Canada’s best travel credit cards 2020
Fly high with the points you rack up with these top travel reward cards.
Fly high with the points you rack up with these top travel reward cards.
With a good travel credit card in your name, going on a trip can suddenly become affordable. And, you can get even more value if you sign up for the right travel credit card—one that doesn’t just focus on points, but also has perks such as lounge access, amazing insurance coverage and the flexibility to transfer points between cards.
The card you choose should be based on the type of travel you enjoy, where you spend the most money and which 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.
With an incredible earn rate of five Points per dollar spent on eats and drinks, the American Express Cobalt card is a winner for those who eat out—and the dining category is quite generous as it includes grocery stores, restaurants, bars and even food delivery services.
Getting two 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 frequent flyers always on the move, this reward is twice as much as what you’d earn from the Scotiabank Gold American Express (below) on flights and hotel stays.
Other benefits include access to the Fixed Points Travel Program (which lets you maximize your Points on round-trip flights), hotel transfer partners, American Express Invites and a good travel insurance package—but note that it doesn’t include trip cancellation insurance. Plus, you can add additional authorized cardholders for free.
This card makes it easy to earn a ton of Points on your everyday purchases. 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. This card works in the Scotia Rewards environment, a flexible program that allows cardholders 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 on any airline 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 there’s no foreign currency conversion fee—this will automatically save you the 2.5% to 3% that most cards automatically charge on purchases abroad.
The Scotiabank Gold American Express offers travel insurance that covers you for up to 25 days per trip (3 days for seniors), and the card entitles you to access presale concert tickets with American Express Front Of The Line.
If you’re a regular 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 online, which works out to a 4.5% return in Points, and 6 Points when booking on Expedia for TD by phone for a 3% return.
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, and up to 60,000 Points on purchases during the first three months, when you earn 5 times the Points on your purchases. The annual fee of $120 is rebated 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.
Right now, this card 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 BMO World Elite Mastercard* 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 over 1,000 lounges that part of the Mastercard Airport Experiences by LoungeKey network which is basically the same as Priority Pass. Furthermore, Mastercard is more widely accepted than some of the other card providers; you can use it to shop at stores like No Frills and Costco.
Instead of focusing on the best sign-up 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 airport lounge passes each year, travel insurance and a sign-up bonus currently worth $300. This card is a great option for people who want just one credit card they can use at home and abroad without many worries, while taking advantage of the variety of travel benefits included. Another bonus: Visa card users can be assured of wide acceptance, wherever they are in the world.
If you want the opportunity to earn travel rewards but don’t want to pay an annual fee, we recommend the MBNA Platinum Plus Mastercard. As a cardholder, you earn MBNA Points at a regular rate of 2 Points per dollar spent on groceries, gas and restaurant purchases and 1 Point per dollar on everything else—but with the limited time welcome promotion, you get four times the Points on your bonus categories for the first 90 days of your account. This is a great opportunity to beef up your Points cache, particularly with these frequently used earnings categories, but you should be aware that these rewards are capped at a maximum of $5,000 in each category annually. Spends over this amount will be rewarded at the regular 1 Point per dollar rate.
There’s a 10,000-Point bonus with this no fee card, which works out to about $100 in travel. Another major benefit to this card is that when you book travel with your MBNA Points, you can book on any airline you wish. In addition to the usual purchase protection and extended warranty, car rentals with Avis or Budget Rent A Car may be discounted. Unfortunately, the MBNA Platinum Plus Mastercard doesn’t have travel emergency coverage.
When Marriott merged their loyalty program with Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) and Ritz-Carlton Rewards, consumers had a lot of questions and concerns. The good news is the deal is done and the resulting program—and the attached credit card—easily earns a spot in this best-of travel list. It’s tough to know just where to start with the benefits of the Marriott Bonvoy American Express. For many, it’s the massive 50,000-Point welcome bonus—a gift large enough to get you three nights at eligible hotels, and that’s in addition to the one free hotel stay each year every member receives.
While the welcome bonuses and free nights are strong incentives in and of themselves, the Marriott Bonvoy American Express offers a multiplier of up to 5x the Points per dollar on spends at Marriott Bonvoy properties, and 1 Point per dollar on everything else. Frequent travellers will find it’s easy to earn, and the Points themselves are spectacularly flexible. As the world’s largest hotel conglomerate, Marriott Points can be redeemed for free hotel stays at more than 7,000 hotels worldwide including at Marriott, Delta, Ritz-Carlton, Courtyard properties and more. Additionally, you can transfer your Points to more than 40 airline programs, including Aeroplan.
The card’s insurance package is quite strong, including $500,000 in travel accident coverage, car rental theft and damage protection and hotel/motel burglary insurance—but do be aware that it lacks travel emergency medical coverage. Overall, this is a very strong card for frequent travellers looking to maximize loyalty perks on their hotel stays.
As one of the most valuable—and potentially life-saving—perks in a travel credit card, insurance is a highly competitive part of any package. The National Bank World Elite Mastercard gets our nod for two main reasons: they offer a higher than average coverage amount and they offer an excellent package for people over 65 years.
Cardholders of the National Bank World Elite Mastercard have included trip cancellation (up to $2,500 per person), trip interruption (up to $5,000 per person), flight delay (up to $500 per person over 4 hours), and insurance against baggage theft, loss or delay. Additionally, there’s up to $5,000,000 in out-of-province-of-residence medical or hospital insurance—for 60 days for folks under 54 years old, 31 days for those between 55 and 64, and 15 days for travellers aged 65 to 75.
This insurance package is outstanding on its own, but coupled with extra perks like VIP lounge access at the Montreal airport, travel rebates and overall travel assistance, the National Bank World Elite Mastercard is setting itself up to be an excellent all-around travel card.
|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|
|BMO World Elite Mastercard||$244|
|Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card||$212|
|MBNA Rewards Platinum Plus||$348|
|National Bank World Elite||$138|
|Marriott Bonvoy AMEX||Point value varies|
For the best travel credit cards of 2020 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.
‡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.
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