Citi Prestige vs. AAdvantage Executive: Better Card?

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Last month Citi improved the offer on the Citi Prestige® Card, which comes with 50,000 bonus ThankYou Points after $3,000 in purchases made with your card in the first 3 months the account is open, a $250 Air Travel Credit per calendar year, access to the American Airlines Admirals Clubs and Priority Pass lounges, 3x points per dollar on air travel and hotels, and a $450 annual fee.

The Citi Prestige® Card competes at the top of the market with other high annual fee/high benefit cards like the American Express Platinum and Citi Executive American Airlines Card. I compared the Citi Prestige and AMEX Platinum in Citi Prestige vs. American Express Platinum. Better Card? Now I’ll compare the Prestige and Executive, two cards from Citi with identical annual fees and similar lounge access. I’ll break down the comparison by:

  • value of points
  • sign-up bonus
  • category bonuses
  • lounge access
  • statement credits
  • other benefits
  • annual fee

I’ll foreshadow a little bit by saying that overall the Citi Prestige® Card is the much better card UNLESS you use American Airlines lounges quite a bit when NOT flying American Airlines or US Airways (a rather rare condition probably) or only want to earn rewards that are great for international Business and First Class.

Note: I am using the this link for the Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard, which is the best offer I see (50k miles). Last year there was a 100k link for the card.

Value of Points

The Executive card earns American Airlines miles, which I value at 1.8 cents each. The Citi Prestige® Card earns ThankYou Points, which I value at 1.8 cents each. Despite the identical valuation, the rewards have completely different uses. It’s like how your phone and laptop might each cost $800, but they aren’t used for the same things.

American Airlines miles are ideal for international Business and First Class on luxurious American Airlines partners like Etihad, Cathay Pacific, and Japan Airlines. They are also ideal for international economy awards to South America, Asia, and occasionally Europe at off peak times for steep discounts.

American Airlines miles are weak in the same way all airline miles are weak. You shouldn’t collect them if you generally have to travel fixed dates or want to travel over peak times like Christmas and New Year. Airline miles work best when you are flexible.

Citi ThankYou Points transfer to 11 airlines and one hotel:

  • Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
  • EVA Air Infinity MileageLands
  • Etihad Guest
  • Garuda Indonesia Frequent Flyer
  • Qatar Privilege Club
  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
  • Thai Airways Royal Orchard Plus
  • Air France/KLM Flying Blue
  • Malaysia Airlines Enrich
  • Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
  • Qantas miles
  • Hilton HHonors

My two ThankYou Points favorite transfer partners are Singapore Airlines and Air France Flying Blue. (Click links to see why.) ThankYou Points have a transfer partner in each of the three major alliances meaning they can be used to book approximately three times as much award space as American Airlines miles. However, most ThankYou Points partners impose fuel surcharges on nearly every award, while American Airlines miles impose fuel surcharges only on British Airways and Iberia award flights.

Beyond transferring to miles, ThankYou Points have another excellent use for which the Executive card has no answer.

  • ThankYou Points earned on the Prestige offer you 1.33 cents toward any flight or 1.6 cents toward any American Airline or US Airways flight.

That makes ThankYou Points good for saving cash on low-cost carrier tickets–which are often impossible to book with miles–or American Airlines and US Airways flights if you are going for status on American Airlines, so you want to fly paid tickets. (Airlines see tickets purchased directly with points as paid tickets because Citi is buying the ticket on your behalf.)

Bottom Line: American Airlines miles and ThankYou Points have complementary strengths. Ideally you’d earn both or at least the one that fits your travel goals better. I value them equally, but they are not similar.

Sign Up Bonus

I already mentioned that I value the points equally, so this would be a wash except that the AAdvantage card has a higher spending requirement. That’s important because you could take that extra money and nearly meet the spending requirement on a second card that earns ThankYou Points, the Citi ThankYou® Premier Card.

Here’s a post about Getting $2,800 in American Airlines Flights in Five Steps from Opeing the Prestige and Premier about a week apart.

