Choosing the best travel credit cards in Canada can be a bit subjective. Some lists you’ll see out there will only mention cards where they have an affiliate. However, with my list, I’m only recommending cards that I’ve personally held and used at least once. This ensures my recommendations are authentic since I can speak from personal experience.
To be clear, I do NOT recommend applying for all of the below cards. You should only apply for the travel credit cards that make sense for you or meet your specific needs. That said, signing up for a couple of these cards over a few months can be valuable as you’ll be able to gain a lot of points/miles quickly. Using this strategy is how I was able to fly From Dubai to Toronto on Emirates first class and on EVA Air from Toronto to Taipei in business class for less than $140 CAD each.
The main thing to understand is that choosing the best travel credit card will depend on your goals. Someone who wants a business class flight for cheap will likely pick a different card than someone who wants free hotel stays.
Once you’ve established your travel goals, you can use one of Canada’s best travel credit cards to help you offset your goals.
|Credit card||Best travel card for|
|American Express Platinum Card||Luxury travel perks|
|American Express Cobalt Card||Everyday spending|
|Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card||All in one travel|
|TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Card||Aeroplan rewards|
|TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Privilege Card||Air Canada benefits|
|WestJet RBC World Elite Mastercard||WestJet flyers|
|Marriott Bonvoy American Express Card||Hotel stays|
|CIBC Aeroplan Visa Card||No annual fee|
|American Express Business Platinum Card||Welcome bonus|
|National Bank World Elite Mastercard||Travel insurance|
|EQ Bank Card||No foreign transaction fees|
|CIBC AC Conversion Card||Multi-currency|
Best travel card for the welcome bonus
American Express Business Platinum Card
- $499 annual fee ($799 as of Sept. 26, 2023)
- Earn 100,000 Membership Rewards points when spending $10,000 in the first 3 months. Must use a referral link
- Earn 1.25 points per $1 spent on all purchases
- Unlimited airport lounge access
- $200 annual travel credit (as of Sept. 26, 2023)
- $120 annual wireless credit (as of Sept. 26, 2023)
- $100 Nexual credit every 4 years (as of Sept. 26, 2023)
- Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite Status
If your goal is to earn many points fast so you can travel for less, then you should focus on the welcome bonuses offered. That’s because signing up for a few cards and getting the initial offer could get you 250,000 points quickly.
The American Express Business Platinum Card consistently has one of the highest welcome bonuses. Rarely is the offer worth less than 100,000 American Express Membership Rewards points. The catch is that you usually need to spend at least $10,000 in the first three months to get your bonus. That’s a lot of purchases you need to charge to your card.
As for the benefits, it’s very similar to the regular Platinum Card. You get airport lounge access, a $200 annual travel credit, hotel status upgrades and good travel insurance. You don’t get the dining credit, but you do get a yearly $120 wireless credit.
Even though this is a business credit card, many consumers will apply for the card because of the welcome bonus. I’m not telling you to lie, but American Express rarely verifies your business information. Even if they wanted more details, you can register a business for less than $100.
Eligibility: There’s no minimum income required. A credit score of 740 is recommended before applying.
Welcome bonus: Typically worth between 100,000 to 120,000 American Express Membership Rewards points. A minimum spend of $10,000 within three months of account opening is usually required.
Best travel card for luxury or frequent travellers
American Express Platinum Card
- $699 annual fee until Sept. 26, 2023
- Earn 90,000 Membership Rewards points when spending $7,500 in the first 3 months
- Earn 3 points per $1 spent on dining, 2 points on travel, and 1 point on all other purchases
- $200 annual travel credit
- Unlimited airport lounge access
- Hotel status upgrades
Anyone who frequently travels or is looking for luxury travel perks should get the American Express Platinum Card. The primary cardholder and a guest get unlimited access to the American Express Global Lounge Collection, hotel status upgrades (Marriott Bonvoy and Hilton Honors), a NEXUS rebate (includes global entry and TSA precheck), and a comprehensive travel insurance package that covers travel medical and trip cancellation.
While some people will instantly pass when they see the $799 annual fee, you can get the card for just $199 for the first year. You get a $200 dining credit benefit each calendar year. That means you can use it twice before your second annual fee posts. You also get a $200 travel credit once every year of your cardmembership. All in, you can get up to $600 in credits in the first year. That effectively makes your annual fee for the first year just $199. This assumes you can use the dining credit.
Another reason this card is worth it for all types of travellers is the welcome bonus. When you sign up with a referral link, your welcome offer is typically worth 80,000 to 100,000 American Express Membership Rewards points. That has a minimum value of $800 to $1,000. However, if you transfer your points to Aeroplan at a 1:1 ratio, you could easily double the value of your points. In other words, the welcome offer could be worth $1,600 to $2,000.
If you’re a frequent traveller, this card is worth holding long term for the travel benefits. Even if you don’t travel often, signing up for the welcome bonus and benefits is worth it for the first year.
Eligibility: There’s no minimum income required. A credit score of 740 is recommended before applying.
Welcome bonus: Typically worth 80,000 to 100,000 American Express Membership Rewards points when using a referral link. The minimum spending requirement is usually $5,000 to $7,500.
