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Let the perks roll in! Between easier-to-attain rewards flights, a bonus on redeemed miles, free checked bags and priority boarding, the Citi AAdvantage MasterCard is enough to make you sit up and take notice. But don’t commit to just any American Airlines credit card you see – while the MasterCard is clearly a good choice for any American flyer, the three Amex AAdvantage cards aren’t necessarily as good. We’ll help break down which ones are worth your time, and which aren’t worth a second glance.
The Citi Platinum Select AAdvantage from MasterCard
\The best of the AAdvantage credit cards, the Platinum Select earns 1 mile per $1 on all purchases and 2 miles per $1 on American Airlines purchases. There’s also no cap on rewards. Even better: At the end of each year, you’ll also be reimbursed for 10% of the miles you’ve already redeemed. With the 10% annual rebate, your rewards rates become 1.11% and 2.22%, although only up to a certain point—the rebate’s capped at an extra 10,000 AAdvantage miles a year.
And then the perks kick in. The first checked bag free for you and up to 4 companions, plus you get priority boarding, 25% off in-flight purchases, and a $100 flight discount for domestic airfare if you spend $30,000 in a year. These perks are clearly worth the annual fee – the free checked bags alone can relieve you of as much as $250 in charges every roundtrip.
The Citi AAdvantage from American Express
The Citi AAdvantage is a plain-vanilla, easily-overlooked card – and rightfully so. This no-frills card earns a flat 1 mile per $1—no bonuses on airline purchases. The trade-off is a lower annual fee—at $50, nearly half that of the others—and no cap on rewards—unlike the Select card. And after you spend $750 in the first four months, you’ll earn 20,000 AAdvantage Miles—a pretty easy task.
The Citi Select AAdvantage from American Express
The Select is the awkward middle child of these three cards. It, too, earns 1 mile per $1 on all purchases—no more, no less—and those rewards are capped at 100,000 AAdvantage miles a year. The fee is higher as well, at $85. Given the lack of perks and lower signup bonus than the MasterCard, we suggest that you fork over the extra $10 and get a great return on that money.
The ins and outs of AAdvantage Miles
AAdvantage miles are fine if you know how to use them. NerdWallet values American Airlines miles at around $0.01 cent apiece. You can, however, get more bang for your buck if you fly internationally—as much as $0.02. Book outside the holiday season, and your points will go further. Redemption is flexible, too. There are no blackout dates, and your miles won’t expire assuming your account is active at least once every 18 months.
Each card also gives you the opportunity to save on miles with the Reduced Mileage Awards program. You can save up to 7,500 AAdvantage miles per roundtrip on select destinations, and the list changes quarterly. Many of these cities are admittedly obscure, but a few major destinations spot the list; as of November 2012, theyt include Nashville, Raleigh/Durham, Washington, D.C. and Toronto.
The program is less generous than first appears, though, because of hidden fees. To book, you have to pay a service charge, which ranges from $20 to $35—it depends on the method of booking—so your $75-dollar cash-back value suddenly becomes half that.
The path to elite status
To earn elite status and its accompanying perks—higher mileage bonuses, upgrades, lounge access and more—you’ll have to hit certain thresholds: 25,000 miles for Gold, 50,000 for Platinum and 100,000 for Executive Platinum.
You can get there faster with points, which are distinct from AAdvantage miles. You’ll earn 0.5 points per mile on deep-discount economy flights, 1 point on discount economy and 1.5 on full-fare economy, business, and first-class.
You’ll need to re-qualify for your elite status each year, but if you earn enough—1 million AAdvantage miles to be precise—then you’ll earn lifetime status.
As we’ve said in many a review, the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card is hands-down one of the best travel cards. The reason is its rewards program, where you’ll earn 2% on every purchase and can redeem your miles for any travel expense – not just one airline, or even just on airfare in general. Even if you are a fan of American, this card’s still worth a look.