Canada’s Bank Travel Rewards Programs Ranked

**This post may contain affiliate links. I may be compensated if you use them.

One of the questions I get asked the most is what is the best travel program in Canada? That’s not an easy answer since it depends on the type of points you like to earn, how you like to use your points, what type of credit card you use, and more. That said, some travel rewards programs are better than others when you just look at how easy it is to earn and redeem your points. In this article, I’m ranking all of Canada’s bank travel rewards programs and explaining why I’ve ranked them in the order that they’re in.

Canada's Bank Travel Rewards Programs Ranked

ProgramAverage value of 1 pointMaximum value of 1 pointBook your own travelTransfer partners
BMO Rewards.67 cents0.71 centsYesNone
TD Rewards.5 cents.5 centsYes, but at lesser valueNone
HSBC Rewards.5 cents1.2 cents+YesAvios, Asia Miles, KrysFlyer Miles
CIBC Rewards1.1 cents2 centsNoNone
Scotia Rewards1 cent1 centYesScene
RBC Rewards1.3 cents3 cents+NoAvios, Asia Miles, American Airlines, Westjet
American Express Membership RewardsUp to 2 cents5 cents+YesAeroplan, Avios, Delta, Etihad, Alitalia, Marriott, Hilton

How I ranked the bank travel rewards programs

I considered several factors in my rankings which include the following:

  • Credit cards available – How many different cards are there, annual fees, perks, etc.
  • Earning points – How easy it is to earn points, base earning, bonus categories, sign up bonuses
  • Value of points – How much value you can actually get out of your points
  • How easy it is to redeem your points – searching, booking, blackout dates
  • Flexibility – can you use points on any travel purchase or do you have to go through a portal?
  • Transfer partners – Are there any transfer partners and what’s the conversion rate?

There’s obviously not a perfect science to this ranking system so I had to base things on a few different categories. Although some banks have some of the best travel credit cards in Canada, redeeming those points might be difficult which would lower their ranking. In my write up of each individual bank program below, I explain why they rank where they are.

#7. BMO Rewards

BMO Rewards is a simple program to use. 15,000 points get you $100 in travel. Their flagship credit card is the BMO Ascend World Elite Mastercard which is the best card to have if you need travel insurance when travelling on points and miles redemptions since you can charge any amount to your card to be covered.

Overall, BMO Rewards is a good travel rewards program, but I have to rank it lower than the other travel programs since their flagship credit card has a low base earn rate. Another reason why BMO Rewards ranks so low is that it doesn’t have any transfer partners and doesn’t have a fixed point flight program meaning the value of points is topped at 0.67 cents per point.

On a positive note, BMO Rewards recently made a huge positive change. You can now use your points for any travel purchased to your BMO Rewards card. Once you’ve made the purchase, you can choose the pay with points option to offset your costs.

#6. TD Rewards

TD Rewards is, in my opinion, the easiest program to understand and manage. You redeem your TD Rewards points via ExpediaForTD which means you have access to everything Expedia offers. You can also use points to offset costs of travel related expenses charged on your credit card with the Book Any Way feature. This is great since you can redeem points on AirBnB stays, out of province gas and restaurant purchases.

TD Rewards is a good program and I recommend it to anyone who wants an easy program to understand. However, TD Rewards still ranks low compared to others for a few reasons. Although you can redeem 200 points for $1 off ExpediaForTD, you need 250 points for $1 when using the Book Any Way feature which decreases the value of your points.

Similar to BMO Rewards, TD Rewards doesn’t have any transfer partners or a fixed points flight programs so the value of your points is capped at 0.5 cents per point.

You can earn TD Rewards points by using the TD First Class Travel Visa Infinite Card which gives you 9 points for every $1 spent on bookings made through ExpediaForTD and 3 points per $1 spent on all other purchases. There’s no denying that Expedia for TD purchases give you a good return, but I would argue the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Card is the better overall choice since it’s one of the best airline credit cards in Canada.

#5. HSBC Rewards

HSBC Rewards is arguably the most obscure and least known travel program on this list, but it’s actually great since you can redeem your points for any type of travel you book or you can transfer your points to a few airline loyalty programs.

