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American Airlines credit cards

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The AAdvantage American Airlines credit cards offered by Citi hand out pretty good signup bonuses. While most airline credit cards only give 20-25,000-mile bonuses, American Airlines can give up to 30,000. There are a number of cards, which differ in network, rewards rate, annual fee, and type (personal vs. business).

How to choose the best American Airlines credit card:

  • Check the signup bonus: sometimes, two cards with the same fees and same overall rewards rate will have different signup bonuses. Do the research – or better yet, let us do it for you.
  • Weigh the annual fee against the perks: The higher-fee cards have better fringe benefits, so do a comparison and decide how much goodies like rental car insurance mean to you.
  • Choose a network: The AAdvantage cards are carried on either MasterCard or American Express. AmEx has better network benefits but has nowhere near the acceptance rate that MasterCard has. “Sorry, we don’t take American Express” is a commonly heard phrase.

Where the American Airlines credit cards stand out:

Reduced Mileage Program: Most of the Citi American Airlines cards offer the Reduced Mileage program, which lets you redeem fewer miles for travel to select destinations. Each card has a different destination list for different times: for example, you can only fly reduced mileage to the West Coast, Northeast and Canada from April to June of 2011. Still, the mileage savings are significant: 17,500 for coach, down from 25,000. If you redeem exclusively for reduced mileage travel, your rewards rate gets bumped up ~30%.

Higher-than-normal signup bonuses: AAdvantage signup bonuses are better than the standard 20-25k miles, and can go as high as 30,000. However, other credit cards have better signup bonuses. Especially with travel credit cards, you’ll find waiting for a killer signup bonus well worth your while.

Miles don’t expire: As long as you’re actively using your miles/card, your miles will never expire. This puts AAdvantage miles ahead of Bank of America Worldpoints and Citi ThankYou Points, which expire in 5 and 3 years respectively.

Extensive airline alliances: American is part of the OneWorld alliance, which includes British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Canada Airlines and others. It also has frequent flyer partnerships with Alaska, JetBlue, Kingfisher, Aer Lingus, Hawaiian and more. For the full list, click here.

Where the American Airlines credit cards are about average:

Rewards rate: The standard is 1 mile per $1 spent, and double miles when you fly on American Airlines. While this is fairly standard for airlines cards, here are some other cards for comparison:

  • The Virgin America credit card has a 1.5% base rate and 3% on Virgin.
  • The Capital One Venture Rewards and Discover Escape give a flat 2% on all purchases, not just on a specific airline
  • The PenFed Platinum Travel Rewards gives 5% back on travel, but is really, really hard to qualify for

Where the American Airlines credit cards fall short:

Foreign transaction fee: This 3% charge levied on all overseas transactions can be brutal if you often travel abroad. Granted, it is American Airlines, but we think that airlines cards would benefit from waiving the F/X fee given the number of cardholders who are international jetsetters.

Baggage fees: Some airlines waive first (and sometimes second) checked bag fees, like Southwest and JetBlue. Others, like Delta, will waive the fees if you hold the airline credit card. American does neither: you check your bag, you pay the fee.