Choosing the best credit card for American Airlines flyers
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Editor’s note: This is a recurring guide, regularly updated with the latest information.
With 855 mainline aircraft in its fleet flying to more than 350 destinations in 50 countries, American Airlines is the largest carrier in the world.
Heck, the name “America” is even in the airline’s name, so if you live in the U.S., the odds are high you’ve at least occasionally found yourself flying on American Airlines. Of course, right now, American — along with most carriers — have had to alter their routes substantially. But when normal returns, so will many of American’s routes.
Whether you’re an avid or occasional American Airlines flyer, it can be a good idea to strategize about having a credit card that makes flying cheaper, easier or more rewarding. While 2020 was anything but normal, some temporary changes made cobranded credit cards more rewarding than ever.
Looking forward to the normal days when we again take to the sky, let’s consider ways frequent and infrequent American flyers can bolster their miles, enjoy benefits and even get closer to elite status with the right card(s).
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Best American Airlines credit cards of 2021
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® – Best for occasional American flyers
- CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard® – Best for small-business owners
- AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard – Best for easy-to-earn sign-up bonus
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® – Best for Admirals Club access
- Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card – Best for travel insurance
- Chase Sapphire Reserve®– Best for frequent travelers
- The Platinum Card® from American Express – Best for lounge access
- American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card – Best for avoiding annual fees
Best American Airlines cobranded credit cards
If you’re in the market for an American Airlines-issued credit card, you’ve got choices. Due to the US Airways and American Airlines merger in 2013, there are 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 Chase.
Here’s a comparison of the available Citi- and Barclays-issued American Airlines AAdvantage credit cards 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||2x 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 single purchase within the first 90 days of card opening||$99||2x miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases, 1x elsewhere|
|Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard||50,000 miles after you spend $2,500 on purchases the first three months of account opening.||$99 (waived the first 12 months)||2x miles for every $1 spent at gas stations, restaurants and on eligible American Airlines purchases, 1x elsewhere|
|AAdvantage® Aviator® Business Mastercard||65,000 miles after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days. Additional 10,000 miles when an 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® 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, cable, satellite, car rentals and 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 Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select, Citi AAdvantage Business Platinum Select, AAdvantage Aviator Red and the AAdvantage Aviator Business cards 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 some other Barclays-issued American Airlines cards may only 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. Now here’s a closer look at the best American Airlines cobranded credit cards and what type of American Airlines flyers they serve best.
Sign-up bonus: 50,000 AAdvantage miles after you spend $2,500 in the first three months of account opening
Bonus valuation: $700
Annual fee: $99 (waived the first 12 months)
Benefits: In addition to the current sign-up bonus, 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 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 Airlines 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.
Sign-up bonus: 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 sign-up bonus:
- 2x AAdvantage miles for every $1 spent at grocery stores and on eligible American Airlines purchases — 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 care about waived check bag fees.
For more information, read our AAdvantage MileUp card review.
Sign-up bonus: 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 Wi-Fi purchases, an annual $99 companion ticket after you spend $20,000 on the 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. The category bonuses are fairly standard:
- 2x AAdvantage miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases
- 1x AAdvantage mile on all other purchases
Who should get it: The AAdvantage Aviator Red card is a fantastic option for those who want a big sign-up bonus that can be earned after buying something as small as a pack of chewing gum. The perks are solid for the occasional American Airlines flyer.
Sign-up bonus: 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: $900 to $1,050
Annual fee: $95
Benefits: The AAdvantage Aviator Business Mastercard offers benefits that improve the business traveler experience:
- 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.
Sign-up bonus: 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 12 months)
Benefits: The CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Platinum Select Mastercard offers fewer benefits than the Barclay Aviator Business Mastercard, but small business owners will still find them valuable:
- $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, and 1x miles per dollar spent elsewhere
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 various charges.
For more information, read our CitiBusiness AAdvantage card review.
Sign-up bonus: 50,000 AAdvantage miles after you spend $5,000 in the first three months of account opening.
Bonus valuation: $700
Annual fee: $450
Benefits: In addition to the sign-up bonus, the card comes with the following perks:
- Full Admirals Club membership, including access privileges for authorized users to American Airlines Admirals Club lounges. You are required to show a same-day boarding pass for American or a partner airline to use these lounges.
- First checked bag free for yourself and up to eight traveling companions when traveling on a domestic American Airlines flight
- Priority check-in, airport screening and boarding privileges
- 10,000 Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) after you spend $40,000 in purchases within the year
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 — without the first class upgrades. If earning AAdvantage elite status is important to you, the Executive card offers 10,000 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.
