Which American Airlines credit card should you choose?

Options abound but travel experts offer their picks for the best cards for American loyalists

Which American Airlines credit card should you choose?

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If you’re a big fan of American Airlines, you might be dazzled (and a bit confused), by the lengthy menu of choices for its airline-branded credit cards.

There are, at present, 10 different cards from three different issuers. But they can come in handy if you fly with the airline.

Geoff Whitmore, correspondent for travel blog Johnny Jet, flies with the airline fairly often. “I always have an American Airlines card open so I can take care of my free checked bags,” he says.

He also likes priority boarding afforded by the card because it means there’s usually some space in the overhead bin when he gets to his seat. “If I have a carry-on, I don’t want to be stuck at the end of the gate checking it,” he explains. “It kind of defeats the purpose.”

So, how do you choose the best American Airlines card, or at least the best one for you?

We spoke with travel veterans about their favorite American Airlines cards. Here’s the roundup:

See related: American Airlines AAdvantage Dining guide, How to save reward points on American Airlines flights

Guide to American Airlines credit cards

Compare fees, rewards, perks and extras:  

Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite

Anual fee
  • $450.
Sign-up bonus
  • 50,000 AAdvantage bonus miles after spending $5,000 in 3 months.
In-flight discount
  • 25%.
No foreign transaction fees
  • Yes.
Extra bonus on certain categories
  • 2 miles per dollar spent on American Airlines purchases.
  • 1 mile per dollar spent on everything else.
Limit on miles earned
  • No.
First checked bag free
  • Yes, for up to 8 companions.
Priority boarding
  • Yes, for up to 8 companions.
Reduced mileage awards
  • Up to 7,500 miles.
Redeem miles rebate
  • No.
Benefits
  • Admirals Club membership, plus access for up to 10 friends/family.
  • Priority check-in and security screening.
  • 10,000 Elite Qualifying Miles after spending $40,000 every year.
  • Dedicated concierge.
Global Entry/TSA Precheck credit
  • Yes, up to $100 every five years.
Card network
  • Mastercard.

Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite

Anual fee
  • $99, waived the first year.
Sign-up bonus
  • 60,000 AAdvantage bonus miles after spending $3,000 in 3 months.
In-flight discount
  • 25%.
No foreign transaction fees
  • Yes.
Extra bonus on certain categories
  • 2 miles per dollar spent on American Airlines, restaurant and gas purchases.
  • 1 mile per dollar spent on everything else.
Limit on miles earned
  • No.
First checked bag free
  • Yes, for up to 4 companions.
Priority boarding
  • Yes, for up to 4 companions.
Reduced mileage awards
  • Up to 7,500 miles.
Redeem miles rebate
  • 10% every year, up to 10,000 miles.
Benefits
  • Spend $20,000 every year and receive a $100 flight discount.
Global Entry/TSA Precheck credit
  • No.
Card network
  • Mastercard.

Citi AAdvantage Gold World Elite

Anual fee
  • $50, waived the first year.
Sign-up bonus
  • 25,000 AAdvantage bonus miles after spending $750 in 3 months.
In-flight discount
  • 25%.
No foreign transaction fees
  • No.
Extra bonus on certain categories
  • 1 mile per dollar spent on every purchase.
Limit on miles earned
  • No.
First checked bag free
  • No.
Priority boarding
  • No.
Reduced mileage awards
  • Up to 5,000 miles.
Redeem miles rebate
  • No.
Benefits
  • Concierge.
Global Entry/TSA Precheck credit
  • No.
Card network
  • Mastercard.

CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select World

Anual fee
  • $95, waived the first year.
Sign-up bonus
  • 70,000 AAdvantage bonus miles after spending $4,000 in 3 months.
In-flight discount
  • 25%.
No foreign transaction fees
  • Yes.
Extra bonus on certain categories
  • 2 miles per dollar spent on American Airlines, telecommunication, car rental and gas purchases.
  • 1 mile per dollar spent on everything else.
Limit on miles earned
  • No.
First checked bag free
  • Yes, for up to 4 companions.
Priority boarding
  • Yes, for up to 4 companions.
Reduced mileage awards
  • Up to 7,500 miles.
Redeem miles rebate
  • No.
Benefits
  • 1 free companion ticket after spending $30,000 every year.
  • Personal business assistant.
  • Travel and car rental insurance.
  • Travel and emergency assistance.
Global Entry/TSA Precheck credit
  • No.
Card network
  • Mastercard.

