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Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard: Is It Worth the Annual Fee?

For American Airlines frequent flyers who travel in large groups and use Admirals Club lounges, the $450 annual fee may be worth it.

Citi is an advertising partner.

The Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® could lower the cost of your trips with American Airlines, while offering you a comfortable lounge to relax, away from the hustle and bustle of the airport.

With a $450 annual fee, the AAdvantage Executive card is the most expensive of American Airlines' co-branded credit cards, and it has a unique set of benefits. The most important features include an Admirals Club lounge annual membership and free checked bags for up to nine people traveling on the same reservation. If you have a large family, traveling together can be challenging and expensive, but these perks might make it easier. 

Even if you don't travel in a big group, the free entry to Admirals Club lounges might be incentive enough to consider this airline credit card. But if you don't travel in large groups or visit American Airlines lounges often, the AAdvantage Executive may not save you money -- and overall it has less-than-average rewards rates on spending. 

For more information on this card, read on.

In this article

Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®

Card Highlights
Intro OfferEarn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $5,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.
APR18.24% - 27.24% (Variable)
Intro Purchase APRN/A
Recommended Credit Excellent, Good
Reward Rates
  • 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases
  • 1 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on other purchases
Annual Fee$450
Additional Details
Balance Transfer APR18.24% - 27.24% (Variable)
Balance Transfer Fee 5% of each balance transfer; $5 minimum.
Late Payment Fee Up to $41
Foreign Transaction Fees 0%
Penalty APR Up to 29.99% (Variable)
Rewards & Redemption Details
  • 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases
  • 1 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on other purchases

Rewards

AAdvantage Executive cardholders earn 2x miles for every dollar spent on eligible American Airlines purchases, and 1x miles on all other purchases. Many airline cards have lackluster rewards programs compared to traditional credit cards, but this is an especially poor yield when compared to more general travel credit cards.

An airline credit card can offer the chance to get ahead with airline programs. With the Citi AAdvantage Executive card, if you spend $40,000 in purchases during a qualifying year, you'll earn 10,000 additional Loyalty Points. Loyalty Points are the elite status currency for American Airlines, which means if you accrue enough of them you'll be eligible for AAdvantage Gold (30,000 Loyalty Points), Platinum (75,000), Platinum Pro (125,000) or Executive Platinum (200,000).  

Given the high spending threshold and low potential of 10,000 points to bump you into the next tier, we don't value this perk very highly. 

Rewards redemption

As with many airline co-branded credit cards, the rewards earned with the AAdvantage Executive is the frequent flyer mile currency used by the airline. In this case, you'll earn AAdvantage miles on your spending, which are nontransferable. This is different from other travel credit card rewards such as Chase's Ultimate Rewards points or AmEx's Membership Rewards® points, which can be transferred to a list of affiliate partners. 

However, AAdvantage miles can be used to book flights through American Airlines with other members of the Oneworld Airline Alliance, which includes British Airways, Alaska Airlines, Japan Airlines, Qantas and 10 more companies spread across the globe.

The value of AAdvantage miles will depend on when and how you use them. You can also occasionally find "sweet spots" when they're worth more than usual, and American Airlines publishes a flight award chart that's worth perusing. Overall, you should generally aim to get about 1 cent per mile, or a little higher, when redeeming for travel.

You can also redeem AAdvantage miles to upgrade your seat, rent a car, book a hotel or donate them. But you usually net the highest value when you redeem miles for flights.

Welcome bonus

The welcome bonus for the AAdvantage Executive card is 50,000 bonus miles after spending $5,000 in purchases within the first three months of account opening. At a value of 1 cent per mile, the bonus is worth $500 toward American Airlines flights. For a premium credit card -- meaning one with a high annual fee and luxury perks -- the welcome offer is low compared to that of competitors like Delta and United.

Admirals Club membership

The biggest incentive for getting the AAdvantage Executive is the included Admirals Club annual membership. 

On its own, an annual membership for the Admirals Club airport lounges costs $650 per year, with a typical $600 annual renewal fee. Alternatively, a one-day pass for an Admirals Club lounge costs $59 or 5,900 AAdvantage miles. So seven individual trips to the Admirals Club will cost $413, and eight trips will cost $472. If you visit an Admirals Club less than that each year, signing up for the AAdvantage Executive won't save you any money. 

The Admirals Club membership included with the AAdvantage Executive card includes free entry for your immediate family (spouse and children under 18) and up to two traveling companions (who are on the same reservation). To enter an Admirals Club lounge, you need to have a same-day boarding pass for American Airlines or one of its partners. Authorized users on the card account also get Admirals Club access, and it's free to add users to the account. 

