The best travel credit cards in Canada are some of the most attractive credit cards you can get your hands on.
With lucrative rewards to jet-set worry-free across the globe, comprehensive travel insurance and premium rare perks ‒ it almost sounds too good to be true.
Sure, you could just go with any old card or with the first card that comes along…
But if you want to save money and use travel rewards to get you (and that special someone) on your next vacation faster? Then you’ll need to know the true value of these travel rewards in dollars.
The catch? Sifting through more than 100 travel credit cards in Canada ‒ each with 50+ features, complicated tiered rewards programs and lots of fine print ‒ is confusing at best, and impossibly tedious at worst.
Unless, you only need to look at one single number ‒ one simple score to know which card will give you the best overall value.
2018 Travel Credit Card Rankings
104 travel rewards credit cards were carefully considered for these rankings ‒ the top 10 are listed in the table below from best to worst.
The table scrolls horizontally by using the slider at the bottom.
|Apply||American Express Cobalt Card|
|Apply||American Express Gold Rewards Card|
|Apply||TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Card|
|Apply||CIBC Aerogold Visa Infinite Privilege Card|
|Apply||TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Privilege Card|
|Apply||Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express|
|Apply||CIBC Aerogold Visa Infinite Card|
|Apply||RBC Avion Visa Infinite Privilege|
|Apply||The Platinum Card|
|Apply||CIBC Aventura Visa Infinite|
|Overall Score||Rewards On $25,000 Spend1,2||Rewards On $100K Spend1,3||Sign Up Bonus Value4||Annual Fee||First Year Free?||Insurance Score||Perks Score|
* Limited time promotion ending soon.
1. The reward 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?
A quick glance at the Overall Score should tell you the best travel credit card in Canada. But if you’re looking for something particular or cards that excel in one specific area, you’ll have to dig a little deeper...
Flexible Travel Rewards
If you want maximum flexibility and great reward value combined, the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express is at the top of the pile. Starwood is an amazing hotel rewards program that allows you to transfer your points to 36 different airline rewards programs – usually 1:1.
Better still, when you transfer Starpoints to miles in 20,000 point bundles, they will give you a bonus of 5,000 miles in your chosen airline rewards program. That means you get the equivalent of 1.25 miles per dollar spent instead of the usual 1 mile per dollar spent.
Plus for a limited-time, until April 18th, 2018, Amex is offering any Chase Marriott Rewards Visa cardholders a special deal. Any Chase Marriott cardholders who are approved for the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express and charge $1,500 in the first three months will be given 25,000 bonus Starpoints – that’s 5,000 more than normal and equivalent to 75,000 Marriott Rewards. (Be sure to use this special link if you’re a Chase Marriott Rewards Visa cardholder and want to take advantage of that great offer.)
If you want points that can be used for ANY travel without needing to use an airline or hotel rewards program, then the BMO World Elite Mastercard (rank 32) is your best choice. Plus, it has one of the best insurance packages out there. It doesn’t have the best return on spending (which is why it isn’t higher on our list) – but if you want super simple and flexible, this is the card for you.
Get Rewarded Fast
Credit card issuers and marketers would like you to believe that all points are created equal. But the truth of the matter is, "double miles" doesn't mean much if the miles are only worth half as much. True, most points are worth about 1 cent, but it ranges anywhere from 0.5 cents to 2.5 cents and up.
That's one thing that makes these rankings special, they take into account the true value of each type of reward point or mile. Generally airline miles are considerably more valuable than generic reward points, and that is one of the main reasons many Aeroplan credit cards rank highly. (If you’re curious why I value an Aeroplan mile at 2.5 cents, read more about that here.)
If you want maximum rewards, then the American Express Cobalt Card gives you the highest reward return on your spending. You earn points, not miles, that can be redeemed for a number of different things, including ANY type of purchase or travel you want. However, if you want to get 3.76% return (on the average $25k annual spend), you need to redeem your rewards for a long haul flight inside Canada or the USA using the Fixed Points Travel Program, as follows:
- Short haul flights between Canada and the US = 15,000 ‒ 20,000 points (max. $300)
- Long haul flights between Canada and the US = 40,000 points (max. $700)
- Flights to Alaska, Bermuda, Caribbean, Central America, Hawaii or Mexico = 50,000 (max. $800)
- Flights to Europe = 60,000 (max. $900)
- Flights to Africa, Asia, Australia, Middle East, New Zealand, South America or the South Pacific = 100,000 (max. $1,700)
If you're a big spender, then the American Express AeroplanPlus Platinum Card also gives great value with a lot more travel perks. With a $100,000 annual spend you're looking at about $3,095 worth of rewards after the $500 annual fee is deducted – a 3% return on spending.
