AAdvantage Aviator Red Review: Rich and Easy-to-Snag Sign-Up Bonus

Earn the bonus after making one purchase and paying the annual fee. Other perks include free checked bags and a companion pass.
Sara RathnerSep 9, 2021

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Our Take

4.8

NerdWallet rating 

The bottom line: This card offers benefits frequent American Airlines flyers will appreciate. If you’re not loyal to a specific airline, you won’t get as much value.

AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®

AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®

Annual Fee

$99

Regular APR

15.99% - 24.99% Variable APR

Intro APR

0% intro APR for 15 months on balance transfers made within 45 days of account opening.

Recommended Credit Score

Quick Facts

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • New cardholder bonus offer
  • Intro APR period
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Companion benefit
  • Early boarding
  • Free checked bag

Cons

  • Requires good/excellent credit
  • Has annual fee

Alternate Pick: American Airlines Perks

Citibank AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard Credit Card
NerdWallet rating 

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

More useful bonus categories

Earn 2 miles per $1 on American Airlines purchases, and at restaurants and gas stations. Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after you spend $2,500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening. The annual fee is $0 intro for the first year, then $99.

Read our review

Compare to Other Cards

NerdWallet rating 
NerdWallet rating 
NerdWallet rating 
Annual Fee

$0

Annual Fee

$95

Annual Fee

$250

Regular APR

11.99% - 22.99% Variable APR

Rates & Fees

Regular APR

15.99% - 22.99% Variable APR

Regular APR

See Pay Over Time APR

Rates & Fees

Intro APR

0% intro APR on Purchases for 14 months and 10.99% intro APR on Balance Transfers for 14 months

Intro APR

N/A

Intro APR

N/A

Recommended Credit Score
Recommended Credit Score
Recommended Credit Score

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Full Review

Qualifying for a five-figure sign-up bonus usually involves spending a four-figure sum in a short period of time (no pressure!). That’s not the case with the AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®, which offers an easy-to-snag sign-up bonus. Make one purchase and pay the annual fee within the first 90 days, and you’re done. Any purchase of any amount will do. That means buying a pack of gum can be the first step toward a deeply discounted vacation.

The AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®, issued by Barclays, features perks that frequent American Airlines flyers would appreciate. But like many co-branded airline cards, the benefits are very much tied to American. If you’re not loyal to any specific airline, a general travel rewards credit card will likely be a better fit.

Note that Barclays also offers the AAdvantage® Aviator® Silver Mastercard®, a more high-end American Airlines card. It’s available if you request an upgrade from the AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®.

Here’s how the AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard® and AAdvantage® Aviator® Silver Mastercard® compare.

AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®

AAdvantage® Aviator® Silver Mastercard®

AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®
NerdWallet rating 
Learn More
AAdvantage® Aviator® Silver Mastercard®
NerdWallet rating 
Learn More

Annual fee: $99.

Annual fee: $199.

Sign-up bonus: Earn 60,000 AAdvantage® bonus miles after making your first purchase and paying the $99 annual fee in full within the first 90 days.

Sign-up bonus: None.

Ongoing rewards:

  • 2 miles per $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases.

  • 1 mile per dollar on all other purchases.

Ongoing rewards:

  • 3 miles per $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases.

  • 2 miles per $1 spent on hotels and rental cars.

  • 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases.

Additional benefits:

  • Free checked bag and preferred boarding for you and up to four companions.

  • Annual companion certificate ($99 plus taxes and fees) after spending $20,000.

  • Up to $25 per anniversary year in statement credits for in-flight Wi-Fi purchases.

  • 25% off in-flight food and beverage services.

Additional benefits:

  • $100 Global Entry credit every five years.

  • Free checked bag and preferred boarding for you and up to eight companions.

  • Two companion certificates ($99 each plus taxes and fees) per anniversary year after spending $20,000.

  • Up to $50 per anniversary year in statement credits for in-flight Wi-Fi purchases.

  • Up to $25 per day in statement credits for in-flight food and beverage purchases.

AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®: Key features

Card type: Airline.

Annual fee: $99.

APR: 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.

Sign-up bonus: Earn 60,000 AAdvantage® bonus miles after making your first purchase and paying the $99 annual fee in full within the first 90 days.

Rewards:

  • 2 AAdvantage miles per $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases.

  • 1 mile per dollar spent on all other purchases.

