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Today TPG Contributor Nick Ewen reviews some of the top credit cards available to Canadian readers, including offers from Aeroplan, Alaska Airlines and Marriott Rewards, transferable programs like Amex Membership Rewards, and other flexible cash back programs.
There’s no doubt that credit card sign-up bonuses are among the best ways to rack up loyalty points and frequent flyer miles quickly, and we devote a good number of posts to discussing the top offers and most lucrative benefits here at The Points Guy. However, many of our favorite cards aren’t an option for all TPG readers, especially those living outside the U.S. To begin to address this gap, I wanted to highlight some of the top credit cards out there for Canadian residents, and help our neighbors to the north maximize their points and miles earnings.
The following list is arranged by issuing bank with the top (or top two) offerings from each. Keep in mind that this is not a comprehensive list, so if you have personal recommendations that aren’t included here, please share them in the comments section below. I have also tried to provide links to the best currently available public offers, but again, if you know of others, please add them as well. Finally, I based much of my analysis on TPG’s August valuations of points & miles (where possible). This includes the currency conversion from U.S. dollars to Canadian dollars (I used an exchange rate of $1 U.S. = $1.10 Canadian). You may assign different values to the various loyalty currencies, so feel free to adjust as needed!
Card: AeroplanPlus Gold American Express
Current Bonus: 25,000 Aeroplan miles after spending $500 during the first three months.
Other Benefits: 1 mile per dollar spent up to $10,000. 1.25 miles per dollar for all purchases above that amount. Various levels of coverage, including travel insurance and purchase protection.
Annual Fee: $120 (two additional cardholders are free; others are $50 each)
Reasons to get it: Though the program was significantly devalued a few years ago (and then again just last year!), Aeroplan still holds significant value, and TPG values these miles at 1.76 Canadian cents apiece. This means the sign-up bonus is worth roughly $440 ($320 once you factor in the annual fee). The card also has a very low minimum spend requirement. The ability to add two free additional cards is a nice perk, as are the various protections provided for travel and shopping.
Other offers: The link above includes two other Aeroplan cards: the Platinum American Express and the regular American Express. The Platinum card has a bonus of 50,000 miles, but the $499 annual fee wipes out a large chunk of that. The card provides a 2-for-1 redemption benefit on short-haul classic flight rewards, and includes lounge access; however, the T&C points out how limited this lounge benefit is. Primary cardholders can access Maple Leaf lounges when traveling on an Air Canada flight or Star Alliance codeshare (additional cardholders are excluded). The included Priority Pass membership still requires guests AND the cardmember to pay the $27 per person, per visit lounge entry fee! For a “premium” card with a huge annual fee, that is shockingly restrictive, so I would opt for the Gold card instead.
Card: American Express Gold Rewards Card
Current Bonus: 25,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $500 in the first three months.
Other Benefits: 2 points per dollar spent at gas stations, grocery stores, and drugstores in Canada. 2 points per dollar spent on travel purchases (including airfare, car rentals, and train tickets). 1 point per dollar spent elsewhere. Redeem points for any travel expense charged to the card. Transfer points to Aeroplan (1:1), British Airways (1:1), Delta (1:0.75), Alitalia (1:0.75), Etihad (1:0.75), Asia Miles (1:0.75), Hilton HHonors (1:1), and SPG (1:0.5). Provides extensive coverage, including emergency medical insurance, car rental insurance, and lost/stolen baggage insurance. One free additional card for authorized user.
Annual Fee: $150 (waived for the first year)
Reasons to get it: Depending on your typical yearly spend, it could make sense to keep this card long-term. However, with the annual fee waived for the first year, this card a no-brainer. TPG values Membership Rewards points at 1.98 Canadian cents each. Unfortunately, Canadian Membership Rewards points aren’t quite as valuable, since you have fewer transfer partners and less favorable transfer rates (see this link for complete details). Still, you can redeem 1,000 points for $10 in travel, so the 25,000 point sign-up bonus is worth at least $250, or considerably more if you transfer to one of the programs listed above:
- Aeroplan: 25,000 MR Points = 25,000 Aeroplan Miles x 1.76 cents = $440
- British Airways: 25,000 MR Points = 25,000 Avios x 1.87 cents = $467.50
- SPG: 25,000 MR Points = 12,500 SPG points x 2.53 cents = $316.25
This value, coupled with the low minimum spend requirement and the annual fee waived for the first year, makes the Canadian Amex Gold card one of the top offers out there. Beyond the first year, be sure to crunch the numbers to see if your typical spend at gas stations, grocery stores, drugstores, and on travel warrants keeping the card and incurring the annual fee. Unfortunately, it does incur foreign transaction fees of 2.5%, but if the vast majority of your purchases are in Canada, this isn’t a huge drawback.
