Best Credit Cards For Travel Rewards

Many people like the idea of using a rewards program to collect points and save money on travel.  Some of the best credit cards are travel rewards credit cards, which can help you earn points faster and enjoy perks like free airfare, or upgrades when you travel.

I use the MBNA Smart Cash MasterCard as my preferred credit card because I like getting cash back on my every day spending.  However, I’m really impressed with the lucrative rewards and flexible redemption options being offered by the top travel rewards credit cards.

Related: Top Cash Back Credit Cards in Canada

Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards

I looked into the best travel rewards credit cards in Canada, and the only way to earn more rewards is to use a premium credit card with an annual fee.  I calculated the travel rewards based on spending an average of $2,500 a month – $30,000 annually on your credit card.

Here are the best credit cards for travel rewards:

Capital One Aspire Travel World MasterCard

  • 2 reward miles for every $1 spent
  • 35,000 bonus reward miles on your first purchase
  • 10,000 anniversary bonus reward miles every year
  • Redeem points for travel, cash back or merchandise
  • Trip interruption or cancellation insurance
  • $500,000 travel accident insurance
  • $120 annual fee

The Capital One Aspire Travel World MasterCard sets the bar high when it comes to earning travel rewards.  Double miles on every dollar spent, plus generous bonus reward miles on your first purchase and an additional 10,000 anniversary bonus reward miles every year.

Calculating points with the Capital One Aspire Travel World MasterCard is straightforward.  Every 10,000 points is equivalent to $100 in travel rewards.

  • 2 miles for every $1 in purchases – 60,000 points
  • 35,000 bonus miles with first purchase – 35,000 points
  • 10,000 bonus anniversary miles – 10,000 points

With this credit card from Capital One, you can earn up to $1,050 in travel rewards in the first year.  After subtracting the $120 annual fee you’re still left with $930 worth of free travel.  However, without the 35,000 bonus miles in subsequent years your total travel rewards drops to $580 a year.

BMO World Elite MasterCard

  • 1 BMO ELITE Rewards point for every $1 spent
  • Welcome bonus of 15,000 ELITE Rewards points
  • No black-out periods & points cover all charges when redeeming for flights
  • Best-in-class travel insurance
  • Free access to VIP airport lounges
  • $150 annual fee

The BMO World Elite MasterCard claims to have the highest credit card travel redemption rate in the industry – every 10,000 points is equivalent to a $190 travel credit that can be used on the booking of your choice.

  • 1 mile for every $1 in purchases = 30,000 points
  • 15,000 welcome bonus miles = 15,000 points

With this credit card, you can earn up to $855 in travel rewards in the first year.  After subtracting the annual fee of $150, you’re still left with $705 worth of free travel.  In subsequent years – without the welcome bonus – your total travel rewards drops to $570 a year.

CIBC Aventura World MasterCard

  • 1.5 Aventura Points for every $1 spent at grocery stores, gas stations and drug stores
  • 1 Aventura Point for every $1 spent anywhere else
  • Welcome bonus of 15,000 Aventura Points
  • No blackout periods, fees or restrictions
  • Comprehensive insurance benefits, including Out-Of-Province Emergency Travel Medical Insurance
  • $120 annual fee

The CIBC Aventura World MasterCard has a set reward chart for flights that allows you to earn up to 4% return at the highest level.  This card also allows members to convert Aventura points to Aeroplan Miles.

The travel rewards calculation here is based on spending $600 a month on gas, groceries and drug store purchases, and $1,900 a month on everything else.

  • 1.5 points for every $1 in gas/grocery/drug store purchases = 10,800 points
  • 1 point for every $1 spent everywhere else = 22,800 points
  • 15,000 welcome bonus points = 15,000 points

With this credit card, you can earn up to $1,000 in travel rewards in the first year.  After subtracting the annual fee of $120, you’re still left with up to $880 worth of free travel.  In subsequent years – without the welcome bonus – your total travel rewards can be worth up to $530 a year.

TD First Class Travel Visa Infinite

  • 3 TD Points for every $1 you spend
  • Welcome bonus of 20,000 TD Points
  • Automatically receive Trip Cancellation and Trip Interruption Insurance when you purchase travel
  • Automatically receive Travel Medical Insurance whether or not you purchase travel using your Card.  You’ll be covered for 8-day trips if you’re under 65 and 2-day trips if you’re 65 or older
  • Access to exclusive hotel and dining privileges including hotel upgrades, concierge service and restaurant reviews
  • Triple rewards when booking your travel through Expedia for TD using your TD First Class Travel Visa Infinite Card
  • Annual Fee: $120

Unlike other travel rewards credit cards, you don’t have to book your travel with a particular travel agency in order to redeem TD Points.  The TD First Class Travel Visa Infinite Card lets you book your trip through any travel agency or travel provider you choose.