If lower American Express acceptance doesn’t work for you, go with the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite. It gives you a nice balance of rewards earned, perks and insurance, plus a lower annual fee.
If you're a budding travel hacker and are targeting credit cards with high sign up bonuses, then The Platinum Card and the CIBC Aerogold Visa Infinite Privilege give you a sign up bonus worth a whopping $1,250 in flights. The annual fees are costly at $699 and $399 respectively, but you get a whole range of perks that you won't get with other cards. Some of which include:
- For the Platinum Card: Huge sign up bonus, unlimited lounge access, super extensive travel insurance that even includes house calls when you’re traveling, complimentary hotel upgrades and benefits and even a $200 annual travel credit.
- For the CIBC Aerogold Visa Infinite Privilege: 1 free checked bag, free airport lounge access, priority check in and boarding, plus insurance that covers you for flights booked with your points (not just flights paid for with your card).
The American Express Gold Rewards Card and the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express are also great for getting big sign up bonuses, although in both cases you’ll need to first transfer your credit card points to some type of airline mile (Aeroplan, for example). But even with the extra step, both cards will give you $625 worth of flight rewards just for signing up.
More Rewards On Some Purchases
If your gas, groceries, drugstores, travel, restaurants, or entertainment purchases make up the majority of your spending – then there are several cards that give you extra rewards on those things.
The American Express Cobalt Card gives you the highest return on food of any credit card in Canada right now. So, whether you’re making home-cooked meals every night, or you’re a take-out kind of person – you’ll be earn 5 points at grocery stores, restaurants and bars. Not to mention the 2 points you can earn on any travel purchases you make – gas and transit included.
If you're looking for a bonus on restaurant and entertainment spending, then the Scotiabank Gold American Express Card (rank 19) can't be beat. You won't get miles, but you will get travel points that are worth 1 cent each giving you a 1% return on spending. The good news is you get 4x points on dining and entertainment purchases as well as gas and groceries – that's a 4% return on spending before accounting for the $99 annual fee.
When it comes to travel credit cards, you really do get what you pay for. Premium travel credit cards and annual fees go hand in hand, because fees are needed to help pay for all those increased perks and travel insurance coverage. However, there are still a few travel credit cards without annual fees to choose from.
For example, the MBNA Rewards Mastercard (rank 46) would be our number one choice for no fee travel. This card has lesser rewards, insurance, and perks than its bigger, higher fee, World Elite brothers, but it offers a great starting point if you are looking to get your feet wet in the travel rewards game.
Lower Minimum Income Needed
Every card from American Express has surprisingly no minimum income requirements – even their premier card, The Platinum Card. Your income will never hold you back with Amex.
But if Amex isn’t for your, then you have to drop out of the top 10 to find something. The #13 ranked card is CIBC Aventura Gold Visa which gives you a nice sign up bonus, a pretty solid insurance package, fun perks (like concierge service), and only requires a household income of $15K.
Another option is the MBNA Alaska Airlines Platinum Mastercard (rank 16), which rewards you with valuable Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles. If you live out west where Alaska flies or have access to a major airport, then chances are you can find a partner airline to fly on that accepts Mileage Plan miles. You’re bound to find a flight with 17 airline partners to choose from.
The Best Credit Card Travel Insurance
The Desjardins Odyssey Visa Infinite Privilege (rank 19) has the best insurance coverage of any card on the market right now – but you need $250,000 in family income to qualify and carries a $395 annual fee. Fortunately, one step down is the Desjardins Odyssey World Elite Mastercard with nearly the same coverage but you only need $80,000 in personal income to qualify and the annual fee is a more reasonable $130.
For starters, it offers a full 60 days of travel medical coverage when most cards only have 15 days of coverage. It even offers slightly reduced coverage all the way up to age 75 (most simply stop at age 65). Desjardins is also the only card issuer to offer unlimited trip interruption insurance. Their next highest competitor offers a tiny $5,000 by comparison. $1,000 in mobile device protection to cover you if anything bad accidentally happens to your phone or tablet is another unique feature. Despite only offering 10 out of 16 different types of insurance, it is tops in 8 of those categories, which is why this card comes out ahead.
