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The AAdvantage Aviator Red MasterCard is a good travel rewards credit card aimed at American Airlines customers that we recommend to consumers who spend on average more than $2,500 per month. Otherwise, we'll explain that opting for the AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard gives people more room for savings. Note that it is currently not possible to sign-up for the AAdvantage Aviator Red card directly. Instead, existing US Airways Dividend Miles credit cardholders will be automatically udpated to the Aviator Red sometime between April and June 2015, after the merger between American Airlines and US Airways happens.
The features we like best about the AAdvantage Aviator Red Credit Card:
- Good rewards rate for frequent American Airlines customers
- $100 flight discount for eligible spenders
- Well-suited for international travel – EMV Chip Technology and no FX fee
- 50% Miles Bonus until June 30th, 2015
- Free checked back for you and up to 4 traveling companions on American Airlines flights
Where we think the AAdvantage Aviator Red Credit Card falls short:
- No real benefits or bonuses for spending outside of American Airlines
- Doesn’t offer as good of savings as other AA credit cards, for individuals who spend less than $30,000 per year.
The AAdvantage Aviator Red MasterCard is a great credit card for individuals who are frequent customers of American Airlines (AA). As far as travel rewards for AA are concerned, the only card that competes with the Aviator Red is the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard. Both cards are functionally similar, and provide similar rewards rate – between 1.9% and 3.7%. We think the AAdvantage Aviator Red MasterCard is better for individuals who spend $30,000+ per year on their credit card. At this spending threshold, one of the best features of the Aviator Red MasterCard kicks in – a $100 flight discount.
The AAdvantage Aviator Red’s value begins and ends with its affiliation to American Airlines. Consumers wishing to earn rewards across more spending categories or those who want more varied redemption options should look to non-airline affiliated travel rewards cards. For instance, the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card gives consumers up to 2% back for all of their credit card charges when they redeem miles as statement credits on travel-related expenses (airline tickets, hotels, taxis, etc.)
International travelers will be glad to know that the AAdvantage Aviator Red MasterCard is well-suited for their overseas travels. There are no foreign transaction fees – that's a 3% savings, and is one advantage over the AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard. The Aviator Red also comes equipped with an EMV smartchip. Vendors in many European and Asian nations do not have to capabilities of accepting old magnetic strip credit cards. Having a credit card with smartchip technology will be easier for your global travel as well as provide you an extra layer of protection against fraud.
One last fantastic feature of the AAdvantage Aviator Red MasterCard that’s worth noting is the temporary 50% miles bonus that will last through June 30, 2015 (capped at 10,000 bonus miles). While just a temporary boost, it has the potential to earn Aviator Red cardholders up to an additional $170 in rewards – covering almost 2 years’ worth of annual fees.
The table below showcases the most signficant metrics, bonuses, and other features of the Aviator Red MasterCard from Barclays. We'll then explain how we value the rewards rate of the Aviator version of the AAdvantage credit card, how to maximize value, and all of its other perks in more detail.
The Aviator Red’s rewards program is based mainly around earning users AAdvantage miles. Cardmembers receive 2 miles per $1 spent on eligible US Airways and American Airlines flights, and 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases. On average, we value these AA miles at $0.017. With these two numbers in hand, we are able to calculate the rewards rate of the Aviator Red MasterCard.
Note that rewards rate will vary depending on how you divide your spending between purchases of AA tickets and general spending on things such as gas, groceries, shopping, etc. We will look at two different scenarios that will lie on both extremes of the rewards rate spectrum to demonstrate the best and worst possible average rewards rates. By our calculations, that range is 1.9% and 3.7%, excluding the impact of the annual fee.
How to get the most out of the Aviator Red Credit Card? If we just use the Aviator Red MasterCard to purchase AA tickets, we will earn 2 miles per $1 spent. Therefore, if we buy a $1,000 ticket we will earn 2,000 AA miles. As noted above, the average value of these miles is $0.017. Therefore, the value of the 2,000 AA miles we’ve earned is equal to 2,000 x $0.017 = $34. This money earned will vary based on how much money we spend. A more universal gauge of the value of the card is therefore the ratio between money earned to money spent – what we call the rewards rate. Spending $1,000 netted us $34, and so $34 / $1,000 = 0.034 = 3.4%.
Additionally, AAdvantage Aviator Red MasterCard users earn 10% of the miles they redeem back. Taking that back into our rewards rate calculation, those extra 10% would translate to: 2,000 x 0.1 = 200 AAdvantage miles. Those miles are worth 200 x $0.017 = $3.40. Therefore, in reality we earn $37.4 back after having spent $1,000. Our effective and overall rewards rate for the Aviator Red credit card therefore becomes: $37.40 / $1,000 = 3.7%. With this kind of targeted spending, the Aviator Red credit card offers consumers a higher than average return on their spending compared to other credit cards.
