Reader Question: Why is the American Airlines Card Not the Best for Earning American Airlines Miles?

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Million Mile Secrets reader Chad commented:

Great website!  Have it in my feedly subscription.  I am having a hard time on strategy here.  Only American flies out of my closest little airport so I have a business and personal citi advantage card and rack up miles on it.  I also have an AMEX Platinum that I love because of the airline credit, lounge access, fine hotels, etc.

I have a lot of business expenses.  Should I keep charging everything on the American Airlines cards for miles?  Should I charge everything on the AMEX? What card should I get next?  Thinking the SPG AMEX but how should I leverage it.

Needing to get some strategy here! 

american airlines miles credit cards

Which is the Best Card to Spend on to Earn American Airlines Miles?

The Best Card for American Airlines Miles?

Chad has been earning American miles by putting his business & personal spending on his Citi American Airlines credit cards.

That may seem like the most logical thing to do to earn American Airlines miles, but it isn’t the best way to earn American Airlines miles for spending on a credit card!

The Citi American Airlines cards have the higher sign-up bonus of 50,000 miles, but aren’t the best cards to spend money on if you’re trying to get the most American Airlines cards.

The American Airlines business and personal cards earn only 1 American Ailrines mile per $1 spent on the cards.  There is no spending bonus or additional miles for crossing a certain spending level.

Even the more expensive Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard® (which Chad doesn’t have and comes with a $450 annual fee, but includes American Airlines lounge access) will only earn Chad 1 mile per $1 spent. 

However, Chad should use his American Airlines card Chad to pay for his American Airlines flights because he will earn 2 American Airlines miles per $1 spent on the card.

But he shouldn’t use it for regular spending, because Chad could earn more American miles if he used a different card.

AMEX Starwood Preferred Guest

Chad has a lot of business & personal expenses so he can earn 25% more American Airlines miles if he uses either the Starwood personal or business card.

You get a 5,000 point bonus for every transfer of 20,000 or more Starwood points to American Airline.  This means that Chad earns 1.25 air miles for every 1 Starwood point he transfers to American Airlines in increments of 20,000 points.

You get the 5,000 extra points to transfer to airlines whether you transfer 20,000 points or if you transfer 35,000 points in one transaction.  So it is better to transfer in increments of 20,000 Starwood points (20,000, 40,000 or 60,000 points) to get the 5,000 point bonus.

Read this post for more information on transferring Starwood points to American Airlines and other airlines.  Transfers aren’t instant and can take up to 4 weeks according to Starwood, but in my experience, they are usually complete within 10 days.

Chad would earn 1.25 miles for every $1 he spends on his Starwood credit cards.  However, Chad may also want to keep his Citi American Airlines cards because he will earn 10% of his redeemed miles back (up to 10,000 miles), get 2 American Airlines miles per $1 spent on the card, and get 1 checked bag free if he books his American Airlines flights with his Citi American Airlines cards.

Bottom Line

Even though it seems counter-intuitive, Chad earns more American Airlines miles by NOT using his American Airlines credit cards for regular spending, but by using a Starwood personal or business card!

That’s because he earns an extra 5,000 American Airlines miles for transferring Starwood hotel points in increments of 20,000 points to American Airlines.

So Chad earns 1.25 American Airlines miles for every $1 spent on his Starwood cards compared to 1 mile per $1 on his American Airline cards.

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39 responses to “Reader Question: Why is the American Airlines Card Not the Best for Earning American Airlines Miles?

  1. amex business gold? 3x wouldnt be better?

  2. Great post! I’m in Chad’s exact situation; looks like a good option. Thanks for posting this Q&A!

  3. This is a total advertisement for the amex spg card. Come on Darius.

  4. While I’m no fan of Amex even if he didn’t want to use the SPG card he might even do better (depending on goals) of using the BA Avios card which earns 1.25 Avios per $ and can use those Avios on AA for reward travel which is a good deal if flying domestic or many North America routes. It also can include some spending level bonuses.

  5. I guess no stops at pimping the SPG card.

    1. Avios are better as the person above mentioned.
    2. Transferring from SPG to AA makes no sense as the SPG points are more valuable to be used for stays

    I wish they stopped giving the bloggers commission and give the customers more benefits.

  6. Good point on the Avios DaninSTL. Obviously this reader is at a smaller airport that will connect through one of the AA hubs. He should definitely stock up some Avios and use them when it is advantageous to do so. I’m in the same boat, and can get great value from Avios simply flying from my airport to a hub for 4,500 Avios instead of for several hundred dollars cash.

  7. RE: Mike | August 18, 2013 at 5:35 am |
    This is a total advertisement for the amex spg card. Come on Darius.

    This is *not* a “total advertisement for the Amex SPG card.” It’s solid information.

    And, anyway, why would you take a shot at Darius even if this were a “total advertisement…?” Affinity credit cards are, by definition, promotional — AKA advertising — vehicles. Do you think free tickets and rooms and all that is required to get us to get points toward/for those tickets and rooms is written off as “being nice?” Points programs are profit generators and are accounted for as promotional — AKA advertising — expenses. So here’s a tip of the old hat to to profit generators — and *profits!”

