Credit & Charge Card Reviews (1): American Airlines AAdvantage American Express & Visa

Starting today, I am running updated versions of our ‘Credit Card Reviews’ series.  They will drip out over the next couple of months, since there are 25 articles in all!

This is my review of the American Airlines AAdvantage credit card issued in the UK by MBNA.

It is part of my series of articles looking at the major UK loyalty credit cards and discussing whether or not they are worth applying for.  These articles will be linked to the relevant sections of the ‘Credit Cards Update‘ page.  My other UK airline and hotel credit card reviews can be found here.

Key link:  American Airlines AAdvantage credit card application page

Key facts:  No annual fee

The representative APR is 17.9% variable.

About the card

The American Airlines AAdvantage cards are issued by MBNA as a double-pack, with recipients receiving an American Express card and a Visa card.  This has become a common trend in recent years, with card issuers wanting to benefit from Amex’s higher merchant fees whilst at the same time not wanting to put off anyone who is concerned about limited Amex acceptance.

MBNA also issues the United, Etihad, Emirates, Miles & More and Virgin credit cards, amongst others.  If you already hold one of these cards and are refused for the AA card, they will usually change their mind if you ring up and offer to reduce the credit limit on your existing card or cancel it entirely.

What is the sign-up bonus?

Currently 5,000 AAdvantage miles, credited with your first purchase within 90 days.

Occasional special offers throughout the year see this bonus raised to 10,000 or 15,000 miles.

On its own, 5,000 American Airlines miles are not going to get you very far if you live in the UK.  I discuss some possible redemption ideas below – 30,000 miles is probably the most interesting ‘cheap’ redemption, which would get you a one-way in Business Class on AA’s partner Etihad to the Middle East.

Any other benefits?

12 months interest-free credit on all American Airlines purchases charged to the card.  You will pay 0% interest for six months on any balance transfers you arrange within the first 90 days.  These are subject to a 2% fee.

What is the annual fee?

There is no annual fee.

What do I earn per £1 spent on the card?

Cardholders earn 1.5 AA miles per £1 spent on the Amex and 0.75 miles per £1 on the Visa.  MBNA has a good reputation in my experience for posting points punctually.

This is a very impressive earnings rate for a free card.

American Airlines UK credit card review

What is an AAdvantage mile worth?

This is a tricky one, especialy from the perspective of someone living in the UK.  Let’s consider a few variables.

Firstly, AA is a member of oneworld, as is BA.  This means that AA miles can be redeemed for British Airways flights, although you will be using AA’s partner award chart which is here.  You can quickly see that using them for BA European flights is poor value – 10,000 AA miles is enough an Economy one-way inside Europe in Economy, for eg, but you will still pay BA’s taxes and fuel surcharges.

Redeeming with Avios instead would let you do a Reward Saver redemption which caps the taxes on a one-way in Europe at £17.50, possibly £100 cheaper.  It only becomes interesting if you go to the far reaches of Europe, since AA charges the same for London to Paris as it does for London to Moscow.

Long-haul from London, using BA planes, AA is a relative bargain on India and the Middle East, since Business is 60,000 vs 120,000 (Middle East) or 150,000 (India) for BA, and First is 80,000 vs 180,000 (Middle East) or 200,000 (India) with Avios points (all return prices, BA prices are based on peak dates).  AA is also a partner with Etihad which lets you fly to Abu Dhabi in their impressive J and F cabins.

Asia routes are also attractive, with Japan and Hong Kong costing 105,000 miles return in business class compared with 120,000 Avios.  Cape Town is also a decent deal – BA charges additional Avios miles if you change planes in Johannesburg, which is necessary in most cases given poor availability on the direct flights, whilst AA does not.

Australia is also an exceptional deal using American Airlines miles.  A First Class ticket costs just 160,000 miles return from London, compared with 400,000 miles using British Airways.

