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There have been a lot of unknowns with the American Airlines and US Airways merger- especially when it comes to the frequent flyer program. We still don’t know exactly when the two programs will merge and what the new combined program will look like. As far as co-branded credit cards, we know that Barclaycard will still be able to maintain existing card accounts, but Citi will be the exclusive issuer after the programs merge in 2015.
However, that doesn’t mean that Barclaycard can’t get as many new cardholders before the programs merge and they’ve been aggressively marking the US Airways World Mastercard, offering 40,000 miles after the first purchase, which is pretty generous these days considering most cards have minimum spend requirements. Today Barclaycard revealed a new card that will be offered only to existing US Airways Mastercard cardholders: the AAdvantage Aviator Silver card. Barclaycard also revealed what their current US Airways MasterCard product will automatically become after the frequent flyer programs merge: the AAdvantage Aviator Red card.
The New AAdvantage Aviator Silver Premium Version
The new Silver card one-ups Citi on many fronts and shows that Barclaycard is serious about building a huge bank of American co-branded cardholders. However, Barclaycard can’t accept new applications for American Airlines cobranded cards, so what they’re doing is brilliant- offering the Aviator Silver product as upgrades to existing cardholders. I got my invitation for the Aviator Silver today and I suspect some TPG readers will too (please report back in the comments!). If don’t currently have a US Airways MasterCard and are interested in either the Silver or the Red then you must apply now before Barlcaycard can longer accept new applications.
The earning and perks associated have me really excited- as a cardholder and American Airlines Executive Platinum flyer.
AAdvantage Aviator Silver World Elite MasterCard (Annual Fee: $195, billed on 2015 anniversary date):
Mileage Earning: 3x miles on US Airways and American purchases, 2x miles on hotels and car rentals and 1x on all other purchases.
Elite Mileage Earning: 5,000 EQM miles for each $20,000 in annual purchases (10,000 maximum EQMs per year)
Perks: First checked bag free for you and up to 8 of your traveling companions, 10% of your redeemed miles back up to 10,000 miles per year, companion certificate each year good for up to 2 guests at $99 each with $30,000 in purchases by your account anniversary (plus taxes and fees), No Foreign Transaction Fees, Chip-enabled for global acceptance, Premium Servicing with US-based customer service, MasterCard World Elite Concierge and Luxury Travel Benefits. Lastly, you will enjoy , priority boarding and 25% in-flight savings on food, beverage and headsets.
My take: I am going to convert to the Aviator Silver card. I spend a ton on AA/US flights, so the 3x earning is way better than the 2x on Citi Executive AAdvantage and I like having the 2x rental car/hotels, though frankly I’ll most likely continue to put those expenses on my Chase Sapphire Preferred, which has primary insurance and 2.14x earning (because I’m grandfathered in with the 7% annual dividend until 2016).
The Aviator offers the the 10% rebate (which is 10,000 miles per year for me, a value of $170 per year, basically covering the annual fee right there) and the companion tickets, neither of which the Executive AAdvantage card currently offers.
When it comes to lounge access, clearly the Executive AAdvantage card has the edge there, but I have personally been struggling with keeping the Executive AAdvantage card or The Platinum Card from American Express since $900 for the two cards per year is steep and I don’t really use AA lounge access, but I really like getting the EQMs to help requalify for Executive Platinum. So now, I’ll instead opt for the cheaper Aviator Silver (the perks alone more than pay for the $195 annual fee) and keep my American Express Platinum card because I LOVE their new Centurion lounges, including the newest LaGuardia lounge and the upcoming San Francisco and Miami lounges will be awesome as well. I’ll keep the Executive AAdvantage open until next year since I’ve already paid the annual fee and max out the 10,000 EQMs from that card and Aviator Silver for 2015 status. Which will greatly help with elite status requalification (barring any major program changes, which may come any day since the 2015 program hasn’t been revealed yet).
AAdvantage Aviator Red (Annual Fee: $89): This is the go to card for the majority of US Airways Matercard cardholders after the frequent flyer programs merge in 2015.
Mileage Earning: Earn 2x miles on US Airways and American purchases, 1x miles on hotels and car rentals and 1x on all other purchases.
Perks: First checked bag free for you and up to 4 traveling companions, priority boarding, 10% of your redeemed miles back up to 10,000 miles per year, $100 flight discount each year with $30,000 in annual purchases, 25% in-flight savings on food, beverage and headsets, Chip-enabled for global acceptance, MasterCard World Elite Concierge and Luxury Travel Benefits.
My take: This card is basically the same as the Citi Platinum AAdvantage Select cards, with a slightly lower annual fee ($89 vs. Citi AAdvantage Platinum $95). which currently offer 50,000 mile sign-up bonuses (check out this Flyertalk thread for an updated list of promotions, that seem to change all the time). I’d recommend getting the Citi and Barclaycard US Airways cards to nab both bonuses and then if I had the option of going with Citi or Barclaycard since they basically the same product, I’d probably go with Barclaycard because it’s slightly cheaper and I personally really like the customer service I get from Barclaycard. However, if you’ve had an AAdvantage card for a long time, it might make sense to keep that account open to help with the average age of your accounts.
Timeline for Aviator Silver
If you were invited, you need to opt in to upgrade to the Aviator Silver by December 1, 2014. Starting in January 2015 your account will be converted once your January statement closes and you’ll continue to use your US Airways card, but all of the Aviator perks will kick in. You won’t get a physical new Aviator card until the frequent flyer programs are merged, but that shouldn’t matter since you don’t need to show the card for any perks.
What If I Wasn’t Invited?
Hang in there- the first batch is likely just a small population of people to get the product launched and I suspect they’ll open up conversions to their legions of US Airways cobranded cardholders once the programs merge. I imagine all US Airways cardholders will be converted to AAdvantage products down the line since the US Airways brand and Dividend Miles program will no longer be in use once the airline is operating as a single carrier and the frequent flyer programs merge into AAdvantage. Based on the information in the invitation the majority of cardholders will be converted to the Aviator Red card.
Get the Existing US Airways World Mastercard Now?
If you are interested in either of the Aviator cards, I’d highly recommend getting the US Airways World Mastercard now. Not only does it come with 40,000 miles with first purchase (I value that alone at $760), but you’ll also get the $99 companion ticket, first class check-in, lounge passes, 10,000 elite miles at $25,000 in spend and 5,000 mile rebate on award redemptions on US Airways flights- all of which will be going away in 2015, when the card becomes the AAdvantage Aviator Red and its benefits aimed to align the offering with the Citi cards (10% rebate on award redemptions up to 10,000 miles a year, 25% off in-flight purchases, Annual $100 flight discount after $30,000 in spending on eligible purchases and one-way and upgrade redemptions.
Overall, more options are better for consumers and I really like the perks of these cards. It isn’t difficult to recoup the annual fee, even if you only fly a couple times a year. It’s interesting to see Barclaycard step up their game like this and, in my eyes, they’re no longer the David vs. Goliath, but they certainly have an uphill battle if they want to uproot Citi as the sole issuer of AAdvantage cards in the long term. Until then, these new cards are good options to consider, especially if you’re an American Airlines flyer.