Which Card Is Best for AAdvantage Awards After Devaluation?
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TPG reader Adam sent me a message on Facebook to ask about using rewards on American Airlines: “
With the upcoming devaluation of AAdvantage miles, do you think the Citi Platinum Select Mastercard or Citi Prestige is better for flying American?”
A number of updates to the AAdvantage program will go into effect next month, including a general increase in the cost of flight awards. The impact on economy redemptions is fairly mild, with some flights actually costing less than before. However, premium awards are going up almost across the board, in some cases by more than 60%. For example, my recent flight from Ho Chi Minh City to New York in Cathay Pacific first class cost just 67,500 miles and $62 one-way. In March, that price will skyrocket to 110,000 miles.
I list AAdvantage miles at 1.7 cents apiece in my most recent monthly valuations. That number is sure to go down, though I haven’t yet decided how far it will drop. Adam brings up a great point: The Citi Prestige Card allows you to redeem ThankYou points at 1.6 cents apiece for flights on American Airlines. Since my valuation of AAdvantage miles is likely to drop to or below that amount, does it now make more sense to focus on earning ThankYou points rather than AAdvantage miles from a card like the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard?
The answer really depends on how you plan to use your miles. Even at the higher rates, you can still get a very respectable return on premium redemptions. My SGN-JFK award got me over 13 cents per mile in value, but I would still get over 8 cents per mile after the devalutaion. That clearly favors earning AAdvantage miles over ThankYou points. On the other hand, American Airlines flights between New York and Miami this spring are generally under $250 round-trip. At that price, I’d much rather redeem 15,625 ThankYou points than 25,000 AAdvantage miles, especially since the ticket counts as a paid fare and is eligible to earn miles.
I think the best plan is to continue earning both AAdvantage miles and ThankYou points. Diversifying your travel rewards is a good idea anyway, but these two programs compliment each other well for American Airlines frequent flyers who also have the Prestige card. You can use ThankYou points when fares are low to get a consistent return, and use AAdvantage miles selectively for more valuable award redemptions when fares are high. In short, my strategy remains the same moving forward. American Airlines is changing earning rates as well as redemption rates, so sign-up bonuses and spending on co-branded credit cards will become a more important source of miles for many AAdvantage members.
Citi Prestige has plenty of other benefits that make it worth getting. However, I don’t think the Platinum Select card is necessarily the best option for earning AAdvantage miles. I prefer the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express thanks to the 5,000 bonus miles you get when transferring 20,000 Starpoints to airline partners, including American.
That effectively boosts your earning rate to 1.25 miles per dollar spent. You miss out on free checked bags and other flight benefits, so you’ll have to judge whether the higher earning rate is enough to offset that. The future of SPG is a bit unknown due to the upcoming merger of Starwood and Marriott, but I think now is a good time to get the Starwood Amex cards while they’re still around.