***Update as of April 19th, 2018***
There have been a lot of changes to the credit card market in Canada since this post, and as such, some of the below offers are no longer available. For the most up-to-date list of our favourite cards in Canada, check out this new post!
Not all travel reward cards are created equally. Many banks tout their cards as the best, with either ‘no blackout dates’ or ‘zero taxes and fees’ on award redemptions. While some of this is true, most is just clever marketing.
I’ve compiled a list of what I consider the best travel reward cards available to Canadians. I always like to use points for aspirational travel (travel I wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford without points), and therefore avoid credit cards with fixed value redemptions, such as The Scotiabank American Express, RBC Visa Infinite Avion card, and CIBC Aventura Visa Infinite card. However, these cards could be good for people who want the most flexibility when travel planning, and don’t care so much about extracting maximum value out of their points.
I decided to create a scoring system out of 100 based on factors which I consider important. These categories (and weight) are as follows:
Welcome Bonus (25 points total)
- size of bonus (20 pts)
- ease to attain/spending requirement (5 pts)
Annual Fee (15 points total)
- first year free (10 pts)
- value/benefits for fee (5 pts)
Earning Potential (20 points total)
- normal earning rate (10 pts)
- category bonuses (5 pts)
- card acceptability (5pts)
Flexibility of Points (20 points total)
- transfer/booking partners (15 pts)
- fixed value redemptions (5 pts)
Referral Program (10 points total)
- does it have one? (5 pts)
- earning potential (5 pts)
Insurance Coverage and Other Benefits (10 points total)
- insurance coverage (5 pts)
- other benefits/perks (5 pts)
With that in mind, here’s my list of the top 5 Canadian travel reward cards, in descending order:
5) TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Credit Card – 70/100
TD and CIBC both offer premium Visa cards that earn Aeroplan points. I wouldn’t consider either of them better than the other, as they are essentially identical products. However, I do find that TD generally has better sign-up bonuses, and often waives the first year annual fee, which is why this card made the list and CIBC didn’t. One thing to watch out for with TD (and CIBC) products: you need to shop around for the best offer before applying. What TD advertises in their website may not be the best offer. Currently the TD website is offering 15,000 Aeroplan points after your first purchase without an annual fee waiver. However, a quick google search found another offer with 25,000 welcome points with the first year free. That being said, I will always try to keep the best available offer up to date on this website!
4) MBNA Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan MasterCard – 74/100
Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan is one of my favourite airline programs due to the generous routing rules on award tickets and multiple airline partners. However, for Canadians living anywhere but the west coast, earning Alaska miles can be tricky. Thankfully MBNA has a solid offering with the Alaska Airlines Mastercard. I consider Alaska miles amongst the most valuable out there – so don’t be discouraged by the lack of category spend bonuses. Also, this MasterCard offers a companion pass annually, where you can bring along a second passenger on any paid ticket in North America for only $99USD plus taxes and fees. The annual fee isn’t waived the first year with this card, but is lower than most premium cards at just $75 per year, and comes with 25,000 Alaska miles after the first purchase.
3) The American Express Platinum Card – 80/100
Arguably the most rewarding card in terms of benefits, the American Express Canadian Platinum Card is in a league of it’s own. Earning potential is reasonable, at 1.25 points for every $1 spent, along with a 50,000 membership reward point welcome bonus. Cardmembers also receive a $200 annual travel credit every year, making the $699 annual fee a bit more palatable.
Also included is access to The Fine Hotels and Resorts program, industry-leading insurance coverage, elite status in participating hotel loyalty programs, and airport lounge access worldwide. My favourite feature of any American Express card in Canada is the referral program. On this particular card, you can earn 15,000 bonus membership reward points for each approved referral, up to 225,000 points per year. Click here for a full review of The American Express Canadian Platinum Card!
SPG is my favourite hotel loyalty program for flexible hotel redemptions and the massive number of airline transfer partners. Other than staying at Starwood or Marriott properties, there are very few ways for Canadians to earn SPG points, save for The American Express Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card. Earning is simple: 1 SPG point for every $1 charged to the card on every purchase. Earn 2 points per $1 at participating Starwood and Marriott properties worldwide. This card could be number 1 on the list if American Express would run a promotion with first year annual fee waiver. Thankfully, the sign-up bonus is fantastic, with 50,000 American Express points after spending $1,500 in the first 3 months of membership. Free night redemptions start at only 2,000 points per night, and can be transferred to almost any airlines at a 1:1 ratio. Canadians should hurry to sign-up for this card as the future of the SPG program is unknown with the recent merger with Marriott. You can also read my full review of this card, along with ways to earn and redeem SPG points, by following this link.
1) The American Express Gold Rewards Card – 87/100
This is a card every Canadian should have, regardless of travel goals. With a 25,000 Membership Reward point welcome bonus and comprehensive insurance coverage, there really is something for everyone. Membership Reward points are extremely valuable for Canadian travellers, as they can be easily transferred to Aeroplan or British Airways Executive Club at a 1:1 ratio. For those who require more flexibility, points can also be used as a fixed value redemption ($0.01 per point) towards any travel purchase charged to the card. Check out my comprehensive review of The American Express Gold Rewards card to find out more!
If you’re new to travel hacking, you’ll want to check out the top 10 questions for travel hacker beginners in Canada.