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Canada’s 12 Best Travel Credit Cards for September 2021

No matter how often you travel or what your style is, travel credit cards are great for earning rewards, making points bookings, and enhancing your travel experience with elite benefits.

Read on to learn more about our recommendations for the best travel credit cards in Canada.

Best Travel Credit Cards

Best Overall Travel Credit Card

The Business Platinum Card from American Express is our top choice for anyone looking to use the power of their credit cards to reach their travel aspirations.

The card comes with the biggest welcome bonus in Canada, an unparalleled 100,000 MR points, when you apply via a refer-a-friend link, which can offer incredible value when transferred to an airline’s frequent flyer program. American Express has transfer partners in each of the three major airline alliances, so you’ll be able to fly to pretty much any destination.

In particular, Canadians can transfer MR points to Air Canada’s Aeroplan program, supplementing the points earned on other credit cards which carry the Aeroplan label. The best long-haul premium cabins on Air Canada’s partners can cost quite a few points, and cards with such a big welcome bonus are few and far between, so the Business Platinum Card is a great way to get you there more quickly.

For ongoing spending, you’ll earn a simple 1.25 MR points per dollar spent on all purchases. There are no category bonuses, but for such a useful points currency, that’s an awesome base rate.

Furthermore, if you’re collecting points with a spouse or other family members, the Business Platinum Card is the best card to start with. For every referral you make, when the applicant is approved for an American Express business credit card, you’ll receive an additional 20,000 MR points.

You’ll also get most of the same premium travel benefits as the personal Platinum Card, including automatic Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status, access to Amex’s Fine Hotels and Resorts program, and unlimited Priority Pass airport lounge access for yourself and a guest.

And the best part is that you don’t need to be a business owner in the traditional sense to qualify for the card. You can apply as a sole proprietor, using your own name as the business name. As long as you don’t display abnormal spending patterns, Amex is unlikely to ask for a business registration document.

American Express also doesn’t have a minimum income requirement for this card, or any of their cards, so the only barrier to the incredible bonus and perks is your ability to meet the spending requirement.

Best Premium Travel Credit Card

When it comes to premium benefits, the American Express Platinum Card reigns supreme.

Like its counterpart for business owners, the personal Platinum Card earns Membership Rewards points, the most flexible transferable rewards in Canada. You can get a welcome bonus of 85,000 MR points over two years when you apply through a refer-a-friend link.

The card isn’t quite as strong as the Business Platinum Card for uncategorized purchases, at 1 MR point per dollar spent. But if you spend a lot on dining and travel, you’ll earn 3 and 2 MR points per dollar spent, respectively. Therefore, if your everyday spending leans heavily towards dining and travel, the personal Platinum Card might be a better value proposition for you.

As for perks, both Platinum cards are almost identical. The cards truly shine when it comes to airport lounges. You’ll get unlimited visits to Priority Pass lounges for you and one guest, as well as Plaza Premium lounges and American Express Centurion Lounges for you, your spouse, and two children under the age of 21 or one travelling companion.

But once we look at hotel status, the personal Platinum Card has a slight edge here. Both cards grant automatic Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status, but only the personal card provides Hilton Honors Gold status and Radisson Rewards Gold Elite status.

This would be useful if, say, your priority is the Marriott Bonvoy program and you maintain a higher status there like Platinum or Titanium, but you like to ensure a few token benefits for those odd stays at other hotel brands.

Alternatively, if occasional airport lounges are your top priority, but you want to keep your annual fees down, consider the Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card instead.

It comes with six free Priority Pass lounge visits per year (including airport restaurants, which are excluded from Amex’s package), and a much lower annual fee of $139 which can be waived with a premium chequing account.

Best Travel Credit Card for Aeroplan Benefits

All of the premium Aeroplan co-branded cards come with the same Air Canada perks, but the American Express Aeroplan Reserve Card stands out thanks to its bigger bonus incentives for cardholders.

Among other benefits, you’ll get unlimited Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge access, free checked bags on Air Canada flights, priority treatment at the airport, and opportunities to spend your way to Aeroplan Elite Status.

