Which American Airlines Credit Card Should You Choose?

The top cards offer similar rewards on spending with the airline, so your decision may hinge on fees and perks.

Robin Saks FrankelJune 1, 2020
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American Airlines is the world's largest airline, and as part of its AAdvantage frequent flyer program, you can fly just about anywhere planes go using their award miles.

One of the fastest ways to earn AAdvantage miles is by using an American Airlines co-branded credit card. But with multiple cards to choose from, it can be a challenge to know which one is right for you.

All of the cards offer sign-up bonuses and enhanced earnings rates on American Airlines purchases, not to mention in-flight discounts on food and drink. But they differ significantly when it comes to annual fees and perks.

Here's a comparison of some of the most popular American Airlines co-branded consumer credit cards:

The basics at a glance

American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card

Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®

Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®

AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®

Rewards

• 2 AAdvantage miles for each $1 spent at grocery stores, including grocery delivery services

• 2 miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases

• 1 mile for every $1 spent on other purchases

• 2 AAdvantage miles for every $1 spent at gas stations and restaurants

• 2 miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases

• 1 mile per dollar spent on all other purchases

• 2 AAdvantage miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases

• 1 mile for every $1 spent on all other purchases

• 2 AAdvantage miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases

• 1 mile for every $1 spent on all other purchases

Annual fee

$0

$99, waived for first 12 months

$450

$99

Free checked bag perk

None

First checked bag free for cardholder and up to 4 traveling companions on your reservation

First checked bag free for cardholder and up to 8 traveling companions on your reservation

First checked bag free for cardholder and up to 4 traveling companions on your reservation

Sign-up bonus

Earn 10,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles and receive a $50 statement credit after making $500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after $2,500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening* (This offer is no longer available on our site)

Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $5,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

Earn 50,000 AAdvantage® bonus miles after making your first purchase and paying the $99 annual fee in full within the first 90 days.

Nerd tip: The AAdvantage® Aviator® Silver Mastercard® is another American Airlines co-branded credit card, but it's available only as an upgrade from the AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®. The card earns 3 AAdvantage miles per $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases; 2 miles per $1 on hotels and car rentals; 1 mile per $1 on everything else. The annual fee is $195. For more information about the AAdvantage® Aviator® Silver Mastercard®, see our review.

What's different?

Annual fee

A notable difference among these co-branded American Airlines cards is the yearly cost of carrying them.

  • The American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card has an annual fee of $0, making it the cheapest of the options to carry. (Of course, its perks aren't nearly as robust as those you'll find on other American Airlines co-branded cards, so it's not automatically the best choice for everyone.)

  • At the midrange, the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® has an annual fee of $0 intro for the first year, then $99, waived for the first 12 months. This essentially gives you a year to try out the card before you decide whether it's worth keeping around.

  • The AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard® is also at the midrange, with an annual fee of $99. That fee is not waived in the first year, and the card's ongoing bonus rewards aren't as varied as those on the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®. But it does have unique features of its own. (More on that later.)

  • The priciest card of the bunch is the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®. It carries a hefty annual fee of $450. But in exchange for that fee, it comes laden with perks and privileges that you won't be able to get with any of these other American Airlines co-branded cards.

Rewards on spending

There's no difference among these cards when it comes to the points they earn on American Airlines purchases. But it's worth noting that only two of them offer double points on spending beyond American Airlines:

  • The American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card earns 2X miles on grocery stores.

  • The Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® earns 2X miles on restaurants and gas stations.

Nerd tip: NerdWallet values American miles at 1 cent each. This is a baseline value, drawn from real-world data on hundreds of economy routes, not a maximized value. In other words, you should aim for award redemptions that offer 1 cent or more in value from your American miles.

Sign-up bonus

The welcome offer on the American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card is a pretty sweet deal for a $0-annual-fee card: Earn 10,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles and receive a $50 statement credit after making $500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.

Of course, the other cards (with annual fees) offer higher sign-up bonuses, and they all offer a similar number of upfront miles:

  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®: Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after making $2,500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.

  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $5,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.

  • AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®: Earn 50,000 AAdvantage® bonus miles after making your first purchase and paying the $99 annual fee in full within the first 90 days. Note that this may be the easiest bonus to snag. You can qualify for it after making just one purchase — no spending threshold to meet — and paying the annual fee.

