One of the best ways to make travel more affordable is by leveraging travel credit cards; however, many of the best travel credit cards for Canadians have hefty income requirements.
For example, cards in the Visa Infinite family require at least $60,000 in personal income, and the higher-tier Visa Infinite Privilege cards require a whopping $150,000 in personal or $200,000 in household income.
Meanwhile, qualifying for a Mastercard World Elite product usually requires $80,000 in personal or $150,000 in household income.
Unfortunately, not every Canadian meets these criteria. Many folks simply don’t earn this much, including students, seniors living on a fixed income, newcomers, or new parents on childcare leave.
In this guide, we’ll go over the best travel credit cards for Canadians with more modest incomes. We’ve considered the income requirements, card benefits, and annual fees to justify why any one of these financial solutions deserves a spot in your wallet.
In This Post
- RBC® Avion Visa Platinum†
- TD® Aeroplan® Visa Platinum* Card
- American Express Cobalt Card
- Scotiabank Gold American Express Card
- CIBC Aventura Gold Visa
RBC® Avion Visa Platinum†
The first credit card on our list is the RBC® Avion Visa Platinum†. As the entry-level offering amongst the “Avion Elite” cards, it doesn’t require any minimum personal or household income.†
- 35,000 RBC Avion points upon approval†
- 20,000 RBC Avion points upon spending $5,000 in the first six months†
Under the RBC Air Travel Redemption Schedule, the 35,000 points given on approval is enough for a round-trip economy booking in North America, worth up to $700 in ticket price†. Meanwhile, 55,000 points could take you round-trip in economy to Sun destinations, up to a max ticket price of $1,100†. Note that you’ll still be on the hook for taxes and fees.
Better yet, you can also transfer Avion points to four airline partners, and then make redemptions from within each program:
- British Airways Executive Club: 1 Avion point = 1 Avios
- Cathay Pacific Asia Miles: 1 Avion point = 1 Asia Mile
- WestJet Rewards: 100 Avion points = 1 WestJet Dollar (WSD)
- American Airlines AAdvantage: 1 Avion point = 0.7 AAdvantage miles
Despite the card’s larger minimum spending requirement, the six-month timeline brings it down to an average of $833 per month. Keep in mind that you can use services such as Chexy to pay rent with a credit card, which can help take a bite out of the minimum spending requirement and unlock the full welcome bonus.
As for the card’s other features, the budget-conscious traveller would benefit from the card’s suite of relatively strong insurance.†
The card’s $120 annual fee isn’t rebated in the first year with the current offer†, although it can be offset by opening one of several types of RBC bank accounts.†
- Earn 35,000 RBC Avion points† when you get approved for the card†
- Earn 1 RBC Avion point per dollar spent† on travel purchases
- Transfer RBC Avion points to British Airways Executive Club and other frequent flyer programs for premium flights†
- No minimum income requirement
- Annual fee: $120†
TD® Aeroplan® Visa Platinum* Card
Next up is the TD® Aeroplan® Visa Platinum* Card, which only requires you to be the age of majority, a Canadian permanent resident, and have an email address. This makes the card a very good starting point for anyone looking to get into the Aeroplan ecosystem.
Until March 4, 2024, the card is offering a welcome bonus of up to 20,000 Aeroplan points†, structured as follows:
- 10,000 Aeroplan points upon first purchase†
- 10,000 Aeroplan points upon spending $1,000 in the first three months†
You can earn the full welcome bonus upon spending $1,000 in the first three months†, which averages out to just over $333 each month.
Better yet, the $89 annual fee is rebated in the first year,† and can be further waived in subsequent years by opening select TD bank account products.†
Note that the earning rates on this credit card aren’t the highest on this list. You’ll earn 1 Aeroplan point per dollar spent† on eligible gas, grocery, and Air Canada purchases,† whilst all other purchases will earn 1 Aeroplan point per $1.50 spent.†
However, the TD® Aeroplan® Visa Platinum* Card also comes with insurance benefits,† including baggage and flight delay, and trip cancellation coverage.† The insurance also covers Aeroplan reward flights,† as long as you pay for the taxes and fees with the card.†
- Earn 20,000 Aeroplan points† upon spending $1,000 in the first three months
- Earn 1x Aeroplan points† on eligible gas, groceries, and Air Canada® purchases, including Air Canada Vacations®†
- Preferred pricing on Air Canada® flights through Aeroplan†
- Annual fee: $89, rebated in the first year†
American Express Cobalt Card
No list of income-friendly Canadian credit cards would be complete without the legendary American Express Cobalt Card.
Ever since its launch in 2017, this product has been revered as the best pound-for-pound travel credit card by the Miles & Points community. It likewise set a standard of excellence among Canadian credit cards that has often been imitated, but never fully replicated.
To recap, this incredible credit card, which requires no minimum income, earns the following:
- 5 points per dollar spent on eligible restaurants and groceries (up to $2,500 monthly)
- 3 points per dollar spent on eligible streaming services
- 2 points per dollar spent on eligible travel purchases
- 1 points per dollar spent on all other purchases
Keep in mind that American Express Membership Rewards (MR) points are transferable to a wide variety of partners, including Aeroplan, Air France KLM Flying Blue, British Airways Executive Club, and Marriott Bonvoy, amongst others.
If the earning rates alone aren’t enough to tempt you, consider that new applicants can earn a welcome bonus of up to 30,000 MR points in the first year. However, the welcome bonus requires spending at least $500 each month for a year, which could be onerous for Canadians with lower incomes.
