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I’m a huge fan of American Airlines not only for the quality of service and the value of the AAdvantage program, but also for the strength and diversity of its co-branded credit cards. In this post, TPG Contributor Richard Kerr explores the various options to help you pick the one that best suits your needs.
US Airways Dividend Miles is no more, and the age of the new AAdvantage program has arrived. I’m sad to say goodbye to the glories of Dividend Miles along with the US Airways Premier card. Alas, we must be strong and move forward with a new credit card strategy to maintain our AAdvantage account balances. There are plenty of options from multiple card issuers, so today I’ll look at what’s available for American Airlines frequent flyers looking to bolster their miles, benefits, and elite status, and recommend what I think is your best choice.
Barclaycard has put in work to maintain its US Airways Premier World MasterCard customers with its lineup of new Aviator cards. Including the Barclaycard AAdvantage Aviator Business MasterCard, I count 5 different Aviator products. Unfortunately, these accounts aren’t open to new applicants, but there should be some mobility between the different cards down the line if you’re fortunate enough to have one.
US Airways Premier cardholders were automatically converted over to one of the Aviator products, most likely the AAdvantage Aviator Red MasterCard. TPG Senior Points & Miles contributor Jason Steele recommended keeping the Aviator Red card for its valuable baggage fee waivers, 10% mileage rebate, and priority boarding privileges. Here’s a comparison of the Barclaycard Aviator benefits:
|Aviator Card||Annual Fee||25% In-flight Discount||No Foreign Fees||Spend Bonus||1st Checked Bag Free||Priority Boarding||Reduced Mileage Awards||Redeem Miles Rebate|
|Aviator||$0||✓||1X All Purchases|
|Red||$89||✓||✓||2X AA||4 Companions||✓||✓||10%|
|Silver||$195||✓||✓||3X AA, 2X Hotel/Rental Car||8 Companions||✓||✓||10%|
|Business||??||✓||✓||2X AA/Office Supply/Telecom/Rental Car||4 Companions||✓||✓||5%|
In addition to the above benefits, the Silver card offers 5,000 elite qualifying miles (EQMs) for each $20,000 in annual purchases (up to 10,000 EQMs per year)· You can also earn a companion certificate each cardholder year when you spend $30,000 or more, which offers up to two additional tickets for $99 (plus taxes and fees) on a paid flight operated by American Airlines. Finally, this card also offers a $100 statement credit to cover the application fee for Global Entry.
If you were converted to an Aviator card you don’t like, or don’t believe the annual fee to be worth the benefits, consider downgrading to the no-fee version instead of outright canceling. This is good for credit score purposes, receiving pre-qualified offers in the future, and leaving yourself at least one avenue open to earn AA miles without an additional cost.
With Barclaycard not accepting new customers, Citi is the main issuer of AAdvantage cards. Within the last year, Citi has offered increased sign-up bonuses (like the previously available 100,000 miles for the Citi Executive AAdvantage World Elite MasterCard) and the ability to open multiple accounts with the same type of card. Before going into further detail, here’s a comparison of the available Citi AAdvantage cards:
|Card||Annual Fee||Sign-up Bonus||No Foreign Fees||Spend Bonus||1st Checked Bag Free||Priority Boarding||Reduced Mileage Awards||Miles Bonus|
|Citi AAdvantage Bronze||$0||5,000 w/ 1st Purchase||1 mile/ $2 all purchases|
|Citi AAdvantage Gold MasterCard||$50 (1st yr waived||25,000 w/ $750 in 3 months||1X All Purchases||5,000 miles|
|Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard||$95 (1st y waived)||50,000 w/ $3000 in 3 months||2X AA||4 Companions||✓||7,500||10% redeemed miles back|
|CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select World MasterCard||$95 (1st y waived)||50,000 w/ $3000 in 3 months||2X AA/Office Supply/Telecom/Rental Car||4 Companions||✓||7,500 miles|
|Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard||$450||50,000 w/ $5000 in 3 months||✓||2X AA||8 Companions||✓||7,500||10,000 EQM w/ $40k spend|
With the basics laid out above, let’s take a closer look at each card.
This card currently offers 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles after you spend $5,000 in the first three months of cardmembership — enough for two domestic, economy class, round-trip saver level awards. You also receive access to American’s reduced mileage awards, giving you a 7,500 mile discount on round-trip awards along certain routes in North America. You earn 2x miles per dollar spent on American Airlines and US Airways purchases, and 1 mile per dollar spent elsewhere.
