I recently product changed my Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite card to an AT&T Access More card from Citi (details to come). The biggest reason I downgraded was the Executive card’s whopping $450 annual fee. After the first year, I just couldn’t justify paying the high fee. Originally, the card was compelling simply because of the mileage I could accrue from the sign up bonus. It’s offered 100,000 AAdvantage miles in the past, but I was only able to snag a 75,000 AAdvantage offer. Still, after 90 days I was 75,000 miles richer!
Before I get into all the details, a disclaimer: In my opinion, every card is worth the sign up bonus if you cancel after the first year. You just need to pick which card works best for you. Once you have a few, you then need to pick which ones to keep. There are a lot of factors that go into this – the bonus offer, the long-term benefits, you get the idea.
In an effort to clear up some of the mystery of selecting cards, I’m going to outline my decision and the benefits I was able to use with the AAdvantage Executive. I’ll break the benefits up into “tangible” and “intangible.”
Tangible: benefits that I more than likely would have paid for otherwise, or that I will be able to use or well save me money in the future
Intangible: benefits that I can’t comfortably assign a value to, this is usually because I’d be unwilling to pay upfront for such benefits
The Sign Up Bonus
The biggest reason I signed up for this card – those AAdvantage miles. At the time, Citi was offering 75,000 miles for $7,500 in spend during the first 90 days of card ownership. I met the spend through a combination of organic, everyday spending, and my first jump into manufactured spending – funding a Citibank checking account. I won’t get into it now, but funding bank accounts has been a great way to meet additional spend requirements.
Those 75,000 AAdvantage miles are worth about $1,125, when valued at 1.5 cents apiece. That means that without including any of the other cardholder perks, I still came out ahead by $675.
Sign up Bonus – Annual Fee = Profit
$1,125 in miles – $450 annual fee = $675 profit
That’s right, this card earned me $675. And I didn’t even fly American yet.
75,000 AAdvantage miles are absolutely a tangible benefit to me, because I will be able to use them for flights in the future.
So, what else do you get for that $450 annual fee?
The miles aren’t the whole package though. For many frequent American Airlines flyers, this list will look familiar. For me, lounge access and priority boarding sounded great!
Admirals Club Access
The AAdvantage Executive card grants the cardholder (and authorized users) full Admirals Club membership while they have the card. Many folks would consider this perk worth the annual $450 fee alone. An individual Admirals Club membership runs anywhere from $400 to $550, depending on your status with American Airlines. Since I don’t have status with American, and I’d be purchasing a new membership, I’d be way up at the $550 pricetag.
Of course, I don’t put a huge emphasis on lounges when I travel. Don’t get me wrong, saving a bit of money on food and a stiff drink before my flight is awesome, but I’m not going to pay for lounge access. Not now, at least, when I only fly a few times each year. Because of this, I can’t honestly say that Admirals Club membership was worth that whopping $550 to me. I’ll give lounge access an intangible benefit of $100. Would you rather fight for a seat near the gate, or sit back and enjoy a cocktail while waiting nearby for you plane? Don’t even get me started on looking for power outlets near your departure gate…
That didn’t stop my from swiping my Executive card into the AC lunges every chance I got! In total, I stopped by lounges in Boston 5 times, once in Charlotte, and twice in Atlanta, to and from Mexico. Breaking it down:
- 3 times solo in Boston
- 1 visit in Charlotte, on my own again
- 2 stops in Atlanta with the family (3 people)
- 2 more in Boston with the family in tow (3 people)
If you figure we all had food and drinks each time, that’s 12 meals. Given airport prices, I’ll assign a modest value of $14 to each of those meals, for a $168 savings. That doesn’t include the typical gin & tonic I snagged from the bar, either.
Let’s chaulk that up to a tangible value. Everybody’s gotta eat. Remember, this is just for the food and drinks, and doesn’t include the atmosphere, peace of mind, or anything else that you get with lounge access.
In my entire year as a Citi AAdvantage Executive Cardholder, I only flew American Airlines once. Once was enough. Now I’m hooked on Priority Boarding!
I mean, no wait? No lines? So, so cool! Remember, a year ago, I didn’t even know it was possible to travel like this.
