Ok. If I lived somewhere that forced me to fly American Airlines, I’d probably move, because I’m a reasonable person. But if you’re stuck with them, or, worse, choose to fly them, what options do you have? Not great ones. But not nothing.
- I think the best cards to have for flying American are the Chase Sapphire Reserve + Chase Freedom Unlimited combo; you will be able to get some MileSAAver award tickets, and when you can’t, you can use the points as cash for any flight. These cards earn much faster for the same spending than American branded cards do, and offer much more flexibility. And, if I wanted the perks offered by an American branded card, I’d get one of those too, but still put my spending on the Chase cards.
Long, boring version:
Let me start by getting my biases off my chest: American used to be a pretty good airline, but then US Airways management took it over when they merged and since then it’s been a steady decline into crap, perfectly symbolized by their new characterless logo. Their apparently demoralized staff seem annoyed that I’m on their plane. (Of course, that’s what everyone tells me about their experience with United, whereas I usually have good experiences with them.)
Not only that, but it now seems that, as part of US Airways’ shining legacy, every last American flight routes through Phoenix or Charlotte. I’ve never actually been to Charlotte, but it doesn’t seem on the way to anywhere I ever want to go, and Phoenix airport is the fucking worst; I always end up walking miles and miles there. At least United’s hubs are in places like Denver and Chicago, which are vaguely central. I appreciate American’s decline because it makes United, the dog-killing, doctor-beating airline, look passable by comparison, and I have some bizarre tribal loyalty to United. (Meanwhile, Delta seems to cruise along with mostly content passengers, and their Twitter team has been amazingly helpful to me via direct message. But Fuck Delta. For no real reason.)
My real grouse with American is that they’re the one domestic airline which can’t receive transfers of flexible points (i.e. Chase Ultimate Rewards, Amex Membership Rewards, or Citi
FuckYou ThankYou). You’d think Citi would fill this gap, since they issue AA credit cards and already have a transferable points system, but no. There is a gaping void. Chase transfers to United. Amex transfers to Delta. Nothing transfers to American. Well, except Marriott points, but it’s pretty indefensible to collect them via everyday spending since last August’s 33% earning slash on SPG branded cards.
Ok, finally: If you need to fly American as your primary airline, for whatever reason, here are what I see the best credit card options as being.
AA branded credit card from Citi or Barclays: They all earn about the same, which is to say slowly, when compared to flexible points cards. The best thing I can say about spending on an American branded card is that AAdvantage miles give you the most award ticket options for American flights, and the cards get you a few perks (e.g. free checked bags, early boarding, lounge access, additional status qualifying miles), depending on the card you have, how much you spend yearly on it, and whether or not you have American elite status. But I hate the idea of earning airline miles, fairly slowly, that can only be used for award travel on that single airline and its partners.
Chase Sapphire Reserve + Chase Freedom Unlimited: Personally, this is what I would do. This combo, which costs effectively $150 per year, will earn 50%-150% more award points than the same spending would yield on an American branded card. You can’t transfer the points to AAdvantage miles; however, American MileSAAver awards are often available as British Airways award tickets, and you can transfer the Chase points to British Airways. (I have done this many times.) An awesome side benefit to this, if you don’t have elite status on American, and, like me, tend to book award tickets at the last minute, is that BA does not charge the obnoxious $75 “close-in” booking fee that American charges for award tickets issued within three weeks of departure. With that said, you will have fewer award ticket choices for flying American, because American AAnytime awards (which are often all that is available) are not available via British Airways at all — only MileSAAver (and sometimes not even those).
The thing is, though, is that if you can’t get a BA award ticket for an AA flight, you always have the option of using your Chase points as cash towards any flight, and each point is worth 1.5 cents. So if you need a $500 American flight that you can’t otherwise get as a BA award ticket, it’ll cost 33,333 points, which is comparable to a one way mid-tier AAnytime award. But if the cash price of a ticket is very expensive, then you’ll need a whole lot of points. But at least you have 50%-150% more points than the AAdvantage miles you would have earned by spending on an American branded card.
So, yeah, you might not have an American award ticket option via BA that you would have had at AA, but I’d still rather have the highly flexible, quickly earned Chase points, as opposed to American miles. Your mileage may vary. And, if I wanted the benefits the American branded cards offer, I’d get one of those too, but not spend on it (unless I were chasing bonus status qualifying miles that you can get on a couple of their cards).
Cash back/travel back: The best option here is a combo of the Barclays Uber + Alliant FCU Visa Signature cards, which, for $59/year total, will get you 2.5%-4% back on all your spending, which you can apply towards American Airlines tickets.
I still think this is an inferior option to the Chase combo above, which will get you 2.25%-4.5% back towards any flight on any airline, while still giving you the possibility of getting MileSAAver American award tickets via British Airways, as well as award tickets on several other domestic and international airlines and their partners.
Also, if you’re in Phoenix or Charlotte, have you considered leaving?