here. In some ways, we feel like we were overcharged, but there’s no way we’re calling to complain about this! In another way, perhaps we were undercharged, because Card #2 functioned as an Aspire for 119 days of our current cardholder year (June 7 through October 4) whereas we were only charged an Aspire fee for 91 days.
    • On the Card #1 downgrade:
      • Downgraded on August 3
      • Fees posted August 3 (same-day)
      • Ascend fee charged: $81.46
        • This is 85.7% of the $95 annual fee (313 days)
      • Aspire fee refunded: -$384.83
        • This is 85.5% of the $450 annual fee (312 days)
  • Did prior YTD spend on Card #2 while it was a Surpass count toward annual spend thresholds once converted to Aspire?
    • Yes
    • We covered this in detail in an earlier article, YTD Spend Prior to Amex Hilton Ascend-to-Aspire Upgrade Counts Toward $60k Aspire Free Night Threshold (July 23, 2019)
    • Our friend Grant from Travel With Grant pointed out in a comment that this creates an opportunity – spend about $55-56k on the card while it is a Surpass, taking full advantage of the Surpass card’s 6x bonus categories for groceries and gas, then complete the last $4-5k after you upgrade to Aspire (you’re going to have to spend $4k to get the upgrade bonus anyhow). This will help you generate yet another Free Weekend Night certificate, by hitting the $60k spend threshold on the Aspire.
  • What about the reverse – does prior YTD spend on Card #1 while it was an Aspire count toward the $15k annual spend threshold to earn a free night certificate once you downgrade to Surpass?
    • No
    • The Amex agent covered this expressly when she read us the disclosures at the time we downgraded. She clearly stated that prior YTD spend would not count.
    • And, once Card #1 converted to Surpass in our Amex online account, our spend tracker showed $0 YTD spend on the Surpass:

Another Quick Tip for Undertaking This Upgrade-Downgrade Strategy

Make sure that your 2 Amex Hilton cards are on separate Amex online accounts. We believe this is necessary for the upgrade-downgrade strategy to work correctly – and in particular, for your Surpass card to be eligible for an upgrade bonus.

We’re not 100% positive about needing separate Amex online accounts. But, there’s no reason not to do this. And, we have heard data points of people having trouble with it that was seemingly caused by the two cards being on the same Amex online account (and the issue resolved after the two cards were separated onto different Amex online accounts).

How Cool Are the Spoils of This Strategy?

Incredibly cool, if you play it well. In any event, the benefits you can gain create some awesome opportunities.

In our case, we were able to use the benefits from these cards to spend the last night of our recent Switzerland-France trip at the fabulous Waldorf Astoria Trianon Palace in Versailles – and have dinner for four at the hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant, Gordon Ramsay au Trianon – for next to nothing.

We’ll tell that story in a separate article, to follow later today. It’s way too good to bury at the bottom of this upgrade-downgrade article!

What do you think of our Amex Hilton upgrade-downgrade strategy? Do you have any additional data points that would be helpful to other Middle Age Miles readers? Please let us know in the Comments!

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58 thoughts on “Our Amex Hilton 2-card Aspire-Surpass Upgrade-Downgrade Strategy – How Has It Worked?

  1. HS

    Well played!

    I had literally just finished looking through the comments at DoC, which had me scratching my head about how much of this was actually doable. You’ve answered it — in spades.

    In my case, I’m still waiting (and hoping) for an upgrade offer on the Hilton Honors card (a downgrade from Ascend in February). But am now motivated to have my wife apply for Aspire and Ascend (or I guess it will be Surpass), so we can try to replicate. It may be easier with your tip regarding separate login sites.

    1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

      Thanks HS – glad the article is helpful! Try the new link to see if your HH card is eligible for an upgrade. If you have multiple Amex Hilton cards on the same login, separate them first. Hopefully your wife can get approved for Aspire and Surpass so the two of you will be off and running with free nights. Also, thanks for encouraging me on the Waldorf Versailles. As you can tell from today’s articles, we quite enjoyed it! ~Craig

  2. JV13


    Great strategy! I acquired the Aspire card in December of 2018 and in July just added the Surpass account. I have them on the same online account however. Do you think if I split them out now that this strategy might still work for me? If not, my wife also acquired a Surpass card in July but does not have the Aspire card. So, the worst case scenario would be that we convert her Surpass to the Aspire and downgrade my Aspire to the Surpass. Looking forward to trying this strategy.

