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Published October 1, 2021
Updated October 6, 2021

Canada’s 8 Best Travel Credit Cards of 2021

The best travel credit cards have strong earn rates and great travel rewards.

ALSO CONSIDER: Best general rewards credit cards || Best cash back credit cards

A travel rewards credit card can make your next trip more affordable every time you make a purchase. The points or miles you earn on everyday purchases can eventually transform into something you really want, like a free first-class flight.

All the cards on this list come with travel rewards, travel insurance, travel perks and bonus rewards on travel spending (if the card offers accelerated earn rates).

NerdWallet’s picks for best travel credit cards in Canada

 

American Express Cobalt Card

Our pick for bonus rewards on daily spending

Annual Fee
$155.88
$12.99 monthly fee.
Rewards Rate
1x-5x points
5x on eats & drinks, 3x on streaming subscriptions, 2x on travel & transit, and 1x on everything else.
Intro Offer
50,000 points
Spend $3,000 in the first three months and receive a welcome bonus of 20,000 points. Spend $500 to earn 2,500 points each billing cycle for a year (30,000 points in a year). New cardmembers only.
  • Our take

    Why we like it

    The American Express Cobalt Card boasts high rewards rates on everyday spending, a generous welcome bonus, comprehensive travel insurance coverage, flexible point redemption and plenty of specialty perks to keep things interesting all year long.

    Pros

    • Earn 150,000 points in the first year by spending up to $30,000 on eats, drinks and groceries. Combined with the 50,000 point intro offer, you could earn 200,000 points in your first year, which you could redeem for travel and more.
    • Easily transfer the points you earn to popular airline and hotel loyalty programs, such as Aeroplan and Marriott Bonvoy.

    Cons

    • Airport lounge access isn’t provided, which may disappoint some frequent travellers.
    • No travel medical coverage for cardmembers over the age of 65.
  • Product details
    • 5x Membership Rewards points on eats & drinks (coffee shops, restaurants, grocery stores, and more), up to $30,000 annual spend.
    • 3x Membership Rewards points on streaming subscriptions.
    • 2x Membership Rewards points on travel & transit
    • 1x Membership Rewards points on everything else.
    • Earn 1 additional Membership Rewards point for every $1 you charge to your Cobalt Card on eligible hotel or car rental bookings made with American Express Travel.
    • Redeem Membership Rewards points towards card purchases, statement credits, gift cards, merchandise, travel on American Express Travel Online, flights through the Fixed Points Travel Program, or transfer points to eligible loyalty and frequent flyer programs.
    • You must redeem a minimum of 1,000 points per redemption. 1,000 points = $10 for any eligible purchase. Points do not expire.
    • $12.99 monthly fee.
    • Earn up to $100 USD hotel credit and enjoy perks at hotels and resorts in more than 30 countries — including one-category room upgrade at check-in — with The Hotel Collection.
    • American Express Experiences offers dining, entertainment, retail and wellness offers and events, plus Front Of The Line presale and reserved tickets.
    • Amex Offers and the Cobalt Perks program provides perks, bonus rewards and more.
    • Access to Plan It, the American Express Installment Program.
    • 10 types of insurance provided, including 15-day travel medical benefits — up to $5,000,000 million in coverage per insured person under age 65.
    • Preferred rates: 20.99% for purchases, 21.99% for cash advances.
    • To be eligible, you must have a Canadian credit file and be a Canadian resident of the age of majority in the province or territory where you live.

Scotiabank Gold American Express Card

Our pick for a bonus rewards card with a 0% intro period + no foreign exchange fees

Annual Fee
$0 intro for the first year, then $120
Offer available for new cardholders.
Rewards Rate
1x-5x points
5x on food, groceries and entertainment, 3x on gas, daily transit and streaming services, and 1x on everything else.
Intro Offer
50,000 points
Spend $1,000 in the first three months to earn 30,000 points. Spend at least $7,500 in the first year to earn 20,000 points. Annual fee waived for the first year. New cardmembers only.
  • Our take

    Why we like it

    Not only does the Scotiabank Gold American Express card reward you with impressive rates in six popular spending categories, but it also comes with a 0% intro period for balance transfers and no foreign exchange fees.

