American Airlines Credit Cards: Here’s How to Pick the Right One for You

Susan Shain

Susan Shain | Blog

Dec 23, 2018 | Updated May 14, 2019

American Airlines is one of my favorite ways to travel through the sky.

Not only does it offer an abundance of routes to Latin America, which I love to visit, but I’ve also never had major customer service issues with the carrier.

So, with a trip to Argentina soon on the radar, I’m considering applying for an American Airlines credit card. But which one? Frankly, there are too many to choose from.

To help me — and you! — decide, I dug into the details of the different American Airlines cards on offer.

The Basics of the American Airlines Frequent Flyer Program

American Airlines is a member of the oneworld alliance, so you can use AAdvantage miles to fly on any of its 12 partner airlines. You can also fly with several other partners outside the alliance.

American Airlines partner airlines

Image credit: American Airlines

The American Airlines AAdvantage program offers elite status to frequent flyers. You can use a combination of elite qualifying dollars (EQDs) along with either elite qualifying miles (EQMs) or elite qualifying segments (EQSs) to qualify for the four different tiers:

American Airlines elite status

Image credit: American Airlines

When it comes to elite status, credit cards unfortunately aren’t going to help much. The only cards that offer any assistance are the Citi®/AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® and AAdvantage® Aviator™ Business Mastercard®, but they require a lot of spending to earn bonus EQMs or EQDs.

The Benefits of American Airlines Credit Cards

The fastest way to earn AAdvantage miles is with the airline’s co-branded credit cards.

In addition to signup bonuses, all of them earn at least 2X miles per dollar on American Airlines purchases and 1X mile per dollar on everything else. Most earn 2X miles in a few other bonus categories, too.

Another perk of being a cardholder is you won’t have to worry much about your miles expiring. Although AAdvantage miles generally expire after 18 months of inactivity, each mile-earning purchase resets the clock.

Here are two other big (but often overlooked) benefits:

Avoiding basic economy boarding

As you probably know, basic economy tickets are the pits. You have to board dead last, meaning there probably won’t be any room for your carry-on bag.

But if you carry a co-branded American Airlines credit card, you’ll get to board earlier — even if you paid for the ticket with a different card.

When you’re a cardmember, you’ll get to board in at least Group 5 (rather than Group 9 with basic economy and Groups 6–8 with standard economy tickets). Executive cardholders will get to board even earlier, with Group 4.

While you still won’t get to pick your seat, you’re more likely to find overhead bin space. You’ll receive this benefit on all the AA-branded cards in this post, with the exception of the American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card.

Booking reduced mileage awards

Cardholders can also get discounts on tickets purchased using miles. For flights of 500+ miles, you could get 7,500 miles off, and on flights under 500 miles, you could get 2,000 miles off. 

To qualify, you must be a cardholder who is:

  • Traveling entirely within the contiguous United States or Canada
  • Going to or from a destination on AA’s list of reduced mileage awards cities, which changes every few months
  • Booking a flight that has low-level MileSAAver space available (though you can book your seat in another fare class)

Follow the instructions on the reduced mileage awards webpage to book an eligible flight, which includes finding and using the appropriate award code.

You can check availability on the AA website, but if you want to avoid a booking fee you’ll have to book over the phone at 1-800-882-8880. If you book at a travel center you’ll incur a $35 fee for domestic travel or a $45 fee for international travel.

6 American Airlines Credit Cards Go Head-to-Head

While you might see lots of different AA cards floating around the interwebs — like the Aviator Silver or Blue — many aren’t accepting new applications.

Here are the six major American Airlines credit cards that you can apply for today, followed by a detailed breakdown of their features. The first four are issued by Citi, while the last two are issued by Barclays.

