Choosing the best credit card for American Airlines flyers

Feb 28, 2020

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American Airlines has over 1,500 planes, operates more than 6,800 daily flights and serves 61 countries. Heck, the name ‘America’ is even in the airline’s name, so if you live in the U.S. the odds are high you’ll at least occasionally find yourself flying on American Airlines.

Whether you’re an avid or just occasional American Airlines flyer, it can be a very good idea to be strategic about having a credit card that makes flying cheaper, easier or more rewarding while on American Airlines flights. Let’s look at ways American Airlines frequent and infrequent flyers can bolster their miles, enjoy benefits and get closer to elite status with the right card(s).

Best American Airlines credit cards of 2020

In This Post

Best American Airlines cobranded credit cards

If you are in the market for an American Airlines-issued credit card, you’ve got choices. In large part because of the U.S. Airways and American Airlines merger that happened way back in 2013, there are actually still two different banks that issue American Airlines credit cards — Citi and Barclays. This means you have more choices as an American Airlines flyer than you would as say, a United Airlines flyer, since all United credit cards are issued by one bank.

Here’s a comparison of the available Citi- and Barclays-issued American Airlines AAdvantage credit cards that are currently available for new sign-ups:

cREDIT Card Welcome bonus Annual fee Earning capabilities
American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp Card 10,000 American miles and a $50 statement credit after you spend $500 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. $0 2 American miles for every  $1 spent at grocery stores and on eligible American Airlines purchases, 1x elsewhere
AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard® 60,000 bonus miles and a $99 companion ticket awarded after you make a purchase within the first 90 days of card opening $99 2 American Airlines miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases, 1x elsewhere
Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard 60,000 miles after you spend $2,500 on purchases the first three months of account opening. $99 2 American Airlines miles for every $1 spent at gas stations, restaurants and on eligible American Airlines purchases
AAdvantage® Aviator® Business Mastercard 65,000 miles after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days. Additional 10,000 miles when employee card is used for a purchase. $95 2 American Airlines miles on eligible American Airlines purchases, office supply stores, telecom expenses and car rentals, 1x elsewhere
CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard® 65,000 American Airlines bonus miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first four months of account opening. $99 (waived the first 12 months) 2 American Airlines miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases/telecom/rental car/gas stations, 1x elsewhere
Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard 50,000 miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. $450  2 American Airlines miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases, 1x elsewhere

The information for the AAdvantage Aviator Red and AAdvantage Aviator Business has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Note that these are the cards available for new customer sign-ups, but there are some other Barclays-issued American Airlines cards that may be available for current Aviator cardholders. Note: Bonus valuation is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

Those are the basics. Here’s a closer look at the best American Airlines cobranded credit cards and what type of American Airlines flyers they best serve.

Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard

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

Welcome bonus offer: 60,000 AAdvantage miles after you spend $2,500 in the first three months of account opening

Bonus valuation: $840

Annual fee: $99

Benefits: In addition to the current sign-up bonus miles, you also receive:

  • 2x AAdvantage miles for every $1 spent on restaurants, gas stations and on eligible American Airlines purchases
  • Access to American’s reduced mileage awards, giving you a 7,500-mile discount on round-trip awards for certain routes in North America
  • First bag checked free on domestic AA itineraries for yourself and up to four companions on the same reservation
  • $125 American Airlines flight discount after you spend $20,000 or more in purchases during your card year and renew your card

Who should get it: With a lower annual fee and lower minimum spending requirement than some of the higher tier American Airlines cards, such as the Executive World Elite card, it’s the best card for the casual American flyer who isn’t invested in earning elite status but wants a better experience when flying American.

For more information, read our AAdvantage Platinum Select card review.

American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp Card

(Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy)
(Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy)

Welcome bonus offer: 10,000 AAdvantage miles and a $50 statement credit after you spend $500 in the first three months of account opening

Bonus valuation: $190

Annual fee: $0

Benefits: This card was launched in mid-2018 and rounds out Citi’s American Airlines card lineup as the no-annual-fee, entry-level option. It’s light on benefits but offers the following in addition to the current welcome bonus:

  • 2x AAdvantage miles for every $1 spent at grocery stores — equal to a 2.8% return based on TPG valuations
  • 1x AAdvantage mile on all other purchases
  • 25% savings on food and beverages on AA inflight purchases made with the MileUp card

Who should get it: This card is good for those who want to earn American Airlines miles but absolutely don’t want an annual fee and also don’t fly American Airlines with regularity so don’t desire waived check bag fees and similar.

For more information, read our AAdvantage MileUp card review.

AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard

(Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy)
(Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy)

Welcome bonus offer: 60,000 bonus miles and a $99 companion ticket awarded after you make a purchase within the first 90 days of card opening

Bonus valuation: $840

Annual fee: $99

Benefits: This Barclays-issued card offers an annual $25 annual statement credits on inflight WiFi purchases, an annual $99 companion ticket with $20k in purchases on card, waived check bag fees for the cardholder and up to four on the American Airlines reservation and a 25% statement credit for eligible onboard AA purchases.

Who should get it: The AAdvantage Aviator Red card is a fantastic card to get for those who want a big welcome bonus without a lot of required spending. The perks are solid for the occasional American Airlines flyer.

  • 2x AAdvantage miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases
  • 1x AAdvantage mile on all other purchases
  • 25% savings on food and beverages on AA inflight purchases made with the card

For more information, read our AAdvantage Aviator Red card review.

AAdvantage Aviator Business Mastercard

(Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy)
(Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy)

Welcome bonus offer: Earn 65,000 miles after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days. Earn an additional 10,000 miles when an employee card is used for a purchase.

Bonus valuation: $910 – $1,050

Annual fee: $95

Benefits:

  • Free checked bags for you and up to four people on the same American Airlines reservation
  • Annual $99 companion voucher awarded after $30,000 in spending
  • Earn $3,000 Elite Qualifying Dollars after spending $25,000 on purchases each calendar year
  • 5% bonus on American Airlines miles earned on the card each year
  • 2x American Airlines miles on eligible office supply stores, telecom expenses and car rentals, and 1x miles per dollar spent elsewhere

Who should get it:

This small business card is good for frequent American Airlines travelers who want an extra push toward elite status or a chance to earn a companion certificate each year with their small business spending. The 5% annual bonus on miles earned on the card also boosts the effective earning rate above other options on this list.

CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard

(Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy)
(Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy)

Welcome bonus offer: 65,000 American Airlines AAdvantage bonus miles after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first four months of account opening

Bonus valuation: $910

Annual fee: $99 (waived the first year)

Benefits: Other perks include:

  • $99 companion certificate after you spend $30,000 or more on the card in a calendar year and renew the card (account must remain open for at least 45 days after the anniversary date)
  • Access to reduced mileage awards
  • 2x AAdvantage miles on eligible American Airlines purchases, at telecommunications merchants, cable and satellite providers, car rental merchants and gas stations

Who should get it: The additional spending category bonuses on this small business card make it an attractive option for small business owners who want to earn extra American miles on a variety of charges.

For more information, read our CitiBusiness AAdvantage card review.

Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard

(Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy)
(Photo by Eric Helgas for The Points Guy)

Welcome bonus offer: 50,000 AAdvantage miles after you spend $5,000 in the first three months

Bonus valuation: $700

Annual fee: $450

Benefits In addition to the sign-up bonus miles, the card comes with:

Who should get it: This is a card for American Airlines elite flyers — or those who fly American a lot but just not quite enough for a meaningful status level. Having this card is a lot like having elite status, but of course without the first-class upgrades. If earning AAdvantage elite status is important to you, the Executive card offers 10,000 Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) when you spend $40,000 on the card within a calendar year, to help get to those next threshold faster.

For more information, read our AAdvantage Executive card review.

DFW Terminal E Admirals Club (Courtesy of American Airlines)
DFW Terminal E Admirals Club (Courtesy of American Airlines)

Good cards for buying American Airlines tickets

You’ll earn American AAdvantage miles just about anytime you fly with a paid ticket, calculated on the base price of your ticket minus taxes and fees. The amount of miles you earn also varies based on your AAdvantage elite status. And while it can make a whole lot of sense to have and use an American Airlines cobranded credit card for your American ticket purchases, there are also situations where other credit cards may be an even better choice.

For example, if you want to earn more flexible transferable points on the purchase, you could pay for your American Airlines ticket with a general travel card that earns American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards or Citi ThankYou Rewards Points. Consider the following cards for your American Airlines tickets, some of which carry generous built-in travel protections compared to some of the Barclays or Citi co-branded American Airlines cards.

cREDIT Card Welcome bonus Annual fee Earning capabilities
Chase Sapphire Reserve 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months $550 3x Ultimate Rewards points on travel and dining, 1x elsewhere (10x on Lyft until 2022)
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months $95 2x Ultimate Rewards points on travel and dining, 1 elsewhere
The Platinum Card from American Express 60,000 Membership Rewards points after new cardholders spend $5,000 on purchases within three months of account opening. Terms apply. $550 (see rates & fees) 5x points on airfare booked through Amex or directly with the airlines, 5x on prepaid hotels booked directly with Amex, 1x elsewhere. Terms apply.
Citi Prestige® Card

 

50,000 Citi ThankYou Points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months of account opening. $495 5x Citi ThankYou points on air travel and restaurants; 3x points per dollar spent on hotels and cruise lines, 1x elsewhere

Let’s take a closer look at these alternate options to see how well they’d work for an American traveler.

