Just how far can your Canadian travel credit card take you? Whether you’re a bargain hunter, snowbirder, frequent flyer or bonus surfer, we’ve evaluated the best travel credit card deals in Canada to help you soar in 2016.
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 travel credit cards in Canada:
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: RBC Visa Infinite Avion
Best “Book Anything, Anytime, Anywhere” Travel Credit Card Winner:
Winner: MBNA Rewards World Elite®
Runner-Up: Capital One Aspire Travel World Elite MasterCard®
Best No Foreign Transaction Fee Travel Credit Card Winner:
Winner: Rogers™ Platinum MasterCard®
Runner-Up: The Marriott Rewards® Premier Visa® Credit Card From Chase
Best Insurance Travel Credit Card Winner:
Winner: Desjardins Visa Odyssey Gold
Runner-Up: National Bank World Elite MasterCard
Best Hotel Travel Credit Card Winner:
Winner: Marriott Rewards® Premier Visa® Card
Runner-Up: Starwood Preferred Guest Card
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:
TD® Aeroplan® Visa Infinite Card
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, 5,000 miles when you keep your account open and in good standing for 90 days and an additional 5,000 miles if you add an authorized user (exclusive online offer available until September 2nd, 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 first year annual fee rebate, a value of $120, making the card free 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, despite the recent devaluation when redeeming for business and first class fares on certain routes. We like the point acceleration opportunities offered by the card, including 1.5 points per dollar spent at gas, grocery & drug stores (at 1.28-2.2 cents per mile, it give you a 1.92% to 3.3% earn rate) and the additional opportunities to double dip at Aeroplan partners to further accelerate point accumulation.
TD offers a very rich set of 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 four reasons. First, it’s welcome bonus has no annual fee in the first year. Second, you can redeem your points to fly to more destinations with Air Canada and Star Alliance than with West Jet. Third, there are more opportunities to earn points and to double dip at Aeroplan partners. Fourth, 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:
The American Express® Gold Rewards Card
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 $1,500 in purchases to your Card in your first 3 months of Cardmembership. In addition, 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 beats RBC’s Visa Infinite Avion card for four reasons. First, it has a higher sign-up bonus. Second, Amex waives the first year annual fee. Third, you can earn double points on travel expenses (in addition to gas & groceries). Fourth, Amex allows you to redeem for any travel expense on your statement at full value, while if you redeem with RBC’s Payback with Points feature, you’ll get closer to half a penny per point.
In the end, Amex gives the cardholder additional flexibility to take advantage of promotions and cost saving opportunities in both the Aeroplan and Avios programs, without sacrificing any value if you decide to redeem for any travel purchase.
Runner Up: RBC Visa Infinite Avion Card
Best “Book Anything, Anytime, Anywhere” Travel Credit Card In Canada:
MBNA Rewards World Elite®
A “Book Anything, Anytime, Anywhere” travel credit card allows you to redeem for any travel related expense on your credit card. You purchase travel on your card from any travel provider (airline, hotel, cruise, resort, theme park, car rental, etc…) then call or go online to redeem your points for the travel purchase.
- Why It’s a Winner: The MBNA Rewards World Elite card is simple, convenient and rich. Get the first year annual fee waived, value of $89, a $100 signing bonus, upon your first purchase (no minimum spend required), and a 2% earn rate on everything. Best of all, you can redeem your cash credit for anything on your credit card bill – including travel.
The MBNA Rewards World Elite card offers 2 points per dollar spent on ALL purchases, which translates to a 2% earn rate on all spend (earn $2 in rewards for every $100 in purchases). There are no caps or limits to how much you can earn. That matches the richest flat earn rate in Canada. Nothing beats 2%.
Here’s where the MBNA Rewards World Elite is unique. You can apply your points against ANY purchase on your credit card statement, not just travel purchases – at full value – including taxes and fees. For example, if you spent $10,000 on your travel card, you will earn $200 in rewards. You can then apply that $200 credit against any item on your statement any time, OR you can have MBNA send you a check or direct deposit the $200 into your checking account (cashback). Pretty nifty.
You can also use your points to redeem for travel in MBNA’s travel centre or rewards catalogue, but why would you? We recommend you get the best deal you can find on your own (websavers, Expedia, discount travel, etc…). Use your MBNA Rewards World Elite card to purchase your travel, and then redeem your MBNA cash equivalent points against the purchase. You’ll get the cheapest travel deal you can find, booked when you want, with one of the richest redemption rates!
