There are quite a few good travel credit cards in Canada, but some stand out above the rest for their impressive welcome bonuses, travel rewards, and complimentary perks. I constantly keep up with the latest promo rates and policy changes and make my recommendations below based on years of experience.
I recommend the American Express Cobalt Card as the #1 travel credit card in Canada due to its low fees for a travel card, very high earn rate on Eats & Drinks, and 15,000 welcome bonus points. It is one of the most flexible cards, with the option to transfer your points to other programs, and it comes with comprehensive medical and travel insurance.
What Is A Travel Credit Card?
Travel credit cards are a type of reward credit card that allows you to earn rewards in the form of points when you spend money at partner brands or make any travel-related purchase. Travel credit cards are usually divided into two: general travel credit cards yield points, travel miles, or cashback when you make purchases, and you can redeem your rewards at most airlines or hotel chains. The other type of travel cards are co-branded credit card; these cards also offer rewards, but they can only be redeemed at very select hotels or airlines. Co-branded credit card rewards tend to be more valuable at the cost of being less flexible.
In general, travel credit cards are some of the most expensive credit cards in terms of annual fees. Some cards can go as high as $699/year, and most travel cards require high credit scores. On average, you will need a credit score of at least 660 to apply. It’s recommended that you go for a travel card only if you can take advantage of all the perks in that year – travel perks like hotel stays or free flights tend to refresh every year and usually don’t accumulate.
Without further ado, here are the best travel credit cards Canada has to offer:
The Best Travel Credit Cards In Canada
- American Express Cobalt Credit Card: Best for exchanging MR points with other rewards program
- BMO Eclipse Visa Infinite Card: Best for high earn rate on groceries
- BMO Ascend World Elite Mastercard: Best for travel perks and bonus points on all travel-related purchases
- TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Card: Best for earning Aeroplan points
- Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card: Best for complimentary airport lounge access
- MBNA Rewards World Elite Mastercard: Best for high earn rates on restaurants
- BMO Air Miles World Elite Mastercard: Best for earning discounts on Air Miles flights
- American Express Platinum Card: Best for earn rate at eligible eats & drinks
- American Express Aeroplan Reserve Card: Best for access to lounges and priority travel perks
Pros & Cons Of Travel Credit Cards
Pros: Why a travel credit card may be worth it
- If you’re a frequent traveller, you will find it extremely easy to maximize rewards on travel purchases like airfares, hotels, car rentals, and taxis
- Access to exclusive lounges and hotels
- Perks like priority boarding and free room upgrades on your hotel stays
- Rewards are most cost-efficient than those of cash back cards
- Most travel credit cards offer access to travel portals, where you can redeem your points for travel rewards like cruises, flights, and vacation packages
- Some travel credit cards offer the option to exchange your points for other points from another program
Cons: Why a travel credit card may not be worth it
- Travel credit cards usually have very high annual fees – if you don’t travel frequently, you will miss out on most benefits and end up losing money
- Most travel credit cards require a good-to-excellent credit score (700+)
- Even though travel points may be worth more than cash back points, the value of travel points may fluctuate based on the season or other factors
Types Of Travel Credit Cards In Canada
There are two main types of travel credit cards: general travel credit cards and co-branded travel credit cards. The main difference is where you can spend your points. Here's our breakdown:
#1 General Travel Credit Cards
With these types of travel credit cards, you earn points (usually in the form of miles or transferable points) which you can then redeem on most travel expenses, including cash back on travel purchases, airline tickets, and hotel stays. You are not limited to any particular airline or hotel chain; you can redeem your points at any participating partner.
The major benefit of this type of card is its wide range of redemption options and transferable points, which can be exchanged across any participating program. Here are two examples of general travel credit cards in Canada.
|Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card||2 points per $1 spent on grocery, dining, and transit. (1 point per $1 on all other purchases)Free airport lounge passes & no foreign transaction fees|
|MBNA Rewards Platinum Plus Mastercard||4 points per $1 spent on restaurants, grocery stores, and household utilities. (points can be redeemed to book any type of travel)|
#2 Co-Branded Travel Credit Cards
Co-branded travel credit cards are a type of travel credit card that offer special benefits when you redeem your points to book flights with a particular airline or book a stay at a particular hotel. Some co-branded cards are very restrictive and don’t allow you to exchange your points anywhere else; the main benefit is that rewards can be more valuable than those of general travel credit cards.