Best travel card for overall spending
American Express Cobalt Card
- $12.99 Monthly fee ($155.88 yearly)
- 2,500 monthly Membership Rewards points after charging $500 in purchases each month for a year (30,000 points total)
- Earn 5 points per $1 spent on eats and drinks
- Earn 3 points per $1 spent on streaming services
- Earn 2 points per $1 spent on travel
- Earn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
When it comes to travel rewards, sometimes you need a card that earns you a lot of points on your daily spending. The American Express Cobalt Card’s earning rate is 5 points per $1 spent on eats and drinks (including grocery stores), 3 points on select streaming services, 2 points on travel and transit, and 1 point on everything else. That’s a lot of bonus categories, but note that there is a monthly spending cap of $2,500 for each category. Once you reach it, you’ll earn 1 point per $1 spent.
Remember, you can transfer your American Express Membership Rewards points to Aeroplan at a 1:1 ratio. Since Aeroplan points can easily have a value of 2 cents per point, your earning rate on eats and drinks can be as high as 10%. There’s no other card that gives you that high of a return.
The downside of this card is that you don’t get many travel benefits. However, you do get mobile device insurance, and the welcome bonus has been consistent.
Eligibility: There’s no minimum income required. A credit score of 700 is recommended before applying.
Welcome bonus: You’ll earn 2,500 American Express Membership Rewards points when you spend $500 monthly for the first 12 months. That’s 30,000 bonus American Express Membership Rewards points you can earn in the first year.
Best travel card for all-in-one-travel
Scotiabank Passport™ Visa Infinite* Card
- $150 annual fee
- 25,000 Scene+ points when spending $1,000 in the first 3 months
- 10,000 points when spending $40,000 in the first year
- Earn 3 Scene+ points per $1 spent at Empire owned supermarkets
- Earn 2 Scene+ points per $1 spent on eligible grocery stores, dining, entertainment, and daily transit purchases
- Earn 1 Scene+ point per $1 spent on all other eligible purchases
- Visa Airport Companion Program membership + 6 passes per year
- No foreign transaction fees
When looking at this list of the best travel credit cards in Canada, you’ll quickly realize that many cards excel in one area, but not all. With the Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card, you get a travel credit card with a decent earning rate and good travel benefits. It’s ideal for people who don’t want to carry multiple credit cards, as you can use it at home or abroad.
The earning rate for this card is 3 Scene+ points at Empire-owned grocery stores (IGA, Safeway, Sobeys supermarkets), 2 points on all other eligible grocery stores, dining, entertainment, and transit purchases, and all other purchases get you 1 point. While this isn’t the best earning rate, it’s decent.
What really sets this card apart is the overall travel benefits. There are no foreign transaction fees, so you’ll save 2.5% on purchases made in foreign currencies. You also get a free Visa Airport Companion Program with six complimentary annual passes. Plus, a comprehensive travel insurance package is included.
Eligibility: A minimum personal income of $60,000 or a household income of $100,000 or at least $250,000 in assets under management. A credit score of 700 is also recommended.
Welcome bonus: You’ll typically get 35,000 to 50,000 Scene+ points as the welcome offer. In most cases, you’ll need to spend a minimum amount in the first three months and another in the first 12 months for the full bonus.
Best travel card for Aeroplan rewards
TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Card
- $139 annual fee – Frist year free
- Earn 10,000 Aeroplan points after your first purchase
- Earn 25,000 additional Aeroplan points when you spend $5,000 in the first 180 days
- 15,000 Aeroplan points on your card anniversary when spending $7,500 in the first year
- Earn 1.5 Aeroplan points per $1 spent on gas, groceries, and Air Canada purchases
- Earn 1 Aeroplan point per $1 spent on all other purchases
- First bag checked free on Air Canada flights
Since Air Canada is the country’s top airline, it’s natural that many people will want to earn Aeroplan points, Air Canada’s loyalty program. For most people in this situation, the best travel credit card would be the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Card. The earning rate is 1.5 Aeroplan points per $1 spent on gas, grocery, and Air Canada purchases. All other purchases earn you 1 Aeroplan point per dollar spent. In other words, you can earn Aeroplan points on every purchase.
Another reason this card is worth getting is the included free first checked bag for the primary cardholder and up to eight travelling companions. Since checked luggage normally costs $30 to $50 each way, this can be a valuable benefit. Other benefits you get include a NEXUS rebate and travel insurance.
It’s worth noting that Aeroplan has many retailer partners, so you can double dip on the points. All you need to do is shop via the Aeroplan eStore and then pay with your Aeroplan credit card. It’s that simple.
Eligibility: A minimum personal income of $60,000 or a household income of $100,000 is required. It’s also recommended that you have a credit score of at least 700.
Welcome bonus: Typically worth between 50,000 to 70,000 Aeroplan points. This bonus is usually divided into multiple parts with different minimum spending requirements.
