Winners of the 2021 Prince of Travel Awards!

Over the last three weeks, over 6,000 votes were cast in our second annual 2021 Prince of Travel Awards. 

That’s over triple the number of votes as last year, and we take this as a sign that not only is our community growing, but that travel is rebounding stronger than ever.

Without further ado, I’m excited to announce the winners of the 2021 Prince of Travel Awards in all 28 award categories, along with some of my thoughts and impressions about the results.

Credit Cards

Best Premium Travel Credit Card

  • Winner: American Express Platinum Card (58%)
  • Runner-up: American Express Aeroplan Reserve Card (32%)
  • Third place: TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Privilege (8%)

The American Express Platinum Card came back strong this year, with higher sign-up bonuses than ever seen before, as well as a slew of credits offset the annual fee.

The American Express Aeroplan Reserve Card captured a bigger share of the vote this year than last year, likely also due to an elevated signup bonus during Summer 2021.

Meanwhile, despite sitting in a distant third, the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Privilege remains the non-American Express premium credit card of choice.

Best Travel Credit Card

  • Winner: American Express Cobalt Card (43%)
  • Runner-up: TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Card (24%)
  • Third place: HSBC World Elite Mastercard (21%)

Among mid-range travel credit cards, the American Express Cobalt Card was the clear winner, winning nearly double the amount of votes as the runner-up, the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Card

That’s not surprising, considering that MR points earned on the Cobalt Card can now also transfer to airlines, making the 5x earnings on food and drinks far more powerful than before. 

The HSBC World Elite Mastercard remains steady in claiming third place in this category.

Best Small Business Travel Credit Card

  • Winner: Business Platinum Card from American Express (57%)
  • Runner-up: American Express Aeroplan Business Reserve Card (21%)
  • Third place: TD Aeroplan Visa Business Card (11%)

The Business Platinum Card from American Express wins this category easily, having offered a higher ongoing welcome bonus of 100,000–105,000 MR points this year compared to last year’s 75,000. It also earns a consistent 1.25x MR points across all categories, making it the best candidate for non-categorized spending.

The American Express Aeroplan Business Reserve had also put on some very attractive bonuses this year, but its travel benefits are weaker than the Business Platinum, and often has more onerous spending requirement to earn the bonus.

The TD Aeroplan Visa Business Card came in a distant third. The signup bonus has been solid through 2021 with a consistent First Year Free offer, though the card’s middle-market standing at a $149 annual fee can only do so much for it. 

Best Credit Card Signup Bonus

  • Winner: 150,000 MR / Aeroplan points on the American Express Platinum Card / Aeroplan Reserve Card (72%)
  • Runner-up: 25,000 points + Buddy Pass + First Year Free on the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Card (10%)
  • Third place: 100,000 MR points on the Business Platinum Card from American Express (9%)

When it comes up to signup bonuses, size matters. The unprecedented 150,000 points we saw from the American Express Platinum Card and the American Express Aeroplan Reserve Card this summer easily took first place. 

That being said, the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Card wins second place just barely over the Business Platinum Card from American Express, because it offered essentially 55,000 Aeroplan points after converting the Buddy Pass with no annual fee and no spend – the lowest of low-hanging fruit.

Best Visa Card

  • Winner: TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Card (60%)
  • Runner-up: RBC Avion Visa Infinite Card (17%)
  • Third place: Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card (14%)

The TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Card continues its dominance among the personal cards, this time taking first place among all Visa credit cards.

In addition to earning valuable Aeroplan points, the category bonuses on this card at 1.5x on gas and groceries is slightly higher than the runner-up, the RBC Avion Visa Infinite Card, which earns 1.25x on travel purchases.

The Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card comes in third, thanks to the lack of foreign exchange fees on this card, along with its ease of redeeming compared to CIBC and BMO’s in-house rewards points.

Best Mastercard

  • Winner: HSBC World Elite Mastercard (51%)
  • Runner-up: MBNA Alaska World Elite Mastercard (28%)
  • Third place: WestJet RBC World Elite Mastercard (9%)

Unsurprisingly, the HSBC World Elite Mastercard wins this category as the only Mastercard in Canada to offer flexible rewards that can be transferred to frequent flyer partners.

Alaska miles have been a favourite throughout 2021, especially as we booked and flew our final Emirates First Class extravaganza flights as the Emirates partnership came to an end.