It’s very common for co-branded cards to be named after the airline or hotel chain they’re partnered with. Here are the two main types of co-branded travel credit cards:
Hotel Credit Cards
These cards usually come with lots of additional perks for loyal customers. Benefits like free cancellations, no resort fees, free nights, and room upgrades are extremely common. Hotel credit cards are accepted everywhere the network is (usually Visa or Mastercard), and you can earn points on everyday purchases like a regular credit card. The main difference is that you will get significantly more value-per-point when you redeem your points at their hotel chain.
You can also work your way up to Elite status on most of these cards for additional perks. Here are two examples of hotel credit cards:
|Marriott Bonvoy American Express Card||5 Marriot Bonvoy points per $1 spent at participating MB properties + 10% bonus points on stays and priority checkout15 Elite Nights, credited to your account at the start of every year|
|American Express Cobalt Card||5 MR points on groceries, restaurants, and barsTransferable points compatible with the Aeroplan, Avios, and Marriot Bonvoy program|
Airline Credit Cards
Airline credit cards are just like hotel credit cards, but for flights. These types of cards are usually partnered with big banks and offer rewards to frequent travellers in the form of extra miles, priority boarding, travel insurance, and many other benefits. You can earn points, just like with a regular credit card, by purchasing at partner stores like restaurants or grocery stores. You can exchange points for rewards directly through the credit card's travel portal.
|BMO AIR MILES Credit Card||1 AIR MILES points per $12 spent at eligible stores. (3x the points when purchasing at AIR MILES partners|
How To Choose A Travel Credit Card In Canada
The most important thing you should consider when shopping for a travel credit card is the type of card it is. Travel credit cards come in two broad groups: general travel credit cards and co-branded credit cards. General travel cards can be used more broadly, and you can exchange your reward points at most places.
If you book your flights or hotel always stays with the same companies regularly, it might be worth considering signing up for a co-branded credit card to take advantage of loyalty rewards and other benefits.
Another important fact to consider is the annual fees. In general, annual fees for travel credit cards start at $120 and can go as high as $150 or more. This may seem high, but if you’re a frequent traveller, you will easily offset this fee with all the benefits like free stays at hotels, flights, and quality of life benefits like access to airport lounges and priority boarding.
Also, keep in mind that the higher the fee, the better the rewards tend to be. So, even if a card like the MBNA Rewards Platinum Plus Mastercard sounds good on paper with its no annual fee, you would miss many benefits as a frequent traveller. Cards like the BMO Ascend World Elite Mastercard come with a fee ($150/year) but include travel insurance, concierge services, and discounts on rentals, not to mention additional perks like access to WiFi hotspots around the world and special cash back offers when you shop, which will definitely make you a profit every year. Some cards even waive the fee for the first year.
Welcome Bonus And Promotional Rates
Most travel credit cards come with a hefty bonus – usually locked behind a minimum spending limit. The minimum is usually around $2,000-$4,000, and you usually have a couple of months from the time of account creation to earn the bonus by spending that much using your card.
Reaching that bonus can oftentimes be enough to cover your first-year subscription or even more.
