Secret Downgrade Options for Select Chase Cards: Chase Sapphire, United MileagePlus, and Chase IHG Rewards Club Classic

"Secret" downgrade options are cards that you can product change to from annual fee cards. Most of these cards are not publicly available for applications and offer lower tier benefits. 

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Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Sapphire Reserve

The Chase Sapphire card is a product change option for the Chase Sapphire Reserve and the Chase Sapphire Preferred.

There are some significant differences between the no annual fee Chase Sapphire cards and ones that do have an annual fee.

Chase Sapphire (no annual fee):

  • No annual fee
  • Not publicly available for applications
  • No transfer partners (as of 2018, only for CSR, CSP, CIP *)
  • Earning: 2x points ONLY for travel booked via Chase Portal (CSR earns 3x on ALL travel; CSP 2x)
  • UR Multiplier: 1x (CSR = 1.5x and CSP = 1.25x)
  • Secondary CDW (CSR and CSP = primary CDW)
  • Trip cancellation insurance = $5,000 (CSR and CSP = $10,000)

Product changing to the no annual fee Chase Sapphire card is not optimal. In most cases, you're better off product changing to the Chase Freedom or Chase Freedom Unlimited to earn cash back.

United MileagePlus Explorer

The United MileagePlus Explorer card has two downgrade options:

  1. The no annual fee United MileagePlus
  2. United TravelBank ( no annual fee)

One benefit of having a United card is that you can upgrade back to the MileagePlus Explorer (MPE) when you need the perks:

  • Free checked bags
  • Free overhead storage (when flying Basic Economy)
  • Priority boarding

For example, let's say you get the United MileagePlus Explorer card, and you product change it after the first year. If for some reason you change your mind, and you want the Explorer card for the luggage allowance, you can always product change back.

United MileagePlus                                                          

  • No annual fee
  • Not publicly available for applications
  •  Earns 1 United point per $2 spent
  • Increased award inventory (i.e., transfer partners)
  • No perks from the United MileagePlus Explorer:
    - no free checked bags
    - no early/priority boarding
    - no free overhead space (when flying Basic Economy)

Chase IHG Rewards Club

The Chase IHG Rewards Club is a hotel keeper card in my books. The annual fee is $49, and you get a free night each year. 

However, if for some reason you no longer get positive expected value from the annual fee, you can downgrade to the no annual fee Chase IHG Rewards Club Classic.

Chase IHG Rewards Club Classic

  • No annual fee
  • Not publicly available for applications
  • Earning rate:
     - 2 IHG points per $1 at IHG
    - 1 IHG point per $1 everywhere else
  • Gives Gold status (instead of Platinum)
  • If you're issued the anniversary night, and you downgrade, the certificate does not expire