    Pros

    • No foreign exchange fee on any foreign currency purchases while travelling abroad or shopping online — you just have to pay the exchange rate.
    • The 0% introductory interest rate on balance transfers lasts for a full six months.

    Cons

    • The bonus rewards rates drop down to the 1x flat rate after a $50,000 annual spend. This sounds like a lot, but much of your daily spending is probably included in the six bonus categories, so you might hit the limit faster than you’d think.
    • Your points will expire if you don’t use them within 12 months of the purchase date.
  • Product details
    • 5x Scotia Rewards points per dollar on eat in & eat on, including grocery stores, restaurants, fast food, drinking establishments, food delivery and food subscriptions.
    • 5x Scotia Rewards points per dollar on entertainment.
    • 3x Scotia Rewards points per dollar on gas, daily transit, and streaming services.
    • 1x Scotia Rewards points per dollar on everything else + after $50,000 annual spend in accelerated earn rate categories.
    • Redeem Scotia Rewards points for merchandise, statement credits, prepaid and gift cards, and more, including travel through the Scotia Rewards Travel Service, which offers a Best Price Guarantee on airfare.
    • You must redeem a minimum of 5,000 points per travel-related rewards redemption. Points must be redeemed within 12 months of the purchase date.
    • Covert Scotia Rewards points to SCENE points.
    • $120 annual fee, which you can waive every single year by using the Scotiabank Preferred Package or Ultimate Package.
    • Discounted Priority Pass membership, which grants you access to over 1200 VIP lounges around the world.
    • Score deals on shopping, dining, travel and more with Amex Offers, and experience special events and discounts with American Express Invites.
    • Front Of The Line presale and reserved tickets.
    • 12 types of insurance provided, including 25-day travel medical benefits — up to $1 million in coverage. 3-day coverage is available for ages 65 and older.
    • Preferred rates: 19.99% for purchases, 22.99% for cash advances.
    • No foreign exchange fees.
    • To be eligible, $12,000 (individual) annual income is required. Also, you must have a Canadian credit file and be a Canadian resident of the age of majority in the province or territory where you live.

BMO World Elite Mastercard

Our pick for bonus rewards on travel, dining and entertainment

Annual Fee
$0 intro for the first year, then $150
Offer available for new cardholders.
Rewards Rate
2x-3x points
3x on travel, dining and entertainment, and 2x on everything else.
Intro Offer
30,000 points
Spend $3,000 in the first three months and earn 25,000 points, plus 5,000 on your first anniversary. Annual fee waived for the first year. New cardmembers only.
  • Our take

    Why we like it

    The BMO World Elite Mastercard comes with a high base rate on rewards, a healthy return on travel spending, premium travel perks and an extensive travel insurance package.

    Pros

    • Free membership in Mastercard Airport Experiences provided by LoungeKey, plus four free passes a year.
    • Earn 2x bonus points and save up to 25% off rentals at participating National Car Rental and Alamo Rent a Car locations.

    Cons

    • You can’t transfer your BMO Reward points to frequent flyer or loyalty programs, but you can earn frequent flyer miles on your flight.
    • No travel medical coverage for cardmembers over the age of 65.
  • Product details
    • 3x BMO Rewards points per dollar on travel, dining and entertainment, up to $50,000 annual spend.
    • 2x BMO Rewards points per dollar on everything else.
    • Earn 2x bonus BMO Rewards points and save up to 25% off rentals at participating National Car Rental and Alamo Rent a Car locations.
    • Pay with points or redeem BMO Rewards points on travel, merchandise, experiences, cash, BMO Savings or Investment account credits, and more. Points do not expire.
    • $150 annual fee.
    • Visit VIP airport lounges in more than 120 countries with free membership in Mastercard Airport Experiences provided by LoungeKey, plus four free passes a year.
    • 15% off admission to Cirque du Soleil shows touring Canada, and 20% off resident shows in Las Vegas.
    • Free access to over 1 million Boingo Wi-Fi for Mastercard Cardholders around the world.
    • 10 types of insurance provided, including 21-day travel medical benefits — up to $2 million in coverage for cardholders under the age of 65.
    • Preferred rates: 20.99% for purchases, 22.99% for cash advances.
    • To be eligible, $80,000 (individual) or $150,000 (household) annual income is required. Also, you must have a Canadian credit file and be a Canadian resident of the age of majority in the province or territory where you live.