What is the absolute worst value we can get out of the Aviator Red MasterCard? If we make $1,000 in purchases on things like movie tickets, Starbucks, and all other household items other than American Airlines tickets, we will receive just 1,000 AA miles. Following the same math we’ve done above for the base miles redemption and the 10% redemption bonus, we can calculate that this will yield us a rewards rate of 1.9%.
American Airlines and Barclays offer their Aviator Red credit cardholders a number perks and bonuses, which we'll cover in detail below.
Mileage Bonus Until June 30th, 2015 cardholders will earn an additional 50% miles if they spend just a few minutes to register their card on the Barclays website.These extra bonus miles are capped at 10,000 – a potential $170 value based on our analysis of each AA mile's worth.
$100 Flight Discount Each year that a cardmember charges at least $30,000 to their Aviator Red MasterCard, they will earn a $100 flight discount. This is a nice touch, but we feel it pales somewhat when compared to ongoing bonuses of other cards, such as the AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard. The $100 discount equates to receiving approximately 5,882 AAdvantage miles. AAdvantage Platinum Select cardmembers can opt to redeem certain flights by using 7,500 fewer AAdvantage miles – and this comes at no spending requirement. The one limitation of this bonus is that it is not available for all destinations. Individuals who can fly using Citi’s Reduced Mileage Awards program should prefer the bonus offered by the Platinum Select MasterCard - paying fewer 7,500 miles less to redeem award flights can be worth more in our opinion than a $100 flight discount. A full list of all destinations which can be flown to using Reduced Mileage can be found here: https://www.aa.com/reducedmileageawards.
In-Flight Purchase Discount The Aviator Red MasterCard also grants its members a 25% discount on purchases of food, beverages, and headsets on American Airlines flights. This is a nice touch that is sure to give American Airlines customers the sense that they are being well rewarded for their brand loyalty on the more gastronomical aspects of flying.
As the merger between US Airways and American Airlines grows closer, individuals who have the US Airways credit card at hand are faced with an important decision. Are they better off getting updated to the Aviator Red MasterCard, or should they look to other credit cards? Below we analyze how the AAdvantage Aviator Red MasterCard stacks up in the crowded field of other available options.
AAdvantage® Aviator™ Red MasterCard® vs Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®
The Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® works in a similar fashion to the Aviator Red MasterCard. Users get 2 miles per $1 spent on American Airlines purchases, including US Airways codeshare flights booked with AA. The Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® comes with a sign up bonus that offers 60,000 AAdvantage miles when users spend $3,000 within the first 3 months of account opening. However, if you sign up for the US Airways credit card (which you must own to receive the Aviator Red MasterCard), you will receive 50,000 Dividend miles the first time you use your card and pay your $89 annual fee. Once the two airlines merge, those 50,000 Dividend miles will become AAdvantage miles.
The Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® scores some miles in its favor with the Reduced Mileage Awards program. With Reduced Mileage Awards, individuals sporting the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® can opt to redeem their miles for 7,500 fewer AAdvantage miles on select flights. This redemption option does limit certain benefits you would have with a regular ticket (such as flexibility to rebook or cancel) but we still think the value from this is noteworthy. This acts essentially as a $128 discount on eligible purchases.
The AAdvantage Aviator Silver World Elite MasterCard offers bigger savings and better perks at the cost of a higher annual fee. The card costs $195 per year to maintain, which is a little more than double what the Aviator Red MasterCard costs. In return, Aviator Silver cardmembers receive 3 AA miles per $1 on US Airways and American Airlines purchases (vs the 2 miles per $1 with the Aviator Red), 2x miles for every $1 spent on hotels and car rentals, and 1 mile per $1 on everything else. This rewards structure is not only more generous than that of the Aviator Red, but also gives more opportunities to earn miles – with the extra miles awarded for hotel and car rental purchases.
Individuals interested in premium frequent flyer benefits also have extra incentives in the Aviator Silver MasterCard. Firstly, the card allows users to earn up to 10,000 Elite Qualifying Miles per year. These miles count towards qualifying for Elite Status with American Airlines, which is their loyalty perks program for frequent flyers. On top of this, Aviator Silver members will receive statement credit refunding them for an approved application for Global Entry with TSA Pre√™. If this is something consumers would want to get in the first place, this benefit alone is enough to justify higher annual fee of the Aviator Silver, as Global Entry applications costs $100.
Currently consumers don’t have the option to upgrade to the Aviator Silver World Elite MasterCard, unless they were invited to do so by Barclays. After American Airlines and US Airways merge (sometime by the end of June 2015), it will be possible to contact Barclays, and request consideration for an upgrade. We recommend the upgrade to the Aviator Silver to any consumer who spends significantly on AA tickets, hotel stays, and car rentals, and will take advantage of the additional benefits this card offers (such as free Global Entry).
