Best Travel Credit Card Rankings in Canada for 2018
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 predicted what we think will be the best travel credit card deals in Canada to help you soar in 2018.
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.
Summary of Best Travel Credit Cards in Canada in 2018
Best Accelerated Earn Rate Travel Credit Card in Canada
Travel perks and a generous welcome bonus are nice, but the whole point of having a credit card is to make purchases with it. And as long as you’re spending you might as well be simultaneously earning.
Frequent travellers should seek out the maximum ratio of points to dollars when using their credit cards in order to save as much as possible on future trips. For this purpose, there’s no card in Canada better than the Scotiabank Gold Amex.
Why It’s a Winner: Purchases at gas stations, grocery stores, supermarkets, restaurants, and movie theaters will earn a best-in-class rate of 4 points per $1. The ‘dining’ category also includes drinking establishments and fast food places, but for anything not covered in this broad range, every $1 spent earns 1 reward point.
Scotia allows customers to redeem their points flexibly, by booking the arrangements they prefer and then spending points to pay for them later. Supplementing this ease of use are other lucrative travel perks, including access to over 600 airport lounges around the world, and a thorough array of travel insurance benefits. The spending threshold to earn 15,000 welcome points is also quite low: the average Canadian consumer easily puts $1,000 on their credit cards in 3 months.
Compared to the Amex Cobalt, the Scotia Gold Amex wins out for travellers due to a slightly lower annual fee, more flexible point redemption, and a broader array of spending categories that earn accelerated rewards. The Cobalt card accrues 5 points per $1 in food-related spending categories, but gas purchases are rewarded at a far lower rate: 2 points per $1. The Scotia Gold Amex grants 4 points per $1 on all these categories.
Runner-Up: The American Express Cobalt Credit Card
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 (redeem for $250 against any travel or transfer to Aeroplan 1:1 for 25,000 Aeroplan miles).
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 below and you’ll have 50,000 bonus points to start.
The Amex Gold Rewards card beats RBC’s Visa Infinite Avion 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, 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.
Best Air Travel Credit Card in Canada
The best air travel credit cards offer travellers increased flexibility during booking, a thoughtful variety of insurance protections, and many ways to earn points. One of the market’s best comes courtesy of TD, with its First Class Travel Visa Infinite® card.
Why It’s a Winner: Frequent fliers know that one of the best places to book flights is on Expedia.com—the popular airfare aggregator with a wide range of destinations and airlines. With the TD First Class Travel Visa Infinite® card, you’ll be rewarded for booking travel arrangements on Expedia’s handy ExpediaForTD.com site, and earn a truly impressive amount of TD Rewards for doing so—9 per $1 spent. The card earns 3 points per $1 spent on all other purchases.
Points are redeemable for travel on the site, but also for merchandise, gift cards, and even as an on-demand statement credit. Significant value is also delivered from TD’s comprehensive range of insurance benefits and other perks. Travellers are covered with medical, trip cancellation and interruption, common carrier accident, delayed and lost baggage, and rental car collision and damage insurance.
They’ll also be able to get at least 10% off when renting cars at Avis or Budget (or 5.00% off while abroad), and an airport lounge VIP Priority Pass, which grants inexpensive access to the world’s best lounges. This lucrative card sits in the mid to upper-tier of travel rewards cards, with a $120 annual fee and $60,000 annual income requirement ($100,000 for a household).
For frequent fliers, there’s nothing better than a card that gives accelerated air travel rewards. These cards reward members with travel miles, free baggage, VIP lounge access, and more for their purchases. Partnered with the excellent AIR MILES program, one of the best for Canadians who travel often and love flight rewards, the BMO AIR MILES World Elite card is a clear winner in this category. It’s hard to beat the welcome offer of 3,000 bonus miles and a waived $120 fee in the first year, and the card offers a wealth of benefits beyond that.
Why It’s a Winner: We love the BMO World Elite line of cards for their premium rewards and the flexibility they bestow on cardholders. Adding 3,000 AIR MILES on top (1,000 miles after your first purchase, extra 2,000 after spending $3,000) makes the offer even better—it’s the equivalent of two short-haul flights. The miles are deposited in new accounts within 45 days (60 days for the extra 2,000 miles), making them easy to turn around and redeem on upcoming vacations or business trips. Meanwhile, cardholders will earn miles at a convenient rate of 1 per $10 spent. There are no limits on how many can be accrued, or which purchases qualify. Additionally, cardholders receive a 15% discount on all Air Miles flights in North America (no blackout periods).