Best travel card for premium Air Canada benefits
TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Privilege Card
- $599 annual fee
- Earn 20,000 Aeroplan points after your first purchase
- Earn 50,000 Aeroplan points when you spend $7,500 in the first 180days
- Earn 30,000 Aeroplan points when you spend $12,000 in the first year
- Earn 2 Aeroplan points per $1 spent on Air Canada purchases, 1.5 points on gas, and groceries, and 1 point on all other purchases
- First bag checked free, priority check-in & boarding on Air Canada flights
- Maple Leaf Lounge access in North America
- DragonPass airport lounge access + 6 free annual passes
Normally, I wouldn’t have two recommendations for Aeroplan, but the extra benefits of the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Privilege Card deserve its own category. Besides the free first checked bag, you also get unlimited access to Maple Leaf Lounges in North America for you and a guest, six free passes to airport lounges that are part of the Visa Airport Companion Program, priority boarding (zone 2), priority baggage handling, priority airport services, and priority airport standby and upgrades.
The annual fee for this card is $599, but as you can see, you get tons of benefits. Having Maple Leaf Lounge access and priority boarding can significantly impact your comfort when travelling. The earning rate is 2 points per $1 spent on Air Canada purchases, 1.5 points on gas, groceries, travel, and dining purchases, and 1 point on everything else.
Some travellers will apply for this card during a busy travel year to take advantage of all the benefits. When their anniversary is about to come up, they’ll downgrade to the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Card. This allows them to earn two welcome bonuses, which can easily be more than 150,000 total points.
Eligibility: Minimum personal income of $100,000 or a household income of $200,000. A credit score of at least 740 is recommended.
Welcome bonus: Typically worth between 90,000 to 120,000 Aeroplan points. This bonus is typically divided into multiple parts with different minimum spending requirements.
Best travel card for WestJet flyers
WestJet RBC World Elite Mastercard
- $119 annual fee
- $250 WestJet Dollars sign up bonus after your first purchase
- $200 Additional WestJet Dollars when you charge $5,000 in the first 3 months
- Earn 2% back in WestJet dollars on WestJet flights or WestJet Vacations packages
- Earn 1.5% back on all other purchases
- Annual companion voucher and free checked bags
In the last year or so, WestJet has changed its strategy and is now focused mainly on Alberta. As a result, the WestJet RBC World Elite Mastercard is now only good for people who fly WestJet regularly. Compare this to the past when WestJet had decent lift across Canada. Now they’re more of a niche airline.
With this card, you’ll earn 2% back in WestJet dollars on WestJet purchases and 1.5% on all other purchases. This is a decent earning rate since most cards only give you 1% back in rewards on all other purchases. That said, since WestJet Rewards is essentially a cash back rewards program. Although you’ll be able to use your points to offset the cost of your airfare, you won’t be able to get aspirational flights for cheap, like Aeroplan.
The real advantage of this card is the WestJet benefits. The primary cardholder and up to eight guests travelling on the same itinerary get their first checked bag free. In addition, you get a yearly companion voucher, which allows a guest to pay a lower base fare when they’re travelling with the primary cardholder. This benefit alone can save you hundreds of dollars each year.
Eligibility: Minimum personal income of $80,000 or a household income of $150,000.
Welcome bonus: Usually up to $450 WestJet dollars. You’re given $250 after your first purchase and another $200 when you spend $5,000 in the first three months.
Best travel card for hotel stays
Marriott Bonvoy American Express Card
- $120 annual fee
- 55,000 Marriott Bonvoy points when you charge $3,000 in the first 3 months
- Earn 5 Marriott Bonvoy points per $1 spent at participating Marriott properties
- Earn 2 Marriott Bonvoy points for per $1 spent on all other purchases
- Annual free night certificate worth up to 35,000 points
So far, the list of the best travel credit cards in Canada has focused on airline rewards. However, many people just want to save on hotel stays or get free nights. That’s where the Marriott Bonvoy American Express Card excels. Marriott International has more than 8,500 properties in 130+ countries. That means you’ll be able to use your points in most parts of the world.
The earning rate is 5 Marriott Bonvoy points per $1 spent at Marriott properties and 2 points on all other purchases. Since one Marriott Bonvoy point has a value of about .9 cents each, you’re getting a decent return.
To be realistic, anyone who likes to travel should have this card. That’s because you get a free annual night certificate worth up to 35,000 Marriott Bonvoy points. That certificate can easily have a value of at least $300, which is clearly more than the $120 annual fee that this card charges. Another perk with this card is Marriott Bonvoy Silver Elite status, which gives you priority late checkout and 10% bonus points on stays. Some travel insurance is also included.
Eligibility: There’s no minimum income requirement. A credit score of at least 700 is recommended.
Welcome bonus: Typically worth between 55,000 and 70,000 Marriott Bonvoy points when using a referral link. The minimum spend requirement is usually $3,000.
Best travel card with no annual fee
CIBC Aeroplan Visa Card
- No annual fee
- 10,000 Aeroplan points when you make your first purchase
- Earn 1 Aeorplan point per $1 spent on gas, groceries, and Air Canada
- Earn 1 Aeroplan point per $1.50 spent on all other purchases
Unfortunately, most of the best travel credit cards in Canada come with an annual fee, but not the CIBC Aeroplan Visa Card. The earning rate is 1 Aeroplan per $1 spent on gas, groceries, and Air Canada purchases. For every other eligible purchase, you’ll get 1 Aeroplan point per $1.50 spent.