Credit Card Insurance & Purchase Warranties
Some travel credit cards offer comprehensive travel and medical insurance. This type of card usually has the highest annual fees but is a great option if you travel often and want to make sure your family is also protected. Here are some of the typical insured categories you can expect:
- Baggage loss insurance
- Baggage delay insurance
- Car rental insurance
- Extended warranty
- Mobile Insurance
- Flight delay insurance
- Purchase assurance
- Travel emergency medical
- Travel accident insurance
- Trip cancellation
- Trip interruption
How To Redeem Your Travel Credit Card Rewards
Depending on the type of travel card, you will have different options to redeem your rewards. Some of the most common options include:
- If your card offers transferable points, you can transfer them to different airlines (or hotels) and redeem your points for flights (or hotel stays)
- Using your points to erase travel charges, keep in mind you may have a time window to exchange your points this way
- Exchange your points for cash back or merchandise (we don’t recommend doing this, as this usually yields the lowest point-to-value ratio)
- Purchase flights or hotel stays directly from the travel portal of your credit card company, this has the added benefit that it also earns you points, so you are effectively double dipping the value
How To Apply For A Travel Credit Card In Canada
In Canada, the minimum age to request a credit card is the age of the majority. Teens under that age can’t get approved for credit cards but can be added as authorized users to one of their parent’s credit cards. For reference, the age of the majority in Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Prince Edward Island, and Saskatchewan is 18 years old. In all other provinces, the age of the majority is 19.
Canadian credit cards are available to residents and non-permanent residents. However, most premium credit cards require you to be a Canadian resident. You don't even need a credit history for other card types like prepaid and secured credit cards. At the end of the day, residency requirements will depend on the specific credit card issuer and the type of card.
Most travel credit cards in Canada require a good to excellent credit score, starting at 700. Keep in mind that the higher your credit score, the more likely your application will be accepted, and the cards with the higher requirements usually have the best intro bonuses, rewards, and benefits.
Personal Or Household Income Requirements
Not all travel credit cards have an income limit, but some premium ones have an annual income requirement ranging from $60,000-$80,000 for individuals or $100,000-$150,000 for households. These cards also require a higher credit score and come with the best travel perks.
Travel Credit Card FAQs
Are Travel Credit Cards Worth It?
When travel credit cards might be worth it for you:
- If you earn enough points every year to compensate for the annual fee – this is not hard to accomplish if you travel often
- If you have no trouble keeping up with your monthly credit card payments and are very unlikely to fall behind on payments, travel credit cards can be a great addition to your credit cards collection
- If you are sure you will be able to redeem your points before they expire, a travel credit card will save you a lot of money on travels
When travel credit cards might not be worth it for you
- If you don’t travel a lot, chances are you will not make anywhere near enough to justify the high annual fee
- If you often fall behind on payments, a rewards credit card might not be for you. The additional interest you will incur will offset any reward you may gain
- If you don’t want to keep track of the variable point-to-value rate of travel points, you might be better off with a cash back credit card. The latter has a static point-to-cash rate that doesn’t fluctuate
What Is The Best Free Travel Credit Card In Canada?
The best free travel credit card in Canada is the MBNA Rewards Platinum Plus. It doesn’t have the biggest earn rate, but considering it is completely free, the 2 points per $1 on groceries and restaurants will stack up over time. It also offers discounts on car rentals, Avis and Budget.
Does Having Multiple Credit Cards Affect Your Credit Score?
Having multiple credit cards will not negatively affect your credit score. In fact, if anything, it can have a positive impact; by spreading your usage across several credit cards, your utilization rate for each card will decrease compared to what it would be if you had only one credit card. The utilization rate is the percentage of the available credit you’re using, and the lower it is, the better it is for your credit score.
What Credit Card Networks Can You Use In Canada?
The three biggest credit card networks accepted in Canada are Visa, Mastercard, and American Express. All three are accepted widely across most retailers.
How Do I Avoid International Transaction Fees?
When travelling abroad, we all want to avoid international transaction fees. There are a couple of ways to minimize these fees, but in some cases, we can’t skip them entirely:
- Look for credit cards that don’t charge foreign transaction fees
- Acquire some local currency before you travel
- Open a bank account with low/no foreign fees
Is It Cheaper To Use Credit Cards Or Cash Abroad?
It’s cheaper to use credit cards. In most scenarios, paying the credit card’s foreign transaction fee (usually no more than 2.5%) is considerably cheaper than the local cash exchange rate.