There is no one-size-fits-all travel credit card in Canada. We each have different spending habits, benefits sought and redemption priorities. When selecting the best travel credit card for you, consider your needs. Do you want a card that offers excellent rewards points for every dollar you spend? Or one that has no annual fees? Or maybe a card that comes with a great sign-up bonus?
This guide will begin by helping you understand your travel credit card priorities. It will walk you through understanding earn rates, additional benefits, and the optimal redemption process. Once you know what you're looking for, this guide will empower you to compare the different travel credit cards on the market to see which one offers the best value. While most travel credit cards have minimum income requirements, it's worth mentioning that American Express cards have no threshold. With most credit cards offering instant approval, you may be able to get a new travel card in as less as a week. Continue reading to become an expert on Canada's best travel credit cards.
Each credit card analyzes your spending and organizes it into different categories. depending on your spending category, you receive a different point multiplier for every $1 spent. For example, the American Express Cobalt card provides 5x points on restaurants and groceries, 3x on streaming subscriptions, 2x on gas, and 1x on everything else. The best credit card for you is the one that maximizes points based on your current spending patterns. Ideally, you can maximize credit points without changing the way you spend.
The multiplier is called the earn rate because it's the rate of points you earn for every $1 spent in that category. If you eat out frequently, look for a card with a high earn rate on restaurants. If you're always travelling, find a card that maximizes the earn rate on travel. Many banking platforms already analyze your spending habits, allowing you to determine your top categories quickly.
This section will discuss the top spending categories and the cards that maximize your lifestyle earn rate. Also, understand that each point system is a separate currency, meaning they have different valuations. While a 9x earn rate may sound impressive, the points could be less valuable than a card with a 2x earn rate in the same category.
Use this table to compare the best travel credit cards based on their category earn rate. We have estimated the true value of each point to give you the most accurate understanding. You can also view the estimated point value as the cashback percentage per dollar spent. Look for cards that maximize the real point value for your top spending categories. Once you have found an exciting card, you can click on the name to be taken to a different webpage and learn more. Additionally, you can learn more about each category underneath the table. The credit cards are sorted based on the highest average points from your selected categories.
|Category Earn Rate|
|Alaska Airlines World Elite Mastercard||1||3||1|
|American Express Cobalt||5||2||5|
|American Express Gold||1||2||2|
|American Express Platinum||3||2||1|
|BMO Ascend World Elite Mastercard||3||5||1|
|BMO Eclipse Visa Infinite||5||1||5|
|Brim World Elite Mastercard||2||2||2|
|CIBC Aventura Visa Infinite||1||2||1.5|
|HSBC World Elite Mastercard||3||6||3|
|MBNA Rewards Platinum Plus Mastercard||2||1||2|
If you are a foodie, look for a credit card that maximizes the earn rate for restaurants. Typically this category includes sit-down restaurants, take-out, and food delivery. However, always check the fine print to specify inclusions.
Jet setters and remote workers should prioritize a card that maximizes the travel earn rate. Most of their lifestyle spending is already directed to flights, accommodation, and transportation. Standard inclusions to the travel category are flights, hotels, Airbnbs, taxis, and public transit.
Parents and restaurant owners likely already spend a significant portion of their budget on Costco trips. This is why they should choose a card that optimizes the groceries category. The key is selecting a card that maximizes points for your current spending patterns.
We all enjoy a retail therapy session! If you frequently shop online or are planning a home renovation, consider a card that provides bonus points for these purchases. Common retailers include Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy, and more.
If you have a long commute or drive for work, consider a card that offers excellent rewards on gas.
You should have an idea of the best long-term travel credit cards based on your spending habits. However, many cards have additional benefits, which are secondary considerations to help you choose the best card.
Additional perks and benefits are key features when choosing a travel credit card. Common benefits include airport lounge access, annual travel credits, insurance, and more. However, these benefits come at a cost with a yearly fee that is significantly higher than a regular credit card. When deciding if the fee is worth it, always consider the value of the benefits you will receive.
Perhaps the most sought-after travel card benefit is a welcome bonus. These can provide you with hundreds of dollars that far exceed the annual cost of your credit card. While some Canadians will exclusively compare cards based on the welcome bonus, this is not a great approach. After the bonus ends, you don't want to be stuck with a card that doesn't fit your lifestyle. Additionally, applying for too many credit cards will damage your credit score.
The bonus is a one-time reward for signing up and spending a minimum amount within the first few months. For example, the Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite card offers a welcome bonus of 30,000 points when you spend $1,000 in the first three months. An additional tactic is to apply for the card before making heavy purchases.