Brim World Elite Mastercard

Our pick for bonus rewards and a digital-first experience

Annual Fee
$0 intro for the first year, then $199
Offer available for new cardholders.
Rewards Rate
1x-30x points
2x on everyday purchases, up to $25,000 annual spend, then 1x. Up to 30x on retail partners in the eShop.
Intro Offer
$500
Earn up to $500 in first-time reward bonuses at participating retailers.
  • Our take

    Why we like it

    Brim is a tech-savvy option that offers an impressive mobile app with budget tracking, an eShop with hundreds of retailers, partnerships with five mobile wallets, free global WiFi, and no foreign transaction fees — even when shopping online.

    Pros

    • Rewards are easy to understand —  each point is worth $0.01 — and you can earn up to 30x at select retail partners, which includes small local businesses and big brands.
    • Comprehensive insurance package offers 16 types of insurance, ranging from trip cancellation and interruption to mobile device and event ticket protector insurance.

    Cons

    • The bonus rewards rate drops down to the 1x flat rate after you spend $25,000.
    • Brim is a virtual bank with no physical bank branches, so you must be comfortable with a digital-first experience.
  • Product details
    • 2x points per dollar on everyday purchases, up to $25,000 annual spend. Then, 1x.
    • Up to 30x points per dollar on retail partners in the eShop.
    • Points have a straightforward value of $0.01 and can be redeemed on transactions or as cash back. $1 minimum redemption required. Points do not expire.
    • $199 annual fee.
    • Brim’s Family Card option lets you add additional card members, set and adjust their spending limits, block types of transactions and track spending — perfect for teaching teens smart budgeting.
    • World Elite Mastercard benefits, including membership to Mastercard Airport Experiences provided by LoungeKey and access to over 1 million Boingo Global Wi-Fi hotspots around the world.
    • Enhanced security features allow you to lock your card and block online or foreign transactions instantly.
    • Access to the Brim Installment plan.
    • 16 types of insurance provided, including 15-day travel medical benefits — up to $5 million in coverage. 3-day coverage is available for ages 65 and older.
    • Preferred rates vary by card member.
    • No foreign exchange fees.
    • To be eligible, $80,000 (individual) or $150,000 (household) annual income is required. Also, you must have a Canadian credit file and be a Canadian resident of the age of majority in the province or territory where you live.

HSBC World Elite Mastercard

Our pick for bonus rewards on travel

Annual Fee
$0 intro for the first year, then $149
Offer available for new cardholders.
Rewards Rate
3x-6x points
6x on travel purchases, and 3x on everything else.
Intro Offer
100,000 points
20,000 point welcome bonus. Spend $6,000 in the first 180 days to earn an extra 50,000 points. Add an authorized user and receive 10,000 points. Earn 20,000 points on your anniversary. New cardmembers only.
  • Our take

    Why we like it

    Not only does this World Elite card offer a high rewards rate on travel purchases, but it also comes with premium travel perks, like a $100 travel enhancement credit and 31-day worldwide emergency travel medical insurance.

    Pros

    • A $100 annual travel enhancement credit covers seat upgrades, baggage fees, lounge passes, and more.
    • No foreign transaction fees.

    Cons

    • Select types of travel insurance won’t apply unless you charge 75% of your travel expenses to the card.
    • No travel medical coverage for cardmembers over the age of 65.
  • Product details
    • 6x points per dollar on all eligible travel purchases, up to $50,000 annual spend.
    • 3x points per dollar on everything else.
    • Redeem points for cash back, gift cards, merchandise, financial rewards, miles, and travel rewards, including transfer to select frequent-flyer programs.
    • Points earned on travel purchases can be redeemed for travel rewards valued at 0.5 cents, making the travel rewards rate equal to 3%. Points do not expire.
    • $149 annual fee.
    • $100 annual travel enhancement credit, redeemable towards select airline seat upgrades, airline baggage fees and airport lounge passes.
    • Score a 10% discount on select hotel bookings on your card with Expedia and Agoda.
    • Complimentary membership to Mastercard Airport Experiences Provided by LoungeKey, discounts on select airport food, spa and retail up to 20%, and unlimited Wi-Fi through
    • Boingo at over 1 million hotspots worldwide.
    • Access to an Emergency Cash Transfer to a maximum of $5,000 if your card is lost or stolen.
    • 12 types of insurance provided, including 31-day travel medical insurance — up to $1 million in coverage for the primary cardholder and spouse, if under age 65.
    • Preferred rates: 19.9% for purchases, 22.9% for cash advances.
    • No foreign transaction fees.
    • To be eligible, $80,000 (individual) or $150,000 (household) annual income, ​​or minimum of $400,000 in assets under management, is required. Also, you must have a Canadian credit file and be a Canadian resident of the age of majority in the province or territory where you live.

Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card

Our pick for bonus rewards on travel, grocery, dining, entertainment and daily transit

Annual Fee
$0 intro for the first year, then $139
Offer available for new cardholders.
Rewards Rate
1x-5x points
5x on travel (during the first three months), 2x on grocery, dining, entertainment and daily transit, and 1x on everything else.
Intro Offer
40,000 points
Spend $1,000 in the first three months and earn 30,000 bonus Scotia Rewards points. Spend $40,000 in everyday net eligible purchases annually and earn an annual 10,000 Scotia Rewards point bonus. New cardmembers only.
  • Our take

    Why we like it

    The Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card offers competitive earn rates and easy-to-understand redemption on travel — 1 point equals 1 cent in travel savings.

    Pros

    • Complimentary Priority Pass membership, with six free airport lounge visits included every year.
    • No foreign transaction fees.

    Cons

    • The accelerated rate on travel purchases only lasts three months — but you can earn up to 42,500 points, worth $425 in travel savings.
    • The annual $1,000 bonus requires you to spend $40,000 per year on everyday spending on the card.
  • Product details
    • 5x Scotia Rewards points per dollar on travel purchases for the first three months, up to $2,500 spent.
    • 2x Scotia Rewards points per dollar on grocery stores, dining, entertainment purchases, and daily transit purchases (including buses, subways, taxis and more), up to $50,000 annual spend.
    • 1x Scotia Rewards points per dollar on everything else.
    • Redeem Scotia Rewards points for merchandise, statement credits, prepaid and gift cards, and more, including travel through the Scotia Rewards Travel Service, which offers a Best Price Guarantee on airfare.
    • You must redeem a minimum of 5,000 points per travel-related rewards redemption, equivalent to $50 in travel savings. Points must be redeemed within 12 months of the purchase date.
    • Covert Scotia Rewards points to SCENE points.
    • $139 annual fee.
    • Airport lounge access through a complimentary Priority Pass membership, plus 6 free visits per year from the date of enrolment.
    • Visa Infinite benefits including Visa Infinite Concierge, Visa Infinite Luxury Hotel Collection, Visa Infinite Dining Series, and Entertainment & Lifestyle Offers.
    • Access to Scotia SelectPay.
    • 12 types of insurance provided, including 25-day travel medical benefits — up to $2 million in coverage per insured person per trip. 3-day coverage is available for ages 65 and older.
    • Preferred rates: 19.99% for purchases, 22.99% for cash advances.
    • No foreign transaction fees.
    • To be eligible, $60,000 (individual) or $100,000 (household) annual income is required, or a minimum assets under management of $250,000. Also, you must have a Canadian credit file and be a Canadian resident of the age of majority in the province or territory where you live.

Desjardins Odyssey Visa Infinite Privilege

Our pick for a low-interest card with bonus rewards on travel and daily spending

Annual Fee
$295-$395
$295 for Desjardins members, $395 for non-members.
Rewards Rate
1.75% - 4% BONUSDOLLARS rewards
4% on restaurants, entertainment and public transportation, 3% on groceries and travel, and 1.75% on everything else.
Intro Offer
N/A
  • Why we like it

    Why we like it

    Not only does this low-interest card feature accelerated rates on daily spending, but the Desjardins Odyssey Visa Infinite Privilege comes with truly impressive insurance coverage.

    Pros

    • Comprehensive travel insurance includes emergency medical worth $5 million per person, covering 60 days for ages 59 and under and 15-days for ages 75 and under.
    • 18 airport lounge visits included.

