The best credit cards from international airlines

Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information.

One hallmark of experienced award travelers is their willingness to use frequent flyer programs run by foreign airlines. Even if most of your travel is within the United States, there’s plenty of incentive to look for cheap award rates on domestic flights by booking with programs like Avianca LifeMiles and British Airways Executive Club.

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Many of the best international frequent flyer programs partner with popular transferable points currencies such as Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards. However, if you know which international program’s miles you’re trying to earn, your account can get a quick and substantial boost from a sign-up bonus on a credit card issued by that airline. This can be an especially good strategy if you’ve blown past Chase’s 5/24 rule and nabbed most of the good sign-up bonuses from the major credit card issuers.

Today, I’ll walk you through some of the most popular airline credit cards issued by foreign airlines and why you might want them in your wallet.

Should you get a credit card from an international airline?

When it’s a good idea to get an international airline’s credit card

There are two scenarios where it’s a good idea to open an international airline’s credit card.

First, frequent award travelers can benefit from an international airline card to diversify their points and miles strategy. If you’ve already fulfilled your credit card aspirations and have opened the main cards you need, pick an international airline card with a favorable rewards currency. Consider opening a card that’s part of your favorite airline alliance or has a lot of airline partners that can offer flexibility for upcoming award redemptions.

If you fly with a particular international airline at least once per year, you should also consider getting a cobranded airline card. This is because you can get benefits such as free checked bags, priority boarding and more. These benefits can help to offset or outweigh the cost of the annual fee.

Related: Are airline credit cards worth it?

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When it’s not a good idea to get an international airline card

At face value, international airline credit cards aren’t much different than domestic airline credit cards. Unless you fly with a given airline often or you’re an expert award traveler, most people would benefit from owning a credit card that earns transferable points instead.

This way, you’re not locked into one loyalty program. When it’s time to travel, you can send your points to the program offering the best deal for the flights you want to book — rather than having to book with just one airline, which is the one where you have your miles already.

Related: Why are transferable points worth more than other rewards?

The best credit cards from international airlines

Aer Lingus Visa Signature Card

Sign-up bonus: Earn up to 100,000 bonus Avios. Earn 75,000 Avios after you spend $5,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening and an additional 25,000 Avios after you spend $20,000 within the first 12 months of account opening.

Key benefits: Earn a companion ticket valid for flights between the U.S. and Ireland after spending $30,000 on the card in a calendar year.

Earning rates: Earn 3 Avios per dollar spent on Aer Lingus, British Airways and Iberia flight purchases, 2 points per dollar spent on hotel rooms booked directly with hotels and 1 Avios per dollar on other purchases. TPG values Avios at 1.5 cents each.

Annual fee: $95.

JOHN GRIBBEN FOR THE POINTS GUY

Why you want Aer Lingus Avios: The best value in having Aer Lingus Avios may be the fact you can freely and instantly transfer them to Iberia or British Airways (and from there to Qatar Airways Privilege Club). That’s because Aer Lingus often adds higher taxes and fees than booking with British Airways Executive Club. The main strength of having Avios in your Aer Lingus account is being able to book Aer Lingus flights online.

Click here to read our full review of the Aer Lingus Visa card.

Official application link: Aer Lingus Visa Signature Card

Aeroplan Credit Card

Sign-up bonus: Earn 70,000 bonus points after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.

Key benefits: Cardholders receive automatic 25K elite status (which offers 20 eUpgrade credits on Air Canada-operated flights, priority check-in and boarding and two one-time passes to Air Canada’s Maple Leaf Lounges, a first free checked bag on Air Canada flights, reimbursement for your application fee to Global Entry, TSA PreCheck or Nexus and World Elite Mastercard benefits.

Earning rates: Earn 3 points per dollar on purchases from Air Canada, 3 points per dollar at grocery stores and restaurants (including takeout and select delivery services) and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases. TPG values Aeroplan points at 1.5 cents apiece.

Annual fee: $95.