  8. Darius you left out some very important info on the AA card. If he has the better AA cards they are way better than spg. AA has $100 discount annually and 10% off award travel up to 10k, which makes it better than spg. He would have to spend $40,000 to equal the 10k max 10% off awards and some more money to equal the $100 discount, not to mention paying the additional annual fee for spg. Not sure how much he spends, but if he spends more than that, then it might be worth it. I would suggest that he continue to use the AA for personal use and get the spg for business use if he does spend a lot. He doesnt need overlapping perks for AA and he could use the 25k plus the 10% off awards together. The other option like DaninSTL said get the BA card.

  9. The only issue I see here and am wondering about is the vague statement that is posted on the landing page. I’m an AMEX customer but DO NOT have this SPG card or ever applied for it but do have reservations about going forward with it because of the statement. I got screwed on an AMEX Gold Sign up in which they didn’t want to honor the points bonus cause they said I was already a member of Platinum Card.

    † If you are identified as a current American Express® Cardmember, you may not be eligible for this welcome bonus offer. This offer is also not available to applicants who have had this product within the last 12 months.

  10. Unfortunately, I have to agree with Mike. I really like this blog a lot and often find it full of useful information. However, the timing of this post is just blatant hawking of a commission-earning credit card that currently is offering a minor incremental sign up bonus to that which is generally available. Disappointing…

  11. Just cancelled my SPG because I called to cancel two citi AA cards and was offered a $95 credit to offset my $85 fee and 750 bonus miles for the first $750 over the next 16 months and 1000 bonus on the thee for the first $1000. I hadn’t used either card since meeting the spend bonus 9-10 months ago. Reading flyertalk others have been offered similar promotions so before applying for the extra card I’d call citi for a retention offer there is a good chance u could get them to offer u a higher earning rate with a promo like I received. Although I’d probably get the two SPG cards now as well to earn 70k and use the nights & flights option for 5 nights and have the 50k miles put into my AA account for future use (better transfer rate than 1.25 because u pay 30k spg points for 50k miles).

  12. Hi Darius, thanks for running this as a post! It’s me, Chad, now famous! What’s your thoughts on some of the discussion here on alternative strategies–such as the BA avios (should I do that? Not familiar with it at all) and Royce’s advise to just use the existing cards I have?

    Thanks again!

  13. 1) If I get the AA card, don’t I get 10k back on award redemptions? 2) If I put my son on the card as an additional cardholder, can he help me with the necessary $5000 spend? 3) can I use AA card for vanilla reloads to bluebird spend so I can meet $5000 spend?

  14. Mmmm… Am I missing something here or is every one forgetting that the Chase Ink cards strategy earns 5 points/1$ and transfers 1:1 to BA avios which can be used to book tickets for AA?
    Why isn’t that the best way?

  15. Everyone is right. AA miles could be better, BA Avios could be better. The best answer? Get both miles and use them when it makes sense. BA Avios are so easy to get with the BA card, UR Points, MR Points, it would seem like it is easier to rack up those than AA miles.

  16. “and get 1 checked bag free if he books his American Airlines flights with his Citi American Airlines cards.”

    You don’t actually have to *book* the flight with an AA card, you just have to have an AA card. It’s in the fine print, and I recently tested it. I booked a flight with a different card to fulfill a bonus requirement and still got the free baggage check and priority boarding.

  17. dont get me wrong, I love SPG but hated Amex, why, bc of Financial Review, Amex disregards of everyone and businesses on spending pattern. I had both the personal and business card and both was cancel due to irregular spending and like most of people in this game, we spend to liquidate. I have no problem with Citi AA card, spend like crazy and pay before the bill due with smooth sailing. yes its less points but also less headache.

    • @DaninSTL @Enough @DaveS @Chad – Transferring to British Airways Avios are great if your goal is short distance travel on non-stop flights. If you want to travel internationally in coach, business-class, or first-class (or even long distance flights in the US), you’re better off with American Airlines miles because you won’t pay fuel surcharges (exception of Aer Lingus and Air Berlin and flights within the Americas) on long-distance flights of up to ~$400 per long-distance segment. Don’t forget that you can transfer Starwood points to British Airways as well.

      @Enough @Mike – I also have an affiliate link to the British Airways card, but the question specifically asks what are the best ways of earning American Airlines miles. British Airways Avios are great, but only for short distance flights.

      @Paul @Stu – Thanks!

      @Royce’sWorld – I mention the 10% discount off award travel in the post and that it is worth keeping the AA card for the 10% discount on award redemptions, but not spending money on it.

      @Ron – How would you answer the question?

      @Michael – You do get 10K back on redemptions and the amount that your additional cardholder spends does count towards the $5,000 spending requirement.

      @Mike – When did that happen? I’ve heard recent reports that they now want you to book the flight with the card.

