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.
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.