Best Credit Cards For Earning American AAdvantage Miles

Filed Under: Advice, American
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For years, if you wanted to earn American AAdvantage miles, then you were likely going to use one of the Starwood Preferred Guest cards from American Express. Sure, you could get bigger welcome bonuses with co-branded cards from Barclays or Citi, but the SPG cards were the best for everyday spending.

Unfortunately, as of August 2018, the SPG cards will no longer earn 1X on all purchases. Instead, they now have bonus categories that are often outdone by other options for earning American miles.

We’ll get into the SPG cards more in a bit, but the basic issue is this: under the merged Marriott Rewards/SPG program, the SPG points will convert at a 1:3 ratio but the new earn structure for the cards will only include 2X earning on purchases that don’t fall under one of the bonus categories. That’s only two-thirds of a point if you plan on transferring to many airlines under the new program.

So, where does that leave us? Well, it makes things a bit more complicated as one card won’t be your best option across the board. With that in mind, I thought we should take a look at the best cards to earn American miles by category.

Let’s get into it!

Best option for groceries

Until recently, I wouldn’t have even included this category as none of the Barclays and Citi cards had a bonus category for groceries. That all changed with the launch of the Citi AAdvantage® MileUp card.

With the MileUp card, you’ll earn 2X American AAdvantage miles per dollar on all grocery purchases. Now, Citi explicitly excludes purchases from superstores and wholesale/warehouse clubs. It also calls out candy stores. What a huge opportunity missed. As if I needed another reason to buy candy.

But, I digress. If you stick to standard supermarkets, you’ll get your 2X. I also like that they include bakeries but will be curious to see how they define “miscellaneous food/convenience stores”.

With no annual fee and a 25% discount on inflight food and beverage purchases, this might pair well with one of the other co-branded American cards that come with a few more perks that could even include Admirals Club lounge access.

Best option for restaurants

I’d venture to guess that many already use the CSR or CSP for all dining purchases. If for some reason you don’t, the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® earns 2X American miles per dollar at restaurants.

This card also provides a free checked bag on domestic American flights, preferred boarding and won’t hit you with a foreign transaction fee when making purchases abroad. You can also save 25% on inflight food and beverage purchases with American Airlines.

The annual fee is $99 but is often waived your first year with the card. Additionally, you can expect to earn a sizeable welcome bonus.

Best options for gas stations

For gas station purchases, you actually have a couple options to earn 2X American miles. If you need a personal card, the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select we discussed above also earns 2X at gas stations. If you’re in the market for a business credit card, the CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard® will be your go-to for earning 2X American miles.

Citi specifies that the purchase must post as a gas station purchase so filling up at warehouse clubs might not earn 2X miles. As with all credit card purchases, it’s all about how the purchases codes if you want bonus points.

Best option for telecom, cable & satellite and car rentals

Citi describes telecom, cable and satellite, car rental and gas station purchases as “select business categories” for the CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select and each category earns 2X miles. For small business owners looking to boost their stash of American miles, these “business categories” could be an easy way.

You can also expect to earn a solid welcome bonus when you open the card and, with the $99 annual fee waived the first year, you’ll have time to decide if it deserves a long-term spot in your wallet.

If you regularly use WiFi on American flights, you’ll also appreciate the 25% inflight WiFi discount.

Best option for flights on American Airlines

When it comes to earning American miles when you purchase a flight on American Airlines, you really don’t need to overthink it. Whether you’re using a card from Citi or Barclays, all co-branded American cards earn 2X on American flights.

If you want the best trip protections — trip delays, baggage delays, etc., you’ll want to use a WorldElite Mastercard.

Keep in mind the Personal Platinum Citi AAdvantage Card offers a 10% refund on miles redeemed, for a total of up to 10,000 miles per year. Assuming you redeem at least 100,000 miles per year, you could be getting 10,000 American miles with the card annually, which may tip the scales slightly towards that card.

Meanwhile American only lets you earn Elite Qualifying Dollars for spend on the Barclaycard AAdvantage Aviator Silver Card, which has a $195 annual fee, so it may be worth using that card if you are aiming for elite status.

And of course, the Citi Executive card will get you and your authorized users into Admirals Clubs. So while you won’t earn any additional points on airfare with one AAdvantage card or the other, there are other considerations.

Best options for Marriott regulars

If you regularly stay at Marriott and Starwood properties, the Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card will earn 6X points per dollar on these bookings.

Under Marriott’s new program, 3 points will equal 1 airline mile for most airline partners including American Airlines. This means you can earn the equivalent of 2X American miles on these hotel stays.

Easy welcome bonus with Barclays

While the AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard® from Barclays doesn’t have bonus categories beyond earning 2X on American flights, it’s super easy to earn the welcome bonus.

If you need a big chunk of miles sooner rather than later, you’ll earn the welcome bonus after just one purchase. The annual fee is $95 and is not waived your first year with the card.

You can also earn the welcome bonus on the AAdvantage® Aviator® Business Mastercard® after your first purchases with the card which makes it a solid option for business owners in need of a bunch of American miles.

Welcome bonus rules for Citi and Barclays

Citi limits you to one welcome bonus within a family of cards within 24 months of opening or closing a card. For the co-branded American cards, the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® and the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® are considered the be within the same family.

The CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® card is not included in that family of cards so you can receive the bonus from the business version as well as either the Citi AAdvantage Executive card or the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select.