Barclaycard Aviator Silver World Elite Mastercard

Anual fee
  • $195.
Sign-up bonus
  • No.
In-flight discount
  • 25%.
No foreign transaction fees
  • Yes.
Extra bonus on certain categories
  • 3 miles per dollar spent on American Airlines purchases.
  • 2 miles per dollar spent on hotel and car rental purchases.
  • 1 mile per dollar spent on everything else.
Limit on miles earned
  • No.
First checked bag free
  • Yes, for up to 8 companions.
Priority boarding
  • Yes, for up to 8 companions.
Reduced mileage awards
  • Up to 7,500 miles.
Redeem miles rebate
  • 10% every year, up to 10,000 miles.
Benefits
  • Spend $30,000 a year and get 2 companion passes (up to $99 each).
  • Earn 5,000 Elite Qualifying Miles after spending $20,000 a year (up to 10,000 miles).
  • Earn $3,000 Elite Qualifying Dollars for every $25,000 you spend (up to $6,000).
  • Dedicated concierge.
Global Entry/TSA Precheck credit
  • $100.
Card network
  • Mastercard.

Barclaycard Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard

Anual fee
  • $95.
Sign-up bonus
  • 50,000 AAdvantage miles after making the first purchase in the first 3 months and paying the annual fee.
In-flight discount
  • 25%.
No foreign transaction fees
  • Yes.
Extra bonus on certain categories
  • 2 miles per dollar spent on American Airlines purchases.
  • 1 mile per dollar spent on everything else.
Limit on miles earned
  • No.
First checked bag free
  • Yes, for up to 4 companions.
Priority boarding
  • Yes, for up to 4 companions.
Reduced mileage awards
  • Up to 7,500 miles.
Redeem miles rebate
  • 10% every year, up to 10,000 miles.
Benefits
  • $100 flight discount if you spend $30,000 in a year.
  • Earn $3,000 Elite Qualifying Dollars when you spend $25,000 annually.
Global Entry/TSA Precheck credit
  • No.
Card network
  • Mastercard.

Barclaycard Aviator Blue Mastercard

Anual fee
  • $49.
Sign-up bonus
  • None.
In-flight discount
  • 25%.
No foreign transaction fees
  • Yes.
Extra bonus on certain categories
  • 2 miles per dollar spent on American Airlines purchases.
  • 1 mile per dollar spent on everything else.
Limit on miles earned
  • No.
First checked bag free
  • No.
Priority boarding
  • No.
Reduced mileage awards
  • Up to 5,000 miles.
Redeem miles rebate
  • No.
Benefits
  • Earn $3,000 Elite Qualifying Dollars when you spend $25,000 annually.
Global Entry/TSA Precheck credit
  • No.
Card network
  • Mastercard.

Barclaycard Aviator Mastercard

Anual fee
  • None.
Sign-up bonus
  • None.
In-flight discount
  • 25%.
No foreign transaction fees
  • No.
Extra bonus on certain categories
  • 1 miles per dollar spent on American Airlines purchases.
  • 1 mile per $2 spent on everything else.
Limit on miles earned
  • No.
First checked bag free
  • No.
Priority boarding
  • No.
Reduced mileage awards
  • No.
Redeem miles rebate
  • No.
Benefits
  • None.
Global Entry/TSA Precheck credit
  • No.
Card network
  • Mastercard.

Barclaycard Aviator Business Mastercard

Anual fee
  • $89, waived the first year.
Sign-up bonus
  • No.
In-flight discount
  • 25%.
No foreign transaction fees
  • Yes.
Extra bonus on certain categories
  • 2 miles per dollar spent on American Airlines, office supplies, telecommunication and rental car purchases.
  • 1 mile per dollar spent on everything else.
Limit on miles earned
  • No.
First checked bag free
  • Yes, for up to 4 companions.
Priority boarding
  • Yes, for up to 4 companions.
Reduced mileage awards
  • Up to 7,500 miles.
Redeem miles rebate
  • No.
Benefits
  • Earn 5% mileage bonus annually.
  • Spend $30,000 annually and get one free companion pass (up to $99).
  • Earn 10,000 Elite Qualifying Miles after spending $40,000 every year.
  • Earn $3,000 Elite Qualifying Dollars if you spend $25,00 annually.
Global Entry/TSA Precheck credit
  • No.
Card network
  • Mastercard.

American Express/American Airlines Business Extra Corporate

Anual fee
  • $50.
Sign-up bonus
  • None.
In-flight discount
  • None.
No foreign transaction fees
  • No.
Extra bonus on certain categories
  • $50 AA airfare discounts for every $5,000 spent (up to $1,000 per card member annually).
  • 4 Business Extra points per $20 on American Airlines and participating airlines airfare.
  • 1 Business Extra point per $20 spent on all purchases.
  • Up to 6% rebate on company spending on American Airlines airfare (up to $1.5 million per company/year).
Limit on miles earned
  • Yes.
First checked bag free
  • No.
Priority boarding
  • No.
Reduced mileage awards
  • No.
Redeem miles rebate
  • No.
Benefits
  • Rebates on American Airlines airfare.
  • Global assist hotline.
  • Worldwide ATM access.
  • Flight discounts.
  • Business travel accident and baggage insurance.
Global Entry/TSA Precheck credit
  • No.
Card network
  • American Express.