Since this is a no fee card, the main benefits you get are purchase security and extended warranty. With purchase security, your purchases are protected from loss, theft, and damage for 90 days. The extended warranty doubles your manufacturer’s warranty for up to one additional year.
Some people will sign up for this card just for the welcome bonus of 10,000 points. They do this because you get the bonus after you make your first purchase. It’s that easy.
Eligibility: Minimum income of $15,000. A credit score of at least 640 is recommended.
Welcome bonus: Typically 10,000 Aeroplan points after your first purchase.
Best travel card for travel insurance
National Bank World Elite Mastercard
- $150 annual fee
- Earn 5 points per $1 spent on grocery and restaurant purchases up to $2,500 per month. Then earn 2 points per $1 spent
- Earn 2 points per $1 spent on gas, electric vehicle charging, recurring bills and à la carte Travel
- Earn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
- Unlimited access to National Bank Lounge at Montreal-Trudeau airport
- Annual $150 travel credit
Whenever you travel outside of your home province, it’s highly recommended that you get travel medical and extended travel insurance. Fortunately, the National Bank World Elite Mastercard covers 60 days if you’re under 55, 31 days for those aged 55 – 64, and 15 days for those aged 65 – 75.
As for the coverage, you get $5,000,000 for travel medical expenses. The extended travel insurance includes trip cancellation/interruption, flight delay, baggage delay, lost or stolen baggage, and car rental theft/damage insurance. You must charge the entire trip cost to your National Bank World Elite Mastercard for your insurance to apply.
Other benefits include a $150 travel credit, unlimited access to the National Bank Lounge at Montreal-Trudeau airport for the primary cardholder, plus one guest, mobile device insurance, purchase protection (180 days), and extended warranty (up to two additional years).
Eligibility: Personal income requirement of $80,000 or a household income of $150,000. A credit score of 700 is recommended.
Welcome bonus: The welcome bonus has been anywhere from 0 to 50,000 points.
Best travel card for no foreign transaction fees
EQ Bank Card
- $20 referral bonus (must fund account with $100 within 30 days)
- No monthly fees
- 0.5% cash back on all purchases
- Free withdrawals from any ATM in Canada
- No foreign transaction fees
- Earn 2.50% interest until you spend
I have a detailed list of the best no foreign transaction fee credit cards in Canada, but the one I recommend the most is the EQ Bank Card. This is a prepaid card, so you need to preload funds before you can use it. This can easily be done via your EQ Bank account or an e-transfer. Once you make a purchase in any currency that’s not Canadian dollars, you’ll save on the 2.5% fee that’s normally charged.
I prefer this card to others because you won’t pay any foreign transaction fees when making ATM withdrawals. Most major banks now charge a 3.5% exchange fee when using foreign ATMs so these fees can add up quickly. Note that when you do use a foreign ATM, the operator may charge you a one-time fee. EQ Bank does not charge you a separate fee. If you use the card within Canada, EQ Bank will reimburse you for any ATM fees.
As for your spending, you’ll earn 0.5% cash back on all eligible purchases, and any funds you have deposited to your card will continue to earn you interest.
Eligibility: Must have an EQ Bank account. No income or credit history is required.
Welcome bonus: You get a $20 cash bonus when signing up with a referral link and funding your account with $100 within 30 days of account opening.
Best travel card for multi-currency
CIBC AC Conversion Card
You may have to deal with various currencies whenever you travel to different countries. Instead of exchanging cash in advance, you could use the CIBC AC Conversion Card since it allows you to load up to 10 different currencies. That means you can use one card in 40 different countries.
The currencies available are Canadian dollars, United States dollars, Euros, Great Britain pounds, Mexican pesos, Hong Kong dollars, Australian dollars, Japanese Yen, Turkish Lira, and Swiss Francs.
This card is good for people who don’t want to deal with currency fluctuations. However, note that you only get one free foreign ATM withdrawal each month. On a positive note, this card has no fee.
Eligibility: No income or minimum credit score required.
Welcome bonus: $20 when signing up with my exclusive referral link.
How do travel credit cards work?
Travel credit cards will either earn you points/miles with its in-house travel rewards program or a con-branded major loyalty program such as Aeroplan and Marriott Bonvoy. Although general travel rewards programs give you flexibility, co-branded loyalty programs can be more valuable depending on your redemption.
Types of travel credit cards
There are three types of travel rewards credit cards. Understanding how they all work lets you decide which is best for you. That said, frequent travellers will often get more than one type of travel credit card in Canada since it allows them to earn different points. This can be useful if you have different travel goals in mind.
Airline Rewards credit cards
Airline cards are often popular due to their brand recognition. For example, Aeroplan is the loyalty program for Air Canada. If you have an Aeroplan credit card, you’ll earn Aeroplan points. Those points can later be redeemed for any available seat on Air Canada and its partners.
