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Last updated: May 1, 2021

Canada’s 7 Best American Express Credit Cards for May 2021

American Express is known for its premium reputation and for issuing many of the most powerful credit cards in Canada.

Here are our recommendations for the best American Express credit cards in Canada.

Best American Express Credit Cards

Best Overall American Express Card

The Business Platinum Card is the best American Express card in Canada, offering extensive premium perks and the biggest welcome bonus on the market, at an impressive 75,000 MR points.

The card earns Membership Rewards points. They are extremely valuable because they can be transferred to frequent flyer programs such as Aeroplan and British Airways Avios at a 1:1 ratio – a rare feature among Canadian credit cards.

You’ll also earn 1.25 points per dollar spent on all purchases, the highest rate available in Canada for airline miles on everyday spending.

To keep the rewards rolling, you can earn even more points by referring family and friends to open the card. For every successful referral, you’ll earn 20,000 MR points, the biggest referral bonus available on any Amex card. If you have this card, you can refer others who want to open a Business Platinum Card, Business Gold Card, or Business Edge Card, so you’ve got lots of options depending on which card your referee would prefer.

The card offers almost all of the same premium benefits as the personal Platinum Card for the same net annual fee, so it really comes down to the points you’ll earn. Thanks to the bigger welcome bonus and more lucrative referral opportunities, it’s always good to have a Business Platinum Card in your rotation.

Best of all, you don’t need to be a business owner in the traditional sense to get this card. Amex will gladly approve you as a sole proprietor doing business in your own name.

Best Premium American Express Card

For premium travel benefits, the American Express Platinum Card can’t be beat.

The card comes with unparalleled lounge access. You’ll get a complimentary Priority Pass membership, with unlimited airport lounge visits for you and a guest. If you’re a frequent traveler, you’d likely burn through vouchers very quickly, so having free access to a space to relax before your flight is certainly a plus.

Although the card has a very high $699 annual fee, you can easily bring this down. You’ll get a $200 travel credit every year, no questions asked. Amex is always looking for ways to give back to its most valued cardholders, and the Platinum Card routinely receives the most generous offers throughout the year. If you’re lucky, those offers might even be enough to cover your entire annual fee!

Among other travel perks, you’ll get automatic mid-tier Gold Elite status with Marriott Bonvoy, Hilton Honors, and Radisson Radisson, priority airport services at Toronto Pearson International Airport, preferential car rentals with Hertz and Avis, and a solid suite of travel insurance.

As for rewards, you’ll earn 3 Membership Rewards points per dollar spent on dining and 2 points per dollar spent on travel.

The dining category absolutely dwarfs the competition, so if you enjoy wining and dining at high-end eateries, you won’t find a faster way to rack up frequent flyer miles on your everyday spending.

And of course, the card’s iconic metal build and platinum look have become widely regarded as a premium status symbol, thereby conveying your own elevated status as an American Express user.

Best No Fee American Express Card

The American Express SimplyCash Card is a great choice if you’re looking to keep costs down.

You’ll earn 1.25% cash back on all purchases. That’s a solid earning rate for miscellaneous expenses, assuming you shop at places that take Amex. And even for things like groceries, it’s still higher than what you might earn on some other cards with no annual fee.

This card is the best way to get the premium treatment that Amex is known for, without being subjected to the perceived high costs of such status. You’ll still be able to participate in Amex Offers, Front of the Line ticket presale opportunities, and exclusive events for Amex members.

Best Cash Back American Express Card

If you don’t mind paying a modest annual fee, the American Express SimplyCash Preferred Card is a fantastic all-around option for cash back rewards.

You’ll earn 2% cash back on all spending, against a $99 fee. That’s an awesome rate for uncategorized spending, which often tops out at 1% even on more premium cash back credit cards issued by other banks.

As a point of comparison against the no-fee SimplyCash Card, you’d come out ahead with the $99 SimplyCash Preferred as long as you spend more than $13,200 on the card per year.

As an added bonus, the card has a referral program. You’ll earn $100 for every successful referral. As long as you can get one friend to open the card each year, you’ll have your annual fee covered.