    Cons

    • No intro offer.
    • There’s a high annual fee and $150,000 (individual) or $200,000 (household) annual income is required, making this card inaccessible for many.
  • Product details
    • 4% in BONUSDOLLARS per dollar spent on restaurants, entertainment and public transportation.
    • 3% in BONUSDOLLARS per dollar spent on groceries and travel.
    • 1.75% in BONUSDOLLARS per dollar spent on everything else.
    • Redeem BONUSDOLLARS for statement credits, financial products and services, charity, rewards, gift cards, purchases, and travel.
    • 1 BONUSDOLLAR earned = $1 you can redeem. BONUSDOLLARs do not expire.
    • $295 annual fee for Desjardins members, $395 annual fee for non-members.
    • Airport lounge access through a complimentary Priority Pass membership, plus 6 free visits per year. 12 visits per year to the Desjardin Odyssey Lounge in the Montreal-Trudeau International Airport.
    • Visa Infinite Privilege benefits including Visa Infinite Privilege Concierge, Visa Infinite Luxury Hotel Collection, Visa Infinite Dining Series, and Entertainment & Lifestyle Offers.
    • Up to 25% off Hertz car rentals and up to 10% off Thrifty or Dollar rentals.
    • Access to Accord D financing up to $5,000 a day cash advances at a rate of 9.9%.
    • 12 types of insurance provided, including 60-day travel medical benefits — up to $5,000,000 in coverage per person under age 59. 31-day coverage is available for ages 60-64. 15-day coverage is available for ages 65-75.
    • Preferred rates: 9.9% for purchases and cash advances.
    • To be eligible, $150,000 (individual) or $200,000 (household) annual income, or assets under management of $400,000 is required. Also, you must have a Canadian credit file and be a Canadian resident of the age of majority in the province or territory where you live.

TD First Class Travel Visa Infinite Card

Our pick for travel rewards and purchases booked through Expedia

Annual Fee
$0 intro for the first year, then $120
Offer available for new cardholders.
Rewards Rate
3x-9x
9x on travel booked online through Expedia For TD, and 3x on everything else.
Intro Offer
100,000 points
Receive 20,000 TD Points when you make your first purchase with the card. Spend $1,000 in the first 90 days and earn 80,000 TD Points. New cardmembers only.
  • Our take

    Why we like it

    With a large welcome bonus and accelerated earn rate on travel booked through ExpediaForTD.com, the TD First Class Travel Visa Infinite Card is perfect for travellers aiming to score free flights and hotel visits.

    Pros

    • A huge welcome bonus worth $670 — provided you take full advantage of the intro offer ($500) and the annual fee rebate for yourself ($120) and an additional cardholder ($50).
    • Travel expenses eligible for redemption include more than just hotel stays and flights – baggage fees, airport parking, car rentals, cruises, travel attractions, entertainment and more are all fair game.

    Cons

    • This card doesn’t have as many travel perks as others on the list, but you can quickly earn free flights and hotel stays.
    • No free airport lounge access — you only receive an annual discount on a Priority Pass lounge membership.
  • Product details
    • 9x TD Points per dollar spent when you book travel online through ExpediaForTD.com
    • 3x TD Points per dollar spent on everything else.
    • Redeem points for travel, to help pay down your credit card balance, cash back, gift cards and more.
    • 200 TD Points are worth $1 in travel savings on purchases made through ExpediaForTD.com. 250 TD Points are worth $1 on travel expenses when you book on your own. Points do not expire.
    • $120 annual fee. You can waive this cost every year if you’re a TD member with an Unlimited or All-Inclusive chequing account.
    • Visa Infinite benefits including Visa Infinite Concierge, Visa Infinite Luxury Hotel Collection, Visa Infinite Dining Series, and Entertainment & Lifestyle Offers.
    • Save with Avis Rent A Car and Budget Rent A Car.
    • 20% annual discount on a Priority Pass lounge membership.
    • 11 types of insurance provided, including 21-day travel medical benefits — up to $1 million in coverage. 4-day coverage is available for ages 65 and older.
    • Preferred rates: 19.99% for purchases, 22.99% for cash advances.
    • To be eligible, $60,000 (individual) or $100,000 (household) annual income is required. Also, you must have a Canadian credit file and be a Canadian resident of the age of majority in the province or territory where you live.