NerdWallet values American miles at 1.2 cents 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 1.2 cents or more in value from your American miles.

Foreign transaction fee: None.

Other perks:

  • Free checked bag on domestic American Airlines flights for cardholders and up to four traveling companions on the same reservation.

  • Preferred boarding on all American Airlines-operated flights for cardholders and up to four traveling companions on the same reservation.

  • Annual companion certificate.

  • Discounts on in-flight purchases: Get up to $25 back per anniversary year as statement credits on in-flight Wi-Fi purchases, and save 25% on in-flight food and beverage purchases on American Airlines-operated flights (you’ll get the discount in the form of a statement credit).

Advantages of the AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®

A generous sign-up bonus without a spending goal

Most of the time, if you want a travel rewards card's sign-up bonus, you have to spend a certain amount — somewhere between $500 and $5,000 — in the first three to six months you have the card. Unless you typically spend enough or have a major purchase on the horizon, reaching the spending minimum can be tough on your budget. That’s why the sign-up bonus on the AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard® stands out: Earn 60,000 AAdvantage® bonus miles after making your first purchase and paying the $99 annual fee in full within the first 90 days.

Annual companion certificate

If you spend $20,000 in an anniversary year and keep the card open for 45 days after your anniversary date (meaning the day you get charged the annual fee again), you’ll get a companion certificate that will allow you to bring another traveler along for $99 (plus taxes and fees).

Extras that make travel easier

You'll get one free checked bag and preferred boarding for you and up to four companions on the same American Airlines reservation. With the first checked bag costing $30 per flight for domestic travel, this perk could easily offset the $99 annual fee. You’ll also get a $25 statement credit per year for in-flight Wi-Fi purchases, plus 25% off in-flight food and beverage purchases (the discount will be in the form of a statement credit).

Can be combined with other American Airlines cards

American Airlines is unique in that it offers co-branded credit cards from two different issuers: Barclays and Citi. That means you can have multiple cards all feeding bonus miles directly into your AAdvantage account. And since the AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard® grants you its large sign-up bonus after just one purchase, you don’t have to worry about meeting two spending minimums at the same time.

Combine that card with, say, the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® and earn even more AAdvantage miles via its similarly generous sign-up bonus. Plus, you'll earn richer rewards on everyday spending. Unlike the AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®, the Citi co-branded card earns double miles on more than just eligible American Airlines purchases. Restaurants and gas stations are bonus categories, too.

Turn pocket change into miles

The optional Flight Cents program allows you to round up purchases to the nearest dollar and use that extra cash to buy AAdvantage miles. You set a threshold of $1 to $500 (or opt out by keeping your threshold set to $0), and the “spare change” out of all purchases up to that threshold will be set aside until the day before your billing cycle ends. Whatever you’ve saved up will buy miles at a rate of 0.5 AAdvantage miles per penny. (Put another way, that's a cost of 2 cents per mile.)

Is that price per mile a good deal? The answer is a resounding “maybe” because you can buy miles at a lower rate during promotional periods, and the discount you’d get varies based on how many miles you buy. Either way, buying miles in a frequent flyer program (as opposed to earning them by taking flights or using a credit card) is usually not the smartest strategy, since the cash price per mile is typically much higher than the value you get when you redeem the miles.

Drawbacks and alternatives

Ongoing rewards rates are limited

Earning 2 miles per $1 only on American Airlines purchases puts limits on this card’s long-term potential. That’s where a card like the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® comes out on top, since it earns not just 2 miles per $1 on American Airlines purchases, but also at gas stations and restaurants.

Benefits are American-centric

Free checked bags and in-flight discounts don’t mean much when you don’t fly American Airlines often — or ever. If you want the flexibility to book flights on any airline without blackout dates, consider the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card. You’ll earn 2 miles per $1 on all purchases and can redeem them in the form of a statement credit for recent travel purchases. The card also offers a credit toward the cost of Global Entry or TSA PreCheck. It has a welcome bonus, too: Enjoy a one-time bonus of 60,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening. The annual fee is $95.

If Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card doesn't quite fit the bill, you can also take a look at Nerdwallet's list of best credit cards.

Should you get the AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®?

If you frequently book travel on American Airlines, you’ll get value out of the AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®, especially if you couple it with the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® to beef up your AAdvantage account. But if you typically fly a different airline, the AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard® won’t have much to offer you.

Frequently asked questions