If you need any help comparison shopping, read our frequently asked questions below:
Are travel credit cards worth it?
If you love to travel, and use your credit card to pay for most or all of your everyday purchases, the answer is almost always yes.
Between sign-up bonuses and the ability to earn points or miles on each dollar you spend (all on purchases you would be making anyway), travel credit cards offer a convenient way to save potentially hundreds of dollars every year on travel-related expenses from flight tickets and hotel stays to rental cars, and more.
The other bonus of a travel rewards credit card is the different side perks that may come with it. Some of the best travel credit cards in Canada offer complimentary travel insurance benefits (including medical emergency, trip cancellation, and delayed baggage insurance) that will cover you for emergencies while abroad and save you the cost of having to pay for insurance out of pocket. Many travel cards also come with built-in side perks like airport lounge access, hotel upgrades, and concierge services, which can help you travel in style for less.
All those aforementioned benefits aside though, there are reasons why a travel credit card may not be worth it for you. For one, travel credit cards deliver great value as long as you always pay off your card statements in full and on time. If you carry a balance from month-to-month, a travel rewards card will lead to interest charges that can hurt your bottom line, and you may want to consider a low interest credit card or sticking to debit or cash instead. Second, travel cards are obviously geared towards flight and hotel redemptions, and if you’re not much of a traveller and are looking for ways to save on your everyday spending as opposed to, say an upcoming vacation, a cash back credit card may be a better match.
How do travel credit cards work?
Fundamentally, all travel credit cards in Canada work the same way: for every dollar you spend on the card, you'll earn points or miles that you can redeem to either offset or completely cover the cost of a travel purchase.
The more you spend, the more points or miles you'll earn, and the more you can save on travel.
Outside of those fundamentals though, the intricacies around how you redeem rewards and how much each point or mile is worth can vary depending on the credit card and its rewards program. We touch on some of the major differences between credit card travel programs below.
General travel cards versus co-branded travel cards
General travel cards
General travel cards aren’t associated with any one particular airline or frequent flyer program, and the points you earn on these cards can be redeemed for travel from a large selection of flight carriers and hotel chains. The major appeal of general travel cards is their flexibility, as many let you redeem points for flights from literally hundreds of carriers of your choice. If you don’t frequently fly on a particular airline and value choice over the benefits that come with holding airline loyalty status (like priority check-in), general travel cards are a better fit for you.
It’s worth noting that when you’re redeeming points on a general travel card, in some cases, you’ll have to use the credit card’s proprietary travel agency (i.e. BMO Points must be redeemed on BMORewards.com or with a BMO travel agent).
Best general travel credit cards in Canada: Scotiabank Gold American Express, American Express Cobalt, TD First Class Visa Infinite, BMO World Elite Mastercard, MBNA Rewards Platinum Plus.
Co-branded travel cards
Co-branded credit cards are connected to a specific frequent flyer or loyalty program (i.e. Aeroplan, Air Miles, or Marriott Bonvoy), and are a testament to the old adage “loyalty pays.”
These cards can offer great value by letting you earn bonus rewards or discounts whenever you use the card at retailers, airlines, or hotels that are partnered with the co-branded credit card. In many cases, these cards also entitle you to loyalty member perks like priority check-in, free nights stay at a hotel, or free checked bags.
While these cards aren’t known for their flexibility - as the points you earn can only be redeemed from one of the co-branded card’s partners - they can be the right choice for you if the card in question is associated with your favourite airline, hotel program, or retail network.
Best co-branded credit cards in Canada: TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite, Marriott Bonvoy Card from American Express, BMO Air Miles World Elite.
Consistent versus variable point programs
Consistent points programs
Consistent points programs are just that - consistent. No matter the airline, hotel, destination, or time of the year, the value of each point will remain the same. For instance, when redeeming Scotia Rewards Points for travel, 5,000 points always equals to $50, or $0.01 per point. In the same vein, 140 BMO Points always equals $1 when booking travel, which works out to a consistent $0.0071 per point.
The big advantage of consistent points programs is they’re straightforward and make it easy to calculate how much your rewards are worth. If you’ve got 30,000 Scotia Rewards Points, you’ll know you have exactly $300 worth of rewards. It’s worth highlighting though, points are only consistent within the context of travel rewards (i.e. flights and hotel stays), and point values can fluctuate when redeemed for merchandise, gift cards, or statement credits.
Best consistent points programs in Canada: Scotia Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, TD Rewards, BMO Rewards, and MBNA Rewards.
Variable points programs
Variable or flexible points programs rely on charts or tables to calculate how much your rewards are worth - often factoring in things like destination and seasonality into the equation. That means the value of your points can vary depending on when and where you’re travelling.
While these programs can make the redemption process slightly more complex, they offer one major advantage: The opportunity to maximize greater value out of each point. By strategically planning a trip to a particular destination or during specific time of year, you can squeeze extra value out of your rewards and go further with fewer points (something you can’t do when point values are always consistent).
Best variable points programs in Canada: American Express Membership Rewards, Aeroplan, Air Miles, Marriott Bonvoy.
How can I compare the best travel rewards programs?