Methodology

NerdWallet Canada selects the best travel rewards credit cards based on overall consumer value as well as their suitability for specific kinds of travellers. Factors in our evaluation include each card’s annual fee, foreign transaction fees, rewards earning rates, ease of use, redemption options, domestic and international acceptance, promotional APR period, bonus offers, insurance offers, and cardholder perks such as automatic statement credits and airport lounge access. Cards eligible for this list must offer travel insurance, travel perks, bonus rates on travel spending (if bonus rates are offered), and the ability to redeem rewards for travel. Hotel and airline rewards cards are not included in this list.

How travel rewards cards work

By Barry Choi

 

Credit card rewards can take the form of cash back, points or miles — sometimes a combination. Travel rewards credit cards earn points or miles with every purchase instead of cash.

The type of rewards you get depends on the travel credit card you have. Additionally, how you can use those rewards depends on the loyalty program you’re a member of.

As far as usage is concerned, travel rewards credit cards are similar to any other credit card. You charge your purchases, and then you get your statement when your monthly billing period is up. It is especially important to pay off your balance with rewards cards because interest charges can erode the rewards you earn.

In other words, as long as you’re on top of your bills, you can earn some sweet travel rewards without doing anything extra.

Types of travel credit cards to consider

Generally speaking, there are three different categories of travel rewards credit cards. Knowing how they differ will help you determine what card is best for you.

General travel rewards credit cards

If you’re not loyal to one specific airline or hotel chain, then a general travel rewards program is something that will interest you. The points you earn can typically be used for any type of travel redemption, such as airfare, hotels, car rentals, cruises, and even vacation packages. Since your points don’t belong to one specific program, you have more options.

Some general travel rewards credit cards only allow you to use your points when booking travel through their online portal, while others let you use your points for any travel purchases you charge to your card.

Airline rewards credit cards

Airline credit cards allow you to earn points or miles for a specific airline. What’s interesting about airline credit cards is that the points you earn can usually be used on any airline that’s part of their network.

For example, Aeroplan is the loyalty program for Air Canada, but you can use your points for a flight on any carrier that’s part of the Star Alliance network. There are also some general travel rewards programs, such as Air Miles, that also earn miles and can offer some additional value.

Depending on the tier of your airline rewards credit card, you may get additional perks such as free checked bags, priority boarding and increased status. Having an airline credit card is highly lucrative if you frequently fly with one airline or network.

Hotel rewards credit cards

While some people love the idea of free flights, getting a luxury stay at a nice hotel appeals to other people. Some would argue that hotel rewards are better than airline rewards since some hotel chains have a greater reach. For example, Marriott has over 7,000 properties in 130+ countries, so no matter where you’re travelling, it won’t be hard to find a room where you can use your points.

Hotel rewards credit cards will also typically include benefits that will make your stay more comfortable. For instance, you could get early check-in and late check-out. You could also get free high speed WiFi or enhanced status.

» MORE: Popular loyalty programs for Canadians who love to travel

What additional rewards come with travel credit cards?

Besides the main rewards categories that come with travel credit cards, consider the additional perks that are included. These extra perks can often be the thing that helps you choose one card over another.

Consider the following benefits that often come with travel rewards credit cards:

  • Free checked bags. Airlines charge anywhere from $30-$60 per checked bag, each way, so getting free checked bags can save you a fair amount of money.
  • Airport lounge access. Some credit cards include airport lounge access, plus free annual lounge passes. These benefits could easily have a value of over $300, so it can offset any annual fee you might pay.
  • Travel insurance. Depending on the credit card, an extensive travel insurance package could be included. This could cover things such as medical expenses, trip cancellation, lost luggage, and more.
  • No foreign transaction fees. Many credit cards charge a 2.5% fee when you make a purchase in any currency that’s not Canadian dollars. If your card has no foreign transaction fees, then you’re just paying the straight exchange rate.
  • Extended warranty. Many credit cards will lengthen your warranty up to one additional year as long as you charge the full cost of the purchase to your card.
  • Price protection. If you find a lower price after making a purchase, some credit cards will give you back the difference as long as it falls within a specific time period.
  • Concierge service. A credit card concierge can help you with basic tasks such as booking travel, ordering fits and securing event tickets.