Chase Sapphire Reserve

(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy)

Welcome bonus offer: 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months

Bonus valuation: $1,000

Annual fee: $550

Benefits: Chase Ultimate Rewards points don’t transfer to American Airlines, but you can actually use them to book American-operated flights via Ultimate Rewards transfer partners such as British Airways starting at 7,500 points each way. This card is a great choice if you’re eyeing future award travel with a diverse group of airline partners. Or, if you prefer the simplicity of cash fares, redeem your points for 1.5 cents of value for airfare, hotels, car rentals or cruises through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal.

The Sapphire Reserve earns 3x points on all travel (excluding its $300 travel credit) and dining purchases, and 1x point per dollar spent on everything else. If you spend a lot in these two categories, you could be ready to book an award flight in no time. As of January 2020, the card also awards 10x points on Lyft. The card’s $550 annual fee is offset by a $300 annual travel credit that is automatically applied to any eligible purchases — from airfare to hotel stays to sightseeing tours. You get lounge access through Priority Pass Select membership, plus excellent travel protections if you put the airfare or the taxes and fees on award flights on your card. Here’s an example of how using a card like this to book a flight resulted in Chase picking up the tab for a $1,000 last-minute hotel when flights were cancelled.

For more information, read our Sapphire Reserve card review.

Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

Welcome bonus offer: 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points after new cardholders spend $4,000 on purchases within three months of account opening

Bonus valuation: $1,200

Annual fee: $95

Benefits: This card offers double points on all travel and dining purchases (not just American tickets), which is 1 point per dollar less than the more premium Chase Sapphire Reserve but comes with a much lower annual fee. The Ultimate Rewards points earned can be transferred to United, British Airways, Southwest Airlines as well as seven other airline and three hotel programs. You can also book flights and other travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal, earning a value of 1.25 cents each for your points. The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card also features primary rental car insurance and some travel and purchase protection benefits.

For more information, read our Sapphire Preferred card review.

The Platinum Card from American Express

(Photo by Isabelle Raphael / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy)

Welcome bonus: 60,000 Membership Rewards points after new cardholders spend $5,000 on purchases within three months of account opening. You may be targeted for a 100,000-point bonus offer through CardMatch (offer subject to change at anytime).

Bonus valuation: $1,200

Annual fee: $550 (see rates and fees)

Benefits: Although the Membership Rewards points earned by this card can’t be transferred to American, they can be transferred to Oneworld partners — like British Airways, Qantas and Cathay Pacific — along with Etihad Guest, one of American’s non-alliance partners. You can use points transferred to any of these programs to book award tickets on American-operated flights.

The Platinum Card earns 5x Membership Rewards points on all flights booked directly with airlines or via American Express Travel, as well as prepaid hotels booked through amextravel.com. Other cardholder benefits include an up to $200 annual statement credit toward incidental airline fees (though not airfare), monthly Uber credits, biannual Saks credits, Marriott elite status, Hilton elite status, Centurion Lounge accessPriority Pass Select membership and much more.

For more information, read our Amex Platinum card review.

Citi Prestige Card

Unless you spend a ton on travel purchases aside from airfare, hotels and cruises -- or make a lot of entertainment purchases -- the Prestige is likely a better option.

Sign-up offer: 50,000 Citi ThankYou Points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months of account opening

Bonus valuation: $850

Annual fee: $495

Benefits: Although it’s not an AA-cobranded card, the Citi Prestige is a premium card worth considering if you are an American flyer and want to collect transferable points.

In addition to the nice sign-up offer, this card earns 5x Citi ThankYou Points per dollar spent on air travel and restaurants; 3x points per dollar spent on hotels and cruise lines, and 1x point per dollar spent on everything  else. You’ll get a fourth night free on paid hotel stays, on up to two bookings per year. Bookings must be made through ThankYou.com.

Citi ThankYou Points can be transferred to Oneworld partners such as Cathay Pacific and Qantas, or American partner Etihad for booking American-operated award flights. You’ll also have lounge access through the Priority Pass Select membership that is provided as a cardmember benefit. However, the big downside is that Citi discontinued most of Prestige’s excellent travel protections as part of a more sweeping refresh to the card made in September 2019 — while still keeping the card’s $495 annual fee.

For more information, read our Citi Prestige card review.

The information for the Citi Prestige has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Who should get an American Airlines credit card?

