With a good travel credit card, travel suddenly becomes affordable. And it helps if you sign up for the right travel credit card—one that doesn’t just focus on points, but also has perks like companion flights, amazing insurance coverage and flexibility with transferring points between cards.
Which card you choose should be based on the type of travel you enjoy, where you spend the most money, and what additional travel benefits fit your lifestyle. To help you pick the perfect card, we’ve come up with a list of Canada’s best travel credit cards based on different categories.
The best travel points credit cards in Canada 2019
- Scotiabank Gold American Express and American Express Cobalt — Best travel rewards credit cards for everyday spending
- TD First Class Visa Infinite Card — Best Visa travel card
- Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card — Best travel points card for no foreign transaction fees
- BMO World Elite MasterCard — Honourable mention
- More on the best credits cards — View a full list of top cards by category
- Our methodology — For greater insight into our rankings
Best travel rewards credit cards for everyday spending
The Scotiabank Gold American Express—already a top-ranked card for Canadians—just got a whole lot better with a raft of changes on August 1, 2019. First let’s look at the headlines: There’s a new earn rate structure, two new earning categories, a change in foreign transaction fees, and a better welcome bonus. With a few minor exceptions, these adjustments all come out well in the cardholder’s favour.
This card works in the Scotia Rewards environment, a flexible program that allows consumers to collect points towards travel, merchandise, or even a cash credit on their account. While all these choices are terrific, this card is best known for how it helps Canadians travel. Cardholders can book their travel either through the Scotia Rewards Travel portal or on a different site where applied points will result in a statement credit. In both cases, 100 points are worth $1 in travel. And, in a move that will make travellers take notice, as of August 1, the Scotiabank Gold American Express has eliminated the foreign currency conversion fee—a change that will automatically save you the 2.5% to 3% that most cards automatically charge on purchases abroad.
Earning points is easy, and the new rates offer account holders lots of options to earn—including in two new categories: public transit and eligible streaming services. In the top tier, groceries, entertainment and dining earn 5 Scotia Rewards points per dollar. Gas, public transit, and streaming services earn 3 points per dollar; and everything else earns 1 point. (It should be noted that travel purchases earning 1 point per dollar with Scotiabank’s Gold Amex will earn American Express Cobalt Express cardholders double that—a variable that might sway your decision if you spend significant money on travel.)
The Gold Amex offers travel insurance that covers you for 25 days per trip (3 days for seniors), and the card entitles you to a discount on Priority Pass Lounge Access.
- Annual fee: $120
- Welcome bonus: 30,000 Scotia Rewards points, with 25,000 applied when you charge $1,000 to your card in the first 3 months and another 5,000 after a $10,000 spend in the first year
- Earn rate: 5 points per dollar on dining, groceries and entertainment; 3 points on public transit, gas and selected streaming services; and 1 point on all other purchases
- Additional benefits: No foreign transaction fees, discount on Priority Pass Lounge Access (no free passes), travel insurance
With an incredible earn rate of 5 points per dollar spent on eats and drinks, the American Express Cobalt card earns you considerable travel points on these purchases—and the dining category is quite generous as it includes grocery stores, restaurants, bars and even food delivery services.
Getting 2 points per dollar spent on travel is no joke, either. Travel typically refers to just flights, hotels and vacation packages, but with this card, it also covers gas, public transportation, taxis, and Ubers. For those frequently on the move, this reward edges out what you’d earn from the Scotiabank Gold Amex (above) on travel.
Other benefits include access to the Fixed Points Travel Program, hotel transfer partners, American Express Invites, and a good travel insurance package—but note that it doesn’t include trip cancellation insurance.
- Annual fee: $120 ($10 monthly)
- Welcome bonus: 30,000 points (2,500 per month, for 12 months when you charge a minimum of $500 to your card each month)
- Earn rate: 5 points per dollar spent on eats and drinks, 2 points per dollar spent on travel, 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases
- Additional benefits: American Express Invites, travel insurance
Best Visa travel card
If you’re a casual traveller who’s looking for a card that will help you save on your next vacation, the TD First Class Travel Visa Infinite Card makes it easy to earn and redeem points. You’ll get 3 TD Rewards points for every $1 you spend. Even better, you get 9 points when booking your travel on the Expedia For TD platform, which works out to a 4.5% return in points.
