Why changes at American Airlines made me re-think my credit card strategy

May 21, 2020

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I have been a huge American Airlines fan all my adult life. I was Executive Platinum for the past four years, and even after deciding to switch my business to Delta and Alaska Airlines, I remain Platinum Pro. However, changes to the AAdvantage program and cobranded credit cards got me to rethink my strategy. Here’s why I decided to move on from Barclays and shift my focus to American Express credit cards.

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Background

When I first got into the world of points and miles (and was trying to reach status with American), I also got the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®. That was my go-to card for many years. It got me a big sign-up bonus and into the Admiral’s clubs, but it also allowed me to spend my way (at least partly) towards status since I could earn up to 10,000 Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) after spending $40,000 on the card in a calendar year.

Then I learned about the Barclaycard AAdvantage® Aviator™ Red World Elite Mastercard®. I managed to get another big sign-up bonus and after I had it for a while, I upgraded to Barclays’ top-tier AAdvantage Aviator Silver Mastercard. There was no sign-up bonus, and not everyone can upgrade from the Red to the Silver card, but it was well worth it to me at the time.

Instead of having to spend $40,000 to receive 10,000 Elite Qualifying Miles, I could spend $20,000 for 5,000 EQMs and then earn another 5,000 by spending another $20,000. Even better? It allowed you to earn up to $6,000 in Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQDs) each year – $3,000 in EQDs for the first $25,000 in spend on the card, and another $3,000 if you spent another $25,000.

Back when it only took $12,000 in spend to qualify for Executive Platinum status, this got me halfway there (at least on spend). I was able to use that to qualify for AA status in 2018 and 2019.

Related: Should you upgrade Aviator Red to Aviator Silver?

A change in benefits

Sadly the benefit was slashed drastically. Now you can only spend your way to $3,000 in EQDs. At the same time, AA raised the spend requirement for its top tier status to $15,000 per year. Ouch. Of course this was all before AA slashed elite requirements in the wake of coronavirus. For 2020, you’ll only need to spend $9,000 and fly 60,000 EQMs for status for next year although that wasn’t the case when I made the switch.

Related: Complete guide to elite status during the coronavirus pandemic

Suddenly putting all my spending on that Barclay card didn’t make much sense, especially when I was missing out on transferrable currency from Chase and American Express.

I also knew I would no longer be able to qualify for AA’s top status. I don’t have the kind of money it would take to spend my way to Executive Platinum.

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

Exploring alternatives

I figured if I was going to be a mid-level elite, I might as well try something new. AA’s changes got me curious about checking out the competition. So last summer, I signed up for a Delta Air Lines status challenge. Beyond that, the Delta cobranded cards offered a chance to maintain status via credit card spending.

Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card

If you spend $25,000 in a calendar year on the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card ($99 annual fee; waived for the first year; see rates and fees) or Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card ($250 annual fee; see rates and fees), you can get a spend waiver for Silver, Gold or Platinum status. (To get the waiver for Delta Diamond status you’d have to put $250,000 in spend in a calendar year on the card!).

So I opened the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card ($550 annual fee; see rates and fees). With this card you can earn 15,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after spending $30,000 in a calendar year. You’ll be able to earn this bonus up to four times, giving you 60,000 MQMs a year in addition to the spend waiver.

American Express Delta SkyMiles Reserve Card. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)
American Express Delta SkyMiles Reserve Card. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

 

Because of the coronavirus, American Express is also giving your extra earning power on groceries. Through July 2020 you earn 4x miles at U.S. supermarkets. There’s also the usual bonuses for dining (2X) and Delta tickets (3X).

The Platinum Card® from American Express

The other American Express card I love is the one I’ve held the longest…I’ve had an American Express Platinum Card on and off since 2001! I love it because it earns so many points on travel bookings (5X on tickets booked directly with the airline or Amex Travel), gets me into Centurion lounges, provides an up to $200 annual airline fee credit and an up to $200 annual credit for Uber.

American Express Platinum card. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)
American Express Platinum card. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

 

One of my favorite benefits of holding the American Express Platinum card is that it gives you automatic Gold status in several elite programs including Hilton. Plus, I get elite perks with several rental car companies, including Hertz and National. The card has a $550 annual fee (see rates and fees).

The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card

And that leads me to my new favorite card: The American Express Hilton Aspire card. The generous welcome bonus of 150,000 Hilton Honors points after you spend $4,000 in purchases in the first three months of account opening had me intrigued. It may not get me airline elite status, but it offers valuable hotel perks and a generous return on my spending.

Hilton Honors American Express Aspire card. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)
Hilton Honors American Express Aspire card. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)

Related: How to choose the best Hilton credit card for you

The card also comes with Hilton Diamond status for as long as you have the card. While the card has a big annual fee of $450 (see rates and fees), there are other valuable inclusions like an up to $250 annual Hilton resort credit, up to $250 yearly airline credit and a free weekend night when you open the account and each year on your card anniversary.

I decided to go for it, and I’m loving the card. I got the spend bonus and have already been able to enjoy my Diamond status with free meals at a Hilton in Seattle. I also got the resort credit already…for a now-cancelled trip to Tahiti that I have rescheduled for September. (Fingers cross we can travel by then).

Bottom line

The reduced benefits towards American Airlines elite status don’t make putting everyday spending on my cards worth it anymore. Why get just one AAdvantage mile per dollar spent when I could be getting 3x points on the Aspire card (TPG pegs that at a 1.8% return) or 12x on groceries at U.S. supermarkets?

While none of us are really traveling right now, I’m keeping all my American Express cards and moving away from American Airlines and towards Delta. I’m glad to not have to put all my spending on one card like I was doing for several years with Barclays. I’m planning on spending $25,000 in a calendar yar on that Delta Reserve card to get the spend waiver. I’ll put the rest of my spend on my other Amex cards, which provide so many great spending incentives. Of course, I’ll also use my Chase cards.

At least for now.

Featured photo by Emilija Manevska/Getty Images

For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Gold card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Platinum card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Reserve card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Hilton Aspire card, click here.

Featured image by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy.

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