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If you’re earning points and miles for travel, chances are you’re probably looking to redeem them for an amazing international trip that would otherwise be quite expensive.
Many travel credit cards offer welcome bonuses big enough to cover at least a one-way business class ticket abroad. In some cases, you can cover multiple economy round-trips with one bonus. You could either earn miles directly with co-branded airline credit cards or keep things a bit more flexible by getting credit cards that earn transferable points that can be transferred to airlines. Below is a list of the current best credit cards for earning international award travel.
» Learn more: How to compare travel credit cards
The best airline credit cards for international travel
The welcome bonus from the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card may not sound like much, but it’s actually enough to cover a one-way international flight: Buy one ticket, get one for just the taxes and fees ($0 fare plus taxes and fees from $22) and receive 40,000 bonus miles with this offer. To qualify, make $3,000 or more in purchases within the first 90 days of opening your account.
Here are some examples of one-way flights you can book from the U.S. with just this sign-up bonus:
Economy class to the Caribbean (17,500 miles).
Economy class to South America (20,000 to 30,000 miles).
Off-peak economy class to Europe between Oct. 15 - May 15 (22,500 miles).
Economy class to Europe (30,000 miles).
Economy class to Asia (30,000 to 40,000 miles).
Economy class to the Middle East (35,000+ miles).
Economy class to North or South Africa (35,000 to 55,000 miles).
Economy class to Australia or New Zealand (40,000 miles).
Business class to Hawaii (40,000 miles).
Economy class to India (starting at 40,000 miles).
Economy class to the South Pacific (40,000+ miles).
The biggest welcome bonus from an AAdvantage card right now comes from the AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®. Earn 60,000 AAdvantage® bonus miles after making your first purchase and paying the $99 annual fee in full, both within the first 90 days.
With those AAdvantage miles, you could book some pretty awesome international awards from the U.S.:
Off-peak economy class ticket to the Caribbean (12,500 miles).
Etihad business class to the Middle East (70,000 miles).
Japan Airlines or Cathay Pacific business class to Asia (60,000 to 70,000 miles).
Economy class to Europe (22,500 to 30,000 miles).
American Airlines business class to Europe (57,500 miles).
British Airways Avios
The British Airways Executive Club has some pretty notable sweet spot awards. Including some international flight options. With the welcome bonus from the British Airways Visa Signature® Card, you’ll have enough miles for the following flights departing from the U.S:
Aer Lingus economy class from Boston to Dublin (13,000 miles off-peak).
Aer Lingus business class from Boston to Dublin (50,000 miles off-peak).
Iberia economy class from New York to Madrid (17,000 miles off-peak).
Japan Airlines economy class Los Angeles to Tokyo (25,750 miles).
American Airlines economy class Miami to Bogota (11,000 miles).
The current welcome bonus is: Earn up to 100,000 Avios. Earn 75,000 Avios after you spend $5,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening and earn an additional 25,000 Avios after you spend $20,000 in the first 12 months of account opening.
Using the welcome bonus, you could potentially cover up to two round-trip flights to Japan or even Europe. Just keep in mind that British Airways has a distance-based redemption program, meaning the number of miles flown determines the cost of the ticket. The carrier also charges taxes and fuel charges on award tickets, so depending on your origin/destination, those additional fees can be quite high.
Air France-KLM Flying Blue
If the Air France KLM World Elite Mastercard® has been off your radar, it’s time to hone in on this card. We’ve covered Flying Blue sweet spot redemptions before, so you may be aware of some of the cheap international awards you can book with points:
San Francisco to Tel Aviv in economy class (starting from 21,500 miles).
New York to Algiers in economy class (starting from 25,000 miles).
At the time of writing, Flying Blue Promo Rewards included discounted flights between Europe, and flights from Europe to Turkey and the Ukraine for 25% off in economy. These fares are good for flights until Sept. 30, 2021, as long as they’re booked before the end of April. These deals will update the first of each month. Typically, Flying Blue Promo Rewards also include long-haul flights from Europe to the U.S. and to South America, but due to COVID, these awards are not available for booking.
What do these discounted awards translate into, exactly? One-way economy class fares as low as 4,500 miles. The welcome bonus from the Air France KLM World Elite Mastercard® not only covers those one-way tickets within Europe, but leaves you with many miles to spare: Get 50,000 Bonus Miles after you make $2,000 or more in purchases within the first 90 days of account opening.
