We received emails from the American Airlines AAdvantage Program today officially announcing changes to the AA co-branded credit cards issued by Citi and Barclays. The changes are almost uniformly negative for us – valuable benefits have been removed, and new benefits are pretty much useless to us. But let’s review them and see if there’s any silver lining in here for anyone.
Citi AA Platinum card
Let’s start off by taking a look at the changes announced today for the Citi AA Platinum card ($99 annual fee; waived first year):
Up to now, you’ve been able to receive an AA flight discount coupon for $100 if you spend $20k or more on the Citi AA Platinum card in a year. From 5/1/19 forward, the spend requirement is the same but the discount coupon becomes $125. Sparing you the math, there was absolutely no reason anyone should be spending $20k on this card, even if you get a $100 discount – and there is still absolutely no reason anyone should spend $20k on this card to get a $125 discount. Useless benefit previously; useless benefit now.
The other change is a huge negative. Up to now, this card allowed the cardholder to receive a 10% rebate on AA mile redemptions, up to a maximum rebate of 10,000 AA miles per year. At our baseline value of 1.25 cents per AA mile, this benefit could be worth up to $125 annually. This benefit was literally the only reason to hold the Citi AA Platinum card beyond receiving the sign-up bonus. And now it’s gone.
With this card, find a mailer with no 24-month restriction, get another card and another sign-up bonus, then cancel or product change to a useful Citi card. As Philly would say – Rinse. Lather. Repeat.
Barclays AA Aviator Silver Mastercard
The Barclays AA Aviator Silver Mastercard is Barclays’ premium-version AA co-branded card. You can’t apply directly for this card; instead, you must first get the Aviator Red card (the one they advertise on every AA flight), and then you can upgrade to the Silver card after about 90 days. Here are the updates and changes to the Barclays AA Aviator Silver Mastercard:
Recall also that AA and Barclays recently changed what to us was the most valuable benefit of this card. In 2018 and before, you could earn up to 6,000 Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQDs) through spend on the Aviator Silver card – 3,000 EQDs if you spent $25k in a calendar year, and another 3,000 EQDs if you spent $50k. Now in 2019, you can only earn a maximum of 3,000 EQDs, and you have to spend $50k to get them.
Philly and I have both used this benefit in each of the past 2 years to help us reach Executive Platinum status. If you assume that we still need the 3,000 EQDs this year, then we’ll have to spend $50k instead of $25k to get those EQDs. Sparing you the math, to us the extra $25k in spend imposes an incremental net cost on us of about $312. And we can’t get the additional 3,000 EQDs at any cost. So, we’ve already suffered a massive devaluation to the Barclays AA Aviator Silver card this year.
And now, it gets worse, at least for us.
First, as with the Citi AA Platinum card, the 10% rebate an AA redeemed miles (up to 10k AA miles a year) has been taken away. With the disappearance of this rebate on all AA co-branded cards, the collective impact is to cost us AA miles worth $125 each year. This hurts everyone who would redeem AA miles.
And, the annual fee will increase by $4. Not huge, but not good.
What about the new benefits – do those help? For some, possibly yes. But for us, no. And frankly, we have a hard time conceiving of anyone holding this premium AA co-branded card unless they’re like us, in the sense that they’re probably AA elites who use the card to earn extra EQMs and EQDs.
There’s a new $25/day credit for in-flight food and beverage purchases (replacing the previous 25% discount). For us, as Executive Platinums, we already get free drinks and a snack on the plane if we’re in the main cabin. So I’m not sure what we’re going to do with this credit. Offer to buy drinks for everyone else in our row? Seems kind of strange. But maybe we can recruit some new readers for Middle Age Miles that way – ha! That said, for non-EXPs, this could be useful. Or, I suppose, it could just lead to a lot more drinking on the plane.
$50 per year credit for in-flight Wi-Fi – This might be useful, given that we’re seeing more and more planes with ViaSat Wi-Fi instead of Gogo. We have plenty of Gogo passes from our Amex Business Platinum and US Bank Altitude Reserve cards. But credit to use for ViaSat Wi-Fi is actually helpful, for us and presumably anyone who flies AA enough to hold the Aviator Silver card. We’ll take it, for sure.
Companion Certificate at $20k spend instead of $30k – This one is interesting. If you have the right use, the Companion Certificate from this card can actually be quite valuable. It’s good for up to two companions, at $99 + taxes/fees each (turns out to be about $135) when you buy a paid ticket for the primary traveler at the going rate. We got almost $1,000 in value out of mine last year in a near-perfect use. Then, we got $0 in value out of Philly’s when we had to cancel our trip and thereby lost the certificate.
