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Which American Airlines credit card should you choose?

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 the carrier has quite many branded credit cards.

The current menu includes nine different cards from two different issuers – along with some very handy perks.

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: How to book an American Airlines flight with miles

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

The reason 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.)

With this card, “you can go into the lounges when you’re flying American Airlines, or even one of its partners like Alaska Airlines or British Airways,” says Julian Kheel, senior finance editor for CNN Underscored.

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

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.

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:

  • 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
  • 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 plan to fly once or twice a year once the pandemic is over and travel resumes,” says Kheel, who estimates that it 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 the card.

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.

The card comes at a cost that might chafe more occasional travelers: a $450 annual fee. However, as Kheel pointed out, “that’s less than paying for an American lounge membership all by itself, so getting the card makes sense if you were planning to pay for lounge access anyway.”

See related: Best credit cards for airport lounge access

Best American Airlines cards for occasional flyers

Out of the available American Airlines cards, our experts picked three 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.

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: 50,000 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 says. A holdover from the US Airways-American Airlines merger, card applicants can select from both Citi and Barclays.

And 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.” Plus, 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, out 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 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.”

But Barclays’ AAdvantage Aviator Red card has a few unique benefits. It “comes with a nice sign-up bonus of 50,000 miles without having a make a big spend to get it,” says Wilson. “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.”

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).

See related: A complete guide to airline companion passes

Best American Airlines cards for business travelers

“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 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,” says 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 – thanks to the combination of the sign-up bonus, annual bonus miles and rewards program.

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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