    1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

      Thanks, JV13! You’ll be in position to use a similar strategy soon. Yes, split your 2 cards onto separate Amex online accounts. This will require a call to Amex.

      Don’t upgrade your wife’s Surpass to Aspire unless and until she has applied directly for an Aspire card and collected the sign-up bonus. If she upgrades to Aspire first, she’ll become ineligible for the sweet sign-up bonus for Aspire – and you don’t want to forego that! Let me know if you have any questions about this and I’m glad to help with application/upgrade strategy.

      I hear you have a sweet Hilton Free Weekend Night certificate redemption of your own coming up soon 🙂

      1. JV13

        You have good ears. We are meeting up with some great friends for a Labor Day getaway to Las Vegas and are looking forward to using the free weekend night certificate and the $250 Hilton resort credit for effectively 2 free nights at the Waldorf Astoria. All thanks to some great ideas from Middle Age Miles and the Hilton Aspire card.

        We are also using some tips from you for a return trip to Las Vegas in December for a business conference. Keep the great ideas coming!

        1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

          You’re killing it on the Hilton redemptions! We’ll keep the points rolling in for even more fun trips soon 🙂

  3. Beechy

    Great write-up. Wish I had read it a year ago. Lol. We both upgraded our Surpass to Aspire. Do you recommend the same type of downgrade upgrade for husband and wife? Anything else we need to consider?
    We are planning.on using the free night cert in Aruba 🙂

    1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

      Hi Beechy – Thanks for the nice compliment. I don’t see any reason why husband and wife couldn’t both do this strategy (so long as you can hit the spend requirement to get all the free nights on the Surpass). It would be most effective if you each have 2 cards that you can upgrade & downgrade.

      If you upgraded Surpass to Aspire, it sounds like you’re ineligible for the Aspire sign-up bonus. But if you haven’t had the Amex Hilton no-fee card, you could sign up for that card and get the sign-up bonus, then use it in upgrade-downgrade strategies once you’ve had it for a year (so that it becomes available for upgrades).

      Good luck and feel free to reach out with any other questions! ~Craig

      1. Beechy

        Does the timing during the year matter on when to downgrade ? My Aspire annual fee was 5/2/19 and hubby was 8/16/2019. We have each received our annual free night, have used hotel credit and airfare credit for this year. I was thinking of downgrading my card and keeping hubby’s Aspire for now and wait to see if I get an upgrade offer.
        Thank you for the help,

        1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

          Hi Beechy – If you’re trying to get an additional free night by spending $15k on the Surpass during the calendar year, the timing is best if you have time to get that spend done. So, on your card, you’d have right at 2 months.

          Even without getting the free night, though, downgrading your card now might work well because you can save some $ on the lower annual fee, and your husband will still have the Aspire for status if you guys are staying at a Hilton.

          So bottom line, your strategy idea seems solid to me. Good luck and have a great week! ~Craig

  4. TimmyD

    I’ve just completed the upgrade to surpass for the third time, although I’ve had to fight a little for the bonus. The agents agree I’m owed it but it’s not automatically giving the points. Regardless, it’s been great and now I’m pondering whether to upgrade further, which they emailed me before the previous upgrade was even complete

    1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

      Hi TimmyD – Thanks for the DP and success story on multiple upgrades to Surpass. That’s pretty funny that they emailed you about an Aspire upgrade so quickly! I’m sure you know this, but you probably don’t want to upgrade to Aspire unless you’ve already collected a sign-up bonus on Aspire after applying for it directly. But all in all, Aspire is a pretty sweet card in our opinion, which I’m sure you can tell from our articles about it! ~Craig

  5. Joanne Gray

    Do each of you have one Hilton card that you use for the downgrade upgrade strategy
    I’m presuming it wouldn’t work with both cards in the same name?

