PointsWise Picks – The Best Travel Reward Cards In Canada

2018-07-08T16:50:08+00:00 December 1st, 2017|Best Credit Cards, Reviews|

Best Travel Reward Cards In Canada Introduction

Let me preface this post by saying a lot of what you’ll read is subjective, and based on my personal experiences earning and redeeming travel reward points. So while note completely scientific, I have managed to earn and redeem millions of travel reward points, and think it’s time I share a new list of what I consider the best travel reward cards in Canada, and provide ongoing updates as my opinions change (due to fluctuations in welcome bonuses, first year free promotions, etc). For the sake of transparency, we do earn referral bonuses on many of the links on our website, but that won’t impact where we rank cards. A lot of the reason American Express will always be near the top of my list is because of their generous referral program, which allows every cardmember the chance to earn hundreds of thousands of additional miles per year! Also keep in mind I recommend these cards for people who plan to travel somewhat frequently, who will be able to get some value out of paying annual fees.

While not a complete breakdown of the methods behind my madness, I generally consider the following factors when determining if a credit card is worth the effort:

  • Welcome bonus
  • Annual fee (first year free promotions, value in paying)
  • Earning potential on everyday spend
  • Ability to churn 

Without further ado, let’s get to the list, starting with out top pick!

The Best Travel Reward Cards In Canada

1) The American Express Platinum Card

This may come as a bit of a surprise to some, considering this card is expensive. At $699 per year, it is one of the most costly credit cards in Canada, but easily the most rewarding. When I sat down to think of the best travel reward cards in Canada, I tried to think beyond the obvious factors many experts look to first – as many points as possible for as little as possible. I started to think of which card has personally been most rewarding, longterm, and without a doubt consider my Platinum Card the best pick. Almost every Canadian considering travel hacking as a hobby needs to get one of these cards. I’ll break down why:

Even if you didn’t use the card, you would get a minimum $1,000 worth of value from the welcome bonus and annual travel credits (even if you redeemed the welcome bonus for a statement credit at 1 cent per point), still putting you $301 dollars ahead of the annual fee. If, however, you decide to maximize the value in your points and take advantage of the card benefits, you could easily pull thousands and thousands of dollars in value out of this card. Just recently I booked a basic room at the Four Seasons Pudong in Shanghai where I was treated to a multiple category room upgrade to a Pearl View Suite through the American Express Fine Hotels And Resorts program. This upgrade easily justified paying the fee for me, and allowed for a hotel experience I will never forget.

View From My Upgraded Suite Courtesy Of My Platinum Card

View From My Upgraded Suite Courtesy Of My Platinum Card

2) The American Express Business Platinum Card 

At the risk of making this list a bit repetitive, I have to give the second spot to The Business Platinum Card from American Express. Three reasons:

  1. Another great welcome bonus – 60,000 Membership Reward points after spending $7,000 in the first three months of membership
  2. Slightly less cringe worthy annual fee – $499 per year
  3. Generous referral program – currently offering 15,000 Membership Reward points for each approved referral, up to 225,000 points per year – enough for a first class trip around the world

In addition to the above reasons, the Business Platinum card comes with most of the benefits found on the personal card, except for the annual statement credits. The welcome bonus alone makes this one of the best travel reward cards in Canada.

Any Welcome Bonus That Can Get You This Is Worthy Of Being Called One Of The Best Travel Reward Cards In Canada

Any Welcome Bonus That Can Get You This Is Worthy Of Being Called One Of The Best Travel Reward Cards In Canada

3) Alaska Airlines MBNA Mastercard

This card makes the list for one reason only – Alaska Airlines is arguably the best program out there for international travel on partner airlines, with some of the most competitive redemption rates on world-class airlines like Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines. I’ve redeemed Alaska miles for first class on Cathay Pacific, which was one of the best flights I’ve ever taken.

Cathay Pacific First Class - Great Use Of Alaska Airline Miles!

Cathay Pacific First Class – Great Use Of Alaska Airline Miles!