HSBC Rewards points are mainly earned through the HSBC World Elite Mastercard which is a great credit card since it comes with no foreign transaction fees, a travel credit and a good earning rate of 6 points per dollar spent on travel and 3 points per dollar spent on everything else.

You can redeem 25,000 points for a $125 travel credit on your statement so each point is worth .5 cents when you book on your own. However, you can increase the value of your points when you transfer them to one of the 3 partner airlines. The transfer ratios are 25,000 HSBC Rewards points for 10,000 British Airways Avios miles, 9,000 Asia Miles or 8,000 Singapore KrisFlyer miles. Since the HSBC World Elite Mastercard earn 6 points per dollar spent on travel, this means you can earn the equivalent of 2.4 Avios miles or 2.16 Asia Miles per dollar spent on travel, which is the best earn rate in Canada on travel expenses for these two programs. With those airline miles, you should be able to increase the value of one point to at least 1.2 cents.

An important but annoying note: you need a minimum of 25,000 points to redeem a travel credit or to convert to airline miles.

#4. CIBC Rewards

CIBC Rewards is a well-known program in Canada that offers a better overall value than many other travel programs since it gives you access to a good travel inventory and the value of your points can be excellent.

CIBC Rewards points can be redeemed for travel on CIBC Rewards travel booking website at a value of 1 cent per point which is pretty standard. Book flights via the portal is never an issue, but there doesn’t seem to be every hotel or car rental agency available. Fortunately, CIBC also has a full-service travel agency that you can call and use your points at no extra cost where they can book you anything you find on Expedia. Since Expedia has hotels, car rentals, all-inclusive packages and attraction tickets, it’s probably better to simply call in to redeem your points when you need to make a booking.

CIBC Rewards points can be earned from CIBC Aventura credit cards. The CIBC Aventura Visa Infinite credit card is a great card since it’s one of the best credit cards with lounge access and it gives you a Nexus credit. The CIBC Aventura Vids Infinite earns you 1.5 points per dollar spent at gas stations, grocery stores and drugstores, but you get 2 points per dollar spent travel purchases made through CIBC Rewards. This is a respectable rate, but it’s lower than other premium travel cards so it’ll take you more time to rack up points

The redemption value of CIBC Rewards points more than makes up for the slower earn rate. If you use their fixed points flight program, you can double the value of your points. For example, a short-haul, round-trip flight would cost up to 20,000 points, but it covers the base fare up to $400 (you still need to pay taxes). CIBC also has special promotions on points where it costs you fewer points to fly. Just recently there was a deal where you could fly to New York from Toronto or Montreal, round-trip for just 9,000 points. For more information, check out my full CIBC Rewards review.

#3. Scotia Rewards

Scotia Rewards has a maximum value of 1 cent per point so you might be asking why the program ranks in the top 3? Well, it really comes down to the flexibility of earning and redeeming your points. With Scotia Rewards points, you can use the Scotiabank travel portal or you can just pay for any travel purchase with your Scotiabank credit card (that earns Scotia Rewards) and then claim your points after. Having the option of redeeming points at full value when booking on your own is the reason I rank Scotia Rewards above TD Rewards.

Despite the value of your points being topped at 1 cent each, I rank Scotia Rewards above CIBC Rewards they have a better line-up of Scotiabank credit cards.  There are two Scotiabank credit cards that earn Scotia Rewards points that I consider some of the best travel credit cards in Canada. The Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite is a great no foreign transaction fee credit card and has a good earn rate of 2 points per dollar spent on grocery, dining, entertainment, and transit purchases. The Scotiabank Gold American Express card is also a top tier travel credit card since it has no foreign transaction fees and a great earning rate of 5 points per dollar spent on grocery, dining, and entertainment purchases.

#2. RBC Rewards

Of all the big banks in Canada, RBC Rewards easily outranks all other programs. What puts them near the top is that RBC Rewards is a very flexible program with many transfer partners and redemption options.

Similar to all other bank travel program, you can redeem points for travel by booking on the RBC Rewards travel portal at 1 cent per point. Interestingly enough, RBC Rewards is the only travel program I would consider redeeming points for gift cards it gives close to full value on travel gift cards. Not only can you get a value of 1 cent per point for Air Canada, WestJet, Carlson Wagonlit Travel, Fairmount and hotels.com gift cards, RBC also runs promotions from time to time where you can get even more value for your points when making the redemption.