Honestly, I wouldn’t pay for priority boarding in the future, even though it was nice. I’m going to give this one an intangible price of $50 (since I only used it on one flight).
The Citi AAdvantage Executive card will also credit your Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application payment. Since it’s good for 5 years, I obviously applied, knowing that I’ll only continue to travel more in the future.
You can read all about my application process here. I haven’t used Global Entry yet, but am looking forward to the smooth customs transition.
I’m on the fence for this one. The benefit is awesome, but would I really pay for Global Entry? In the future, definitely. But right now, with only one international trip per year, I’m not sure I would. I’m going to have to call this an intangible benefit: $100.
But wait, there’s more!
Again, having only used the card for an actual American Airlines flight once, I’m sure I’m not the target audience of American (or Citi, for that matter). For those that fly American more often, check out these added benefits:
Free Checked Bags
The Citi AAdvantage Executive gives you and up to 8 others a free checked bag. I have no idea how anyone regularly travels with 8 other people, but for a big family, this could easily save a few hundred dollars. I only flew American once, and only carry-on.
Reduced Mileage Awards
American Airlines offers Reduced Mileage Awards for cardholders. Cardholders are entitled to a discount on award flights, if booked through their reservations phone number. The discount depends on the card you hold. For the Citi AAdvantage Executive, you can receive a discount of 7,500 AAdvantage miles on flights over 500 miles in distance, and a 2,000 AAdvantage discount under 500 miles. The Citi Platinum and Barclaycard Aviator Silver, Red, and Business all share this benefit. The Citi Gold and Barclaycard Blue cards have a 5,000 and 1,000 AAdvantage mile discount, depending on the distance.
This is a really neat perk, but the cities change constantly. Basically, you have to be flying in to, or out of, one of the cities on American Airlines’ Reduced Mileage Award chart, and then call in to book. The cities change every few months. If you do a lot of domestic travel, especially to less popular airports, this could be a great deal!
Unfortunately, I didn’t go to any of those airports. Benefit: $0
So, where does that put us?
The Citi AAdvantage Executive was a huge win for me. Between the actual cost savings, and the added intangible benefits, I came out way ahead. It didn’t hurt that my family loved having some peace and quiet in the Admirals Clubs too!
Cost of Card: $450 annual fee
Tangible Benefits: Admirals Club (Food and Drink) $168; AAdvantage Miles $1,125
Intangible Benefits: Admirals Club $100; Priority Boarding $50, Global Entry $100
Only including the tangible benefits, I still made out pretty well.
Profit = Tangible Benefits – Annual Fee
Profit = ($168 + $1,125) – $450 = $843
I profited $843 from this card, and got some nice lounge access! While I can’t really include the intangible benefits, since it’s not money I “saved,” let’s see what it would look like. If all of those were things I truly would have purchased (if they hadn’t been free)…
Profit = (Tangible Benefits + Intangible Benefits) – Annual Fee
Profit = ($168 + $1,125 + $100 + $50 + $100) – $450 = $1,093
Wow. I’d say a hard pull on my credit report is worth a thousand dollars, wouldn’t you?
Would I do it again?
At the normal 50,000 AAdvantage sign up bonus? No. But if the annual fee was waived on the Executive card for the first year, I may bite. If you only want 50,000 miles, go for the AAdvantage Platinum, with a much lower annual fee of $95.
At 75,000 or 100,000 miles? Absolutely! Citi’s customer service is extraordinarily easy to deal with, so downgrading the card when the second annual fee hit was a simple. I kept my miles, my history with Citi, and got the much-coveted AT&T Access More card a few days later!
As I’ve explained before, travel hacking is all about finding the best deals and using them for all they’re worth. It’s a bittersweet problem to hold the AAdvantage Executive card and Southwest’s Companion Pass at the same time. The Companion Pass obviously pushed me to fly on Southwest. If I did more solo travel, the Citi AA Executive would have been even more useful!
Still, I came out ahead, and my family enjoyed getting a taste of a life of luxury. Those lounges man…
…actually, I hope they don’t get used to it. Southwest has a crippling lack of lounges, in case you hadn’t noticed.