For example, if you have a big trip planned, make sure to receive the card before purchasing your flight, accommodation, and car rental. This way, you can receive the bonus through purchases you would have already made. Another approach is making purchases on behalf of family or friends and having them pay you back. If travelling with friends, you could book the accommodation on your card and have them send you back their portion. Below you can find some of the best welcome bonus offers in Canada as of May 23rd, 2022:
|Card||Annual Fee (First Year)||Maximum Points Received||Spend Requirements|
|Alaska Airlines World Elite Mastercard||$99||30,000||$1,000|
|American Express Aeroplan Reserve||$599||85,000||$3,000 + $1,000 monthly|
|American Express Cobalt (Per Month)||$12.99||2,500||$500|
|American Express Gold||$250||50,000||$3,000 + Single monthly purchases|
|American Express Platinum||$699||80,000||$6,000 + Single monthly purchases|
|BMO Eclipse Visa Infinite||First Year Free||60,000||$3,000 + $2,000 monthly|
|CIBC Aeroplan Visa Infinite||First Year Free||20,000 + Companion Pass||$4,000|
|HSBC World Elite Mastercard||First Year Free||80,000||$6,000|
|RBC Avion Visa Infinite||$120||55,000||$5,000|
|TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite||First Year Free||50,000||$7,500|
|TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Privilege||$599||105,000||$10,000|
|TD First Class Travel Visa Infinite||First Year Free||100,000||$1,500|
|TD First Class Travel Visa Platinum||First Year Free||50,000||$1,000|
One of the most common benefits of a travel credit card is airport lounge access. Lounge access is ideal for long layovers because it provides complimentary food, bartenders, baristas and more. Some lounges even offer showers, sleep pods, and luggage storage.
If you frequently travel for business or leisure, a good night's sleep can be priceless. Many credit cards allow you to bring an additional person. While most cards offer a full lounge access membership, some only offer a discount. The following cards offer a full lounge access membership included in the card fee.
|Card Name||Details||Annual Cost|
|American Express Platinum||Unlimited American Express Global Lounge Collection Access||$699|
|TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Privilege||Unlimited Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge Access||$599|
|Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite||6x Priority Pass Membership||$139|
|BMO Eclipse Visa Infinite Privilege||6x Priority Pass Membership||$499|
|BMO Ascend World Elite Mastercard||4x DragonPass Membership||$150|
|CIBC Aventura Visa Infinite||4x Priority Pass Membership||$139|
|CIBC Aventura Gold Visa||4x Priority Pass Membership||$139|
Priority Pass membership offers access to more lounges. However, the DragonPass membership offers more exclusive airport lounges not available with the Priority Pass. If you frequent Pearson Airport in Toronto, the Plaza Premium lounges are now only available through DragonPass. Ultimately, the best membership for you will depend on your individual travel needs and preferences.
Another one of the most sought-after travel card benefit is the ability to fly a friend or family member with you cheaply. While you can't redeem points to buy tickets for companions, some co-branded airline cards offer heavy discounts on round-trip flights for guests.
For example, the WestJet RBC World Elite Mastercard allows you to pay only $119 (plus taxes and fees) for a round-trip companion flight within Canada and the Continental US. Additionally, you can pay $399 to fly a companion anywhere else WestJet flies. You can use the voucher each year to save hundreds of dollars. The catch is that you can only use the voucher on flights offered by the co-branded airline. Additionally, some cards have minimum annual spending requirements to receive the voucher. Below are some of the best travel cards in Canada offering this coveted benefit:
|Card Name||Voucher Information||Annual Cost||Income Requirements|
|WestJet RBC World Elite Mastercard||$119|
|Alaska Airlines World Elite Mastercard||$99|
|Alaska Airlines Platinum Plus Mastercard||$75|
|RBC British Airways Visa Infinite||$165|
|American Express Aeroplan Reserve Card||$599|
|CIBC Aeroplan Visa Infinite||$139|
Another massive benefit of travel credit cards is the inclusion of multiple types of insurance. However, it can be tough to understand what you are receiving with abstract terms. This subsection will demystify the common types of insurance included with your travel card.
Before we begin, note that you must typically charge the total expense to your card for the insurance to activate. For example, you'd need to pay for your phone using the relevant credit card entirely to take advantage of mobile insurance.
|Travel Emergency Medical||Covers you for emergency medical expenses while away from home. For example, hospital visits, ambulances, helicopter evacuations, etc.|
|Travel Accident Insurance||Covers you in the event of accidental death or dismemberment while travelling.|
|Trip Cancellation Insurance||Covers you if you have to cancel or interrupt your trip due to an unforeseen event. For example, severe weather, sickness, jury duty, etc.|
|Trip Delay Insurance||Covers you if your flight is delayed for a certain period. For instance, if your flight is delayed for more than 12 hours, you would be eligible for a hotel stay and meals|
|Baggage Delay Insurance||Covers you if your baggage is delayed by the airline. For example, if your luggage is delayed for more than 12 hours, you would be reimbursed for the necessary items you need to purchase.|
|Common Carrier Accident Insurance||Covers you in the event of accidental death or dismemberment while travelling on a common carrier. A common carrier is a bus, train, plane, or boat.|
A few credit cards in Canada offer mobile device insurance as a benefit. This insurance will protect you if your phone is lost, damaged, or stolen. There are many horror stories of unsuspecting tourists losing their phones through pick-pocketing. However, you must have paid the total purchase price of the phone using your relevant card. We have included the top cards offering this benefit and links to their fine print pages below:
A common misconception about credit cards is that they offer unfavourable exchange rates. This is untrue. You can usually receive better exchange rates through your credit card than withdrawing cash at a bank in Canada. This also provides you with the safety of not walking around with cash.