Every 10,000 TD Points is worth $50 in free travel.  Here’s how your TD Travel Rewards add up with the TD First Class Travel Visa Infinite Card:

  • 3 points for every $1 spent = 90,000 points
  • Welcome bonus = 20,000 points

With this card, you can earn up to $550 in travel rewards in the first year.  After subtracting the annual fee of $120, you’re left with $430 worth of free travel.  In subsequent years – without the welcome bonus – your total travel rewards are only worth $330 a year.

Final Thoughts

An important factor to consider when comparing travel rewards credit cards is how much money you can spend each month on your card.  The best travel rewards credit cards all come with an annual fee.  It doesn’t make sense to use a premium credit card unless you have a good income and spend at least $2,500 per month on your card.

Related: Best No-Fee Rewards Credit Cards

Since these credit cards all come with a generous welcome bonus in the first year, here’s a look at how they stack up after three years:

Travel Rewards Credit Card Rewards in 1st year Rewards after 3 years
Capital One Aspire $930 $2,090
BMO World Elite $705 $1,845
CIBC Aventura $530 – $880* $1,090 – $1,940*
TD First Class Travel $430 $1,090

*based on redeeming at the highest level

The Capital One Aspire Travel World MasterCard is by far the best credit card in Canada for travel rewards.  The generous first year welcome bonus, 10,000 point anniversary bonus and flexibility to redeem your points for cash or travel rewards make this card worth carrying.

My new approach to using rewards credit cards now is to use the Smart Cash card for gas and grocery purchases and earn 2% back for the first $600 spent.  All of my other monthly purchases will go on the Capital One Aspire Travel card, earning 2% back.

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  1. My Own Advisor on June 4, 2012 at 6:29 pm

    Nice post, tons of great information here for would-be CC seekers.


    • Echo on June 5, 2012 at 7:07 am

      @My Own Advisor – thanks Mark!

  2. rudi ratloss on June 4, 2012 at 11:32 pm

    The more I read form you the more you are contradicting.It apeeres you give good advice but I belive you do not do the walk you self you just do the talk. your advice seems to come from a boomer whos live is not the same as the generation today.I think your advice is useless since anyone can google it.I’m not any longer waste my time and canceling my subscription.

    • Echo on June 5, 2012 at 7:06 am

      @rudi – I hope your Google searches bring you back here soon.

      • TM @ Young and Thrifty on June 7, 2012 at 9:54 pm

        HAHA! This is such a great response on a few different levels. Kudos my friend.

  3. SE Book on June 7, 2012 at 9:39 am

    Thanks for the breakdown I have been looking into getting a different CC.

  4. Marty on June 18, 2012 at 11:01 pm

    Thanks for the breakdown.
    I use the aspire myself, and was just checking up to see if anything else better had come up – good to know it is still up there.

    One thing I would like to note though with the card, is that it is not straight forward to ‘redeem’ your miles to get the best value.
    1) You need to be able to cover the purchase in full with the miles (ie I spent $800 on travel, and have 70,000 miles = I can not use my miles to pay for the travel)
    2) You cannot combine purchases to get a grand total for deduction (ie if I have a flight, and a hotel charge that in total equal $600 and I have 60,000 miles – I can NOT combine the sales – they count as 2 $300 purchases which requires 35,000 points twice…
    3) Anything below $600 is tiered no matter how many total purchases you plan on redeeming – so if you have ANY purchases below $600, you can be certain you will not get full value of your miles (like a $100 purchase needing 20,000 miles I think – which is like .50c on the dollar.

    The summary of it is, be sure to only redeem your miles when your purchase of a single sale that qualifies is over $600 and you have enough points to cover it in full, or you will not get the full benefit of the miles.

    I found this out on my first attempt to redeem – and I was super pissed off.
    In the end though, I buy and fly enough that now that I know this, I can work around it and ensure I get the best value, and for me it is still the best option, but I am sure many people will be duped by this shady rewards claiming scheme.

  5. MaryR on July 27, 2012 at 5:13 am

    Anyone ever tried to use the medical insurance that comes with Capital One Aspire? I am always nervous they will come up with an excuse not to pay.