Best American Express Card for Business Owners

If your focus is on maximizing everyday rewards rather than having a credit card for premium perks, the American Express Business Gold Rewards Card might be a better fit than the Business Platinum Card. It has a lower annual fee at $250, and the potential to earn more rewards on spending.

This card earns up to 2 Membership Rewards points per dollar spent at designated merchants. You can choose up to three merchants for bonus rewards from a list of eligible partners. You can earn up to 250,000 bonus points per year this way, transferable to frequent flyer programs including Aeroplan and British Airways Avios at a ratio of 1:1.

Eligible partners cover a variety of sectors and include advertising, equipment, technology, and business-to-business services. If your business makes purchases from any of the suppliers on the list, this is a great way to tailor the card to your needs, so you can really maximize its value.

In particular, Plastiq is one of the eligible merchants. They allow you to pay virtually any expense with a credit card, and they issue a cheque on your behalf for a nominal fee.

Funnelling your business expenses through Plastiq and earning 2x points with the Amex Business Gold is an extremely flexible way to maximize your return across as many of your expenses as possible, many of which often aren’t eligible for earning extra points with any other credit card.

In addition, you might also consider the American Express Business Edge Card, which effectively earns 1.5 airline miles per dollar spent on dining, gas, and office supplies and electronics, for a lower $99 annual fee.

Best American Express Card for Air Canada Benefits

While the personal and business Platinum cards give ample travel perks, they’re well-suited for general use. If you’re particularly loyal to one airline, the American Express Aeroplan Reserve Card offers specific benefits that really shine when you travel frequently with Air Canada.

As a premium Aeroplan cardholder, you’ll get the lowest prices for Air Canada flight rewards via the preferred pricing benefit, free checked bags on Air Canada flights, priority airport services, and opportunities to spend your way to Aeroplan Elite Status, among other premium benefits.

The card is currently offering a welcome bonus worth up to 75,000 Aeroplan points, with a one-time $100 statement credit.

That puts the bonus and net first year annual fee in line with the American Express Business Platinum Card. The two cards are the same in terms of signup value. You can apply for one and try out its particular set of benefits before deciding if you want to keep it long-term, or switch to the other card.

Best American Express Card for Hotel Stays

The Marriott Bonvoy American Express Card is the foremost co-branded hotel credit card in Canada, and it has the biggest welcome bonus to back it up.

With a welcome bonus of 65,000 Bonvoy points when you apply via a refer-a-friend link, that’s enough for a night at any Category 7 hotel. The bonus is granted after spending $3,000 in the first three months; once you account for the points you earn on the minimum spending, you’ll even have enough points for a night at any top-tier Category 8 hotel.

Category 7 and 8 hotels tend to be high-end luxury properties or in central locations at desirable destinations. Since these rooms can retail for several hundred or even thousands of dollars a night, they represent excellent value in exchange for the credit card’s $120 annual fee.

If you prefer quantity over quality, and your travel style is more off-the-beaten-path, you could instead redeem your points towards over a dozen nights at the cheapest Category 1 properties.

For the equivalent of less than $10 a night, you’d be hard pressed to find a hostel at that price, even in the most underdeveloped tourist destinations.

Also, starting in your second year with the card, you’ll get an annual Free Night Award worth up to 35,000 Bonvoy points. That’s normally good for a Category 5 room, and you should have no trouble finding one worth more than $120. All things considered, the Amex Bonvoy Card is a great one to keep, as it really pays for itself year after year.

When you do make cash bookings at Marriott properties, be sure to use this card to earn 5 points per dollar spent. Otherwise, the card earns 2 points per dollar spent, a strong base rate for a card that effectively pays you to have it once you make use of the annual free night.

Meanwhile, the Marriott Bonvoy Business American Express Card has very similar benefits, but with a slightly higher annual fee at $150. If you have to choose just one for the annual Free Night Award, the personal card at $120 is a no-brainer.

American Express Credit Cards: What You Need to Know

When choosing an American Express credit card, you should familiarize yourself with what benefits an American Express credit card can offer, what features to look out for, and how American Express credit cards can fit into an optimized overall credit card strategy.

