The Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards in Canada

Here’s a shocker: Canadians love to travel! So it’s no surprise that there are numerous credit cards in Canada offering sweet travel rewards—so many, in fact, that it can be hard to decide on the best one for your needs. Some offer the opportunity to rack up some major points, while others include travel insurance and passes to posh airport lounges as part of the package. In this article, we look at the best travel rewards credit cards in Canada across four major categories: best points-to-dollar ratio, best sign-up bonus, best for hotel rewards, and best for airport lounges.  Use this handy guide to get your travel rewards credit card working towards the perks and points most valuable to you.

Best Points-to-Dollar Ratio

With all the points programs out there, it can be difficult to decide on the very best points credit card. Some programs have restrictions for what you might spend your points on, but bear in mind that many cards allow points transfers between programs. After those considerations, a card’s points-to-dollar ratio—that is, the amount in dollars your points are worth—is one of the most important features for your card.

Winner: The Scotiabank Gold American Express Card

Eligibility: Minimum $12,000 annual income
Annual fee: $99
Other perks: 15,000 bonus points on $1,000 in everyday purchases in the first 3 months; discounted membership to Priority Pass airport lounges; travel insurance

The Scotiabank Gold American Express Card offers two tiers for their points program. For every dollar you spend on entertainment, gas, groceries, and restaurants, you’ll earn a whopping 4 Scotia Rewards points. Any other purchases come in at a point per dollar. While other cards in the Scotiabank American Express family also offer this ratio, the $99 annual fee makes this the winner.

But what’s exceptional about this credit card is the flexibility in rewards redemption. All you have to do is login to the system, and select the “Apply Points to Travel” option. Then just use your accumulated points to offset any travel cost (flights, rental cars, hotels, etc.) charged on your Amex. It’s that easy – no black-out periods or annoying restrictions.

It’s no wonder the Scotiabank Gold American Express card is often ranked as the best travel credit card in Canada.

Best travel rewards credit cards in Canada

Runner up: American Express Cobalt
Although this card offers a generous 5 points per dollar spent on food and drink, other purchases earn only one point per dollar. The narrower earnings options dropped the Cobalt into the runner-up place but it’s still a great option for those spending most of their money in that category. With a minimum $500 monthly spend, users can earn an additional 2,500 per month (potentially 30,000 points per year), and this card carries a $120 annual fee.

Best Sign-Up Bonus

One way credit card companies entice you into their travel rewards program is with a fat sign-up bonus. Take advantage of this strategy and give your travel reward goals a big boost.

Winner: American Express Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card

Eligibility: Good to excellent credit
Annual fee: $120
Other perks: Annual free night award; Silver Elite status with Starwood; travel insurance including car rental theft and damage; Front of The Line access with American Express Invites

When Starwood Preferred Guest and Marriott Rewards merged, it was unclear how the programs would be affected. One really exciting result is their sign-up bonus of 50,000 points with a minimum $1,500 spend over three months. Additionally, cardholder earn 5 points per dollar at SPG and Marriott properties and 2 points everywhere else. If you’re a frequent traveller who likes to stay in quality hotels, you must consider this travel reward card.

Best travel reward credit cards in Canada

Runner-up: American Express: The Platinum Card
This is the only card that matched our winner’s 50,000 point sign-up (with $3,000 in purchases in the first 3 months) but its hefty $699 annual fee kept it out of first spot. Still, the card includes an annual travel benefit and unlimited airport lounge access. Also, cardholders are enrolled in Amex’s International Airline Program which comes with discounts, plus they are eligible for entertainment benefits and hotel perks.

Best for Hotel Rewards

Travellers are not one size fits all, and there is nowhere in the travel sector where this is more evident than in accommodations. Where you choose to spend the night is going to depend on your taste and budget, and with that in mind, in this category, we’ve got a tie.

Winner for luxury travellers: American Express Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card

Eligibility: Good to excellent credit
Annual fee: $120
Other perks: Annual free night award; Silver Elite status with Starwood; travel insurance including car rental theft and damage; Front of The Line access with American Express Invites

As outlined above, if you expect to be staying in the Starwood/Marriott families of hotels, the points-to-dollar ratio, 50,000 point sign-up bonus, and suite of other travel rewards makes this card a no-brainer.