If you most often travel on points, you’ll get the best preferred pricing for Aeroplan flight rewards on Air Canada flights. If instead you purchase a lot of cash fares or vacation packages from Air Canada, you’ll earn 3 Aeroplan points per dollar spent, the highest return you’ll find on any credit card in Canada.

You’ll also get impressive earn rates on dining and uncategorized spending, putting this card at least on par with other premium Aeroplan credit cards in that regard, if not above them.

Plus, with additional perks from American Express such as regular rebates throughout the year and cash signup incentives, you can reduce or even eliminate the hefty $599 annual fee. Not to mention, you’ll get all of the standard Amex lifestyle benefits like Front of the Line ticket presale and exclusive event invites.

Best Visa Card for Earning Frequent Flyer Miles

If you’d prefer to avoid the challenges of Amex’s limited acceptance, the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Privilege Card is another great choice.

New cardholders can receive up to 115,000 Aeroplan points. First, you’ll get 20,000 points upon first purchase. or meeting a very achievable $1,000 spending requirement within three months. You’ll also get an Air Canada Buddy Pass (if you haven’t already received one from a different top-tier Aeroplan card), which you can convert into an additional 30,000 points.

Beyond that, you’ll earn 2x Aeroplan points on Air Canada flights and vacations, 1.5x Aeroplan points on gas, groceries, dining, food delivery, and travel, and a strong base rate of 1.25x Aeroplan points on all other purchases.

As for perks, the card has all of the same premium Aeroplan benefits as the American Express Reserve cards, with the added benefit of a Priority Pass membership with six free lounge visits per year.

If the $599 annual fee is too steep, consider the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Card instead. It has a first-year annual fee waiver for a good welcome bonus, but you’d have a lower earning rate, fewer Aeroplan benefits, and weaker insurance.

Best Mastercard for Earning Frequent Flyer Miles

The MBNA Alaska Airlines World Elite Mastercard is one of the best ways to earn miles for flight redemptions in some of the best premium cabins in the world.

Alaska Airlines has recently joined the Oneworld alliance, and they also maintain a number of individual airline partnerships on the side. It’s a very flexible program if you want to diversify from the options available through Aeroplan.

With a welcome bonus of 30,000 Alaska miles and a very manageable annual fee of $99, you can quickly parlay your rewards into unforgettable flight redemptions such as Cathay Pacific First Class or Japan Airlines First Class. It’s also a good program for North American travel to and within the US.

If you don’t meet the high annual income requirements for the World Elite card, there’s also the MBNA Alaska Airlines Platinum Plus Mastercard, with a lower welcome bonus but also a lower barrier to entry.

Best Travel Credit Card for Hotels

If you’re looking to enhance your hotel stays, the Marriott Bonvoy Business American Express Card is your best choice. The card offers great value even beyond its record-breaking welcome bonus of 105,000 Bonvoy points.

Starting in your second year with the card, you’ll get an annual Free Night Award for a single night priced at up to 35,000 Bonvoy points. That’s enough to cover a night at a Category 6 hotel at the off-peak PointSavers rate. For longer stays, you can combine this with additional points or cash nights.

More often, however, it’s easier to plan for a night at a Category 5 at the standard price. Regardless, as long as the cash cost of the hotel stay would have exceeded your $120 annual fee, you’ll get more value from the card than the costs you paid to have it.

Also, when you have at least one Marriott Bonvoy co-branded credit card, you’ll automatically get 15 elite qualifying nights every year. Think of this as a leg up on your progress towards Platinum Elite status. Normally requiring 50 qualifying nights, you’d only be 35 away every year.

If that’s still out of reach, you’ll get Silver Elite status just by being a cardholder. You can also achieve Gold Elite status by staying 10 nights, or spending $30,000 per year on your Marriott Bonvoy credit card.

No matter your travel tastes, Marriott Bonvoy is a great hotel program. They have over 7,000 properties across 30 brands, a full range of accommodations from ultra-luxury to ultra-budget, and a comprehensive global footprint. With the ability to score some free stays on points, there’s something for everyone in this program and its co-branded credit cards.

Best No Fee Travel Credit Card

If you prefer to avoid paying annual fees, the CIBC Aeroplan Visa Card is the way to go. The card awards 10,000 Aeroplan points upon first purchase. There’s no easier or cheaper way to get started towards your travel dreams, and even students can qualify for the card.

