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Which American Airlines Credit Card Should You Choose?

The top ones all offer similar rewards on purchases with the airline, so your decision may hinge on annual fees and perks.
Sept. 13, 2019
Airline Credit Cards, Credit Cards
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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 CardCiti® / 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 perkNoneFirst checked bag free for cardholder and up to 4 traveling companions on your reservationFirst checked bag free for cardholder and up to 8 traveling companions on your reservationFirst checked bag free for cardholder and up to 4 traveling companions on your reservation
Sign-up bonusEarn 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 openingEarn 60,000 AAdvantage® bonus miles after making your first purchase in the first 90 days and paying the $99 annual fee.

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 $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® has an annual fee of $99. It’s not waived in the first year.
  • 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.

›› MORE: Best travel credit cards with no annual fee

Rewards on spending

There’s no difference among these cards when it comes to the points they earn on American Airlines purchases. (More on that below.) 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.

Sign-up bonus

NerdWallet values an AAdvantage mile at about 1 cent per point on average for domestic travel. This makes the welcome offer on the American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp Card 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 60,000 AAdvantage® bonus miles after making your first purchase in the first 90 days and paying the $99 annual fee..

Note, however, that the AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard® may offer the easiest-to-snag bonus: 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.

›› MORE: Airline credit cards that offer free checked bags

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 over 50 exclusive airport lounges and 60 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.
  • Owners of the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® 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.

The Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® also comes with priority boarding. You can also get preferred boarding with the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® and the AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®. The American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp Card doesn’t offer any boarding privileges.

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

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.

All four cards charge around the same ongoing APR.

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.

A card like the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card lets you redeem your earnings as statement credits for a variety of travel purchases. It earns 2X miles on every purchase, plus 10X miles on Hotels.com through January 2020 when booked through the hotels.com/venture link.

At an annual fee of $0 for the first year, then $95, the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card offers the same enhanced earnings rate as the American Airlines co-branded cards, but on a wider range of purchases and with greater redemption flexibility.