What’s The Most Rewarding Credit Card For An American Flyer?

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Last week I got Tweeted the following question from a reader:

Which card is better for everyday (non-bonused) spend for an AAdvantage elite: my Citi Prestige or new SPG Amex?

It’s a great question, given that maximizing your return on credit card spend as an American flyer can be a bit more complicated than with other airlines due to their credit card arrangements.

Maximizing American miles through credit card spend

American’s co-branded credit cards are presently issued by Citi (though soon Barclaycard will issue some as well), and include the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® and Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®.

Now, both cards come with perks that could be potentially valuable. For example, the Citi AAdvantage Executive Card comes with an Admirals Club membership, and best of all, authorized users get Admirals Club access as well. You can add 10 authorized users at no extra cost.


In the case of the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Card, you get a 10% refund on miles redeemed annually, up to a total refund of 10,000 miles per year. I max out that benefit every year, so to me the 10,000 points are worth more than the card’s $95 annual fee.

But neither of those cards actually maximize everyday spend, even if you want to earn American miles. Instead the best cards for spend if you’re trying to maximize American rewards are the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express and Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express.

Starpoints convert into American miles at a 1:1 ratio, and you get a 5,000 point bonus for every 20,000 points transferred. That means when transferring in the right increments you’re earning 1.25 American miles per dollar spent.

But it gets better than that. At the moment there’s a 20% bonus when you convert Starpoints into American miles, meaning 20,000 Starpoints convert into 30,000 AAdvantage miles. While perhaps you shouldn’t factor that into the valuation of a points currency, at the same time American has offered a similar bonus every year around the same time for the past several years.


So if transferring in the right increments you’ll always be earning at least 1.25 American miles per dollar spent, though you could even be getting 1.5 American miles per dollar spent if you transfer during a promotion.

I value American miles at ~1.4 cents each, so you’re looking at a return between 1.75 and 2.1 cents per dollar spent, give or take.

But is there a better option for an American flyer?

Up until now the Citi Prestige® Card has been an incredible card for American flyers, though perks are slowly changing. As of July 23, 2017, there are two major changes for American flyers:

  • American flyers no longer get Admirals Club access with the card
  • You’ll no longer be able to redeem points for 1.6 cents each towards the cost of a ticket on American, but rather redemptions will be lowered to 1.25 cents per point

So for everyday, non-bonused spend, this won’t be especially compelling for American flyers. However, keep in mind that the card still offers triple points on airfare and hotel, and double points on dining and entertainment, so you can potentially get a significantly better rate of return than that.

As an American flyer the better option would be to just use a Citi® Double Cash Card, which offers 1% cash back when you make a purchase, and then another 1% cash back when you pay for that purchase. Then you can spend that money however you’d like, including towards an American ticket.


Bottom line

If your goal is to earn American Airlines rewards, the SPG Amex is absolutely your best bet for racking up those miles as quickly as possible. If transferring in the right increments you’re earning 1.25 American miles per dollar spent, or during a promotion maybe even 1.5 miles per dollar spent.

The Citi Prestige® Card can be great if you spend in certain bonus categories for earning points towards the cost of a paid ticket on American, though the value of that redemption option goes down as of next year.

Big picture, though, keep in mind that even as an American flyer it could make sense to use a rewards card that doesn’t earn American miles or rewards, as it allows you to diversify. I know that’s the direction I’d go. Even though I have an American co-branded credit card, it’s not one I use for everyday spend, but rather just for the perks.

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  1. What a great excuse to #pump #pump #pump some links. As if all those recent Chase posts weren’t enough!

  2. Completely off-topic, but have you seen MEA’s new safety video? Love it or hate it, it does get points for trying to do something different…

  3. City prestige card is terrible and getting worse in July 2017
    Yoy can not transfer any points to any FF airline account like you can do with an Amex card
    So you will find you are using 20-30 percent more points to fly business class say on Cathay Pacific .

  4. Ben – Quick question. I assume you’re referring to cards that can convert to American miles. That said, as far as purchasing airline tickets, I tend to use my Chase Sapphire Preferred. Am I wrong to be using this card?

  5. In any case for all the hoopla surrounding the csr, there is a huge change coming to CitI cards end of this week. You don’t have enough time left.

  6. Ben: Here’s a small correction.

    There are some completely incoherent and incorrect comments above, but Ramy is completely correct.

    For Prestige points redemption on AA, it’s moving to 1.25, not 1.33.

    The official Citi email to customers reads as follows: “You will only receive 25% greater value versus gift cards on all airfare redemptions with your ThankYou® points. For example, 50,000 ThankYou points will now be redeemable for $625 in airfare on all airlines available at thankyou.com.”

    In other words, there will no longer be an AA premium.

  7. I use the Citi Executive card to get 10K EQMs via spend and also for Admiral’s Club access. I also use the Barclay Aviator Silver for another 10K EQMs via spend. The Barclay Aviator Silver gets 3 AA miles for all AA charges and 2x for all other travel. I also qualify for the 2 companion passes you get for 30K spend.

    I expect Citi and Barclay to refresh their offering when the new contracts go into effect to start the calendar year. That will be the time to analyze how to continue spend on any AA cards.

    The kicker for me will be which, if any of these cards offer an EQD waiver. If there is no EQD spend waiver then I will be looking to move my business away from AA.

    Its unfortunate that AA can not get their S*** together and announce program updates all at the same time. The slow roll of information from AA is really disheartening.

  8. @Lucky – I’m hoping you might be able to help me with a decision regarding whether or not to upgrade my Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®.to the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®.

    The facts are that I’m primarily an AA traveler but don’t travel enough most years to get status. The Platinum Select card gets me Zone 1 and waives bag fees and those features are enough to justify the fee. We no longer use that card for much, if any, spend. Additionally, I have a very high credit limit on the card so I don’t want to cancel it because it would temporarily reduce our credit rating. The potential upgrade reason to the World Elite Card is that, I’m going to bite the bullet and finally get Pre-Check. It seems to me that though I only do foreign travel only once or twice a year, it’s worth the extra $15 to get Global Entry. I have a common name and I always get the dreaded “X” at US immigration sending me briefly to secondary.

    It seems to me that the benefits of the upgrade – GE, Admirals Club, and Priority Access – are just barely worth it. I would not plan on keeping the Platinum Select card and would think that Citi would transfer my available credit to the new card. What are your thoughts on this or another card?

  9. Hi!

    Since you fly so much international routes, maybe you can write an article about which credit cards you consider best for international flyers?

    Thanks a lot for a great site 🙂

  10. My wife and I both use the SPG Amex for our daily spend.

    However, there are times when Citi has special offers for double miles on all purchases up to 2,500 bonus miles. My wife has the old Citi AAdvantage Gold VISA ($50 AF usually waived when calling in). So we keep this card around. They sent us a notification that they are converting this card to a MASTERCARD. Any insight if this switch to MC will disqualify her for the 25,000 bonus miles she was planning on applying for the Citi AAdvantage Gold MC (spend $750 in 3 months promo)? This was never a problem because it was a different “product” since we had the VISA and were getting the MC. I recently opened the Citi AAdvantage Gold MC and got my 25,000 bonus miles, but I closed my Citi AAdvantage Gold VISA back in 2012 (they stopped waiving my AF).

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