Other Airline rewards credit cards available include WestJet Rewards and Air Miles. With WestJet Rewards, the dollars earned can be applied to WestJet flights. Air Miles is technically a general travel rewards program, but since you earn miles and they use dynamic pricing for redemptions, I lump them together with airline rewards.
Obviously, airline rewards credit cards are aimed at people loyal to specific brands. Some premium cards will come with specific airline benefits such as free checked bags, priority services, and airport lounge access to entice them to sign up.
General travel rewards credit cards
General travel rewards credit cards are designed for people who aren’t loyal to a specific airline. With these types of rewards, you earn points, which can then be redeemed for any flight on any airline. In addition, you can use your points on hotels, car rentals, vacation packages, and even cruises.
How you redeem your points will depend on the program. Some general travel rewards programs allow you to redeem your points on any travel purchase you make to your card. On the other hand, some cards require you to book through its online travel portal. Obviously, the ability to book anything on your own is much more flexible since it allows you to find the lowest price and claim any status benefits you may have.
Hotel rewards credit cards
While flying for free is appealing, some people like earning points for resorts and hotel stays instead. Canada’s most popular hotel rewards credit card is the Marriott Bonvoy American Express Card. It’s appealing because Marriott has more than 8,000 properties in 150+ countries. The only other co-branded hotel credit card in Canada is Best Western.
Hotel credit cards will include benefits that can be used at most properties within their network, but it’s typically tied to your status tier. Generally, the basic benefits are early check-in, late check-out, and high speed WiFi. Once you hit the higher tiers, you’ll get a welcome gift, free breakfast, and room upgrades.
What are the best travel credit card programs in Canada?
Every bank in Canada has its own travel rewards program, but none of them are the same. They offer different ways to redeem your points, but some give you more options. I’ve ranked and detailed them all in this article, but here’s a quick ranking from best to worst. Each link goes to my detailed reviews so you can learn more about the programs.
***I will turn these into H3s so don’t worry about things here
American Express Membership Rewards
American Express Membership Rewards is ranked number one because you have the most options with your points. You can transfer your points to various loyalty programs and hotel partners, including Aeroplan and Marriott Bonvoy. In addition, you can use your points on any travel purchase or through the Fixed Points Travel program.
RBC Avion Rewards
RBC recently rebranded their points Avion Rewards. You can redeem your Avion Rewards points with the fixed travel program or through the travel portal. There are also a few airline transfer partners in WestJet and British Airways.
Although Scene+ is a pretty straightforward loyalty program, but they rank higher because they have credit cards with high earning rates and lots of partners where you can earn additional points. For travel redemptions, you can book through the travel portal or on your own. When redeeming points for travel booked on your own, there’s a 50,000-point minimum.
CIBC Rewards ranks right in the middle of the pack for bank loyalty programs. It’s pretty basic, but it does have a fixed travel program, which allows you to get more value out of your points. The credit cards they offer are decent, but none are exceptional. That’s why you won’t find any CIBC cards that earn Aventura points on my list of the best travel credit cards.
While some people love HSBC Rewards, I don’t rank it very high. Although you can redeem your points for any travel purchases charged to your card, there is a minimum redemption of 25,000 points ($125). The ability to transfer your points to airline partners such as Asia Miles, Singapore Krisflyer Miles, and British Airways Avios, but for most Canadians, they won’t be useful.
TD Rewards will likely be fine for the average traveller since they use Expedia to power their travel bookings. That means you can book just about anything since Expedia is so big. The reason I rank TD Rewards so low is that its credit card offerings are not impressive and you get no airline travel partners.
BMO Rewards ranks on my list mainly because it takes 150 BMO Rewards points to redeem $1 in travel. That means 1 BMO Reward point is worth .67 cents. Since BMO Rewards credit cards typically earn you 1 BMO Reward point on all other purchases, you’re getting a very poor earning rate.
What are the best frequent flyer programs in Canada?
The best frequent flyer programs in Canada are a bit subjective as it comes down to who you fly the most with. That said, there are three main frequent flyer programs to be aware of. Remember that enrollment into these programs is automatic if you apply for a co-branded credit card. Alternatively, when signing up, you can input your membership number if you’re already enrolled.
I personally think Aeroplan is the best frequent flyer program in Canada since it’s the easiest one to earn and redeem your points. As you’ve quickly learned above, multiple credit cards allow you to earn Aeroplan points. In addition, many of the co-branded credit cards come with perks such as insurance coverage, no baggage fees, and an annual fee rebate.
When redeeming your points, Aeroplan allows you to use your points on any available seat on Air Canada flights. That said, they use dynamic pricing, so the number of points required for a flight can change quite a bit. On a positive note, Aeroplan also has partners where the cost of a free flight is a fixed price. Read my Aeroplan Rewards guide for a comprehensive breakdown.
As you’ve likely guessed, WestJet Rewards is the loyalty program for WestJet, Canada’s second-largest airline. Unlike Aeroplan, WestJet Rewards uses a cash back rewards system instead of points. You’ll literally earn WestJet dollars as the loyalty program.