Why get an American Express card?

Over the years, American Express has deliberately cultivated a premium brand. But it’s more than just an image – their cardholders get many unique benefits and significantly more perks than you’ll see on other credit cards.

Because Amex is both a card issuer and a payment network, they have more control over the rewards they can offer. As a result, Amex cards have the highest everyday earning rates on popular spending categories like groceries and restaurants. For example, you’ll never see 5% back on a Visa or Mastercard once your welcome bonus is finished, like you get with the American Express Cobalt Card.

As if that weren’t enough, Amex is also known for offering some of the largest signup bonuses in the industry. Considering how valuable their points can be, it’s no surprise that these incentives are incredibly tantalizing.

For even more points or cash back, you’ll receive special Amex Offers throughout the year. Activate them online and your account will automatically be credited when you meet the conditions. The Shop Small promotion is a popular one, good for up to $50 cash back per card when you make purchases at local businesses that take Amex. Offers like these can easily give you ongoing value year after year.

There are also many lifestyle-oriented perks of being an Amex cardmember. With American Express Invites, cardholders can get advance access to presale tickets for hot events like concerts and live theatre, before they go on sale to the general public. With American Express Experiences, cardholders can be invited to exclusive events only for Amex members, such as advance screenings, travel deals, and private venue-within-a-venue bars and lounges at major shows or festivals.

American Express cards don’t have a minimum income requirement. Whereas premium Visa and Mastercard products require you to be more established in your career, Amex can open the door for anyone to earn big rewards and enjoy top-tier benefits.

Finally, Amex prides themselves on top-notch customer service. Their staff are among the best when it comes to being informed, attentive, and able to address any issues that may arise for their clients.

What should you look for in an American Express credit card?

American Express uses Membership Rewards (MR) for their in-house awards program. On cards that earn MR points, you can transfer your points to various airline or hotel partners for high-value redemptions.

Note that some cards earn Membership Rewards Select points, which can only be transferred to hotels, not airlines. However, Amex’s marketing doesn’t differentiate between the two types of points, so when you choose a card, make sure you’re getting the type of rewards that you’re expecting.

Amex also offers a range of co-branded cards, including Aeroplan, Air Miles, and Marriott Bonvoy. These cards earn points directly into the loyalty program, and the premium cards have program benefits including discounts, elite status, and annual vouchers.

Amex’s premium cards have some of the best travel benefits, including unlimited airport lounge access, high insurance payouts, annual cash rebates, and automatic hotel status.

They also have a few cash back cards. These don’t have category bonuses, but they’re great for other purchases. If you want to earn more cash back on category spending, consider using a card that earns Membership Rewards points at a high rate, and redeeming them for statement credit against travel expenses.

Unique in the Canadian credit card scene, many Amex cards have a refer-a-friend program. You can earn an incentive bonus by referring friends and family when they are approved for new Amex cards, and the welcome bonuses through refer-a-friend links also tend to be stronger than the publicly available welcome bonuses.

For small business owners, American Express business cards have many flexible ways to help you grow. You can elect to earn more rewards from eligible high-volume suppliers, and you have increased options to manage your cash flow with interest-free grace periods and high spending limits on charge cards. Overall, there’s a great selection in Amex’s portfolio that can meet the needs of every type of entrepreneur.

What’s the optimal strategy for American Express credit cards?

American Express offers the most powerful rewards and travel benefits among all Canadian credit card issuers by quite some distance.

If you’re a dedicated traveller who wants to see as much of the world as possible by maximizing your credit cards, American Express credit cards will naturally play an all-important role in your wallet.

The Membership Rewards and Membership Rewards Select families of cards represent the best starting point, as they’ll allow you to quickly rack up the points to use towards flight and hotel redemptions, respectively. The Aeroplan and Marriott Bonvoy co-branded credit cards add another layer of bonus points into the mix.

Thanks to their unique refer-a-friend program, the American Express credit cards are also ideally suited to families and households who want to earn points together.

