The options may be different from those in the States, but Canadians with wanderlust have no shortage of rewards-earning credit cards. The welcome bonus on several of the cards below are enough for a free round-trip flight.
But the rules for earning the sign-up bonuses and annual fees differ. Some cards offer the bonus after minimum spend is met while another doles it out throughout the year. Also, annual fees range dramatically from $99 to $699, with some due monthly and others waived the first year. Here are the current offers:
American Express Cobalt
One of strongest features of Cobalt, which was launched in 2017, is its welcome bonus of up to 30,000 points. However, it comes with a twist. Card holders can receive a bonus of 2,500 Membership Rewards every month for the first year by charging $500 on their card. If that minimum isn’t reached, the card holder foregoes that month’s bonus.
Cobalt’s other strength is the accelerated pace at which it earns Membership Rewards: 5 points per dollar for dining (including food delivery) in Canada, 2 points per dollar on travel (including transit passes and gas) and 1 point per dollar on everything else.
With the Fixed Points Travel Program, points can be redeemed for flights on any airline with no blackout periods, including taxes and fees.
The Use Points for Purchase option gives card holders a $10 statement credit toward travel purchases for every 1,000 points — this equals a 5% return on all food and drink purchases, and a 3.5% return on all other purchases.
The card also comes with American Express Invites, for advance access to tickets for concerts and shows. It also has a strong insurance package, including $250,000 travel accident insurance. Card holders pay a $10 monthly fee, which is $120 annually.
Scotiabank Gold American Express Card
The Scotiabank Gold card has a welcome bonus of 15,000 Scotia Rewards points after $1,000 in purchases in the first three months. The card’s fee is also lower than Cobalt, at $99 annually.
A big selling point for Scotiabank’s card is its generous earn rate for a broad category of purchases: Gold card holders earn 4 points for every dollar spent at restaurants, bars, grocery stores, gas stations and cinemas. All other purchases generate 1 point per dollar.
Points can be redeemed for air travel anywhere at any time, with no restrictions. Card holders can book travel rewards online or over the phone through the Scotia Rewards Travel Service. Its Best Price Guarantee on airfare means that Scotiabank Travel Rewards will offer a points credit if the card holder finds a cheaper flight with the same itinerary elsewhere. Card holders can also book travel using their card and redeem points for the purchase.
Other travel perks include travel insurance benefits and access to 600 airport lounges around the world by purchasing a basic Priority Pass membership for $65 (a 35% discount) and pay for $27 each visit.
Card holders also save up to 25% on base rates when renting a car at participating Avis and Budget outlets in the US and Canada when they pay with their card.
The Platinum Card® from American Express
This is an elite American Express card with an annual fee of $699 and an interest rate of 30% on unpaid balances. But it offers lots of perks that its cousin cards don’t. The Platinum card’s welcome bonus is 50,000 Membership Rewards points when card holders charge $3,000 in purchases on the card in the first three months.
Card holders earn 3 points per dollar on dining in Canada, 2 points per dollar on eligible travel and 1 point per dollar on everything else. They also get a $200 annual travel credit to use toward any travel booking charged on their card through the Platinum Card Travel Service or American Express online.
Points can also be transferred to frequent flyer and other loyalty programs, including Aeroplan, Marriott Bonvoy and Delta SkyMiles. Additionally, card holders can take advantage of the Platinum Concierge team and get access to special events and opportunities.
While traveling, card holders can access more than 1,200 airport lounges worldwide and receive special benefits at Toronto Pearson International Airport, such as access to the priority security lane during peak hours and a 15% discount on parking. The Platinum card also offers trip cancellation and trip interruption insurance, as well as $500,000 in travel accident insurance.
BMO AIR MILES World Elite Mastercard
This card is a partnership between BMO, MasterCard and the ever-popular AIR MILES program, offering travel rewards, in-store and online cash rewards, and rewards for events and attractions.
The welcome offer includes a one-year waiver of the card’s $120 annual fee, a companion flight rebate and a bonus of 3,000 AIR MILES — the equivalent of two short-haul flights — within 45 days of activation.