The card features a comprehensive array of insurance benefits, including protection against trip cancellation, collision and damage to rental cars, out-of-province and country emergency medical assistance and purchase protections as well. While these practical characteristics are a must-have, the card’s “cherry on top” has a more luxurious theme.
Each cardholder will receive two free passes to the VIP airport lounge every year, usable at any of the hundreds of deluxe lounges that span the globe’s most popular terminals. Additionally, those who want lounge access more frequently will appreciate their new priority status, granting them unlimited entry with a small fee.All of this exceptional value is offered for no annual fee in the first year. Though applicants will be required to show a minimum of $80K in annual income, the card’s vast benefits justify its exclusive status.
Best “Book Anything, Anytime, Anywhere” Travel Credit Card In Canada
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 BMO World Elite Mastercard offers cardholders unparalleled scope in how they can take advantage of the rewards they have earned. Additionally, for a limited time, BMO provides new applicants with an annual fee waiver of $150 for their 1st year of cardmembership. These instant savings will help members to reduce their expenses even more in their first year, and make this World Elite card a contender for best travel card in Canada.
For spending at least $3,000 in their first three months, cardholders will earn an introductory bonus of 35,000 rewards points. They can use these points immediately on a range of rewards like hotels, rental cars, flights and other travel expenses. Saving points for the future is also a good idea, as they do not expire and can be spent at members’ leisure via the BMO online travel center. One can find a seat on any airline and to any destination, with no blackout dates or other limitations, and even redeem points for taxes and fees – a unique benefit that many travel cards do not have.
Finally, if one does not have enough points to purchase the reward they want most, they can use whatever they have and simply pay the difference with their World Elite card – with no penalties.
Cardholders earn accelerated rewards at a rate of 3 points per $1 on travel, dining and entertainment purchases. In their everyday life, they’ll also collect 2 points per $1 on all other expenses. Additional benefits, like a priority pass to airport lounges worldwide and four extra guest passes for one’s companions, bring added value to the card. This alone is worth hundreds and allows the cardholder and their friends or family the opportunity to travel in luxury.
They will travel safely as well, given the impressive range of insurance features that come with the BMO World Elite Mastercard. Included are insurance for out-of-province travel medical, trip cancellation and interruption, trip delay, flight delay, car rental collision and loss, baggage, purchase security and extended warranties on new items. Overall, even considering that one will continue to pay their annual fee the second year, the benefits brought by the BMO World Elite card are more than worthwhile.
Runner Up: MBNA Rewards World Elite®
Best No Annual Fee/No Foreign Transaction Fee Travel Credit Card in Canada
For avoiding those pesky foreign transaction fees that quietly accumulate in the background while you travel, the Home Trust Preferred credit card is a winner. These fees make any business trip or vacation that much more expensive, by charging a minimum of 2.50% on every purchase made in a foreign currency. Be careful, because this can also apply to online shopping for websites that don’t offer checkout in CAD.
Home Trust offers cardholders complete exemption from foreign transaction fees, plus the ability to earn 1.00% cash back on all their purchases. This means that essentially cardholders will earn money for spending overseas and at home as well. There are no limits on how much cash back can be earned, but Home Trust adds some extra benefits to round out an already beneficial offer. Cardholders will appreciate the inclusion of roadside assistance: you can obtain towing services up to 5 kilometres, gas delivery up to 5 litres, free tire change, battery boost, and locksmith service.
For a $0 annual fee, there are few reasons for frequent travellers and international online shoppers not to add the Home Trust Preferred Visa to their wallet.
Best Premium No Foreign Transaction Fee Travel Credit Card Winner
Cards that reduce or eliminate foreign transaction fees are beloved by Canadian travellers, but their benefits aside from this feature might be limited. If given the option, plenty of travellers are comfortable paying more for a credit card that negates foreign transaction fees *and* adds extra perks on top. For these Canadians, there are few cards better than Scotiabank’s Passport Visa Infinite.
Why It’s a Winner: When comparing the Passport Visa Infinite to the other two cards that we commonly recommend for reducing foreign transaction fees—the Home Trust Preferred Visa and the Rogers Platinum Mastercard—it’s easy to see why it deserves its own category. It offers a way to completely negate all relevant fees, and yet also earns rewards and other perks that exceed the offerings from the other two cards.