Finally, the WestJet RBC World Elite Mastercard placing third in this category with merely 9% of the vote speaks to both the weakness of the WestJet Rewards program, as well as the lower standing of Mastercard in Canada and the need for greater competition among Mastercard issuers.

Best Credit Card Perk

  • Winner: Priority Pass Lounge Access on the American Express Platinum Card / Business Platinum Card  (45%)
  • Runner-up: Anniversary Free Night Award on the Marriott Bonvoy American Express Cards (30%)
  • Third place: Maple Leaf Lounge Access on the Aeroplan Premium Credit Cards (15%)

Two years in a row, unlimited Priority Pass lounge access at 1,300+ airport lounges around the world was chosen to be Canada’s best credit card perk. In all fairness, it would take something spectacular to beat it.

Despite the upcoming dynamic changes to Marriott Bonvoy, the anniversary Free Night Award on the Amex Bonvoy cards win second place. These benefits do remain valuable through at least 2022, considering dynamic pricing won’t be kicking in until March 2022 and we’ll be able to attach Free Night Awards to stays up to one year later.

Like last year, there’s so much unexplored room for creativity in credit card perks here in Canada, as we see the same ones year over year. Here’s hoping we’ll see an issuer shake things up for 2022.

Best Cash Back Credit Card

  • Winner: Tangerine World Mastercard (27%)
  • Runner-up: Scotiabank Momentum Visa Infinite Card (25%)
  • Third place: SimplyCash Preferred Card from American Express (18%)

The cash back credit card scene here in Canada is marked by a series of fairly competitive players, with no clear winner among them – the five candidates were all fairly evenly matched.

The Tangerine World Mastercard wins by a small margin due to being able to choose your categorized spend, earning 2% in three categories of your choosing.

Best No-Fee Credit Card

  • Winner: CIBC Aeroplan Visa Card (37%)
  • Runner-up: Tangerine World Mastercard (21%)
  • Third place: Rogers World Elite Mastercard (19%)

The CIBC Aeroplan Visa Card winning this category really shows the power of Aeroplan points, and how much we value them as a community, considering that this is the only Aeroplan co-branded credit card that has no annual fee.

The second and third place winners were somewhat surprising to me: do we as a community like no-fee cash back cards more than, say, the American Express Green Card?

It seems that MR points might very much an “all or nothing” proposition, as there’s perhaps no real excitement to earning a meagre 10,000 MR points upon signing up.

Best No FX Fee Credit Card

  • Winner: HSBC World Elite Mastercard (47%)
  • Runner-up: Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card (21%)
  • Third place: Scotiabank Gold American Express Gold (14%)

Combine flexible points currencies that can be transferred to a frequent flyer program (including one does not partner with any other bank in Canada in Singapore Airlines Krisflyer) along with no foreign transaction fees and a solid welcome bonus, and we have a clear winner in the HSBC World Elite Mastercard.

Scotiabank shows the overall clout of their zero-transaction-fee portfolio in taking second and third place, though neither card was strong enough on its own to unseat HSBC.

Best New Financial Product

  • Winner: American Express Gold Rewards Card Relaunch (57%)
  • Runner-up: Wealthsimple Cash Card (16%)
  • Third place: Neo Mastercard (13%)

To nobody’s surprise, the American Express Gold Rewards Card relaunch wins this category handily, with an effective annual fee the same as before and all other changes being strictly positive: a metal refresh with a rose gold colour and a significantly higher welcome bonus.

The Wealthsimple Cash Card was perhaps a surprising runner-up, as it had little to no promotion and launched quietly only to those who requested it through their Wealthsimple Cash account.

It’s a solid prepaid option, though, offering no foreign transaction fees for ATM withdrawals worldwide, as well as earning 5% cash back on food and drinks over the weekend.

Best Amex Offer

  • Winner: $150 / $200 grocery credits on the Aeroplan Reserve Card / Platinum Card (44%)
  • Runner-up: 10x MR points, up to 25,000 MR points, on the Business Platinum Card (22%)
  • Third place: $175 dining credit on the Platinum credit (12%)

Undoubtedly, 25,000 MR points are worth more than $200 of grocery credits; however, the results show the opposite, with the $150–200 grocery credits on the premium personal cards easily taking first place.

That’s perhaps a reflection of the state of travel in 2021, as cardholders were happier to accept grocery credits to offset higher annual fees, likely due to already having a high stash of points with travel not quite bouncing back.

The dining credit ranking third also makes sense to me. Despite the high face value, there was a limited list of restaurants the credit could be used at, so not all cardholders would have valued it at the full $175.