The Executive card comes with an actual Admiral’s Club membership, so you can get in regardless of which airline you happen to be flying when you travel. You can also access Oneworld and certain other lounges. Membership entitles you to unlimited complimentary admission to Admirals Club lounges for yourself and two guests, or your entire immediate family.
When traveling on American or US Airways, you receive your first checked bag free for you and up to eight traveling companions, as well as priority check-in, airport screening, and boarding privileges. So it’s a lot like having elite status, but without the first class upgrades. You also get a 25% savings on in-flight purchases, which isn’t even an elite status benefit.
But if elite status is important to you, the Executive Card offers 10,000 elite qualifying miles when you spend $40,000 on the card within a calendar year.
The card doesn’t offer lounge access or the opportunity to earn elite miles, but it does still come with a 50,000 mile sign-up bonus after you spend $3,000 in the first three months, as well as many in-flight perks. An additional perk not listed in the chart is a $100 flight discount coupon after spending $30,000 on the card in a year. With the same sign-up bonus as the Executive card but a much lower annual fee and lower minimum spend, it’s a great card for the casual AA flyer who isn’t invested in earning elite status.
The additional spending category bonuses on this card make it an attractive option. It also comes with a $99 companion certificate after spending $30,000 on the card in a calendar year. Top off the perks with a 5% annual earnings dividend, access to reduced mileage awards, and a reasonable annual fee, and this is a solid business card.
Citi AAdvantage Gold MasterCard
A lower annual fee of $50 means a lot fewer benefits than what you’ll get on the Platinum cards. There’s a decent sign-up bonus of 25,000 miles after spending $750 in the first three months. Access to 5,000 mile reduced awards is really the only other benefit the card offers, but if you can use that even once annually, you’ll come out ahead.
Citi AAdvantage Bronze
This unheralded no-fee option only earns 1 mile for every $2 you spend on all purchases. Besides a 25% discount when used for onboard purchases, it offers nothing else.
The card is offering an increased sign-up bonus of 50,000 ThankYou points after you spend just $3,000 within three months. While it doesn’t earn AAdvantage miles, this card is still worth the attention of American Airlines flyers because cardholders can redeem ThankYou points at 1.6 cents apiece for travel on American or US Airways (versus 1 point to 1.33 cents for travel on other carriers). The card offers Admiral’s club access as well as Priority Pass Select membership for access to lounges around the world.
While similar to the Citi AAdvantage Executive card, this card is extremely versatile and offers a host of flexible reward opportunities and benefits. Citi Prestige earns 3X ThankYou Points on airfare and hotel purchases, 2X points at restaurants and on entertainment purchases, and one point per dollar spent elsewhere. ThankYou points can be transferred to 11 different airlines at a 1:1 ratio, plus Hilton HHonors at 2:3.
Another major feature is its complimentary 4th Night Free hotel benefit, which returns 25% of the cost of a hotel stay as a statement credit when you book travel with your Prestige card using Citi’s travel concierge. Citi also offers a $250 annual Air Travel Credit that can be applied to any airline coded charge, including airfare, and a $100 statement credit for the Global Entry application fee.
Finally, primary cardholders can receive up to 3 free rounds of golf at more than 2,400 public and private golf courses around the globe.
Which card is “best” really comes down to whether you fly American often enough to justify a higher annual fee, and whether you had a US Airways card that converted to an Aviator card. If you’re after elite status, fly AA exclusively or most of the time, and can spend quite a bit on the card, the Citi Executive AAdvantage Card is the one for you.
Because I live in Japan, I collect AAdvantage miles to redeem on Oneworld partners. I’m not too concerned with earning EQMs, and because I now have an Aviator Red card, I have access to reduced mileage awards, 10% of my redeemed miles refunded, and I can earn 1.5 miles per dollar with the current bonus.
The winner for me is the Citi Prestige card with its increased sign-up bonus, $250 air travel credit (which effectively reduces the annual fee to $200), and the ability to transfer to other airlines or redeem at 1.6 cents per point. The Admirals club membership is nice for Oneworld partner lounges and when I pass through the states 3-4 times a year. However, I need the flexibility offered by ThankYou points.
If you’re only an occasional AA flyer, the AAdvantage Platinum Select card is the way to go. You get a sizable sign-up bonus to boost your account from the beginning, and some nice ancillary perks like 10% redeemed miles back. Tack on a waived annual fee for the first year, and it’s an all around solid offer.
Which AAdvantage card do you use?
Citi Prestige® Card
|Intro APR||Regular APR||Annual Fee||Foreign Transaction Fee||Credit Rating|
|N/A||15.49%* (Variable)||$450||0%||Excellent Credit|