While I like the simplicity of WestJet Rewards, it has its limitations. The earn rate and sign-up bonuses with co-branded credit cards aren’t that attractive. In addition, you can only use your WestJet dollars on the base fare. As in, you can’t use your hard-earned WestJet dollars on additional charges, seat selection, or even baggage fees.
Air Miles is one of Canada’s most popular loyalty programs, but it doesn’t have as much punch as the other programs. Even though Air Miles now has more redemption options, it can be challenging to get good value out of the program compared to Aeroplan. That said, Air Miles does have a few sweet spots, and BMO recently acquired them, so I expect some positive changes.
The other major issue with Air Miles is that it can be hard to earn bonus miles. You could get a co-branded Air Miles credit card, but the spending requirement to earn points is a bit high. That said, they do have bonus offers that target members. You can also use your Cash Miles for gift cards.
How to redeem travel credit card rewards
Now that you know how to calculate the value of your points, you can start looking at the different ways to redeem your rewards. Every loyalty program will have different redemption options, but not all will be equal. Generally speaking, the type of rewards you earn with your travel credit card will yield you the most value. For example, airline redemptions would be best for an airline credit card.
While value is important, you need to know how to make your redemptions to maximize your value.
Through the loyalty program
If you’re collecting points from a branded loyalty program, you’ll have to book through their website. For example, Marriott Bonvoy points can only be redeemed via the Marriott website. This makes perfect sense since the loyalty program wants to keep everything central.
Bank travel rewards programs often have a travel portal that you must use to redeem your points. Some travel portals are partnered with a major brand, such as Expedia for TD, while others have their own search engine. What’s annoying about travel portals is that there’s no guarantee you’ll find the lowest price there. In addition, some loyalty programs require you to book directly for your status to be recognized. If you book through a travel portal, you might not be entitled to your hard-earned benefits.
Book on your own
Instead of having a travel portal, some bank rewards programs allow you to use your points on any travel purchase charged to your credit card. Once the purchase has been posted, you can redeem as many points as possible to offset your costs. This is a great option since it allows you to search for the lowest prices while getting your status recognized. After the purchase posts, you can usually go into your online cards to use your points for a statement credit.
American Express Membership Rewards, RBC Rewards, and HSBC Rewards have travel loyalty program partners that allow for point transfers. This can be beneficial if you’re looking to maximize your points. For example, with American Express Membership Rewards, you can claim 1,000 points for $10 in travel. That’s a value of 1CPP. However, you can also transfer your points to Aeroplan at a 1:1 ratio. Since I value Aeroplan points at 2 cents each, I’d be doubling the value of my points by making the transfer.
Benefits that may come with travel cards
Now that you know how points work with the best travel credit cards in Canada, you need to understand the additional benefits you get. You won’t get the following benefits with every card. In addition, many of these perks only come with premium credit cards with a high annual household income requirement. Focus on a few perks that matter most to you and then see which cards offer them.
- Travel insurance – I’ll go into further details about travel insurance below, but travel insurance would cover things such as medical, trip cancellation, delayed luggage, car rental insurance, etc.
- Free checked bags – Premium airline credit cards typically give the primary cardholder and up to 8 passengers on the same itinerary their first checked bag free. You can save a lot since checked bags typically cost $30 – $60 each way.
- Airport lounge access – Many travel cards now come with airport lounge access. Some will give you a set number of visits a year, while others provide unlimited access. The type of lounge you get access to will depend on your credit card.
- Priority airport services – Priority boarding, check-in, and security may be included with some credit cards. This can be handy since it means less time spent in lines. These benefits are usually only available at specific airports.
- Travel credits – A few credit cards provide yearly travel credits. These credits can be used to book new travel or on travel services such as seat selection and checked baggage.
- Nexus rebate – Nexus is a program between Canada and the U.S. that allows travellers to cross the border quickly. While getting an interview will take time, once you’ve been approved, you’ll spend less time at security and customs.
- No foreign transaction fees – Most credit cards charge a foreign transaction fee of 2.5% when you make a purchase not in Canadian dollars. To avoid this fee, get a credit card without foreign transaction fees.
- Extended warranty – Although this is almost a standard benefit, extended warranty will double the manufacturer’s warranty for up to one additional year.
- Purchase protection – This is another standard benefit of travel credit cards. With purchase protection, your purchases are covered from loss, theft, and damage for 90 days.
Travel credit card earn rates
The earn rate on travel credit cards refers to how many points or miles you’ll earn on all your purchases. Generally speaking, most cards offer an enhanced earning rate on a few categories, such as groceries and gas stations. All other purchases would earn you a base earn rate. That said, some travel credit cards also have a flat earn rate where the points or miles you earn would be the same regardless of where you make your purchases.
What’s interesting is that earning rates can vary quite a bit. For example, more than ten Aeroplan credit cards are available, but they all have different earning rates. If you want an Aeroplan credit card, you should look for one that offers an accelerated earning rate on the categories where you already spend the most.
Co-branded credit cards will always give you a higher earn rate with the brand. For example, a Marriott Bonvoy credit card will give you an enhanced earning rate at Marriott properties.