Loyalty & Points Programs

Best Transferable Points Currency

  • Winner: American Express Membership Rewards (95%)
  • Runner-up: Marriott Bonvoy (4%)
  • Third place: HSBC Rewards (1%)

“I am Jack’s complete lack of surprise.” Like last year, American Express Membership Rewards points are always the shoo-in to win, except this year it wins even more decisively, from 88% to 95%.

The monotony of transferable rewards in Canada truly does need a shake-up – we’d welcome programs like Chase Ultimate Rewards with open arms.

Following that, I was a bit shocked last year when Marriott Bonvoy beat RBC Avion in this vote – and this year, HSBC Rewards also beat RBC Avion.

Might we as a community be sleeping on the power of Avion points as a transferable points currency?

Best Fixed-Value Points Currency

  • Winner: Scotia Rewards (48%)
  • Runner-up: TD Rewards (25%)
  • Third place: CIBC Aventura (12%)

This category is essentially a battle of which program offers the most flexibility and ease of redeeming their points for maximum value.

Scotia Rewards stands out as the only program that does not require you to book through their own travel portal, instead allowing you to redeem their points directly against any travel expenses and apply your points retroactively.

You can spend on travel in order to make the minimum spend, then immediately go back and redeem your points against that it – do fixed points programs get any better than that?

The “best of the rest” is a battle of Expedia for TD vs. CIBC Travel Portal vs MBNA Rewards Catalogue vs BMO Travel Portal, and TD wins out.

After all, Expedia is the “best” of the aforementioned online travel agencies (OTAs), offering a wider range of items to redeem for compared to the rest, including more unique travel items such as tours and Disney tickets.

The CIBC Travel Portal wins third, perhaps because you’re able to call in and ask the agent to book something custom that’s not online, a request not possible with BMO or MBNA.

Best Airline Loyalty Program

  • Winner: Aeroplan (88%)
  • Runner-up: Alaska Mileage Plan (8%)
  • Third place: British Airways Avios (2%)

Aeroplan sweeps this category, as they still offer the best all-around value proposition for booking international premium cabin redemptions (and even domestic ones, factoring in eUpgrades), and their list of airline partners is still ever-growing.

As much I love Alaska Mileage Plan for its ability to book First Class cabins at reasonable prices, it’s undoubtedly better suited to Canadians on the West Coast, given they are able to book Alaska Airlines in conjunction with a partner. Meanwhile, the rest of Canada has to book a separate positioning flight to take advantage of Alaska’s sweet spots.

As an aside, WestJet Rewards earned zero votes in this category.

Best Hotel Loyalty Program

  • Winner: Marriott Bonvoy (62%)
  • Runner-up: World of Hyatt (18%)
  • Third place: Hilton Honors (11%)

Even though a devaluation is coming, Marriott Bonvoy continues to win handily – to some extent by default, since it’s the only hotel chain that offers a co-branded credit card in Canada.

To my surprise, World of Hyatt surpassed Hilton Honors by a whopping 7%, meaning that many of our readers have been taking advantage of their newly- and easily-acquired Hyatt Globalist status.

Having gotten off to a great start in 2021, I’m looking forward to exploring Hyatt further in 2022 as an alternative to Marriott, especially as the latter transitions to an unpredictable dynamic pricing model.

Best Hotel Elite Status

  • Winner: Marriott Bonvoy Titanium (50%)
  • Runner-up: World of Hyatt Globalist (27%)
  • Third place: Hilton Honors Diamond (17%)

Like the above, we simply have more Marriott members in Canada due to the ease of earning their points and achieving status by having 15 elite qualifying nights from the Marriott Bonvoy American Express Card or the Marriott Bonvoy Business American Express Card.

Many of us who acquired Hyatt status this year have yet to really test it out, and I’m looking forward to seeing how next year’s results shape up post-Marriott dynamic changes.

Despite the ease of acquiring Hilton Diamond status just by holding a US-issued credit card, its benefits are likely the most watered-down out of the three primary hotel elite statuses, as reflected in the vote.

Best International Award Sweet Spot

  • Winner: 55,000 Aeroplan points for Vancouver / Calgary – Tokyo business class (37%)
  • Runner-up: 70,000 Alaska miles for Cathay Pacific First Class / Japan Airlines First Class (22%)
  • Third place: 85,000 Aeroplan points for North America – “Asia 3” business class (20%)

This vote confirms that flying to Asia is where all the sweet spots lie right now – especially if you live on the West Coast and can easily take advantage of the Aeroplan and Alaska sweet spots.