While this card comes with a $12.99 monthly fee ($155.88 annually), the value you’ll be deriving from it is among the best in the entire Canadian credit card market.
- Earn a total of 15,000 MR points upon spending $750 in each of the first 12 months
- Earn 5x MR points on groceries, restaurants, bars, and food delivery
- Earn 3x MR points on eligible streaming services
- Earn 2x MR points on gas, transit, and travel purchases
- Transfer MR points to Aeroplan, Avios, Flying Blue, or Marriott Bonvoy
- Enjoy the exclusive benefits of being an American Express cardholder
- Bonus MR points for referring family and friends
- Monthly fee: $12.99
Scotiabank Gold American Express Card
Another excellent American Express option for Canadians with lower incomes is the Scotiabank Gold American Express Card.
The card has a personal minimum income requirement of $12,000, and it earns Scene+ points, which is a handy points currency to use for travel.
Until October 31, 2023, you’ll be eligible for a welcome bonus of up to 40,000 Scene+ points, structured as follows:
- 20,000 Scene+ points upon spending $1,000 in the first three months
- 20,000 Scene+ points upon spending $7,500 in the first year
40,000 Scene+ points are worth a cool $400 when redeemed for travel, and you can further pad your balance with the card’s excellent earning rates:
- 6 Scene+ points per dollar spent on Sobeys, IGA, Safeway, FreshCo, and more
- 5 Scene+ points per dollar spent on groceries, dining, and entertainment
- 3 Scene+ points per dollar spent on gas, transit, and streaming services
- 1 Scene+ point per dollar spent on all other purchases
Scene+ is a useful flexible points currency to use because it can be applied at 1 cent per point against any travel purchase, such as flights or hotels. It can also be used to offset Uber rides, taxis, and trains.
On top of this, the Scotiabank Gold American Express Card offers one of the best benefits of any credit card in Canada – no foreign transaction fees. While you’ll earn a flat rate of 1 Scene+ point per dollar spent outside of Canada, you also won’t have to pay the pesky 2.5% foreign transaction fee, which is levied by most banks.
Moreover, the card comes with a complimentary concierge service, which is a feature typically reserved for credit cards that require higher minimum incomes. The concierge can help you score tickets to an event, or a preferred reservation at restaurants.
In sum, the Scotiabank Gold American Express Card offers incredible value for any would-be globetrotter.
While the $120 annual fee isn’t rebated with the current offer, you can easily offset its cost through the card’s earning rates and features alone.
1x 5x Scene+ points on groceries, dining, and entertainment 1x 3x Scene+ points on gas, transit, and select streaming services
CIBC Aventura Gold Visa
The CIBC Aventura Gold Visa Card is another unique fixture on this list because its welcome bonus and most of its benefits are identical to those of its Visa Infinite counterpart, the CIBC Aventura Visa Infinite Card, which has a higher minimum income requirement.
What separates them is that the CIBC Aventura Gold Visa Card only requires a $15,000 minimum personal household income, making it accessible to many Canadians.
While the complimentary insurance coverage on this card isn’t as robust as its Visa Infinite cousin, its earning rates on everyday spending are identical, outlined as follows:
- 2 points per dollar spent on eligible travel booked directly via CIBC’s portal
- 1.5 points per dollar spent on eligible gas, groceries, EV charging, and pharmacy purchases
- 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases
However, the real magic comes in the form of its welcome bonus, which, compared to other cards, is one of the most generous in Canada relative to the size of the spend.
Currently, the card is offering a welcome bonus of up to 35,000 Aventura Points, structured as follows:
- 15,000 Aventura Points upon first purchase
- 20,000 Aventura Points upon spending $3,000 in four months
The welcome bonus points you’ll earn may be redeemed through CIBC’s Aventura portal in a variety of ways, such as gift cards and merchandise.
You may also use fixed amounts of Aventura points to redeem for flights with the CIBC Aventura Flight Rewards Chart.
For instance, 25,000–35,000 Aventura Points will get you a round-trip ticket from Toronto to Las Vegas or Vancouver in economy, up to a maximum base fare of $800.
You can also take advantage of CIBC’s ongoing promotion for redeeming Aventura Points directly against travel purchases charged to the card for 50% fewer points. Effectively, redeeming this way gives you a value of 1.25 cents per point, and thus, the 35,000 Aventura Points from the welcome bonus can yield a total value of $437.50.
In terms of the card’s other travel features, the CIBC Aventura Gold Visa Card has something that’s often not included on cards with lower income requirements: meaningful premium luxury enhancements.
If you’re approved for the card, you’re entitled to four complimentary lounge visits at participating DragonPass-affiliated lounges per year. Free lounge access is usually a benefit that comes in exchange for high annual fees, so it’s nice to see it provided on a card with lower income requirements.
Moreover, the CIBC Aventura Visa Gold offers a $50 (USD) NEXUS application fee credit for the primary cardholder – something that’s particularly useful for folks who often make trips to the United States. This is also a benefit included mostly with higher-tier cards.
As part of the current offer, the $139 annual fee is rebated for the first year, which means that you can score all of the above without an out-of-pocket cost in year one.
It’s never fun to feel like you’re being left out of an exclusive club, and sadly, some of the best credit cards in Canada are hidden behind high income requirements and huge annual fees.
However, as we’ve seen from this list, just because you don’t make big bucks doesn’t mean you can’t derive great value and benefits from travel credit cards.
Until next time, don’t forget to fill in the household income box at the time of application.
†Terms and conditions apply.