To begin, new cardholders will earn 25,000 Scotia Rewards points for spending just $1,000 during their first 3 months as members. That’s already enough to significantly reduce the cost of your next flight, or outright pay for a pair of Ray Ban Aviator sunglasses or other great merchandise. This provides a nice head start to the 2 points per $1 that cardholders otherwise earn on grocery, dining, and entertainment expenses. Scotia also enables cardholders to obtain 1 point per $1 spent on all their other purchases. The card’s main travel perk is its protection against foreign transaction fees, but for a $139 annual fee it should go much further still—and does.
Another excellent benefit is Priority Pass status that cardholders have at airport lounges around the world, but also the 6 passes given to them each year granting free entry. This is already a significant value (our estimation puts it at about $260 worth), but it’s made even better with the inclusion of travel insurance. The Passport Visa Infinite card is accompanied by travel medical, trip interruption and cancellation insurance, and even coverage for a rental car. Purchase protection and extended warranties represent the cherry on top, further lengthening this card’s lead over its peers. Overall, there are few options that can compete with all the value-added benefits available from the Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite card.
Best Foreign Currency Cash Back Credit Cards
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, or provides extra rewards to subsidize the 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 a select few credit cards in Canada that subsidize foreign transaction fees. It won the category because it offers 3% cash back rewards on ALL foreign purchases, comes with no annual fee, a 1.25% cash back rewards rate on all Canadian spend & you can redeem against your card statement – or another Rogers/FIDO bill. Although Rogers subsidizes foreign transactions a little differently, it remains the best way to make purchases in a foreign currency. Most credit cards offer 2% or less rewards per dollar spent and charge 2.5% in foreign transaction fees, for a net loss of .5%. Others (like the Home Trust Preferred card) offer 1% cashback and no foreign transaction fees, for a net gain of 1%, but limit the number of daily transactions on the card. Rogers offers 3% cashback rewards on foreign purchases, with a 2.5% foreign transaction fee, for a net cashback rewards gain of 0.5% – with no transaction limits. You’re making money on each purchase you make in a foreign currency!
You can redeem your cashback rewards as a statement credit once per year. Alternatively, you can redeem your cash back rewards for Rogers, FIDO, or Chatr services or products.
Rogers offers a $25 welcome bonus in cash back rewards when you make your first purchase within 90 days of receiving your card, and no annual fee. Be warned though that this card does not have a very strong travel insurance package. It’s best to use for purchases abroad or for foreign internet purchases, but not to book your flight, if you want trip cancellation coverage.
The Rogers Platinum Mastercard outshines the Home Trust Preferred Visa card—one of the few other Canadian credit cards to either subsidize or waive foreign trans. fees—because, although it offers ‘only’ 0.5% extra cash back rewards after factoring in the foreign transaction fees (compared to the 1% cash back you get with Home Trust), it earns more cash back on domestic purchases, at 1.25% (versus 1.00% for the Home Trust). Plus it doesn’t limit cardholders to a certain number of transactions per day. The Home Trust card, though an amazing asset for Canadian travellers, has a 10-transaction daily limit.
Apply: Rogers™ Platinum Mastercard®
Instead of being exempt from foreign transaction fees altogether, other credit cards entertain a different strategy. The Rogers World Elite Mastercard is one of these, employing a unique model to defray foreign fees of 2.50% or more while accumulating cash back on top. Cardholders will earn an impressive 4.00% cash back on all their purchases made in a foreign currency, meaning that after they incur fees, they’re left with 1.50% cash back. In addition, they can enjoy 1.75% cash back on all other purchases, and 2.00% on Rogers or Fido services.
The card resembles Rogers’ other card in this category—the Platinum Mastercard—but has greater cash back rates and better perks. For these privileges, applicants will need to demonstrate an annual income of $80,000 or $150,000 per year individually or as a household, respectively. There is no annual fee on either card. If one cannot make the annual income requirement, then the Platinum card offers 3.00% cash back on foreign purchases and 1.25% domestically.
Another way that the World Elite Mastercard comes out ahead of the Platinum Mastercard concerns travel benefits. The former card includes purchase protection and extended warranties, emergency travel medical insurance, and coverage for rental car collisions and damage, trip cancellation and trip interruption as well.
