Credit card review: AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard

May 25, 2020

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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with the latest credit card information.

At TPG, our top priority is providing our readers with the information you need to make educated decisions about travel and your rewards-earnings strategy. This is not the best time to travel, domestically or internationally, as airlines have cut major parts of their route network. But we are sharing this offer because it could provide value to cardholders for future travel once coronavirus concerns have subsided.


AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard Overview

The AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard is a solid choice for American Airlines fliers looking for elite-like perks and a strong welcome bonus. The modest $99 annual fee can easily be offset by perks like a first checked bag free and in-flight discounts.  Card Rating*: ⭐⭐⭐½

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

American Airlines cobranded cards have seen some recent devaluations across the board. Citi cut valuable travel insurance benefits and Barclays announced negative changes to its Aviator credit cards. However, the AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard still has a lot to offer travelers.

American Airlines is rather unique in that it’s one of the only major travel companies to have credit cards issued by two different banks. That means Barclays and Citi have to compete against each other for a share of the entry-level card market. This competition is great for consumers, which translates to higher bonuses and more lucrative perks.

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

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In This Post

Who Is This Card For?

Whether you are a loyal American Airlines customer or just a frequent flyer looking to diversify your points and miles portfolio, the AAdvantage Aviator Red has something for you. The card offers some nice perks when you fly American, including preferred boarding and your first checked bag free.

For those who are more interested in stocking up on AAdvantage miles as part of a diverse points and miles strategy, the sign-up bonus and Flight Cents feature can help with that. Flight Cents rounds up your card purchases to the nearest dollar, allowing you to earn more AAdvantage miles.

(Photo by DANIEL SLIM/AFP via Getty Images)
(Photo by DANIEL SLIM/AFP via Getty Images)

If you plan on flying American (or its partners) regularly, you may get more out of a high-tier card like the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® or the AAdvantage Aviator Silver World Elite Mastercard. Both come with higher annual fees, but offer more benefits for loyal American Airlines customers.

A Sign-up Bonus without a spending requirement

The Aviator Red is currently offering 60,000 AAdvantage bonus miles to new cardholders. The best part? There isn’t a minimum spend requirement. So as long as you pay the $99 annual fee and make one purchase (even as small as a pack of chewing gum) within the first 90 days of account opening, you’ll earn the bonus miles.

TPG values AAdvantage miles at 1.4 cents a pop, so the mileage bonus alone is worth up to $840. If you’re savvy in how you use the companion certificate, the overall sign-up bonus could potentially be worth $1,200 or more. The annual companion certificate (issued when you spend $20,000 and keep your account open 45 days after your anniversary date) is good for one guest. All you have to do is pay $99 plus taxes and fees.

(Photo by John Gress/Corbis via Getty Images)
(Photo by John Gress/Corbis via Getty Images)

Main benefits and perks

The Aviator Red Mastercard has a small list of perks that can offer decent value when you fly American:

Anniversary Companion Certificate – Each year, you can earn a companion certificate ($99 fare plus taxes and fees) after you spend at least $20,000 on your card and keep it open for 45 days after your anniversary.

Inflight Wi-Fi Credits – You’ll get up to $25 in statement credits annually for inflight Wi-Fi purchases.

Inflight Savings – Receive a 25% discount in the form of a statement credit for inflight food and beverages purchases.

First Checked Bag Free – You and up to four traveling companions will get your first checked bags free when flying domestic itineraries.

Preferred Boarding – You’ll be allowed to board after Priority and before the rest of economy (which means you won’t have to worry about overhead bin space on those smaller planes).

Travel Protections – Receive travel accident insurance, auto rental collision damage waiver, baggage delay insurance, trip cancellation and interruption coverage and more. Now that Citi has cut these benefits across its cards (including the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®), these protections are even more value. The information for the Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.     

How to earn miles

You’ll earn 2x miles on American Airlines purchases with this card, which is pretty standard across cobranded airline credit cards. It doesn’t offer earning opportunities in other categories, but I seldom suggest using a cobranded airline card on everyday expenses anyway. Most of the time, transferable points cards will offer a better return.