That said, you might not earn points as quickly as you would with a premium card. Instead, it might be better to apply for a higher-tier card (if you qualify) with a first-year annual fee waiver offer and a larger bonus, and later downgrade to this card.

The biggest benefit of the CIBC Aeroplan Visa Card is the preferred pricing benefit: just by holding onto this no-fee card, you’ll unlock an 8–15% discount for Aeroplan flight rewards on Air Canada flights.

Also, as long as you remain a cardholder, your Aeroplan points won’t expire. If you have a big points balance but no travel plans on the horizon, it’s a great way to avoid other more costly methods of keeping your account active.

Best Travel Credit Card with No Foreign Transaction Fees

The HSBC World Elite Mastercard is a great card to use whether at home or abroad. It’s one of the few Canadian credit cards with no foreign transaction fees, effectively saving you 2.5% every time you make a purchase in a foreign currency.

But this card is much more than a one trick pony, with some other strong features as well. It has a base earn rate equivalent to 1.5% back on all purchases (or 3% on travel purchases, like flights and hotels), and it earns the same rewards on foreign transactions as well.

HSBC Rewards points are also transferable to British Airways Avios, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, or Singapore KrisFlyer, where you can get better value for premium cabin flights.

With a net annual fee of just $49 after applying the annual $100 travel enhancement credit, and abundant worldwide Mastercard acceptance, it’s a great candidate to keep year after year, whether you use it on a daily basis or only pull it out for your out-of-country trips.

Best Travel Credit Card for Families

If you have young kids in school, chances are you’re quite limited by which times of year you’re able to take a vacation. When you’re competing with everyone else for the same flights, you’ll often be faced with cash fares that are through the roof.

If you’re in that situation, consider the American Express Aeroplan Card for its one-time Air Canada Buddy Pass. When the primary cardholder is travelling with another person, you can book the second passenger for a free round-trip economy ticket within North America – on the second ticket, you only have to pay taxes and fees.

For families with two kids, you and your spouse could each get the American Express Aeroplan Card, then each use a Buddy Pass for the children. If you tend to travel at peak times, that’s a great proposition for kids who aren’t old enough to have their own credit cards yet.

As the cherry on top, you can also earn 40,000 Aeroplan points as a welcome bonus.

Best Travel Credit Card for Daily Spending

The best card for daily spending always depends on which categories you tend to spend the most on. For many people, the American Express Cobalt Card is a great way to maximize your points on everyday purchases.

The card earns 5 MR points per dollar spent at grocery stores, restaurants, bars, and food delivery. If those make up a large chunk of your expenses, the sheer number of points you’ll earn is unbeatable.

Membership Rewards points are very flexible, too. You can use them for hotel stays with Marriott Bonvoy, transfers to airline partners, Amex Fixed Points Travel Program at a rate of up to 2 cents per point, or redeem for statement credit for any travel expense at a rate of 1 cent per point.

The recent change to the Cobalt card that allows you to transfer Cobalt points directly to airline partners makes this card the best choice for daily spending on eats and drinks as you work towards aspirational flight redemptions.

Alternatively, if you spend more than $30,000 per year in the 5x bonus category, you might instead consider the Scotiabank Gold American Express Card.

However, the Scotia Gold Amex doesn’t have transferable points – the best you’ll do is 1 cent per point as statement credit for any travel purchase.

Best Travel Credit Card for Paid Business Class Fares

If you buy a lot of business class tickets with cash, the RBC Avion Visa Infinite Business offers a unique way to get more value for your points. You can redeem Avion points at a flat rate of 2 cents per point for any paid business class or First Class fare.

You could also choose to transfer your points to a frequent flyer program instead, but you’d be limited by airline partners and award availability. With a direct redemption through RBC Rewards, you can book any seat on any airline in business class.

The RBC Avion Visa Infinite Privilege also allows the same flat rate of 2 cents per point. The Infinite Privilege card currently has an elevated welcome bonus of 35,000 Avion points. Both cards earn 1.25 Avion points per dollar spent, a solid rate for a flexible points currency.

