International Adoption Airfare with miles & points

Adoption comes with a lot of fees and can be expensive. The good news is that adoption travel doesn?t have to be one of those major expenses, though. With just a few tricks, your family can save a minimum of $1000 on your international adoption airfare. It may sound too good to be true, but it is something we?ve done and helped others do too!

In 2015, my husband and I brought our son home from the Philippines. My mom came with us to share the experience with us, as did our three year old daughter. We stayed three weeks and even enjoyed a week of bonding time at a beach resort. It sounds expensive, right? Four round-trip tickets from Chicago to Manila (plus an additional one-way from Manila to Chicago for our son), three weeks of lodging, food and transportation. 

Thanks to the research I had done on miles and points, we were able to cover the majority of our expenses, leaving us with less than $1,000 total in travel expenses (which was later reimbursed by the Adoption Tax Credit). That?s $1,000 for international adoption airfare, lodging, food, transportation for five people. We could have traveled for even less, but chose to spend 2 weeks at a specific guest house where my husband had stayed growing up ? and we had to pay that with an old-fashioned paper check. 

We are a middle-class family. At the time of our adoption, my husband was working full-time as a hospital nurse and I was a stay-at-home mom. We made about $70,000 a year. We had some money saved for our adoption costs. I knew enough about the miles and points world to realize that we should be able to almost totally cover our adoption travel expenses with points. So I dove into research and came up with a strategy to help us save. And it worked! We saved big. We’ve since earned and redeemed millions of points for travel. From August 2019 to March 2020, we traveled on our longest trip yet ? from Southeast Asia to Europe ? largely made possible by having a 2 million point balance at our disposal.

In the meantime, please feel free to reach out if you have more questions about miles and points! My email address is and I?m always happy to connect. 

Top Tips for Adoption Travel on Points

Be flexible. If you haven’t booked many award tickets before, you need to understand that award availability on airlines is not straightforward. 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 or week.

Plan ahead. We had saved enough miles for round trip travel on United or American Airlines for 2 adults + 2 kids because I wanted to have flexibility in case one airline didn’t have good last minute availability. If you’d like help planning out a strategy for your international adoption travel, please contact me! I’d be happy to help you look at what makes sense for your family. My upcoming e-book will also discuss a variety of strategies in detail.

Take your time. 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 were allowed to wait. We had some external factors that prevented us from traveling earlier — but it really made the process a lot less stressful. We had all that extra time to find award flights, plan our hotels, pack, prep ourselves a little more, and have a gathering of friends blessing us on our way.

Get a premium travel card that offers airport lounge access. This is well worth it to have a quiet spot for layovers and free food and drink in the airport. The stimulation in the airport terminal is very high. Lounges offer a great alternative and if you get certain credit cards, you’ll get free access to a whole network of lounges. See my detailed post for families of all sizes.

Get at least one card to save $500! A card like the Capitol One Venture card will easily save you $500 on your travel, even if you book with a travel agent. If both spouses get that card and combine their points accounts, it is an easy $1000! See Picking Your First Travel Card for some more information

Learn which airlines fly to your destination. You will need anywhere from 35,000 to 90,000+ points per person (depending on the destination) for your international round trip. Most airlines are doing away with standard award charts on their own flights, but still have award charts for partner flights, which is likely what you’ll end up flying anyway.

Use flexible points to book almost any flight. We love to use Chase Ultimate Rewards to book cheap flights — like when we found $600 round trip flights to the Philippines and used just 40,000 points each to book!

A Few Airline Examples

If you already have a bunch of points with any specific airline, a good strategy may be opening the credit card(s) for that airline to top off your account until you have enough points for all the people who want to travel. Here’s a few airlines and how you could earn enough points on them for your travel.

United Airlines:

United makes it 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.

A few examples on United Airlines or partners for ?saver? awards from Mainland US (though the Award chart is officially valid only through November 2019):

Also note that you will still pay:

  1. Taxes and fees (Varies per airline, on United it is usually less than $100 per ticket)
  2. If you are booking within 21 days of travel date, you may pay a surcharge of extra points

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 most of their 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 anyway.

If you are interested in booking with United miles, I would suggest getting cards in this order:

Chase Ink Cards: (typical bonus is 50,000-100,000 points after spending $3000-$10,000 in 3 months; $0- 95 annual fee). 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 60,000 points after spending $4000 in 3 months; $95 annual fee). 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 my post on premium cards for why the annual fee is worth it for some)

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card: 60,000 points

Earn 60,000 Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

  • $95 annual fee
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • $50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit
  • $15 per quarter statement credit for Instacart
  • Great transfer options to Hyatt, United, Southwest, and more
  • Earn 3x on dining, select streaming services, and online grocery

The Chase Sapphire Preferred is one of my top beginner cards for miles & points. This limited time bonus can get you at least $1000 of travel. The travel insurance it provides is top tier, too! Get this card early in your travel points journey, it’s a keeper.

A publicly available online offer for 80,000 points ran from March 2023-May 2023. Another 80,000 point bonus ended in Fall 2022. Standard bonus is 60,000 points.

An offer for 100,000 points ended in Fall 2021.

Chase United Explorer (typical bonus is 50,000 points after spending $3000 in 3 months, annual fee often waived the first year)

UnitedSM Explorer Card
  • $95 annual fee (typically waived the first year – check current offers at the link above)
  • 2 guest passes for the United Club lounge
  • Free checked bag for account holder and one companion on the same reservation
  • Free TSA Precheck or Global Entry credit
  • Get one-year complimentary DashPass, a membership for both DoorDash and Caviar that provides unlimited deliveries with $0 delivery fees and lower service fees on eligible orders.

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:

American miles are fairly easy to come by. Most partner airline flights don’t show up on their website. There are some advantages to this in that if you do the work to find partner flights that have award availability, you can get closer in tickets. You do have to watch out because some of their partners add fuel surcharges, so the taxes + fees can get pricey. But that’s mostly flights to Europe. To Latin America and Asia there are not many surcharges.

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.

For a trip in August 2019, for instance, we booked one way tickets from Chicago to Jakarta (with an overnight layover in Tokyo, our favorite way to break up a trip) for 37,500 American miles + $29 each, flying on JAL.

  1. Barclay’s offers a personal and business version of the AAdvantage? Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard? which typically earns 50,000+ miles after your first purchase and paying a $99 annual fee. Sometimes as high as 75,000 miles after spending $1000 on the business. Barclay’s will only typically only approve you for 1 card so if you have a business, go for the business card first.
  2. 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.

Even if you and a spouse had no business, you could each get the personal version of the Barclay’s card and the Citi card, and you’d end up with 220,000 miles all together. You would have spent $198 on annual fees and put a total of $6000 spending on your credit cards. If you’re able to add the Citi business cards, you’d have at least 340,000 miles!

Delta Airlines:

Delta does not have a published award chart so flights can vary drastically between dates. Our home airport is Chicago and we haven’t had much luck with getting good redemption options. But if you are based in Minneapolis, Atlanta, or New York, you would have lots of options.

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.

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