American Airlines Aviator cards to go public

When US Airways and American Airlines merged in 2015, their credit card programs remained separate. US Airways rewards card holders were converted to the new Aviator line of cards from Barclaycard US. Meanwhile, it was business as usual for Citi, which continued to offer its AAdvantage line of cards.


The key difference was that the Aviator cards were offered exclusively to those who held US Airways cards before the merger — members of the general public could not apply. But that is about to change in January 2017, according to an announcement from American Airlines.

What’s changing

American Airlines has made new agreements with both Citi and Barclaycard US. The Citi AAdvantage cards won’t be going anywhere, and the general public can now apply for the Aviator cards. It will be a bit harder to apply for the Aviator cards, however, as Barclaycard can offer applications only at airport kiosks and on flights. Citi, meanwhile, can continue offering its cards online, via direct mail and in Admirals Club lounges.

Picking a card

These agreements make American Airlines the only airline to offer cards from two issuers. This presents American Airlines frequent fliers with a whopping seven consumer credit cards from which to choose, all with varying benefits and annual fees:

Comparing American Airlines reward cards
Citi AAdvantage cards
Annual feeRewardsFree checked bagsPriority boardingCompanion
Other bonuses/ benefits
Citi AAdvantage Gold$50 (waived first yr)1 mile/dollarN/AN/AN/AN/A
Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select$95 (waived first yr)2 miles/dollar on AA purchases

1 mile/dollar on other purchases
First bag free for you and 4 companions Group 1N/A10 percent redemption bonus

$100 flight discount each year you spend $30,000
Citi Executive$4502 miles/dollar on AA purchases

1 mile/dollar on other purchases

10,000 EQMs when you spend $40k in a year
First bag free for you and 8 companionsGroup 1N/AAdmirals Club access

Global Entry/PreCheck reimbursement
Barclaycard Aviator cards
Annual feeRewardsFree checked bagsPriority boardingCompanion
Other bonuses/ benefits
Aviator$01 mile/$1 with American Airlines

1 mile/$2 on other purchases
Aviator Blue$492 miles/$1 with American Airlines

1 mile/$1 on other purchases
Aviator Red$892 miles/$1 with American Airlines

1 mile/$1 on other purchases
First bag free for you and 4 companionsGroup 1N/A10 percent redemption bonus

$100 flight discount when you spend more than $30/yr

Aviator Silver
$1953 miles/$1 with American Airlines

2 miles/$1 on hotels and car rentals

1 mile/$1 on other purchases

5k EQMs for every $20k spent annually (up to 10k miles/yr)
First bag free for you and up to 8 companionsGroup 1Annual certificate for up to 2 guests at $99 for each year you spend $30,00010 percent redemption bonus

$100 Global Entry application fee credit

Given the sheer number of your options, how do you know you’re picking the right card? While only you can decide which card best fits your needs, read on for the cards we recommend for certain travelers.

You want elite perks and lounge access from American Airlines

This one’s easy – only the Citi Executive card provides those things.

You want to minimize your annual fee
Using a card tied to an airline’s program is the easiest way to keep your miles from expiring. But if you don’t fly frequently enough to use the free-checked-bag and priority-boarding benefits, you probably don’t want to pay an annual fee. The Barclaycard Aviator provides the only no-annual-fee option. While it earns just half a cent per point on most purchases, if you’re just trying to keep your miles balance active, consider keeping this card around and making a small purchase once a year.

The $50 Citi Gold AAdvantage card and $49 Aviator Blue have dubious value, as they don’t provide any special perks for frequent fliers, and there are plenty of no- or low-annual-fee generic travel rewards cards out there that allow you to use your rewards toward flights on any airline. If you’re trying to decide between the Gold AAdvantage card and the Blue Aviator card, however, go with the Blue, as it gives double miles on AA purchases.

You’re a frequent flier, but don’t care about elite perks — you just want free checked bags and rewards
The Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select and the Aviator Red are your best bet here. In fact, these cards are virtually identical, except for the annual fee (which is $6 higher for the Citi card). Because you can apply for it online, the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select is probably more convenient to get (you can apply for the Aviator products only on flights and at the airport, remember).

You are a very frequent flier, but a $450 annual fee is a bit steep
The Citi cards don’t provide a happy medium between $95 and $450 a year, but Barclaycard does – the Aviator Silver ($195 annual fee). In fact, if you fly American a lot, you’ll probably enjoy the enhanced earnings of 3 miles per dollar on purchases spent with the airline. Not even the Citi Executive card has that. You also get Global Entry reimbursement, free-bag and priority-boarding benefits, and companion-ticket discounts (not available on any other American Airlines co-branded card).

You won’t get lounge access, however. So the Aviator Silver is probably the best fit for someone who takes frequent, short-haul domestic flights and therefore couldn’t frequently use the lounge access anyway.

Factor in the sign-up bonus

A good sign-up bonus can make or break a card’s value during the first year, and there are no confirmed sign-up bonuses for the Aviator cards yet, and there probably won’t be until the cards are open for public application. All the Citi cards mentioned in the chart above advertise sign-up bonuses. So, even if a particular Citi card or an Aviator card with a similar annual fee may have better long-term benefits, take the value of the sign-up bonus into account before applying. After all, a bigger bonus in the first few months of card ownership can get you what you’re ultimately after with these cards: A free flight.

Other options

If the idea of choosing from seven possible cards — or the idea of getting an airline co-branded airline card in general — isn’t appealing, consider a general-purpose travel rewards card. These types of cards won’t give you airline-specific benefits like free checked bags and priority boarding. But their points are more flexible (and can sometimes be transferred directly into various frequent-flier programs). Examples of generic travel-rewards cards include the Capital One Venture, the BankAmericard Travel Rewards card and the following cards:

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