However, the Visa Infinite Business card has a lower annual fee of $175, compared to the Visa Infinite Privilege’s cost of $399.

You can also qualify just by being a sole proprietor (although you’ll likely be asked for registration documents), rather than meeting the more exclusive requirement of a household income over $200,000 for the personal card.

Best Travel Credit Card for Travel Insurance

The National Bank World Elite Mastercard is uniquely positioned as the best credit card for travel insurance, thanks to two standout features.

First, the card offers insurance coverage for trip cancellation, trip interruption, and baggage issues as long as you partially pay for your travel arrangements with the card. That means that you can use the card to pay the taxes and fees on a points booking, and you’ll be insured.

Most other credit cards don’t do this – instead you’d have to pay the full fare with the credit card, which isn’t possible when points are involved.

Second, the card offers emergency medical coverage for out-of-province trips up to 60 days long. That’s an exceptionally long period of time to be covered; other cards tend not to exceed 31 days, and 15 days is even more common.

Also, seniors are often excluded from credit card medical insurance. With the National Bank World Elite Mastercard, everyone up to the age of 75 will be covered for trips of at least 15 days – the same maximum coverage that other cards offer for younger people.

Travel Credit Cards: What You Need to Know

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

Why get a travel credit card?

Travel credit cards are the best choice for globetrotters, because the rewards can easily be redeemed above their face value.

Many rewards programs charge a fixed number of points for a wide range of redemptions, so you can increase the value you get for each point by maximizing the program’s sweet spots.

Not every traveller flies on points all the time, and there are plenty of situations where you’ll have to pay cash. Many travel cards give extra rewards on purchases on things like flights, hotels, vacation packages, tours, and other activities.

Even if travel isn’t a major part of your lifestyle, these cards may still be a good choice. Travel cards usually have the biggest signup bonuses, so even if you “cash out” the points for statement credit, they can still be worth more than getting a cash back credit card.

Also, travel cards tend to target the luxury market more than cash back cards. If you’re looking for premium service with your credit card, you’re more likely to find it on a card that earns travel rewards.

What should you look for in a travel credit card?

Not only will you earn points to use for flights and hotels, but good travel cards also come with many perks to enhance the overall travel experience.

Some cards offer ways to improve the ground experience at the airport. These benefits can be used regardless of which airline you’re flying with, or your class of service:

  • Priority check-in
  • Priority boarding
  • Priority baggage handling
  • Free NEXUS application

In particular, many premium travel cards come with complimentary airport lounge access:

  • All Visa Infinite Privilege cards come with a Priority Pass membership and six annual vouchers for free lounge visits
  • All World Elite Mastercards come with a LoungeKey membership, although the number of annual passes varies
  • American Express Platinum cards offer a comprehensive lounge package, including unlimited visits to Priority Pass lounges and more
  • All premium Aeroplan cards come with unlimited access to Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounges
  • Other cards come with access to the issuing bank or co-branded airline’s flagship lounge

On airline co-branded cards, keep an eye out for airline-specific perks such as:

  • Free checked baggage
  • Discounted award pricing
  • Two-for-one flights, usually in the form of a companion fare
  • Easier paths to elite status qualification

These benefits might be a limited-time welcome bonus or achievable every year, possibly with a spending requirement.

In addition, some credit cards don’t charge foreign transaction fees, or have higher rewards on foreign purchases to offset the transaction fees. This saves you up to 2.5% on all of your spending while abroad!

Finally, premium travel credit cards provide a very useful package of travel insurance. Depending on the card, you’d be covered for situations like emergency medical assistance, personal injury in a common carrier accident, trip cancellation or interruption, flight delays or lost luggage, and rental car damage.

What’s the optimal strategy for travel credit cards?

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

Since travel credit cards typically come with more powerful welcome bonuses and benefits compared to other types of cards, you might choose to hold multiple travel credit cards in their wallet at any given time, as long as you’re confident that each card’s bonuses and benefits outweigh their annual fee and are helping you get closer to your travel goals.

Which specific travel credit cards are the best fit for you will depend on your preferred style of travel.

