American credit cards: pointless, stupid, or worth having? (updated Jan 2019)

This is now number three in an increasingly boring series. I’ve already covered United and Delta, but I’m too fucking lazy to link to those posts, so if you care, just…I don’t know, go to the web site and find them, or something. Do you expect me to do all the work for you?

Anyway, good morning to you. or whenever it is that you’re reading this. Let’s size up the credit card offerings that get you American miles. Short answer: some are maybe worth having, sometimes, but your loyalty to American is costing you award trips because you can’t accumulate the miles as quickly as you can for United and Delta. (Then again, Delta’s friggin’ awards will cost you a billion miles, so you have to figure that in, too.)

American’s a slightly different beast than United or Delta when it comes to points and miles, because 1) they have seventy billion different credit cards, from two different banks (Citi and Barclays) and 2) you can’t transfer any Chase Ultimate Rewards, Amex Membership Rewards, or Citi FuckYou ThankYou points to American miles.

What you can do is transfer Marriott/SPG points to AAdvantage miles, and you can earn those with the Amex Starwood Preferred Guest cards or Chase Marriott cards. Unfortunately, as of August 1, 2018, it will be quite slow to accumulate AAdvantage miles that way, as opposed to just spending on an American branded card. So, if you’re an American loyalist, for some reason, and you were using the SPG card to earn AAdvantage miles, you probably won’t want to anymore, unless you value that you can use the points for 44 other airlines, giving you a helluva lot more flexibility than, you know, one single airline.

Though in general I think it is stupid to spend on any of these cards because you can do better with flexible points cards, I’m going to lower my standard here compared to my other airline card reviews, since, if you do want to earn AA miles, there aren’t obvious alternatives. What I’m calling “stupid” there, I’m calling “reasonable” here, because if you have to fly American, then you probably need to put your spending on an American branded card. (Unless you’re willing to transfer Chase or Amex points to British Airways, where you can often book AA saver-level award tickets as BA award tickets, or use the points as cash if a BA award ticket isn’t available. It’s probably what I’d do, but I’m not everyone. I have more to say about this here.)

Ok, so, fine, already, is it worth having any of the American AAdvantage credit cards? There are…so many of them.

 

Citi AAdvantage MileUp: This relatively new card has no fee at all, and, unlike their previous no-fee Bronze card, is worth considering. You get a 10,000 mile + $50 statement credit signup bonus. It gets you 2 miles per dollar spent on AA or at grocery stores, and 1 point for everything else. That’s it, but you could do worse if you want to earn AA miles. This card might also be worth a look if you have American elite status, since that grants you some of the perks of the annual fee cards. This card is also a candidate for downgrading from another Citi AAdvantage card, rather than closing the card, because that way you don’t reset the Citi 24-month no-bonus clock, and do better for your credit score. Worth having if you want to avoid closing another Citi AAdvantage card, or have American elite status and want to avoid an annual fee, or don’t care about the perks offered by the other cards. Reasonable to spend on, especially if you spend more at grocery stores than at restaurants.

Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select: $95/year (waived the first year). Nominally, you get 30,000 AA miles for signing up, which is uninspiring, but there are offers for 60,000. You get the same benefits as the Gold, plus 2 miles per dollar spent on AA or at restaurants, first bag checked free, priority boarding, reduced mileage awards, and, happily, a 10% rebate on award ticket redemptions, up to 10,000 miles back per year. (Also available in a business flavor, the CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select, which additionally offers two miles per dollar spent on gas, office supply, and telecom; and you can get a companion certificate for $99+taxes if you spend $30K in a year.) Worth having if you actually use the reduced mileage awards, don’t have elite status on American, or use more than 50,000 miles a year on award tickets. Reasonable to spend on.

Citi AAdvantage Executive: $450/year (not waived first year), with a 50,000 mile signup bonus. The benefits are mostly the same as the Platinum Select, minus the 10% award ticket rebate, plus expedited screening and check-in, and lounge access — for you and any authorized user you designate on the card. Also, significantly, you can also get 10,000 Elite Qualifying Miles, though you have to spend a pretty steep $40,000 for that. Worth having if you and your loved-or-at-least-tolerated ones like the American lounge, and/or don’t have elite status on American. Reasonable to spend on, especially if you’re chasing status by spending.

