What’s the Best Card for Earning AAdvantage Miles?

Aug 9, 2015

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TPG reader Michel tweeted me to ask about the best credit for earning American Airlines miles:

@thepointsguy — “Which card is better to earn AAdvantage miles: Barclaycard Aviator Silver or Starwood Amex? (I don’t fly enough to earn Elite status.)”

As with many cards, it depends on how you spend your money. The Barclaycard Aviator Silver earns 3 AAdvantage miles per dollar spent on AA and US Airways flights, which is the best earning rate for AAdvantage miles on AA and US Airways purchases of any card out there. It also earns 2 AA miles per dollar on hotels and car rentals, and 1 mile per dollar on all other purchases, so if you’re spending a lot in those categories, you’re probably going to do best with the Aviator Silver card.

With the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express, you only earn 1 point per dollar on most purchases, or 2 points per dollar on Starwood purchases. The trick is that Starwood gives you a 5,000-mile bonus for every 20,000 Starpoints transferred to American Airlines (and other partners). If you’re transferring in smart increments, that means you effectively earn 1.25 AAdvantage miles for every dollar spent, or 2.5 miles per dollar if you’re spending at Starwood hotels.

The SPG card offers a lot of additional perks, and you can transfer to 30 other airline partners, so there’s actually increased value in having that flexibility. Naturally, Starpoints can also be redeemed for hotel stays, and among my favorite redemptions are SPG Moments, which allow you to redeem points for amazing experiences around the globe.

While the Aviator card earns more on American Airlines purchases, the Starwood Amex remains the better option for earning AAdvantage miles.

There are a few other features of both cards to consider:

  • The annual fee on the Starwood card is lower ($95 vs. $195 for Aviator Silver);
  • Since you don’t have elite status, you can get a lot of value out of the free checked bag, priority boarding, Global Entry credit and other travel-related perks on Aviator Silver.

I think in general the SPG Amex is the clear winner, since most people don’t spend that much on AA flights, hotels and car rentals. Starpoints are way more valuable than AAdvantage miles because they offer a lot more flexibility. But again, it depends on your spending patterns; if you do spend a lot in those bonus categories, that 3x miles is hard to beat.

If you have any other questions, please tweet me @thepointsguy, message me on Facebook or send me an email at info@thepointsguy.com.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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