This Great Rewards Card for AAdvantage Members May Surprise You

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The right travel-rewards credit card for most frequent flyers is the card that awards miles in the program hosted by the airline they're already loyal to. There's no sense in signing up for a Delta-linked credit card if you're a United partisan, right?

What may come as a surprise, however, is that the card that awards the most miles in a particular program might not be that program's own co-branded card.

When it comes to earning miles in American's AAdvantage program, there is at least one non-AAdvantage card that awards AAdvantage miles and therefore merits consideration alongside the usual prospects.

Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express

The basics:

  • Earn 2 points per $1 spent at Starwood and Marriott hotels.
  • Earn 1 point per $1 for other purchases.
  • Annual fee: $95, waived the first year.
  • APR: 16.24% to 20.24% variable, depending on credit.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • Welcome offer: 25,000 points after spending $3,000 within the first 3 months of account opening. Terms apply.

Starwood points are convertible to miles or points in 34 airlines programs, typically at a 1:1 transfer ratio. And there's a kicker: When 20,000 points are transferred, there's a 5,000-mile bonus, yielding a total of 25,000 miles. In that scenario, you're effectively earning 1.25 miles per $1 spent.

Starwood points transfer at a 1:1 ratio to American's AAdvantage program, plus the 5,000-point bonus when 20,000 points are transferred. That means earning Starwood points amounts to earning AAdvantage miles at an attractive rate, with the added bonus that the Starwood points can be used for complimentary Starwood nights or transferred into a host of other airline programs. Good value plus convenience.

The other flex-points cards—Premier Rewards Gold card from American Express, Citi ThankYou Preferred Card, and Chase Sapphire Preferred Card—do not support points transfers to American AAdvantage miles.

Next up for consideration are the co-branded AAdvantage cards:

Citi / AAdvantage Gold World Elite Mastercard

The basics:

  • Earn 1 mile per $1 for all purchases.
  • Annual fee: $50, waived the first year.
  • APR: 16.99% to 24.99% variable, depending on credit.
  • Welcome offer: 25,000 bonus miles after spending $750 within the first 3 months of account opening.
  • Travel perks: discounted award prices.
  • Disclosure: Citi is an Airfarewatchdog advertiser

Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard

The basics:

  • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on American Airlines purchases.
  • Earn 1 mile per $1 for other purchases.
  • Annual fee: $95, waived the first year.
  • APR: 16.99% to 24.99% variable, depending on credit.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • Welcome offer: 60,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 within the first 3 months of account opening.
  • Travel perks: free first checked bag, preferred boarding, discounted award prices

Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard

The basics:

  • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on American Airlines purchases.
  • Earn 1 mile per $1 for other purchases.
  • Annual fee: $450.
  • APR: 16.74% to 24.74% variable, depending on credit.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • Welcome offer: 50,000 bonus miles after spending $5,000 within the first 3 months of account opening.
  • Travel perks: Admirals Club membership, Global Entry or TSAPreCheck fee credit, 10,000 elite miles after spending $40,000, free first checked bag, preferred boarding, discounted award prices

Lastly, unlike most other airline programs, AAdvantage features co-branded cards issued by two different banks, Citi and Barclays. Here's the Barclaycard:

AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard

The basics:

  • Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on American Airlines purchases.
  • Earn 1 mile per $1 for other purchases.
  • Annual fee: $95.
  • APR: 16.99% to 25.99% variable, depending on credit.
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • Welcome offer: 60,000 bonus miles after the first purchase and paying the annual fee within the first 3 months of account opening.
  • Travel perks: free first checked bag, preferred boarding, discounted award prices.

Which Card Is Right for You?

There is no categorically "best" card for all American Airlines loyalists. Which card works for you will depend on your budget, your spending habits, and the frequency of your travel.

If you travel regularly on American, it might be worthwhile paying the $450 annual fee for the long list of travel perks that come bundled with the Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard, including the airport lounge membership, which by itself is enough to offset the card's high annual fee.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Citi / AAdvantage Gold World Elite Mastercard, with its relatively modest $50 annual fee, waived the first year, would be a sensible choice for occasional flyers who want to earn miles but want to pay as little as possible for the privilege.

And then there's the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express, which can generate AAdvantage miles at the rate of 1.25 miles per $1 spent, when 20,000 points are converted to miles. That, plus the convertibility of Starwood points into other airline currencies, make a highly desirable combination for travelers looking for convenience and flexibility in their earnings.

Editor's Note: This content is not provided by any bank, credit card issuer, airline, or hotel chain. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed here are those of the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by the aforementioned entities.

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