I’m often asked about the best Canadian credit cards for travel. The answer always depends on a number of factors: your travel goals, your appetite for annual fees, the current signup bonuses, etc.
As much as a one-size-fits-all solution seems too good to be true, I always find myself coming back to the same recommendations, as the best cards rise to the top on any occasion.
Here are four Canadian credit cards that deserve a permanent spot in your wallet, each of which can benefit every Canadian traveller.
American Express Cobalt Card
The American Express Cobalt Card has been a fan favourite ever since its debut in 2017. It’s a supercharged everyday earner that also has flexible transfer partners through earning American Express Membership Rewards (MR) points.
The card earns an unbeaten 5 MR points per dollar spent on groceries and dining (up to $2,500 per month and $30,000 annually), 3 MR points per dollar spent on streaming services, and 2 MR points per dollar spent on gas, public transit, and travel purchases.
In particular, the rewards on eats and drinks are unparalleled in the Canadian credit card scene. If you’re able to maximize your earning at grocery stores and restaurants, you’re sure to wind up with a healthy balance of MR points every year.
Most Canadians will benefit from having a 5x food card, as groceries and dining combine to make up a large slice of many Canadians’ personal everyday spending.
But what sets the Cobalt Card apart from competitors with similar earn rates is the flexibility and value of Membership Rewards. You can transfer the points earned on your card to Aeroplan, British Airways Executive Club, Air France KLM Flying Blue, and Marriott Bonvoy, among other programs.
Transferring MR points to one of these airline loyalty programs gives you access to the three major worldwide airline alliances: Star Alliance (Aeroplan), Oneworld (British Airways), and SkyTeam (Flying Blue). By transferring your rewards and redeeming them through loyalty programs, you’ll unlock high-value and aspirational bookings that you can’t achieve with other types of points.
By pairing sky-high earning rates with transferable rewards, the Cobalt Card is actually better than co-branded cards for racking up frequent flyer miles and hotel points on everyday spending.
Although transferring points to airline and hotel partners will almost always be your best option value-wise, you can also redeem MR points against any travel purchase at a rate of 1 cent per point. This is great because you’re not tied to a particular loyalty program, which, while offering more valuable bookings, are often more limiting.
This means that the 5 MR points you earn per dollar spent at grocery stores and restaurants is essentially the same as receiving a minimum value of 5% back. By transferring out to travel partners, you can effectively push that number up to over 10% by redeeming your points for long-haul travel in premium cabins.
The Cobalt Card is most definitely a keeper card, and with its modest monthly fee of just $12.99, it won’t put a large dent in your budget.
If there’s one credit card I believe every Canadian should have, it’s the Cobalt Card.
- Earn a total of 15,000 MR points upon spending $750 in each of the first 12 months
- Earn 5x MR points on groceries, restaurants, bars, and food delivery
- Earn 3x MR points on eligible streaming services
- Earn 2x MR points on gas, transit, and travel purchases
- Transfer MR points to Aeroplan, Avios, Flying Blue, or Marriott Bonvoy
- Enjoy the exclusive benefits of being an American Express cardholder
- Bonus MR points for referring family and friends
- Monthly fee: $12.99
Marriott Bonvoy American Express Card
The Marriott Bonvoy American Express Card is by far the best hotel credit card in Canada. While signing up for this card is worthwhile to receive the welcome bonus, the real power of the card comes from its perks that you receive year after year.
One ongoing benefit is the annual Free Night Award worth up to 35,000 Bonvoy points. You’ll receive this Free Night Award every year you hold onto the card, beginning in your second year with the card.
The Free Night Award is easily worth more than the $120 annual fee, especially since you can top up your Free Night Awards by up to 15,000 points.
Topping up allows for a lot more flexibility in redeeming your Free Night Award, and unlocks some luxury properties that may not be available at the 35,000-point level. With a top-up, you can use the free night that comes with this card for redemptions of up to 50,000 points per night.