It might be often overlooked, but RBC Rewards has a very solid fixed points flight program that allows you to book flights at a greater value. For example, you can book a round-trip flight within or to an adjacent Province/ U.S. State for 15,000 points, round-trip and it’ll cover a base fare for up to $350. That means you get an awesome value of 2.33 cents per point for your RBC Rewards points! There are no blackout dates with this program, so it’s a good alternative if you’re not finding anything on Aeroplan.

RBC Rewards also shines with its list of transfer partners. You can convert RBC Rewards points at a 1:1 ratio to British Airways Avios and to Cathay Pacific Asia Miles. RBC Rewards is the only Canadian transfer partner to WestJet Rewards (100 points = 1 WestJet dollar) and to American Airlines (10,000 points = 7,000 AAdvantage miles). They even have conversion bonuses occasionally that would give you an even greater value e.g. recently there was a 50% when converting your points to British Airways Avios.

You can earn RBC Rewards points from the RBC Avion credit cards. While the RBC Visa Infinite Avion is not a stellar card by itself with a maximum of 1.25 points earned per dollar spent on travel and 1 point on everything else, the value of RBC Rewards points easily compensate for that lower earn rate. You can also pair an Avion credit card with another RBC credit card to rack up points quickly. RBC also carries credit cards for many of RBC Rewards transfer partners including a British Airways Avios miles card, a Cathay Pacific Asia miles card and of course, the Westjet World Elite Mastercard which has incredible benefits.

#1. American Express Membership Rewards

Finally, there’s American Express Membership Rewards who is in a league of its own. When looking at the categories for my rankings, they come out on top of everything. American Express really is the best at everything from credit cards, earning points, flexibility and transfer partners!

American Express has the best credit cards in Canada by a landslide. All five of their cards that earn Membership Rewards points are on my list of best travel credit cards in Canada. This includes the very best travel credit card and my absolute favourite: the American Express Platinum Card that comes with the most benefits of all credit cards in Canada. It also includes the card with the greatest sign-up bonus in the country: the American Express Business Platinum card.  You can also earn Membership Rewards points with the American Express Gold Rewards Card, Business Gold Card as well as the Cobalt card that has arguably the best bonus earning rates in Canada. 

Membership Rewards points are highly flexible since you can use them to offset travel costs charged to your card at 1 cent per point. There is no minimum required and since you book your own travel, there are no blackout dates. Similar to RBC Rewards and CIBC Rewards, there’s an American Express Fixed Points Travel Program where you can book round-trip flights for a value of up to 2 cents per point. For example, you can redeem 15,000 points for a Toronto – New York round-trip flight which will cover a base fare up to $300. Note that American Express is the only program that gives you the option to book via a fixed points travel program or on your own.

What’s crazy is that you can get even more value out of your Membership Rewards points by converting them to their impressive list of transfer partners. The most popular partner and one that is exclusive to American Express Membership Rewards is obviously Aeroplan for which you can transfer points at a 1:1 ratio. With Aeroplan’s award chart and the best American Express credit cards, you can even earn enough points to do a round-the-world trip in business class which would yield an insane value for your points!

You can also transfer your points at a ratio of 1:1 to British Airways Avios miles and 1:0.75 to Delta SkyMiles or Cathay Pacific Asia Miles. One of my favourite options is converting to Marriott Bonvoy at a ratio of 1:1.2 which has given me some really good value. Note that points earned from the Cobalt card can’t be converted into airline miles.

If all of the above wasn’t enough to convince you that American Express is the best travel program in Canada, I will add that Amex has the best refer-a-friend program and has by far the best customer service of all major Canadian banks. With this program, the person making the referral and the person accepting the referral get extra points.

Final thoughts

As you can see, each program has its own features, strengths and weaknesses. I have a clear preference for RBC Rewards and of course American Express Membership Rewards, but you need to consider your own situation and which program will fit your needs the best. For example, if most of your spending is at places that don’t accept American Express and if you mostly book with Airbnb, you should consider a program that allows you to book on your own travel.

Canada\'s Bank Travel Rewards Programs Ranked

About Barry Choi

Barry Choi is a Toronto-based personal finance and travel expert who frequently makes media appearances. His blog Money We Have is one of Canada’s most trusted sources when it comes to money and travel. You can find him on Twitter:@barrychoi

29 Comments

  1. John Noble on November 11, 2019 at 8:23 AM

    Thanks Barry,

    Appreciate the info. Just got to figure how many cards I want to carry.

