Like smartphones, credit cards have drastically evolved over the last decade. Here's how they've changed - for better and for worse.

credit cards

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  • Like smartphones, credit cards have changed a lot over the last several years.
  • Recent updates to credit cards include chip-and-PIN technology and the ability to tap to pay. Cards like the American Express® Gold Card also now feature metal designs.
  • As credit cards have become more sophisticated and added new benefits, some of their annual fees have increased. Cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve cost $450 per year.
  • It can often be worth upgrading to a newer credit card as additional benefits and features, like new bonus categories, are released.

Most people would feel pretty behind the times using a flip phone today, even if it was the state of the art back in 2009. That's because current technology has passed these older devices by, rendering their features and benefits obsolete.

In most cases, you shouldn't be using a credit card from 10 years ago, either. In fact, there are several ways that reward credit cards are a lot like smartphones. Here are some of the ways they've evolved in recent years.

Keep in mind that we're focusing on the rewards and perks that make these credit cards great options, not things like interest rates and late fees, which can far outweigh the value of any rewards.

When you're working to earn credit card rewards, it's important to practice financial discipline, like paying your balances off in full each month, making payments on time, and not spending more than you can afford to pay back. Basically, treat your credit card like a debit card.

Additional features and benefits

Just as every generation of smartphones has to keep up by offering faster processors and higher-resolution cameras, each generation of rewards credit cards also has to evolve to compete in a cutthroat market.

For example, the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card recently began offering cardholders the ability to transfer rewards to airline partners, while this year the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express was upgraded to feature additional rewards for select US music streaming services and rideshare charges.

Upgraded technology

Nearly all credit cards now have an embedded smart chip, but that's just where the latest generation of payment technology begins. Newer cards can also feature chip-and-PIN instead of just chip-and-signature compatibility, which can really help when you're trying to make purchases overseas.

Newer credit cards can also be compatible with mobile wallet apps such as Apple Pay, and the latest cards now include contactless payment chips that allow you to tap to pay.

Sleeker looks

American Express Gold Card Rose Gold

American Express

The rose-gold version of the Amex Gold was incredibly popular.

Let's face it - one of the reasons that people upgrade their smartphones is to be seen with the latest, most stylish handsets. In the same way, newer rewards cards are more likely to have upgraded aesthetics that can attract new account holders.

For example, many premium reward cards are now made of metal, and the American Express Gold Card was offered in a limited-edition rose gold color that was wildly popular.

The Apple Card is made of titanium, and newer cards often have more attractive artwork, even if they're only made of plastic. For example, the Marriott Bonvoy American Express card (which is no longer available to new applicants) features limited-edition original artwork from mural and studio artist Tony "Rubin" Sjöman.

Higher annual fees

Even in the early days of smartphones, it was pretty difficult to imagine one that cost $1,449, the price of the most expensive Apple iPhone currently available. Likewise, there are a growing number of rewards cards with annual fees of $450 and up.

Read more: The best no-annual-fee cards to open now

For instance, United, Delta, and American each have co-branded cards that cost $450 and include airport lounge access. The Chase Sapphire Reserve has a $450 annual fee, the Citi Prestige® Card has a $495 annual fee, and the Platinum Card® from American Express costs $550 per year.

That's not to say it isn't worth paying these higher annual fees. You'll just need to take a look at a card's benefits and decide whether they offer enough value for you.

Read more: I got $2,000 in value from the Amex Platinum in my first year

How to upgrade your rewards credit card

The good news is that it will likely be much less expensive to upgrade your credit card than it will to buy a new smartphone.

If you're just looking to carry a physical card with a newer design or one that includes contactless payment technology, you may be able to request an updated one from your card issuer at no additional cost.

But if you need a new account with the latest features and benefits, you should start by researching the best cards currently available. If you already have a card from the same issuer as the one you want, contact them and ask to have your account upgraded.

Read more: Upgrading a credit card isn't always worth it, but it got me 100,000 Marriott points and a free night at the Al Maha resort

This is sometimes called a product change, and it allows you to retain the same account number, balance, and payment history while enjoying new terms and benefits. When you perform a product change, you don't have to submit a new application or have your credit checked. Card issuers frequently offer product changes when customers call to cancel their outdated credit card accounts.

Or, you can just open a new account that best meets your current needs. And while you wouldn't probably want to carry around a bunch of smartphones, there's no reason that you can't add the new card to your wallet that offers perks or rewards that complement some of your other accounts.

Click here to learn more about the Amex Gold card from our partner The Points Guy.

Disclosure: This post is brought to you by the Personal Finance Insider team. We occasionally highlight financial products and services that can help you make smarter decisions with your money. We do not give investment advice or encourage you to adopt a certain investment strategy. What you decide to do with your money is up to you. If you take action based on one of our recommendations, we get a small share of the revenue from our commerce partners. This does not influence whether we feature a financial product or service. We operate independently from our advertising sales team.

Business Insider may receive a commission from The Points Guy Affiliate Network, but our reporting and recommendations are always independent and objective.

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