Currently MBNA is offering 30,000 miles after spending $1,000 in the first three months of membership. Unfortunately the $99 annual fee is not waived, though Great Canadian Rebates often has cash back offers on approved applications through them, so they’re definitely worth checking out before applying. Also, the earn rate is a bit lame at 1 mile per dollar, so I don’t actually use this card for a lot of everyday spend (except at Costco where I can’t use my American Express cards). As an added bonus, Alaska offers an annual companion ticket for just $99 plus taxes, which can be useful for anyone booking revenue tickets with Alaska Airlines. A lot of my friends use this benefit for paid tickets to Hawaii, where fares can get expensive!

The Companion Ticket Can Be A Valuable Benefit For Travel To Hawaii

The Companion Ticket Can Be A Valuable Benefit For Travel To Hawaii

4) The American Express Gold Rewards Card

What once used to be my number one card on any list of the best travel reward cards in Canada has taken a bit of a slip since American Express took away the first year free promotion. At $150 annually, this is one of the more expensive premium credit cards on the market, but does still come with a lot of great benefits that could make it a no-brainer for many Canadians. Highlights include:

  • 30,000 Membership Reward points after spending $1,500 in the first three months of membership and adding a supplementary cardholder (no additional fee) during the application
  • Access to the referral program, though not as generous as the Platinum cards
  • Comprehensive insurance coverage including out of country health insurance
  • Good earning potential with 2X the points on gas, grocery, travel, and drugstore purchases, which can really add up longterm
  • Membership Reward points are one of my favourite reward currencies in Canada, with valuable transfer partners including Aeroplan, SPG, and British Airways

While I wouldn’t necessarily say this is a card everyone needs to have, it could be a great way to earn a significant number of Membership Reward points if you find yourself a bit short for a redemption with one of the transfer partner programs, or if you spend a significant amount of money in any of the increased earning categories!

5) The RBC Visa Infinite Avion Card

No RBC card has ever made my list of the best travel reward cards in Canada, simply because I find most of their products have underwhelming welcome bonuses and they rarely seem to offer first year free. However, any good travel hacker needs to have a Visa in their wallet, and I just don’t think Aeroplan branded cards are worth it anymore since Aeroplan is a Membership Reward transfer program and the future of Aeroplan is a bit unknown at this point (Air Canada has announced their relationship with them will be ending in 2020, at which point they will launch a new loyalty program).

Right now RBC is offering 25,000 Avion points as a welcome bonus with no minimum spend requirement, with the annual fee waived the first year. The earn rate is also a bit lame, with one point earned for each dollar spent. However, the acceptability of Visa is great compared to American Express, and you may be surprised at how quickly everyday purchases turn into free travel.

You may be asking, how on earth did such a mediocre product make my list of the best travel reward cards in Canada? One reason really – the ability to transfer RBC Reward points to British Airways Executive Club. On any given day RBC Rewards transfer to British Airways Avios at a 1:1 ratio, however, we often see promotions with a 30-50% bonus. In fact, RBC is currently offering a 30% bonus on points transferred between now and December 31, 2017, so if you were planning to redeem British Airways points soon, but find yourself a bit short for a redemption, now may be the time to apply for this card! Some great uses of Avios points include:

Roundtrip economy tickets on Alaska from the west coast to Hawaii for 25,000 British Airways Avios

Use Avios For Cheap Travel From The West Coast To Hawaii On Alaska Airlines

Use Avios For Cheap Travel From The West Coast To Hawaii On Alaska Airlines

Short-haul business class within Asia on Cathay Pacific!

Cathay Pacific Short Haul Business Class For Only 9,000 Avios

Cathay Pacific Short Haul Business Class For Only 9,000 Avios

Best Travel Reward Cards in Canada Bottom Line

As mentioned in the introduction, this list is really just a subjective collection of the cards I think many Canadian could benefit from. Are there other great cards on the market? Absolutely. However, right now I think these are the best picks for Canadians wanting to leverage industry leading welcome bonuses, take advantage of current transfer promotions between programs, or for those who want cards that can continue to provide benefits long term, beyond the initial sign-up offer.

