Looking for the best travel credit cards in Canada? We can help.
As Canadian travel bloggers, we want to maximize our travel rewards from our credit card. We’ve had an Airmiles Mastercard with BMO for years, and it’s done well for us, but we wanted to see if there was a better travel rewards credit card for Canadians like us.
We’ve done hours of research, and come up with what we think are the best travel credit cards in Canada.
What we found while researching these cards is that there’s a good reason Canadians like us are confused about the best travel rewards programs and credit cards. It’s hard to determine from most credit card sites exactly how many points are required for a flight, tracking down the dollar value of each point is confusing, and it’s even harder to figure out how to compare the different travel rewards points programs.
No wonder most people throw up their hands in frustration, and why it took us a few years to finally sit down and slog through all the research required to write this post.
Just a note here. We’re only human, so while we try not to make mistakes, they do happen. In addition, credit card companies change their rewards programs or credit card information at any time. That means that before you get a card, confirm the details of the card and travel rewards for yourself!
Best Travel Credit Cards in Canada
Travel rewards in Canada come in three main reward flavors: Air Miles, Aeroplan, and private travel rewards schemes. You can also choose either Visa, Mastercard, or American Express.
Some of the bigger names in travel rewards cards come from BMO Rewards, TD® Aeroplan, Amex Membership Rewards, and Scotia Rewards.
We’re most interested in the travel rewards offered by a card, so these ratings reflect the amount of travel we can get for each card, based on a $3,000 monthly spend. We’ve excluded any cards that charge over $150/year for an annual fee, since we feel that high fees stop most Canadians from signing up for a card.
Most of the cards offer other perks like travel insurance for Canadians, airport lounge access, purchase protection, and so on. We’ve made note of the major perks for each card, in case one of those perks is important to you.
There’s a tiered reward system with this card. You’ll get 5 rewards points for every $1 spent on eligible grocery stores, restaurants, fast food, and drinking establishments and eligible entertainment purchases. It pays 3 rewards points for every $1 spent on eligible gas and daily transit, and 1 reward points for everything else.
Current bonus: Up to 30,000 bonus Scotia Rewards points (conditions apply)
Spend $3,000 = 6,600 Scotia Rewards points (based on $800 groceries, restaurants, fast food and drug stores, $200 on gas, and $2,000 other purchases)
Minimum personal income required: $12,000
Perks include medical travel insurance, trip cancellation and interruption and rental car collision insurance. There’s also extended warranty protection and purchase protection, no foreign transaction fees, and Amex Front Of the Line® access.
How the Scotia Rewards program works
You can book travel on your own (paying in advance with your Scotia Rewards Credit Card) and then apply your points to travel and get a refund on your statement, or book directly with the Scotia Rewards travel service using your points (meaning you don’t need to prepay and get reimbursed).
Scotia Rewards points are worth $0.01 each, or 100 points/1 dollar. You need to redeem them in increments of 5,000 ($50). Points can cover taxes and fees.
One thing to note, and that we don’t really like, is that partial point redemptions are not permitted if you book your own travel and then apply points to travel. So, if you spend $51 on flight, you’ll need to redeem 10,000 points ($100) worth of points.
The TD® Aeroplan® Visa Infinite* Card is our pick for the best Aeroplan credit card.
Annual Fee: $120
Rewards program: Aeroplan
Minimum personal income required: $60,000 individual or $100,000 household.
Spend $3000 in a month = 3,500 Aeroplan miles (based on $1,000 gas, groceries and drug stores and $2,000 other purchases).
Welcome bonus (till December 31, 2019): 40,000 Aeroplan Miles (conditions apply).
You can earn earn 1.5 Aeroplan miles on every $1 spent on eligible gas, grocery, drugstore and aircanada.com purchases. Earn 1 Aeroplan mile for every $1 spent on other purchases.
There’s travel medical insurance included, with trip cancellation and trip interruption, baggage and flight delay, and auto rental collision. The primary cardholder gets one free checked bag on Air Canada, and one annual Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge access.
The Aeroplan rewards program is changing in 2020
Because there was a lot of uncertainty back in early 2019 about the future of Aeroplan, we’d initially struck Aeroplan related credit cards off our list.
However, since Air Canada acquired Aeroplan, cards that collect Aeroplan points are back on our list. However, Air Canada is changing Aeroplan, and creating a new loyalty program that will launch in 2020.
Air Canada says that existing Aeroplan Miles will be honored on a one-to-one basis in the new loyalty program when it launches in 2020.
We do know that credit card loyalty program and network agreements have been finalized with TD, CIBC and Visa Canada for future participation in Air Canada’s loyalty program, with an agreement in principle for American Express.
However, we don’t know what other changes are coming. Will Air Canada devalue the Aeroplan program, for example by requiring more Aeroplan points for flights and rewards? If you choose an Aeroplan card, keep in mind that changes to Aeroplan are upcoming. They could be for the better, or for the worse; we just don’t know at this point.
There is some encouraging early news, as there are reports that most economy rewards redemption rewards won’t change.
BMO® AIR MILES®† World Elite Mastercard®
Our current travel rewards card is the BMO® AIR MILES®† Mastercard, and I’m middling happy with it. We’re looking at a slight upgrade to the BMO® AIR MILES®† World Elite Mastercard to see if there’s something better out there for us.
Annual fee: $120
Rewards program: Air Miles
Get 1 Air Mile for every $10 in credit card purchases.
Current bonus: 3,000 Air miles and first year’s fee waived (conditions apply)
$3000 for a month = 300 Air miles
Minimum personal income required: $60,000 individual or $100,000 household
Perks include travel and medical insurance with 15 days emergency medical insurance, purchase protection and extended warranty protection, two annual airport lounge passes with Mastercard Airport Experiences provided by LoungeKey. There’s also a 15% discount on all flights in North America booked with AIR MILES.
Our current card, the BMO® AIR MILES®† World Mastercard is similar, with a lower annual fee of $99. We currently get 1 Air Mile for every $15 in credit card purchases. There’s no welcome bonus on this card right now, and a $3000 monthly spend = 2400 Air Miles/year.
RBC Avion Visa Infinite
Annual Fee: $120, additional card: $50
Rewards program: RBC Rewards
Minimum personal income required: $60,000 or household income of 100,000
Spend $3000 in a month = 3,000 RBC Rewards Points
Welcome bonus: 15,000 welcome points
You earn 1 RBC Rewards point for every $1 spent, plus an extra 25% on eligible travel related purchases. There are no blackouts or seat restrictions, but you need to use a minimum of 10,000 points at a time.
For roundtrip flights, you use the travel redemption schedule to determine how many points you’ll need to cash in. For example, a short haul flight is 15,000 points (with a maximum ticket price of $350). The 15,000 points can’t include taxes, surcharges, or fees, but you can pay the fees at a rate of 100 points per $1 spent.
If you redeem flights, hotel, or other travel needs not on the redemption schedule, the cost is 100 points per $1 spent.
If you buy gas at Petro-Canada, the card offers an instant 3c/L fuel savings, plus 20$ more Petro-Points. Other perks include travel medical insurance, trip cancellation and interruption insurance, and purchase protection.
American Express™ Cobalt Card
Annual Fee: $120 (paid $10 monthly)
Rewards program: American Express Membership rewards
Minimum personal income required: none
Spend $3000 in a month = 3,000 points
Welcome bonus: Up to 30,000 bonus points.
The American Express™ Cobalt Card has no minimum income requirement, making it a great choice if you’re self employed or show a lower income on your tax return.
For this card, the welcome bonus points aren’t applied automatically. Instead, in your first year, you can earn 2,500 Membership Rewards points for each monthly billing period when you spend $500 in purchases on your card. This could add up to 30,000 points in a year.
You could earn up to 45,000 bonus points with the American Express Cobalt™ Card. If you apply by May 5, 2021, you can earn a Welcome Bonus of 15,000 Membership Rewards® points when you spend a total of $3,000 in purchases on your Card in your first 3 months of Card membership.
Perks include emergency medial insurance for the first 15 consecutive days of multiple trips (to a maximum of $5 million), baggage and flight delay, lost or stolen baggage, car rental theft and damage, and purchase protection. There’s also up to a $100 USD hotel credit on qualifying hotel amenities with The Hotel Collection from American Express, and more.
Cobalt Cardmembers receive regular Perks such as bonus reward offers and access to great events
American Express Membership rewards
The American Express Membership rewards plan uses a Fixed Points flight chart. For example, a short haul flight like Calgary to Vancouver is 15,000 to 20,000 with a maximum base ticket price of $300. A long haul Canada/US flight is 40,000 points, with a $700 maximum ticket price.
The Fixed Points schedule only pays the base fare: you’ll pay the applicable taxes, fees and carrier surcharges.
You can redeem points for more than travel; options include merchandise, streaming services, movie tickets, concert tickets and events, and food and drink.
The base points you earn are 1x, with 5x the points on eligible eats and drinks, and 2x points on travel and transit.
You can transfer your points to a participating frequent flyer or other loyalty program.
This one just barely made the list for us personally, but we’ve included it as an option since a lot of people have this card and love it.
We didn’t love that exact rewards needed were hidden behind a login that you need the card to access, making it hard for people researching the card (like us) to make comparisons.
Annual Fee: $120, additional card: $50
Rewards program: CIBC Aventura Rewards
Minimum personal income required: 15,000 household
Spend $3000 in a month = 3,400 CIBC Aventura Points ($800 on groceries and gas, and $2,200 on other purchases)
Welcome bonus**: 20,000 Aventura Points, $120 travel credit, access to 1,200+ airport lounges, and a NEXUS application fee rebate (conditions apply) **ends October 31, 2019.
Here’s how you earn points: You’ll get 1.5 points for every $1 spent at gas stations, grocery stores and drugstores, 2 points for every $1 spent on travel purchased through the CIBC Rewards Centre, and 1 point for every $1 spent on all other purchases.
The Aventura Points let you book in one of five flight zones with fixed points requirements, but they also only cover a maximum dollar value for each flight zone. If your flight is over that amount, you’ll need to use extra rewards to pay for it at a rate of 100 points per $1. You can use Aventura points to pay for fuel surcharges and flight taxes. A minimum redemption of 3,000 points ($30) is required. Points don’t expire.
What I don’t love is that you must book travel with the online CIBC Aventura® Rewards Centre or call the CIBC Rewards Centre. From what I can see, you cannot book travel on your own, and then apply for a rebate on your purchase.
There are a few perks with this card, including Priority Pass membership with four complimentary airport lounge visits a year, and one $50 NEXUS application fee rebate every 4 years. There’s also emergency medical travel insurance, flight delay and baggage insurance, auto rental collision and loss damage insurance, and purchase security and extended protection insurance. There’s no trip cancellation or trip interruption insurance on the CIBC Aventura® Gold Visa* Card card.
CIBC Aventura® Gold Visa* Card vs the CIBC Aventura® Visa* Infinite* Card
The cards are similar, but we included the CIBC Aventura® Gold Visa* Card here, because it has a much lower income requirement ($15,000 vs $60,000 for the CIBC Aventura Visa Infinite). There may be other differences, but we noticed that there’s no trip cancellation or trip interruption insurance on the CIBC Aventura® Gold Visa* Card card, but that the CIBC Aventura® Visa* Infinite* Card does have trip cancellation and trip interruption.
Looking for the best no fee travel rewards credit card for Canadians?
We like the no fee BMO® AIR MILES®† Mastercard®. It gives 1 Air Mile per $20 spent.
There’s no welcome bonus here, and not a lot of perks, but if you’re looking for a bare bones card with no fee, it’s worth a look.
If you spend $3000/month for a year, that equals 2160 Air Miles at the end of the year.
Do you have any picks for the best travel rewards credit cards for Canadians? Let us know below!