AA miles come into their own when redeeming on AA planes, especially across the Atlantic, where you will NOT pay a fuel surcharge.  When using Avios, BA charges a fuel surcharge whether you use AA or BA planes, even when AA does not charge a fuel surcharge itself.  The new AA business class seat is also seen as superior to the British Airways Club World seat

You should be wary about putting your faith in any of the redemptions above, however.  American was taken over by US Airways in 2012 – although the AA brand was the one that survived.  A raft of ‘no notice’ changes to the American Airlines scheme in April 2014 should make you wary of investing too much effort in their programme.  The American Airlines and US Airways frequent flyer schemes were merged in early 2015 and the reward chart is likely to be devalued soon.

Since a UK-based AA collector is likely to redeem on BA flights, I use the same valuation as I do for Avios – 0.75p per mile.  On this basis, the 1.5 miles per £1 on the Amex is equivalent to a 1.1% rebate on your spend.  The Visa returns just 0.55%.

How does this compare to a cashback credit card?

The best cashback card on the market which offers a) a MasterCard or Visa, b) no annual fee and c) unlimited cashback is the Asda credit card, which pays 0.5%.

Both the American Express and Visa cards compare OK with this, even at my (very conservative) 0.75p per mile valuation.

Other points to note

American Airlines is not an Amex Membership Rewards partner, so you cannot collect AA miles via that route as an alternative to this card.  (One option is to transfer to Starwood Preferred Guest and then to American, but the rate is only 1 : 0.625, even assuming you transfer in chunks of 20,000 SPG points.)

The only alternative credit card sign-up for collecting American Airlines miles is the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card.  This has a sign-up bonus of 10,000 SPG points (converts to 10,000 AA miles).  My review of the Starwood Amex is here.

If you did need to top-off an AA account to reach a specific target, you could also transfer miles from a hotel programme or do a miles purchase – AA runs regular promotions where it sells miles at a discount to the regular rate.

Remember that the American Airlines cards have a fee of almost 3% for foreign currency transactions.  You may want to consider getting a separate card to use abroad which charges no foreign exchange fees, such as the Post Office Money Platinum card (free, no rewards) or the Lloyds Avios Rewards card (£24 fee, earns Avios).


The current sign-up bonus of 5,000 miles is slightly above average for a free airline card.  If you are willing to wait a few months, you might find a 10,000 or 15,000 mile offer returning.

The earning rates are more impressive.  1.5 miles per £1 on the Amex is as good as it gets at the moment on a free mileage card.  The same goes for the Visa at 0.75 miles per £1.

The application form can be found here.

Disclaimer: Head for Points is a journalistic website. Nothing here should be construed as financial advice, and it is your own responsibility to ensure that any product is right for your circumstances. Recommendations are based primarily on the ability to earn miles and points and do not consider interest rates, service levels or any impact on your credit history. By recommending credit cards on this site, I am – technically – acting as a credit broker.  Robert Burgess, trading as Head for Points, is regulated and authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority to act as a credit broker.

New Vueling routes, bookable with Avios, from Birmingham, Manchester and Edinburgh
Bits: BA to buy Finnair?, new eGates at T5 - or pay £12.50 at Gatwick, free Azimo FX transfers
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  1. As a Brit living in the Middle East I am keeping an eye on this card and waiting for the next sign up bonus.
    I recently got the SPG American Express and I am just debating whether to put my miles in AA or Qatar Airways. As I live in Qatar I have only been a collector of QA miles but I am starting to see more of a benefit to collect AA miles instead due to the better redemption rates presently.

  2. American Airlines wasn’t taken over by US Airways – they merged. American was also by far the larger partner (their shareholders got something like 75% of the new company) so if anyone was taking over it would be them!

    Which BA routes in Europe cost £117.50 each way in “taxes”? The only one I could think of that might cost somewhere in that region is Moscow, but that was only £60. And which routes have fuel surcharges? I was under the impression they didn’t exist on BA short haul any more?

  3. Not aware of interest free on AA tickets or even the visa card.

    I have only ever had the Amex,which does limit spending.

