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Travel points credit cards
Earn travel points with your everyday credit card spending and enjoy free flights, airport lounge access, upgrades and other perks.
The 5 best travel points credit cards in Canada
|Travel credit card||Travel points||Apply and learn more|
|Best overall travel card:American Express Cobalt Card||Earn 5 Membership Rewards points per $1 spent at eligible grocery stores, restaurants, bars, cafés and food delivery services, 2 points per $1 spent at eligible gas stations, and on transit and travel purchases, and 1 point per $1 spent elsewhere.||Go to site|
|Best for no annual fee:Scotiabank American Express Card||Earn 1 Scotia Rewards point for every $1 spent on eligible purchases. Use your Card and book travel through the full-service travel agency, Scotia Rewards Travel Service. Plus, get special travel offers through Scotia Rewards Travel Advantage.||Go to site|
|Best for no foreign exchange fee:Scotiabank Gold American Express Card||Earn 5 Scotia Rewards points per $1 spent on eligible grocery, dining and entertainment purchases, 3 points per $1 spent on eligible gas, transportation and select streaming services, and 1 point per $1 spent on eligible purchases elsewhere.||Go to site|
|Best for frequent flyers:BMO World Elite Mastercard||Get 3 BMO Rewards points per $1 spent on eligible travel, dining and entertainment purchases (up to $50,000 spend annually), and 2 points per $1 spent on all other eligible purchases (and once you reach the $50,000 annual spend).||Go to site|
|Best for travel perks:American Express Aeroplan Reserve Card||Earn 3x the points on eligible purchases made directly with Air Canada and Air Canada Vacations, 2x the points on eligible dining and food delivery purchases in Canada, and 1x the points on everything else.||Go to site|
What's in this guide?
- How do travel points cards work?
- How to compare travel points credit cards
- Is a travel points card right for me?
- Compare a range of travel rewards credit cards
- The 3 types travel points programs offering credit cards in Canada
- Compare travel points credit cards from popular rewards programs
- How to decide which travel points program to join
- How to compare credit cards with airline miles
- How to redeem travel rewards points
- How to get bonus points with a travel rewards credit card
- Bottom line
How do travel points cards work?
Travel rewards credit cards give you a way to earn points on your everyday spending by offering a set number of points for every dollar spent (such as 1 point for $1 spent or 1 point for $2 spent) on eligible purchases. This means the more you spend, the more points you can rack up. There are different ways to earn and redeem reward points depending on the type of credit card you choose and the rewards offered by the provider.
Some travel points credit cards send points directly to your account and other rewards credit cards allow you to transfer points to a variety of other eligible travel reward accounts. Your card may also have tiered earn rates – different earn rates depending on the type of purchase – and points caps that reduce or limit points earnings after you spend a certain amount each statement period. As your points are debited to your account, you can redeem them for a variety of rewards including flights, upgrades, accommodation and plenty of other perks.
When you’re chosing a travel rewards credit card, there are two different options to consider:
How to compare travel points credit cards
With a large variety of travel points credit cards in Canada, you have plenty of options to discover a card that suits your travel goals and financial circumstances. You should compare the following key factors when choosing the best travel rewards credit card for you:
- The travel rewards program. Choosing a credit card that earns points for a specific travel program you already use will help you maximize your rewards. For example, if you exclusively fly with WestJet, you wouldn’t get as much value from a card that offered British Airways points. If you don’t belong to a program yet, think about which airline(s) you travel with the most and look at their loyalty program options.
- Points earning rate. Check the standard rate of points you’ll earn for each dollar spent on the card. Be aware that a different earn rate could apply for certain types of spending, such as overseas purchases. There are usually some transactions that won’t earn points – such as cash advances and gambling transactions – and there may be a limit to the points you can earn each month or year, so make sure you check restrictions for the cards you’re comparing.
- Reward values. Consider the types of rewards you want to claim, the number of points you’ll need and how much you’d have to spend to redeem your preferred reward. Check how these values measure up between programs, so you can apply for the card that offers the greatest value based on your spending and reward goals.
- Annual fee. Ideally, the card’s annual fee should cost less than the rewards and any complimentary extras that you intend to use. If you don’t reap these rewards, it may not be worth paying a high annual fee for the card.
- Promotional rates and features. Travel rewards credit cards sometimes have promotions for new customers, such as bonus points, 0% purchase rates or no annual fee for the first year. These benefits can add value to the card that you choose, but make sure you read the terms and conditions and confirm the length of the introductory period so that these offers work for you.
- Complimentary extras. Travel rewards credit cards often come with a selection of complimentary extras such as international travel insurance, extended warranties, concierge services and airline lounge access. The value of these perks can be used to offset the cost of the annual fee of the credit card, as long as you know you will actually use them.
- Foreign transaction fee.
The best travel credit cards may come with no foreign transaction fees. Skipping this fee means saving around 2.5% on every purchase made abroad and with foreign online merchants.
- Secured vs. unsecured.