The BMO AIR MILES World Elite Mastercard (rank 23) comes with 14 out of 16 types of insurance, which is amazing considering its reasonable $120 annual fee. This insurance package even includes personal effects coverage, which no other issuer offers. The personal effects insurance covers your personal belongings for the entire duration of your trip, not just when traveling on common carriers. This BMO card also comes with 15 days emergency medical coverage, trip cancellation, trip interruption, and much much more. Not to mention this card is the top AIR MILES credit card in Canada.
Excellent Travel Perks
The Platinum Card from American Express has one of the best perks packages of any credit card in Canada. It has unlimited international airport lounge visits to Priority Pass lounges for you and a guest – better than any other card. Normally you’re either stuck without lounge access or you get limited or discounted access. This card also comes with 11 types of insurance, upgraded status at 4 different hotel chains, perks at Canadian airports like access to a fast track security lane, and much more.
If you frequently fly with Air Canada and Air Canada specific perks would be valuable to you, both the CIBC Aerogold Visa Infinite Privilege and TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Privilege cards give you rare perks like priority check in and boarding on Air Canada flights as well as annual discounted companion flights, security priority, and 4 annual passes to any Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge.
The 5 Best Travel Credit Cards In Detail
1) American Express Cobalt Card
The American Express Cobalt Card is the most recent card launched by Amex and has the #1 Overall Score on our list. Despite being marketed mainly towards millennials, this card is great for ANYONE who loves to eat and loves to travel. 5x the rewards on groceries, restaurants and bars, and 2x the rewards on travel, gas and transit.
It’s not your typical premium travel credit card…
Monthly fees and sign-up bonus
This card doesn’t charge you an annual fee, it charges you a monthly one. So, although it technically has a $120 annual fee, it’s paid $10 per month.
In a similar manner, the sign up bonus is also paid out month by month. Each month that you charge $500 to your card in the first year, you will earn 2,500 reward points – on top of your normal earned rewards – which adds up to 30,000 total welcome bonus points.
The points you earn with this card can be used for virtually anything. 1,000 points for $10 of ANY type of travel (even your transit pass) or 1,000 points for $7 when you log into your Cobalt mobile app and use your points to pay for ANY purchase you just made. However, as mentioned above, the best way to redeem your Cobalt rewards is through the Fixed Points Travel Program. With this option, if you go for a long haul flight from Canada to the US ‒ then 1,000 points will be worth $17.50.
And if you’ve read this far, you’ll realize that means when you buy yourself food and drinks, you’ll be getting an 8.75% return – happy hour, anyone!?
Why You Want It:
- With 8.75% return, this card has the highest earn rate on both groceries and restaurants of any card in Canada.
- You get 5 points for every $1 you spend on groceries and at bars and restaurants.
- You get 2 points for every $1 you spend on gas, travel and transit.
- And you get 1 point for every $1 spent on all other purchases.
- Affordable $10 monthly fee.
- Nice Amex extras like Front of the Line, American Express Invites, and the all new Cobalt Perks program.
2) American Express Gold Rewards Card
Much like The Cobalt card, the Amex Gold packs a lot of value for a reasonable annual fee. There is a reason why this card was on top for so long. No other card on the market allows you to earn double points on 4 bonus categories while letting you transfer those points to much more valuable airline miles.
If you spend $2,083 per month on the card, you'll reap roughly $709 worth of savings on Air Canada or other airline partner flights annually – even after deducting the $150 annual fee. While you can redeem your points for ANY travel purchase you charge to the card, I highly recommend transferring to miles because you get about 2.5x more reward value that way.
This card has a great selection of both insurance (has 10 out of 16 types of insurance coverage we track) and perks ‒ plus, the fact that this card looks like a sparkling gold bar in your hand doesn't hurt either...
Why You Want It:
- You get 2 points on all gas, grocery, drugstore, and travel purchases.
- Get started with 25,000 bonus points worth about $625 when transferred to Aeroplan.
- Flexibility with points transfer 1:1 Air Canada Aeroplan or British Airways Avios miles.
- Up to 2.5x the reward value when transferring to Aeroplan and redeeming for flights.
- Better-than-most insurance coverage which includes 15 days of emergency medical, up to $500K travel accident, rental car theft & damage – plus 7 other types.
