Editorial Review

Citi AAdvantage Executive Review: Your Key to the Club

Frequent American Airlines flyers have one big reason to consider this $450-a-year card: It comes with access to the carrier's exclusive airport lounges.

Gregory KarpJuly 8, 2019

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Our Take

3.7

NerdWallet rating 

The Bottom Line: If access to Admirals Club airport lounges is a high priority for you, then this is your card. If you could take it or leave it, then look elsewhere, because you can get better rewards for a lot less money.

Citibank Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard® Credit Card

on Citibank's application

on Citibank's application

Annual Fee

$450

Regular APR

17.99% - 25.99% Variable APR

Intro APR

N/A

recommended credit score

Pros & Cons

Pros
  • Signup benefits

  • Free checked baggage

  • Early boarding group

  • No Foreign Transaction Fees

Cons
  • Has annual fee

  • Needs excellent credit

Alternate Pick: Flexibility

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

Rewards you can use on any airline

If you spread your flying among multiple airlines, you're probably better off with a general travel card. This card gives you 2 miles per dollar spent on all purchases. Miles can be redeemed at 1 cent apiece for statement credit against any travel expense. There's a great sign-up bonus, too. Annual fee: $0 for the first year, then $95.

Read our review

Compare to Other Cards

Annual Fee

$450

Annual Fee

$0 for the first year, then $99

Annual Fee

$0

Regular APR

17.99% - 25.99% Variable APR

Regular APR

18.24% - 26.24% Variable APR

Regular APR

18.24% - 26.24% Variable APR

Intro APR

N/A

Intro APR

N/A

Intro APR

None

Recommended Credit Score
Recommended Credit Score
Recommended Credit Score

Full Review

For frequent flyers of American Airlines who enjoy escaping the harried atmosphere of the terminal and the boarding gate areas, the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® provides access to the carrier’s exclusive Admirals Club airport lounges, which can provide a peaceful respite from travel stress.

It’s less expensive to get this airline credit card than to pay cash for a lounge membership. And the card provides the coveted lounge perk to up to 10 authorized users on the card, a feature not offered by similar club cards from airline competitors. That’s potentially worth hundreds of dollars over buying multiple or household Admirals Club memberships.

Still, even with the card, that premium experience comes at a premium cost annually: $450.

The card is full of features and perks, including a generous policy for free checked bags. But ultimately the decision comes down to whether you want Admirals Club access, something no other credit card can provide.

Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®: Basics

  • Card type: Airline.

  • Annual fee: $450

  • Sign-up bonus: Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $5,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening*. (Note that you can’t get the sign-up bonus for this card if in the past 24 months you opened or closed any Citi AAdvantage card, other than the American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card or the CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard®.)

  • Rewards: Earn 2 miles for every $1 spent on American Airlines purchases and 1 mile per $1 on everything else. According to NerdWallet valuations, AAdvantage miles are worth an average of 1 cent apiece for domestic travel and 5 cents for international travel.

  • Interest rate: The ongoing APR is 17.99% - 25.99% Variable APR.

  • Foreign transaction fees: None.

  • Other benefits:

    • Admirals Club membership.

    • First checked bag free on domestic American Airlines itineraries for you and up to eight companions traveling with you on the same reservation.

    • Earn 10,000 Elite Qualifying Miles after you spend $40,000 in purchases within the year.

    • VIP airport treatment: Priority check-in, airport screening (where available) and early boarding when flying American Airlines.

    • Global Entry or TSA Precheck application credit: Receive a statement credit, up to $100 every 5 years, as reimbursement for your application fee.

Why you might want the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®: About the perks

Admirals Club membership

Getting in. Admirals Clubs have over 50 locations worldwide, along with 60 partner lounges. The card gets you into the lounge, along with your immediate family or up to two traveling guests. Note that starting Nov. 1, 2019, same-day boarding passes on American Airlines or partner airlines will be required for entry. So if you’re at the airport to fly United Airlines, for example, you can’t use the American Airlines lounge.

Why you would want a lounge membership. Besides more comfortable seating and quieter surroundings than most terminal gates offer, Admirals Clubs have free snacks, drinks, showers, office space and personalized travel assistance.

Savings. Without the card, a one-day pass costs $59. If you value the card solely for lounge access, you would have to use the lounge eight times a year to make up its annual fee. The cash cost of an annual membership varies, but a regular frequent flyer without elite status would pay $650 a year after Feb. 1, 2019, when prices are scheduled to rise. By that measure, the $450 annual fee seems like a bargain for the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®.

Authorized user benefit. For no extra cost, you can add up to 10 authorized users who get their own cards and can get into lounges without the primary cardholder present. That can be a huge benefit over buying multiple memberships. Read the fine print, though. Authorized users don’t get some membership benefits, such as access to non-Admirals Club partner lounges or special pricing on conference rooms in the lounges.

Free checked-bag allowance

The number of people on your reservation who can get free checked bags totals nine, including your own. That’s a generous allotment among airline co-branded cards. At $30 each, one-way checked-bag fees add up. This card can save you up to $540 round trip if you have a big party on your itinerary.

Elite Qualifying Miles

If you’re going for elite status and you’re willing to spend a lot on the card, you’ll get 10,000 AAdvantage® Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) after you spend $40,000 in purchases within the year. To learn more about elite status in the frequent flyer program, see NerdWallet's complete guide to the American Airlines AAdvantage program.

Why you might want a different card

  • Annual fee: You can get a lot of value for the annual fee of $450. But that hefty price will be a non-starter for some. You can find travel credit cards that charge no annual fee, but you'll miss out on some of the luxury perks offered by premium travel cards like the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®.

  • Low ongoing rewards rate: The card is a mediocre tool for racking up frequent-flyer miles. You get 1 mile per dollar spent in most cases and double miles for American Airlines purchases. Even the basic American Airlines card, the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®, offers 2 miles per dollar spent at restaurants and gas stations on top of double miles with the airline. That card has an annual fee of $0 for the first year, then $99. It, too, offers a checked bag benefit and priority boarding, although you won't get lounge access.

  • Lack of flexibility: If you spread your flying among multiple airlines, a general travel card might be a better fit. For those looking for premium perks including travel transfer partners, good choices include the Chase Sapphire Reserve® or The Platinum Card® from American Express. For a lower annual fee in a general travel card, consider the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card. If you mostly fly a different major airline, then that airline's own premium card with airport lounge access would be a better fit.

Is the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® right for you?

Frequent flyers on American Airlines have one primary reason to get the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®: Admirals Club airport lounge access. It’s an easy decision to forgo paying cash for the stand-alone club membership, which is more expensive, and instead get the card, which carries the same benefits. You’ll also get enhanced perks over the lower-fee American Airlines co-branded cards.

But if American isn’t your go-to airline, a general travel card — some of which have premium features and similar fees — might suit you better.