The easy foreign airline frequent flyer programs you should be using


On Monday, I published a post arguing that a popular transferable currency is relying too much on a single domestic hotel transfer partner. In the spirited response in the comments, a few people mentioned valuing familiar domestic frequent flyer miles over foreign programs. It was implied by some that domestic programs like United MileagePlus are easy to use and that foreign programs involve difficult hoops to jump through. While there certainly are some foreign carriers that make redemptions particularly challenging (which I’d argue isn’t always a bad thing as the sweet spots that require more effort are often more available!), many of them are not significantly more complex than US-based carriers. This post features some of the easiest options for booking award tickets for yourself and others.

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A word of caution: Always be aware of change / cancellation fees

Years ago, it was a near-universal truth that US-based carriers like United, Delta, and American Airlines had horrific award change and cancellation fees and foreign airline programs had the best change / cancellation policies.

These days, the opposite is true: a competitive advantage of booking through the US-based programs is (mostly) free cancellation of awards and redeposit of points. Most foreign program charge a fee to cancel your award and redeposit miles. Fees are often reasonable, but it’s worth checking what it will cost to cancel if you need to change plans.

See our Award ticket change and cancellation fees by transfer partner post for more.

How long do points take to transfer?

Points should transfer instantly to those programs included in this post, but for reference see How long does it take to transfer points to airline and hotel programs?.

Easiest foreign airline transfer partners: Transfer instantly, book online for anyone

Air Canada Aeroplan

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  • Pros
    • Points transfer instantly
    • Easy online search and booking (no need to log in to search)
    • Book for anyone whether or not account holder is traveling
    • Ability to add a stopover for 5,000 miles when booking online
  • Cons
    • Not all stopover itineraries can be booked online, so you might need to call for desired routing
    • Award costs are higher than some (though with a stopover they get more interesting)
  • Transfer from: Amex Membership Rewards, Bilt Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Capital One, Marriott
  • More information: Anatomy of an Aeroplan award

Air Canada Aeroplan is among the easiest transfer partners with whom to book provided you’re not trying to put together a single one-way award with 6 segments to 5 different countries on 5 different airlines over 5 days (but then, you can’t do that sort of thing online with any other program, either).

You don’t even need to log in to search at AirCanada, just check the box that says “Book with Aeroplan” on the home page.

a screenshot of a flight

Results populate quickly. You can easily sort by business class price ascending / descending if you prefer.

a screenshot of a flight schedule

Note that you will get some mixed cabin results if you don’t filter them out. When it says “Mixed cabin” in black letters, that means that more than 50% of the itinerary is in business class. If you mouse over the price, it will show what percentage of the itinerary is in business class.

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If the words “Mixed cabin” are in red, less than 50% of the itinerary will be in your chosen cabin class.

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Either way, if you click on the price to expand the flight details, you can easily see the cabin class for each segment.

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Note that Aeroplan allows a stopover on a one-way award. You can presumably book that yourself online if your itinerary has 4 segments or fewer, but note that the tool won’t pick up all of your stopover options, so if you want to add a stopover (which costs 5,000 miles on a one-way award), your best bet may be to call. If you want to search for one online, you simply select “Multi-City / Stopover” and then click the link to “Add stopover for flight 1” and then you’ll enter the city and number of days immediately under the destination.

a screenshot of a flight

But, again, note that the tool is so-so at best. I tried the above search with a stopover in Frankfurt of 5 days. I knew from a search that there was an itinerary from Frankfurt to Tokyo (on Lufthansa) to Singapore (on ANA) available entirely in business class on the 16th that would work, and also an itinerary from Frankfurt to Muscat to Kuala Lumpur to Singapore entirely in business, but those options didn’t come up in the results (I only got mixed cabin/economy class results). If you want to book a stopover, your best bet is to do your own searching to know what’s available and then call to book that over the phone.

However, for simple itineraries, Aeroplan is great.

It’s also worth noting that Aeroplan can sometimes save you on United domestic itineraries, particularly if you don’t have elite status access to expanded availability with United. For instance, I looked up a flight from Cleveland to Miami for tomorrow. United is asking 14,800 miles for the least expensive awards.

a screenshot of a flight schedule

But Aeroplan starts at 10K miles each way. Unfortunately, Aeroplan has a $39 CAD (about $30 USD at the time of writing) partner booking fee, but the mileage savings makes up for that.

a screenshot of a flight schedule

You can easily book for anyone you want through your Aeroplan account.

