The best travel cards for
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Are travel credit cards worth it?
How can I compare the best travel rewards programs?
What are some side perks you can find on travel credit cards?
What are travel credit card points worth?
We'll run the numbers to find the best travel credit cards you're most likely to get that'll offer you more points and better perks.let's get started
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Luke Sheehan, VP Marketing
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: 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 equal 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: American Express Membership Rewards, TD Rewards, BMO Rewards, Scotia 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 a 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.
Ratehub.ca’s best travel credit cards in Canada for 2021
American Express Cobalt
- Annual fee: $120 (charged $10 monthly)
- Current welcome offer: Earn 2,500 bonus points every month you spend at least $500 on the card for your first year (up to a total of 30,000 bonus points). Plus, when you sign-up by May 5, 2021, you'll earn an additional 15,000 bonus points provided you charge at least $3,000 on the card within your first three months
- Everyday rewards: Earn 5 points per dollar on groceries and restaurants; 2 points per dollar on travel (flights and hotels), gas, and transit (public transit/taxis/rideshares). Get 1 point per dollar on everything else
- Value of points: 1,000 AMEX Membership Rewards Points = $10 / 1 point = 1% when redeemed for travel. You can also get up to 1.5% - 1.75% per point on round-trip flights with AMEX’s Fixed Points Program
Why it made our Best Of list: When it comes to ranking the best travel credit cards in Canada, the American Express Cobalt has been the card to beat since it was launched in 2017.
It comes with a rich earn rate (offering between 2% and 5% on almost all your food and travel-related spending), a generous welcome bonus that can add up to well over $450, and a full suite of travel and entertainment perks including up to $5 million in out-of-province medical coverage and access to presale concert tickets.
The AMEX Cobalt also makes redeeming your points just as easy as earning them; giving you the freedom to save on travel in one of either three ways:
- AMEX’s Flexible Points Program: A straightforward option that lets you redeem increments of 1,000 points for a $10 travel credit (or a flat 1% per point). You can use this credit to save on travel purchases on flight tickets (from any airline), hotel stays, rental cars, and vacation packages.
- AMEX’s Fixed Points Program: A slightly more elaborate (but lucrative) option that lets you use points to save on round-trip flights out of Canada based on a redemption chart. By using the chart strategically, you can maximize your rewards and get up to 1.5% to 1.175% per point.
- Hotel transfers: You can exchange your American Express points into Marriott Bonvoy or Hilton Honors points to save on stays at participating hotels.
Another great feature of the Amex Cobalt Card is you’re not forced to use any kind of in-house travel agency or online search portal from American Express when redeeming your points. Rather, you can make a purchase directly from an airline or hotel provider on your card and use your points to offset the cost retroactively at a later date. This added layer of flexibility is hard to find on any other competing travel card.
Tip for AMEX Cardholders: Consider also carrying a second no fee Visa or Mastercard credit card in your wallet just in case you’re at a store, restaurant, or grocery that doesn’t accept American Express.
TD First Class Visa Infinite
- Annual fee: $120 (rebated for the first year)
- Current welcome offer: Get 20,000 bonus TD Points after you make your first purchase on the card and another 40,000 bonus points when you spend at least $1,500 within the first 90 days (offer ends May 30, 2021)
- Everyday rewards: Earn 9 TD points per dollar on online purchases from the Expedia for TD website and 3 TD points per dollar on everything else
- Value of points: 200 TD Rewards Points = $1 / 1 point = 0.5% when redeemed online on the Expedia for TD website
- Income required: $60,000
Why it made our Best Of list: The TD First Class Visa Infinite climbs high on our list for two key reasons.
First, thanks to TD’s partnership with Expedia (the world’s largest travel platform), you can use TD points to save on virtually anything travel - from flights on any airline, hotel stays, and vacation packages, to guided tours, museum tickets, car rentals, and more.
Second, the card offers huge returns on travel spending with 9 TD Points per dollar (4.5% return in travel rewards) on any purchase you make on the ExpediaforTD website. If you’re a frequent traveller, that can add up to huge returns.
