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Q&A: What’s an American AAdvantage Member to Do?

Dear Tim—

I’m a 2 million miler on American, most miles earned on my Citibank AAdvantage cards, but many earned the old-fashioned way. I didn’t panic when American filed for bankruptcy, although I was miffed when it announced plans to pull out of Bob Hope Airport (Burbank, CA), by far the most convenient airport for me. But the recent posts about the possibility of another airline with an inferior loyalty program acquiring American are sending me into a tailspin. I also have a Starwood AmEx card, but I charge far less on it than on my AA cards. I’m considering shifting charges to my AmEx card to give me more options in choosing airlines and protect against the devaluation of my American miles. The only downside I see to this is that if too many people do this, the revenue that AA has been getting from Citibank will decline, worsening their chances of emerging from bankruptcy as a stronger airline. What do you think? Shift charges to AmEx or stick with the American card?


Dear Mary-Lynne,

Many travelers, myself included, are having to reassess their commitment to American in view of such bankruptcy-related disruptions as the route cut you cite, and the possibility that the company will be acquired by another airline with a less generous frequent flyer program.

Which Credit Card?

If you do decide to stick with American, shifting your charges to the Starwood Preferred Guest card has a lot to recommend it.

Not only can the Starpoints you earn with that card be exchanged for American miles, they can be exchanged for miles in the programs of 31 other airlines as well. Among North American carriers, Starpoints may be converted into miles in the programs of Air Canada, Alaska, Continental, Delta, Hawaiian, United, and US Airways. (Note however that the conversion rate from Starpoints to both United and Continental miles is 2:1—that’s two Starpoints for each mile—instead of the 1:1 rate for the other airlines mentioned.)

In addition to its vaunted flexibility, the card offers a value kicker as well: For every 20,000 Starpoints exchanged, you get 25,000 airline miles—a 5,000-mile bonus.

And lest we forget, Starpoints can be redeemed for free nights at Starwood’s network of over 1,000 hotels.

Which Program?

The larger question is whether you should remain an American loyalist at all. Under the circumstances, I would suggest refocusing your loyalty, at least temporarily.

Which program? For you, I’d suggest United’s MileagePlus. For starters, United has a presence at Burbank, which could increase with American’s exit. When American discontinues its Burbank flights on February 9, you’ll have the following options for travel from that airport:

  • JetBlue – three flights/day
  • US Airways – five flights/day
  • Alaska – six flights/day
  • Delta Connection- three flights/day
  • United Express – nine flights/day
  • Southwest – 49 flights/day

In addition to having the most Burbank flights of any carrier except Southwest, United is a dominant carrier at LAX, the area’s largest airport. So from a convenience standpoint, earning and redeeming United miles should be as easy as it was with American.

Like American, United is a full-service airline, with airport lounges, first-class seating, global alliances connections, and so forth.

And like American’s AAdvantage program, United’s MileagePlus is a robust program with many hundreds of options for earning miles and worldwide opportunities for redeeming them.

If you do decide to make MileagePlus your go-to program, the unfavorable exchange rate makes the Starwood card a no-go. Instead, consider the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, which features 1:1 transfers into the programs of British Airways, Continental, Southwest, United, Hyatt, InterContinental Priority Club, Marriott, and Amtrak. The card currently has a particularly rewarding sign-up bonus: 50,000 bonus points after charging at least $3,000 in three months.

When the Dust Settles

If American survives its brush with bankruptcy intact in the ways that are important to you, then you can cash out any miles you’ve earned in MileagePlus (or in another alternative program) and resume your relationship with American.

But if American loses its luster through restructuring, or if it’s acquired by the likes of US Airways or Delta, you will have taken at least the first step down a new and better path.

Reader Reality Check

How are you handling American’s bankruptcy and uncertain prospects?

This article originally appeared on

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