Avios (British Airways, Iberia, Aer Lingus, Qatar)

a group of logos on a sign

  • Pros:
    • Easy online booking
    • Possible to move Avios between all four programs
    • Keep miles alive with activity every 36 months
    • Low cancellation fees on British Airways, Aer Lingus, and Qatar (24hrs in advance or more).
  • Cons:
    • Cancelling Iberia awards can be a major headache (and in the past Iberia partner bookings, such as flights on American Airlines, were totally nonrefundable
    • Awards are generally priced cumulatively by segment, so connecting itineraries may not be a deal.
  • More information: Avios sweet spots for award tickets
  • Transfer from: Amex, Chase, Capital One, Marriott, Bilt

Four airlines share the “Avios” award program: British Airways, Iberia, Aer Lingus, and Qatar Airways. While all four programs share some similarities, there are key differences. For instance, British Airways offers easy cancellation of awards (something Iberia could stand to improve!), Iberia has a great sweet spot for off-peak business class to Europe and more reasonable surcharges, etc.

The good news is that you can easily combine your Avios and move them between these four programs (or, in the case of Qatar, you may even be able to book through Qatar using your British Airways Avios without moving them). For more info on combining Avios, see: How to transfer Avios between British Airways, Qatar, Iberia, and Aer Lingus.

To keep this simplest, I’m focusing on British Airways Avios in this section, but see our Complete guide to Avios: British Airways, Qatar, Iberia, and Aer Lingus.

British Airways Avios is a very simple program to use for booking flights. Simple log in to your British Airways Account here. Pop in our dates and airport codes:

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Then click on the flight you want to see the price — in this case, 7,500 Avios and $5.60 from New York (JFK) to Charlotte (CLT).

a screenshot of a flight schedule

From there it is the same as booking any airline ticket, but for fewer miles than what American would have charged for the same route.

a screenshot of a flight schedule

You can use your Avios to book a ticket for anyone.

Air France / KLM Flying Blue

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At, you must select the tab to “book with miles” and log in to your account to search for awards.

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Then it’s as simple as entering cities and dates in a search box just like with any airline website and selecting your desired cabin class. For instance, I searched from “NYC” (for New York City) to London.

a screenshot of a flight schedule

As you can see, the search tool populates results for Virgin Atlantic, Air France, and KLM flights on this route. Miles transfer instantly from every major transferable currency to Air France, making this a very easy program in which to accumulate a bunch of miles.

You can easily book online for anyone, but beware of a couple of “gotchas”.

First of all, if you credit paid flights to Air France, all of your miles will expire after a set period of time with no way to extend validity other than getting the Air France credit card (which prevents your miles from expiring). If you never credit a paid flight to Air France, you can simply transfer from a transfer partner program and extend the validity of your miles. See this post for more detail: Air France Flying Blue miles are easier to extend than I thought.

The other “gotcha” of sorts is outdated, but worth a mention: Years ago, Air France used to lock up accounts and require the account holder to show up in person at a ticket office when people opened a brand new Flying Blue account, immediately transferred in a bunch of miles, and booked an award ticket right away. I haven’t heard reports of this happening for years, but I always recommend opening an Air France Flying Blue frequent flyer account now, before you need it, just in case. I’ve never had a problem and I’ve used my Air France miles to book itineraries for my family without issue, but I do wonder if you may run into a problem if you create a brand new Flying Blue account, transfer points, and then book a ticket for someone else as your first course of action.

Change and cancellation fees on Air France / Flying Blue are reasonable: 50 Euro for a change or cancellation/redeposit.

Virgin Atlantic Flying Club*

a large airplane flying in the sky

I put an asterisk with this one not because Virgin Atlantic is difficult but because only some awards can be booked online. One of the most popular uses of Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles is to fly Delta One business class to Europe for 50,000 miles one-way. Since Virgin Atlantic partners with every major transferable currency, it is very easy to accumulate the miles to book an award with them. Furthermore, we frequently see point transfer bonuses to Virgin Atlantic, so you may score an even better deal than sticker price.