If you’re looking to jazz up your trips in the form of airport lounge access, business class seats, and upgraded rooms and suites at your hotel, then a premium travel credit card will typically deliver enough bonus points, benefits, and elite status opportunities to justify its annual fee.

You could also aim to maximize more than one premium travel credit card at a time, or shrewdly switch up your cards every now and then depending on the best offers on the market. This way, you can scale your earnings and empower an elevated travel lifestyle at a far greater value than the annual fees you’re paying.

On the other hand, even if you’re a budget traveller who doesn’t want to spend too much money, or if you travel infrequently and can’t justify paying annual fees for a travel credit card, you can still make travel credit cards work for you.

You could go with the limited set of benefits on a no-fee credit card, or you could also adopt a strategy like cashing out some of your points on a premium travel credit card to offset the annual fees, and then using the remaining points to fund your travel expenses.

This way, you’re never paying more out-of-pocket than you need to, and you’re using your pure “net winnings” from your credit cards to make your travels go further.

If you travel as a family, then your travel periods are likely limited to peak season in the holidays, and it can be tough to find enough award availability for the whole family to fly on the same flight.

As a result, you might be more interested in credit cards with family-oriented benefits like companion vouchers or perks that extend to supplementary cardholders.

By combining these family-oriented travel strategies with the points you earn from welcome bonuses, you can often book a family trip on a combination of points, cash, and vouchers that save you thousands of dollars compared to paying for everything outright.

As you can see, no matter what type of traveller you are, travel credit cards can help you optimize your travel experience in a way you might not have thought possible before. It’s all about finding the right combination of cards and strategy for maximizing these cards that works the best for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

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

When do I receive my points on a travel credit card?

Co-branded cards won’t show credit card rewards in your loyalty account until after your monthly statement generates, or a few days later. Meanwhile, with most issuers, in-house rewards show up a day or two after each transaction posts to your account, although you might not receive the bonus points until later.

How do I register for Priority Pass?

Depending on the issuer, you’ll be able to register for Priority Pass either over the phone or through the online banking live chat service.

Once registered, your physical Priority Pass card will arrive in the mail in a few days’ time. However, if you’re travelling urgently, you can also ask the issuer to provide you with your Priority Pass account’s login information, so that you can use the digital card on the Priority Pass app to access the majority of airport lounges across the network.

Can I transfer my points from one airline to another airline?

No, once your points have been transferred from the bank into an airline’s loyalty program, they’re stuck there until you use them to book a flight. That’s why transferable currencies are so coveted – not just for their value, but for their flexibility.

My plans changed and I won’t be travelling, can I redeem my points for cash back?

It depends on which type of travel points you have. Hotel and airline points can’t be converted to cash, but some programs may let you use your points to buy gift cards or merchandise. Bank programs are more flexible, often with options to also use your points for a cash statement credit. However, all of these redemptions are almost always at a lower rate compared to their potential travel value.

What happens to my points if I cancel a travel credit card?

It all depends on whether the points in question are part of an in-house points program operated by the credit card’s issuing institution, or a third-party loyalty program associated with a co-branded credit card.

Examples of in-house points programs include American Express Membership Rewards, RBC Avion, TD Rewards, Scotia Rewards, etc.

In these cases, your points account is typically associated with one particular credit card, and if you were to cancel that card, your points will typically be nullified as well unless you were to transfer them out or use them up beforehand.

On the other hand, you have third-party programs that partner up with a financial institution to issue points-earning credit cards. Examples include Aeroplan, British Airways Avios, Marriott Bonvoy, etc.

For these loyalty programs and their co-branded credit cards, your points are typically transferred to the third-party account with every monthly statement.

If you were to cancel the credit card, nothing would happen to the points you’ve already earned, since they’re now sitting pretty within your loyalty program’s points balance and not associated with your credit card or financial institution in any way.

3 Comments
  1. Bernadette Condon

    Read above that the Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite card would give you 6 lounge passes annually. Understood this perk would no longer be available as of July 1, 2021. Is this the case?

  2. murray mcintyre

    Why do I see so many “mixed cabin” flights. If I book business I expect business all the way!

    1. Paul

      Maybe they don’t have seats available in particular cabin or no such seats in a particular aircraft ie Dash 8 not having business class.

Ricky Zhang

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