In addition to the features in the table below, all the cards offer:

  • 1st checked bag free (with the exception of MileUp)
  • 25% inflight food and beverage discount
  • No foreign transaction fees (with the exception of MileUp)

 

Card Name Annual Fee Perks
American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card $0
  • 25% off inflight food + bev
Citi®/AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® (Review) $99 (waived for first year)
  • Preferred boarding
  • $125 AA flight discount after spending $20,000 in a year
Citi®/AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® $450
  • Admirals Club membership
  • $100 Global Entry/TSA Pre✓ credit
  • Priority check-in, security, boarding
CitiBusiness®/AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard® (Review) $99 (waived for first year)
  • Preferred boarding
  • 25% inflight discount on WiFi
  • $99 companion certificate after spending $30,000 in a year and renewing card
AAdvantage® Aviator™ Red World Elite Mastercard® $95
  • Preferred boarding
AAdvantage® Aviator™ Business Mastercard® $95
  • Preferred boarding
  • $99 companion certificate after spending $30,000 in a year and renewing card
  • $3,000 EQDs after spending $25,000 in a calendar year
Card Name Intro bonus (in AAdvantage miles) 2X Mileage Categories
American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card 10,000 and a $50 statement credit for spending $500 in 3 months
  • AA
  • Grocery stores
Citi®/AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® (Review) 60,000 after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months
  • AA
  • Gas stations
  • Restaurants
Citi®/AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® 50,000 for spending $5,000 in the first 3 months; 10,000 EQMs for spending $40,000 in a year
  • AA
CitiBusiness®/AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard® (Review) 70,000 for spending $4,000 in the first 4 months
  • AA
  • Telecommunications
  • Cable/satellite providers
  • Rental cars
  • Gas stations
AAdvantage® Aviator™ Red World Elite Mastercard® 50,000 for making your first purchase in the first 90 days and paying the annual fee
  • AA
AAdvantage® Aviator™ Business Mastercard® 50,000 for making your first purchase in the first 90 days and paying the annual fee
  • AA
  • Rental cars
  • Office supply stores
  • Telecommunictions

Note the AA-affiliated perks can only be used on flights operated by AA — and, in some cases, on American Eagle-branded flights marketed by AA but operated by other airlines, like Envoy Air and Piedmont Airlines. Check your card’s terms before assuming a particular benefit will work for your flight if it’s not operated by AA.

Citi’s strict application rules state you won’t earn an introductory bonus if you’ve opened or closed a card in the same card family in the past 24 months. So if you get the Platinum card, then the Executive card six months later, you won’t get the second card’s intro bonus. Business and personal cards are separate entities, though, so you could apply for both the Platinum and Platinum Business within two years and get intro bonuses for both.

Other Cards That Can Earn American Airlines Miles

Hoping to book American Airlines flights with frequent flyer miles? You don’t have to limit yourself to AA cards. If you earn miles with any of American’s partner airlines, you could use their miles to fly AA, too.

Here’s an example:

  1. Get the British Airways Visa Signature® Card (Review) and earn 120,000 Avios miles after spending $30,000 within the first year of opening the card.
  2. Since British Airways is part of the oneworld alliance, you can then use those Avios to book a ticket with American Airlines.

So you could explore the world of co-branded airline credit cards to find good options for earning partner airline miles.

For a broader, more complicated strategy, you could use a credit card that earns a specific type of rewards points, transfer them to AA or one of AA’s partner airlines, and then use those miles to book an American Airlines flight. Only certain cards, provided by several different issuers, have this point transfer feature.

Here’s what that could look like:

  1. Get the Chase Sapphire Reserve® (Review) and earn 50,000 Ultimate Rewards (UR) points for spending $4,000 within the first 3 months.
  2. Transfer the 50,000 UR points to Iberia, which is also part of the oneworld alliance.
  3. Use the 50,000 Iberia points to book a flight on American Airlines.

As you can see, that method opens up a world of possibilities. Here’s how you could use cards from several major credit card issuers to snag seats on AA flights, plus some suggested cards from each.

American Express

How to use with American Airlines partners: Transfer Amex’s Membership Rewards (MR) points to British Airways, Hawaiian Airlines, Etihad, or Iberia. The transfer ratio is usually 1:1, or it may change; take note that there’s a $0.0006 fee per point for transfers to U.S. airlines, so choose one of the others.

