December 2, 2022

Points of View: Which credit card should you use for American Airlines flights?

You’re about to book a flight. You reach for your wallet, but what credit card…

Points of View: Which credit card should you use for American Airlines flights?

You’re about to book a flight. You reach for your wallet, but what credit card should you use to pay? Is it the one with the airline’s name stamped on the front, or will a different credit card offer more?

American Airlines has numerous credit cards bearing its name, so let’s compare those to other travel rewards credit cards to see what your best option is when paying for AA flights.

Comparing credit cards for American Airlines flights

Aside from using an American Airlines credit card, you might also consider paying with a travel rewards card which can earn transferable points on travel purchases, including booking your next flight with AA. Here are some cards you might pay with and what you could get when using these cards:

Card name Earning rate on American Airlines flights Value of the rewards earned* AA-related benefits from the card Annual fee
Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® 4 miles per dollar through Dec. 31, 2022. From Jan. 1, 2023, the earning rate will be 2 miles per dollar. 7.08 cents in 2022 then 3.54 cents starting in 2023. Admirals Club lounge membership.

Free first checked bag for you and up to eight companions traveling on the same reservation when flying on domestic flights with AA or its subsidiaries.

Priority check-in, priority airport security screening and early boarding privileges.

25% off inflight food and beverage purchases.

Earn 1 Loyalty Point towards AAdvantage elite status for each dollar spent on the card.

$450.
Citi® /  AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® 2 miles per dollar. 3.54 cents. Free first checked bag for you and up to four companions traveling on the same reservation when flying on domestic flights with AA or its subsidiaries.

Preferred boarding.

Earn 1 Loyalty Point towards AAdvantage elite status for each dollar spent on the card.

$0 introductory annual fee, then $99.
CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard® 2 miles per dollar. 3.54 cents. Free first checked bag for you and up to four companions traveling on the same reservation when flying on domestic flights with AA or its subsidiaries.

Preferred boarding.

25% off inflight food and beverage purchases.

Earn 1 Loyalty Point towards AAdvantage elite status for each dollar spent on the card.

$0 introductory annual fee, then $99.
American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card 2 miles per dollar. 3.54 cents. Earn 1 Loyalty Point towards AAdvantage elite status for each dollar spent on the card. $0.
AAdvantage® Aviator® World Elite Business Mastercard® 2 miles per dollar. 3.54 cents. Free first checked bag for you and up to four companions traveling on the same reservation when flying on domestic flights with AA or its subsidiaries.

Preferred boarding.

25% off inflight food and beverage purchases.

$95.
AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard® 2 miles per dollar. 3.54 cents. Free first checked bag for you and up to four companions traveling on the same reservation when flying on domestic flights with AA or its subsidiaries.

Preferred boarding.

25% off inflight food and beverage purchases.

Up to $25 back as statement credits for inflight Wi-Fi purchases from AA during each cardmember year.

$99.
The Platinum Card® from American Express 5 points per dollar (on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year). 10 cents. None, but you can choose American Airlines as your preferred airline to cover up to $200 per year in airline incidental credits for things like checked baggage or preferred seat fees. $695 (see rates and fees).
Chase Sapphire Reserve 3 points per dollar (or 5 points per dollar if booked via the Chase travel portal). 6 cents (or 10 cents). None, but some of your purchases can be offset by the $300 in annual travel credits offered on the card. $550.
American Express® Green Card 3 points per dollar. 6 cents. None. $150 (see rates and fees).
Citi Premier® Card 3 points per dollar. 5.4 cents. None. $95.
Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card 2 miles per dollar (or 5 miles per dollar if booked in the Capital One Travel portal). 3.7 cents (or 9.25 cents). None, but some of your purchases can be offset by the $300 in annual travel credits available when booking with Capital One Travel. $395.

* Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer.

The information for the CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum, AAdvantage Aviator Red and Amex Green cards has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Which card should you use for American Airlines flights?

In many of life’s choices, what you choose can involve trade-offs. Maybe you get more of this but less of that. Not here.

Business class on American Airlines 787-9. JT GENTER/THE POINTS GUY

Unlike United Airlines’ baggage policy, you don’t actually need to pay with your American Airlines credit card to enjoy the benefits your card provides. As long as you have had your card open for at least seven days and have attached your AAdvantage account number to your reservation, you will receive the priority boarding and checked luggage benefits available from your credit card. Just having it in your wallet is sufficient.

Related: American Airlines baggage fees and how to avoid paying them

That means you could pay with a card like the Amex Platinum Card to earn extra points or pay with the Sapphire Reserve to use part of your $300 in travel credits against your flight reservation. In fact, using your travel credits on the Sapphire Reserve when paying for the taxes and fees on an award ticket means you could erase even that minimal amount of cash you had to pay for a flight.

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Related: The best credit cards for paying taxes and fees on award tickets

On the flip side, which card you pay with could be determined by the insurance protections you want to have during your trip. In that case, paying with the Sapphire Reserve is probably your best bet as it has the best travel protections of the cards in the list above.

If you’re working on American Airlines elite status, paying with your American Airlines credit card is likely the best bet. That’s because you’ll earn extra Loyalty Points for each dollar spent on your AA credit card.

Related: How to qualify for American elite status from credit card spending alone

Enjoy made-to-order guacamole in many Admirals Club lounges. ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY

And if you have the AAdvantage Executive card that offers Admirals Club lounge access, you’ll be happy to know you can still access the lounge whether you paid for your American Airlines flight with that card or not.

Related: The ultimate guide to American Airlines Admirals Club access

There is one time when it really matters which credit card you pay with: when you make an inflight purchase. Cards like the AAdvantage Aviator Red card and the AAdvantage Aviator World Elite Business card provide discounts and rebates when making inflight purchases. If you’re buying something on board during your flight, you won’t receive the applicable discount if you don’t pay with an eligible American Airlines credit card.

Bottom line

American Airlines miles are worth 1.77 cents apiece according to TPG’s latest valuations. Paying with most American Airlines credit cards will provide 3.54 cents in value from the miles you earn on purchases from American Airlines. Conversely, you could offset purchases when paying with other cards or earn rewards worth much more — such as 10 cents worth of rewards on each dollar spent with the Amex Platinum Card.

The good news is that you can enjoy benefits like free checked bags and priority boarding from American Airlines credit cards even if you don’t pay for your flight with those cards. Instead, you can pay with another card to invoke travel protections or to earn extra rewards while still enjoying AA’s cardholder perks.

When paying for American Airlines flights, you can have your cake and eat it, too.

Editor’s note: “Points of View” is a series evaluating decisions on which credit card to use. If you’re facing a dilemma about which card is best for an upcoming payment, email us at [email protected]

Also in this series:

For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Green card, click here.