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Earn American miles without an annual fee: The AAdvantage MileUp Card review

April 24, 2021
12 min read
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Editor's Note

This post has been updated with new information. Citi is a TPG advertising partner.

American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card

The American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card offers the rare ability to earn frequent flyer miles with no annual fee. For occasional American flyers looking for a starter rewards card, the AAdvantage MileUp card fits the bill. However, with limited perks and card protection benefits, it's also worth considering other options. Card Rating*: ⭐⭐⭐

*Card rating is based on the opinion of TPG’s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.

When it comes to choosing your first travel rewards credit card, you have a lot of options. The American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card is an entry-level American AAdvantage card in the airline co-branded card landscape. That means what you'll earn on the card will be in the form of American Airlines miles.

One of the biggest factors in selecting a cobranded airline credit card is the frequency with which you'll fly the carrier. Will you be flying the airline enough to take advantage of the benefits? Or will you be better suited to a card that earns straight cash back or another, more flexible points currency? And, is it worth ponying up some cash for an annual fee?

Let's dive into answering these questions for the MileUp card to see if this no-annual-fee card is right for you.

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Who is this card for?

Use the AAdvantage miles you earn on the MileUp credit card to book a flight on American Airlines. (Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy)

If you're looking for one of your first points- or miles-earning travel cards, the AAdvantage MileUp card may have made your list. This MileUp is a great upgrade from a secured card or debit card that doesn't earn any rewards.

Airlines recognize that they need to have cards that cater to all of their customers, whether that be frequent flyers that want lounge access, brand-loyal flyers that value a free checked bag or occasional flyers looking to collect miles towards a free flight. The American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card falls into this last category as an entry-level card that provides few perks but allows you to earn extra American Airlines miles without having to pay a fee.

Related: The six best starter travel credit cards

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To really maximize this card, you should have a goal of a future AAdvantage mileage redemption. If you're looking for common co-branded card perks like a free checked bag or priority boarding, the MileUp card probably isn't the card for you. With that said, if you can forgo the perks and are committed to AAdvantage miles or live near an American hub, this can be a valuable rewards starter card.

Sign-up bonus

After being approved for the card, MileUp cardholders can earn 10,000 AAdvantage miles and a $50 statement credit after spending $500 in purchases within the first three months of account opening, which TPG values at $190. With no annual fee and a low spend requirement, this is certainly a reasonable offer, but far from the most lucrative offer on an American Airlines card.

Related reading: Choosing the best credit card for American Airlines flyers

10,000 AAdvantage miles isn't a lot, but it can actually get you something right from the get-go. At the MileSAAver award level, you can snag a one-way flight that is less than 500 miles long using 7,500 AAdvantage miles (such as from New York-LGA to Washington-DCA). However, with American's Web Special awards, you may get lucky and find a redemption for an even longer-distance flight.

If you already have the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® or the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®, note that you can also earn the bonus on the MileUp card. That might make for a good opportunity to grab an additional bonus for no annual fee.

Main benefits and perks

Zoës Kitchen Gruben Sandwich. (Photo courtesy of American Airlines.)
Get 25% off a Zoës Kitchen Gruben Sandwich with the AAdvantage MileUp card. (Photo courtesy of American Airlines.)

While it doesn't have any high-value perks, the MileUp card has a few benefits that American flyers should take note of:

  • 25% savings on in-flight purchases – You'll get a discount on in-flight food and beverage purchases (but not on in-flight WiFi, which is managed by a third party)
  • No mileage cap - There's no limit to how many American miles you earn. Redeem them on flights, upgrades, car rentals and hotel stays (although flights will be the most valuable redemption).
  • 2021 EQD Waiver – With any eligible Citi/AAdvantage credit card, the Elite Qualifying Dollar (EQD) requirement for AAdvantage Gold, Platinum or Platinum Pro elite status is waived if you spend $30,000 or more on this card.
  • Apple Pay

Unfortunately, Citi has taken away most of the travel and shopping protection benefits they were offering on nearly all their credit cards. Additionally, there is a 3% international transaction fee that's tacked on to the MileUp card, so you won't want to use this card when traveling abroad. Instead, you may want to take a look at cards that offer no foreign transaction fees.

The savings on in-flight concessions has the potential to be a nice little perk, should you actually need to purchase a snack or meal. For instance, if a family of four had two round-trip flights per year and each bought a $10 sandwich on board in each direction, that family would save $40 each year with the MileUp card. Not bad for a card with no annual fee.

Related: The best no annual fee credit cards for 2021

Finally, for 2021, there's an opportunity to waive the EQD requirement for AAdvantage Gold, Platinum and Platinum Pro elite status by spending $30,000 or more on your MileUp card. If you can meet this spending requirement, you could potentially achieve elite status faster -- even through a no-annual-fee card.