- Add an extra cardholder for free, often $50+ with other premium cards.
- Nice Amex extras like Front of the Line and exclusive perks at 330 hotel partners.
- No minimum income requirement.
3) TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite
If the two Aeroplan Privilege cards above are a little too rich to stomach, the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite could be a good alternative. Its insurance coverage isn’t as extensive, its perks may not be as “premium”, and it will only give you 1 Aeroplan mile per $1 spent, not 1.25 – but its annual fee is only $120 as opposed to $399. So, if your spending isn’t quite baller status, and you’re okay with a little less insurance, perks and rewards – then this could be the better choice for you.
While this card does have some great Air Canada specific perks, those perks only apply to reward flights and not regular Air Canada flights purchased on the card. However, if you only ever fly with a rewards ticket, then I guess that isn't an issue – but most people do purchase flights as well.
Why You Want It:
- Many features of the Infinite Privilege cards without the high income requirement and annual fee.
- 1.5 miles per dollar spent on gas, grocery, drugstore, and Air Canada purchases.
- Exclusive Air Canada perks without needing frequent flyer status including:
- 1 annual Maple Leaf Lounge pass.
- First checked bag free on reward flights.
- Priority check-in on reward flights.
- Priority boarding on reward flights.
- Good insurance package including travel medical and trip cancellation (rare).
- Travel insurance applies to Aeroplan reward flights as well as paid flights (rare).
- A nice sign up bonus of 15,000 miles (as high as 30,000 during limited-time promotions).
- 24/7 personal concierge service
4&5) Aeroplan Visa Infinite Privilege Cards
Honestly, the CIBC Aerogold Visa Infinite Privilege Card and TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Privelege Card are so similar that it's hardly possible to tell them apart. There are slight differences in their insurance packages, but those mostly even out. The only other real difference is that the TD card can be made into a secure credit card while the CIBC explicitly states you can go over your credit limit with no over limit fee.
So, what makes them alike?
First, their earn rates. Both cards offer an elevated earning rate of 1.25 Aeroplan miles per dollar spent on normal purchases, which increases to 1.5 miles per dollar spent on gas, grocery, drugstore, and Air Canada purchases.
Next, they offer a long list of exclusive Air Canada perks like priority check-in, priority boarding, 4 annual Maple Leaf Lounge passes, your first checked bag is always free, and a 50% discounted business class companion fare.
They have other great features too like priority security lane access, concierge, hotel perks, golf course perks, and more.
Because their fees and minimum incomes are so high, I did penalized their scores heavily, so, the fact that they still came out near the top says a lot about their great benefits. And if you are able to get past the $200,000 income requirement and the high $399 annual fee, you will see they offer a lot of valuable features.
Why You Want Them:
- High base rewards earn rate of 1.25 miles per dollar spent.
- 1.5 miles per dollar spent on gas, grocery, drugstore, and Air Canada purchases.
- Exclusive Air Canada perks without needing frequent flyer status including:
- 50% discounted business class companion fare annually.
- 4 annual Maple Leaf Lounge passes.
- First checked bag free.
- Priority check-in.
- Priority boarding.
- Additional lounge access through basic Priority Pass membership with 6 complimentary lounge visits annually.
- Top notch insurance package including extended travel medical, trip cancellation (rare), and higher maximums than most cards.
- Travel insurance coverage applies on Aeroplan reward flights as well as paid flights (rare).
- Sign up bonus of 25,000 miles (which can go as high as 55,000 during limited-time promotions).
- Visa Infinite Privileges perks and personal concierge service to make you feel like a rock star!
More Change On The Travel Credit Card Horizon
The launch of The Cobalt Card from American Express sent serious shockwaves through the Canadian travel credit card landscape completely obliterating the competition.
With Aeroplan’s big 2020 changes looming on the horizon, I’m sure there are plenty more shockwaves coming soon. The competition for top travel credit card is going to really heat up as Air Canada launches its new rewards program and Aeroplan fights to remain relevant.
You can practically bank on there being plenty of big sign up bonuses and flashy launch offers to go around but it remains to be seen if anyone can truly knock off American Express as the top dog in travel rewards. At this point, it almost seems like their main competition is themselves.
But, we all know that there are still some popular stores that don’t take Amex, so that tends to leave room in everyone’s wallet for a good Mastercard or Visa.
Which one will you choose?
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.