You won’t get the Free Night Award in your first year with the card, but the points you earn from the welcome bonus are also worth more than the annual fee.
Therefore, the Marriott Bonvoy American Express Card offers net-positive value every year you hold the card, and that’s why I’m a strong advocate for it. Even if you’re not a Marriott loyalist, you never know when a $120 hotel night might come in handy.
Plus, there’s also the Marriott Bonvoy Business American Express Card. The two cards are very similar, with the business variant offering the same 35,000-point Free Night Award starting in the second year, but at a slightly higher annual fee of $150.
If you find value in these Free Night Awards and use them frequently, you should also add the Bonvoy Business Card to your roster. You’ll come out ahead as long as you use the free night at a value above the cost of the $150 annual fee.
Also, if you’re pursuing Marriott Bonvoy Platinum Elite status or higher, the Bonvoy Card is a useful shortcut. Each year you hold the card, you’ll get 15 elite qualifying nights.
Since earning Marriott Bonvoy Elite status requires you to stay a specific number of nights in a calendar year, the 15 nights from your credit card essentially lowers the bar by 15 nights for each status level.
Unlike the Free Night Award, you won’t have to wait a year before receiving this benefit, as the elite qualifying nights should show up in your Marriott Bonvoy account shortly after opening your new credit card.
Unfortunately, if you hold both the personal and business Bonvoy cards in Canada, you’d only receive 15 nights in total – you won’t be able to stack the 15 nights from each card. To do that, you’ll need to dabble in US credit cards.
- Earn 55,000 Bonvoy points upon spending $1,500 in the first three months
- Also, receive an annual Free Night Award worth 35,000 Bonvoy points starting in your second year with the card
- Also, receive 15 elite-qualifying nights every year and automatic Marriott Bonvoy Silver Elite status
- Bonus Bonvoy points for referring family and friends
- Annual fee: $120
Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card
The Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card is an important piece in your wallet, especially if you often travel internationally.
Almost every Canadian credit card will charge you a 2.5% fee for every purchase you make that isn’t in Canadian dollars. However, the Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card is an exception to that rule, as it has no foreign transaction fees.†
How much you’ll save by using your Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card will entirely depend on how much you spend on foreign transactions, but you can think of it as if you’re saving 2.5% on every transaction denominated in a foreign currency.
In addition to saving on foreign transaction fees, you’ll earn Scene+ points on purchases with category multipliers in Canada and abroad.†
Scene+ points are a useful fixed-value currency to collect, since you can use the points to offset the cost of travel purchases, such as flights with independent airlines, boutique hotels, car rentals, and cruises, that are otherwise difficult to book with points.
Plus, as the card isn’t an Amex, it’s more likely to be accepted in far-flung corners of the globe. I often find myself using it to pay for independent accommodations and short-haul flights to offbeat destinations, as well as day-to-day expenses.
This card is unique on this list for providing six complimentary lounge visits each year through the Visa Airport Companion Program.†
Finally, it’s worth noting that this card offers strong travel insurance. Cardholders under the age of 65 enjoy excellent emergency medical insurance, up to $1 million for trips up to 25 days, or 3 days for cardholders aged 65 and up.†
You’ll automatically have this coverage just by being a cardholder, meaning that you don’t have to charge any portion of your trip to the card to have access to this insurance coverage.†
All in all, the Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card is a great option to keep year after year, even if you only use it for spending abroad.
- Earn 25,000 Scene+ points upon spending $1,000 in the first three months
- Earn an additional 10,000 Scene+ points upon spending $40,000 in the first year
1x2x Scene+ points on groceries, dining, entertainment, and transit
- Plus, earn 3x Scene+ points on grocery purchases at Sobeys, IGA, Safeway, and FreshCo
- Visa Airport Companion membership with six free lounge visits per year
- Redeem points for statement credit for any travel expense
- Minimum income: $60,000 personal or $100,000 household
- Annual fee: $150
TD® Aeroplan® Visa Infinite* Card
If you travel with Air Canada, as almost every Canadian traveller is bound to do with some regularity, the TD® Aeroplan® Visa Infinite* Card certainly has a place in your wallet.