Thankfully, when Delta awards are available to partners (which unfortunately has been “not often” lately), they are easy to book online.

a screenshot of a computer

At the time of writing, I am finding no Delta availability, though award availability ebbs and flows. To search for an award, just go to, enter your airport codes, and then click “Advanced search” to expand the options to book with points. Search “Upper Class” to find business class.

a screenshot of a flight registration

Make sure that the “Show flexible dates” box is also checked and you’ll see a week of availability (if it finds any availability within the 3 days before or 3 days after your search date). You can then switch to a calendar view if you have more flexibility — see this post for more detail if interested: How to book Delta flights with Virgin miles.

Note that you’ll also find availability via Delta and Air France / KLM on Virgin Atlantic’s website.

a screenshot of a flight ticket

You can easily book online for anyone from your Virgin Atlantic account.

Pretty easy: Transfer instantly, book online for anyone, but . . . 

Avianca LifeMiles

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Aviana LifeMiles are usually available instantly after making a transfer, but in some cases the transfer seems to not complete until sometime overnight. If your miles don’t seem to transfer right away, it can be worth trying to log in on the app and desktop to see if they are available for use in one place or the other.

You can book Avianca LifeMiles awards online for anyone, but the reason this program only makes the “pretty easy” list is because sometimes you have to outsmart the Smart Search.

What I mean by that is this: If you log in to your account at and you hit “travel”, you are presented with what appears to be an ordinary airline website search.

a screenshot of a travel card

However, you can’t ignore that drop-down menu that says “Smart Search”. Sometimes, that works to find good options, sometimes it doesn’t. For instance, remember that itinerary from Cleveland to Miami from the section about Aeroplan above? On Smart Search, the results Avianca returned were anything but smart . . .

a red and white background with white text

So here’s where you need to outsmart the Smart Search. Go back to the beginning (by hitting “change” next to “one-way, economy” if you are on the page shown above).

Then, instead of “Smart Search”, I picked “Star Alliance” and suddenly I saw a bunch of the same availability that I had seen through Air Canada Aeroplan.

Crazier yet is that you want to check both “Star Alliance” and the airline you’re looking to fly in order to make sure that you’ve seen all of the possible options. For instance, here’s a different date with “United” selected from the drop-down. As you can see, LifeMiles shows one available itinerary:

a screenshot of a flight schedule

But if you check that “Star Alliance” box next to the United box, there is suddenly another Star Alliance option….on United.

a screenshot of a flight schedule

That’s kind of a pain and requires an extra step or two than what you’d need to do if booking an award through a program like United, Air Canada Aeroplan, etc — hence why LifeMiles is in the “pretty easy”. There is also the fact that some awards that should be available just inexplicably don’t show up via LifeMiles. I find that between the Star Alliance search and individual airline search, I find what I’m looking for more often than not.

The biggest pain point of Avianca LifeMiles is that miles expire after 12 months of inactivity and booking an award will not extend the life of remaining miles, so you’ll want to be sure to make a transfer at least once a year.

Bottom line

This post features some of the very easiest programs with which to book award tickets. There are many other programs that are easy enough for even someone with novice-level experience to navigate and we’ll cover some of those in a separate post. The bottom line is that many foreign airline programs aren’t much different than the US-based programs except for the fact that many feature better award pricing. Booking through foreign partners can save you a lot of miles in the right instance — so it can certainly be worth stepping outside the comfort zone and checking out these and other key transfer partners from the major transferable currencies.

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[…] summary of The easy foreign airline frequent flyer programs you should be using. Mainly the following:Air Canada Aeroplan, Avios (British Airways, Iberia, Aer Lingus, Qatar), Air […]


I just booked a FlyingBlue award (TATL from LAX) the other day. Leaving the departure and return dates blank got me the month-by-month calendar, which made it easier. After I selected the departure flight, I had to jot down the (alleged) cheapest return dates as displayed in the return calendar, because after checking the first return date, the calendar disappeared. It was a little frustrating and time-consuming at first, but I finally got something acceptable. I transferred Amex points to complete the purchase, and they showed up right away after refreshing the AF site. Fees and the miles cost were reasonable, when comparing to, say, an overpriced Delta award with lower fees. Lol!