While the exchange rates are low, the catch is that most credit cards apply a 2.5% surplus fee. This fee can quickly add up if you frequently spend in foreign currencies. For example, If you spent $1,000 in foreign currency, you would need to pay $25 in fees on top of the exchange network rate calculation. Additionally, some cards will also charge a 2.5% fee on refunds. This 5% total fee could significantly add up when booking and cancelling hotels, flights, and other big-ticket expenses.
If your annual card fee is $200, this benefit alone will cover your card fee if you spend over $8,000 in foreign purchases annually. As a benefit, some credit cards offer no foreign exchange fees. This removes the standard 2.5% fee applied to foreign transactions. Some cards that offer this perk include:
|Card Name||Annual Cost||Income Requirements|
|Brim World Elite Mastercard||$199|
|HSBC World Elite Mastercard||$149|
|Scotiabank Gold American Express||$120|
|Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite||$139|
Another popular benefit of a travel credit card is an annual travel credit. This credit can be redeemed for travel-related expenses such as flights, hotels, and vacation packages. While these cards typically have a higher annual fee, their generous credits help net out the cost. The best cards that offer this benefit are:
|Card Name||Credit||Annual Fee (Net)|
|American Express Platinum||$200||$699 ($499)|
|BMO Eclipse Visa Infinite||$50||$120* ($70)|
|BMO Eclipse Visa Infinite Privilege||$200||$499 ($299)|
The final benefit offered by many travel credit cards is no annual fee. Considering most travel cards have yearly costs reaching a few hundred dollars, some travellers may appreciate this. However, the points and benefits offered by cards without an annual fee tend to pale compared to those with fees.
For example, it's uncommon for these cards to include lounge passes, comprehensive insurance, and travel credits. Additionally, the earn rates are lower, so it’s better to choose a cashback credit cards.
However, some travel credit cards offer a free first year. If you decide the card isn’t for you, you can cancel without penalties. Meanwhile, you can receive the welcome bonus and point redemptions. Some cards that offer a free first year include BMO Eclipse Visa Infinite, CIBC Aeroplan Visa Infinite and HSBC World Elite Mastercard.
What's the point of paying for a travel credit card if you can never use it! Although American Express cards have great earning rates, many merchants outside of North America don't accept them due to higher fees. Keep this in mind and research usability in your countries of interest.
However, hotels and flight booking platforms typically accept Amex, which provides you with many opportunities to earn points. Usually, travellers will partner their Amex with a backup Mastercard or Visa if a vendor doesn't accept it.
You can think of travel credit cards as a two-part game - earning points and redeeming them. While you may be an earn rate expert, you can instantly vanquish your hard work with an improper redemption. For example, if you had $1,000 worth of points, would you want to spend them all on a $300 flight?
The key here is to understand the value of your points and how to unlock their value best. Initially, travel points are best spent on travel-related redemptions. For example, using your points to purchase a gift card is far less optimal than applying them to a hotel stay.
First, understand the value of your points. You can begin by referencing the following table to understand their average value. Any redemption that values your points higher is worthwhile as a rule of thumb. Try to avoid devaluing your points by making redemptions at a lower cost.
Don’t think that the highest value points system is the best. You will also need to compare your card’s earn rate. For example, while Air Miles has an average valuation of 12.1 cents, its extremely low earning rate makes them irrelevant.
Now that you understand the average value of your points, the next step is to calculate if the redemption is beneficial. To begin, you must calculate the proposed redemption value to compare it with the average value of your points. If the redemption values your points higher than the average, it's optimal. Otherwise, it's better to save your points for another redemption. To calculate the proposed redemption value, you must;
For example, let's pretend you want to book a domestic flight that requires 30,000 points. After researching the cost of the flight, you find it would cost $350 if booked with cash. To calculate the proposed redemption value, we must divide 350 by 30,000 to reach 0.0116 per point. Since this is lower than our average valuation of 0.0125 per point, it's not an optimal redemption, and you should save your points.
In conclusion, the best travel credit card is the one that optimizes your current spending patterns. However, don't let a high earn rate fool you. To find your best card, you need to understand each point's actual value. Next, also consider which benefits are meaningful to you. As you read through the article, you might see the name of a particular card keep appearing - this is likely your best card. Finally, understand the redemption process to ensure you get the best value for your hard-earned points.