When you’re doing your research and comparing travel rewards credit cards, it’s important to understand how each card values its points. Every rewards program in Canada is different, so you should read the card agreement for guidelines and restrictions – or you can compare them on our site, as we’ve done the hard work for you on our rewards charts. There may also be a number of different cards available within each program - try using our rewards calculators to find the one which suits you best.
The best travel credit cards in Canada
Best Rewards Travel Credit Cards
Scotiabank Gold American Express Card
The Scotiabank Gold American Express Card has one of the highest earn rates in Canada, giving you 5 Scotia Rewards points for every dollar (that’s 5% back in travel rewards) spent on grocery, entertainment, and restaurant purchases; 3 points on gas, public transit and some streaming services, and 1 point per dollar for everything else. The card has an annual fee of $120. However, this can be offset with the 20,000 point welcome bonus ($200 value), which is provided to new Scotiabank accountholders after $1,000 in purchases are made on the card within the first 3 months.
This card is a winner for its flexibility when redeeming points. There are no blackout dates or seat restrictions with your rewards. You can book your travel through Scotia Rewards Travel Service, a full-service travel agency, or on your own online at a later date. Don’t have enough points for your trip? You can pay the remainder of the balance. Cardholders also don't get charge foreign transaction fees on international purchases and receive complimentary concierge services and access to a Priority Pass membership at a 30% discount.
American Express Cobalt
The American Express Cobalt Card has a rich rewards rate that is tailored to foodies and those who subscribe to the downtown lifestyle - with 5 points for every dollar spent on restaurants and groceries, 2 points on travel (including taxis, gas and airfare), and 1 point on everything else. Each point is valued at $0.01, which means you earn a whopping 5% back in rewards on all food purchases made on this card.
Points are flexible and can be redeemed for flights on any airline with no limitations in terms of blackout dates or seat restrictions. Cardholders also get frontline access to numerous events and concerts through the American Express Invites program and can take advantage of top-of-the-line travel and shopping protection benefits.
One of the Cobalt's biggest selling points is its welcome bonus. For every month that you spend $500 on the card in your first year, you'll get 2,500 bonus points (up to a maximum of 30,000 points).
“Anytime, Anywhere” Travel Credit Card
BMO World Elite MasterCard
For convenience purposes, the BMO World Elite MasterCard is one of the best cards out there. All travel (including airfare), restaurant and entertainment purchases earn 3 BMO Rewards points per dollar spent, which works out to just over 2% back in rewards. All other purchases get you 2 points per dollar. Your points can be used on any airline with no blackout dates, and covers all flight charges and taxes.
New accountholders will have the card’s annual fee of $150 waived in the first year and can also access 35,000 bonus points ($240 value) upon spending $3,000 on the card in their initial 3 months. Looking for more value? The card also includes a Mastercard Airport Experiences membership (free access to over 1,000 airport lounges). In addition, you’ll get concierge service and a comprehensive insurance package. BMO’s travel centre will also match the price of any lower fares you find to help you snag the best deal on flights.
Best Flexible Travel Credit Card
American Express Gold Rewards Card
The most appealing aspect of the American Express Gold Rewards card is the Membership Rewards you can earn. New applicants will earn 25,000 bonus points after charging $1,500 to your card within the first three months of membership. Those points can then be transferred to frequent flyer programs including Aeroplan and Avios on a 1:1 basis. Those 25,000 points could also be used as a statement credit towards travel which has a value of $250.
The card does come with an annual fee of $150, but the first year is waived. One free supplementary card ($50 value) is available to help you earn points faster. Speaking of earning points fast, you earn 2 points per dollar spent on eligible gas, grocery, travel, and pharmacy purchases while all other purchases earn you 1 point per dollar spent. A comprehensive travel insurance package is also included.
Best Hotel Points Credit Card
Marriott Bonvoy American Express Card
At first glance, the Marriott Bonvoy American Express Card may look like a simple hotel loyalty card, but it’s in fact one of the best hotel credit cards out on the market. You’ll earn 5 Bonvoy per dollar spent on the card at all Marriott Hotels (as well as the hotel company’s over two dozen subsidiaries including Starwood and Ritz-Carlton) and 2 points per dollar on everything else.
Your Bonvoy points can be earned and redeemed at over 7,000 hotel properties in 110+ counties. Cardholders also have the option to transfer Bonvoy to over 40 airline loyalty programs at a 3:1 ratio. You’ll even get a Bonvoy Silver Elite membership and one free night hotel stay every year. There is an annual fee of $120, but a comprehensive travel insurance package is included as well as a 50,000 point welcome bonus (provided $1,500 in purchases are charged to the card in the first three months).
Best No Fee Travel Credit Card
Scotiabank American Express Card
If you’re looking for a travel rewards card with no annual fee, the Scotiabank American Express card is a good choice. For every dollar you spend on eligible purchases, you’ll earn 1 Scotia Rewards point – that’s 1% back in travel rewards.
Cardholders can book their own travel online and then redeem their points later, or they can use Scotia Rewards Travel Service, a full-service travel agency. There are no blackout dates or seat restrictions when claiming points which gives you maximum flexibility.
Travel emergency medical, trip interruption, rental car collision loss/damage, and travel accident Insurance is included. In addition, you’ll get access to special offers, events and experiences with American Express Invites.
Travel Rewards Programs
Best Credit Card Travel Insurance Packages