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Best American Airlines credit cards

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

Summary

Whether you’re a frequent flyer or just travel with your family once a year, these are the American Airlines cards with the best perks and rewards bonuses.

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If you regularly fly American Airlines, you’ve may have noticed that the carrier offers many branded credit cards.

The current menu for new sign-ups includes six different cards from two different issuers – along with some very handy perks that are attached to these rewards cards.

Geoff Whitmore, correspondent for travel blog Johnny Jet, flies with the airline fairly often. And when he does, he brings his American Airlines credit card with him.

“I always have an American Airlines card open, so I can take care of my free checked bags,” he said.

He also likes the priority boarding afforded by the card. This 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 said. “It kind of defeats the purpose.”

With so many American Airlines cards available, how do you choose the best airline-branded card or at least the best one for you?

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

Best American Airlines card for frequent flyers: Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard

The reason that the Citi / Advantage Executive World Elite Mastercard pulls ahead of the pack for true road warriors: It grants access to nearly 50 American Airlines Admirals Club lounges worldwide. (View a list of temporary lounge and club changes and closings due to the pandemic. Many clubs that were closed have now reopened.)

With this card, you gain access to these exclusive clubs, and not only when you’re flying American Airlines. Julian Kheel, senior finance editor for CNN Underscored, said that you can use these clubs even if you are flying with a partner of American Airlines, such as Alaska Airlines or British Airways.

Benét Wilson, senior credit cards editor for The Points Guy, agrees. “This card comes with some pretty sweet perks,” she said.

You also get up to 10 cards for authorized users, who can enjoy the perk, too. And the card is currently offering a 50,000-mile sign-up bonus after an initial $5,000 spend within the first three months of opening the account.

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. Note that for 2021, the Elite Qualifying Dollar requirement to qualify for AAdvantage Gold, Platinum or Platinum Pro status will be waived if you spend $30,000 in purchases with the card for the year.

The card’s rewards program offers 2 miles for every dollar charged for eligible American Airlines products and 1 mile for every dollar spent on other purchases.

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

  • First checked bag free for up to eight people in your traveling party
  • Priority boarding
  • Priority check-in, with a designated airline check-in counter, for you and up to eight travel companions
  • Priority screening, with a special TSA line where available, for you and up to eight additional travel companions
  • Global Entry/TSA PreCheck credit of up to $100 every five years

Priority screening and TSA PreCheck are useful even if you only plan to fly once or twice a year once the pandemic is over and travel resumes, said Kheel, who estimates that this perk can cut 15 to 20 minutes of standing in line.

You also get a 25% discount on in-flight food and drinks on American if you pay with your Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard.

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,” said Whitmore.

The card comes at a cost that might chafe more occasional travelers: a $450 annual fee. However, as Kheel pointed out, that’s less expensive than paying for an American lounge membership on its own.

“Getting the card makes sense if you were planning to pay for lounge access anyway,” Kheel said.

Best American Airlines cards for occasional flyers

Out of the available American Airlines cards, our experts picked three cards for occasional flyers:

Whitmore recommended the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select card for the occasional traveler.

Currently, new cardholders get 50,000 bonus miles if they spend $2,500 within the first three months.

But what gives it the edge for Whitmore is that cardholders can earn more miles on everyday purchases, with 2 miles per dollar on spending at American Airlines, restaurants and gas stations, plus 1 mile per dollar on everything else.

The Barclays AAdvantage Aviator Red card also offers a sign-up bonus: 60,000 AAdvantage miles if you make your first purchase with the card and pay the annual fee within 90 days of opening your account.

Kheel put both cards on his list for occasional flyers.

  • Both cards come with a $99 annual fee (the Platinum Select card’s fee is waived for the first 12 months).
  • Both offer your first checked bag free on domestic American Airlines itineraries (for you and up to four companions) and preferred boarding (again, for you and up to four additional people).
  • And you get a 25% 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 said. A holdover from the US Airways-American Airlines merger, card applicants can select from both Citi and Barclays.

Wilson recommends a third option: Citi’s AAdvantage MileUp Mastercard. “This is a great starter card for those looking to earn status and miles on American Airlines,” Wilson said. As an added bonus? There’s no annual fee.

Cardholders can earn 10,000 bonus miles and a $50 statement credit after spending $500 on the card within three months of opening the account.

It offers 2 miles per dollar on American Airlines purchases and groceries and grocery delivery services, and 1 mile per dollar on everything else. Flyers also get a 25% discount on in-flight food and drinks if they use the card.

Best overall American Airlines travel cards

So, of all the choices, which are the best overall travel cards with the most perks at the lowest price?

According to our experts, either Citi’s AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite or Barclays’ AAdvantage Aviator Red Mastercard.

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% discount on in-flight food and drinks “doesn’t really move the needle, in my mind,” he said.

Kheel agrees. He also likes that the Citi 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,” Kheel said.

But Barclays’ AAdvantage Aviator Red card has a few unique benefits. As Wilson said, this card comes with a nice sign-up bonus of 60,000 miles without requiring cardholders to make a big spend to get it.

“So if you use the card to buy a pack of chewing gum within the first 90 days of opening, you’ll earn the bonus miles, as long as you pay the $99 annual fee,” Wilson said.

And if you spend $20,000 and keep your account open 45 days after your anniversary date, you can purchase one companion certificate annually for $99 (plus taxes and fees).

Best American Airlines cards for business travelers

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

  • The CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard® offers 2 miles per $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases, as well as certain rental car agencies, cable and satellite providers, telecom service providers and gas stations.
  • The Barclays AAdvantage Aviator World Elite Business Mastercard* offers 2 miles per $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases, rental cars, office supplies and telecom services.

The CitiBusiness card is also offering a sign-up bonus of 65,000 miles if you spend $4,000 within the first four months you have the card. And the $99 annual fee is waived the first year.

The Barclays Aviator business card has a sign-up bonus of 65,000 miles after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days. You can earn another 10,000 miles if an employee on the account makes a charge on their card in the first 90 days. And the annual fee is $95.

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

On the account anniversary, the Barclays business card also awards a mileage bonus equal to 5% of the miles the cardholder earned that year.

For some business types, the choice might come down to just how often they fly.

While Whitmore recommends the CitiBusiness card for occasional business flyers, he believes that frequent flyers will get more out of the Barclays Aviator business card because of the combination of the sign-up bonus, annual bonus miles and rewards program.

*All information about the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard, the Barclays AAdvantage Aviator World Elite Business Mastercard and the CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select Mastercard has been collected independently by CreditCards.com. The issuer did not provide the content, nor is it responsible for its accuracy.

Editorial Disclaimer

The editorial content on this page is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. It has not been provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners.

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