At this time, the AAdvantage MileUp card is not included in a family of cards. The only restriction is that you can only receive the bonus once within 24 months of opening or closing it.

Bottom line

The loss of the old version of the SPG cards was definitely a hit for earning American miles — especially when you consider the 5,000-mile bonus when transferring 20,000 Starpoints. Now, it will take a combination of cards to earn the maximum number of American miles on everyday purchases at groceries, restaurants and gas stations.

If American miles are your jam, by all means, have at it. Personally, I don’t think I’ll make earning American miles the priority on my daily spend. It’s just too easy for me to earn flexible Ultimate Rewards points at a faster pace that can help me book both flights and Hyatt stays.

Of course, your situation might be very different than mine. Just make sure you run the numbers and make the best decision for you.

Regarding Comments: The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.
Regarding Comments: The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.


  1. Yes but the best card for earning AA miles on AA spend is Barclays Silver Aviator as it awards 3 AA miles per dollar.

  2. The world is awash in AA miles. And just like currency, mile values should be calculated based on how many there are out there and how many products can you spend them on. And not based on some redemption chart published by the airline or what rate the airline sells them at (which assumes they know what the miles are worth, fair assumption but that should be the upper bound )

    The miles have already devalued substantially.

  3. The best credit card for earning american miles is clearly the American branded card. For MOSTanyway and here is why.

    10% refund on redeemed miles up to 10,000 back per year. You left out this CRITICAL benefit.

    PLUS 2.0 miles per dollar spent on American purchases. If I spend $8000 per year on air travel thats an extra 8,000 points! or 6,000 more than I would have earned with SPG.

    So if I redeem 100,000 miles plus spend $8,000 per year thats 18,000 miles back! You would have spend around $80,000 per year on your SPG card to get enough of the .25 bonus to make back the 18,000 easy extra miles you get on the American cards.

  4. To get the main benefit of the SPG you have to spend $20k on it. No way Im spending $20k on it, why wouldnt I put that $20k on 3 or 4 sign up bonuses?

  5. I think the best cards are citi aa cards after first year. I’ve been able to get double mile retention bonus (spend $1k on anything and earn 1k bonus on top of regular earnings) on most of the cards. And you get 10k rebate for award. This ends up much better than spg or Barclay silver.

  6. Except that, the only time I ever needed to transfer SPG points to AA miles, they did not arrive in time for my 5-day hold. I had to buy the miles from AA and could not reverse the SPG transfer. YMMV.

  7. @ Stannis — The transfers seem to always leave SPG on Monday and are in the AAdvantage account by Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. We generally place the holds on Saturday to give ourselves enough time, but yeah — if you miss the Sunday night cutoff for transfers it can take a long time.

  8. I use the Silver Aviator Card as I can earn 10k Elite Miles which helps to my status with American. Is this the best card for that reason.

  9. @EricB @Jeff @Ian Well then, I’ll just go straight to the Barclay web site and apply for that silver aviator card right now today! Thanks for the useful advice.

  10. British Airways Visa offers a 50k avios points sign up bonus. Combine that with Amex Everyday Preferred which gives you a 50 percent points bonus every month if you charge 30 transactions. Transfer the amex points to Avios and then book your AA travel through BA as they are in same alliance. Ben, arent you a big fan of Amex Everyday?

  11. @Owen — sadly the Barclay AAdvantage cards are no longer available to new applicants; they stopped applications for those cards a few months back. 🙁 I applied just in time to take advantage of the 50k miles sign up bonus back in March.

  12. Question was not which credit card should I apply to today to earn AA miles. It was which CC is best for earning AA miles. Clearly it is silver aviator for AA spend.

  13. Can you sign up for both the Barclay Aviator Red personal AND the Barclay Aviator business? Or is there some sort of restrictions?

  14. @Daniel I have both (well, actually I have the Aviator Silver card). As long as you can qualify for a a business card you can have both.

  15. @Daniel I will say that getting the Barclay Aviator Business card was the most difficult. I have had several Citi AAdvantage Business cards over the years (solely for the sign up bonus) and was always instantly approved. For the Barclay Aviator Business card I had to fax in my Schedule C for proof of business (I own several rental properties) and it took 3 weeks to get approved.

  16. @Ed. C. So odd. I actually found the Barclay Aviator Biz card so easy to get. I used personal income, etc and they didn’t ask to verify anything. Also, similar to the personal Barclay AA card, I got a really good limit.

  17. It is really good bt I think the best cards are Citi aa cards after the first year. I’ve been able to get double mile retention bonus (spend $1k on anything and earn 1k bonus on top of regular earnings) on most of the cards. And you get a 10k rebate for the award. This ends up much better than SPG or Barclay silver.

  18. @Robert Brown The Barclay cards, including the Aviator Silver card, get the 10% mile rebate up to 10,000 AAdvantage miles per year just like the Citi cards do. Plus, for spending on AA with the Aviator Silver card you get 3X miles per dollar spent instead of 2X with the Citi card.

  19. Spencer you start the post talking about how SPG used to be good for everyday spend, but then you never mention what the new best card for everyday spend is?

  20. @G Singh – With the earn rate deval of the SPG cards, there isn’t a great option for unbonused spend if you want AA miles. As discussed in the post, there are some ways to earn 2x on a number of categories now if you need AA miles but unbonused spend is going to be weak.

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