I wouldn’t recommend building your entire points-earning strategy around an American Airlines cobranded credit card, because having all your eggs (er, miles) in one basket is very limiting. American has already introduced dynamic pricing on award tickets, which has made some more affordable — but others extremely expensive. However, if you fly even just a couple of times per year with American, you can save a lot of money with some of these perks provided by the cobranded cards. Perhaps the most valuable is the free checked bags. Many of the American Airlines cobranded cards offer free checked bags for four or even eight additional people on the reservation, making it a money-saver for the whole family.

Related: How to avoid checked bag fees

I like to think of airline credit cards as offering “elite-lite” perks — things like priority boarding and lounge access that are similar to the benefits you might receive if you have elite status. If you frequently travel with American but don’t fly enough (or don’t spend enough) to earn AAdvantage elite status, these credit card perks become even more valuable. Of course, a couple of the cards can also help you earn elite status faster via bonuses you get for spending certain amounts on the cards each year.

(Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy)
(Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy)

How much are AAdvantage miles worth?

In TPG’s latest monthly valuation, American Airlines AAdvantage miles are pegged at 1.4 cents each. The carrier has been rapidly expanding economy web special deals utilizing miles, which can be a steal when they line up with your needs. AAdvantage miles are worth slightly more than United (1.3 cents) and Delta (1.2 cents), partly because of the value you get redeeming them for Oneworld partner awards.

For just 70,000 miles, you can fly Cathay Pacific’s excellent business class to anywhere in Asia, or you can fly Iberia business class to Europe for 57,500 miles and avoid some of the nasty fuel surcharges that British Airways is known for.

If you primarily use your miles for domestic American flights, you might struggle to get a higher value, but it can happen. As more dynamic prices take hold, we’ve seen a number of insane deals come out, including flights to Australia for just 5,000 miles each way.

Here are some great ways to use 60,000 American Airlines miles, the exact number of bonus miles you can earn right now via the welcome bonuses on the Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard and AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®.

Cathay Pacific First Class (Photo by Emily McNutt/The Points Guy)
Cathay Pacific First Class (Photo by Emily McNutt/The Points Guy)

Bear in mind that some American cobranded cards also offer discounted awards to select, rotating destinations. TPG Editor Nick Ewen took advantage of this for a round-trip flight to New Mexico, dropping the price of his three award tickets from 25,000 miles to just 17,500 miles. If you live near an airport that regularly appears on this rotating list of cities eligible for these discounts, having an American Airlines card could make a lot of sense.

Can you have more than one American Airlines credit card?

Yes! That was easy.

Thankfully, unlike the very complex rules with Marriott credit cards that are issued by both American Express and Chase (also a result of a merger, in that case between SPG and Marriott), having a Citi American Airlines card doesn’t automatically impact your eligibility from getting a Barclays-issued American Airlines card, and vice versa.

Additionally, you can theoretically have more than one Citi-issued American Airlines card if you wish. For example, if you have the Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard but decided you also wanted to get the Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard for its lounge access (and bonus miles), there’s nothing stopping you from having both. However, it’s important to note that you can’t get a sign-up bonus on a new card if you previously received one on that same card within the previous 48 months.

As always, read the fine print in the terms and conditions carefully, but there are ways to have more than one American Airlines branded card, if you wish.

Related: Comparing Citi and Barclays American Airlines cards

Will the American Airlines credit cards keep American miles from expiring?

American Airlines miles are one of the last major types of airline miles in the U.S. that expire. If you let your American AAdvantage account sit for 18 months without activity in your account, all those miles you worked so hard for will … disappear.

However, it is pretty easy to keep that from happening even without flying American Airlines simply be earning at least one mile. While you can do that without an American Airlines credit card, simply making periodic purchases on the card (at least once every 17 months or so), will be enough to keep your American miles from expiring.

Bottom line

Deciding which card American Airlines credit card is best really comes down to how often you fly American Airlines, how much you value lounge access, whether you need help achieving American Airlines elite status and what other cards you have in your wallet.

For most occasional American Airlines flyers, the Aviator Red or the Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard will be the way to go. Both cards provide a sizable 60,000 mile welcome bonus after you hit the spending requirements to boost your account from the beginning and some nice perks like your first checked bag free on domestic American Airlines itineraries. For those who want Admirals Club access, you may prefer the Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard, while if you have a small business, the answer on which is best will be different.

Then there’s Oalso ption B: Get a more flexible travel credit card. For example, The Platinum Card from American Express awards 5x Membership Reward points per dollar on American Airlines ticket purchases (made directly with the airline) and includes Priority Pass access. The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is another great choice for travelers who want some built-in travel protections and bonus points without being locked into earning miles with American Airlines.

For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum card, please click here.

Featured image by Zach Griff/The Points Guy


This is The Points Guy’s permanent page with the best current cards for American Airlines flyers, so you can bookmark it and check back regularly for updates. Keep in mind you may see some reader comments referring to older offers below.

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.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.