How does our list compare with your own picks for the best travel reward cards in Canada? Tell us your thoughts in the comment section below!

About the Author:

Champagne taste on a beer budget has always been reminiscent of Tyler’s travel style. Raised in British Columbia, Tyler has an unquenchable thirst for more adventure, which is fueled by leveraging airline and hotel loyalty programs to travel the world in luxury and style. Want to learn how you can travel the world on points, like Tyler? Check out the ebook for more expert advice.


  1. john m December 2, 2017 at 4:34 pm - Reply

    Interesting points about the RBC VISA Infinite Avion.

    What about the Amex SPG personal and business cards? The Starpoints are valuable and I find that the $1500 min. spend relatively easy to achieve.

    • Tyler Weatherup December 2, 2017 at 5:57 pm - Reply

      Hey John,

      It was almost a coin toss between the SPG card and the Personal Gold Card. Here was my thinking –

      The Amex Gold card comes with a 30,000 Membership Reward welcome bonus, which can be converted to 15,000 SPG points if needed (just slightly less than the SPG card welcome bonus). I also suspect Amex will run various promotions offering first year free – something that has never been offered on the SPG cards.

      The two other considerations were 1) out of country medical insurance, just by being a cardmember, which I consider extremely valuable and 2) The Membership Reward cards are very easy to get approved for, whereas the Starwood Cards (credit cards, not charge cards) seem to have more stringent approval requirements.

      The last consideration which gave the Gold card a slight edge was future of both programs. For some, earning reward points is a long play, and I’m just not sure how long the SPG program will be around (at least as we know it), with American Express slowly devaluing their offers (we recently witnessed the welcome bonus and referral bonus decrease). Membership Reward points, on the other hand, are a reasonably safe currency and I don’t suspect any major devaluations in the near future.

      I’m still a fan of Starwood Points – they’re one of my favourite reward currencies in Canada, and I transfer many of my Membership Reward points to SPG for some great redemptions. I suspected I would get a response questioning why they didn’t make the cut! Thanks for the comment!

  2. John Bucher December 5, 2017 at 9:12 am - Reply

    What about the Cobalt from Amex?

    • Tyler Weatherup December 5, 2017 at 9:40 am - Reply

      Hey John,

      Personally not a fan of the new Cobalt card with the instalment welcome bonus/annual fee which requires significant spending throughout the year. The category bonuses are great, but the redemption options are limited with no options for airline transfers, which is where I use most of my MR points. You can check out my full review here!

      • john m December 7, 2017 at 4:42 pm - Reply

        And such a long wait to collect those MR points. It’s the anti-churning card! Tyler can correct me if I’m wrong, but my sense is that you’re better off concentrating your efforts on collecting welcome bonuses rather than trying to collect points through regular spending.

  3. Rozza December 9, 2017 at 4:13 pm - Reply

    RBC Avion has a 25k offer

    • Tyler Weatherup December 9, 2017 at 4:43 pm - Reply

      Thanks for the tip! I’ve updated the post with a link to the 25,000 point welcome bonus!

  4. Sarah June 22, 2018 at 2:47 pm - Reply

    I’ve had the avion for many years. Transferring to avios/British airways and flying on business class BA or American (though seat availability on aa with avios points is chancey). Also transfer when there is a bonus offer.

    I’ve also recently started transferring to WestJet when there is a bonus. Because I buy nights and flight packages on marriott (Amex card points) choose delta and use delta points to fly on west jet.

    You can also transfer RBI avion to Cathay pacific and aa directly but in the above methods tend to yield better value in my opinion.

    I use Amex cads first (cobalt in dining up to 500 per month, platinum after/elsewhere) then rbc avion where Amex not accepted.

    Thoughts welcomed. Thanks Tyler for coc resting a great space where we can share ideas.

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