Other offers: You could also consider the American Express Platinum card. Like it’s American counterpart, this card provides access to airport lounges, Fine Hotels & Resorts benefits, the International Airfare Program, a $200 yearly airline fee credit, and many additional layers of travel and shopping coverage. It also has a current sign-up bonus of 50,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $1,000 in the first three months. However, the $699 annual fee (plus $175 for additional cardholders) is steep, and shockingly enough, this card also charges the same 2.5% foreign transaction fee, so I think the Gold card is the better offer.
BANK OF MONTREAL (BMO)
Card: BMO World Elite MasterCard
Current Bonus: 30,000 points after account opening.
Other Benefits: Earn 2 points per dollar on all purchases. Earn double points (4 points/$) at National and Alamo. Points can be redeemed for any travel expense, including taxes & fees (1,000 points = $10). Points can also be redeemed for retail purchases, charitable donations, or for deposits into a BMO investment account. Includes Priority Pass membership plus four complimentary lounge visits each year. Provides coverage like travel medical insurance, trip cancellation/interruption/delay insurance, and car rental collision and damage coverage.
Annual Fee: $150 (additional cardholders are free)
Reasons to get it: While not quite as valuable as the Amex Gold, the BMO World Elite MasterCard is still an intriguing value proposition. Like the Barclaycard Arrival Plus card in the U.S., you have the flexibility of applying your points to any travel expense charged to the card, and the sign-up bonus alone is worth $300 for this purpose. The earning structure is also very straightforward, with 2 points/dollar on every purchase (again like the Arrival Plus). If you travel occasionally for work or business, the lounge access benefit can be valuable, though you would need to pay for any visits beyond the four complimentary ones provided each year. This is also an ideal card if you typically rent cars from National or Alamo.
Other offers: This link highlights other card offers from Bank of Montreal. One of the more intriguing ones is the BMO US Dollar MasterCard. This would be an ideal complement to the World Elite MasterCard for those of you that regularly purchase travel or goods from the U.S. These purchases are charged in U.S. Dollars, and while the card does have a $35 annual fee, if your yearly purchases total more than US$1,000, that fee is refunded.
Card: Aspire World MasterCard
Current Bonus: 35,000 miles after first purchase.
Other Benefits: 2 reward miles for every dollar spent. 10,000 bonus miles on your cardmember anniversary every year. Redeem points for any travel expense plus gift cards, merchandise, and cash. Comes with World MasterCard benefits, including travel & baggage insurance, car rental collision/damage waiver, and price & purchase protection on items charged to the card.
Annual Fee: $120
Reasons to get it: This is another card along the lines of the Arrival Plus in the U.S. It offers 2 miles/$ on every purchase, and the sign-up bonus alone is worth up to $350 towards travel. Unfortunately, when you redeem the miles for travel purchases less than $600, you are subject to very rigid plateaus:
If your flight was $149, you would only need 15,000 miles. If that price jumped to $151, your ticket would require 35,000 miles. Those extra two dollars add 20,000 points to the total! As a result, the points on this card are most valuable when you are just under the purchase thresholds (or over $600, where the points are worth a standard 1 cent apiece). Be sure to factor this in when deciding which expenses are best for point redemptions. However, despite this limitation, the sign-up bonus definitely covers the annual fee, and the 10,000 bonus miles every year on your cardmember anniversary can, if applied properly, nearly cover the annual fee as well.
Other offers: Capital One has a variety of other cards for Canadian residents. One option is the IHG Rewards Club World MasterCard, which currently comes with 60,000 bonus points with the first purchase. You enjoy Platinum Elite status for as long as you have your card, but the $120 annual fee is steep compared to the $49 annual fee on the U.S. counterpart. The Aspire Travel Platinum MasterCard (not to be confused with the World MasterCard) is essentially a no annual fee version of the card profiled above. It only offers 5,000 bonus points after your first purchase and 1 mile per dollar. However, it could be a good option for those who are averse to paying annual fees.
Card: Marriott Rewards Premier Visa
Current Bonus: 1 free night in a Category 1-4 hotel after account approval; additional 30,000 Marriott Rewards points after first purchase (this post on FlyerTalk claims that this link will up the bonus to 50,000 points, though the application page does not indicate this).
Other Benefits: 5 points per dollar spent at Marriott properties. 2 points per dollar spent at airlines, car rental agencies, and restaurants. 1 point per dollar elsewhere. One free night at a Category 1-5 property every year on your cardmember anniversary. No foreign transaction fees. 15 elite night credits every year (10 nights = Silver Elite status).