The card also offers a strong flat earn rate of 3 TD points per dollar (1.5% in travel rewards) on all your other everyday purchases, a full range of travel insurance benefits, and discounts on a Priority Pass Membership and rental car bookings from Avis and Budget.
TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite
- Annual fee: $139 (rebated for first year)
- Current welcome offer: 10,000 points after your first purchase plus another 10,000 points and an Air Canada Buddy Pass “companion ticket” for flights anywhere in North America when you spend at least $1,000 within the first 90 days (apply by May 30, 2021)
- Everyday rewards: Earn 1.5 Aeroplan points per dollar on groceries, gas, and on AirCanada purchases; and 1 point per dollar on everything else
- Income required: $60,000
Why it made our Best Of List: The TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite has experienced a formidable change to coincide with the relaunch of Aeroplan, and the new card continues to deliver great value for airline loyalists, points optimizers, and frequent flyers who aren’t dissuaded by slightly complicated rewards programs.
Let’s start by talking about the welcome offers because it's really impressive and can potentially deliver over $900 in value. As a new cardholder, you’ll get up to 20,000 bonus points. Plus, when you book an economy flight on Air Canada to anywhere within North America, you can get a second companion ticket (you’ll just have to pay for fees and taxes - the base fare is free). That means you and a loved one or friend can travel to anywhere in the continent - including Hawaii or Mexico - for a whole lot less. Given the reality of travel in our new normal, you’ll have a whole year to use the companion ticket. Finally, you’ll get the annual fee for both the primary cardholder and up to one additional cardholder if you add the account.
In terms of everyday rewards, you’ll collect between 1 to 1.5 Aeroplan points per dollar spent. Aeroplan points can be redeemed for flights on Air Canada or any of the over two dozen Star Alliance partners (though, booking on a Star Alliance airline using points will result in an extra $39 booking fee).
The value of an Aeroplan point isn’t consistent and can fluctuate depending on your city of departure and arrival as well as whether you’re flying during a high-demand travel season (you can use Aeroplan’s Points Predictor Tool to estimate the numbers of points needed for a redemption) . While this adds a level of complexity to the program, it also means a strategically-planned trip can get a return of well over the standard 1 cent per point offered by many other programs. In fact, you can get up to two cents per point (or more) depending on your travel routes.
Aeroplan offers plenty of opportunities to maximize your points values when redeeming for travel including the ability to add stopovers on flights and redeem points for flights on business class at favourable value. With the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite, you’ll also get preferred pricing and can often redeem for travel using fewer points versus Aeroplan members without a co-branded credit card.
Finally, let’s talk about perks. As a TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite cardholder, you and up to eight travel companions on the same reservation can check in your first bag at no extra cost when flying on Air Canada. Considering baggage fees can add up to $30 on economy flights within Canada or between the US, the savings can really add up, especially for families flying together. The card now also offers NEXUS fee rebates (up to $100), letting you speed through security checks at border crossings between the US and Canada. All that’s just scratching the surface as the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite also offers robust travel insurance and mobile device insurance included.
BMO World Elite Mastercard
- Annual fee: $150 (rebated for the first year)
- Current welcome offer: Earn 30,000 bonus BMO Rewards points when you spend at least $3,000 on the card within your first three months and another 10,000 points at the end of your first year.
- Everyday rewards: Earn 3 points per dollar on dining, travel, and entertainment; and 2 points per dollar on everything else
- Value of points: 140 BMO Rewards Points = $1 / 1 point = 0.7% when redeemed for travel
- Income required: $80,000 or $150,000 as a household
Why it made our Best Of list: The BMO World Elite Mastercard is one of the best cards out there period - but it really outshines when narrowing down the competition to only travel cards that carry the Mastercard badge.
With this card, you’ll earn 3 BMO Rewards points per dollar on all your travel, restaurant, and entertainment-related spending (or 2.1% in travel rewards). All other purchases get you 2 points per dollar, which works out an impressive base earn rate of 1.4% in travel rewards.
