Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Citi's American Airlines credit card: The good, the weak and the ugly

The Citi American Airlines Mastercard, which I just got, comes with a host of bonus features. Some of these are very good. Some others might be good depending on your needs. But most of the "bonuses" are nothing more than parsley on a dinner plate they make things look good but offer practically nothing of value.

The card comes with a $95 annual fee. I hate annual fees, but this one is waived for the first year. I'll decide before the year is up whether to cancel the card.

Here's a look at the various perks of the card, from the good to to the lame.

Very Good

First bag checked free for you and up to four traveling companions. This is the reason I got the card. Normally, you pay $25 to check your first bag on American. I will be flying with my two kids next month going one way on American and since we'll each have a bag to check, we'll save $75 right there.

If you fly a lot on American, this could amount to significant savings.

A bonus of 30,000 AAdvantage miles after you spend $1,000 within the first three months.  Thirty thousand miles is enough to buy a round-trip ticket, so I figure this is worth $400 or so, at some point.

Kinda good

Earn frequent flier miles. When you use this card, you earn miles in American's AAdvantage frequent flier program. That's not bad, but I'd prefer to just to get a 1% cash rebate as some cards offer.

Group 1 boarding. This means we will get to get on the plane ahead of those poor slobs in "general boarding." (Insert imperious sneer here.) The advantage, I guess, is that you get first shot at the overhead bin space. I consider this only a very slight benefit. My family and I are not the type of travelers who have a lot of carry-ons, and when we do need bin space, I haven't had a problem finding it.

Auto rental insurance. Covers damages to your rental car when you use the card for the transaction. Nice, but nearly all cards offer this. 

Just OK

Double AAdvantage miles on American Airlines purchases. If I'm buying American Airlines tickets and use this card I get double miles. It's better than nothing I guess.

Earn miles for using miles. If you redeem your AAdvantage miles for a flight or something else, you get 10% back. I use AAdvantage miles so rarely, this isn't worth that much, but it is better than nothing.

"Parsley" benefits

25% off food, drink or headsets on board.  Whoopee. The food and drink on board are about 40% overpriced. It's easy to bring your own food and headsets.

Personal concierge service. "We'll make your dinner reservations, purchase tickets to events, coordinate business arrangements for you worldwide, locate hard-to-find items, and buy and deliver gifts with the costs of goods or services billed to your card." By the time you explain what you want, and go back and forth a few times explaining how much you want to spend, you could have done it yourself.

$100 American Airlines Flight Discount if you spend $30,000 in a year. Maybe some people charge an average of $2,500 a month, but not me. And if you do spend $30,000 annually, then $100 doesn't seem like much of a reward.

Reduced mileage awards. This is one of those "benefits" that sound good, but upon closer inspection really aren't. This bonus allows cardholders to use up to 5,000 to 7,500 fewer miles than normally required to get a roundtrip flight to certain cities.

But the eligible cities and dates in this program are so spotty, that this is like grabbing a deal from the discount bin at Big Lots. Oh, yay, I can get a price break on a flight to Beaumont, Texas, or Kalamazoo, Michigan! You can use the discount to go to Jackson, Miss., in April, but not in May, June or July. The discount is available for Fort Lauderdale in May, but not April, June or July.

In short, if you happen to benefit from this feature, it would only be by sheer luck.

 "Buyers Security Program." This feature, supposedly, will protect purchases you make with this card for 90 days against fire, theft or accidental breakage. OK, you might think, you're not going need that very often, but it would be nice to have just in case.

Well, good luck using this if you need it. There are a full 1,139 words describing the conditions of this, and most of them say what is not covered.

Theft from vehicles is not covered. Nor are boats, motorized vehicles or their equipment and accessories. Also not covered: "permanently installed items, fixtures or structures," "tickets of any kind," plants, "consumables" or "perishables." "Theft or damage of jewelry, cameras and video recording equipment contained in baggage is not covered." Items given as gifts are not covered.

There are many other limits on the coverage, plus strict requirements for making a claim. If anyone has actually successfully used this program, please let me know in the comments below.  Until I hear from such a person, I deem the program as worthless.

"Price Protection Program." If you buy something with the card, and see a printed ad offering the same item for less money within 60 days, Citi supposedly will refund the price difference up to $250. But the restrictions on the offer are so many to make it a virtually empty promise.

First, the ad must be for the exact same item.  It does not apply to Internet purchases or advertisements. It also does not apply to any ad with the words, “limited quantity,” “going out-of-business,” “cash only” or “close out.” There are 19 other bullet points in the fine print outlining exceptions to the offer.

Bottom line: worthless.

Others.  There are several other bonuses that come with this card, including lost luggage coverage, trip cancellation and interruption insurance, an extended warranty program, travel accident insurance, roadside assistance service, and a "price rewind" feature. All sound nice on the service, but a look at the small print shows so many limitations that the chance of actually benefiting is miniscule to non-existent.

If you actually have used any of these bonuses, let me know in the comments below.

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