How to earn miles

This is what you can expect to earn on your purchases using the MileUp card:

  • 2x miles/dollar at grocery stores
  • 2x miles/dollar on eligible American Airlines purchases
  • 1x miles/dollar on all other purchases

It may make sense to put everyday grocery spend, in addition to your eligible American Airlines purchases, on the MileUp card. However, keep in mind that there are many options for cards that have lucrative earn rates for grocery purchases. Like many issuers, Citi excludes discount stores and warehouse clubs from the grocery store bonus rate.

How to redeem miles

American Airlines flight lands in St. Martin. (Image courtesy Clint Henderson/The PointGuy)
An American Airlines flight lands in St. Martin. (Image courtesy Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

Since this is a cobranded airline credit card, you will only be able to redeem the earned miles towards American Airlines travel and related purchases. That doesn't necessarily mean it has to explicitly be an American Airlines flight. Your points can also be used on a Oneworld airline or another non-alliance partner such as Etihad, Air Tahiti Nui and more.

In addition, you can redeem American miles on:

However, non-flight redemptions almost always provide a poor redemption rate.

Miles earned on the MileUp card have no expiration date as long you either earn or redeem them every 18 months. This is great if you have a big trip in mind for the future. While we don't recommend points hoarding (they can be devalued at any time), you could spend years racking up AAdvantage miles and redeem them anytime so long as you're using the card from time to time.

A downside to American AAdvantage is a fairly complex award chart and historically, limited availability at the SAAver level (lowest mileage level). However, with dynamic pricing now the norm on American (the aforementioned Web Specials), the published charts are a bit of a moot point. What does this mean for you? That just means it is hard to say what exactly a given mileage level can get you in terms of a flight since it's dynamically changing based on various factors. The best course of action is to check American's website and make a dummy booking to scope out what you want.

It should be noted that reward bookings around busy holidays will almost certainly require more miles if there's availability at all.

Related: Maximizing redemptions with American Airlines AAdvantage

Which cards to consider besides the MileUp card?

As mentioned earlier, there are plenty of options when it comes to entry-level rewards credit cards. Even within American's own co-brand lineup of Citi cards, there are several to choose from (alongside a co-brand partnership with Barclays).

Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)
(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

If you're considering the MileUp, the Platinum Select -- its bigger brother in the Citi AAdvantage card lineup -- should also be on your radar. While it does come with a $99 annual fee, there are a host of noteworthy perks that the MileUp lacks. That includes the first checked bag free (for you and up to four companions on the same reservation), no foreign transaction fees, and a $125 American Airlines flight discount after you spend $20,000 on the card per cardmember year and renew the card. With a usual cost of $30 for each checked bag, checking four bags will make up for the card's annual fee.

Current offer: The welcome bonus is a hefty 50,000 AAdvantage bonus miles after you spend $2,500 within the first three months of account opening. According to TPG valuations, this sign-up bonus is worth $885. Read our full review here.

Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card

(Photo by The Points Guy)
(Photo by The Points Guy)

The AAdvantage MileUp card is to American as the Delta SkyMiles Blue card is to Delta. This card is the entry-level, no-annual-fee option (see rates and fees) for Delta flyers. However, there are more travel, shopping and rental car protection benefits available from Amex, which are definitely valuable to some.

Current offer: New cardholders will earn 10,000 bonus miles after spending $1,000 in purchases in the first six months of account opening. Based on TPG valuations, this welcome offer is worth $141. Read our full review here.

United Gateway Card

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

Like the AAdvantage MileUp card for American and the Blue SkyMiles card for Delta, the United Gateway card is the no-annual-fee option for United flyers. This card has a better rewards rate than its competitors, with 2x on United purchases, gas stations, local transit and commuting and 1x on everything else.

Current Offer: Earn 20,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open.

Cards like the Citi Rewards+® Card, Citi® Double Cash Card and the Chase Freedom Unlimited should also be considered since they all have no annual fees and can earn cash back or be combined into more lucrative transferable currencies when paired with a card that requires an annual fee.

Related: The best travel rewards credit cards of 2021

Bottom line

If you're looking to earn status and miles with American faster, then the MileUp card could be a great start. The lack of an annual fee makes it perfect for those who don't travel often enough to justify paying one. The AAdvantage MileUp card also has a solid earnings rate for groceries and American purchases.

However, if you do fly American Airlines more than a couple of times per year, or if you're seeking a card that offers more lucrative perks or travel rewards, there are better options out there.

Additional reporting by Liz Hund and Stella Shon.

For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Blue card, click here.

Featured image by (Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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How we chose these cards

Our points-obsessed staff uses a plethora of credit cards on a daily basis. If anyone on our team wouldn’t recommend it to a friend or a family member, we wouldn’t recommend it on The Points Guy either. Our opinions are our own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our advertising partners.
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