Who is This Credit Card Best For?
Flies regularly and likes finding ways to score even more travel—for free
Diligently searches for the best products and delights in a good bargain
Loves to explore places and experience new things
Frequently shops with a particular merchant and wants to be rewarded for their loyalty
This basic airline card, issued by Citibank, is best for non-commital fans of American Airlines who have excellent credit and are looking to ease into a frequent flyer program. There’s no annual fee, and you don’t have to spend much to get the modest sign-up bonus. The card rewards even the occasional traveler, since charging your groceries earns you just as many miles as flying. Just don’t expect the travel perks you’ll get with most airline cards. If you want those, consider an alternative like the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard.
Rewards for groceries
No annual fee
Small sign-up bonus
Foreign transaction fee
May require excellent credit
Few travel benefits
- Rewards for groceries: Most airline cards don’t reward your supermarket runs, and this one pays double miles on them. While there are cards on the market that offer bigger payouts for groceries, this gives people a way to earn pretty valuable miles on a routine expense.
- Valuable miles: AAdvantage miles are some of the more valuable miles offered by a major U.S. airline card, according to our analysis. When redeemed for flights, our research shows they’re worth an average 2.10 cents—more than double the benchmark 1 cent per mile sought by rewards chasers.
- No annual fee: Only a few of the more basic airline cards don’t charge an annual fee, and this is one of them. Cards with a fee can put pressure on you to recoup the cost with rewards or benefits, so this is an especially nice feature for those new to frequent flyer programs or even to credit card rewards in general.
- Small sign-up bonus: A sign-up bonus of just 10,000 miles isn’t enough for most one-way award flights, even with the high value of each mile. (More on this below.) If you’re willing to pay a moderate annual fee, you can get another American Airlines card with a far better incentive for new cardholders.
- Foreign transaction fee: There are many credit cards—even non-travel cards—that don’t charge you for making a purchase in a foreign currency, so the 3% fee on this card is a real drawback. If you want to travel overseas, you’ll want another card in your wallet.
- May require excellent credit: This may be harder to get than many entry-level cards. If you have excellent credit, you’re probably eligible for a travel card with far better rewards and benefits.
- Few travel benefits: An airline card with no annual fee doesn’t typically provide many travel perks, and this is no exception. If you want free checked bags or preferred boarding, you’ll most likely have to choose a higher-tier card.
If you spend $500 within three months of opening this card, you’ll receive 10,000 miles and a $50 statement credit. Competing cards with no annual fee offer similar bonuses, though the miles on this card are worth more. At an average 2.10 cents apiece, the miles alone are worth $210 when redeemed for flights, based on our calculations.
To get more value right out of the gate, you may be better off with a higher-tier American Airlines card—as long as you can swing the bigger spending requirement and annual fee.
Earning Points & Rewards
You’ll earn 2 miles per $1 spent on eligible purchases with American as well as groceries. The double miles on flight purchases are pretty standard for an airline card, but the rewards on your supermarket shopping are not as common. Other purchases earn the baseline 1 point per $1 spent.
There’s no limit on the number of miles you or authorized users can earn with this card, according to a Citi spokesperson. Miles don’t expire as long as you earn or redeem them at least once every 18 months.
Airline tickets purchased through a third-party website or travel agency won’t earn double miles, so always book directly with American to maximize earnings. In addition, groceries aren’t eligible for the double miles if they’re bought at superstores or warehouse clubs.
As long as you book through American, you’ll also earn double miles on flights with more than 20 partner airlines, including Hawaiian Airlines, British Airways, and many other international carriers.
Our research revealed AAdvantage miles are most valuable when used for flights, rather than to book hotel stays or to buy gift cards or merchandise. Each mile is worth an average 2.10 cents, just shy of the 2.16 cents you can get from United Airlines' frequent flyer miles, and more than the 1.60 cents you can get from Delta Air Lines miles, according to our valuations.
Miles can be redeemed for airfare on American as well as airlines in the oneworld alliance and other partners, all by booking through the AAdvantage portal or American Airlines mobile app. To get more out of your miles, look for flights labeled "web specials" when you book. Those ticket prices are often priced lower than the rates you'll see in American Airlines' published award chart.
The Balance found the flight prices listed in the award charts don't always match the prices of the flights for sale when you book. Award flights often have different names in the award chart than what's listed in the search tool, too. For example, the airline's MileSAAver and AAnytime terms rarely appear in search results. You're more likely to see web specials and the seat class for each award ticket (e.g. main cabin or first-class).
We asked American Airlines about these oddities and were told that as the airline considers more variables when pricing flights (such as ticket demand during a busy travel season), the award chart may be good to reference to get an idea of what flights may cost, but prices will—and do—vary. We recommend searching for flights on the American website directly to more accurately price check upcoming trips.
While not the best bang for your buck, miles can also be redeemed for:
- Rental cars and hotel stays
- Vacation packages
- Gift cards
- Magazine and newspaper subscriptions
- Identity theft protection through LifeLock
- Charity donations
Miles cannot be redeemed for cash, statement credits, checks, or direct deposit, according to an American Airlines spokesperson.
How to Get the Most Out of This Card
If you’re weighing this card as you wade into the world of frequent-flyer programs, chances are it’s an experiment. Maybe you’re saving up for your first big trip or just started to travel on occasion for your freelance job, and you want to dabble in the game without paying an annual fee. If so, make sure to charge $500 in the first three months to get the sign-up bonus. (This shouldn’t be a problem if you spend at least $42 on groceries each week.)
Even after that, remember to use this card every time you’re at the supermarket so you can rack up enough to have options on your first award flight. And watch the AAdvantage program website for opportunities to earn bonus miles on vacation, dining, and online shopping purchases, too. You may also want to shop around for web special ticket offers and think about saving your miles for a pricier international flight. If it’s the latter, just make sure to bring another card with you to avoid the 3% foreign transaction fee.
For more information bout earning and redeeming miles with the American Airlines AAdvantage program, read our guide to the frequent flyer program.
Unlike mid-tier airline cards, you won’t get any special boarding privileges or a waiver on checked bag fees with this card. These are the two perks worth mentioning:
- Discounts on in-flight purchases with American
- Concierge for booking event tickets, travel, and other services
J.D. Power ranks Citibank about average for overall customer satisfaction among major card issuers, according to its 2019 U.S. Credit Card Satisfaction Study. Cardholders get online access to their FICO credit score for free and can manage their account and rewards with Citi’s mobile app and the AAdvantage app. You can also reach customer service over the phone 24 hours a day, seven days a week, or chat with them online, per Citi.
Like most card issuers, Citi will notify you of suspicious account activity by text, email, or phone to keep you in the loop. If your card is lost or stolen, Citi also offers a mobile app feature that lets you instantly lock the card to avoid potential fraud. The feature conveniently allows recurring transactions to proceed uninterrupted until the matter is resolved.
Besides the 3% foreign transaction fee, the penalty and transaction fees are fairly typical for a travel card.