    1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

      Hi Joanne – Thanks for the comment and good question. In our situation, both of the cards are in my name, and the upgrade-downgrade strategy works. If you’re going to do it with the same person having both cards, it’s probably a good idea (and maybe entirely necessary) to have the 2 cards on separate Amex online logins/accounts. Hope this helps – good luck! ~Craig

  6. Margo

    I love the specific detail given, very helpful. I notice you mention planing to complete the sped requirement purchasing Visa and Mastercard gift cards, it was my understanding that Amex doesn’t accept purchase of gift cards as counting toward a spending goal (sign up bonus or free night). Was I mistaken?
    Thank you for your informative articles!

    1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

      Hi Margo – Thanks for the comment, and great question. There is a lot of confusion about Amex and GCs right now, that’s for sure. Please take the following as an educated guess about the current situation: You’re right that Amex has added language to the terms & conditions of many (all?) cards that generally state that GC purchases won’t count (and in at least some cases, Amex says that GC purchases won’t even earn points). But I think there are multiple layers to this question, with relevant questions including: (1) Is the card an MR-earning card or a co-branded card? (2) Are we talking about a sign-up/upgrade bonus, or a card benefit (like the Hilton free night)? (3) Is the merchant an obvious GC dealer (for example, Simon or GiftCardMall.com), or is it a merchant that sells a lot of “regular” stuff too (for example, Office Depot or Kroger)? There may also be a sub-question 3-A, which is, Does the merchant provide Amex with Level 3 data?

      In this particular case, we’re talking about a co-branded card, earning a card benefit, with purchases from “regular” merchants. In this scenario, I don’t believe I’ve seen any DPs of this type of GC purchase not counting for this type of benefit. My educated guess is that GCs from grocery stores and gas stations will count toward the $15k free night spend threshold. That said, Amex has been tightening things recently, and we have to consider that it’s always possible that what has worked in the past won’t work the same in the future.

      I hope this helps. And finally, thanks also for the nice compliment! ~Craig

    1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

      Thanks Grant! Yes, add the Surpass to your bag of tools if you have room in your Amex credit card lineup. It’ll take a year to be able to upgrade a new Surpass card, of course, but the benefits of the strategy can be sweet.

      Thanks for the good wishes – hoping for an smooth and easy AA flight to Seattle tomorrow (those have been rare lately) – and I hope you and Laura are having a great weekend too! ~Craig

      1. Grant

        The funny thing is that I had 2 Citi Hilton Reserve CCs that were converted to 2 AMEX Hilton Ascend CCs, but I closed those cards last year. Guess I should have kept those cards open. I wonder if I can convert a random AMEX Everyday CC to an AMEX Hilton Surpass CC.

        1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

          Ouch on the cancellations. I doubt it on PC’ing from ED but very interested to hear your direct DP on trying it!

          1. Grant

            AMEX CSR said I could only convert my American Express Everyday Credit Card into the American Express Everyday Preferred Credit Card.

          2. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

            Rats. Unfortunately, that’s pretty much what I expected. Thanks for getting the DP and sharing it! ~Craig

  7. Paul

    Great info here, Craig! About 3 months ago, I received an offer and upgraded my no-fee hilton amex card to Surpass. And I have now received another upgrade offer to convert the Surpass to Aspire. The email says that the offer is valid until Dec. I am wondering though if I should first apply for a new Aspire card now, and then go ahead use the upgrade offer to convert the Surpass to the Aspire. My questions though are

    1. Is there a chance that the current upgade offer on the Surpass could get invalidated when I apply for a new Aspire

    2. Assuming I am able to pull this off, does it make sense to hold 2 Aspire cards at the same time?

    Your thoughts, Craig?

    1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

      Hi Paul – I apologize for the delayed response while Philly and I have been doing college football weekend at Notre Dame. Based on the data points I’ve seen, I don’t believe your upgrade offer on Surpass will disappear if you apply and are approved for an Aspire. You definitely want to get the Aspire directly first (subject perhaps to a couple of very narrow exceptions that would be very individualized), before you do an upgrade. Does your upgrade offer have an expiration date on it? If it doesn’t expire for a while, I might get the Aspire, then wait until late in the expiration period to do the upgrade. Another thing to think about – how about if you get the Aspire now, then wait until 2020, hit the $15k spend for a free night on your current Surpass, and then upgrade it sometime next year? If you do that, you might (a) get another upgrade offer on your current Surpass sometime in 2020 (they seem to be offered fairly regularly); and (b) be able to downgrade your new Aspire to Surpass in Oct 2020 (1 year + 1 day after approval) and still have time to hit $15k on that downgraded card and earn yet another free night in late 2020.