As you can see, the list of additional benefits you can get with your travel rewards credit cards can be pretty extensive. Some of the best travel credit cards in Canada will have many of the above benefits, but not all of them. Always prioritize the perks that are important to you when applying for a card.

» MORE: How to apply for a credit card and get approved

What is a travel credit card’s earn rate?

The earn rate on a travel credit card is the number of rewards points or miles you earn on each dollar spent.

Some cards offer a flat rate, which means you earn the same amount of rewards on every purchase. For example, you may earn 2 points for every $1 you spend with your card.

Most rewards credit cards have a tiered rewards structure when making purchases. The type of structure can vary quite a bit between cards. For example, you may have an accelerated earn rate on purchases made in certain categories, such as travel, groceries, gas and drugstores. All other purchases will use the lower base earn rate.

Ideally, you want to choose a credit card with an accelerated earn rate that is aligned with your spending habits.

Additionally, travel credit cards may deliver additional points or miles when you make purchases with their main partner, if they have one. For example, an Aeroplan credit card gives you an accelerated earn rate on Air Canada purchases, and Amazon Rewards gives you a bonus when making purchases on Amazon. Some loyalty programs even have a network of partners where you can earn additional points or miles.

Using travel rewards

How to calculate the value of credit card rewards

Knowing how to calculate the value of your points or miles is essential since not every redemption value is the same. By establishing a baseline value for your points, you can decide if specific redemptions are worth it — even if you’re not getting the maximum value.

The formula used to determine the value of one point is as follows:

Cash value of the redemption X 100 / number of points required = Cost per point

Let’s say you want to fly from Vancouver to Toronto, and it’s going to cost $585 in cash, or 25,000 Aeroplan points, plus $75 in taxes. You would use the following formula. Note that since you have to pay $75 in taxes, you’d have to subtract that amount from the cash value for an accurate assessment.

$510 X 100 / 25,000 = 2.04 cents per point

This formula can be applied to any redemption regardless of the loyalty program. For example, let’s say you want to redeem 13,400 points for a $100 gift card. Your formula would be the following:

$100 X 100 / 13,400 = .75 cents per point

Assuming these redemption options are available with the same program, the flight is a better bang for your points.

Do travel rewards points ever expire?

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been a member of a loyalty program or how many points you’ve accumulated; you can lose everything if you’re not paying attention.

Generally speaking, most loyalty programs that belong to an airline or hotel have a defined expiry date of 12 – 18 months. However, that only applies if there’s been no account activity in your account during that time. If you earn or redeem just one point during that time, your clock would reset. Even if you’re not travelling anytime soon, you could make a small redemption or donate some points to ensure you don’t lose the rest of your points.

When it comes to bank credit card rewards programs, it’s unlikely your points will expire as long as your credit card account is in good standing. Your account would only fall out of good standing if it becomes delinquent or your credit card is used for fraudulent activity.

» DON’T WAIT: 7 tips for paying off your credit card every month

How to redeem travel credit card rewards

Some credit card rewards programs only allow you to redeem your points or miles through their rewards portals, while others may allow you to redeem your points for any purchase made after the fact.

Rewards programs offered through a bank typically have their own website where you can make redemptions. They’ll usually have separate tabs where you can choose from travel, gift cards, merchandise, and financial rewards. While this can be handy, you’re typically limited to their offerings. For example, you wouldn’t be able to book an Airbnb via their site. That said, some general rewards programs allow you to redeem travel purchases that weren’t made through the bank’s website as long as you charge the expenses to your credit card

Airline and hotel loyalty programs will almost always allow you to redeem your points or miles directly on their website or mobile app. When doing a search for flights or hotels, you’ll likely see a click box that says “use points.” The prices displayed will then be in points, so you’ll know exactly what you need to make a redemption.

» TRAVELLING?: Discover the best ways to use your credit card overseas

How do I determine the right travel credit card for me?

Every credit card is good for at least one thing, so deciding on which card is best for you can be difficult.