    • What do you mean? I have the card since May 2013 and i got one year interest free on purchases and the cards comes in a double package amex+visa as all mbna cards. In my opinion not worth applying for it now. Ie. I got 4000 miles just last week after the first booking with rocket miles. Mbna are very good at posting miles with all cards

    • Guesswho2000 says:

      I took out these cards in 2013 (for the 35,000 mile sign up bonus!) and, at the time, the interest free flights offer seemed to apply to all airline spend – I ended up with 0% on flights bought from AY & CX, directly from their respective websites, all at 0% for a year.

      Not sure what you mean by limiting spending? Other than the credit limit, which all credit cards have? It’s always been issued as an Amex/Visa double pack, afaik.

      • What i mean is – I only have the Amex – that is there was when i first got the card.

        In fact it was not even an MBNA card in those days.

        Hence why it limits spending as not all shops accept amex.

        I tend to now just use my Hilton Hhonors card.

  4. “Since a UK-based AA collector is likely to redeem on BA flights, I use the same valuation as I do for Avios – 0.75p per mile

    It will be interesting to see what other UK based readers do use their AA miles for the ones I know use them for Middle East/ Maldives, India. at 60,000 J return.
    All Asia, yes Asia zone 1 and 2 is 105,00 return in J. So Thailand at 105,000 AA V Avios at 150,000 (direct flights only) extra Avios if you need to change planes on route and don’t forget the low taxes using AA miles.

    One sweet spot with AA miles is that Sri Lanka is in Asia zone 2 So if you want a 2 centre stay in say the Maldives and Bali Indonesia you can book Europe to Madives 30,000 AA in J then use Avios to get to Sri Lanka 9,000 in J or just use 4,500 in economy for the short hop. Then All of Asia 2 opens up for only 22,500 in J So take your pick DPS BKK HKT SIN KUL etc. For a little more than the 52,500 OW to Asia with AA you can do this side trip.
    A great use of AA miles if you have the time.

    All this and you don’t need to touch a BA flight.

    • As you still get the fuel surcharges on BA flights when you use AA miles I’d try to avoid BA flghts when using my AA miles to be honest, the low taxes / charges on some redemptions direct back to the UK are one of the best parts of the scheme I think.

  5. “Avios at 150,000 (direct flights only) extra Avios if you need to change planes on route and don’t forget the low taxes using AA miles”

    Based on OFF peak BA flights180,000 peak upto 210,000 for other destinations in Asia eg KUL

  6. If you’re not chasing Business or First class travel, you simply can’t beat an AA economy return flight to the US. I’ve just booked a return trip from LHR to LAX in February for 40,000 aadvantage points and £128 in fees. What sours many BA redemptions out of London for me, are the comparatively huge fees charged.

    • What would be the Avios cost + fees of DUB-LHR-LAX?

      • Not being funny harry but it’d take 2 mins to use BAs redemption calculator to find that out. If you don’t want to know enough to do it yourself, why are you asking someone else to do it for you.

        • Fair enough I can see it’s 40,500 return but what would the fees roughly be ex-DUB, ex-LAX?

    • Agreed – and availability always seems pretty good for ‘off-peak’ redemptions (which is something like October to April IIRC).

      We have just spent up the last* of our AA miles on 2 x First / Biz flights back from Miami to Heathrow (via. ORD –> hence the ‘first’ element), and it’s cost £7.20 each on top :)

      The Lloyds “2 for 1” upgrade (+ Avios) have come in very handy for the one way (upgraded) flight to get there :)

      * about 20k remain now – effectively useless I think with no further US trips planned

  7. The region based redemption chart generally works out better for the consumer. You pay the same price to New York (50,000 miles, same as BA off peak) as you do to Honululu!! Connections included. Unbelievable value. Also AA has very useful partners (Etihad, Fiji) with excellent value on their networks.

    Only a shame that they will probably gut the scheme next year, they confirmed unofficially that they are working on it now.

    • Once upon a time, you could get a stopover at an international entry point (NYC, ORD, etc) on the way to HNL, LAX or wherever.

      Sadly now enhanced away and only now available as a <24 hour transfer.

  8. So could I use my BA Gold status on an AA Y redemption to the US? I’m thinking about lounge access, slightly more space and possible upgr*d*.


