Finding no fee travel credit cards is kind of like looking for Bigfoot - sightings are pretty rare indeed...
Reason being that annual fees are needed to allow for the increased rewards, insurance coverage, and perks that these cards typically offer.
While you are unlikely to find Bigfoot no matter how hard you look, fortunately there is still some Canadian no fee travel plastic in the wild. If points and miles are completely new to you, then this is a great starting point for you to figure out how everything works without any risk.
Once you've got it all figured out, you'll probably want to graduate to a top tier travel credit card that will rack up rewards faster and give you many additional perks.
2016 No Fee Travel Rewards Credit Card Rankings
No fee travel cards are a rare breed, I was only able to find 15 to compare. The top 10 are listed in the table below from best to worst. Please note that the table scrolls horizontally by using the slider at the bottom.
|Apply||MBNA Rewards MasterCard|
|Apply||American Express Blue Sky Credit Card|
|Apply||Capital One Aspire Travel Platinum MasterCard|
|Apply||National Bank CAA Rewards MasterCard|
|Apply||Alterna MBNA Rewards MasterCard|
|Apply||MBNA Best Western MasterCard|
|Apply||BMO IGA AIR MILES MasterCard|
|Apply||CUETS No Fee Choice Rewards MasterCard|
|Apply||BMO Sobeys AIR MILES MasterCard|
|Apply||American Express AIR MILES Credit Card|
|Overall Score||Rewards On $25,000 Spend1,2||Rewards On $100K Spend1,3||Sign Up Bonus Value4||Insurance Score||Perks Score|
* Limited time promotion ending soon.
1. The rewards dollar values shown are calculated by splitting spending sensibly across spending categories like groceries, gas, drugstore, travel, bills, and everyday spending. Multiple price checks of typical travel rewards were done to calculate the true value of each type of reward points. If converting points to miles increases the reward value, that was also assumed to be done. All spending bonuses, tiers, limits, and caps are taken into account. Sign up bonuses are NOT included in these numbers, so that will be an extra perk for you. Finally, the annual fee is deducted from the rewards values shown giving you the true value of the rewards left in your pocket for the year.
2. $25,000 in annual spending works out to $2,083 in monthly spending which is achievable for a typical Canadian family funneling most of their spending through their credit card.
3. $100,000 in annual spending works out to $8,333 in monthly spending which is too high for most families. I have included these numbers to better evaluate cards and give an advantage to cards who don't have spending caps or limits. It also allows cards that have a good tier system to shine at higher spending levels.
4. The sign up bonus is a lump sum of points or miles you get when first opening a new credit card. It is often given when you make your first purchase, spend a reasonable amount of money on the card within the first X months, keep the card open for X months, or some combination of those. The criteria to qualify for the sign up bonus are usually very reasonable.
What Matters To You?
Do you care more about rewards than you do insurance and perks - or vice versa? If, so the #1 ranked card might not be what you're looking for because my rankings cover a large variety of features to decide the best overall no fee travel cards. Next, I break down the cards by feature to help you find the best one for you.
Earn Rewards As Fast As Possible
If you want rewards as fast as possible, then check out my best travel credit card rankings. If you want the most rewards without paying an annual fee, then read on.
I've done the work in the rankings table to convert points and miles into real dollar values for easy comparison. You can see that the card that gives you the most rewards on your spending is the American Express Blue Sky Credit Card with $313 worth of flexible travel rewards per $25,000 spent. That's a straight return of 1.25% back in rewards on your spending.
Big Sign Up Bonuses
When you aren't paying an annual fee, sign up bonuses are generally much lower. The MBNA Best Western MasterCard gives a decent $200 sign up bonus though that you can use for free nights at Best Western hotels worldwide.
The next highest bonus is again the American Express Blue Sky Credit Card at $100 in free travel of any type. Simply charge any travel purchase to the card, and pay for it with your points instantly using their online banking website or by giving them a call.
Where You Spend Your Money
No fee travel cards don't give much in the way of spending bonuses when you shop at certain types of stores. That said the BMO IGA AIR MILES MasterCard gives you 1.25x the Miles at Shell gas stations and double Miles at IGA stores (mostly found in Quebec and the Atlantic provinces).
The BMO Sobeys AIR MILES MasterCard also gives you double Miles at Sobeys grocery stores. Sobeys stores are more widely spread across the country so it would be a better choice for many than the IGA card.
The top pick for flexibility is definitely the MBNA Rewards MasterCard. Not only can you charge whatever travel you want and get it reimbursed to the card, you can also get your rewards credited as cash either by statement credit, direct deposit, or cheque. Further you can cash out as often as you want as long as you meet the $50 rewards balance minimum threshold.
Lower Minimum Income Needed
Every card listed in the top 10 has low minimum income requirements. As long as your credit history is decent, you should qualify.
Great Perks And Insurance
The MBNA Rewards MasterCard has the best combination of both perks and insurance coverage. You get extended warranty, purchase protection, travel accident, trip interruption, rental car theft and damage, rental car accident, and rental car personal effects insurance coverage. For perks you get a nice 1,000 point bonus every year you keep the card, 100% flexible points redemption options, and cash back at the same rate as travel rewards.
The Capital One Aspire Travel Platinum MasterCard is another strong contender, especially in insurance. You get double the usual extended warranty (2 years), longer purchase protection (120 days), price protection (rare), $300 worth of lost, stolen, or delayed baggage, rental car theft and damage, and $250,000 of travel accident.
Budget Travel For Less
With these no fee cards you aren't going to be flying around the world in record time... the good news is that most of them are flexible in what kind of travel you can purchase with your points. No fee cards are a great option for building up a rewards balance over a few years and then getting a nice discount on a vacation that is a little closer to home.
If you are just getting your feet wet with travel rewards credit cards, have a lower income, or have lower credit card spending - these credit cards are just the ticket you need.
Finally, always remember that letting credit cards with rewards entice you into much higher spending and debt is NEVER worth it. Please only apply for these cards if you plan to pay them off in full every month.