Best American Airlines card for frequent flyers

The experts’ pick for frequent flyers:

The reason it pulls ahead of the pack for true road warriors: It grants access to American Airlines’ Admirals Club lounges. “If you’re a frequent flyer, in an airport you really want that oasis of calm,” says Matthew Kepnes, travel blogger and founder of Nomadic Matt.

With this card, “you can go into the lounges even when you’re not flying American Airlines,” says Julian Mark Kheel, senior editor for The Points Guy.

And you also get up to 10 lounge membership cards a year for family and friends, so that they can enjoy the perk, too. The card is currently offering a 75,000-point sign-up bonus after an initial $7,500 spend within the first three months of owning the card.

This card also makes it easier to maintain elite status with the airline by awarding 10,000 “elite qualifying miles” for $40,000 in annual spending.

And it has a few features that will streamline your travel, including:

  • First checked bag free for up to eight people in your traveling party.
  • Priority boarding, which will put you in the fifth of nine boarding groups.
  • Priority check-in, with a designated airline check-in counter.
  • Priority screening, with a special TSA line where available.
  • Global Entry/TSA Precheck credit of up to $100 every five years.

Priority screening and TSA Precheck “are useful even if you only fly once or twice a year,” says Kheel, who estimates that it can cut 15 to 20 minutes of standing in line.

You also get a 25 percent discount on in-flight purchases (such as food and drinks) on American.

But the card comes at a cost that might chafe more occasional travelers: a $450 annual fee.

While many of the less expensive cards also offer free checked bags, in-flight food and drink discounts and (lesser) priority boarding, “what separates this product is lounge access and elite qualifying miles,” says Whitmore.

Best American Airlines cards for occasional flyers

Out of the 10 available American Airlines cards, experts picked two cards for occasional flyers:

“For the occasional traveler, I would recommend the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select,” says Whitmore. Currently, new cardholders get 50,000 bonus miles if they spend $2,500 within the first three months.

Kheel put both options on his list for occasional flyers.

  • Citi’s card comes with a $99 annual fee (waived for the first year), while Aviator Red is $95. 
  • Both offer your first checked bag free (for you and up to four companions) and priority boarding (again for you and up to four additional people). 
  • And you get a 25 percent discount on in-flight food and drinks.

“American is a bit unusual, as they are the only airline in the U.S. that offers credit cards from different [issuers],” Kheel says. A holdover from the U.S. Airways-American Airline merger, card applicants can select from both Citi and Barclays. And the airline also has a corporate branded offering from American Express.

The Aviator Red has one distinctive feature: Lower requirements for elite status with the airline, Kheel says. Which means that you can earn more miles from your travel, plus it’s easier to score upgrades, he says.

Aviator Red is also Kepnes’ pick for occasional travelers, especially when you compare the annual fee with the free checked bags it offers. “If you’re a family of four and fly once a year, you’ll save more than the [annual] fee,” he says.

But he concedes that it’s similar to the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select.

Another nice perk for both Platinum Select and Aviator Red: When you redeem your miles with American Airlines, you’ll get 10 percent of those miles automatically rebated to you – up to 10,000 miles a year.

"If you’re talking about a card you’re going to have in your wallet, you should be earning extra miles when you go out to eat and when you fill up your car."

Best overall American Airlines travel cards

So, out of a dozen options, which are the best overall travel cards with the most perks at the lowest price?

Either Citi’s AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite or Barclays’ Aviator Red, according to our experts.

However, the card issued by Citi gets Whitmore’s vote for best all-around American Airlines travel card.

“You get the same benefits” as the more expensive versions and save money with free checked bags. But the 25 percent discount on in-flight food and drinks “doesn’t really move the needle, in my mind,” he says.

Kheel agrees. He also likes that the card awards 2 miles for every $1 spent at restaurants and gas stations. “The other cards don’t have this. If you’re talking about a card you’re going to have in your wallet, you should be earning extra miles when you go out to eat and when you fill up your car.”

Consider the business versions of American Airlines cards

“If you have a business, you may want to consider the business versions of these cards,” says Kheel. Business cards have different bonus categories.

The CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard is also offering a sign-up bonus of 70,000 miles if you spend $4,000 within the first four months you have the card.

“That’s a really good haul of miles that you can use to get three or four [domestic] flights on American,” says Kheel.

See related: Best airline cards, New bonus categories for the Citi/AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard

Editor's note: Card APRs mentioned in this story may have been updated since publication. See the card issuer’s site for the most current offering.


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Updated: 11-16-2018