      Does that make sense? I’m glad to answer follow-up questions if you have some.

      Thanks for reading Middle Age Miles, and I hope you’re having a great weekend! ~Craig

      1. Paul

        Hi Craig,

        Thanks for the detailed response. Much appreciated. I have been given until Dec 24 to upgrade the Surprass to Aspire. However, your suggestion of waiting until next year and hitting the $15k spend for 2020 before upgrading is very sensible! Thanks for that!

  8. Jonathan

    Was able to have my new Aspire switched over to a new online account via chat! Going to try this genius strategy! Providing my input for DP.

    1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

      Hi Jonathan – Nice on getting the Aspire switched over to a separate online account. Good DP on being able to do so via chat; thanks for sharing! Many thanks for the kind words on our strategy tips! Good luck with everything and have a great week. ~Craig

  9. Joan

    My Aspire annual fee is due soon. I was thinking about downgrade the Aspire to Surpass to save the annual fee until I came across your great write-up. My old Hilton card was converted to Ascend but I canceled the card right after I received it. I don’t have the no annual fee Hilton card. In my case, should I go ahead and pay the annual fee for the Aspire card? After I used the annual free night cert and resort or/and airlinel credits, I then can downgrade it to the Surpass next year and spend $15,000 to get the second cert and also get the prorated Aspire fee returned. Thank you so much for your help!

    1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

      Hi Joan – Many thanks for the comment and compliment. So – yes on your proposed strategy to pay the annual fee on the Aspire now, get the free night cert & use the resort & airline fee credits, then downgrade – except that I want to give you one thing to consider first.

      It’s not clear to me whether you are locked out of getting a sign-up bonus on the Surpass, by virtue of having briefly held the Ascend card as a result of the conversion. Maybe, maybe not. Downgrading your Aspire to Surpass will definitely result in you being locked out of getting a sign-up bonus on the Surpass after the downgrade. So, it’s worth considering whether you would be interested in applying for a new Surpass card now. The current SUB is 125,000 HH points for $3k spend in 3 months. Annual fee is $95, not waived first year. If you do this and you don’t have a referral source from friends & family, we appreciate it if you use our referral link – on the top menu under Sign-Up Links/American Express Cards.

      If you apply for Surpass now, I’d be very interested to know whether you get the pop-up saying that you’re ineligible for the bonus or if your application goes through – would you mind posting a follow-up comment here with that data point if you apply? Thank you, and thanks also for reading Middle Age Miles! ~Craig

  10. Joan

    Thank you for your detailed response and for your input! It’s very informative. When I’m ready to apply for the Surpass I will surely use your referral link and will post a follow up data point. Thanks again for your all your help. I truly appreciate it!

  11. WR2

    Stumbled upon this post when doing some google research. It’s a very interesting post, but I have a few questions…hopefully you are still monitoring comments:

    1. It sounds like the anniversary date for a card stays the same when going through upgrade/downgrade cycles….i.e. if you got an Aspire on July 1st 2018, then August 2019 you downgrade, but then get an upgrade offer back to Aspire, then your anniversary is still July 1st. Is that accurate?

    2. Assuming affirmative on #1, if you used your year #2 resort credit in July 2019 then downgraded, then a couple months later upgraded back to Aspire, would the resort credit be reset?

    3. Any particular reason you chose to downgrade to Surpass? Is a weekend FN significantly more valuable than $95 + opportunity cost of $15k spend? For me it’s marginal, and my MS opportunities are limited, so I downgraded to no-AF version.

    4. In 2 player mode, do you find occupying your 5th CC slot with a pretty useless card really worth it? You could always maintain Diamond status for one of you by staggering Aspire upgrade/downgrades across 2 players, and get one more signup bonus every year through that 5th CC.