 

Those are just the cards from Citi. Barclays also has a few, which are sort of inherited from when they offered cards for US Airways, whose executive staff has remade American in its own low-rent image since the merger. American doesn’t even pimp these cards on their own site, but they exist.

Barclays AAdvantage Aviator Red: $95/year. Currently, you get 50,000 miles for signing up, after making just one purchase, which ain’t bad. Its major perks are nearly identical to the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select: 2 miles per dollar spent on American or at restaurants, and 1 mile for everything else; first checked bag free; priority boarding; 10% mileage rebate on award tickets up to 10,000 miles per year, and 25% off in-flight purchases. (Also available in a business flavor, the Barclays AAdvantage Aviator Business, which has the key addition of earning $3,000 Elite Qualifying Dollars for spending $25,000, and also offers two miles per dollar spent on car rental, office supply, and telecom; 5% bonus miles based on your yearly earning; and you can get a companion certificate for $99+taxes if you spend $30K in a year.) Worth having if you don’t have elite status on American; reasonable to spend on, especially so on the business version if you are chasing higher-tier elite status by flying on cheap tickets. Reasonable to spend on.

Barclays AAdvantage Aviator Silver: $195/year. You can only get it by converting from another Aviator card. It’s got all the stuff the Red has, but it’s more helpful for earning status. Each year, you can earn 5,000 Elite Qualifying Miles after spending $20,000, and then another 5,000 for another $20,000. Unlike the Red, or any Citi offering, you can also earn $3,000 Elite Qualifying Dollars by spending an additional $50,000 (ouch), effectively waiving the spending requirement for one tier of status. This card earns a bit better than the Red, at 3 miles per dollar spent on American, 2 on hotel and car rental, and 1 for everything else. Worth having if you don’t have elite status on American. Reasonable to spend on, especially if you buy a ton of American tickets, or are chasing higher-tier elite status by flying on cheap tickets.

Barclays AAdvantage Aviator Blue: $49/year. You can’t apply for this card; you might be able to change another Aviator card to it; I dunno. If so, it gets 2 miles per dollar on AA flights, and 1 on everything else, and nothing else. Not really worth having when you could instead have the Citi MileUp card and get better earnings for free. Reasonable to spend on.

Barclays AAdvantage Aviator: This card has no fee, and you can’t apply for it, only convert another Barclays Aviator family card to it. It earns a deeply sad 0.5 miles per dollar spent, with no other benefits. The only reason to have this card is that downgrading to it from another Aviator card, rather than closing the card, is a good idea, because it’s better for your credit score. Worth having if you want to avoid closing another Barclays Aviator card. Very stupid to spend on.

 

If you really want elite status on American, and spend a fuckton, you could contemplate getting both the Citi Executive and the Barclays Silver, which would help you on both qualifying miles and qualifying dollars. Still, you’d be talking about spending $90,000, not counting annual fees, for a measly 20,000 EQM and $3,000 EQD. That wouldn’t quite qualify you for even entry level status (though you’d need to fly only 5,000 miles in economy, or 2,500 in Business, to get there).

Having flown American a few times recently, I can say without reservation that they suck. Still, if you fly them more than a couple times per year, check bags, and don’t have elite status, it’s probably worth having one of their dumb cards. It’s hard for me to really get enthusiastic about spending on any of them, though, unless you really, really want a higher elite status tier, or you really value American miles that much more over faster-earning, flexible points that can be used for United, Delta, British Airways, and others, or even as cash on American.

2 thoughts on “American credit cards: pointless, stupid, or worth having? (updated Jan 2019)

  1. Jack

    Thanks for breaking this down with actual numbers and why the hell we’d even want these cards (don’t; way too much spend for way too little benefit). Appreciate your honesty, which is seriously so refreshing after reading article after article from blogwhores pushing these cards. Ugh. Please never change.

    Reply
    1. Ivan X Post author

      You’re welcome. Changing sounds hard, so I’ll probably just stay as I am. As far as spend goes, the Barclays AA card has $0.01 minimum spend (you get the bonus after one purchase), so it’s pretty much 60,000 AA for $99, which I think is a pretty solid deal. Otherwise, yeah, the Citi cards have first year free, but it’s the usual minimum spend party.

      Reply

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