Which Airline Credit Card Is Best for International Award Travel?

Ariana ArghandewalDecember 6, 2019
On a similar note...
On a similar note...

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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 airline credit cards offer welcome bonuses big enough to cover at least a one-way economy class ticket abroad. In some cases, you can cover multiple round-trips with one bonus. Below is a list of the current best airline credit cards for earning international award travel.

Alaska Airlines

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: Get a $100 statement credit, 40,000 bonus miles and Alaska's Famous Companion Fare™ from $121 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from $22) after you make $2,000 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).

American Airlines

The biggest welcome bonus from an AAdvantage card right now comes from the AAdvantage® Aviator® Business Mastercard®. Earn up to 75,000 AAdvantage® bonus miles: Earn 65,000 miles after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days. Earn 10,000 miles when a purchase is made on an employee card.

With a combined 75,000 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).

With the welcome bonus from the British Airways Visa Signature® Card, 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.

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 Houston, Minneapolis, and Chicago in economy for 25% off, and between Europe and Chicago in business class for 50% off. These fares are good for flights between Dec. 31, 2019, and Feb. 28, 2020, as long as they’re booked before the end of November.

What does that translate to, exactly? One-way economy class fares as low as 17,250 miles. The welcome bonus from the Air France KLM World Elite Mastercard® not only covers a one-way ticket to Europe, but leaves you with over 7,000 miles to spare: Get 25,000 bonus miles after you make $1,000 or more in purchases within the first 90 days of your account opening.

United MileagePlus

The biggest welcome bonus from the MileagePlus credit cards right now comes from the United℠ Business Card: 75,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.

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 100,000 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 or Australia off one welcome bonus is pretty amazing. The United℠ Business Card currently makes that possible.

Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

The welcome bonus from the Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard® isn’t the highest it's been at the moment, but it can still cover at least a one-way international airline ticket. For a limited time: Earn up to 80,000 bonus miles with the new Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard®.

Cardholders earn 30,000 miles after spending $1,000 within the first 90 days of account opening, plus up to 5,000 Flying Club bonus miles for adding additional authorized users. You’ll also earn up to 15,000 Flying Club bonus miles every anniversary after qualifying purchases.

For now, let’s consider the 35,000 miles you can bank from this card in the near future. What does it get you? One of the best deals out there has to be Virgin Atlantic’s 10,000-mile economy class ticket between New York and London. The taxes on the outbound are just $149, while the return is pricier at roughly $250.

If you’re departing from the West Coast, you’ll need just 15,000 miles for this award, which is still a bargain. With the welcome bonus from the Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard®, you'll have enough miles for at least a round-trip ticket to London.

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 2020, including those best for:

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