THE POINTS GUY

Why you want Aeroplan points: The ability to mix and match partners within a single booking is a strength of the Aeroplan program. Booking short-haul flights on Air Canada when cash prices are high is a solid sweet spot. Additionally, while not the cheapest option to Europe overall, Aeroplan’s pricing for awards to Europe will be 35-40,000 points in economy and 60-70,000 points in business class each way. Many Aeroplan awards require fewer points than booking with United MileagePlus. Plus, you can add stopovers to your itinerary for just 5,000 points each — once on the outbound and once on the return. You can now book stopovers online (rather than having to call).

Click here to read our full review of the Aeroplan Credit Card.

Official application link: Aeroplan Credit Card

Air France KLM World Elite Mastercard®

Sign-up bonus: Earn 70,000 bonus miles plus 40 bonus XP after making $2,000 or more in purchases within the first 90 days from account opening. Plus, receive a welcome bonus of 60 XP on account opening.

Key benefits: If you are pursuing elite status, 100 XP from the welcome offer will give you Silver status with the SkyTeam alliance. You’ll also receive 5,000 bonus miles each year on your account anniversary if you’ve spent $50 or more on the card during the preceding 12 months.

Earning rates: Earn 3 miles per dollar spent on Air France, KLM and SkyTeam member airline purchases and 1.5 miles per dollar on all other purchases. TPG values Flying Blue miles at 1.2 cents apiece.

Annual fee: $89.

THE POINTS GUY

Why you want Flying Blue miles: Not always, but Flying Blue sometimes has cheaper award prices than Delta for domestic flights within the U.S., so it’s always worth comparing the two. Secondly, depending on how far you’re going into South America, economy flights between North America and South America can be booked for 18,000 to 32,500 miles each way. Finally, business-class awards between the U.S. and Europe can be found for 56,500 to 62,000 miles each way; however, these prices can soar during popular travel periods.

The information for the Air France KLM Mastercard has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

British Airways Visa Signature Card

Sign-up bonus: Earn up to 100,000 bonus Avios. Earn 75,000 Avios after you spend $5,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening and an additional 25,000 Avios after you spend $20,000 within the first 12 months of account opening.

Key benefits: Receive up to $600 per year in statement credits after booking award flights to London and 10% off British Airways flights when paying with this card. You can also earn a Travel Together Ticket valid for a companion ticket or a 50% discount on the Avios you need for a solo trip; you can earn this benefit by spending $30,000 on the card in a calendar year.

Earning rates: Earn 3 Avios per dollar spent with British Airways, Aer Lingus, Iberia and Level, 2 Avios per dollar on hotels booked directly and 1 Avios per dollar on all other purchases. TPG values Avios at 1.5 cents apiece.

Annual fee: $95.

ERIC HELGAS/THE POINTS GUY

Why you want British Airways Avios: While British Airways is known for high surcharges on flights from London, Avios are still a great currency due to the sheer number of airlines you can use them with. Think of flights from New York-JFK to Miami (MIA) or Chicago O’Hare (ORD) to Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) for only 9,000 Avios. Or fly from some West Coast cities to Hawaii for 13,000 Avios. Using this distance-based chart when cash prices for tickets are high can lead to significant savings. Also, you can freely move your Avios between your British Airways account and accounts at Aer Lingus, Iberia or Qatar Airways.

Click here to read our full review of the British Airways Visa card.

Official application link: British Airways Visa Signature Card

Cathay Pacific Visa® card

Sign-up bonus: Earn 35,000 bonus Asia Miles when you spend $3,000 within 90 days from account opening. Cardholders also earn 3 Asia Miles per dollar spent on travel purchases in the first 90 days of account opening.

Key benefits: Cardholders receive priority check-in and boarding and an extra baggage allowance. Cardholders also receive a 10% savings on select Asia Miles and gifts of Asia Miles, as well as two-day advance notifications before promotion award sales.

Earning rates: Earn 2 miles per dollar spent on Cathay Pacific travel and inflight purchases, 1.5 miles per dollar spent on dining purchases worldwide, 1.5 miles per dollar on purchases made outside the U.S. and 1 mile per dollar on all other purchases made in the U.S. Plus, during your first 90 days from account opening, you’ll earn 3 miles per dollar on all travel purchases. TPG values these miles at 1.3 cents apiece.

Annual fee: $95.