  2. Mike on November 11, 2019 at 11:47 AM

    Great article. Contains the in-depth evaluation/comparison of rewards programs for which I’ve been waiting for a while so thanks for being the first to do it (at least that I’ve seen).

    One thing missing for me is the inclusion of the annual fees for the credit card(s) you’d use to earn points in each of these programs to enable a quick cost vs. benefit. For example, AMEX may be #1 on the benefits side but the Platinum card has an annual fee of $699 whereas the RBC Visa Infinite Avion is only $120/year.

    The other big thing is the ease of actually getting the flights you want when redeeming points. This is the principal reason why I quit CIBC to go to Scotia (that plus the no forex fees on Scotia’s Passport VISA) – I could never find anything usable when I tried to use my CIBC points. No one at CIBC ever told me I could find what I wanted on Expedia and then book that over the phone. However, I realize that quantifying this element in a semi-meaningful way would be impossible without spending countless hours trying to book a sample package of flights/hotels/vacations on each program.

    • Barry Choi on November 11, 2019 at 5:01 PM

      Hey Mike,

      Good point about the annual fees, I should make an edit. I try to avoid including the fees since some people look at the fee and just get turned off. I wanted to explain what the value of the different programs are without putting a price on it.

      • Mike on November 16, 2019 at 12:53 PM

        Hey Barry,
        To expand on my reasoning for leaving the CIBC Aventura program (and why I think it’s a terrible program), here’s an example that is very representative of my past experiences. I wanted to book a hotel room I found on Expedia.ca for $217.14 (incl. taxes/fees) for 2 nights. When I called CIBC Rewards, the same room was going to cost me 25,730 or the equivalent of $257.30. That would have given me 0.84% value on the nominal 1 point/$1 in purchases I had made on the card over the past several years. And that is just one example. At least with Scotia rewards, I know I’m going to get a full 1% in value every time by redeeming my points for travel-related purchases I’ve made in the past few months – it’s the closest thing to a cash-back card I’ve been able to find in the travel rewards space, and I get no forex fees, 2 more airport lounge visits per year and all of the same VISA Infinite benefits I got with the CIBC Aventura card. For me, the two programs are miles apart – it’s not even close.

        • Barry Choi on November 16, 2019 at 8:20 PM

          Mike,

          Yes, the ability to redeem on any travel you find on your own with Scotiabank is a huge thing for many people.

  3. Bartel Bucheck on November 11, 2019 at 9:45 PM

    Hello. You should correct the td rewards points to x9 for purchase bought through Expedia for Td

    • Barry Choi on November 11, 2019 at 9:50 PM

      Bartel,

      When I wrote it, I meant 3X the points than your regular earn rate e.g. Expedia for TD gives you 9 points, but regular purchases gives you 3 points. I can see where the confusion is and will update the article. Thanks for flagging it.

  4. C. Durant on December 6, 2019 at 8:39 AM

    Hi,
    Enjoyed your article as far as it went.
    Currently have travel and medical insurance through BMO world elite MasterCard and wondered if you have any comparable data with other bank cards.
    Thanks,
    C. Durant

  5. CIBC Rewards Review - Money We Have on February 27, 2020 at 9:33 AM

    […] Rewards is a popular program better known under the CIBC Aventura name. Although I rank the CIBC Rewards program behind American Express Membership Rewards and RBC Rewards, CIBC Rewards […]

  6. Scotiabank Chequing Accounts - Money We Have on February 29, 2020 at 2:38 PM

    […] MomentumPLUS Savings account, then the monthly fee will be waived1. Scotia Rewards is one of the best bank travel rewards programs in Canada so make sure you choose that over SCENE points as your bonus when you open a new […]

  7. Owen on May 6, 2020 at 6:36 PM

    This is a great article and I agree with your rankings 100%. For Canadians today I don’t think there’s a better combination of using American Express as your primary card and using Avion where your Amex isn’t accepted. This is the best perks and most flexible rewards redemption plan out there. I myself use the American Express Platinum as my primart, the RBC Avion VISA Infinite Privelege for anywhere that doesn’t accept Amex. I also carry an mbna Alaska World Elite MC for retailers (Costco, etc) that only take MasterCard.