How to calculate the value of travel credit card points
While earning points is important, redeeming them is equally essential. General travel rewards programs typically have a fixed value for their points. For example, 1,000 American Express Membership Rewards points = $10 in travel. That works out to a value of 1 cent per point.
Figuring out the value of airline and hotel loyalty program redemptions is more complicated since the value can change quite a bit. That said, you can use a standard formula to calculate the value per point.
(Cash value of redemption – taxes & fees) x 100 / number of points required = Cost per point
For example, let’s say you’ve found a roundtrip flight from Toronto to Los Angeles for 29,000 Aeroplan points, plus $81 in taxes, or $650 cash. You would use the following formula to calculate your cost per point.
($695 – $81) X 100 / 29,000 = 2.12CPP
You should always calculate the value of your redemptions to quickly determine how much value you’re getting. I value Aeroplan points at 2 CPP, so the above redemption is a good value.
How to choose a travel rewards credit card
With so many travel credit cards to choose from, there are a lot of factors to consider before you click apply. It’s not as simple as just picking the card that gives you the most points or credit card rewards. You need to think about your goals, how you will use the card and what benefits you want. Here are some things to consider.
If you want to redeem a business class flight via Aeroplan or stay for free at a luxury Marriott property, you should apply for cards that earn you Aeroplan points or Marriott Bonvoy points. Remember, American Express credit cards allow you to transfer points to both programs.
Do your travel plans include your partner? If so, you should both be accumulating miles and points together. You can earn additional points using the American Express Refer A Friend program. Use my links above to get started, then start referring your friends.
The quickest way to earn travel rewards points is through the welcome or sign-up bonus. Be sure to read the conditions of the sign up bonus. Some cards require only one purchase, while others may require you to spend $3,000 – $5,000 in the first 90 days of account opening. Try to time your credit card applications around when you have a major purchase coming up.
Annual fees can add up, so cards offering the first year free (either waived or by reimbursement) are worthwhile. If the card does have an annual fee, look at the sign up bonus and included benefits. Many travel cards, especially the top-tier options, have high annual fees, but quite often, what you get every year is worth more than the annual fee.
Take a look at how many points you’ll earn for specific categories. Some of the best travel credit cards in Canada will give you more points when you spend on travel, groceries, gas, etc. This is known as an enhanced earn rate or reward rate. All other purchases would fall under the base earn rate.
Flexibility of rewards
The ability to use your points for different travel redemptions is incredibly valuable. The ability to transfer your points or to use them on a fixed travel program can sometimes double the value of your points. If you’re going to use a co-branded credit card with a specific program, make sure it still gives you some flexibility. For example, don’t collect miles if finding a flight that benefits you is difficult. Research blackout dates, seat availability and taxes.
The actual benefits you get with your travel rewards card are also important. If you travel frequently, free checked bags, airport lounge access, and no foreign transaction fees can go a long way. Premium travel cards can even give you enhanced benefits that may be worth more than your card’s annual fee.
How to apply for ones of best travel credit cards in Canada?
Applying for travel credit cards in Canada follows the same process as applying for other credit cards. You can apply in person at the branch of the credit card issuer if that is an option, but most people choose to apply for their new card online from the comfort of their home. It’s fast and easy.
- Compare the credit cards above and decide which option is best for you. Make sure that you qualify before you apply to avoid disappointment. Many of Canada’s best travel credit cards have minimum income and credit score requirements that are often higher than other credit cards.
- Collect all the information you need to apply for your new credit card. This includes personal information such as name, address, and contact information. You will also require information about your income and employment status. You may also need your social insurance number, so have it handy.
- Once you have decided, click the “apply now” button for one of the cards above. Alternatively, you can do so from the bank’s website or in a branch.
- Fill out the online application as directed. You will be presented with further information on the credit card, including interest rates and small print details. Take the time to read this through and understand the ins and outs of your credit card. If you are happy, continue on until you have finished the form and click apply or submit to the representative at the bank.
- Wait for approval and your new card. Many online applications are instant, but even then the card may take a week or two to get to you, at which time you can activate it.
Are travel credit cards worth it?
If you are a frequent traveller or looking for rewards you can put towards a vacation, then absolutely yes. Travel credit cards have some of the best perks and benefits on the market from lounge access to car rental discounts and insurance. Plus, the rewards programs can be incredibly lucrative if you book wisely. After all, who doesn’t want the possibility of earning a free flight?
That being said, if you are someone who doesn’t enjoy travelling or travels very rarely then a travel credit card might not be the best option. You might get more value from a cash back card.
What is the best travel rewards credit card in Canada?
Canada has many options for travel cards, and what is best will be determined by how you want to use the card. If you are looking to maximize hotel stays and frequently stay in Marriott brand hotels, then the Marriott Bonvoy American Express might be the best pick. If you are a frequent flyer and typically book through either Air Canada or WestJet, look at the airline co-branded credit cards. Not picky about brands? The American Express Platinum card is incredibly flexible and packed with benefits and perks. If you want a card with no foreign transaction fees, the Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite might be your card.