JOHN GRIBBEN FOR THE POINTS GUY

Why you want Cathay Pacific Asia Miles: While 35,000 miles doesn’t sound like much (and it isn’t, compared to most other welcome bonuses), it’s enough for a one-way business-class ticket between Cathay Pacific’s hub in Hong Kong and nearly all of east Asia and the Indian subcontinent. Asia Miles are especially valuable when you see similar award costs on British Airways Avios bookings since Asia Miles should have significantly lower (though not absent) taxes and fees when paying for your flights. Moreover, Asia Miles a great program for booking round-the-world tickets with Oneworld partners, especially since you can backtrack on these routings — unlike most other round-the-world booking options.

Click here to read our full review of the Cathay Pacific Visa card.

The information for the Cathay Pacific Visa card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Emirates Skywards Premium World Elite Mastercard®

Sign-up bonus: Earn 40,000 bonus Skywards miles after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 90 days from account opening.

Key benefits: Receive automatic Emirates Skywards Gold status during your first year and maintain that status by spending $40,000 on the card during each anniversary year. Cardholders also receive 10,000 bonus miles on each account anniversary if they spend $30,000 on the card within the membership year. You’ll also have Priority Pass Select membership and access to Emirates business class lounges, free checked bags for the cardmember and all other passengers on the same booking and additional free checked bags.

Earning rates: Earn 3 Skywards miles per dollar spent with Emirates, 2 miles per dollar on airfare, hotel stays and car rentals and 1 mile per dollar on other purchases. TPG values these miles at 1.2 cents apiece.

Annual fee: $499.

JOHN GRIBBEN FOR THE POINTS GUY

Why you want Emirates Skywards miles: If you want to fly in Emirates first or business class, you’ll want to earn Skywards miles to make this possible, as booking Emirates’ first class with partners has become much more difficult. Although Emirates is not part of any major alliance, the carrier partners with airlines such as JetBlue, Korean Air and TAP Air Portugal. You could use the sign-up bonus to book a round-trip ticket on JetBlue from Boston Logan International Airport (BOS) to Miami International Airport (MIA), as this costs 40,000 miles. You could also use the sign-up bonus for a one-way flight between the eastern half of the U.S. and Portugal for under 40,000 miles.

Click here to read our review of the Emirates Skywards Premium Mastercard.

The information for the Emirates Skywards Premium World Elite Mastercard has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Iberia Visa Signature® Card

Sign-up bonus: Earn up to 100,000 bonus Avios. Earn 75,000 Avios after you spend $5,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening and an additional 25,000 Avios after you spend $20,000 within the first 12 months of account opening.

Key benefits: Save 10% on Iberia flights when using your card and booking at Iberia.com/Chase10; cardholders also earn a discount voucher of $1,000 to use toward two tickets on the same flight each year you spend $30,000 on purchases on your Iberia Visa card in a calendar year.

Earning rates: Earn 3 Avios per dollar spent with Iberia, British Airways and Aer Lingus, 2 Avios per dollar on hotels booked directly and 1 Avios per dollar on all other purchases. TPG values Avios at 1.5 cents apiece. TPG values Avios at 1.5 cents each.

Annual fee: $95.

JOHN GRIBBEN FOR THE POINTS GUY

Why you want Iberia Avios: You can book Iberia flights to Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas Airport (MAD) starting at 17,000 Avios in economy and 34,000 Avios in business class. Prices for this sweet spot go up when flying from the West Coast or on peak travel dates, but the value here can’t be overstated. Your Avios can also be useful not just for booking awards with Oneworld partners but also for upgrading your ticket if you found a great cash price for a flight. Flights from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to Madrid (MAD) take over 11 hours. You could upgrade from economy (for Y, B and H fares) to business class on this flight using 21,250-37,500 Avios, depending on travel dates. Also, you can freely move your Avios between Iberia’s program and Aer Lingus or British Airways (then onward to Qatar Airways) to suit your redemption goals.

Click here to read our full review of the Iberia Visa card.

Official application link: Iberia Visa Signature Card

Miles & More® World Elite Mastercard®

Sign-up bonus: Earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in purchases and paying the annual fee on your card, both within 90 days of account opening.