  18. Jon, how are you converting 30k SPG points into 50k AA miles? I would like to do this as well.

  19. The SPG card is totally the way to go for daily spending, and this article makes a great point for those interested in earning AA miles. I also love the flexibility of this card. If I need hotels, no problem, but if I would like to take advantage of the airline transfer bonus, I can do so on something like 30 airlines. Thanks for keeping us in the loop D.

  20. Can you please review the bonus when you sign up/receive the CITI AA card? Thanks!

  21. I have 3 different AA credit cards (Visa, MasterCard, AmericanExp) and I registered all those 3 cards to AA dining program. After 10 dinnings at the participated restaurants (even if it is only one drink at the participated restaurant, it is still count as one visist), I become VIP member and for 1 dollar I spend, I get 5 AA miles. To me, that’s a good way to earn extra miles on daily spend when you dine out. I can’t find SPG card has that kind opportunity like AA dining program.

  22. MMS-you saved med again! I almost applied for AA card I got a targeted offer for 30k I guess I will get a Starwood instead thanks D!!

  23. I used your link to apply for a personal SPG card back in May, the promo was only 25K pts. But the card Amex sent me has the word “Business” on the top right corner. I just called Amex, they said it is a business card and I probably applied it through Sheraton (?). I am very sure I applied it through your personal card link, I even kept screen shots of all my applications. Has this happened to anyone else who used your link for the personal Amex SPG?

    I was planning to apply for the business version to capture the 30K bonus. Now I don’t even know if I should apply for business or personal since I am not even sure if the card I am already holding is recorded as business or personal in the Amex records. Any advice?

  24. Mike – Your right! I’ve been doing that for years. All you have to Do is show them your card when your checking your bag and no fee!

  25. Jeez. Proof read maybe?

  26. Many comments on the benefits of the AA Citi card seem to miss the whole point of this article. It is about what card to use for spending, not what card to have. If you don’t have the AA Citi yet and want the benefits of the card, then get it by all means. What Daraius was trying to point out is that if you have both cards, then the SPG is better to put regular spending on. This is a different question than “Which card should I apply for if I have neither?”

    And so what if Daraius advocates a card on which he receives commission? As long as his information is factual and his analysis reasonable, what motive he has for writing is irrelevant.

  27. Anita – saved you from what? Currently you can get 100k aa miles in 8 days. I also have the 2aa miles per $ for my aa card for retention bonus as mentioned by another commenter. The spg may be better for accumulating aa miles, but it depends on a few things. Also u mention “get a starwood instead”. Unless u r spending 70k cash in the next 65 days, there is a much better way to accumulate aa miles if its an either/or situation.

    • @Short – Thanks for reading!

      @juanita @Anita – There’s a link to the 50K offer for the AA card on the Hot Deals tab which was linked in the post.

      @lisa – If you already have the business card, you likely won’t get the bonus again. And if you’ve called and the card has the word “business” on it, it seems like you do have the business card.

      @Mike – Thanks!

  28. “When did that happen? I’ve heard recent reports that they now want you to book the flight with the card.”
    It happened in June.

  29. Remember when you didn’t have affiliate links? You really need to step back and think about how far you have fallen since getting paid T.L.M Hax nailed it, but you are too high on SPG affiliate crack to see it.

  30. @Ken,

    You know you can add ANY card to the AA dining program, right? It doesn’t have to be an American Airlines credit card, it can be my BofA debit Visa card or an Amex SPG credit card (which will earn you AA miles faster). I even attached my friend’s Chase card to my account. When he dines somewhere 3000 miles away, I get miles! (with his permission of course)

  31. I got 50,000 AAdvantage Miles from applying for the Citi American Airlines card and another 5,000 AAdvantage Miles from purchases. I was able to sell my AAdvantage Miles to rewards2cash for $660.

    http://rewards2cash.com/AAdvantage?tracking=4f8fb6a3e7219

    The company has positive reviews on yelp, facebook, and slickdeals.

  32. Thanks for the article. Citi AA was my first attempt at this frequent miles/bonus sign-up. How come no one has mentioned the 3 AA miles per $1 spend on grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants, and drugstores? You need to enroll (like the Freedom card), and good for a quarter. Earn up to 2500 bonus miles. I’m on my second quarter. Am I missing something?

    After much investigation, AA miles was the only one that allowed me to get economy (min miles) in the middle of summer.

  33. @MilesInaTor,
    Ah! you’re killing me here! I can fly from Las vegas to London to Barcelona and back to Vegas all for 55,000 AA miles! That trip is worth over $1200, and you sold them for $660? You do know this is a travel forum & not a cashback forum, right?
    That is robbery in the eyes of miles and point collectors.

  34. Good grief grumblers! Darius gives us sooooo much great information and work so hard to do it. It’s great that he makes something for his time for referrals! I love his “Mother in Law” rule that he will always try to post the best link he knows of – even if it isn’t his! If you don’t appreciate what he does you don’t have to log on to his site. Take your negativity somewhere else!!!!!!!

  35. I would like to know, if a bank denied an approval for a credit card application, does calling them up help to change there mind?
    Thanx so much for your helpful information,
    Rick

  36. What are my chances they should change there decision?