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: The SPG card accrues 1 point for each dollar spent anywhere on anything. This provides a solid, constant source of rewards for daily spending activities. On top of this, the card will also earn 2 points for each dollar spent at any of Starwood’s hotels. This double-sided bonus structure results in one of Canada’s highest accrual rates and most luxurious rewards. Cardholders have the right to redeem their points on any room at any Starwood (or Marriott) brand hotel without blackout dates. They can also choose to convert their points for use with the airline rewards programs partnered with Starwood, and even receive a 5,000-point bonus for converting 20,000 or more to Aeroplan miles, for example. This makes the card one of the more flexible options for travelers.
To sweeten the deal, Starwood offers $250 in statement credits to new cardholders who spend just $1,500 in the first three months and $200 on Starwood and Mariott purchases in the first 6 months of card membership. We recommend that cardholders who have a big purchase on the horizon apply for the SPG card and earn enough points to cover their next vacation’s lodging expenses. Other incentives include a free night’s stay in any Starwood hotel for those who spend more than $40,000 on the card annually (even a 5-star hotel) and an upgrade to Gold Status once cardholders hit $30,000 in spending.Feel free to check out our full review for a more in-depth analysis of Amex’s SPG card.
Runner Up: Best Western Rewards Mastercard
Best Insurance Travel Credit Card in Canada
The Infinite Avion card’s insurance suite includes 15 days of unlimited consecutive emergency medical, $5,000 of trip cancellation, and $25,000 of trip interruption coverage. It also gives cardholders the ability to get $250 back per person for flight delays, $500 per person for lost luggage, and $65,000 worth of coverage for their car rental (48 days maximum). Finally, hotel and motel burglary and travel accidents are also covered up to $2,500 and $500,000, respectively.
That said, the card offers much more than its insurance. Cardholders can earn a 15,000-point welcome bonus, which is immediately enough to pay for a round-trip short haul flight to another province or even the United States. Cardholders will earn 1 RBC Point for each dollar they spend, which helps savings build quickly, in addition to an extra 10,000 points on a $1,000 spend or higher. 25.00% extra RBC Points are earned when spending on travel-related purchases. When redeeming Points, there are no blackout dates or seating restrictions, and cardholders can book through the RBC-branded Orbitz site, which offers a wide selection of flights.
Finally, it’s possible to further boost the rate at which you earn RBC Points by linking your card with Petro Canada’s rewards program. This helps save money at the pump (3 cents per litre) and earns RBC Rewards points by an additional 20%.
Travel rewards credit cards are useful for making one’s next trip cheaper, and typically allow cardholders to redeem their rewards points exclusively on travel expenses, like airfare or hotels. Those who want a travel card with the added option of redeeming for a statement credit (cash back) should consider the MBNA Rewards World Elite Mastercard.
Why It’s a Winner: Rewards points accrue quickly and can be redeemed for cash, travel, and other perks with the Rewards World Elite card. Though the annual income requirement is relatively high at $80,000, the card accrues points at a fast rate on eligible purchases at 2 per $1 spent, and new members will earn 10,000 points for a single initial purchase. Each point is worth about $0.01, so the bonus is the equivalent of $100 in rewards. Aside from cash back and travel, points can also be redeemed for merchandise to charitable donations.
Cardholders that spend $2,000 per month on the card will earn around 48,000 points in their first year. That’s the equivalent of about $480 in either cash back or travel, with no blackout dates or seat restrictions. It makes the $89 annual fee negligible, in comparison, particularly when considering the 10,000-point intro bonus.
The MBNA Rewards World Elite card is the Swiss Army knife of credit cards for those prospective cardholders who want to exercise multiple rewards options when redeeming their hard-earned points. When MBNA says ‘travel’, they mean that you can book your own travel arrangements and credit points to your statement later, or through their own travel centre. During the trip, the card covers rental vehicle collisions and other basic events like lost documents and luggage.
Choose a Card Companion for Your Trip
There are many types of travel rewards credit cards available in Canada, because different Canadians like to travel in different ways. There are cards that earn miles quickly, cards that make a trip as luxurious as possible, and cards that offer impressive insurance protection. Finding the right one depends on many considerations, but the most important is how your spending habits align with the card’s rewards plan.
If you’re still undecided, check out our travel rewards calculator, which will help you determine your ideal travel card based on many of the criteria mentioned above. Just enter your estimated monthly expenses and some other basic details to get a look at what you stand to earn.
Learn more on the most popular loyalty programs credit cards by comparing aeroplan vs airmiles vs avion cards.