No doubt, if Asian countries were to meaningfully open their borders in 2022, we’d see a surge of international travel across the Pacific.

Aeroplan still wins among the Asia-bound sweet spots, since their points are so easy to come by. One credit card bonus can earn a round-trip in business class to Tokyo from Vancouver or Calgary, which represents insane value.

Best Domestic Award Sweet Spot

  • Winner: “Latitude Attitude” with eUpgrades (55%)
  • Runner-up: Air Canada Buddy Pass (32%)
  • Third place: WestJet Companion Fare (8%)

Domestic sweet spots are never as sexy as international First and business class redemption; however, they’ve grown to be more appreciated during the pandemic, since we can embark on a much more worry-free trip compared to crossing borders.

Using the “Latitude Attitude” strategy and applying our eUpgrades is a tried-and-true method of saving hundreds of thousands of Aeroplan points, allowing us to confirm into business class immediately upon booking. Personally, this is how I’ve booked the lion’s share of my transcontinental flights since the new Aeroplan program was introduced.

Looking at second and third place, I’d bet that we as a community very much enjoyed the promotion to convert the Buddy Pass into 30,000 Aeroplan points – since if we truly book cash tickets in pairs, the WestJet $0 companion voucher was actually a better value overall.

Best Promotion

  • Winner: Convert the Air Canada Buddy Pass into 30,000 Aeroplan points (48%)
  • Runner-up: “Spend Your Way to Elite Status” on the Aeroplan Premium Credit Cards (28%)
  • Third place: American Express Referral Bonanza (13%)

The Buddy Pass conversion ties directly into the vote above, winning at double the number of votes as the runner-up.

Being able to earn status without actually flying is something we yearn for, taking an unsurprising second place. I know many of us doubled down on this opportunity with either last year’s “Travel From Home” promotion or a run towards Everyday Status Qualification and are now set to hold a minimum of Aeroplan 35K status for 2022.

The American Express Referral Bonanza was a creative way to incentivize spend, in my opinion; however, it’s likely the high spending required to fully take advantage hurt it in the rankings.

Best Positive Change

  • Winner: American Express MR Select points now transferable to airlines (74%)
  • Runner-up: American Express Aeroplan cards boosted to 1.25x base earn rate (19%)
  • Third place: American Express adds Air France/KLM Flying Blue as a new MR transfer partner (4%)

Without a doubt, MR Select points transferring to airlines wins this category easily. With the Cobalt Card, we’re now effectively earning 5x Aeroplan points on food and drinks – a round-trip flight from Toronto to Vancouver in economy class upon spending ~$2,000 of food and drink spend is hard to beat.

On the other hand, it’s unsurprising that Amex boosting the earn rate on Aeroplan points only came in a distant second, as most of us are more focused on the signup bonus than the everyday spend.

I did expect more enthusiasm over the new American Express and Air France/KLM partnership – after all how often is it we can get a new airline transfer partner in Canada? However, I suppose it’s understandable given the poor transfer ratio and dynamic nature of the program.

Airlines & Hotels

Best Domestic Business Class

  • Winner: Air Canada 787 Signature Class (56%)
  • Runner-up: Air Canada 777 Signature Class (15%)
  • Third place: WestJet 787 Business Class (12%)

Air Canada’s signature product on the Boeing 787 wins handily over an identical product on the Boeing 777, given the newer, quieter plane with neat dimming windows.

WestJet rounds up third place, and hopefully we’ll see their 787 business class product on more international routes, as well as useful ways to book it on points, allowing more of us to give their product a try.

Best Domestic Economy Class

  • Winner: Air Canada (71%)
  • Runner-up: Porter Airlines (15%)
  • Third place: WestJet (11%)

Air Canada wins this category by quite a wide margin, and I’m personally thinking of their new A220 economy class product, which is by far my favourite in North America.

I’m surprised to see Porter Airlines ranking above WestJet, given that it’s a boutique airline that flies to a handful of destinations, and mainly used by Torontonions due to its proximity to the downtown core.

On top of that, they only recently resumed flights post-pandemic in September 2021 – but perhaps their ambitious expansion plans played a role in the vote.

Best International Business Class

  • Winner: Qatar Airways Qsuites (57%)
  • Runner-up: ANA “The Room” 777 Business Class (24%)
  • Third place: Turkish 787 Dreamliner Business Class (8%)

I’m glad we all agree on my assessment that Qatar Airways Qsuites is superior to ANA’s “The Room”. 😉

However, Qatar Airways Qsuites wins this category with more of a margin than I was expecting – I was thinking that ANA’s “The Room” would really give it a run for its money.