Your points can be used on any airline with no blackout dates, and covers all flight charges and taxes through BMO Rewards’ full-service travel agency. New accountholders will have the card’s annual fee of $150 waived in the first year and can also access up to 40,000 bonus points ($280 travel value). Looking for more value? This card also comes with airport lounge access with a complimentary membership to Mastercard Airport Experiences and four free annual passes to over 1,000 lounges worldwide. The BMO World Elite also offers some of the most comprehensive travel insurance benefits of any credit card in Canada.
Since the BMO World Elite is a Mastercard, it’s widely accepted where other credit cards are not - namely Costco and No Frills.
MBNA Rewards Platinum Plus
- Annual fee: $0
- Current welcome offer: Earn 1,000 bonus MBNA Points when you sign-up for e-statements and make at least $500 in purchases within the first three months of receiving your card. Plus, earn twice the points per dollar on the card’s three bonus categories (gas, groceries, and dining), for the first three months
- Everyday rewards: Earn 2 MBNA Points per dollar spent on gas, groceries, and dining up to $5,000 annual spend in each category. Earn 1 MBNA Point on all other purchases
- Value of MBNA Point: 100 MBNA point =$1 / 1 point = 1% when redeemed for travel rewards (i.e. flights)
- Income required: None
Why it made our Best Of list: If you’re looking for a travel rewards card with no annual fee, the MBNA Rewards Platinum Plus should be high up on your list. It lets you earn up to two-times the points across three different bonus categories, a minimum of 1 point per dollar on everything else, and potentially over $100 in bonus rewards - impressive value for a card that’s free to carry.
Cardholders can use points to book travel with no blackout dates or seat restrictions for flights on virtually any airline. The card also includes common carrier and rental car insurance benefits but unfortunately lacks travel medical emergency insurance (which is an expected tradeoff that comes with a no fee credit card).
Marriott Bonvoy American Express
- Annual fee: $120
- Current welcome offer: Earn 50,000 bonus Marriott Bonvoy Points when you spend at least $1,500 on the card within your first three months
- Everyday rewards: Earn 5 Marriott Bonvoy Points per dollar spent at Marriott properties (or its over 2 dozen subsidiaries). Get 2 points per dollar on everything else
- Value of points: 1 Marriott Bonvoy point = 1.17% on average when redeemed for hotel stays (point values can fluctuate depending on the hotel and time of year)
- Income required: None
Why it made our Best Of list: At first glance, you might think the Marriott Bonvoy Card from American Express will only help you save at hotels with the Marriott logo. But in fact, Marriott is the largest hotel conglomerate in the world - owning and operating over two dozen hotel brands (including Sheraton, Starwood, Delta, Ritz-Carlton, and Westin) across 7,000 properties in over 110 countries. The Marriott Bonvoy Card from American Express will help you save at all of them.
You’ll earn 5 Bonvoy points per dollar spent on the card at all Marriott owned properties and a flat 2 points per dollar on everything else.
You can redeem points for stays at all hotels under the Marriott brand. Cardholders also have the option to transfer Bonvoy points 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.
CIBC Aventura® Visa Infinite* Card
- Annual fee: $120 (rebated for the first year)
- Current welcome offer: Get 15,000 Aventura Points when you make your first purchase and an additional 5,000 bonus points when you spend at $3,000 during the first 4 monthly statement periods
- Everyday rewards: 2 points for every $1 spent on travel purchased through the CIBC Rewards Centre; 1.5 points for every $1 spent at eligible gas stations, grocery stores and drug stores; and 1 point for every $1 spent on all other purchases
- Value of points: 1 point = 1.16 cents on average according to Ratehub calculations (though values do vary by destination)
- Income required: $60,000 or $100,000 as a household
Why it made our Best Of list: Aside from the card's strong earn rate - which climbs up to 2 points per dollar spent on travel - the CIBC Aventura Visa Infinite gets a special shout out on this list for the sheer number of unique perks it offers. Cardholders receive a Priority Pass membership with four free visits to over 1,300 airport lounges worldwide each year, a $50 rebate on Nexus membership (allowing for a smoother border crossing experience at Canadian airports as well as south of the border), and up to $1,000 in mobile device insurance that’ll cover your smartphone in case it’s stolen, damaged, or lost. All those perks are offered for a standard annual fee of $120.