Consumers who are more focused on travel perks, instead of earning travel rewards should prefer the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® over the Aviator Red MasterCard. Though the two cards have the same rewards rate, the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® has a significantly higher annual fee - $450 per year. This higher cost is the price for what Citi calls an “enhanced airport experience”. This includes: priority check-in, priority airport screening, and priority boarding – all on flights operated by American Airlines.
These amenities are not present in the Aviator Red MasterCard, whose primary focus is around simply earning members AAdvantage miles to be used on future flights. If a consumer already finds themselves frequently traveling with American, and calls the airport their second home, a card like the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® can provide an extra level of comfort worth the high annual fee.
The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card is a more general travel rewards credit card, with no affiliation to either American Airlines or any other airline or hotel chain. This results in some advantages and disadvantages when we compare it to a card like the Aviator Red MasterCard. Firstly, having no direct affiliation means the card doesn’t offer the same narrow band of rewards. Venture cardholders receive 2 miles per $1 spent on all purchases they make. The miles earned aren’t as valuable as the AAdvantage Miles you earn with the Aviator Red MasterCard, though the can be stretched further. You may only use AAdvantage miles to book more American Airlines flights – which may be good enough for some consumers. With the pointers earned with the Venture, you can earn statement credit on a wider array of travel expenses, such as taxis, public transportation, hotels, airline tickets (American Airlines and more). You can also use Venture miles as cash back on non-travel related expenses, though this causes their value to depreciate, and this kind of use of miles is not recommended.
While you may earn more miles in more places with the Venture, as noted above, their value will be lower than AAdvantage miles. We value the latter at $0.017, while Barclays' general miles are worth only about $0.01. It should be up to individual consumers to decide how much they value the flexibility in rewards. If you are okay with earning greater rewards on just American Airlines purchases, then the Aviator Red is the card for you. However, if you would like your credit card to be able to save you money on more of the purchases you make, we recommend the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card.
Don’t forget that with no American Airlines affiliation, the Venture cannot offer you some of the brand-specific discounts, such as the 25% savings on in-flight purchases or the $100 flight discount.
The Citi® Double Cash Card is one of our favorite cash back credit cards, and it can help an individual to maximize their spending alongside their AAdvantage Aviator Red MasterCard. Since the Citi® Double Cash Card has no annual fee, there is no extra carrying cost to have both credit cards in your wallet. With American Airlines purchases, the Aviator Red MasterCard outperforms the Citi® Double Cash Card in terms of savings. This is because the Citi® Double Cash Card only provides 1% back on all your purchases, then another 1% when you pay for those purchases. The Aviator Red, on the other hand, can get you up to 3.7% back on those AA purchases.
The reason one should consider having both credit cards at their disposal is to maximize the savings on all purchases. Whenever you are not making AA purchases, the best your Aviator Red MasterCard can do is give you is a 1.87% rewards rate. The Citi® Double Cash Card has a flat rewards rate back on all spending – regardless of category. Therefore, we recommend you get the second card and use it whenever buying gas, groceries, and all things that don’t fall under the umbrella of the Aviator Red’s 3.7% rewards rate.
How do I / Can I apply for the AAdvantage Aviator Red MasterCard? No. Currently, due to Citi’s deal with American Airlines they are the only ones who can issue new AA co-branded credit cards. The only way to receive the AAdvantage Aviator Red MasterCard is to apply for the US Airways Divided Miles MasterCard (http://www.worldgotbigger.com/us-airways-credit-card/?campaignId=2062&cellNumber=8). With the merger between US Airways and American Airlines coming in the next couple of months, US Airways credit card holders will be updated to one of the AAdvantage Aviator credit cards – with most users qualifying for the Aviator Red MasterCard.
What benefits will not carry over from my US Airways MasterCard? How will the Aviator Red be different from the original US Airways credit card? Two benefits, currently on the US Airways Credit card roster, are going away. They are the $99 companion certificate and the elite qualifying miles.
I currently have the US Airways Dividend Miles card. Will the Dividend Miles I am earning be wasted after the merger? No. The two loyalty programs (US Airways and American Airlines) will combine into one. All US dividend miles you’ve accumulated up until the merger will convert into AAdvantage miles at a 1:1 ratio.
How will the annual fee work? Will I have to pay an additional annual fee when my US Airways Dividend Miles gets replaced with the AAdvantage Aviator Red credit card? You won't have to pay an additional annual fee for the AAdvantage Aviator Red credit card replacement. You'll simply pay the same $89 annual fee on your anniversary date based on when you opened your US Airways Dividend Miles account.