Best travel rewards credit card in Canada

Winner for budget travellers: MBNA Best Western Rewards® Mastercard®

Eligibility: No minimum annual income requirement
Annual fee: $0
Other perks: 20,000 point sign-up bonus; ability to swap with other points programs.

If you’re on a budget, this card makes a lot of sense. The 20,000 sign-up bonus (after a single eligible purchase) is enough for your first free night’s stay, and further points are easy to collect. The flexibility of points swapping means you’re not locked in, and best of all, there is no annual fee.

Best for Airport Lounges

Finally, credit card companies seem to have figured out that nobody likes hanging around at the airport. An increasingly popular travel perk is access to worldwide airport lounges. Bought individually, these passes can run upwards of $60 a pop, so there’s definite value here. But, as with all rewards, not all programs are created equally. Here are our favourites.

Winner: American Express: The Platinum Card

Eligibility: $12,000 annual income
Annual fee: $699
Other perks: An enormous 50,000 point sign-up bonus (with $3,000 in purchases in the first 3 months); annual travel benefit; International Airline Program enrollment; entertainment benefits; and hotel perks

The hefty annual fee kept this card out of top spot in the sign-up bonus category, but it’s simply unbeatable when it comes to airport lounge access. Indeed, this is the only credit card in Canada that offers card members unlimited free airport lounge access. Given the high cost of buying one-off passes, along with the truly terrific suite of other travel perks, this might just be worth it for the frequent flyer.

Best travel rewards credit cards in Canada

Runner-up: Scotiabank Platinum American Express Card
It might not offer an unlimited lounge pass, but the Scotiabank Platinum American Express Card includes a whopping 10 lounge visits per year. At just shy of one per month, this is going to be sufficient for most travellers. Additionally, other valuable perks like 30,000 bonus points on first purchase and a 4x points to dollar ratio on eligible spends make this a card to consider. The Scotiabank Platinum American Express carries $399 annual fee.

Overall Best Travel Rewards Credit Card in Canada: Winners 

As you can see, there are many fantastic deals out there in the travel rewards credit card category. So many, in fact, that it’s impossible to pick just one. Once again, in this category, we have a tie.

American Express Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card

This card showed up twice in our guise: once for its massive sign-up bonus (50,000 points!) and again in the “Best for Hotels” category. The fact is, with a reasonable annual fee of $120 and access to the SPG points program, this is an overall excellent travel rewards credit card. And, if you stay at SPG or Marriott properties, you earn a robust 5 points to the dollar on those spends.

Best travel reward credit cards in Canada

American Express: The Platinum Card

The only other card to show up twice, the Platinum Card by American Express matches the 50,000 sign-up bonus of the SPG card, plus it offers unlimited access to airport lounges—the only Canadian card to do so. There a low bar for eligibility (only $12,000 annual income) but at $699 per year, this isn’t a cheap investment. “Investment”, however, may well be the right word. This card offers extremely valuable perks including an annual travel credit.

The following two tabs change content below.

Keph Senett

Keph Senett is a Canadian freelance writer with an interest in helping people make solid choices towards debt-free living. Her work has appeared in publications including Al Jazeera America, Greedy Rates, BBC News, and The Globe & Mail.

2 Comments

  1. Danielle Ogilvie on November 16, 2018 at 12:19 am

    Winner for me would probably be the best points to dollars ratio. Although, another contention would be what I could spend those points on



  2. Amer on November 18, 2018 at 10:26 am

    The best I found is the HSBC world elite credit card.
    Sign up bonus 75000 points, waived first year fees. (The bonus is 105000 points if you live in Quebec).
    100$ travel enhancement credit.
    10% off your Expedia hotel booking.
    No foreign transaction fee.
    Unlike the amex, it’s accepted everywhere. I have the cobalt and I have a hard time finding restaurants/groceries/pharmacies that accept it! Even Costco don’t accept it!
    My ultimate goal is to get the chase sapphire reserve Visa card… not sure how though!



Leave a Comment