Here’s the Best Way to Get American Airlines Club Access Without Paying Full Boat

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As someone who flies American Airlines regularly, I place a high value on lounge access. It’s the people who keep me going especially during irregular operations, going above and beyond to get me where I’m going. As a result I’m very interested in the best way to get American Airlines club access.

For instance, agents have regularly double booked me giving me ‘backup’ flights just in case I misconnect. And I’ve even gotten a proactive call from a lounge about a delay, they had booked me as a backup on a new flight (that had looked sold out to me, and it was the last one of the night). And I’m not a Concierge Key member.

best way to get American Airlines club access
Entrance to American Airlines Admirals Club Austin

Admirals Club membership normally runs $400 – $500. But I don’t want to pay that just for a club membership. So I’m going to walk through different methods and come up with the best way to get American Airlines club access.

best way to get American Airlines club access
Putting Green, American Airlines Admirals Club Austin

Unfortunately There’s No More Access Via American Express Platinum

I used to get my American Airlines club access via the American Express Platinum card. While I still use that card to access the far superior Centurion lounges (Dallas, New York LaGuardia, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Miami.. and a review of the Sydney lounge coming up soon) and Alaska lounges (via Priority Pass Select which comes with the card). Unfortunately American Express is no longer able to provide lounge access with American Airlines.

I’ve Lost My Partner Elite Status

When British Airways acquired british midland, my bmi Gold status (which was also Star Alliance Gold) got me 21 months of Gold status in the British Airways Executive Club. That meant access not only to American’s Admirals Clubs when flying American domestically, but also their Flagship (first class) lounges in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York JFK as well. BA gave me a soft landing to their Silver level which then gave me 12 months of access to American’s lounges. That status expired a couple of months ago and now I’m looking seriously at the best way for me to be maintaining access.

For those with elite status outside of a oneworld airline, American partner airberlin has been known to status match and that could provide free lounge access for a year.

Redeeming Small Business Points is Another Method

An Executive Platinum who joins American’s small business program Business ExtrAA will in many cases earn enough business points (which are separate from AAdvantage frequent flyer miles) to redeem for a club lounge membership each year. The Business ExtrAA program is revenue-based – you earn 2 points for every $10 in base airfare. So $15,000 in spend earns 3000 points (exclusive of occasional bonuses) which is enough for a lounge membership. (2400 points is enough to gift AAdvantage Gold status.)

Two Credit Cards Give Access — Which One is Best?

There are two credit cards that offer American Airlines lounge access: the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World EliteTM Mastercard and the Citi Prestige card.

Citi Prestige is the much stronge value proposition of the two. It costs $450 but some of the benefits are:

• $250 Air Travel Credit each year
• Complimentary 4th Night for any hotel stay
• Points are redeemable for an $800 flight on American Airlines or US Airways®, a $665 flight on any other airline or $500 in gift cards.
• Transfer points to a variety of travel loyalty programs from airlines to hotels.
• Earn 3x points on Air Travel and Hotels
• Earn 2x points on Dining at Restaurants and Entertainment

Citi ThankYou points transfer to a variety of airlines. Citi Executive earns American miles.

Citi Prestige also gets you lounge access via the Priority Pass Select card, but is even better because it includes free guest access as well. It also gets you a fee rebate for Global Entry. And the card’s annual fee credit can be used directly for airfare, no need to mess around with gift cards. You even get free rounds of golf. Many will get $3000 in value for the $450 fee in year one with the card.

There are 3 things that the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World EliteTM Mastercard has that Citi Prestige does not (and a ton of things Citi Prestige has that Citi Executive does not).

  • Citi Executive gives you a ‘real’ American Airlines club membership, not just access. That means you can access American lounges when flying airlines other than American, and it does open the doors to some clubs that aren’t true Admirals clubs (like the premium lounge in Miami’s E concourse when departing on one of the handful of American flights using the E gates).

  • American AAdvantage elite qualifying miles — $40,000 in spend each year earns 10,000 qualifying miles.

  • Privileges when flying American like priority boarding and free checked bags (that largely duplicate the offerings of the basic Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard

I have a Citi Executive card because I have the irrational idea each year that I’m going to need those 10,000 elite qualifying miles to re-qualify for Executive Platinum status with American. Every year I believe that I’m going to fly less, someone 100,000 flown miles feels like a lot. Even though realistically I shouldn’t need the qualifying miles at all I put $40,000 in spend on the card.

I’d be much much better off with Citi Prestige (and have an Outlook reminder to myself currently to apply for it).

And if I really want to spend for elite qualifying miles, I can save the cash outlay on Citi Executive by switching my Barclays AAdvantage Aviator Red card to an Aviator Silver whose $195 fee gets me 5000 qualifying miles after $20,000 spend and another 5000 qualifying miles after $40,000 spend each year — but doesn’t come with lounge access.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. One day passes are available on eBay for about $25 each. Occasionally passes with near term expiry dates can be had for $20 each.

  2. The AirBerlin status match route for lounge access requires a same-day Oneworld flight, doesn’t it? (And Alaska Airlines flights don’t count?)

  3. One thing that should not need to be said but took me too long to figure out was that the Prestige gives T.Y. points for spend while the Executive gives Aadvantage points. (Along with the current ridiculousness that T.Y. points cannot transfer to American

  4. Gary, can you double dip with the Aviator Silver and Executive card? Ie: spend $40k on each, get 10k miles on each?

  5. Gary, do you know if the Exec/Silver cards give EQPs at the same time? (As in, for the Exec: bonus of 10k EQMs and 10k EQPs.) I hit the 40k a while back and picked up 10k of progress from the card. But I have a surprisingly high number of EQPs this year and I could swear they haven’t all come from flights. I wish the AA site did as good a job of explaining EQPs earned as it does for EQMs.

  6. @adam – no eqp’s just eqm’s at least for the executive card, i don’t have direct experience yet hitting the spend threshold on a barclays aviator silver

  7. @Aviators99

    I had the same thought originally, but between my wife and I we have about 600,000 AA miles and 100,000 avios (to use on short haul flights). The Thankyou points can be used to buy AA tickets at 1.6 cents each. These are great when award tickets are not available. Since they are paid tickets, you can use upgrades and earn AA miles on the tickets. I use the card for category bonus spend and get either the equivalent 3.2% or 4.8% cash.

  8. can a holder of the Citi Executive card get the thank you bonus as a new applicant for the Citi Prestige card after meeting the spend requirements?

    Earn 50,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $3,000 in purchases with your card within 3 months of account opening1.
    Bonus ThankYou Points not available if you have had a Citi Prestige card opened or closed in the past 18 months

  9. The Citi Executive card also gives you Global Entry re-imbursement. Personally I consider it the better Citi card for the “real” club membership.

    On a side note — while I enjoy the Centurion clubs, I would not consider them “far superior” to some of the better Admirals Clubs, especially with the latest upgrades and changes.

  10. I am flying to Mexico from Dallas DFW in a couple days. I am not an admiral club member, but have the new Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card. I am using American Airlines. Can I use their lounge or any other lounge with my credit card?

  11. Deborah Pope with chase card You can use priority pass network lounges. You will not get access to admiral club lounge

  12. I am an AAdvantage Aviator Red MasterCard card member, spending $30,000+. When it was an US Airways card, I had lounge access. Do I still have that benefit now that it is AAdvantage?

    We will be flying to St. Croix, through Miami both ways and have a long layover.

    Thank you.

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