Another way to accumulate points with the Aviator Red is through its Flight Cents feature. You can elect to have your purchases rounded up to the nearest dollar. Then the money that is rounded up is used to purchase AAdvantage miles at a discounted rate. Typically, buying American miles is expensive (currently upwards of 5.05 cents per mile when you buy the lowest amount, 2,000 for $101 including taxes) unless you buy in serious bulk and take advantage of promotions. With the Flights Cents program, you’re essentially buying miles for 2 cents each, without having to buy 150,000 miles at a time.

Of course, buying miles generally isn’t ideal. It really only makes sense when you’re trying to top off your account balance for valuable redemptions like an international business/first class award. If that fits that bill, the Flight Cents program can help you out.

How to redeem miles

You’re getting the most out of your miles when you redeem them for award flights, specifically premium cabin partner bookings. However, that isn’t the only way to get serious value out of your AAdvantage miles. American Airlines has been trending towards fully dynamic pricing for a while now, so while it still publishes an award chart these days, it’s only really relevant on partner flights.

The 60,000-mile bonus alone is enough for a one-way business class ticket on Japan Airlines to Japan or Korea. Budget travelers can find domestic MileSAAver flights under 500 miles as low as 7,500 one-way (not including reduced mileage awards or economy web specials), so you could stretch that sign-up bonus out to four round-trip tickets.

Keep in mind that American Airlines is also part of the Oneworld alliance, which means you can use your AAdvantage miles to book excellent award flights pretty much anywhere in the world. This is one of the reasons why it’s important to have a diverse points and miles portfolio (and cobranded airline cards that can help you stock up miles), even if American Airlines isn’t your favorite U.S. carrier.

Related reading: Maximizing redemptions with American Airlines AAdvantage

The Cathay Pacific A350-1000 business class cabin. (Photo by JT Genter / The Points Guy)
American Airlines is part of the Oneworld alliance, meaning you can book extremely valuable award flights — like a business class seat with Cathay Pacific — with your AAdvantage miles. (Photo by JT Genter / The Points Guy)

Which Cards Compete With the Aviator Red?

The most direct competitor to the Aviator Red is the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®. The two cards are similar, both offering 2x miles on eligible American Airlines purchases and similar perks such as first checked bags free and preferred boarding. Both cards charge a $99 annual fee.

The Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select does earn additional rewards at restaurants and gas stations, but the Aviator Red comes with better travel protections and the ability to earn a companion certificate. Plus, the Aviator Red has a much more attainable sign-up bonus.

Related: Check out our full Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select card review

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

For those who are looking to get a bit more out of their cobranded AAdvantage card, both Citi and Barclays offer more premium card options.

The Barclays AAdvantage Aviator Silver World Elite Mastercard isn’t currently open to applications, but you can request an upgrade from the Aviator Red. It comes with a $195 annual fee, but additional perks like the ability to earn up to two companion certificates in a year and EQMs/EQDs (when you hit certain spending requirements throughout the year).

The Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard is a top-tier card that charges a $450 annual fee. You’ll receive full Admirals Club membership (which makes up for the annual fee alone when you take full advantage of it), plus perks like priority check-in and boarding, Global Entry/TSA PreCheck application fee credit (up to $100) and the ability to earn 10,000 Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) after you spend $40,000 in purchases within the year.

Bottom Line

With a low annual fee and an extremely generous sign-up bonus, the Aviator Red doesn’t have to be your primary spending card in order to be worth it. The sign-up bonus alone makes this card a serious contender, in my opinion. For those who do fly American often, it also offers some nice perks that help enhance your flight experience.

You don’t have to be a loyal American Airlines customer to take advantage of this offer. It’s always advisable to keep a points/miles balance with multiple loyalty programs so you can take advantage of deals and discounts when they come up, no matter the airline. The Aviator Red offers an easy way to rack up some points without requiring thousands of dollars in spending up front.

Featured photo by The Points Guy

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

WELCOME OFFER: 80,000 Points

TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,600

CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners

*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.

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More Things to Know
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,000 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
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  • Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on orders over $12 for a minimum of one year on qualifying food purchases with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
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Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
15.99%-22.99% Variable
Annual Fee
$95
Balance Transfer Fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good

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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