Annual Fee: $120 (waived for the first year)
Reasons to get it: Just like the Amex Gold detailed above, this card is a no-brainer, especially for the first year. The 30,000 bonus points alone are worth $231 (again, taking into account the currency conversion for TPG’s August valuations), and I’ve redeemed a similar free night certificate at a Category 4 hotel where the room rate was over $200. The earning bonus at Marriott properties in particular is strong, and the double points at airlines, car rental agencies, and restaurants is another nice benefit. I have been Silver Elite with Marriott for the last three years, and have found the treatment to be quite good, including perks beyond the published tier benefits ( like room upgrades). The free anniversary night can easily cover the annual fee, and when you add in the fact that the card waives foreign transaction fees, it becomes one of the most valuable Canadian cards out there.
Card: Alaska Airlines MasterCard
Current Bonus: 25,000 Mileage Plan miles upon account approval, plus $60 cash rebate if you apply through Great Canadian Rebates (using the link above).
Other Benefits: 3 miles per dollar spent on Alaska Airlines airfare, vacation packages, and in-flight purchases. 1 mile per dollar elsewhere. Annual $99 coach companion ticket (plus taxes & fees starting at $22). $50 off new Board Room membership initiation fee.
Annual Fee: $75 ($15 when you factor in the $60 rebate from GCR)
Reasons to get it: Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan program is one of the most valuable loyalty currencies out there. The program partners with numerous carriers for points earning and redemption, including both Delta and American in the U.S., as well as Korean Air, Cathay Pacific, and Emirates. TPG values these miles at 2.2 Canadian cents apiece, meaning the sign-up bonus alone is worth $550 ($535 once you factor in the annual fee and $60 rebate). If you can find a use for the annual companion certificate, you can easily cover the annual fee, and since Alaska codeshares with both American and Delta, you have access to many more routes on which to earn 3 points/dollar by booking flights through Alaska.
Others: MBNA has several other Canadian credit cards. One good option for those wanting to avoid an annual fee is the Smart Cash MasterCard, which offers 5% cash back for gas and grocery purchases during the first 6 months of cardmembership (and 2% back thereafter). Once your available cash back passes $50, you are automatically issued a check. However, the Alaska Airlines card is the clear winner here, even with the $75 annual fee.
Card: Scotiabank Gold American Express
Current Bonus: 30,000 bonus points after first purchase, plus $40 cash back from RedFlagDeals (using the above link).
Other Benefits: 4 points per dollar spent on gas, groceries, dining, and entertainment. 1 point per dollar spent elsewhere. Points can be redeemed for all (or part) of a travel purchase, as well as for merchandise, gift cards, and other rewards. Access to a variety of travel perks, including discounted hotel/cruise/car rental rates and luxury hotel privileges. Extensive travel coverage, including trip insurance, travel accident insurance, and even hotel burglary coverage.
Annual Fee: $99 annual fee ($59 when you factor in the cash rebate from RFD); additional cardholders are $29.
Reasons to get it: You’re probably starting to see a pattern here, as many Canadian offerings are similar to the Barclaycard Arrival Plus. This allows you to be flexible with your points and apply them toward any travel expense. The 30,000 bonus points are worth $300 toward travel purchases, so with the annual fee (and cash back from Red Flag Deals), you’re looking at a net benefit of $241. This card also includes many “luxury” benefits that are typically reserved for premium cards like the Amex Platinum, and the layers of coverage provided are as good as (or better than) many of those offerings. The earning rates are also fantastic — I sure wish that the Arrival Plus would offer bonus categories with earning rates of four points per dollar! Of course, regular purchases only earn 1 point per dollar, but given the sign-up bonus and travel/insurance perks, this is a great card with premium benefits at a non-premium price point.
Others: Scotiabank has many card offerings for Canadians. Another decent option is the Scotia Momentum Visa Infinite card. It offers 4% cash back on purchases at gas stations & grocery stores, 2% back on drugstore purchases & recurring bill payments, and 1% back everywhere else. The $99 annual fee is waived for the first year, and you can also access the various benefits of this being a Visa Infinite card. However, I personally prefer travel rewards, so I give the Gold Amex a slightly higher recommendation.
There are many other card issuers out there with products that may be a better fit for your own travel/spending needs. However, these options currently offer the best bang for your buck with sign-up bonuses, category spend bonuses, and other benefits.
Again, if you have experience with these cards or if you’ve got other recommendations, please share your thoughts in the comments section below! With great transfer partners like United and Hyatt, 2x points on travel & dining and a 50,000 point sign up bonus, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great card for those looking to get into the points and miles game.
With great transfer partners like United and Hyatt, 2x points on travel & dining and a 50,000 point sign up bonus, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great card for those looking to get into the points and miles game.