By contrast, I couldn’t even get the Air Canada website to fully display in order to create an account, due to my browser/network privacy measures. Hmmm.


Great article. I’d add the warning about LifeMiles that if a carrier makes any change to the timing of your itinerary, you need to have LifeMiles reissue the ticket and it can be a pain to get someone to do that. On my first attempt, I was trying to do this from Zanzibar and gave up; by messaging via WhatsApp I got them to cancel the ticket and waive the cancellation fee (and rebooked instead on QSuites, which had opened up and were preferable).

Came back from Dubai last week on a LifeMiles ticket that had been reissued due to a schedule change (with new ticket numbers!), and I never was completely convinced that I wasn’t going to be making an arduous phone call at the check-in counter. Got a little worried when the agent asked, “Did you change your ticket?” but it turned out to be fine.



Great post, Nick! Great tip for Aeroplan on the stopover to Europe from Asia. Are there any other airlines that provide this option as well?


Nick – This was a great, informative article for the beginner learning about best foreign programs.

One follow-up question, since Air Canada & Avianca are both Star Alliance, they should (typically) have access to the same partner award availability/inventory. Which of the two do you think is better to book through for Star Alliance awards? I think both have similar award milage rates (correct me if I’m wrong) and Avianca has lower award taxes/fees and cancel/change fees. But you’d have to put up with their clunky IT and customer service if anything goes wrong. Thoughts?


I am pretty new to the points and miles game. (June 2022) I have already booked through Turkish, Aeroplan and Avios. I have had a lot of trouble with Avianca though. I couldn’t even make a frequent flyer account on their website in multiple tries. So I gave up. I also did a pre-mature transfer to Virgin Atlantic (rookie mistake?) to take advantage of a transfer bonus. I plan on going to Amsterdam in 2024 and Japan in Oct of this year so hopefully it works out for one of those options. Crossing my fingers.


Great post. A couple observations:

In theory everything is bookable online with BA, but in practice not necessarily. I still have had to call in a few times lately. Want to use their miles to fly AS to Dallas Love (DAL)? Try searching that online (not on their consumer website, but phone agents can access the inventory). I have also noticed not all Aer Lingus availability shows up.

I would really put Flying Blue’s complicated mileage expiration as a con. Yes, if you only transfer points from Amex, in practice the miles stay alive, despite what it says on their website. But I do not find that reassuring, especially since it is not necessarily in writing. Maybe I am just bitter because I credited a flight to them four years ago and now more or less have to hold their credit card until I use up my miles.

The usefulness of these programs is really tied to their partners. We all live in different cities and travel to different places. For me, living in the PNW, I just have never found Star Alliance to be very helpful. I think I have used my United miles once in the last decade. For that reason, I don’t get excited by Aeroplan or Life Miles. I have used BA some, but as others have mentioned, if airlines tighten up saver availability, these foreign programs lose their appeal.


a lot of people don’t want the headache of learning different programs. just like any other subject – learning things that are unfamiliar. people fear the unfamiliar. there is an emotional resistance.

Plus some are more “loyal” then others….what, am I anti-American for using Qatar Airways? Am I traitor for using British Airways?

Used all on the list….but never booked with Air France/Flying Blue… though I’ve pecked around.

…could add – Iberia IT issues..


I’ll second on the Iberia IT issues — just being able to log in has been a rollercoaster for me over the past year


Iberia expired 20,000 BA-transferred Avios from me in the height of the pandemic (November 2020) and refused to give them back on appeal! Very unfriendly!


So much great information in this post. I use Avios a lot for trips to the Caribbean on American Airlines and the sweet spot to Madrid via Iberia.


You didn’t mention Citi as a Transfer partner for Avios bookings. Citi transfers to Qatar.


In the Pros for Lifemiles I’d add frequent sweet spots, odd sales, and availability. You’ve published a lot of business class “specials” from them but just this past week I had to get one of my kids from LHR to FRA (economy fine) and Lifemiles had the cheapest deal (5k miles) and, more importantly, availability on every hourly LH flight on the day required. Other programs start at a low of 7.5k miles with larger co-pays and only offered one or two of the flights. The Lifemiles flights were marked “On Sale”, so it wasn’t just their regular award chart.