With your credit card linked to your Aeroplan account, you’ll automatically have access to preferred pricing when redeeming Aeroplan points for flights operated by Air Canada.†
For shorter domestic flights, this results in modest savings of a few thousand points. For longer international flights, you could save tens of thousands of Aeroplan points on a one-way booking, or more if you also have Aeroplan Elite Status.†
You’ll also enjoy a free first checked bag on all Air Canada flights.† This perk applies to the cardholder and up to eight travelling companions on the same reservation, including if you’ve booked with cash or points, whether or not you’ve used the card to pay for the flight.
Depending on how often you fly, and how often you check a bag, this benefit can really add up and save you a lot of money over the course of a year. But even for an occasional traveller, the value can be substantial.
Also, when you use an Aeroplan card to pay for the taxes and fees on an Aeroplan flight reward, you’ll be covered by TD® Aeroplan® Visa Infinite* Card’s travel insurance,† including trip cancellation, trip interruption, delayed and lost baggage insurance, and flight delay insurance.† Most other credit cards won’t extend this coverage on an Aeroplan award booking, but an Aeroplan card will.†
Plus, your Aeroplan points will never expire as an Aeroplan cardholder,† so it’s a good failsafe to always keep one active in case you hit a stretch of low travel activity.
As an added bonus, the TD® Aeroplan® Visa Infinite* Card comes with a $100 NEXUS credit.† A NEXUS card can save you hours in airports all over the world, and this card is the only mid-tier Aeroplan co-branded credit card that comes with this benefit.
This card frequently offers a first-year annual fee rebate as part of its signup bonus, keeping your initial costs down.† For long-term cardholders, TD offers a continuous waiver of the $139 annual fee as long as you have a TD All-Inclusive Banking plan.†
While all Aeroplan credit cards offer a slew of Air Canada perks, I like the TD® Aeroplan® Visa Infinite* Card for its unique features, its frequent high signup bonuses, and my longstanding relationship with TD.
Alternatively, if you’re a high-spender, a very frequent flyer, or just looking for stronger benefits, you might find value in the higher annual fee on a premium TD® Aeroplan® Visa Infinite Privilege* Card.
- Earn 10,000 Aeroplan points† upon first purchase†
- Plus, earn 25,000 Aeroplan points† upon spending $5,000 in the first 180 days of account opening†
- Plus, earn an additional 15,000 Aeroplan points† on renewal when you spend $7,500 within 12 months of account opening†
- Earn 1.5x Aeroplan points† on eligible gas, groceries, and direct Air Canada® purchases, including Air Canada Vacations®†
- Preferred Aeroplan pricing and free checked bags on Air Canada® flights†
- Minimum income: $60,000 personal or $100,000 household
- Annual fee: $139, rebated for the first year†
Whether you’re signing up for your first travel credit card, or you’re looking for the next card to add to your collection, you really can’t go wrong with any card on this list. Having all four in your wallet will make sure you’re ready to maximize your travel rewards and perks at all times.
Whenever I’m asked by friends, family, or Points Consulting clients, I invariably circle back to these four cards as my baseline recommendation. There’s a use case for every traveller – from Miles & Points beginners to advanced aviators, from frequent flyers to occasional adventurers – and they all come at an affordable price point.
Most importantly, you don’t even need to use most of these cards on a daily basis to benefit from them! They all offer benefits that outweigh the costs of keeping them year after year. They make for great low-maintenance fixtures in your strategy, freeing up your attention and spending capacity to focus on chasing the next big signup bonus.
If these cards aren’t already in your wallet, be sure to work them into your rotation as soon as you can.
† Terms and conditions apply.