Barclaycard releases Aviator cards amid airline merger

US Airways and American Airlines have been glacially merging for more than a year now. The resulting giant carrier will be called American, and US Airways will be but a memory.

The two airlines’ reward programs officially merged on March 28. So what does that mean for those with a US Airways Premier World MasterCard? Barclaycard (which issues the US Airways card) recently announced what cardholders can expect in Q2 of 2015.Barclaycard Aviator red

What’s happening

Barclaycard is switching US Airways MasterCard cardholders over to a new “Aviator” line of cards, which will earn American Airlines AAdvantage miles:

  • Aviator MasterCard ($0 annual fee)
  • Aviator Blue MasterCard ($49 annual fee)
  • Aviator Red MasterCard ($89 annual fee)
  • Aviator Silver World Elite MasterCard ($195 annual fee)

(See the table below for more details).

You can’t apply for these cards directly. Instead, they are replacement products for current US Airways MasterCard cardholders.

If you already have a US Airways co-branded card, expect an Aviator card to arrive in an envelope sometime between April 1, 2015 and June 30, 2015. Until then, you can still use your US Airways card to earn miles in the Dividend Miles program. When the shift happens, all your Dividend miles will automatically become AAdvantage miles.

So which of the four new Aviator cards will you get in the mail? Cardmembers have already been notified which card they’re going to receive, according to the Barclaycard spokesperson. Their replacement will be determined by which US Airways product they currently have. Those with the $89 US Airways Premier World MasterCard can probably expect the Red. Other versions of the card exist, including those with lower and no annual fees, and those cardholders will be matched with the Aviator and Blue versions.

While some cardholders (such as The Points Guy) have already been offered the chance to get the Aviator Silver, invitations aren’t being sent out at this time, Barclaycard’s spokesperson says. However, all cardholders (after receiving their new card) can call customer service to ask about switching to any of the other Aviator cards — and even ask if they’re eligible for a Silver upgrade, regardless of whether they’ve received an invitation.

A closer look at the Aviator cards

Use this table to compare the original US Airways Premier card with the four new Aviator cards.

Compare US Airways MasterCard with Aviator cards
US Airways Premier World MasterCard (current card)Aviator SilverAviator RedAviator BlueAviator
Annual fee$89$195$89$49$0
Rewards2 miles/$1 with US Airways and American Airlines

1 mile/$1 on other purchases
3 miles/$1 with US Airways and American Airlines

2 miles/$1 on hotels and car rentals

1 mile/$1 on other purchases
2 miles/$1 with US Airways and American Airlines

1 mile/$1 on other purchases
2 miles/$1 with US Airways and American Airlines

1 mile/$1 on other purchases
1 mile/$1 with US Airways and American Airlines

1 mile/$2 on other purchases
Elite-Qualifying Miles (EQMs)--5,000 EQMs for each $20k spent per year (up to 10k EQMs/year)------
Free checked bagsFirst bag free for you and up to 4 companionsFirst bag free for you and up to 8 companionsFirst bag free for you and up to 4 companions----
Priority boardingZone 2 on US Airways-operated flightsZone 2 on US Airways domestic flights

Group 1 on American Airlines domestic flights
Zone 2 for US Airways domestic flights

Group 1 on American Airlines domestic flights
Companion ticketAnnual certificate for up to 2 guests at $99 eachAnnual certificate for up to 2 guests at $99 for each year you spend $30,000------
Redemption bonus--10 percent of redeemed miles back10 percent of redeemed miles back----
Foreign transaction fees waived?YesYesYesYesNo
Annual bonus----$100 flight discount after spending $30,000 in a year----
Global entry--Reimbursement for $100 application fee------

Are the new cards an upgrade – or a downgrade?

The Aviator Red card (to which many current US Airways Premier cardholders will likely be converted) mirrors a lot of the perks current Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select cardholders get. But it axes one of the most unique benefits the US Airways card had: the companion pass. Instead, cardholders get a 10 percent refund of all redeemed miles and a chance at a $100 flight discount (if they spend $30,000 a year, anyway). Solo travelers who are also big spenders and frequent redeemers might find that a fair trade, but the loss of two $99 companion tickets on a card with a reasonable ($89) annual fee will be hard for current US Airways cardholders to swallow.

The companion benefit lives on in the Aviator Silver (although you have to spend at least $30,000 a year to get it). And this card comes with lots of perks that might make the heftier annual fee worthwhile. Frequent fliers will enjoy getting 3 miles per dollar on airline purchases. Plus, getting 2 miles per dollar on hotels and rental cars makes the card an all-around strong rewards generator for travel expenses. In fact, there’s currently no other co-branded airline card on the market that offers 3 miles per dollar for affiliated-airline purchases AND 2 miles per dollar for hotel and rental car purchases. EQMs, reimbursement for Global Entry and the 10 percent redemption bonus sweeten the deal, making this a card to covet for those who are loyal to American.

The bottom line: Those who get the Aviator Red card may mourn the loss of the companion pass, while those who can get the Silver may welcome the new Aviator line.

Strategy suggestions

The automatic changeover to the Aviator card won’t net you any bonus miles. But there’s another line of cards out there that earns American Airlines miles, and that’s Citi’s AAdvantage line. You might apply for one of those cards and collect the sign-up bonus, and, because it probably doesn’t make sense to pay the annual fee on both your Aviator and your Aadvantage card, you can always cancel the card that has less value to you.

Alternatively, if the merger has you questioning the value of airline loyalty, you might consider a flexible travel card as a replacement. For a comparable annual fee ($95), the Chase Sapphire Preferred allows you to earn extra rewards on most travel spending and lets you transfer your rewards to multiple airline partners.

If you were considering an upgrade to the Aviator Silver, check out the Premier Rewards Gold card from American Express (a CreditCardForum advertising partner). It’s not quite the same as the Aviator Silver, but you get 3 points per dollar on airfares purchased directly from airlines (not just American), bonus points on everyday purchases like gas and groceries, and some premium benefits like roadside assistance. Plus, starting June, you’ll get a $100 airline fee credit, which you can use for baggage fees. You also get access to the Membership Rewards program, which comes with its own set of airline transfer partners.

Updated April 15, 2015

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