Why does American Airlines have two sets of co-branded credit cards in the US?


  • Major airlines profit from co-branded credit cards.
  • American Airlines offers two sets of cards.
  • Different cards suit different demographics and budgets.

Nearly all major airlines, especially full-service network carriers such as Delta Air Lines, American Airlines and United Airlines, place a strong emphasis on creating extensive customer-centric loyalty programs to keep travelers coming back. An important component of these loyalty programs is the co-branded airline credit card, which allows customers to earn loyalty points and other miles on everyday purchases.

As a result, airlines can make huge amounts of money by selling loyalty points in bulk, as credit card companies are eager to secure the most lucrative airline partnerships. Traditionally, airlines would offer a range of flagship co-branded credit cards through a single banking partner, with annual fees ranging from zero to more than $500.

An American Eagle CRJ-700 flies in the sky.

Photo: Philippe Pilosian | Shutterstock

United Airlines follows this model by offering a single series of co-branded cards through Chase, and Delta Air Lines follows suit with American Express. American Airlines, however, takes a completely different approach and offers two different series of co-branded credit cards.

The company's Citi AAdvantage Mastercard product complements the AAdvantage Aviator Mastercard product line offered by banking partner Barclays. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at why the provider offers two different sets of co-branded credit cards and the unique roles they serve.

Citi AAdvantage Mastercard

Before looking into why an operator chooses to offer two different co-branded credit card series, it's important to fully understand each product package. Let’s first take a look at the credit cards offered by airlines through Citibank. There are five types of them:

  1. Citi/AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard
  2. Citi/AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard
  3. Citi/AAdvantage World Elite Gold Mastercard
  4. American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp Mastercard
  5. Citi/AAdvantage BusinessWorld Elite Mastercard

The first thing to note about this set of co-branded cards is that it's very similar to offerings from other legacy players in the U.S. market, with each card catering to an easily identifiable demographic. According to Citibank, the company's Executive World Elite Mastercard is at the top of the market, offering the most rewards among the cards in the series.

The card has an annual fee of $595 and reflects the top products in United and Delta's lineups: the United Club Unlimited Credit Card and the Delta American Express SkyMiles Reserve Card. Like other cards, the American Executive World card includes full membership in Admirals Club, the airline's main lounge network. Provide decent benefits. Like the United Explorer card, this product has an annual fee of $99, with no annual fee for the first year and a healthy welcome offer.

The American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp Card serves the same market as other no-annual-fee airline co-branded cards, such as the United Gateway Card or the Delta American Express Blue Card. The AAdvantage Gold World Elite Card and AAdvantage Business World Elite Card further cater to a mix of consumers (the former has a $50 annual fee) and small business owners (the latter has a $99 annual fee).

AAdvantage Pilot Mastercard

American Airlines' Pilot MasterCard line, offered through banking partner Barclays, is more unique to the airline and less likely to be copied by other airlines' products. There are a total of five cards to choose from:

  1. AAdvantage Pilot World Elite Silver Mastercard
  2. AAdvantage Aviator World Elite Red Mastercard
  3. AAdvantage Aviator World Elite Blue Mastercard
  4. AAdvantage Aviator World Elite Mastercard
  5. AAdvantage Aviator World Elite Business Mastercard

For starters, this business card is easy to discuss from the get-go as it's most similar to the AAdvantage business card offered by Citibank. With an annual fee of $95 and reasonable accrual rates across multiple categories, it's a good choice for a small business credit card.

The World Elite Red Mastercard is also relatively easy to discuss, as it offers a $99 annual fee and offers a similar accrual interest rate as the airline's Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard. Additionally, the Blue Mastercard has an annual fee of $49 and serves a similar market to the AAdvantage Gold card offered by Citibank.


Why do airlines issue co-branded credit cards?

These credit cards offer many key benefits to airlines.

According to Business Insider, the Aviators World Elite Silver Mastercard is different from other cards offered by the airline. It requires a $199 annual fee and emphasizes helping cardholders obtain status. Finally, the AAdvantage Aviator World Elite Mastercard has a no-fee option, but offers minimal cumulative benefits, awarding only 1 mile for every $2 spent on the card.

So why both?

The origins of American's two sets of parallel co-branded credit cards can be traced to the airline's 2013 merger with fellow legacy carrier US Airways. Prior to the merger, American Airlines offered its Citibank cards due to its pre-existing co-branded credit card agreement. US Airways has done the same with credit cards issued through Barclays.

An American Airlines Airbus A321 takes off from DFW Airport.

Photo: Marcus Mainka | Shutterstock

However, when the two airlines merged, American was forced to accept US Airways' existing agreement with Barclays and therefore convert the US Airways credit card to an AAdvantage Aviator card, according to the Wall Street Journal. So while the airline prioritizes Citibank cards (more advertising, placing them higher on the site), it still offers the popular Pilot Card.


What happened to US Airways?

The airline may not exist as an independent entity, but its rich legacy lives on as one of the pioneers of commercial aviation in the United States.

In addition, the airline offers dozens of credit cards and hundreds of partner loyalty programs worldwide where miles can be redeemed for travel on American Airlines. In Canada, Scotiabank and Butterfield Bank offer co-branded AAdvantage cards.

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