There are currently 32 Admirals Club lounge locations open worldwide.

Additional perks during your travels

AAdvantage Executive cardholders can check their first bag for free. If you're traveling in a group on the same domestic, round-trip flight, each traveler receives a free checked bag, as well (limit of eight additional travelers). This perk could save you up to $540 per round trip and could quickly make up for the cost of the annual fee and then some. 

Additional perks for the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® include: 

  • Priority boarding, priority check-in and priority airport screening where available 
  • 25% savings on in-flight food and beverage purchases on American Airlines flights
  • Fee credit for either Global Entry or TSA PreCheck
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • "Dedicated concierge," or access to a staff of experts for help with travel, shopping, dining, household and entertainment needs

Comparable cards

Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®

If American Airlines is your preferred airline but you tend to travel in smaller groups (up to five individuals on the same reservation) and you don't visit Admirals Club lounges often enough to justify the higher annual fee of the AAdvantage Executive, the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®* could be a good option.

As the next tier down from the AAdvantage Executive, the Platinum Select credit card costs $99 per year (waived for the first year) and offers slightly better spending rewards. You'll earn 2x miles for every $1 spent at restaurants, gas stations and eligible American Airlines purchases, a similar free checked-bag perk (for you and up to four travel companions on the same reservation, compared to the Executive's eight companions) and a $125 American Airlines flight discount after you spend $20,000 or more in purchases during your card membership year and renew your card.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

If you value lounge access and want to earn more rewards on your spending, The Platinum Card® from American Express is worth a look.

At $695, the annual fee is considerably higher, but you'll get a long list of credits, unlimited access to the roughly 1,400 airport lounges across 140 countries and 5x Membership Rewards points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel (on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year) -- a flexible rewards currency that you can transfer to the airline rewards program of your choice.

For more details, see our full review of The Platinum Card from American Express.

Delta and United premium airline cards

If you're still hunting for an airline you can stick with for the long haul, the comparable cards from American Airlines' main competitors, Delta and United, offer a good value. 

The Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card is $550 per year, offers 3x Delta SkyMiles on Delta purchases, a first-class, Delta Comfort+, or domestic main cabin round-trip companion ticket each year upon card renewal (taxes and fees apply) and complimentary access to Delta Sky Clubs and Centurion Lounges when traveling on a Delta flight. 

The United Club℠ Infinite Card is $525 per year, offers 4x miles on United purchases, United Club membership and up to two free checked bags. Both the Delta and United cards currently offer larger welcome offers than American Airlines. They also feature higher spending rewards, though the checked bag perks are less impressive.

FAQs

What's the difference between an airline credit card and a travel credit card?

Like co-branded retailer credit cards, airline credit cards offer more specific rewards for a specific airline brand. They often offer perks to make the day of travel more comfortable, along with rewards. You can use your rewards specifically to book flights with that airline but no others. Travel credit cards are more general -- you can rack up points or miles on more transactions and redeem your rewards for all sorts of travel, or even a statement credit. They often come with additional perks like travel credits, too.

What are the benefits of an airline credit card?

Some common benefits of an airline credit card include:

  • Waived checked baggage fees
  • Priority boarding
  • Lounge access (during some, not all, itineraries) 
  • Accelerated airline status qualification
  • Complimentary or reduced companion fares
  • No foreign transaction fee
  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credits
  • Generous sign-on bonuses

Who should apply for an airline credit card?

Airline credit cards are built for frequent flyers of a specific airline. If you routinely take a specific route and airline to visit family or to take a planned vacation, an airline card may be good for you to rack up rewards to compensate for your next trip. They are also great for business travelers, as you can enjoy perks that make frequent travel more comfortable. Alternatively, they could be good for those looking to expedite their time spent at security lines or at the gate, as airline credit cards often come with upgraded privileges.

Our approach

We review the cards that are in the highest demand and offer the best benefits. We scour the fine print so there aren't any surprises when you open an account. We find the key factors that make a card stand out and compare them with other top cards. That way, readers can opt for a different card with similar features if our pick isn't right for them. Our reviews are regularly checked and updated to incorporate new recommendations, as well as to reflect changes in offers and the market.

*All information about the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® has been collected independently by CNET and has not been reviewed by the issuer.

The editorial content on this page is based solely on objective, independent assessments by our writers and is not influenced by advertising or partnerships. It has not been provided or commissioned by any third party. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products or services offered by our partners.