Category Bonuses

  • Executive: 2x miles on AA/US purchase and 1x mile on all other purchases
  • Citi Prestige® Card: 
    • Earn 3x points on Air Travel and Hotels
    • Earn 2x points on Dining at Restaurants and Entertainment
    • 1 ThankYou® Point per $1 spent on other purchases

After hitting the minimum spending requirement on the Executive card, it doesn’t offer an attractive proposition to continue spending on the card. The only category bonus is 2x on purchases from American Airlines or US Airways. Even those purchases are better with the Prestige, which offers 3x on air travel and hotels.

The Citi Prestige® Card aims to attract continued spending. It aims to be a card you actually use day-to-day, and I think it succeeds. All the benefits of the Citi Prestige® Card are primarily valuable to travelers, so I will assume the average cardholder spends quite a bit on air travel and hotels, which rack up ThankYou Points at a rate of 3x per dollar. Restaurants and entertainment–common costs while traveling and at home–earn 2x per dollar.

I know a lot of people, for simplicity, only want to have one card. I don’t think the Executive has any case to be your one card because the earning rate is so low. The Citi Prestige® Card could be that card if you want a card with good earning and great benefits (below) as long as you can get good value out of ThankYou Points (above.)

To figure out the extra value of the Citi Prestige® Card‘s category bonuses to you, multiply your dining and entertainment by your valuation of ThankYou Point as if it were a percentage and your air travel and hotel expenses by double your valuation of a ThankYou point.

For instance, I spend about $7k on dining and entertainment and $3k on airfare and hotels per year. I value ThankYou points at 1.8 cents.

7000 * 1.8% + 3000 * 3.6% = $234

That’s $234 of extra value per year from having the Citi Prestige® Card‘s category bonuses versus basically none on the Executive. I imagine many people spend quite a bit more than me in those categories. For them, the Citi Prestige® Card would be even more valuable.

Lounge Access

  • Executive: American Airlines Admirals Club Membership (free access no matter who you’re flying for you plus your immediate family or any two guests)
  • Citi Prestige® Card: Priority Pass Select + American Airlines Admirals Clubs when flying American

Holding an Executive card makes you a member of the Admirals Club. Membership entitles you to free entry to American Airlines lounges no matter which airline you’re flying. For instance, last month I was flying Alaska Airlines out of Honolulu, but I could still access the Admirals Club lounge there with my Executive card. I could even bring in my friend for free because every visit members can bring in their spouse and children free or up to two guests free.

The Prestige card offers American Airlines lounge access when flying American Airlines, NOT membership. The difference is that you have to present a boarding pass on American Airlines or US Airways for a flight in the next 12 hours or one that landed in the last 12 hours to get in.

If you are flying American Airlines or US Airways that day, the same guest policy as the Executive applies to the Prestige: you can bring in your immediate family (spouse, domestic partner, children under 18) or up to two guests for free.

In addition to American Airlines lounge access, the Prestige comes with Priority Pass Select Membership. I use that at least as much as American Airlines lounge access to get into airport lounges worldwide like the LAN lounge in Bogota, the Alaska Airlines Board Room in Seattle, the Virgin America Loft at LAX, and many, many more. To Priority Pass lounges, you can also bring in your immediate family (spouse, domestic partner, children under 18) or up to two guests for free.

I think for 99% of people the Prestige’s lounge access will be better than the Executive’s. You’ll tend to be flying American Airlines when you’re at an airport with one of the 50 American Airlines lounges, and the cards offer equal access in that case. In addition, the Prestige has Priority Pass, which give access to 700 more lounges in more than 120 countries and 400 cities worldwide.

The only scenario in which Executive’s lounge access is more valuable is a very weird one in which you never travel to an airport with a Priority Pass lounge, but you travel through airports with Admirals Clubs all the time while NOT flying American Airlines. I doubt many people have that travel pattern, maybe a Delta loyalist in Miami.

Most people who are paying the $450+ annual fee year after year for one of these cards are primarily doing it for the lounge access, so think carefully about which set of lounge access works better for you.