    Will bookmark site, as I like blogs that do deep dives like this.

    1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

      Hi WR2 – First, apologies for the delayed response as we’ve been away from home and have a lot of balls in the air at the moment! Thanks for your patience. Let’s see if I can answer your questions:
      1. Correct, the anniversary date stays the same.
      2. No, with Amex, the resort credit does not reset if you re-upgrade within the same anniversary year. It will reset at your next cardholder anniversary date.
      3. A major reason that I didn’t want to downgrade to the no-AF card is that I’ve never had it before. I’m still eligible for the SUB on that card, and I don’t want to kill that by downgrading to it. However, I’m over the Amex 5/6-card personal limit at the moment, so I can’t apply for it immediately (plus, I’m trying to be patient and get back under 5/24 to become eligible for Chase biz cards). With that situation on the no-AF card, Surpass is my other option. For us, the direct answer to your question is yes. We have consistently gotten >$300 in value from the free night certificates. Also for us, we have pretty good opportunities to purchase GCs at grocery stores to meet the spend and earn 6x HH points in the process. Isn’t it remarkable how the answers to points-and-miles strategy questions can be so different for people in different circumstances?!?
      4. For us, we get great value from me having 2 Amex HH cards, and they’re well worth 2 Amex slots. Philly (P2) doesn’t have either card and has those slots available if we want to use them.

      Thanks for bookmarking Middle Age Miles! I’m sorry we haven’t had much new content recently due to travel and such, but you’ll see some new material very soon! ~Craig

  12. Wei

    This is incredible! Thanks so much for sharing this strategy.
    Please allow me to summarize this in my words to make sure I’m understanding this correctly…
    1. So you are allowed to hold both cards under the same name, ssn, address and with different online accounts? (How?!)
    2. You can collect the sign-up bonus for both cards (which is roughly 300k points)
    3. I believe the reason for this strategy is to collect the bonus again. So once you downgrade/upgrade your cards, you can collect the bonus again?
    4. Does this mean you can collect a total of roughly 600k points?

    1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

      Hi Wei – Thanks for the comment and kind words. Let’s see if I can answer your questions:

      1. Yes. When you get the 2nd card and register it, just set it up under a separate online account. If you already have 2 cards and they’re on the same online account, you can call Amex and have them separate the cards onto different online accounts.

      2. Yes, you can collect the SUB on both cards (if you’ve never had them before).

      3. No, you cannot collect the sign-up bonus again. However, Amex has often provided upgrade offers on the Surpass card where you can earn extra HH points when you upgrade.

      4. Not exactly. See #3 above.

      The main benefit of the upgrade-downgrade strategy is to maximize the Aspire benefits and opportunities for free weekend night certificates within a year.

      Hope this helps! And I hope you continue to read and enjoy Middle Age Miles! ~Craig

      1. Wei

        Hi Craig, thanks very much on the quick response. This is really cool.
        It makes sense for maximizing the added on benefits instead of SUB.
        I’m going to give it a try sometime!
        Thanks again!

      2. Wei

        Hey Craig!
        Sorry to bug you again but I do have one more question..
        Do you need to upgrade/downgrade both cards at the same time? If not, that means at some point, you would hold two (same) cards in two different online accounts.
        Do AMEX allow the same person to hold two same credit cards?

        1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

          Hi Wei – You don’t have to upgrade/downgrade at the same time. With Amex, it’s possible to hold two of the same credit card at the same time. If you do this strategy, there will almost certainly be times that you hold 2 Aspire cards at once. ~Craig

  13. Wei

    Alright!! Thus makes perfect sense now..
    I actually tried applying both cards last night (I have close to 800 credit score) but the system told me I’m not eligible for the welcome bonus offer. This is weird especially I haven’t opened a cc in over three years and the only card I’ve ever had with AMEX is platinum. Do you have any suggestions on how to proceed with this?

    I know AMEx issues welcome bonus per card once a life time. If I sign up these cards without the welcome bonus (because I’m ineligible). Will I still be eligible for the welcome bonus in the future somehow?