    • Absolutely – you’ll get lounge access (something American’s own elites don’t get on domestic itineraries!), extra baggage allowance and you’re able to select Main Cabin Extra (MCE) seats. It’s a great combo. Remember if flying from JFK, ORD or LAX there are Flagship lounges there, so better food/beverage selection. Some of them (e.g. LAX) work as a lounge-within-a-lounge, so they’ll give you an access card to get into it.

      • Am I right in thinking Roger would be eligible to ask for some “drinks” vouchers on check-in (if not given any automatically!)

        AA seem to have a lot of rules, and I can’t remember if it’s dependent on status or class flown (or neither… or both!!!)

        • Haha yes, quite correct – as an international OW Sapphire/Emerald you get a couple of drinks chits (I guess they assume we’d kick up a major fuss if in a lounge and not given free booze!). They’re normally good for a glass of house wine or a standard beer – with of course the barman half-expecting a tip for popping a cap off the beer (sigh!). I’m the Flagship Lounges it’s self-service though, like the lounges in most of the rest of the world – clearly the Prohibition Era never reached these speakeasies given their lounge-within-a-lounge locations 😉

          • The house wine and regular beer is free. the drinks vouchers they give you are for the better stuff.

            Do they still hand out drink chits to OW emerald / Sapphire for use on board if travelling in economy.

            • Interesting, that wasn’t my experience but I think the more recent ones were US Airways Clubs, so may have been slightly different. TBH apart from the Flagship lounges they were all pretty disappointing. At least there are a growing network of Amex Centurion lounges!

          • “with of course the barman half-expecting a tip for popping a cap off the beer (sigh!).”

            I would say fully expecting. The last time I was stood at the bar in the AA lounge in MIA the bar guy walked over to serve me carrying one of the tip jars and placed it in front of me. It was the size of the old fashioned sweet jars and bulging with notes.

            • Haha, that’s taking it to a whole new level! Thankfully none of the ones I’ve been in have been as brazen as that!

  9. Question is, does anyone ever get a reward. F seat to Oz then. Nothing in BA ever… May AA is the way to go. Was always hoping our very long term plan would be use a 241 in F to Oz….ever hopeful!

    • They can happen, but they’re extremely tough! I used Avios to book QF F MEL-(DUB)-LHR-EDI but that was before the April devaluation, cost would have gone up a lot since then! QR also a good option, but using AA miles does open up some nice alternatives like EY. Earlier in the year I found SQ a good option, transferring points to KrisFlyer from Amex MR.

    • Back in June when I was checking for 2 flights to Sydney next April I had the option of (DUB)-LHR-SYD on QF F for 80,000 AA pp. reasonable availability at the time, Instead I booked TXL-AUH with Avios 37500pp J AB (as I have way more Avios than AA) after a 3 day stop over AUH-SYD AA 60,000 pp F as I really want to try the Etihad Apartment.

    • flyforfun says:

      I did! Booked about 5 months out LHR to SYD on BA in CW. It was 2000 however and I was an Executive Platinum tier member too. Got the dates I wanted no problem and even able to change the inbound with no problem.

      I’m pretty sure I didn’t even have to pay any fees back then either! No taxed and no change fee. Oh it was all so easy then!

    • I got an F reward on Qantas to Melbourne via Dubai the other month (one way), I actually booked all the way to New Zealand, the number of miles needed was the same as Australia so it came in at 80,000 miles and under £200 which I thought was great value. There was only one seat available in F though.

  10. Agree with the points about BA charges. I have just booked BA first to Boston for two with over £1,000 in charges and they subsequently charged me another £100 to get onto a reasonably timed shuttle from Manchester. It has really put me off BA and they followed up with disgraceful customer service.

    I don’t imagine AA are any better on the customer service but at least they have flights out of Manchester to places that aren’t London. BA has become so unbelievably London-centric that collecting with AA has become pretty attractive to me.

    That is why I ordered the card a few days ago. Obviously any changes to the scheme may affect that although an increase in the number of miles required is going to be less of an issue than BA’s charges.