Before you apply for a new rewards credit card, ask yourself the following questions:

Is there a welcome bonus?

If you’re trying to decide between several travel cards with similar rewards, the tiebreaker can often be the sign up bonus. Some credit cards offer a generous welcome offer that covers the annual fee or jumpstarts your earning with thousands of free points or miles.

What is the earn rate?

Every credit card has a base earn rate, but just about all of the best travel credit cards in Canada have an increased earn rate for specific bonus categories. However, if you have a general travel credit card, you could earn extra points on categories such as groceries, gas, pharmacies and more. The earn rate is essential since choosing a card that lines up with your spending can quickly increase the number of points or miles you earn.

Is there an annual fee?

If you’re firmly against the idea of paying an annual fee for your credit card, then you’ll instantly narrow down your choices. That said, travel credit cards that have an annual fee typically come with more benefits that could be worth more than that yearly fee.

» MORE: When is an annual fee worth it?

How flexible are the rewards?

Having a lot of points is meaningless if it’s hard to redeem them. Look for a loyalty or rewards program where you know you’ll be able to use your points without much trouble. What you’re looking for are programs where there are no blackout dates and many different redemptions options. You’ll also want to consider if the program has any transfer partners, as that’s another way to use your points. Additionally, knowing if and when your points expire is key to making sure you don’t lose your hard-earned rewards.

What additional benefits do I want?

Besides the type of rewards, welcome bonus and earn rate, the additional benefits included will often help sway your decision. Travel insurance, airport lounge access, no foreign exchange fees, etc. can all be pretty valuable.

» MORE: Types of credit card insurance to know

Making the most of your travel credit card

If you’ve decided that a travel rewards credit card is for you, there are a few tips you can follow to ensure you get the most out of your card.

  • Always pay your bills in full and on time, so you don’t pay any interest.
  • Make sure you meet the minimum spend requirement to get your welcome bonus.
  • Pay attention to your earn rate and use your rewards card on purchases that earn extra points.
  • Research your rewards program so you know what you can do with your points or miles.
  • Always calculate the value of your points before making a redemption.
  • See if your loyalty program has a partner network where you can earn additional points.

Although choosing a travel credit card may require you to do some research, the value you get is often worth it. Getting free stuff on points feels great, especially if it’s something you’ve been saving a long time for.

» MORE: How to stack credit card rewards

  • FAQs

    • Do travel rewards expire?

      Yes, travel rewards can expire. Most loyalty programs that belong to an airline or hotel have a defined expiry date of 12 – 18 months. However, that only applies if there’s been no account activity in your account during that time. If you earn or redeem just one point during that time, your clock would reset.

      When it comes to bank rewards programs, your points may never expire as long as your credit card account is in good standing. Of course, your account would only fall out of good standing if it becomes delinquent or you use your credit card for fraudulent activity.

    • How do travel credit cards work?

      Travel credit cards earn points or miles on purchases. The points you earn can typically be used for any type of travel redemption, such as airfare, hotels, car rentals, cruises, and even vacation packages. Since your points don’t belong to one specific program, you have more options.

      Some general travel rewards credit cards only allow you to use your points when booking travel through their online portal, while others let you use your points for any travel purchases you charge to your card.

      As far as usage is concerned, travel rewards credit cards are similar to any other credit card. You charge your purchases, and then you get your statement when your monthly billing period is up. It is especially important to pay off your balance with rewards cards because interest charges can erode the rewards you earn.

    • What can I do with credit card reward points?

      You can redeem the points you earn for travel costs, merchandise, gift cards, experiences and more.

      Redeeming your credit card rewards is often easy, but the process will differ depending on the program. Some only allow you to redeem your points or miles through specific rewards portals, while others allow you to redeem your points for any purchase made after the fact.

    • What credit score do I need to get a travel credit card?

      In most cases, a good credit score is required to get the best travel credit cards. However, some secured credit cards and prepaid options offer rewards, and are more suitable for people with bad or fair credit scores.

About the Author

Barry Choi
Barry Choi

Barry Choi is a personal finance and travel expert. His website moneywehave.com is one of Canada's most trusted sites when it comes to all things related to money and travel. You can reach him on Twitter: @barrychoi.

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