    1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

      Hi Wei – It seems strange that you got the Amex pop-up under those circumstances. Sadly, I’m afraid I don’t have any great advice to give you on avoiding the pop-up. Do you still have the Platinum card? If so, you might try to put some spend on it and see if that helps. Some people say that it does, although the data points are somewhat inconclusive. If you don’t still have the Platinum card, did you cancel it less than a year from when you opened it? If so, that might be the reason for the pop-up, and you may be on Amex’s naughty list for a while.

      If you sign up for the cards without the welcome bonus, you will not be eligible for the welcome bonus in the future under Amex’s rules. Some people say that you may become re-eligible after 7 years, but I’ve never tested that theory.

      I’m sorry things didn’t go well with the applications. I hope the rest of your weekend is better! ~Craig

  14. James

    Great summary. Regarding card #1, if your anniversary date is May 23, when are you actually billed the $450 fee? I’d figured it would be within a month, thus requiring the downgrade by sometime by July at the latest in order to be refunded the pro-rated AF by Amex. My understanding is Amex won’t refund the AF 30 days after it billing.

    Also, for someone who received 150K SUB offer when they signed up for the Aspire and then downgraded to a no fee Hilton card, can they still receive the 150k bonus upgrade offer if they upgrade to Aspire again? I wasn’t sure after reviewing the comments here.

    1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

      Hi James – Many thanks for the comment and kind words. You’re right about when the annual fee is billed – sometime in June. I believe it’s at the next statement close after the anniversary date. I just looked up mine on card #1 and the $450 AF posted on June 11, 2019. You’re generally correct about the Amex refund rules – but see this DoC article for at least a few contrary data points for people who manually requested a pro-rated fee on an account they were closing outside the 30-day period: https://www.doctorofcredit.com/get-american-express-annual-fee-prorated-when-closing-card-requires-manual-request/

      In response to your other question – Yes, you can receive the bonus upgrade offer under those circumstances.

      Thanks for reading Middle Age Miles, and I hope you continue to enjoy it! ~Craig

      1. James

        One more question, I downgraded an original Aspire account to no fee Hilton version early Nov, 2019, but surprisingly received an email earlier in Jan that I had received the free weekend night cert with Jan 2021 expire date. I still have Diamond status for some reason as well.

        If I accept Amex offer to upgrade back to Aspire, do you know if Amex will reward a new free weekend night upon an upgrade? The fine print indicates one free night per year of card membership and that only one time free night upon an upgrade. My guess is I won’t be eligible since I’ve already received the free night in 2020, even though this will be my first time upgrading my account to Aspire.

        1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

          Hi James – Yours sounds like a unique situation. Very nice that you got the certificate and kept Diamond status after you downgraded the card. Your situation is so unusual that I don’t know whether you’d get a new certificate if you upgrade back to Aspire. My best guess, like yours, would be no. But who knows for sure on this one. ~Craig

  15. Guy

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t this strategy require downgrading the current Aspire card within 1 year of having upgraded from the Surpass? Is this allowed?

    I’m curious, if you accept an upgrade offer to upgrade from Surpass to Aspire and then downgrade back to Surpass within 1 year, do you lose the upgrade bonus?


    1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

      Hi Guy – Good questions. We never close or downgrade an Amex card within a year of approval or within a year of accepting an upgrade offer. So no, the upgrade-downgrade does not require downgrading the current Aspire card within 1 year of having upgraded. We wouldn’t do this, and we wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.

      I don’t believe you’d lose the upgrade bonus if you downgraded in less than a year (don’t recall seeing any DPs of Amex clawing back bonuses when the sign-up bonus came in the form of co-branded loyalty points/miles), but there’s a solid chance you’d end up on Amex’s blacklist, or at least their watch list.

      Thanks for reading Middle Age Miles, and I hope you continue to enjoy it! ~Craig

  16. James

    This a great article, I learned a lot! I do have one question… I recently opened an aspire for the SUB and have a ascend card that just hit it’s one year anniversary. I moved the ascend card to a separate account but am curious if you’ve noticed a trend or anything on when amex sends out upgrade offers (3 months after renewal, 6 months, etc)?