Statement Credits

  • Executive: $100 once every five years for Global Entry
  • Citi Prestige® Card: $250 per calendar year for airline fees or airline tickets. $100 once every five years for Global Entry

Both offer a Global Entry Statement credit, but the Citi Prestige® Card is the clear winner in the statement credit game. The Citi Prestige® Card has a $250 per calendar year credit that can apply to airfare, award taxes, baggage fees, or pretty much any other charge from an airline.

This benefit alone makes the Prestige a great idea for at least one year, since you can get two calendar year credits in the first year of cardmembership plus the Global Entry credit. You’ve already more than offset the big annual fee on the Prestige before considering the lounge access and sign up bonus. These credits are a big reason why I value the sign up bonus on the Prestige at $1,250.

Other Benefits

The Citi Prestige® Card offers the 4th night free on hotel stays booked through its travel provider and three free rounds of golf per calendar year.

The Executive offers priority checkin, security, and boarding on American Airlines flights plus a free checked bag on American Airlines flights. (Remember the $250 Air Travel Credit on the Prestige could pay for 10 checked bags per year.)

Which benefits you more depends on your travel style.

Annual Fee

The annual fee on the Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard is $450. You pay it with your first statement, and again 12 months later if you don’t cancel the card.

The annual fee on the Citi Prestige® Card is $450. You pay it with your first statement, and again 12 months later if you don’t cancel the card.

For a person who wants Admirals Club membership for $450 per year, the Executive’s fee is worth paying in perpetuity. For a person who can use his $250 Air Travel Credit every calendar year–AKA everyone reading this blog–the Citi Prestige is definitely worth getting in year 1 and worth keeping if you value its lounge access at $200+ per year.

Which Card is Better?

Which card is better depends on you. Hopefully I’ve laid out how to think about each card’s benefits, but the actual thinking is left to you.

For folks who want Priority Pass access, American Airlines lounge access when flying AA/US, big category bonuses on spending, $600 in statement credits in year 1 as explained fully in this post, and great rates on using points to pay for airline tickets (especially on American/US Airways), the Citi Prestige® Card is better.

For folks who want American Airlines lounge access no matter which airline they’re flying and want American Airlines miles for partner premium cabin redemptions, the Executive is better.

I have both currently. I’ll cancel the Executive in the next few weeks to avoid paying its annual fee again. I’ll keep the Prestige indefinitely because its annual fee is more than offset by the Air Travel Credit and lounge access.


Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. Unless the Citi AA Executive includes the infamous 100k miles + $250 statement credit sign up bonus, this isn’t even close. Especially since the Prestige includes Admirals Club access.

  2. I got the Executive card last year in the 100k sign up bonus promo. I actually decided to keep it this year, even with the annual fee, largely due to one benefit you didn’t mention – spending $40k on the card gets you 10k EQMs.

    I have enough reimbursable work spend, plus a bit of personal spend to be able to hit that threshold. Certainly there’s opportunity cost to not banking those miles elsewhere, but on un-bonused spend, I’m pretty comfortable spending towards this and helping ensure I maintain status.

    That, plus continuing to grow my AA mileage balance and get lounge access was enough for me to keep the card, although I admit it was close to being cancelled in favor of the prestige.

    • A lot of opportunity cost for not a lot of status. For instance, you give up 10k AA miles by not spending that $40k on an SPG card than transferring to AA miles. You may be giving up even more points by not putting that spending on a card with category bonuses if a lot of that money is travel expenses. And 10k EQM isn’t a ton for giving up all that in my opinion.

      But you’ve weighed the benefits and made the right choice for you, so it’s good for others to see your reasoning and decide for themselves.

      • Fair point. The stuff I put on there is 90% stuff that wouldn’t get bonused on another card (the only travel I put on it is AA/US travel, for example). The 10k mile opportunity cost of not banking that to SPG is a fair point, but if I value that at roughly $200, then I’m “paying” $650 (annual fee, ignoring anything else it gets me, plus mileage opportunity cost) to avoid putting my butt in a seat for 10k miles. With my level of travel, those 10k miles can make a level’s worth of difference, so like you said – I’ve done the calculation and it works for me. I guess I just figured it was at least worth highlighting as an “Other Benefit.”

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