I do think part of the reason is that Qsuites have simply been around longer, since ANA’s new business class product was only on a handful of planes for a handful of months before the pandemic hit, so not many of us have had the chance to fly it yet.

Turkish Airlines’s Dreamliner product wins third place over the Etihad Airways 787 Business Studio, but by less than a 1% margin – it’ll be a close call between these two for next year’s vote as international travel steadily resumes!

Best International First Class

  • Winner: Emirates A380 / 777 First Class (53%)
  • Runner-up: ANA “The Suite” 777 First Class (20%)
  • Third place: Etihad Airways First Class (11%)

Emirates A380 and 777 First Class truly is a deserving winner, easily one of the best First Class products out there between both hard and soft product. 

In terms of ANA, the new First Class product does look like a nice, updated version of their old First Class seat; however, it was really their new business class product that stole the spotlight when both launched in mid-2019.

ANA’s second-place finish was likely assisted in the rankings by Etihad Airways retiring all their Airbus A380s, and along with it, their First Class Apartments.

Perhaps most surprising is that Lufthansa First Class scored last place – perhaps a sign that their hard product is starting to show its age?

Best Airport Lounge in Canada

  • Winner: Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge Toronto (39%)
  • Runner-up:WestJet Elevation Lounge Calgary (38%)
  • Third place: Cathay Pacific Lounge Vancouver (19%)

The Toronto Maple Leaf Lounge is one of (if not the most) visited in Canada, so it makes sense that it would rank first – I would definitely assume more readers transit through Toronto than Calgary.

Still, I personally much prefer the WestJet Elevation Lounge in Calgary in terms of the quality of the lounge experience. Make sure to check if you’re passing through, as it’s also accessible via Priority Pass.

The new Air France lounge in Montreal received the least amount of votes, which perhaps makes sense since it opened up very recently. I’m looking forward to checking out this lounge for myself soon, and I’d expect it to earn a bigger share of the votes next year when more of us have given it a try.

Best Hotel in Canada

  • Winner: JW Marriott Parq Vancouver (29%)
  • Runner-up: St. Regis Toronto (28%)
  • Third place: The Ritz-Carlton, Montreal (21%)

This category was spread out very evenly, with a small variance between the vote percentage for the five nominees. We can largely conclude that the JW Marriott Parq Vancouver, the St. Regis Toronto, and The Ritz-Carlton, Montreal are our favourite city hotel redemptions in Canada.

The only Hyatt hotel in our options (the Park Hyatt Toronto) failed to place among the top three, but I encourage anyone looking for a luxury hotel on their next trip to Toronto to give it a try – it’s a new favourite of mine in the city.

Best Resort in Canada

  • Winner: JW Marriott The Rosseau Muskoka Resort & Spa (30%)
  • Runner-up: Kananaskis Resort & Spa, Autograph Collection (23%)
  • Third place: Westin Whistler (23%)

Like the city hotels above, the variance here is not very high at all.

The JW Muskoka is within 2 hours of Toronto, the Kananaskis Resort & Spa within 2 hours of Calgary, and the Westin Whistler within 2 hours of Vancouver. All three of these resorts offer incredibly high redemption value during high season, with rates easily falling in the $1,000+ category. 

Which one you choose to visit will come down to where you’re based and what kind of holiday you’re looking for.

Conclusion

With the winners announced, the 2021 Prince of Travel Awards draw to a conclusion. My sincere thanks goes out to all of you who participated in the voting process here at the second annual Prince of Travel Awards.

2021 gave us glimmers of hope in travel picking up again, but it has also been marked by a few significant setbacks and more infectious COVID-19 variants emerging.

On the points side, American Express really stepped up this year with higher bonuses than ever before, and their efforts have been rewarded with a near clean sweep of the winners above. We also continue to see near-total dominance from Aeroplan compared to its rival points programs.

Among both financial institutions and loyalty programs, I’d love to see yet more competition in the market in 2022, especially as the return of travel continues its upward trajectory. 

I hope you’ve enjoyed voting in the 2021 Prince of Travel Awards, and I wish you a happy holiday season ahead. Don’t forget to look out for the 2021 Anti-Awards – in which we’ll vote on the most frustrating and disappointing developments – at the end of the year!

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