Our pick

Key Features & Terms

  • $550 annual fee
  • 60,000 bonus MR points after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months
  • 5X MR points per dollar on flights booked directly with airlines or via Amex Travel, and on prepaid hotels via Amex Travel
  • Luxury travel perks and credits

 

Other cards that earn Membership Rewards points

 

Chase

How to use with American Airlines partners: Transfer Chase’s Ultimate Rewards points at a 1:1 ratio to British Airways or Iberia.

Our pick

Key Features & Terms

  • $95 annual fee
  • 60,000 bonus UR points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months
  • 2X UR points per dollar on travel and dining; 1X on everything else

With Chase you have yet another potential strategy. Only three Chase cards allow point transfers to partner airlines and hotels — the Sapphire Preferred and two others noted below — but several other cards earn UR points without the transfer option. You can use one of those other cards to earn UR rewards, then move those rewards to a card that does allow partner point transfers, and be on your merry way.

 

Other Cards that earn Ultimate Rewards points and Allow Point Transfers to Partners

Cards that earn Ultimate Rewards points and Do Not Allow Point Transfers to Partners

 

Capital One

How to use with American Airlines partners: Transfer Capital One miles at a ratio of 2:1.5 to Cathay Pacific, Etihad, Finnair, Qantas, or Qatar.

Our pick

Key Features & Terms

  • $95 annual fee (waived for the first year)
  • 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months
  • 10X miles per dollar at Hotels.com/venture; 2X on everything else

 

Other cards that earn Capital One miles

 

Citi

How to use with American Airlines partners: Transfer Citi’s ThankYou (TY) points at a 1:1 ratio to Cathay Pacific, Etihad, Jet Airways, Malaysia Airlines, Qantas, or Qatar.

Our pick

Key Features & Terms

  • Annual fee: $95, waived for first 12 months
  • 50,000 bonus TY points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months
  • 3X TY points per dollar on travel and gas stations; 2X on dining and entertainment; 1X on everything else

Like Chase above, several Citi credit cards earn ThankYou points, but only a couple allow point transfers to the relevant partner airlines. And again like Chase, you can move rewards from one card that doesn’t offer those point transfer options to another card that does.

 

Other cards that earn ThankYou points

(The Rewards+ only allows point transfers to JetBlue TrueBlue.)

Which American Airlines Credit Card Should You Get?

Still haven’t made a decision yet? Don’t worry — neither have I. But here are my picks for the best American Airlines credit cards, depending on what you’re looking for:

Best All-Around Workhorse

No matter how you look at it, this card is solid. Its annual fee is waived for the first year, it offers 2X miles in the high-spend categories of restaurants and gas stations, and it gets you a slew of AA-affiliated perks.

Best for Generous Bonus Miles and a Low Minimum Spend

If you don’t want to spend a lot of money for a lot of miles, this card’s low barrier to entry is super attractive. Essentially, you’ll pay $95 (the annual fee), and make one purchase of any size, to get 50,000 miles.

Best for a Good, Fee-Free Airline Card

Most airline credit cards come with annual fees of at least $95 or thereabouts, so if you want an airline card without one, this is a smart choice. It earns good rewards for a fee-free card and even comes with a decent intro bonus.

Best for Business Owners

This card’s 70,000-mile introductory bonus is well worth the price of admission. Best of all, you can sign up for it alongside the Platinum Select personal card, snagging you 110,000 AAdvantage miles between the two. (Wondering if you’d qualify for a business card? Here’s what you need to know.)

Best for Frequent AA Flyers

Because of its $450 annual fee, this card’s only good for people who fly AA a lot. The free bags for up to eight companions are perfect for big families, but with this card, you’re mostly paying for Admirals Club airport lounge access for yourself and two guests.

Wrapping Up

If you’re not devoted to American Airlines, we recommend using a general travel credit card — like the ones listed in the “other cards” section above — instead. Since these flexible cards aren’t co-branded with any particular airline, they work well for a variety of travel spending.

Or, if you’re a fan of a different travel service, check out some other co-branded airline and hotel credit cards.

No matter which American Airlines card you choose, be sure to pay your bill in full each month — and enjoy the journey!

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