The biggest welcome bonus from the MileagePlus credit cards right now comes from the United℠ Business Card: Earn up to 150,000 bonus miles. Earn 75,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open. Plus, earn an additional 75,000 miles after you spend $20,000 total on purchases in the first 6 months your account is open.
That’s a nice chunk of miles that you can put to great use for a one-way international saver award ticket. United recently switched to dynamic award pricing, so these numbers may vary, but here are some examples of how far those miles could get you:
Economy class to the Caribbean (17,500 miles).
Business class to the Caribbean (30,000 miles).
Economy class to Europe (30,000 miles).
Business class to Europe (60,000 to 70,000 miles).
Economy class to the Middle East (42,500 miles).
Business class to the Middle East (75,000 to 85,000 miles).
Economy class to Australia (40,000 miles).
Business class to Australia (80,000 miles).
Being able to cover a round-trip economy class ticket to Europe off one welcome bonus is pretty amazing. The United℠ Business Card currently makes that possible.
» Learn more: United Business card: Rewards, perks make up for fee
Other great credit cards for international flights
If you’re looking for more flexibility, consider transferrable point cards because they allow you to transfer points to a list of airline partners.
There are three credit card programs you need to know about if you want to do transfers to airlines: Chase Ultimate Rewards®, American Express Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou. The cards open up doors for booking award space on various Star Alliance, SkyTeam and Oneworld carriers.
You could use your Chase Ultimate Rewards® points to book flights through the travel portal or by transferring to Chase’s list of 10 airline transfer partners at a 1:1 transfer ratio, including Air France-KLM, British Airways, Singapore Airlines and Emirates.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is a great credit card for those starting out and has the following welcome offer: Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
If you’re looking for more travel perks like lounge access, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® is the card to consider. The current welcome bonus is: Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
American Express points can be used to book flights through its travel portal or by transferring Membership Rewards points to over a dozen airlines. Most have a 1:1 transfer ratio with the exception of JetBlue (250:200) and AeroMexico (1,000:1,600). AmEx transfer partners include Aer Lingus. Aeromexico, Avianca, Cathay Pacific and more.
A solid entry level travel card for earning AmEx Membership Rewards Points is the American Express® Gold Card with a welcome bonus of: Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership. Terms Apply.
For additional perks like lounge access, you’ll want to consider The Platinum Card® from American Express. The welcome offer is: Earn 100,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on the Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. Terms Apply.
Citi’s brand of travel credit cards allow you to earn ThankYou points, which could be used to book flights through the travel portal or transferred to over a dozen airlines as long as you have a Citi Premier® Card, Citi Prestige® Card or Citi Chairman® Card.
You can transfer ThankYou points to airlines like Qantas, Qatar, Turkish Airlines and Virgin Atlantic.
The Citi Premier® Card has a welcome bonus of: Earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening. The welcome offer could be great for booking Flying Blue Promo Rewards, especially if you could time the booking with a Citi transfer bonus.
» Learn more: The 4 best Citi ThankYou partners — and 7 to avoid
Capital One cards
Capital One travel credit cards like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card or Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card earn Capital One miles that can be transferred to more than a dozen airline partners, including major international carriers like Air Canada, Air France-KLM, Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines.
You can also book flights directly through the recently revamped Capital One Travel portal, which includes tools like price prediction and will soon feature Cancel for Any Reason coverage on all flights booked through the portal.
The premium Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card ($395 annual fee) has the following welcome bonus: Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel.
For a no-fee Capital One travel card, take a look at the Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card, which comes with the following welcome bonus: Earn a bonus of 20,000 miles once you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $200 in travel.
The bottom line
There are many great cards to choose from when it comes to booking international award flights. If you’re loyal to a specific airline, getting a co-branded card could be a good choice. However, if you’re indifferent about which airline to fly or you live near an airport that has flights with many carriers, a transferrable point credit card might be your best bet.
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2022, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card
IHG® One Rewards
- Cheers to new tiers: New tiers allow members to earn points faster.
- Piling on the perks: New members benefits that enhance every stay
- Milestone Rewards: Allows members to choose their rewards.
World of Hyatt
- Earn points for things you already enjoy with Hyatt
- Use your points for free nights at more than 1,100 hotels around the world
- Three elite tiers to unlock exceptional benefits - room upgrades and more.
Alaska Mileage Plan
- Join Mileage Plan and Save $25 on your next flight
- Our members earn 30% more miles on average than other airlines
- You earn based on how far you fly, not how much you spend