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 rewards, you could pay for your American Airlines ticket with a 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 cobranded American Airlines cards.
|cREDIT Card||Welcome bonus||Annual fee||Earning capabilities|
|Chase Sapphire Reserve||60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 in the first 3 months from account opening.||$550||3x Ultimate Rewards points on travel and dining, 1x elsewhere (10x on Lyft until 2022)|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred||80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months from account opening. Plus earn a $50 statement credit on grocery purchases in the first year of account opening.||$95||2x Ultimate Rewards points on travel and dining, 1 elsewhere|
|The Platinum Card from American Express||75,000 Membership Rewards points after new cardholders spend $5,000 on purchases within six months of account opening. Terms apply.||$550 (see rates & fees)||5x points on airfare booked through Amex or directly with the airlines on up to $500,000 per calendar year, 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 on hotels and cruise lines, 1x elsewhere|
The information for the Citi Prestige Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Let’s take a closer look at these alternate options to see how well they’d work for an American traveler.
Sign-up bonus: 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months from account opening.
Bonus valuation: $1,200
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 Avios 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. You can redeem your points for 1.5 cents each 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.
The card also awards 10x points on Lyft. Its $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. Chase has also added limited-time benefits related to the coronavirus pandemic.
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 canceled.
For more information, read our Sapphire Reserve card review.
Sign-up bonus: 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months from account opening. Plus earn a $50 statement credit on grocery purchases in the first year of account opening.
Bonus valuation: $1,650
Annual fee: $95
Benefits: This card offers double points on all travel and dining purchases (not just American tickets) at a reasonable annual fee. The Ultimate Rewards points earned can be transferred to United, British Airways, Southwest Airlines, and several other airline and hotel programs.
You can also book flights and other travel through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal at a value of 1.25 cents per point. 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.
Welcome offer: 75,000 Membership Rewards points after new cardholders spend $5,000 on purchases within six months of account opening. You may be targeted for a 100,000-point bonus offer through CardMatch (offer subject to change at any time).
Bonus valuation: $1,500
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 — such as 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 with American Express Travel.
Other cardholder benefits include an up to $200 annual statement credit toward incidental airline fees (although not airfare), monthly Uber credits, biannual Saks credits, Marriott elite status, Hilton elite status, Centurion Lounge access, Priority Pass Select membership and much more. Enrollment required for select card benefits.
For more information, read our Amex Platinum card review.
Sign-up bonus: 50,000 Citi ThankYou Points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months of account opening
Bonus valuation: $850
Annual fee: $495
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.
Citi ThankYou Points can be transferred to Oneworld partners such as Cathay Pacific and Qantas or American Airlines 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 back in September 2019 — while still keeping the card’s high $495 annual fee.
For more information, read our Citi Prestige card review.
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 since having all your eggs (er, miles) in one basket is very limiting. American moved to dynamic pricing on award tickets, which has made some awards more affordable but others extremely expensive.
However, if you fly even a few times a year with American, you can save a lot of money with some of the perks provided by the cobranded cards. Perhaps the most valuable is the free checked bags. Many 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.
I like to think of airline credit cards as offering “elite-lite” perks, such as priority boarding and lounge access, 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.
Related: How to avoid checked bag fees
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. You can also fly Iberia business class to Europe for 57,500 miles and avoid some of the nasty fuel surcharges that British Airways is known for.
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), nothing is 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.
When travel is more normal, deciding which card American Airlines credit card is best comes down to how often you fly the carrier, how much you value lounge access, whether you need help achieving elite status and what other cards you have in your wallet.
For most occasional American Airlines flyers, the Aviator Red is the way to go. The card provides a sizable 60,000-mile sign-up 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 also option B: Get a more flexible travel credit card. For example, The Platinum Card from American Express awards 5x points per dollar spent on American Airlines ticket purchases (made directly with the airline) and includes Priority Pass access. The Chase Sapphire Preferred 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
Additional reporting by Chris Dong.
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.
Welcome to The Points Guy!
WELCOME OFFER: 75,000 Points Terms Apply.
TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,500
CARD HIGHLIGHTS: Delta Sky Club and Centurion lounge access, up to $200 annual airline fee credit and up to $200 in Uber savings annually (only for use in the U.S.) (Enrollment required for select benefits)
*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.
- Earn 75,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $5,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership.
- Earn 10x points on eligible purchases on your new Card at U.S. Gas Stations and U.S. Supermarkets, on up to $15,000 in combined purchases, during your first 6 months of Card Membership. That’s an additional 9 points on top of the 1 point you earn for these purchases.
- Enjoy Uber VIP status and up to $200 in Uber savings on rides or eats orders in the US annually. Uber Cash and Uber VIP status is available to Basic Card Member and Additional Centurion Cards only.
- Earn 5X Membership Rewards® Points for flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel. Starting January 1, 2021, earn 5X points on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year.
- 5X Membership Rewards® Points on prepaid hotels booked with American Express Travel.
- Enjoy complimentary access to the Global Lounge Collection, the only credit card airport lounge access program that includes proprietary lounge locations around the world.
- Receive complimentary benefits through American Express Travel with an average total value of $550 with Fine Hotels & Resorts® program at over 1,100 properties. Learn More.
- Get up to $100 in statement credits annually for purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue on your Platinum Card®. That’s up to $50 in statement credits semi-annually. Enrollment required.
- $550 annual fee.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees