Best Travel Credit Card Rankings in Canada For 2016
For years, Canada’s savvy travelers have exploited credit cards to travel in comfort and style well beyond their means. Whether you’re a bargain hunter, bag-checker, loyalty flyer or bonus surfer, we’ve evaluated the best travel credit card deals to help you take-off.
To help us derive our rankings for the best travel credit card, we first measured the value per point of each rewards program. We checked how many points were required to fly on 15 different flights for each credit card and compared it to the lowest price of each flight, giving us the true cost per point of each rewards program. We did a similar exercise for hotels.
We then evaluated earn rates, credit card bonuses, annual fees, perks, insurance coverage, foreign transaction fees, ease of redemption, and travel opportunities to determine the best travel credit card in Canada for each travel card category.
Here’s the summary of the top ranked Canadian travel credit cards:
Best Travel Credit Card Rankings for Canada 2016
- Best Airline Travel Credit Card Winner:
Winner: TD® Aeroplan® Visa Infinite* Card
Runner-Up: WestJet World Elite MasterCard
- Best Flexible Travel Credit Card Winner:
Winner: The American Express® Gold Rewards Card
Runner-Up: ScotiaBank Gold American Express Card
- Best Proprietary Travel Credit Card Winner:
Winner: BMO® World Elite™ MasterCard
Runner-Up: MBNA Rewards World Elite® MasterCard®
- Best Hotel Travel Credit Card Winner:
Winner: Marriott Rewards® Premier Visa® Card
Runner-Up: Starwood Preferred Guest Card
- Best No Annual Fee Travel Credit Card Winner:
Winner: The American Express Blue Sky® Credit Card
Runner-Up: BMO AirMiles MasterCard
A description of each travel card category and a full review of each of the top ranked Canadian travel credit cards are as follows:
Best Airline Travel Credit Card In Canada:
An airline travel card puts miles directly into your airline frequent flyer account. Airline credit cards have their perks – waived bag fees, lounge access, priority boarding & check-in, and so on – while a more general travel credit card might offer higher earning potential and greater flexibility.
Why It’s a Winner: If you’re looking to top-up, or start-off your Aeroplan mile bank, this is a great opportunity. There’s currently a welcome bonus of 25,000 miles – earn 15,000 Aeroplan miles with your first purchase and an additional 10,000 miles when you keep your account open and in good standing for 90 days after Account approval (exclusive online offer available until February 29th, 2016). 25,000 points will allow you to fly return to any city in North America from any Canadian city. To top it off, TD is offering a 50% first year annual fee rebate, a value of $60, making the card easy to try and the welcome bonus a hefty bargain.
Our study found each Aeroplan mile to be valued between 1.28 cents per mile when redeeming for economy fare to 2.2 cents for business class – a strong rewards rate that especially shines when redeeming for business and first class fares. We like the point acceleration opportunities offered by the card, including 1.5 points per dollar spent at gas, grocery & drug stores and the additional opportunities to double dip at Aeroplan partners to further accelerate point accumulation.
TD has done a good job enhancing the perks on the card. It has a robust set of insurance protection, including travel medical, trip cancellation, trip interruption, trip delay, baggage and auto rental. Other perks we like include priority check-in and boarding, free lounge access, and one-free checked bag on Aeroplan redemption flights, which can save you $52.50 per return ticket.
The TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite card beats the West Jet World Elite MasterCard for three reasons. First, you can redeem your points to fly to more destinations with Air Canada and Star Alliance than with West Jet. Second, there are more opportunities to earn points and to double dip at Aeroplan partners. Third, you can use your points to upgrade to business and first class.
Runner Up: WestJet World Elite MasterCard
Best Flexible Travel Credit Card In Canada:
A flexible travel credit card allows you to make any travel related purchase on your card, then call or go online to pay for it with your points, allowing you to benefit from the best deals or options you can find. Some even allow you to convert your points into an alternative frequent flyer program.
Why It’s a Winner: The American Express Gold Rewards card is special because of its phenomenal rewards value and its unparalleled flexibility. Earn a welcome bonus of 25,000 Membership Rewards points (value up to $550) when you charge $500 in purchases to your Card in your first 3 months of Cardmembership. Plus, the first year annual fee is waived – a value of $150 – making the card virtually free to try for a year.
Ongoing value is strong. Earn double points on gas, grocery, drugstore & all travel related expenses (air, water, rail and road transport, lodging and tour operator sales). Each Amex point is worth 1 cent. As a result, the base rewards rate is worth 1% and the bonus rewards rate is worth 2%. If you transfer your points to Aeroplan, the base rewards rate is worth 1.28% and 2.56% on bonus categories, which is stellar. The insurance package is phenomenal.
What makes this card the gold standard of flexibility in Canada however, is that you can book any travel related purchase (flight, cruise, train, hotel, or rental car) on the card, and then use your points to pay ANY of the travel expenses that show up on your statement, including taxes & fees. You can ALSO choose to transfer your Membership Rewards points to Aeroplan or British Airways AVIOS points 1:1 with no additional charges – secretly making this the most valuable Aeroplan card on the market. Pair this card with the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite card above and you’ll have 50,000 bonus points to start.