You’ll need to put down a security deposit to open a secured card, but you might have more products to choose from. Meanwhile, you don’t need a security deposit for an unsecured card, but you might have fewer options.
Is a travel points card right for me?
If you’re interested in getting a travel rewards credit card, weigh up these pros and cons to decide if it will be worth it for you:
- Redeem flights and travel upgrades faster. If you’re earning points every time you spend with your credit card, you can maximize the number of points you’re earning and reach your reward goals faster. Points can likely be used toward both domestic and international flights, as well as perks like business class upgrades, seat upgrades, dining upgrades and airport lounge access.
- Sign-up bonus points. Some credit cards offer introductory bonus points as an incentive for new customers to sign up. Depending on the card, you could earn up to 100,000 bonus points (or more) when you meet the spend requirement. Not only will this give your points balance a boost, but it’s also another way you can redeem rewards more quickly.
- Large range of rewards. You can use the points you earn to redeem rewards including flights with your preferred airline and its partners, hotels, online shopping and more.
- Travel perks. Designed to suit frequent flyers and travellers, these cards often come with extra features such as flight vouchers, airport lounge passes and 24/7 concierge services.
- Complimentary insurance. Many travel rewards credit cards come with complimentary travel insurance, which can help you save on stand-alone insurance costs when you’re travelling.
- High interest rates. Travel rewards credit cards often come with less competitive interest rates than other cards and are suited to cardholders who consistently pay off their balance each month and can avoid the high interest charges.
- Expensive annual fees. Travel rewards credit cards typically come with higher annual fees than standard credit card options. Make sure that the value of the points you can earn and the extra features of the card outweigh the annual fee.
- Temptation to spend. If you struggle to repay your credit card on time each month or you need to consolidate debt, a travel rewards credit card might tempt you to spend for the sake of receiving points. If you are struggling to pay off existing debt, you might want to consider a card designed for balance transfers instead.
- Airline and flight restrictions. If you want to use points for flights or upgrades, you will likely be limited to a specific airline or alliance of airlines. There may also be blackout dates or limited availability for reward flights and upgrades.
- Offer requirements. Travel rewards credit cards that come with introductory offers or complimentary insurance may have specific spending requirements you need to meet to enjoy these benefits. Make sure that the spend requirement is realistic with your budget and monthly spending.
Compare a range of travel rewards credit cards
The 3 types travel points programs offering credit cards in Canada
There are 3 main types of travel rewards programs in Canada that offer credit cards. The one that’s the right fit for you will depend on how many miles you want to earn and what you’re looking to get out of the program.
1. Standalone programs
Standalone programs require a membership to participate and let you earn miles when you shop with partners and online retailers. You can also use your program-affiliated credit card to earn travel rewards.
- AIR MILES. AIR MILES is one of the biggest travel points programs in Canada and offers the chance for members to earn miles on everyday purchases like gas, groceries and pharmacy purchases. It works primarily with banking partners BMO and Amex to offer basic and premium credit cards to fit any budget.
2. Bank-affiliated programs
Bank-affiliated programs are linked to a specific bank and don’t require a membership to participate. These programs don’t tend to have partners, so you’ll only be able to earn travel rewards when you shop with your bank-affiliated credit card.
- Aventura. Aventura is tied exclusively to the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC). It doesn’t have any partners, so it can take more time to earn points for purchases. The selling point of this program is that your points will be more flexible and you may get better customer service if you run into issues with your account.
- Avion. Avion is operated by the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) and doesn’t require a membership to participate. Instead, you have to sign up for an Avion credit card to earn points for making everyday purchases. One of the best features of this program is that the rewards are fairly flexible and RBC offers a decent level of customer service.
3. Airline-affiliated programs
Airline-specific cards are affiliated directly with certain airlines and don’t require a membership to participate. However, you will need to have a program-affiliated credit card to earn points.
- Aeroplan. The Aeroplan travel rewards program is owned by Air Canada, and is one of the most popular travel points programs in Canada. It offers the chance for members to earn more miles on travel-related purchases or for merchandise in Aeroplan’s eStore. It currently works with banking partners CIBC, TD and Amex to offer a wide range of Aeroplan credit cards.
- Other airline-specific programs. There are a number of other frequent flyer programs that work with specific airlines such as WestJet and Alaska Airlines. You’ll need a program-specific credit card to earn points with these programs. You’ll typically only be able to cash your points in for flights and other travel-related rewards, but you’ll often get a nice suite of travel perks to use with the airline itself.
