Typically you’d choose a co-branded airline credit card based on the airline. You’d probably consider if the airline offers a lot of flights out of your local airline and if the carrier can get you where you want to go.
But what if you live someplace that’s served by several carriers and you’re planning a trip to another popular destination? Maybe you’re going to fly from New York to Paris or Los Angeles to Chicago. You could take any number of airlines.
And once you take the airline out of the equation, which co-branded card should you get?
To help answer that question, we’ve compared a couple of midlevel rewards cards offered by two of the major U.S. carriers, United and American.
Here’s a summary of what the United MileagePlus Explorer card from Chase and the American Airlines AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard from Citi have to offer:
|MileagePlus Explorer Card||AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard|
|Sign-Up Bonus||30,000 MileagePlus miles||30,000 AAdvantage miles|
|Earning Potential||2x on United; 1x all other purchases||2x on American; 1x all other purchases|
|Annual Fee||$95, waived for the first year||$95, waived for the first year|
|Other Perks||10,000-mile annual bonus for spending $25,000||10% miles back; 7,500-mile discount on select flights|
Let’s take a closer look at these cards.
Both cards come with a 30,000-mile sign-up bonus, which you’ll get if you spend $1,000 in the first three months of having the card.
The MileagePlus Explorer card also offers a 5,000-mile bonus for adding an authorized user, plus 10,000 miles every year you spend at least $25,000. That’s a nice bonus, but you’d have to spend over $2,000 a month to get it. At that rate, you might be better off getting a second rewards card with a sign-up bonus that’s greater than 10,000 miles instead of focusing your spending on one card.
The AAdvantage Platinum card doesn’t offer any additional bonus miles.
The miles you’ll earn with these cards can be used on their respective carriers. You’ll also be able to book flights on any Star Alliance member with your MileagePlus miles, or any oneworld member with your AAdvantage miles.
Oneworld has 15 members, including American, but the Star Alliance is the largest in the world with 27 members. Though either alliance can get you just about anywhere in the world, it’s clear that Star offers more options for earning and redeeming miles.
These cards have the same earning schemes. You’ll get double miles on United purchases with the MileagePlus card, and double miles on American Airlines purchases with the AAdvantage card. All other purchases earn one mile per dollar spent.
What Else Do You Get?
While both cards offer a free checked bag and priority boarding, the MileagePlus Explorer card also comes with two United Club passes every year. Lounge passes are typically $50 a person, so that’s a $100 value.
While that’s not bad, the AAdvantage Platinum card has some decent perks too. You’ll get 25 percent off in-flight purchases and 10 percent of your miles back when you redeem them for American Airlines flights.
Perhaps the perk with the most potential is American Airlines’ Reduced Mileage Awards, which you’ll have access to as an AAdvantage cardholder. Every month the airline announces a new list of qualifying destinations. If you book a flight to one of those airports, you’ll get a 7,500-mile discount roundtrip, or 3,750 miles one way.
If you’re someone who likes the idea of booking vacations at the last minute, this could be a great way to do it on the cheap. Reduced Mileage Awards can be booked up to four months in advance. The list of qualifying domestic destinations is often quite lengthy.
These cards come with similar cardholder benefits, including trip cancellation and interruption protection, travel accident insurance, travel and emergency assistance, car rental coverage and lost baggage protection. Neither charge for foreign transactions.
The MileagePlus card also offers free room upgrades, complimentary daily breakfast for two, early check-in, late checkout and other perks at hotels booked through the Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection.
Both cards come with a $95 annual fee that’s waived for the first year. If you’re only interested in the sign-up bonus, you’ll never have to pay for either of these cards if you cancel after the first year.
Which Card Do You Get?
These cards are very similar, offering the same sign-up bonuses and earning schemes, as well as charging the same annual fee.
The MileagePlus card gets a nod for giving cardholders a 10,000-mile bonus annually if they spend enough on the card. You can also get another 5,000 miles for adding an authorized user. Those 15,000 miles are nearly enough for a domestic short-haul round-trip saver award flight, and just 10,000 miles short of a standard domestic round-trip saver.
While the AAdvantage card doesn’t offer any additional bonus miles, it does give you a 7,500-mile discount to select destinations. That would bring a domestic roundtrip saver seat down to only 17,500 miles. This can be a great perk, particularly if you’re looking for a cheap weekend getaway.
If you consider the loyalty programs themselves, MileagePlus gives you more opportunities for earning and spending miles because it’s part of the larger Star Alliance. But there’s nothing wrong with the oneworld alliance. It can get you just about anywhere you want to go.
And while these two frequent flyer programs offer similar redemption rates for flights to many destinations, AAdvantage also offers some great off peak awards. If, for example, you’re willing to travel in the off season, you can get to Europe on a round-trip saver ticket for only 45,000 miles. United always charges 60,000 miles for that route.
Which card would I go for? That’s a tough call. If I didn’t have a reason to boost my points balance with a particular airline, I’d be tempted to go with the AAdvantage card. I like the ability to find discounted tickets with American. Plus, as much as I like the idea of getting an extra 10,000-mile bonus annually from MileagePlus, I’m not sure I want to focus all my spending on one rewards card so I can hit that $25,000 mark.