There’s no airport lounge access with this card, but the current welcome bonus of up to 80,000 points is worth up to $400, and it’s easy to obtain: You’ll get 20,000 points after your first purchase, another 40,000 points when charge $2,000 to your card in the first 90 days of card membership, plus 20,000 more points if you spend a total of $10,000 on the card in your first year. The annual fee of $120 is waived for the first year as part of the current promotion. Note that TD clients with an All-Inclusive account may also get their annual fee waived for this card on an ongoing basis.
- Annual fee: $120—waived for the first year
- Welcome bonus: 60,000 TD Rewards points when you charge $2,000 to you card in the first 90 days of card membership, plus an additional 20,000 bonus points if you spend $10,000 on the card in your first year
- Earn rate: 9 points per dollar spent on Expedia for TD, 3 points per dollar spent on all other purchases
- Additional benefits: travel insurance
Best travel points card with no foreign transaction fees
Instead of focusing on the best signup bonus or the highest earn rate, some travellers prefer a credit card they can think of as a kind of partner on their journeys. That’s where the Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card comes into play: It was clearly designed for world travellers.
The card comes with no foreign transaction fees, so you’re saving money whenever you make a purchase in a foreign currency. You also get six free annual airport lounge passes each year, travel insurance and a sign-up bonus currently worth $250. This card is a great option for people who want just one credit card that they can use at home and abroad without many worries, while taking advantage of the variety of travel benefits included. Another bonus: as a Visa card, users can be assured of wide acceptance, wherever they are in the world.
- Annual fee: $139
- Welcome bonus: 25,000 points when you charge $1,000 to you card in the first 3 months
- Earn rate: 2 points per dollar spent on grocery stores, dining, entertainment and daily transit purchases, 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases
- Additional benefits: No foreign transaction fees, airport lounge access with 6 free annual passes, travel insurance
Right now, the BMO World Elite MasterCard comes with a sign-up bonus of 35,000 points when you charge $3,000 to your card in the first three months of card membership. Those points have a value of $250 which is quite generous.
Another appealing aspect of the card is that the annual fee is waived for the first year. Normally, you would pay $150 for that fee so in essence, your sign-up bonus in the first year is worth up to $400.
The four free annual airport lounge passes are good at any MasterCard Airport Experiences provided by LoungeKey which is basically the same as Priority Pass lounges.
One thing to note, it takes 140 points to claim $1 in travel. This isn’t a big deal since the earn rate is still decent, but it may not be optimal for those who don’t spend a lot on travel, dining or entertainment.
- Annual fee: $150 (first year free)
- Welcome bonus: 35,000 points when you charge $3,000 to you card in the first 3 months
- Earn rate: 3 points per dollar spent on travel, dining and entertainment, 2 points per dollar spent on all other purchases
- Additional benefits: Airport lounge access with 4 free annual passes, travel insurance.
Canada’s Best Travel Credit Cards – Net Annual Rewards
|Card||Net reward (excluding 1st-year sign-up bonus)|
|Scotiabank Gold American Express||$612|
|American Express Cobalt||$501|
|TD First Class Travel Visa Infinite Card||$303|
|Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card||$212|
|BMO World Elite Mastercard||$244|
In-Depth: THE BEST CREDIT CARDS BY CATEGORY
- Overall Best Credit Cards in Canada
- Best Rewards Credit Cards
- Best Cash Back Credit Cards
- Best No Fee Rewards Credit Cards
- Best Low Interest Credit Cards
- Best Balance Transfer Credit Cards
- Best Student Credit Cards
For the Best Travel Credit Cards 2019 ranking, MoneySense tapped into Ratehub.ca’s‡ credit card tool and ran the numbers for travel point cards based on $2,000 in monthly spending. We used the following scenario: $500 on groceries, $200 on gas, $200 on restaurants, $125 on bill payments, $175 on travel, $225 on entertainment, $75 on pharmacy purchases and $500 on everything else.
The annual net reward in dollar terms was then used to identify the top travel cards for each type of spender, as well as an honorary mention. Our methodology also took into consideration other factors, including welcome offers, the range of spending bonus categories, annual fee waivers, loyalty program flexibility and travel insurance perks.
—With Julie Cazzin
‡MoneySense.ca and Ratehub.ca are both owned by parent company Ratehub Inc. We may be partnered with some financial institutions, but this does not influence the “Canada’s Best Credit Card” rankings. You can read more about this in our Editorial Code of Conduct.