What’s in my wallet? The best Canadian credit cards for travel hacking

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As a self-proclaimed travel hacker, the number one question I get asked is “Which credit card do you recommend?” While I have extensively detailed how easy travel hacking is and the incredible benefits that come with it, I haven’t really suggested any specific cards since everyone’s situation and needs are different. Well, that changes today my friends. Due to popular demand, read on to find out which Canadian credit cards are currently in my wallet, and why you might want to pick them up too.

BMO World Elite MasterCard

Fun fact: I feel like a millionaire every time I pull this sleek, black card out of my wallet—seriously, people always look so impressed when I slap it down! Anyway, I’m a huge fan of this particular MasterCard because it’s easy to accumulate points quickly as grocery, gas and travel purchases earn double points. You can then can then redeem those toward flights, vacation packages, hotel stays, etc., in a booking engine similar to Travelocity. I’ve run price comparisons with my go-to sites like Kayak, and always found their pricing to be on par. If you don’t have enough points for the booking you want, you simply pay the difference.

There are also some great perks for those who sign up now, such as one-year Priority Pass membership which grants access to airport lounges around the world and includes four free visits. The first year’s annual fee is also being waived, and the good folks at BMO are even throwing in $300 worth of points! To me, it’s a no-brainer to sign up.

  • Who should get it: Everyone
  • Annual fee: $150, but waived for the first year.
  • Points accumulation: $1 = 2 points
  • Best perk: Priority Pass membership including four visits, and robust booking engine
  • Watch out for: Points can only be redeemed through BMO’s booking site, so be sure to use your points before the year is up or be forced to pay the annual fee to keep them.
best canadian credit cards for travel

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Starwood American Express

I just picked up this bad boy thanks to a promotion: 20,000 Starpoints after spending only $500 on the card. This is double the usual offer, and is valid toward stays at great hotels around the world including Westin, W and Sheraton resorts—with no blackouts. To give you an idea of what that’s worth, stays start at 2,000 Starpoints per night so hypothetically you could get 10 free hotel stays out of this deal. Rooms in pricy cities like London cost 10,000 points per night and up. The one hang-up is that there is an annual fee—$120 per year—but when you do the math it’s still a good deal considering how much those hotel rooms would normally set you back. It’s worth noting that Starpoints can also be used toward booking flights.

  • Who should get it: Anyone who enjoys staying in beautiful hotel rooms
  • Annual fee: $120
  • Points accumulation: $1 spend = 1 Starpoint
  • Best perk: Access to fantastic hotels around the world with no blackout dates, extras such as free Wi-Fi access.
  • Watch out for: The annual fee

American Express Gold Rewards Credit Card

I recently ditched this card when it came up for renewal (AKA they wanted me to pay $150) but I wanted to include it on this list as I think it’s a fantastic option. The best feature is that points accumulate quickly, thanks to double earnings for basics like groceries, gas and travel. AMEX is also known for offers such as “Spend $20 at Tim Horton’s in a month and get a $10 statement credit”—and who doesn’t enjoy getting five free coffees?

Rewards points transfer into dozens of different programs including Aeroplan, Avios and Starwood, or you can simply cash them in for a statement credit against any travel booked on your AMEX card in the previous 12 months. Easy-peasy! Best of all, there can be great sign-up bonus such as no annual fee and 25,000 points after spending $500.

  • Who should get it: Everyone
  • Annual fee: $150, with first year waived.
  • Points accumulation: $1 spend = 1 point. 2 points for travel, grocery, gas and drug store purchases.
  • Best perk: Ability to transfer points to numerous programs
  • Watch out for: Many merchants don’t accept American Express cards

WORTH NOTING: The American Express AeroplanPlus Gold Card is very similar to this program (as well as the TD option below), other than that the points are earned as Aeroplan miles, not Rewards points. There is currently a 26,000 points bonus and the first year’s annual fee waived for new sign ups, so act fast!

WestJet World Elite MasterCard

This is the card that I have had the longest, but only use it to pay monthly bills like cable or my gym membership. Why? Because I don’t fly within North America all that much, so don’t find myself looking to book WestJet flights. That being said, this one is a keeper—especially if you do travel within Canada or the U.S. regularly.

I don’t usually don’t go for cards with annual fees, but the WestJet World Elite MasterCard is only $99 a year which I consider negligible—especially since there’s currently a $250 bonus for new sign-ups. The best perk is the annual $99 companion flight voucher, which means that if you buy a WestJet flight, whoever is travelling with you only pays $99 for their seat – a great deal if you’re heading somewhere like New York City which can cost $600+ per person. You also earn WestJet dollars which can be used towards flights or vacations. Finally, since the airline recently introduced baggage fees (boo!) they waive those charges for credit card holders and up to eight travelling companions, which is a savings of $25 per bag each way.

  • Who should get it: Those who travel in Canada or the U.S.
  • Annual fee: $99
  • Points accumulation: $100 spend = $1.50 WestJet dollars ($2 if spent on WestJet travel)
  • Best perk: The annual $99 companion flight
  • Watch out for: Points can only be used toward WestJet flights or vacations

best canadian credit cards for travel

TD Aeroplan Visa

Aeroplan is my go-to frequent flyer program, solely because it’s so easy to earn miles in Canada and they can be redeemed for flights anywhere in the world. With that in mind I’m always on the lookout for affiliated cards, which is how I ended up with the TD Aeroplan Visa. They recently started a promotion that gives cardholders 25,000 points when they spend $1,000 (enough for a free flight), and waives the first year’s annual fee. They also throw in one Air Canada lounge pass each year, and credit card holders get priority check-in and boarding for Air Canada flights.

RELATED: Secret tricks and tips for booking Aeroplan rewards

Truth be told this card doesn’t have much of a wow-factor unless you fly on Air Canada a lot, but it’s worth signing up for to at least get the initial bonus.

  • Who should get it: People who collect Aeroplan points
  • Annual fee: $120, waived the first year
  • Points accumulation: $1 = 1 mile. 1.5 miles per dollar on grocery, gas and drug store purchases.
  • Best perks: Large sign-up bonus, annual Air Canada lounge pass
  • Watch out for: Aeroplan miles are notoriously hard to redeem without having to pay hefty surcharges. Read more about how to get around them here. Aeroplan accounts also expire if inactive for 12 months.

YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY:

The ultimate list of little-known travel hacks

The secret to getting luxury hotel rooms for half price

Travel hacking 101: How to fly first class for free

INFOGRAPHIC: How to book a trip in 5 steps


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9 Responses

  1. Mona says:

    Finally a good roundup of Canadian travel cards, thank you! I have one more to add to your list – the Amazon Visa. It’s no fee, offers points towards Amazon purchases, and – best of all – no foreign transaction fees. A rare thing for a Canadian card! Happy travels. 🙂

    • Thanks for the tip Mona! I’ll have to take a peek at the Amazon one, because as you mentioned a Canadian credit card with no foreign transaction fees is extremely hard to come by.

  2. Katherin says:

    Hey wat about the chase preferred card??

  3. Joshua Maret says:

    I’d have included the Scotiabank American Express Gold. Lower annual fee, better points on signup, same ability to be reimbursed on travel after the fact. And at 4 point to a buck for gas, grocery, entertainment and dining, the points stack up fast.

  4. Brian says:

    Amex Aeroplan Gold card does not offer first year free and the current bonus is 16k not 26k.

  1. February 4, 2015

    […] What’s in my wallet? The best credit cards for travel hacking […]

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