You will need anywhere from 35,000 to 90,000 points per person (depending on the destination) for your international round trip. A few examples on United Airlines and its partners for “saver” awards from Mainland US:
- Central America: 35,000 miles round trip
- Africa: 80,000 round trip
- North Asia (incl. China): 70,000 round trip
- South Asia (incl Philippines): 85,000
- Check the United Chart for more destinations
If you’d like to fully cover your airfare for an international adoption trip (as we did) is that you have to be flexible. If you haven’t booked many award tickets before, you need to understand that award availability on airlines is not straightforward. Also the flights that are cheapest in cash might not be available with points. If you think you will be traveling around major holidays, award availability will be more limited. You might need to have 2 connections instead of one. It might not be your preferred time of day. It might not be on your preferred day.
We traveled to the Philippines a month after we had received our permission to travel from the Philippines Intercountry Adoption Board. This was at the end of the maximum time we could have waited. We had some external factors that prevented us from traveling earlier — but it really made the process a whole lot less stressful to have that extra time to plan our hotels, pack, prep ourselves a little more, and have a gathering of friends blessing us on our way. I get the feeling of wanting to jump on a plane the moment you have approval, and if that is you, see Save Money on Any Airfare.
Also note that you will still pay
- Taxes and fees
- If you are booking within 21 days of travel date, you may pay up to $75 per ticket
*There are cards you could get with rewards that could cover these expenses either as travel expenses or cash back
Best Credit Cards to cover International Airfare:
If you already have a bunch of points with any specific airline, a good strategy will probably be opening the credit card(s) for that airline to top off your account until you have enough points.
Otherwise, I generally prefer United miles for international travel because it is easy to search for awards on their website and there are some perks that can allow you to book an extra destination on the same ticket. Many of their partner airlines have awards that are bookable and searchable on the United site. Also there are a number of credit cards that allow you to earn United miles so it is fairly easy to earn enough for a ticket. In addition, United cards are issued by Chase, which?is one of the most restrictive banks when it comes to card approvals — you will only get approved for their most valuable cards if you have opened 5 or fewer credit cards (from any issuer) in the past 24 months — so I recommend starting with Chase cards first.
If you are interested in booking with United miles, I would suggest getting cards in this order:
*Some links are referral links and give me a bonus if you apply through the link — which we appreciate.
- Chase Ink Preferred (typical bonus is 80,000 points after spending $5000 in 3 months; annual fee waived the first year). This card earns Chase Ultimate Rewards, which have many uses, but can easily be transferred at a 1:1 ratio to United. This is a business card, so you do have to have some sort of small business to apply. We rent out a condo and apply for business cards for our rental property business. Other friends who sell (even sparingly) on ebay apply for cards for their resale businesses. Or if you freelance or tutor or consultant or babysitter you may qualify, too. More info here on applying for business cards.
- Chase Sapphire Preferred (typical bonus is 50,000 points after spending $4000 in 3 months; annual fee waived the first year). This card also earns Chase Ultimate Rewards which can be transferred at a 1:1 ratio to United. Or Chase Sapphire Reserve (typical bonus is 50,000 points after spending $4000 in 3 months; annual fee is $450. See our?post on premium cards for why the annual fee is worth it for some)
- Chase United Explorer Card (typical bonus is 50,000 points after spending $3000 in 3 months, annual fee often waived the first year)
- Chase United Mileage Plus Business Explorer Card (typical bonus is 50,000 points after spending $3000 in 3 months, annual fee often waived the first year)
If you are married, I recommend you and your spouse each apply for each card. After one of you has a card, you can actually refer the other one through Chase’s Refer a Friend portal, and you will receive bonus points for the referral.
American Airlines – miles are fairly easy to come by but availability seems more limited, and most partner airline flights don’t show up on their website. Before applying for these cards, make sure to look at your whole strategy because you generally want to apply for the valuable Chase cards FIRST and then apply for other cards.
- Barclaycard offers the AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard which typically earns 50,000+ miles after your first purchase and paying a$95 annual fee
- Citi offers personal and business cards that typically earn 60,000 miles after spending $3000 in 3 months, annual fee is usually waived the first year.
Delta Airlines – I don’t have personal experience redeeming Delta miles on Delta or partners. Same as with the American cards, before applying for these cards, make sure to look at your whole strategy because you generally want to apply for the valuable Chase cards FIRST and then apply for other cards. Delta cards are all issued by American Express and vary as far as bonus points and annual fee — but usually the Delta Gold (personal and business) is a good starting place because the annual fee is often waived the first year and the bonus is usually around 60,000 points for spending $3000 in 3 months.