That’s especially the case because the welcome bonuses through refer-a-friend offers are usually better for the person opening the card, compared to applying without using a referral.

Combined with the referral bonus for the referrer, and the points can stack up very quickly within a single points-collecting household. You can review our American Express Credit Card Flowchart to set up the optimal sequence so that everyone involved can maximize their rewards.

Within the household, it’s also a great idea to make sure that at least one individual is holding a Platinum Card or Business Platinum Card at any given time, as the unlimited Priority Pass lounge access benefit can be used by both adults (the cardholder and one guest) to access airport lounges before you fly.

Taken together, all these benefits significantly outweigh the occasional acceptance issues you might run into as an American Express cardholder.

With industry-leading welcome bonuses and travel benefits, competitive travel insurance, and access to the most powerful transferable, airline, and hotel rewards currencies in Canada, American Express credit cards ought to be an essential part of any Canadian traveller’s wallet.

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are some questions we frequently hear from readers about the best American Express credit cards in Canada.

What is the difference between Membership Rewards, MR First, and MR Select?

To understand the differences between the tiers, it’s useful to keep the below chart from the Membership Rewards program’s terms and conditions on hand:

As you can see, the benefits of MR First and Membership Rewards are virtually identical, the only difference being that you can’t use regular Membership Rewards points on Platinum Concierge bookings.

Meanwhile, the MR Select tier is missing one crucial feature that the other two tiers enjoy: the ability to transfer points to airline frequent flyer programs. Indeed, that’s the main difference between MR Select and the rest – you can’t transfer your points to programs like Aeroplan and British Airways Avios.

MR Select points are earned on the American Express Cobalt Card, the American Express Business Edge Card, and the American Express Choice Card. The remaining Membership Rewards cards all earn points at the regular MR or MR First levels, with the ability to transfer points to airlines.

Note that American Express no longer differentiates between Membership Rewards and Membership Rewards Select points in its marketing materials, so you should make sure you’re fully aware of what type of points you’re earning on a card before signing up.

What’s the difference between a credit card and a charge card?

Credit cards have a preset spending limit, and each month you have to make minimum payments. Charge cards don’t have a preset spending limit (although Amex may enforce one internally), and you face extremely steep penalties if you don’t pay your balance in full every month. You should be paying your balance in full anyway to avoid interest, so the difference between credit and charge cards won’t affect you.

Charge cards also appear on your credit report differently. Having a charge card is good, because it shows that you can responsibly manage other types of loans besides regular credit cards.

How many American Express cards can I have?

At any given time, each person can have up to four credit cards and unlimited charge cards from American Express in Canada.

How often can I apply for American Express cards?

You cannot apply for the Business Platinum Card and Business Gold Card within 90 days of each other. Aside from that, there are no firm rules – anything goes, as long as Amex is willing to have you as a member and extend more credit to you.

Can I apply for American Express business credit cards?

Yes, you can get business credit cards from Amex even if you aren’t a small business owner in the traditional sense. In general, you do this by signing up as a sole proprietorship, the type of business entity that refers to a business being operated solely within your name.

Which credit bureau does American Express check?

Usually TransUnion, although sometimes they’ll do a hard pull from Equifax. American Express also sometimes doesn’t do an inquiry for existing cardholders, instead relying on pre-approvals and your internal client profile with them.

Can I do a product switch with American Express?

American Express generally does not allow cardholders to switch between different products. If you want a new Amex card that you don’t currently have, you’ll need to submit a new application.

You can occasionally receive a bonus with a targeted upgrade offer, but these are usually only available for very high spenders, and the offers aren’t as strong as the welcome bonus on a new application.

How do I refer a friend?

Login to your Amex online dashboard and click on the “Refer Now” button. You can email an invitation to people you know, or generate a link directly to copy and paste via other channels.

What is an incognito offer?

Occasionally, American Express will target first-time visitors to their website with a bigger welcome bonus. You can try to trigger these offers by using a new web browser session, device, or IP address. Incognito offers are very common in the US, and they’ve recently started to make appearances in Canada.

Ricky

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