    • Isn’t most of that £1000 in charges merely APD? Current fiscal the APD would be £852, then you need to add on USA departure fees. And you choose to live where you live…

      We all like a moan but why would that put you off BA since it’s the same for all airlines?

      • APD will be £284 for 2, not over £800 – see

        The majority of the cost is the bogus extra charges from BA, such a fuel surcharges.

        • Exactly as Alan says.

          My issue is not with the charges per say as BA are up front about those. I am just saying the charges on other One World airlines are better and non BA airlines seem to have opened up new routes from Manchester recently which makes that a more attractive proposition.

          On a very non scientific basis I looked at redemptions through AA and premium cabins to places like Australia seem to have a much better availability than on BA.

          I note HfP’s point about in Europe redemptions being poor but doing that on BA is not really worth it anyway from Manchester as flights would have to go through Heathrow or Gatwick and there are much better options for European flights for me.

          I should add that I am looking at this from a long game point of view. I don’t fly that much so it takes a while to accumulate points which means the companion voucher, whilst good, has less benefit to me.

          • Haha we can but dream! Mind you I did manage to get an entire F cabin in Singapore Suites to myself once, that was just dumb luck though!

            • Sorry about my slip up, men: once I can get back into long haul (about 6-8 years time :) ) I’ll join FT properly/ take more notice @ HFP and improve my knowledge. Anyway, Henry, you must have thought long & hard about the ex-Europe options in that case, nothing good out there?

    • AA service in airports on the ground has been abysmal pretty much every time I have been in the US (lounge staff seem good though)

      AA telephone support from the UK seems to route through to the US’s version of a foreign call centre (very difficult to communicate with) no matter what time of day you ring. You’re best dialing the US number.

      Always had good experiences in the air regardless of class though. When I have complained about ground staff / treatment etc (usually check-in is a miserable experience), they’ve usually thrown a few thousand AA miles my way and been very apologetic.

      Still probably all has the edge on BA though! :) 😉

      • Sounds like what I have heard.

        BA are generally pretty good but their complaints department appears to involve not reading the complaint and then copying and pasting a vaguely similar response and then never responding again.

        I do have to say though, for service in the air at the economy end. Lufthansa blew everyone out of the water.

      • Just off the phone with AA, dialled the uk number and fairly sure it was the Philippines. Apart from the first agent hanging up on me (she hadn’t understood my request anyway), the next person I got sorted me out, although it did take 20 minutes, but the extra Tier Points and Avios will be worth it I’m sure!

  11. The link for 15k signup bonus is still valid it seems:
    Clicking apply then redirect to which also mentions the 15k

    Recently signed up this card for my wife and the documentation received noted the 15k. We hit the required £1500 spend in the first month, so waiting the 4-6 weeks (as per the T&C) before chasing them up for the bonus 10k (the 5k for first spend posted OK).

    • I would be wary of this. As we saw from the Etihad deal in July, MBNA is strict about what the deal is on the day you applied and won’t entertain any ‘found old link on Google’ excuses.

  12. I got the card during the 15000 sign-up bonus offer – which I still didn’t get . Wrote the email to them, and week later got a letter (via post) that my case had to be forwarded to another department (!!!). Another week passed and got another letter that my 5000 bonus should appear in the next few weeks. Not 15000 but 5000 weirdly – so I will need to write to them again if it’s gonna be 5000 instead 15000. Bit of a drag.
    Weirdest thing is answering to email via letter – I mean it’s 21st century, and be more environment friendly as well.

  13. As a one timer what is the best use 10000/15000 except a BA flight to Europe.

  14. Sebastian says:

    Slightly OT but I am not sure where else to ask. If you’re redeeming Etihad miles for AA am I right in thinking the following:

    1) Your redemption must be on all AA metal. Thus, you cannot book a redemption that involves BA flights?

    2) A redemption that involves a stop is still just counted as one redemption I.e. If you have to change planes on route.

    3) You cannot have a stopover on route to your destination.

    4) AA redemptions via Etihad can be canceled?

    Any help would be greatly appreciated!

  15. There’s a 15k mile bonus on offer on the cards at the moment