Compare travel points credit cards from popular rewards programs
|Credit card||Annual fee||Best features||What to watch out for|
|Aeroplan credit cards||CIBC Aeroplan Visa Card||$0||Low fee, welcome bonus, travel insurance||Lower earn rate, no comprehensive travel insurance|
|American Express Aeroplan Card||$120||Good points per dollar value and welcome bonus||Steep annual fee, limited travel coverage|
|AIR MILES||BMO AIR MILES World Elite Mastercard||$120||First fee waived, comprehensive travel insurance, lounge access, flight discounts||Higher annual fee, high minimum income requirements|
|American Express AIR MILES Platinum Credit Card||$120||Decent return, welcome bonus, referral bonus, easy to qualify||Higher annual fee, no travel insurance, no travel medical|
|Avion||RBC Avion Visa Platinum Card||$120||Decent earn rate, welcome offer, fuel discounts, travel coverage, optional insurance, flexible points||Higher annual fee, no travel medical|
|RBC Avion Visa Infinite Card||$120||Decent earn rate, welcome bonus, fuel discounts, mobile phone insurance, travel medical||Higher annual fee|
|Aventura||CIBC Aventura Visa Card||$0||No fee, purchase protection, common carrier insurance, easy to qualify||Low return on points, limited benefits|
|CIBC Aventura Gold Visa Card||$139||Decent return, welcome bonus, lounge access, travel insurance, mobile phone insurance||Higher annual fee, points are worth less than other programs|
|Airline-affiliated||Alaska Airlines Platinum Plus Mastercard||$75||Companion vouchers, welcome bonus, purchase protection, easy to qualify||No travel insurance, no travel medical, points can only be redeemed for airline purchases|
|WestJet RBC World Elite Mastercard||$119||Companion vouchers, gas discounts, travel insurance, welcome bonus||Higher annual fee, high minimum income requirements|
How to decide which travel points program to join
Before you decide which travel points program to join, it makes sense to think about the following features to make sure you pick the best fit for you:
- Earn rate. Find out how many miles you’ll earn for spending money on your card, and try to track down a program that offers double the miles for shopping with partners.
- Value of miles. Think about how much each mile is worth with each program and calculate the value in relation to your earn rate.
- More chances to earn. Aim to choose a program that offers special promotions and a wider network of partners to help you earn miles.
- Types of rewards. Look at each program’s “rewards store” to find out what you can use your miles to purchase.
- Available credit cards. Take time to compare the credit cards affiliated with each program to make sure you pick the best fit for you.
- Customer service. Consider customer reviews for each program to figure out which one offers the highest level of customer service.
How to compare credit cards with airline miles
If you’ve settled on a travel points program and you’re ready to pick a card, be sure to ask the following questions before making your choice.
- How many miles will I earn? Think about how many miles you’ll get for each purchase and pick the card that will give you the highest return for the most affordable fee.
- How big is the welcome bonus? Sign up for the card that gives you the best welcome bonus, with an annual fee that matches your budget.
- Will I get the benefits I want? Think about what kind of perks and benefits you think you’ll use most frequently and get the card that offers the most practical options.
- What will my interest rates be? Calculate what you’ll have to pay in interest on outstanding balances and avoid paying more than 19.99%.
- Will I have to pay an annual fee? Find out how much you’ll have to pay for your card and read the fine print to see if there are any other fees you should be aware of. Make sure you use your card enough to earn enough points or miles to justify the annual fee.
Purchase interest rate
American Express Cobalt Card
Apply today and earn up to 30,000 Membership Rewards points in your first year.
- Purchase interest rate: 19.99%
- Cash advance rate: 21.99%
- Annual fee: $120
- Credit rating: 700
How to redeem travel rewards points
Once you’ve earned enough points, you can redeem them for a variety of rewards, depending on the provider. Popular rewards you could redeem with your travel rewards program include flights, gift vouchers and hotels. The number of points you need for a reward varies depending on the travel rewards program and the type of reward you choose.
What credit card transactions don’t earn points?
The list of transactions that do and don’t earn points when you use a travel rewards credit card varies between providers and products. The following are some of the most common exclusions:
- Cash advance transactions
- Balance transfers
- Gambling charges
- Purchasing foreign currency
- Account fees
- Reversed transactions
- Government payments
- Some monthly bills
How to get bonus points with a travel rewards credit card
Many travel rewards credit cards will offer introductory bonus points in order to get you to sign-up for the card. Some cards will offer 50,000 or even 100,000 bonus points as an introductory bonus, which can sometimes be enough to get you to another continent by only using your points. While this may sound like a great offer, you typically have to spend a certain amount of money within a given time period in order to qualify for the full set of points.
For example, if you read the fine print of the offer, you may discover that you must spend $5,000 in one month in order to qualify for the points. Although you may manage to spend this in one month, you may also discover that only “eligible purchases” qualify for the points. So while everyday purchases like groceries, gas and clothes may count towards the $5,000 total, other purchases like cash advances or payments for certain bills via your credit card may not count.
Always be aware of the terms and conditions of a credit card before you commit to a new card.
There’s a wide range of basic and premium credit cards offering travel rewards for you to choose from. These cards are designed to help you save money on flights and other travel-related rewards. One way to earn more miles is to pay a higher annual fee on your credit card. Another is to shop around for a credit card that offers the best combination of features to suit your unique set of needs and lifestyle.
Frequently asked questions about travel points credit cards
If you want to know more about travel rewards credit cards, check out these answers to the most popular questions we’re asked about them – including how to earn and redeem points. If you still have a question, get in touch with us using the “Ask a Question” box below and we will respond to your query.
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