The Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® is not a card for everyone. In fact, it's not a card for most people. But if you're an American Airlines loyalist and you frequently fly through an airport with an Admirals Club, it offers a compelling perk that you won't find anywhere else.
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The Citi AAdvantage Executive card comes with a hefty $450 annual fee, and unlike some other cards with high annual fees, you won't really have the opportunity to make that fee back with statement credits.
To ease the sting, however, the card will reward you with 50,000 bonus American Airlines miles if you spend $5,000 on purchases in your first three months. You'll also earn 2 points per dollar on eligible American Airlines purchases, which is pretty underwhelming when you could get 3 points per dollar on AA purchases with the Chase Sapphire Reserve, or 5 points per dollar with the Platinum Card® from American Express (if booked through Amex Travel or directly with the airline).
Short-hop domestic flights on American Airlines start at 7,500 miles each way, though availability at the cheapest MileSAAver redemption level is usually pretty limited. You can check out American's full redemption chart here, but on average, you can expect your miles to be worth about 1.4 cents each, according to The Points Guy, or slightly more than United and Delta miles.
AAdvantage miles can expire if you go 18 months without any account activity, but the nice thing about having the Excutive Card is that creating account activity is as easy as making a purchase. Any purchase.
Most high-annual-fee credit cards come with a variety of credits--travel credits, shopping credits, dining credits--that partially offset the annual fee, and incentize you to use the card. That's largely not the case here; you'll be paying $450 for access to a few exclusive benefits, but they're largely benefits that enhance your travel experience, rather than save you money.
Admirals Club Membership
Without a doubt, the star of the show here is a complimentary Admirals Club Membership for the primary cardholder, as well as Admirals Club Access for your authorized users, of which you can add up to 10 at no additional cost.
For non-elite fliers, a one-year Admirals Club membership would cost $650 by itself, and a household membership would set you back $1,250, so even with a $450 annual fee, this perk is one of the most valuable in the entire credit card industry.
All cardholders will have access to over 50 Admirals Club lounges, and the primary cardholder will additionally be able to enter over 60 partner lounges around the world. Most of these lounges offer free snacks and alcoholic beverages, and some even include private shower suites. But most importantly, all of them offer a quiet respite away from the airport terminal. Just note that you'll need a same-day boarding pass from American Airlines, a OneWorld Alliance partner airline, or Alaska Airlines to be eligible for entry.
If you have any friends or family members who you trust to be authorized users on your account, you could even potentially share the cost of the annual fee, since authorized users can access this benefit even without the primary cardholder present.
Upgraded Airport Experience
If lounge access wasn't enough, Executive cardmembers are also eligible for priority check-in (where available), priority security screening (where available), and priority boarding privileges in Group 4. Unfortunately, these benefits don't extend to authorized users, but they do apply to up to eight traveling companions on the same reservation as the primary cardmember.
Free Checked Bag
The primary cardholder (along with up to eight companions on the same reservation) will also get their first checked bag for free on American Airlines domestic flights, which is nice, but also table stakes for pretty much any airline credit card.
TSA Precheck/Global Entry Credit
Every five years, the primary cardholder will receive a credit of up to $100 to cover the application fee for TSA Precheck or Global Entry. This benefit is available on a lot of credit cards, including the $95/year United Explorer Card, but it still helps offset some of that $450 annual fee.
If Admirals Club access is worth $450 per year to you (as well as your potential authorized users), then you should absolutely add this card to your collection. If you don't fly on AA or OneWorld airlines often enough to justify the expense, then the other perks here aren't all that compelling.
You could earn more points on AA purchases with some other travel rewards cards. You could get that TSA Precheck/Global Entry credit with any number of other cards. And, frankly, Zone 4 boarding isn't that exciting.
But the Admirals Club Access perk is, and I really can't stress this enough, incredible. No other credit card gets you access to these lounges, and it's astonishing that the benefit applies to authorized users at no additional cost. That $450 annual fee won't sting quite as badly when you're showering off in a private lounge suite before your redeye flight.
Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.