There’s also the CIBC Pace It program: which lets you pay off larger purchases in instalments at a lower interest rate in case you do need some financial wiggle room and can’t pay off your balance in full by the time your statement arrives at the end of the month.
All that’s in addition to the standard benefits like out-of-province medical insurance, auto rental collision/loss/damage insurance, and flight delay and baggage insurance.
Aventura points can be redeemed for a variety of travel rewards from virtually any airline (and can even be used to cover taxes and fees), though you are required to use the Aventura Travel agency.
American Express Gold Card
- Annual fee: $150
- Current welcome offer: 25,000 bonus points when you spend at least $1,500 in the card in your first three months
- Everyday rewards: 2 points for every $1 spent on travel, gas, groceries, and drug stores; and 1 point per $1 on everything else
- Value of points: 1 point = 1 cent to potentially over 2 cents (depending on redemption option)
- Income required: None specified
Why it made our Best Of list: The American Express Gold Rewards Card has long been a favourite among savvy points optimizers. The reason? The points earned on this card can be transferred to around half a dozen frequent flyer programs (including Aeroplan and British Airways Avios on a 1:1 basis) as well as major hotel loyalty programs (like Marriott Bonvoy or Hilton Hhonors). With the right transfers, on the right flights, to the right destination, you can maximize your rewards and stretch the value of each point well beyond the standard 1 cent. In fact, it’s these transfers that so-called travel hackers use to their advantage to fly business class and book multi-city routes for less.
Along with the ability to transfer points to other loyalty programs, you can also book flights using AMEX's Fixed Points rewards chart or by retroactively offsetting the cost of travel purchases charged on your card at a flat rate of 1,000 points for $10.
National Bank World Elite Mastercard
- Annual fee: $150
- Current welcome offer: Up to $250 each year in "savvy traveller" fee rebates on airport parking, seat selection and check-in fees
- Everyday rewards: 1.5 points per $0 to $40,000 in purchases; 2 points per $40,001 to $80,000 in purchases
- Value of points: 1 point = 1 cent to upwards 2 cents or more (depending on redemption option)
- Income required: $80,000 or $150,000 as a household
The National Bank World Elite offers what is arguably the most comprehensive travel insurance package of any card in Canada. Its out-of-province travel medical insurance lasts for trips of up to 60 days for those under the age of 52, eclipsing most cards which typically offer coverage for a maximum of 25 days. Even seniors between 65 and 75 years old receive up to 15 days of coverage, whereas typical travel cards offer only 3 days or none at all.
Additionally, the card’s rental auto insurance doesn’t just insure against collision, theft, or damage of the vehicle, but even provides up to $2,000 in personal effects coverage in case your personal belongings in the rental car are stolen or lost. You’ll also receive standard insurance benefits including trip interruption and cancellation with up to $5,000 and $2,500 in coverage respectively per person, flight delay insurance, and baggage loss/delay coverage.
If you’re a traveller who regularly embarks on extended trips abroad, this card’s insurance package alone can help you save several hundreds of dollars every year.
BMO eclipse Visa Infinite
- Annual fee: $120 (rebated for first year)
- Current welcome offer: A total of 40,000 points: 25,000 points after you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months plus 15,000 after your first year anniversary
- Everyday rewards: Earn 5 BMO points per dollar on groceries, dining, gas, and daily transit; 1 point per dollar on everything else. Plus earn a $50 lifestyle credit card every calendar year.
- Value of 1 BMO point: 0.7% when redeemed for travel
- Income required: $60,000
Why it made our Best Of List: The BMO eclipse Visa Infinite is an all-new credit card from BMO that’s clearly aimed at millennials - who are just as likely to spend big on eating out and rideshares as they are on groceries and gas. And if you fit that description, you’ll seriously want to consider this card.
You’ll earn an impressive 5 BMO points per dollar on virtually all your spending on food (groceries and restaurants) and transit (gas, public transit, and rideshares), along with 1 point per dollar on everything else. To top it off, you’ll get a $50 annual lifestyle credit at the start of each calendar year. That’s like getting an additional month’s worth of rewards for free.
Since this credit card has the Visa badge on it, you can also rest assured the BMO eclipse Visa Infinite will be accepted at virtually all places, including smaller and independently-run dining establishments.
When considering 1 BMO point is worth about 0.7 cents (or 0.7%) when redeemed for travel, you’ll net between 3.5% and 0.7% on every dollar you spend. BMO points are extremely flexible and can be redeemed for flights on virtually every major airline. Using the new “Pay with points” option, you also have the ability to use BMO points to save on everyday purchases recently charged to your card within the past 30 days in increments of $1, kind of like cash back. Note though, while the Pay with points option is more convenient, it offers a slightly less return from your points (200 points = $1, or 1 point = 0.5 cents).
The BMO eclipse Visa Infinite also offers a ton more perks we haven’t covered yet. For instance, if you add an authorized user, you can up your everyday earn rate by 10% - perfect for couples or family members looking to streamline their finances and share an account. Plus, the card comes with up to $1,000 in mobile device insurance and travel medical insurance.
American Express Platinum Card
- Annual fee: $699
- Current welcome offer: Earn 25,000 bonus points every month you spend at least $2,000 on the card for your first year
- Everyday rewards: Earn 3 points per dollar on restaurants and 2 points per dollar on travel (flights and hotels). Get 1 point per dollar on everything else
- Annual Rewards: Get a $200 travel credit every year
- Value of points: 1 point = 1 cent to potentially over 2 cents (depending on redemption option)
Why it made our Best Of List: The American Express Platinum Card may be notorious for its unique metal-build and sky-high annual fee, but behind the allure of its luxury status, the card comes packed with a ton of perks that makes it a popular pick among even the most value-conscious frequent flyers.
Right off the bat, it’s worth calling out the card’s annual travel credit. Every year, all cardholders will receive a $200 credit that can be applied towards any travel purchase charged on the card. This recurring offer can slash a huge chunk out of your annual travel expenses and effectively helps to cut down the card’s annual fee to $499.
The card also comes with a significant 25,000 bonus points (worth $250 or more in travel credits), unparalleled airport lounge benefits with unlimited access to over 1,200 Priority Pass Lounges (for you and up to one guest) and coveted Centurion Lounges (an annual value of $399 USD), the best in concierge services, comprehensive travel insurance, and up to $550 in potential hotel upgrades when staying at any of the participating AMEX Fine Hotels & Resorts.
Finally, it’s time to talk about the card’s lucrative rewards program: Membership Rewards Points.
Membership Rewards Points are extremely and can be redeemed for travel in one of three ways, the simplest of which is through AMEX’s Flexible Points Program where 1,000 points are always worth a consistent $10 (1%) in credits that can be used for virtually any travel expense including flights, hotel stays, car rentals, cruises, and more. But that’s just scratching the surface. Points can also be transferred to over half a dozen hotel and frequent flyer programs, including the likes of Aeroplan and British Airways Avios, often at a 1:1 ratio. Transferring to the right programs can turn a point normally worth 1 cent to upwards of 2 cents or more. That’s potentially over a 100% boost in value! Then there’s AMEX’s Fixed Points Travel Program, where points can be redeemed for round-trip flights according to a rewards chart that can potentially deliver 1.5 to 2 cents per point.
To put things into further perspective, depending on how you maximize your redemptions, the card’s 25,000 point sign-up bonus could be worth anywhere from $250 to $500 in travel credits. It’s this - the card’s unique ability to stretch the value of your points - along with its built-in perks that can potentially deliver over $1,000 in value every year, making such a popular choice among frequent flyers despite its annual fee.
As Vice President of Marketing at Ratehub.ca, Luke splits his time between coming up with ways to inspire Canadians to choose better personal finance and serving as our resident credit card expert. His insights and tips on credit card points programs, maximizing rewards and minimizing interest, and the major moves made by the big banks have been shared on CTV News, CBS News, Huffington Post, CP24, Newstalk1010, and more. Originally hailing from the United Kingdom, Luke made the move to Toronto in February 2012 as a member of the leadership team at Just Eat and has held senior marketing roles across a variety of sectors including e-commerce, real estate, and now, fintech.read linkedin bio
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