Baggage benefits

The stripped-down American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card doesn't cost you anything to carry, but it also does not offer a free checked bag perk, which is a big drawback.

Both the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® and the AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard® offer a free checked bag for you and up to four traveling companions on your reservation. Even if you're a solo flyer who travels only once a year, this perk can easily pay for the cost of the annual fee.

The premium Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® covers a free checked bag for you and up to eight companions traveling on your reservation. For families who travel in a pack, this can save them a bundle on baggage fees.

Other perks

Thanks to its big annual fee, the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® comes with some perks the other cards can't match:

  • It includes Admirals Club membership, which gives access to nearly 50 exclusive airport lounges plus partner lounges worldwide. Members can bring their immediate family or up to two guests with them into the lounge. Annual membership rates for the Admirals Club depend on your status with the airline. But if you're only a member of the AAdvantage program and lack any kind of elite status, it would cost you $650 a year after Feb. 1, 2019.

  • It comes with one statement credit per account every five years for up to $100 for either the Global Entry or TSA Precheck application fee.

  • Cardholders have a shot at earning 10,000 Elite Qualifying Miles if they spend $40,000 or more in eligible purchases during a calendar year. Earning EQMs put you on track for elite status with American, which comes with its own list of benefits.

But the AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard® also carries perks that you won't find among the other four:

  • It offers a way to earn a companion certificate each year once you meet a spending threshold. Terms apply.

  • It features an optional "Flight Cents" program, which lets you round up purchases to the nearest dollar and use that money to buy AAdvantage miles.

  • You'll get up to a $25 statement credit on in-flight Wi-Fi each year.

Big spenders eyeing the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® should note: Every cardmembership year you spend $20,000 or more on the card and renew it, you'll also get a $125 American Airlines flight discount.

All cards except for the American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card offer some kind of early boarding privileges.

Issuers

Three of the cards — the American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card, the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® and the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® — are issued by Citibank, which means they come with features like Citi Entertainment and Citi Concierge.

The AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard® is issued by Barclays and comes with its own set of perks.

What's the same?

AAdvantage rewards on AA spending

All four cards earn AAdvantage miles at a rate of 2X miles per $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases.

The cards all also offer a 25% in-flight discount on food and beverage purchases.

No 0% intro APR offers — with one exception

None of the cards offers a 0% APR on purchases, so if you were hoping for a little interest-free breathing room on a big-ticket item, you're better off elsewhere.

However, the AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard® does offer an intro APR period on balance transfers. You get a 0% introductory APR for the first 15 billing cycles following each balance transfer that posts to your account within 45 days of account opening, and then the ongoing APR of 15.99% - 24.99% Variable APR.

Ongoing APRs among the four cards differ slightly, but not enough to be a deciding factor.

How to choose

Someone who tends to fly alone, with a carry-on and doesn't want to be bothered with an annual fee is likely best suited for the American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card.

If you fly round-trip at least once a year with one or more travel companions, it makes sense to spring for either the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® or the AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®. The first checked bag on an American flight costs $30 one-way, so the luggage fees for a round-trip flight for two will run you $120 without a free-checked-bag perk. That cost would outweigh those cards' annual fees.

If an elite experience is what you're after, and you can pledge loyalty to the American Airlines brand, the annual fee of $450 on the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® will get you access to the exclusive Admirals Club lounge for you and your family. None of the other co-branded cards can offer that.

Keep in mind that a one-day pass to an Admirals Club lounge is $59 per person, with up to three children under 18 admitted for free if accompanied by an adult day pass visitor. A one-day pass is available at select locations. If you fly only a handful of times a year, you'll come out ahead owning a less expensive card and just buying lounge access as needed.

Other options

If you don't relish the idea of being restricted to a particular airline or you want to use your rewards on something other than flights, choose a general travel rewards card that earns points that you can use any way you'd like on flights or nights.

Consider a card like the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card. There's an annual fee, but it earns 2X back on all purchases — not just on American Airlines flights. The card also lets you redeem your earnings as statement credits for a variety of travel purchases — not just on American Airlines flights.

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