Consider your wants and spending habits when choosing your travel rewards card to ensure you pick the best option that will be the most lucrative for you.
Do travel rewards points expire?
Most travel loyalty points will expire after 12 – 18 months of inactivity. However, any activity resets that clock. Let’s say you have a travel rewards credit card and earn points every month, then your points never expire.
Now, let’s say you’ve cancelled your card and are no longer actively earning any points. Redemptions also count as activity, so that can reset your clock too. Keep in mind that many things qualify as points activity, such as donating some points or earning points through a contest. These are easy ways to extend the life of your loyalty points.
The key thing to understand is that there’s typically not much flexibility if you let your points expire. The loyalty programs will rarely reinstate any lost points. Make sure you check your email regularly, as they will inform you if your points are about to expire.
What credit score do I need to get a travel rewards credit card?
Travel credit cards tend to be some of the most lucrative on the market in terms of rewards program as well as added perks and benefits. This means that generally speaking, you will need to have a good credit score. You’ll want a credit score of at least 700 for mid-tier cards. For one of the high-end cards you’ll be aiming for a credit score of at least 740. Note that these are just suggestions.
Keep in mind that on top of the higher credit score requirements, travel credit cards tend to come with higher annual fees. This is especially true for the top-tier cards like the American Express Platinum Card or American Express Aeroplan Reserve Card.
How does credit card travel insurance work?
With travel medical insurance, your insurance coverage applies regardless if you charge your travel expenses to your credit card or not. Travel medical is essential whenever you leave the country as it’ll cover you for trips to the doctor or hospital. It also usually covers travel emergency events such as ambulance rides or helicopter evacuations.
Basically, you should never travel without travel medical insurance. To be clear, you need travel medical insurance even if you’re travelling outside of your province of residence or taking a short road trip across the border. That’s because your provincial healthcare may not cover you.
Besides travel medical insurance, many travel rewards cards offer an expanded suite of insurance. That said, you’ll need to charge a percentage or all of your relevant travel expenses to your credit card for your insurance policy to apply. Be sure to read your certificate insurance to find out exactly what the eligibility requirements are.
Trip cancellation/interruption insurance
With trip cancellation/interruption, you can be refunded up to a certain amount if you need to cancel or interrupt your trip for qualifying reasons. A qualifying reason would be a family death, job loss, or natural disaster. You can’t just claim the insurance because you no longer want to travel. Trip cancellation insurance usually has a cap per person, and for the entire trip. For example, $1,500 per person, up to $6,000. For most people, that won’t cover all their expenses, so you could be out of pocket some cash even with a successful claim.
Flight delay insurance
When your flight is delayed (usually 4 or 6 hours), your flight delay insurance will allow you to claim reasonable expenses. Eligible expenses could include meals, entertainment, spa treatments, or even a hotel room. This is the policy you want to avoid sleeping on hotel floors.
Lost/delayed baggage insurance
Lost/delayed baggage insurance allows you to purchase qualifying items if your bags are delayed or lost (usually 4 or 6 hours). What items you would be able to claim depends on your situation. For example, if you had a business meeting the next morning and then a casual event, it wouldn’t be unreasonable for you to be able to claim the cost of a suit and casual clothes. Now, if you were to buy 10 pairs of shoes, you’d probably be denied.
Rental car collision/loss damage insurance
As the name implies, rental car collision/loss damage insurance covers you from collision or loss damage when renting a car. To qualify for this insurance, you must turn down any insurance your car rental agency offers. Note that this insurance does not cover third-party liability insurance. That’s where someone sues you for personal injury. That said, if you have auto insurance at home, you’ll likely get liability insurance included when renting a car.
Hotel/motel burglary insurance
If your accommodations are broken into while you’re travelling, and your personal items are stolen or damaged, your hotel/motel burglary insurance will cover the costs to replace your things up to a certain amount.
Travel accident insurance
Travel accident insurance pays you a lump sum if you lose a body part or your life. How much you’ll get paid depends on what you’re losing. A finger will get you some money while losing a leg will get you more. You obviously never want to cash in on this insurance policy.
Are there other travel credit cards worth considering?
The best travel cards I’ve listed above are for each specific category. That said, there are still other credit cards worth considering, such as the following:
- TD First Class Travel Visa Infinite Card
- American Express Gold Rewards Card
- Scotiabank Gold American Express Card
Admittedly, a few of these cards would be ideal for many travellers. Each one comes with different perks and benefits, so you would need to read each review individually and then compare it to my best travel credit cards in Canada list to see what’s best for you.
How do travel credit cards affect your credit score?
Every time you apply for a best credit card, your credit score will take a hit of 5 to 10 points. This is normal as the credit card provider will check your credit score hard to see if you’re creditworthy. After a few months, it’ll return to normal.
Getting additional credit can sometimes benefit you since it increases your credit utilization ratio. Your ratio is the amount of credit you use relative to how much you have access to. That means someone who normally carries a balance of $1,000 but has access to $10,000 in credit has a credit utilization ratio of 10%.
Finally, paying your bills on time will help your credit score. Always pay your bills on time and in full. You can check your credit score for free with ClearScore.