However, you have to pay the next year’s annual fee in order to actually get the Certificate. This diminishes its attractiveness for sure. Plus, it’s only good for trips in the contiguous 48 states, in economy class, and some blackout dates apply.
But what we’re really looking at is how much decreasing the spend requirement from $30k to $20k helps. If you were going to spend $30k to get the Certificate, then only having to spend $20k is much better (again sparing the math, we assess the net cost of the incremental $10k spend at about $125). We’re guessing this is a very, very limited group of people, though.
Flight Cents program – This allows you to “round up” your purchases on the card to the next dollar, and “purchase” AA miles with the “round-up” amount. But the cost is 2 cents per AA mile. We could never, ever recommend that anyone buy AA miles at 2 cents per mile (unless you need to top off a specific small amount for an immediate redemption, which you couldn’t do under the Flight Cents program anyway). Don’t do this. Please. Useless feature.
In sum, for us, we’ve already been killed by the change to EQD earning on this card. The current changes add insult to injury. We might get up to $50 in Wi-Fi, but we’re losing up to $125 in AA miles from the rebate. Ugh.
Who might benefit? One, people who like to eat and drink a lot on the plane; and two, the few people who would have spent $30k to get the Companion Certificate and now only have to spend $20k.
Barclays AA Aviator Red Mastercard
The Aviator Red card is the one that’s advertised on every AA flight. We’re guessing many people have it. Its sign-up bonuses have been great, and usually only required a single purchase and payment of the $95 annual fee (now will be $99) to earn 50,000 or 60,000 AA miles. Even people who don’t fly AA often – probably especially people who don’t fly AA often – can benefit from the card for its no-checked-bag-fee feature.
For AA fliers who are trying to earn elite status, this card already lost a lot of value. In 2018 and before, you could earn 3,000 EQDs by spending $25k on the card. In 2019, the ability to earn EQDs was completely eliminated from this card.
Here are the changes to the Aviator Red card (note that the changes you see here are for the “legacy US Air” version of the card, which still came with a benefit of 10,000 AA miles each year – the people who held onto the card and are losing this benefit are really hurt here):
Again, the 10% rebate up to 10k AA miles has been lost, which is very bad. In addition, as we mentioned above, legacy US Air cardholders will lose their 10,000 AA miles per year, after one last hurrah when they renew between May 2019 and April 2020. The annual fee increases by $4, from $95 to $99.
Previously, you could earn a $100 AA discount coupon for spending $20k on the card in a year; now, this becomes a Companion Certificate for one when you spend $20k and pay the next year’s annual fee. Just like it wasn’t worth spending $20k on the Citi AA Platinum card to get a $100 discount coupon, it’s not nearly worth it on this card either. Changing to the Companion Certificate at least makes it possible that some people might usefully do the spend. You’d have to have a companion and be pretty sure that you’ll be taking a trip together in domestic economy, sometime when the fare would be pretty high (and you wouldn’t be blacked out). To take an example that hits close to home, maybe you’ll be flying into South Bend on the weekend of a Notre Dame football game. That said, the flip side would be that if you were actually spending the $20k and paying the annual fee to renew, the $100 discount would be easier to use and more flexible. So, it’s a very narrow set of people who benefit here.
$25 a year in Wi-Fi credit – We’re sure some people can use this benefit.
Flight Cents program – As we discussed above, don’t do this.
Basically, for most people, the changes amount to losing the 10% rebate and gaining $25 a year in Wi-Fi credit. I’m calling that a negative change for everyone. If you’re holding this card for the baggage fee benefits and to move up a bit in the boarding queue, then you’ll probably still want to keep it. But we don’t think you’re happy with today’s changes overall.
AA continues to reduce the value proposition on its co-branded cards. And the value was already pretty low to begin with. No AA co-branded card deserves ongoing spend, unless you’re hitting a threshold to earn EQMs or EQDs. Truly, you can do much better with a multitude of other cards.
Our game plan – We’re churning Citi AA Platinum cards. With respect to Barclays, we’re probably going to need to keep our cards. It looks like we’re going to need the 3,000 EQDs from a Barclays card in order to reach Executive Platinum status again, and EXP status is very valuable to us (see The Value We Get from AA Executive Platinum Status and Our Plans and Strategies for AA Elite Status in 2019).
What do you think of these changes to the AA co-branded cards? What are your strategies with respect to these cards? Please share with us and other Middle Age Miles readers in the Comments!
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