The MBNA Rewards World Elite beat the Capital One Aspire World Elite because, while both offer a 2% earn rate, the Aspire devalues points to a 1.5% earn rate when redeeming for cash or non-travel purchases. MBNA is 2% all the time. Moreover, while the Aspire World Elite has the higher sign-up bonus, it coms with a $150 annual fee (versus $89) with no first year fee waiver, and requires $1,000 spend in the first 3 months.
Best No Foreign Transaction Fee Credit Card In Canada:
Rogers™ Platinum MasterCard®
Most banks charge a foreign transaction fee of 2.5% on top of the near spot market currency conversion rate charged by Visa or MasterCard. A no foreign transaction fee card charges no fees above the conversion rate, meaning you’re getting pretty close to the spot rate when using the card to make a purchase in a foreign currency!
- Why It’s a Winner: While not a travel card per se, the Rogers Platinum MasterCard is one of only 3 credit cards in Canada that do not charge any foreign transaction fees. It won the category because it saves you 2.5% on foreign transaction fees, comes with no annual fee, a 1.75% rewards rate on all spend & you can redeem against any expense – not just Rogers.
The Rogers MasterCard offers a 1.75% earn rate on all purchases (including travel) with no caps, limits or categories. You can redeem for Rogers, FIDO or Chatr services & products at any time. Or, you can redeem your cash rewards as a statement credit once per year, for any balance owing on your credit card, including travel expenses.
Rogers offers a $35 welcome bonus, no annual fee in the first year (savings of $29), and no annual fee ever if you set up your Rogers bill as a pre-authorized payment. This card does not have a very strong travel insurance package. It’s best to use abroad or for foreign internet purchases, but not to book your flight, if you want trip cancellation coverage.
The Rogers Platinum Mastercard beats out the Marriott Rewards Visa card for two reasons. First, Rogers comes with a richer rewards rate of 1.75% on all spend, compared to about 1% for Marriott. Second, you can redeem your points as cashback against any expense, including travel, not just Marriott hotels – making it more flexible.
Runner Up: Marriott Rewards® Premier Visa® Card
Best Insurance Travel Credit Card In Canada:
Desjardins Visa Odyssey Gold
Whether you’re a snowbird, jaunt across the border, or go away for the annual family holiday, you can save big money and protect yourself and your savings with free travel insurance included on your credit card. It’s convenient, free, and exceptionally valuable.
- Why It’s a Winner: The Desjardins Visa Odyssey Gold is available to every Canadian. Its inclusive credit card travel insurance is a tour de force that stands head and shoulders above the competition.
First, its travel medical insurance covers you and your family for 60 consecutives days, while out of province or country. Most other travel cards cover you for 15-25 days. Second, it offers travel medical coverage up to the age of 75 ( 60 days for ages up to 59, 31 days for ages between 60-64, and 15 days for ages 65-75)! Third, it covers you for up to $5 million in claims, most cover you between $1M to $2M.
Lastly, while the Odyssey covers you for trip cancellation up to $2,500 per person, if you have an unexpected return home it offers unlimited trip interruption insurance!
Desjardins’ Odyssey Gold comes with every major travel insurance coverage you’ll need, including out-of-province / out-of-country travel medical insurance, trip cancellation, trip interruption, trip delay, baggage, car rental, travel accident, purchase protection, extended warranty & mobile device insurance.
Unfortunately, it comes with a $110 annual fee (pretty reasonable given the coverage), and only gets you a 1% earn rate on your spend. A great card for the coverage itself, but we’d probably recommend using another card to accumulate your rewards.
The Desjardins Odyssey Gold Visa card beats National Bank’s World Elite travel card for a few reasons. It offers more coverage to older ages. It offers unlimited trip interruption coverage and it has mobile device insurance, which National Bank does not.
Runner Up: National Bank World Elite MasterCard
Best Hotel Travel Credit Card In Canada:
Marriott Rewards® Premier Visa® Card
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 doesn’t charge any 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 has recently acquired Delta Hotels & Starwood. Their hotels can now be found worldwide with a brand for every price point – Delta, Sheraton, W, 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 three reasons. First, because of its higher 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). Third, because we don’t know what’s going to happen with Starwood, now that’s it’s been bought by Marriott.
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.