  8. Owen on May 6, 2020 at 6:36 PM

    This is a great article and I agree with your rankings 100%. For Canadians today I don’t think there’s a better combination of using American Express as your primary card and using Avion where your Amex isn’t accepted. This is the best perks and most flexible rewards redemption plan out there. I myself use the American Express Platinum as my primart, the RBC Avion VISA Infinite Privelege for anywhere that doesn’t accept Amex. I also carry an mbna Alaska World Elite MC for retailers (Costco, etc) that only take MasterCard.

  9. aaron on May 11, 2020 at 7:46 PM

    I hope HSBC decide to add aeroplan to their transfer partner one day

  10. David Kynan on July 15, 2020 at 6:11 PM

    If the average point value for BMO is 71 cents, doesn’t that crush the other programs in terms of value?

    • Barry.Choi on July 16, 2020 at 6:13 AM

      David,

      It depends on how you look at things. 4 of the programs have a higher base value for their points. BMO Rewards points are worth more than TD Rewards and HSBC, but BMO Rewards has less flexibility with their points.

  11. Wes on December 27, 2020 at 10:54 PM

    One thing I would add to your RBC Rewards section is the fact the fixed rewards chart is only available to RBC card users who have Avion. If you use an RBC Rewards+, Signature Rewards, you don’t get access to this chart. This is precisely been my strategy for me is to use Signature Rewards VISA at a lower annual fee to accumulate points. Once I earn enough, to switch to Infinite to either transfer to the airline partners or to use the fixed reward chart. Once complete, switch back

    • Barry Choi on December 28, 2020 at 6:27 AM

      Hey Wes,

      Good point, and a very interesting strategy.

  12. Rany K on November 22, 2021 at 1:55 PM

    Hi Barry,

    This article was great – I’ve been reading others that you’ve written trying to learn a little more about travel points. I’m super new to this, and quite honestly a dumb dumb when it comes to redeeming points. I have an RBC Infinite Visa which sounds like it’s a great card to have. I’m starting an e-commerce platform and will be making some very large purchases soon so I would like to charge to the most valuable card possible. I love eating out – restaurants and drinks and UBER when travelling in different cities. My family and I go to Amsterdam every year to visit my sister and travel to surrounding countries while we’re there. I’ll likely be purchasing all tickets with my points and would like the flights /travel experience be as comfortable as possible (lounges, luggage perks/priority check) for my parents – I’m curious to know if you would recommend the AMEX Cobalt or the Scotiabank AMEX or if there is another you would recommend instead? Apologies for long and winded comment – thanks so much for the help!

    • Barry Choi on November 22, 2021 at 2:13 PM

      Hey Rany,

      FUnny, I have family in Amsterdam too and try to get there as often as I can.

      As for your questions. It sort of depends on how much you’ll be charging to your credit cards. American Express has the best points program and some of the best business credit cards. However, this only works to your advantage if vendors you use accept Amex.

      The Amex Platinum Business Card gives you 1.25X the points on all purchases and lots of travel benefits e.g. unlimited lounge access. However, the Amex Cobalt gives you a high earn rate on eats and travel (including Uber), so that’s a good choice too.

      If you’re charging 10K+ a month, you’re probably better off with a business card. If it’s $5K-$7K, go with the Amex Cobalt. Note that the Platinum Card gives you a bonus if you use a referral link. The Cobalt bonus is the same if you use a referral link or the regular link.

      As for your RBC Rewards points. They’re still pretty good, but if you can eventually collect just American Express points, you’ll be better off due to their flexibility.

  13. Rany Kham on November 22, 2021 at 2:30 PM

    Love Amsterdam – one my favourite places to travel, my sister has a rental agency there if your family ever needs help finding a place!

    Amazing – thanks so much for the speedy response and the insight! in the first month, it’ll be about 15-20K for inventory, shipping supplies, repurchases will be dependent on monthly traffic. So maybe the Cobalt? How does one get a referral link?

    Thanks again Barry!

    • Barry Choi on November 22, 2021 at 2:37 PM

      Rany,

      Yes, Amsterdam is one of my favourite cities. The last time I was there I stayed in Amsterdam west and then the Marriott. Now that I travel with my daughter, finding apartments are more appealing. Please send me a link to her company.

