TPG reader question: Which benefits are better — airline credit card perks or low-tier elite status?

Oct 20, 2020

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Editor’s note: This article is part of a column to answer your credit card questions. If you would like to ask us a question, tweet us at @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook or email us at tips@thepointsguy.com

The pandemic has given new meaning to everything, and that includes the value of elite status with an airline. From elite status extensions to reduced criteria to become an elite to comprehensive loyalty program changes, 2020 has been a doozy when it comes to points and miles updates.

The current slowdown in travel is also the ideal time to evaluate your credit card strategy, including any cobranded airline cards you may have. TPG is here to help you make sense of the latest card offers as well as what belongs in your wallet — and what doesn’t.

Given the shifting environment of airline status benefits — as well as credit card benefits — let’s take a deeper dive into one specific program and accompanying airline credit card as an example.

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In this week’s edition of our reader question series, Kalen asks:

I often find myself considering whether I should cancel my Barclays AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard since I have AAdvantage Gold elite status. Can you compare the benefits between the card and entry-level Gold status?

Kalen, TPG reader

In the U.S., airline credit card benefits and annual fees generally follow the same theme, with specific perks differing slightly between airlines. Among the “big three” U.S. airlines of American, Delta and United, each has at least one of the following cards:

The information for the AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard and 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.    

For the sake of this specific reader question, we’ll be comparing the benefits that come with the mid-tier $99-per-year Advantage Aviator Mastercard with the perks of reaching AAdvantage Gold status.

Related: Best American Airlines cards of 2020

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

Earning AAdvantage Gold status

American reduced the requirements for earning elite status (or moving up a tier) in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The cuts apply to Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs), Segments (EQSs), and Dollars (EQDs) for all elite status tiers, including Gold.

(Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy)

Additionally, American further made changes for the 2021 elite status year as travel looks to remain diminished moving into next year.

First, all elite-qualifying flight activity flown between Oct. 1, 2020, and Dec. 31, 2021, will count towards your 2021 elite-status tracker. That gives you a head start to reaching elite status for next year.

American will also lower the qualifying-thresholds across the board. Any status earned in 2021 will be valid through Jan. 31, 2023. Here’s what it takes to earn low-tier Gold status:

Gold
Elite Qualifying Miles (EQM) 20,000
Elite Qualifying Segments (EQS) 20
Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQD) $2,000

Related: What is American Airlines elite status worth in 2020?

Perks of AAdvantage Gold

According to TPG, low-level Gold status is worth approximately $980. Those benefits include:

  • Upgrades on flights under 500 miles
  • 500-mile upgrades
  • 40% mileage bonus
  • Priority check-in, security and boarding
  • Checked bag fee waiver (first bag, for the elite member only)
  • Complimentary same-day standby
  • Priority phone line
  • Complimentary access to preferred seats/Main Cabin Extra (24 hours out)
  • Partner benefits with Oneworld Ruby status, although this only provides priority check-in and standby.

Related: Everything you need to know about American AAdvantage

The business class cabin in an American Airlines Airbus A321T. (Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy)

Perks of the AAdvantage Aviator Mastercard

If you have the AAdvantage Aviator Mastercard as Kalen does, you can take advantage of the following perks:

Comparing Gold status with the AAdvantage Aviator Mastercard

AAdvantage Gold elite status AAdvantage Aviator Mastercard
Free check bag(s)  Yes, one bag for elite member only Yes, one bag for you and up to four companions when traveling domestically
Check-in perks Priority check-in line None
Boarding perks Priority boarding (Group 4) Preferred boarding (Group 5)
Security perks  Priority security line None
Onboard perks  Complimentary access to Preferred seats at booking and Main Cabin Extra seats 24 hours before departure. Eligible for 500-mile upgrades, but prioritized last behind other AAdvantage elites 25% inflight food and beverage, $25 annual WiFi credit
Customer service perks Priority phone line, complimentary same-day standby None
Other 40% mileage bonus Anniversary Companion Certificate after spending $20,000 on the card, select travel protections when making purchases

 

Low-tier status perks or credit card perks?

Having low-tier elite status can really elevate the flying experience, even if upgrades and other perks of higher-tier status may not be within reach. For instance, preferred and Main Cabin Extra seating can make a tangible difference for a longer flight. There’s the added benefit of priority access at the airport and even a dedicated phone line in case you have unexpected delays or issues.

You’ll get none of those things with a credit card.

Related: A complete guide to American AAdvantage 

On the other hand, a cobranded card like the AAdvantage Aviator Mastercard can be invaluable for the extra free checked bags available to traveling companions on the same reservation. Additionally, several trip and purchase protection benefits can be a valuable perk, even for non-American Airlines purchases.

There is certainly value in having both airline elite status (even if it’s a low-tier) as well as a cobranded airline card. However, the pandemic may force your hand if you’re traveling less. In that case, it may make sense to downgrade a card to a no-annual-fee version and use the perks of elite status while you still have them. 

Featured photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy. 

Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®

Based on TPG’s most recent valuations, the 50,000 miles are worth $700. In addition, you can earn 10,000 Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) toward elite status after spending $40,000 in a calendar year. As of July 23, 2017 this is the only card that offers Admirals Club lounge access so if you are an AA flyer this card might make sense for you.  Aside from lounge access the primary cardholder will receive a Global Entry application fee credit every 5 years, first checked bag free for up to 8 travel companions on domestic itineraries and a 25% discount on eligible in-flight purchases on American Airlines flights.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $5,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Admirals Club® membership for you and access for up to two guests or immediate family members traveling with you
  • Earn 10,000 AAdvantage® Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) after you spend $40,000 in purchases within the year
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases
  • Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases and 1 AAdvantage® mile for every $1 spent on other purchases
  • First checked bag is free on domestic American Airlines itineraries for you and up to 8 companions traveling with you on the same reservation
  • The standard variable APR for Citi Flex Plan is 15.99% - 24.99%, based on your creditworthiness. Citi Flex Plan offers are made available at Citi's discretion.
Regular APR
15.99% - 24.99% (Variable)
Annual Fee
$450
Balance Transfer Fee
3% of each balance transfer; $5 minimum.
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.

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.