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
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:
- 60,000 American Express Membership Reward points after spending $3,000 in the first three months of membership
- $400 travel credit the first year (one upon activation and one at the start of the new calendar year) that can be used for hotel stays booked through American Express Travel
- Access to the American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts program
- Instant Gold Status in the Starwood Preferred Guest Program and Marriott Rewards Program
- Accelerated status in the Fairmont President’s Club program
- Priority Pass membership with access to more than 850 airport lounges worldwide regardless of cabin class
- Generous referral program to earn extra points quickly and easily
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.
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:
- Even bigger welcome bonus – a whopping 75,000 Membership Reward points after spending $5,000 in the first three months of membership
- Slightly less cringe worthy annual fee – $399 per year
- Insanely generous referral program – currently offering 25,000 Membership Reward points for each approved referral. That means you could earn enough for a roundtrip ticket anywhere in North America for anyone you refer for the card. No other card comes close to this. Period.
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 and Priority Pass membership (you still get some lounge access through Premium Plaza and Centurion lounges). The welcome bonus alone makes this one of the best travel reward cards in Canada, being enough for a one-way ticket to Asia in business class when transferring to Aeroplan!
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.
Currently MBNA is offering 25,000 miles after spending $1,000 in the first three months of membership. Unfortunately the $75 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!
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!
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
15,000 25,000 points as a welcome bonus with no minimum spend requirement, but the $120 annual fee is not waived the first year (they do occasionally run promotions which is when I would personally apply for this card). 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:
Short-haul business class within Asia on Cathay Pacific!
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!