The card earns 1 mile for every $10 charged, with no limits on which purchases count or how many miles can be accrued. Additionally, card holders can double-dip by earning miles, usually 1 for every $20 spent, at participating businesses, including Costco, Ontario’s LCBO, gas stations, grocery stores and drug stores.
Benefits include a 15% discount on all AIR MILES flights in North America, with no blackout periods, two free VIP airport lounge passes every year, redeemable at hundreds of locations worldwide, and comprehensive insurance benefits. Participating National Car Rental and Alamo Rent a Car outlets give cardholders a discount of up to 25% when they pay with their card.
An interest rate of 19.99% is charged on unpaid balances, and 22.99% on cash advances.
BMO World Elite Mastercard
Offering 3 points for every dollar spent on travel, dining and entertainment, plus 2 points for every dollar spent on everything else, this card is an attractive BMO MasterCard for those who don’t use AIR MILES.
The sign-up bonus of 35,000 points, after spending $3,000 in the first three months, is worth $250 toward flights booked on bmorewards.com. The annual fee of $150 is waived for the first year and, until Feb. 28, 2019, new card holders will receive a $100 statement credit when they charge travel-related purchases (airfare, hotel rooms, resort and cruise line costs) to the card in the first six months.
Card holders get four free passes to select VIP airport lounges every year, and redeem points for flights on any airline, with no blackout dates. They can also redeem points for merchandise, gift cards, to pay down the balance on their credit card and to make contributions to a BMO Investment account.
This card also charges an interest rate of 19.99% on unpaid balances, and 22.99% on cash advances.
RBC Visa Infinite Avion
This flexible and traveler-friendly Visa card is appealing for many reasons, including its welcome bonus of 15,000 points, which is worth one short-haul, round-trip flight with a maximum ticket price of $350. New card holders can earn an extra 5,000 points by spending $1,000 within the first three months. They can also have the $120 annual fee waived for the first year, upon approval.
The card earns RBC Rewards points at the rate of 1 point for every dollar charged, and 1.25 points for travel-related purchases (100 RBC Rewards points equals $1.)
Jet-setting card holders can redeem for flights (including business class) with no blackout periods or seat restrictions, hotel stays, vacation packages and car rentals through the RBC Rewards site online. They can also transfer points to other eligible rewards programs, such as WestJet Rewards, and enjoy premium insurance offerings, including trip cancellation, trip interruption, robust medical insurance and car rental insurance.
Aside from travel, points can be redeemed for some 50,000 tech products at Best Buy, the latest Apple gear, and to pay down the credit card balance. An added bonus: After it’s been linked online, the card instantly saves three cents per liter at Petro-Canada gas.
The interest rate is 19.99%, and 22.99% on cash advances.
TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite
A partnership between TD Bank, Visa and the Aeroplan rewards program, this card offers rewards for people who travel with Air Canada and its affiliates.
The annual fee is $120, the interest rates are 19.99% and 22.99%, and the welcome bonus is 25,000 Aeroplan miles after spending $1,000 in the first three billing cycles. That can get you one short-haul round-trip flight in Canada or the continental US, with plenty of miles to spare.
The card earns 1.5 miles for every dollar charged on groceries, gas, drugstore purchases or on aircanada.com. All other purchases earn 1 mile per dollar, but card holders can double-dip at Aeroplan partners such as Home Hardware, Costco, Apple and the Gap, earning double the miles.
Benefits for travelers include free checked baggage, and priority check-in and boarding on Air Canada, as well as free access to a Canada Maple Leaf Lounge once a year. The card also offers $1 million travel medical insurance, plus trip cancellation and interruption insurance, and more.
There cards are all very different, including the rate at which they earn points and where. Analyze your current spending patterns and figure out whether you spend more on travel, restaurants or groceries for example, and then zero in on the card that’s right for you. Card holders who travel frequently might also like to compare airport lounge access and insurance packages.
Featured photo via Getty Images.