Under Cons for the same program I’d include disappearing inventory in which various partial booking scenarios seem to cause their inventory to zero out until the next refresh some hours later.

Last edited 1 year ago by LarryInNYC

I use plenty of foreign carrier programs, but the aspect that you guys use, and I don’t, is using foreign programs to fly domestically. I don’t bother since you typically need saver space available, which domestic carriers don’t like to do, so your search will be futile. The savings is usually smaller compared with the savings you get using foreign programs for intl f/j anyway. Save 10k going through Turkish? How about save 200k going through VS flying ANA intl F! Besides, I have lots of Amex airline credits to use for domestic flights.

Last edited 1 year ago by Mantis

Every time I read an article like this, I go back to Aeroplan, British, or Avianca to check out possibilities for future domestic flights. After a few minutes of getting “no flights available on this day” messages, I give up.


Aeroplan now charges a “US Tax Recovery Fee” on all award tickets to/from US (26.50 CAD/ direction/ticket). Not brutal but was salty on this fee plus the award booking fee as this didn’t exist when I last utilized these points in 2019.
Datapoint was travel to Europe for 4x tickets


I know this might not be a popular opinion, but I would add AsiaMiles. I’m out of DFW so Qatar and JAL are pretty amazing. Their routing rules are insanely flexible. They also price like Avianca for mixed itineraries so you can really get outsized value if you play the game. They currently have a 15% bonus on their end and you can also frequently get bonuses from Amex. Surcharges can be an issue, but It was only around $200 for DFW to SYD through HND on JAL business class. AA and AS would make you book separate tickets for this routing. Their online booking is a little clunky since you have to book as a multi-city award, but it’s not the worst. It’s often a better deal than Avios for longer trips.


Very nice post and a smart decision to limit it to some of the most useful programs. The big miss here is ANA which is easily my most important transfer partner, though the non instant transfers and roundtrip requirements make them a little more challenging.

One thing I’d add about the domestic vs foreign carrier program discussion: besides the advantages of free cancellations, the domestic programs also have the advantage of superior customer service in my experience. The biggest win for them here is in wait times. The domestic carriers usually don’t have awful wait times and will often give you the option of putting in your number and calling you back (why don’t all companies have this???). Programs like Virgin and Aeroplan are known for their long wait times. Once you have someone on the phone, the domestic programs shine again. My experience is that the agents are generally knowledgeable and helpful. This is true of many foreign programs too (like the aforementioned Virgin and Aeroplan), but is not true of programs like LifeMiles and Turkish. Turkish is so bad that I have no intention of ever transferring miles there again. It’s just not worth it for me.

Again, thanks for the post and teaching me something new (FB allows stopovers).


I’m not saying the domestic carriers provide better service once you get them on the phone than Virgin or Aeroplan or BA. But my experience post pandemic is that it’s reasonably comparable ie pretty darn good. When I’ve had issues with flight times changed or canceled, United and AA have been willing to give me pretty much whatever flight I wanted. I remember post pandemic the first time I called UA’s call center, the person who picked up was almost certainly in India. I had an “oh no” moment but the person was knowledgeable, helpful, and empowered. Future calls to UA ended similarly and have caused me to confront my bias against offshored CSRs. I’ve also always gotten good customer service from Alaska CSRs. And I actually have had a bad experience with a Virgin CSR but given my other good experiences I don’t hold it against them.

Some of this may be YMMV but I wonder if some of it could be an improvement over time from the domestic carrier CSRs that you’re not noticing. You have mentioned a couple times pre-pandemic policies and behaviors: the domestic airlines didn’t allow free cancellations pre-pandemic, the Virgin wait-times weren’t bad pre-pandemic, the United hold times used to be hours. Well, we are post-pandemic now. Who cares who was better in 2019?

One last thought experiment. If you needed to make a call to a CSR, and could spin one wheel where you’d get United, AS, or Alaska or another wheel and you’d get one of the airlines in this post, are you telling me you’d spin the international wheel?


I have found Avianca customer service to be greatly improved since their website refresh a few years ago.