Should you keep, upgrade, or downgrade your AAdvantage Aviator card? Do you have a choice?

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My wife and I have four AAdvantage Aviator Red MasterCards.  Yep, we have two each.  Before American Airlines and US Airways merged their loyalty programs, the Barclaycard US Airways MasterCard offered a terrific signup bonus: 50,000 miles after first purchase.  At times, the bonus was a bit lower – 40,000 miles, if I recall correctly.  And, sometimes the offer included 10,000 anniversary miles.  To complicate things a bit, sometimes the 10,000 anniversary miles were promised for every anniversary.  More recently, the miles were promised only for the first anniversary.

Today, the US Airways cards have been (or, for some, are in the process of being) converted to AAdvantage Aviator cards.  They now earn American Airlines AAdvantage miles.  And, importantly, the cards are no longer available for new applicants.  That said, considering how good the signup bonus was while it was available, I’m sure that a large percentage of readers have at least one Aviator card.

What type of anniversary bonus, if any, do you have?

Yesterday, Point me to the Plane showed how to determine if your card is eligible for a 10,000 mile anniversary bonus.  I checked my accounts and confirmed they were as I expected:

After logging in, I clicked “View rewards”:

AAdvantage Aviator card

Then, I clicked “How my rewards work”:

AAdvantage Aviator card

Both of my cards and one of my wife’s cards showed the following:

AAdvantage Aviator card Earn10KAnnually

The text shown above indicates that the account is eligible for an anniversary bonus every year.  My wife’s second card, had a different message:

AAdvantage Aviator card Earn10K1stAnniversary

My wife’s second card is eligible for the anniversary bonus only once.  The text specifically says (bolding is mine): “Earn 10,000 AAdvantage anniversary miles in your first cardmembership year after payment of the annual fee.”

Bonus Mile targeted offers

One of the best features of the old US Airways card was that card members frequently received targeted offers for bonus miles.  My favorite offers were for 15,000 bonus miles after $500 (or $750) spend per month for three months.  Fortunately, even after converting to the Aviator card, people are still receiving offers like these.  Checkout this Quick Deal for details about recent offers.

AAdvantage Aviator card

To see if you’ve been targeted, check for emails sent from: email@offers.aviatormastercard.com.  It might even help to add that to your address book to reduce the chance of those emails being sent to your spam folder.

Many Aviator flavors

Barclaycard went bonkers creating new options for cardholders.  There are now four different versions of the AAdvantage Aviator personal card (and, there’s a business card too).

Most people will have been automatically converted to the Red card.  Doctor of Credit has a great post summarizing the four card types (found here).  Here’s my summary of his summary:

Aviator Aviator Blue Aviator Red Aviator Silver
Annual Fee $0 $49 $89 $195
Earning Rate 1X AA, .5X elsewhere 2X AA, 1X elsewhere 2X AA, 1X elsewhere 3X AA, 2X hotels & car rentals, 1X elsewhere
Major Perks 10% rebate on awards; free checked bag; Priority boarding 10% rebate on awards; free checked bag; Priority boarding
Other Benefits Reduced mileage awards (5K discount) $100 flight discount with $30K spend; Reduced mileage awards (7.5K discount) 5K EQMs with $20K spend; 5K more for $40K spend; $99 Companion certificate after $30K spend; Reduced mileage awards (7.5K discount)
Eligible for continued anniversary bonus Yes Yes Yes Yes

I find the last row of the table the most surprising.  Apparently if you are already eligible for anniversary miles, you’ll continue to receive those miles with the no fee card.

Can you switch?

I had assumed that Barclaycard would make it easy to switch from one Aviator card to another, but that doesn’t appear to be the case.  I called Barclaycard yesterday and asked if I could downgrade one of my Aviator Red cards to the no fee Aviator card.  The rep I spoke with checked both of my cards and, in both cases, she told me that downgrading (or upgrading to Silver) was not an option for that card.  I then asked to speak to a supervisor.  After a very long wait, the supervisor told me the same story.  According to that supervisor, my options are:

  1. Keep the cards as-is.
  2. Cancel one or both cards.
  3. Wait and call again in the future to see if any downgrade or upgrade options have been made available.

I’ll go with option 3.  I’m certainly not willing to cancel since I highly value both the 10,000 anniversary miles and the occasional 15,000 mile promotions.  That said, if I could continue to get the anniversary miles with a no fee card at some point in the future, I’ll gladly do that.

MileCards suggests that card changes may become easier once US Airways and American Airlines complete their merger.  They wrote:

We’re also hearing there may be more broad availability of product changes by November, when US Airways and American Airlines fully merge systems.

That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, but you never know.  At the very least, the completion of the merger can be a reminder to me to check my options with Barclaycard once again.

Which card is right for you?

In the unlikely case that you are offered a choice between cards, here are my recommendations. Pick the sentence that best represents you:

  • You are a heavy spender and you want to earn (or keep) AAdvantage elite status: Get the Aviator Silver card.  This is the only Aviator card that offers AAdvantage Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) with high spend.  Note: Some think that you can increase your chance of being offered the upgrade to the Silver card if you put a lot of spend on the Red card.
  • You often fly American Airlines without elite status: Keep the Aviator Red card.  For $89 per year, you’ll get a free checked bag for yourself and up to 4 companions; Group 1 boarding; and a $100 AA flight discount if you spend $30K per year on the card.
  • You often book AAdvantage awards: Keep the Aviator Red card.  For $89 per year, you’ll get 10% of your miles back when you book awards (up to 10,000 miles per year).  Plus, you get access to AA Reduced mileage awards.
  • Everyone else: Downgrade to the no fee Aviator card.  Don’t use it for spend, just keep it in a drawer for the following reasons:
    1. To keep anniversary bonuses coming (if eligible)
    2. To keep the ability to upgrade to a different Aviator card in the future if/when your goals change
    3. For the possibility of receiving lucrative targeted offers (I don’t know if Barclaycard will offer these to no-fee cardholders, but its possible).

Should you cancel?

If you have an Aviator card, but you don’t want to pay the annual fee, I recommend checking first to see if you can downgrade to the no annual fee card.  If not, then consider the following factors:

  • Do you think you’ll ever want an Aviator card?  Since Barclaycard doesn’t offer these to new account holders, its unlikely you can ever get one again once you cancel.  So, if you only have one Aviator card and you think there’s a chance you’ll want one in the future, you should probably keep it for now.
  • Is your card eligible for anniversary miles each year?  If so, the $89 annual fee is, in my opinion, a very good price to pay for 10,000 miles.  Keep the card.
  • Are you often targeted for 15,000 miles after three months of $500 (or $750) spend?  If so, keep the card.

If none of the above factors apply to you and you’re not getting more value from the card than its $89 annual fee, then you might as well cancel it.  I’d recommend waiting until the annual fee comes due, though.  Often, the best targeted promotions are offered right around that time…

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