      The American Express Cobalt card is a regular credit card, if you can get a limit of 20K+, it could be worth it. That said, it might better to get an American Express Platinum Business Card for business expenses and travel benefits.

      You could then get the Cobalt Card for personal expenses such as food and drink since the earn rate is higher. You can transfer your points to Aeroplan with both cards, so you’ll have plenty of flexibility.

  14. Rany Kham on November 22, 2021 at 2:58 PM

    Oh amazing! I’ll do that then. Thanks so much for all the help Barry, you’ve been great!

    Absolutely her agency is more for relocation/permanent residency – just in case, you can find her site here http://amsterdamlifehomes.com/, name is Lyna.

    I’ve shared a couple of your articles with a some of friends of mine as I found them insightful, detailed and easy to follow. Great work!

    • Barry Choi on November 22, 2021 at 3:02 PM

      Hey Rany,

      Feel free to use my referral links =D

      Also, thanks for your sister’s website.

  15. Rany k on November 22, 2021 at 3:17 PM

    Oh perfect!! Thanks Barry and no problem! She has a few friends who Airbnb so feel free to contact me as well and I can connect you guys.

    Be well!

  16. PS on February 2, 2022 at 5:03 PM

    Take into consideration earn rate and BMO easily becomes the most valuable. You get 2-3 points for every dollar spent compared to RBC 1 point. All things considered BMO World elite is a much much better credit card than RBC.

    It’s clumsy to just to look at redemption rate only…many bloggers on this are making the same mistakes.

    • Barry Choi on February 2, 2022 at 8:28 PM

      PS,

      The earn rate is just part of the equation. How you can burn your points is just as important. While the BMO World Elite has some higher multipliers, the base earn rate is one of the lowest for a premium travel credit card. BMO Rewards also forces you to use their travel portal, so it’s less valuable than other programs.

      I personally favour American Express Membership Rewards since there are multiple ways to use your points and you can transfer your points to Airline and hotel partners. Plus, the American Express Cobalt Card has arguably the best earn rate of all cards out there.

      • PS on February 4, 2022 at 1:13 PM

        Hi Barry,

        Both earn rate and redemption are equally important which is exactly my point. More specifically, I’m comparing #7 ranked BMO with #2 ranked RBC. I hold both cards by the way.

        Here’s some simple math so majority can understand the implications.

        If you spend $100,000

        BMO RBC
        Basic Earn Rate 2 1
        Accumulated Points 200,000 100,000
        Redemption Rate for Travel Spending 0.67 1
        Cost of Tickets Covered $1,340 1,000

        Difference profit with BMO $340

        Note: Ignore the options 1.25 points earn rate for RBC for travel or the 3 points with BMO for travel. Just work with basic earn rate for simplification.

        It is clear BMO is better for the dollar spent. Add in much better insurance (MUCH better) + lounge access and its not even close.

        I know people will say “Redemption Schedule” RBC. Has anyone actually used that to their benefit? It’s one of the biggest scams…its almost ALWAYS better to use their fixed 100 points for dollar conversion. So people need to stop saying redemption schedule as a benefit and see it as a unusable scam.

        As for BMO portal, again please use it first. It covers all flights you would find on google. Never had an issues to find the lowest priced flight on google and then finding it on BMO portal. Its really easy to use and straight forward as well.

        As for your American Express comment, yes that’s true. There are better travel cards but comparing it within the big banks….BMO World Elite is pretty much the best travel card.

        Don’t trust me. Just try it and you will see.

        • Barry Choi on February 4, 2022 at 1:30 PM

          Hey PS,

          BMO just announced that the BMO World Elite Mastercard will now earn just 1 point per $1 spend for the base rate, so the value has gone down significantly.

          As for your initial analysis, you’re not wrong. But here’s my counter argument and why I personally rank RBC Rewards higher. With RBC, you can get a value of 2 cents per point for the fixed points program. You can also transfer your points to Cathay and BA. If you used your points for business flights, you could get an even higher value.

          I use the redemption schedule quite a bit for short haul flights e.g. Toronto to Ottawa or New York.

          I’m not disagreeing with you. I’m just saying everyone has a different value and uses their points for different reasons.

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