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Citi and American Airlines recently refreshed the value proposition of their highest-end cobranded card, the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®*. Like other premium cards, this one now has a higher annual fee ($595, up from $450), but it now comes with additional annual credits as well:
- Up to $120 back on eligible Avis or Budget car rentals every calendar year
- Up to $120 back on eligible Grubhub purchases annually (distributed as monthly credits up to $10 apiece)
- Up to $120 in Lyft credits each year (distributed as $10 monthly credits which kick in after completing three eligible rides that month)
On the face of it, this sounds like a good trade: paying $145 more each year for up to $360 in additional value. The problem, however, is that I believe a lot of cardholders will find it difficult to maximize the additional credits. That’s particularly true if they have overlapping benefits on other credit cards.
For example, all World and World Elite Mastercard holders already get a $5 credit after taking three Lyft rides in a month, so the Citi/AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard’s new $10 credit really only adds up to $5 per month or $60 per year.
Also, some other credit cards already have similar food delivery perks. For instance, if you have the American Express® Gold Card, you already qualify for a $10 monthly credit (up to $120 annually in dining credits) for Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations.
The Platinum Card® from American Express is the king of statement credits. It touts more than $1,500 in potential credits each year (including up to $200 in Uber Cash annually; that’s $15 per month, plus an extra $20 in December, available to basic cardmembers only) in exchange for a $695 annual fee, but you’d be hard-pressed to utilize all of those.
The more cards you have, the greater your chances of paying multiple annual fees for similar benefits, whether we’re talking about food delivery, airport lounge access or something else.
As you would expect on a cobranded card, Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard holders earn a solid return on American Airlines purchases (4X miles per dollar, which rises to 5X miles per dollar after hitting a lofty $150,000 annual spending threshold).
Hotel stays and car rentals booked via aa.com/hotels and aa.com/cars, respectively, earn a whopping 10X AAdvantage miles per dollar when purchased with the Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard. But there are trade-offs there, too. Third-party bookings typically don’t earn hotel and car rental rewards points or count toward elite status qualification. And changing or canceling a reservation can be more complicated when an intermediary is involved.
The Citi / AAdvantage card also only gives 1X miles per dollar on most purchases, whereas many other cards dole out higher rewards in key spending categories such as travel, dining and more.
Authorized users take a hit
Authorized users are treated much less favorably under the Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard’s new structure. It used to be free to add up to 10 authorized users to your account, and they could get into American Airlines’ Admirals’ Club airport lounges (and even bring guests!), even if you weren’t traveling together. Now, adding up to three authorized users costs a total of $175, and each additional authorized user after that costs $175 apiece.
Admirals Club access is perhaps the biggest selling point of this card, but these changes make it significantly less attractive from an authorized user standpoint. That’s surely by design, since lounges have gotten crowded as air travel has rebounded from the pandemic. This is far from the only credit card that’s making it tougher to get beyond the whooshing doors of those swanky airport lounges, particularly for authorized users and guests.
The Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard recently added a 10,000 Loyalty Point bonus after cardholders reach 50,000 Loyalty Points in a status qualification year, making it easier to qualify for elite status perks. If cardholders are able to hit 90,000 Loyalty Points in a given year, then they earn an additional 10,000 bonus Loyalty Points.
Other benefits are unchanged, including a free first checked bag for cardholders and up to eight companions traveling on the same reservation on American Airlines domestic flights; 25 percent off eligible in-flight food and beverages on American Airlines; and priority boarding, check-in and security screening for cardholders and up to eight travel companions. Cardholders also get up to a $100 statement credit toward a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck membership every four years (compared with every five years previously).
The bottom line
The Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard still makes sense for frequent American Airlines flyers, in my opinion — especially if you’re a frequent solo traveler (such as a business travel road warrior). But there’s a narrow path to justifying this card.
I think a more basic American Airlines card, such as the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®*, makes more sense for the majority of American Airlines flyers. The main selling point of that card, I believe, is the free checked bag for cardholders and up to four companions on domestic American Airlines itineraries. At $30 a pop, this could save two people traveling together $120 in bag fees on just one round-trip flight, more than justifying the $99 annual fee (which is waived the first year).
If you’re more of a free agent with your travel bookings, then I’d suggest a general-purpose travel card to keep your options open. There are tons of great options, ranging from premium cards like the Amex Platinum and Chase Sapphire Reserve® to mid-tier offerings such as the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and even some no-annual-fee selections like the Wells Fargo Autograph℠ Card.
Have a question about credit cards? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’d be happy to help.
*The information about the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® and Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® has been collected independently by Bankrate.com. The card details have not been reviewed or approved by the issuer.