Key benefits: Receive a companion ticket each year, starting with your first purchase on the card, which you can use for a companion joining you on an economy flight paid for in cash.

Earning rates: Earn 2 miles per dollar spent with Miles & More airline partners (Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines, SWISS, Eurowings, LOT Polish Airlines, Adria Airways, Condor, Luxair and Croatia Airlines) and 1 mile per dollar on all other purchases.

Annual fee: $89.

THE POINTS GUY

Why you want Miles & More miles: Miles & More miles are typically hard to earn for people living in the U.S., requiring you to either credit paid flights to your Miles & More account or to spend on the Miles & More Mastercard. There are no transfer partners like most other programs have, but having these miles gives you wider and earlier access to Lufthansa first-class bookings. That’s because first class seats on Lufthansa can only be booked with miles from other programs within two weeks of departure, but you can book these seats at any time via Miles & More.

The information for the Miles & More World Elite Mastercard has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

SkyPass Visa Signature® Card

Sign-up bonus: Earn 30,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in purchases in 90 days from account opening.

Key benefits: Receive 2,000 bonus miles at account renewal each year and receive a coupon for $50 off a Korean Air ticket purchase each year. The discount coupon is valid for 90 days from the time you receive it and applies to economy- and business-class bookings.

Earning rates: Earn 2 miles per dollar on Korean Air ticket purchases, 2 miles per dollar at gas stations and hotels and 1 mile per dollar on other purchases. TPG values these miles at 1.7 cents each.

Annual fee: $95.

THE POINTS GUY

Why you want SkyPass miles: These are some of the toughest airline miles to earn, but they can provide for excellent redemptions. They’re valued much higher than most airline miles in TPG’s valuations. You can use the miles from this sign-up bonus for a round-trip economy booking within North America. For 35,000 miles, you can book a round-trip economy award between North America and Central America. Note that if you’re not flying on Korean Air, you must book a round-trip award. If you’ve dreamed of flying Korean Air’s luxurious first-class product, you will need 90,000 miles to book this flight between South Korea and North America (or 180,000 miles round-trip). It is possible to book one-way awards when flying on Korean Air.

The information for the SkyPass Visa Signature card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard®

Sign-up bonus: Earn 30,000 bonus points after spending $1,000 or more in purchases within the first 90 days of account opening. Plus, earn 2,500 points for each of the first two authorized users added to your card, up to a total of 5,000 bonus points.

Key benefits: Elevate your Flying Club elite status by earning 25 tier points per $2,500 spent (maximum of 50 per month). Earn a companion ticket valid on Virgin Atlantic awards after spending $25,000 annually.

Earning rates: Earn 3 Virgin points per dollar spent on Virgin Atlantic tickets and duty-free items purchased directly from Virgin Atlantic. Earn 1.5 points per dollar on all other purchases. TPG values Virgin points at 1.5 cents apiece.

Annual fee: $90.

JOSH GRIBBEN FOR THE POINTS GUY

Why you want Virgin Atlantic miles: Despite not being a member of any of the major alliances, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club has built an incredibly valuable loyalty program through individual airline partnerships. There are two partners in particular that offer outsized value. First, there’s ANA. For 110,000-120,000 miles (depending on where in the U.S. you originate), you can fly round-trip to Japan in ANA’s incredible first class. For comparison, most airlines would charge that number of miles for a one-way flight in first class. The other great Virgin partner is Delta. You can fly between the U.S. and Europe (excluding the U.K.) for 30,000 points each way in economy and 50,000 points in Delta One (business class).

Click here to read our full review of the Virgin Atlantic Mastercard.

The information for the Virgin Atlantic Mastercard has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Bottom line

Whether you choose to start earning miles with a foreign airline in order to book a specific award or simply because you’ve run out of available bonuses with airlines based in the U.S., there are plenty of good reasons to look beyond North America for your next airline card.

Many of the miles mentioned here can also be earned by transferring points from Chase, Amex, Citi, Capital One or Marriott Bonvoy, but nothing offers a quick boost to your mileage balance quite like a sign-up bonus from a new credit card — whether that’s a domestic or a foreign airline.

Additional reporting by Stella Shon and Ethan Steinberg.

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