    1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

      Hi James – Many thanks for the kind words and glad you found the article to be helpful! I don’t know that we’ve found trends on the upgrade offers in terms of exact timing, but during 2019 they were often pretty readily available. We’ll see if Amex continues that trend in 2020. I certainly hope so! Best thing to do is just check your account periodically and keep your eye on Doctor of Credit, as there’s a pretty good chance that DoC will pick it up and provide a short post if people are seeing upgrade offers. I hope you continue to read and enjoy Middle Age Miles! ~Craig

  17. Optimlez16

    New terms for AMEX Hilton Aspire – https://www.doctorofcredit.com/american-express-updates-terms-on-hilton-aspire-250-resort-credit-to-prevent-abuse/

    Curious as to how this news may affect the 2 card strategy for the downgrade timing.

    Would downgrades now need to be done soon after at the cards anniversary date … so now the benefit from this strategy is now confined to the upgrade bonus and the card that starts the year as Aspire, has its airline benefit and maybe Conrad/Waldorf benefit used, then gets downgraded to Surpass, has $15k spend then hopefully gets a bonus to upgrade to an Aspire again to now get the Resort Credit (no chance now to downgrade early in the Card year after using the Resort Credit to try to get some prorated Annual Fee back)?

    1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

      Hi Optimlez16 – Thanks for the comment, and good thoughts. I’m thinking through an article on this subject. I definitely see what you’re saying on the upgrade-downgrade scenario, and it makes sense to me. I appreciate you sharing your insight here. ~Craig

  18. Karla

    This is a great article, Craig! Still trying to wrap my brain completely around the timing. In your reply to Guy you said you never downgrade a card within a year of accepting an upgrade offer. But how do you get fees back if you aren’t downgrading within a year? What am I missing? Thanks so much! ~Karla

  19. Kristin

    This is a great article and has me thinking about how to make it happen. Trying to figure out if it matters if the card anniversary dates are close to each other or if it’s better if they are more spread out? Aspire FNC expiration dates would be staggered if the anniversary nights are staggered? And it spreads out the $15K on the Ascend to get that FNC? Any benefit to having the anniversary dates closer together?

    Also wondering if you think you think you could do this every year or if it would be better to take every other year off? Similarly, if you are in 2-player mode and each player has both an Aspire and a Ascend, could you do this 2x in each year?

    Go Irish!!! 2001 grad here!

    1. Craig at Middle Age Miles Post author

      Hi Kristin – Thanks for the comment and kind words. You have great questions. Easy one first – yes on 2-player mode.

      On the card anniversary dates – Mine are staggered by about 4.5 months. That has worked well for me. I think this makes it easier to hit the $15k Surpass (formerly Ascend) FNC thresholds, while making sure that each card is an Aspire as of its anniversary date (so you can get the anniversary FNC). I also think this makes it easier to make sure you always have (at least) one Aspire card so that your Diamond status is always intact. I’ll confess, I haven’t completely thought through how it would work if the anniversary dates were close together, though.

      I think you can do the upgrade-downgrade every year, at least theoretically. After the time we published this article, though, Amex threw us a curve ball by introducing new terms suggesting that you should be wary of downgrading an Aspire card during a cardholder year if you’ve already redeemed the Hilton resort credit for that cardholder year. That adds an extra wrinkle/complication to the timing of downgrades. It may in some cases dictate an every-other-year approach, to stay in Amex’s good graces.

      Finally – yes, Go Irish for sure!!! Thanks for reading Middle Age Miles, and don’t hesitate to ask if you have other questions. ~Craig

  20. Collin

    Hi Craig, great article and overall the only real site out there that dives deep into the numbers and goes into advanced strategies. Wish I would of stumbled on your site a lot earlier.

    My question is: I just hit my 60k FNC on my Aspire card. You wrote “does prior YTD spend on Card #1 while it was an Aspire count toward the $15k annual spend threshold to earn a free night certificate once you downgrade to Surpass?”. You mentioned that when you downgrade it to the Surpass the spend tracker goes back down to zero.

    I assumed that it would go back to 0 after getting the 60k FNC on the Aspire, but I just downgraded to the Surpass and the spend tracker does not reset. Do you know if this is correct or just a delay in the spend tracker resetting? Thanks for your help!

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