The Amex Gold Rewards card beat the Scotiabank Gold American Express card for three reasons. First, it has a higher sign-up bonus. Second, you can earn double points on travel expenses (in addition to gas & groceries). Third, we like the option the Amex Gold card has to transfer points to Aeroplan and AVIOS. In the end, it gives the cardholder additional flexibility to take advantage of promotions and cost saving opportunities in both of those programs.
Runner Up: Scotiabank Gold American Express Card
Best Proprietary Travel Credit Card In Canada:
A proprietary travel credit card allows you to redeem points for travel through the credit card company. While you can typically book any airline, any time, you’re still bound to the credit card issuer’s pricing, grid and booking system.
Why It’s a Winner: This card is stacked with value. To start, it has a travel credit sign-up bonus worth $300 with no minimum spend requirement. The ongoing earn rate of 2 points per dollar spent is equivalent to a 2% earn rate on all purchases (earn $2 in travel rewards for every $100 in card purchases)- a very rich earn rate. The card also has solid insurance coverage that more than makes-up for the annual fee. The flip side is that there is an annual fee of $150, which is not cheap – however, the benefits make up for it over the long term.
Although not quite as convenient as a Flexible travel card, you can still earn unlimited rewards points and redeem them whenever, on whatever travel is available through the BMO Rewards Centre. If you don’t have enough points for the full cost of your trip, you can pay the difference with your BMO MasterCard – with no mark-ups. There are no blackout periods or seat restrictions. Your points will never expire, so long as your credit card is open. Plus, BMO Rewards points cover ALL flight charges including taxes and fees. There is also a low price match guarantee – ensuring you pay the lowest price out there. Finally, you get 4 free lounge passes per year from Priority Access, worth $200 annually.
Despite both cards having ongoing rewards equivalent to 2%, The BMO World Elite MasterCard beats out the MBNA Rewards World Elite card because of a higher sign-up bonus, 4 free lounge passes worth $200 annually, and much stronger insurance protection.
Runner Up: MBNA Rewards World Elite® MasterCard®
Best Hotel Travel Credit Card In Canada:
Hotel travel cards put your points directly into your frequent guest program accounts. Cardholders will discover benefits that both cut your travel costs and add another dimension of luxury and convenience to your hotel experience.
Why It’s a Winner: Earn 30,000 bonus points with your first purchase, plus a free nights stay valid for 6 months at any category 1-4 hotel! That’s up to 5 free nights, with no minimum spend requirements – and it comes with no annual fee in the first year. Plus, get an additional free nights stay on your account anniversary date EVERY year at a category 1-5 hotel! To top it off, it’s the only Canadian travel credit card where you pay no foreign transactions fees on purchases outside of Canada. That’s a savings of 2.5% on non-Canadian purchases alone.
Not to be overlooked, Marriott Rewards ranks highest among hotel loyalty/rewards programs as ranked by J.D. Powers – with weighting given to account maintenance/management, ease of redeeming points/miles and recommendation of friends and family. Also Marriott Hotel’s can be found worldwide with a brand for every price point – AC Hotels by Marriott, Autograph Collection Hotels, Courtyard, Edition, Fairfield Inn, Gaylord Hotels, JW Marriott, Marriott Executive Apartments, Marriott Hotels & Resorts, Marriott Vacation Club, Renaissance Hotels, Residence Inn, SpringHill Suites, The Ritz-Carlton and TownePlace Suites.
The Marriott Rewards Premier Visa card beat out the Starwood Preferred Guest Card for two reasons. First, because of its higher ongoing sign-up bonus offer and anniversary bonus. Second, because the Marriott card does not charge a foreign transaction fee – a savings of 2.5% on non-Canadian spend (out of country or online).
Best No Annual Fee Travel Credit Card In Canada:
There aren’t a ton of travel credit cards with no annual fees. In fact, some issuers don’t offer any at all. However, for those that don’t spend a ton on their credit cards, an annual fee doesn’t always make sense. Here’s our hidden no-fee gem.
Why It’s a Winner: Obviously this card does not have an annual fee. But what makes this credit card stand-out is its sign-up bonus, rewards rate and point flexibility. Earn 10,000 Blue Sky Points after you charge $500 in purchases to your Card in your first three months of Cardmembership . Each point is worth 1 cent, so that gives you a signing bonus of $100 with no annual fee. Get an additional 5,000 points when you refer a friend. That’s exceptional for a no-fee credit card. Also, you’ll be earning 1.25% in rewards for every dollar you spend, which is huge value when compared to other Canadian no fee credit cards.
Not to be forgotten, The American Express Blue Sky card is a flexible travel card, allowing you to apply your points to any travel related purchases on your credit card statement – book any flight, cruise, train or rental car – including taxes and fees – through any website, airline or travel company you want.
The Amex Blue Sky credit card beats the BMO AirMiles MasterCard because of its higher rewards earn rate of 1.25% and its flexibility to redeem points for any travel purchase on your credit card statement.
Runner Up: BMO AirMiles MasterCard
Last Leg of The Journey
The best travel credit card for you will depend on your travel needs and spending habits. You’ll get the most from your card if you start-off with a great bonus offer, like the rewards program offered by the card, pay your balance in full each month, and consider which fees can best be balanced with bonuses, perks, and rewards.
Canadians are in a great position to try new travel cards that earn them more points, provide more benefits and better flexibility than the card in their wallet today. Take advantage and get more bang for your buck starting now.