  6. Sally G on August 18, 2012 at 7:31 am

    What are your assumptions when calculating this? You analysis seems waaaay too over simplified. I have the First Class card and get way more than what you describe. The calculations essentially tell me I get 4.5% back when I spend at Expedia for TD online. I used to have a CapOne card, but I felt I got hosed went to redeem towards a $200 purchase and was forced to redeem $350 worth of points…brutal. I’d suggest you let us know how you’re arriving at your numbers to let us figure out if they make sense or compare to real spending habits.

  7. Echo on August 18, 2012 at 9:41 pm

    @Sally G – I calculated the travel rewards based on spending an average of $2,500 a month – $30,000 annually on your credit card.

    When it comes to redeeming your points for travel, your mileage may vary based on a number of factors. I tried to keep the variables as close as possible between each card for comparison purposes. The Capital One card comes out on top no matter what spending/redemption scenario you have.

  8. Stephen on October 4, 2012 at 10:07 am

    Great post! I was having this discussion today with my Dad, and decided to do a quick search. We each have an RBC credit card, but I’ve heard great things about TD Infinite. Time to switch!

  9. Heidi on October 12, 2012 at 5:02 pm

    This is the article I’ve been looking for! I’m currently using a cash back card (MBNA), and now wondering if I’d be better off with a travel rewards card. Thanks for this analysis. Will be taking a closer look.

  10. FrugalFred on November 14, 2012 at 7:26 pm

    This is just what I was looking for! A simple yet realistic comparison of all the reward cards in Canada. It’s a minefield out there with all the different conditions, points scenarios and features.

    I think with any of these though you should read the fine print and see the conditions for redemption for each CC to avoid getting disappointed or surprised.

    You saved me quite a bit of time so thank you!

  11. Carey on November 26, 2012 at 7:13 am

    Great info guys, one thing though to consider which was left out. I have the TD First Class Infinate Visa Card, and was told when I received the card that if I had a balance of over $5000 in my checking acct all fees are waived, including the Visa yearly fee. My points each year have accumulated to be worth over $1000.00 and I use my points for vacation flights on whichever company I decide to fly with. Just thought I’d point this out as well, it does change the outcome of your scenario.


  12. Arnie on November 24, 2014 at 6:08 pm

    If you don’t have enough points for air travel can you pay the difference. Also ,does capitol one have a chart that you can go by so you know how many points you have to accumulate for a specific trip?

    • Echo on November 24, 2014 at 9:45 pm

      Hi Arnie, there is no flight chart with Capital One miles because you book and pay for the ticket on your own and then use your points afterwards to “erase” the purchase from your credit card statement.

      One trick to maximize your points with the Capital One card is to split your purchase in two – for example, this summer I had 15,000 miles to spend, enough for $150 in travel, and I stayed two nights at a hotel in BC. The total came to $275 and so I had the front desk charge my card once for $150 and then a second time for the remaining balance. This way, when I got my credit card statement, I was able to “erase” the $150 purchase using my 15,000 points.

  13. Arnie on November 24, 2014 at 9:59 pm

    I find that would be cumbersome. I now have a RBC Avion card and I can do all my bookings on their rewards website. They have a chart that you can follow and the points also include the taxes. With Avion 15,000 miles/points cover short haul trips like YYC/YVR/YYC whereas Capitol One only covers $150.00. A round trip YYC YVR is certainly more than $150.00. Please explain why you think the Aspire card is better than the Avion.

    • Echo on November 24, 2014 at 10:12 pm

      Hi Arnie, because RBC Avion only pays 1 point for every dollar spent, whereas Capital One gives you double miles for every dollar spent – you earn points twice as fast.

      Couple that with the 35,000 bonus points on your first purchase, plus the ongoing 10,000 bonus points each year on your card anniversary and you can see how you’d earn points faster with Capital One.

  14. Arnie on November 25, 2014 at 3:19 pm

    Hi Echo, it looks like when you redeem your points it takes 100 points to make a dollar. So, you were on the hook for $125.00 for the hotel. If you had 27,500 points would you have to pay anything?
    When you make a hotel, car, or airline reservation do you go to a Capitol One Aspire website or do you have to book directly with the airline, car, hotel company? Offhand do you know how many points you need for a YYC/YVR/YYC trip? Thanking you in advance, Arnie.

    • Echo on November 25, 2014 at 4:10 pm

      Hi Arnie, here is the chart for redeeming points:

      15,000 miles for travel up to $150
      35,000 miles for travel between $150.01 – $350
      60,000 miles for travel between $350.01 – $600
      100x cost for travel over $600+

      • No restrictions—you choose the airline, you choose the
      • Purchase tickets online, through your travel agent, or through any airline with your Capital One card
      • No advanced-purchase or Saturday night stay requirements
      • The number of Miles required to redeem for travel is based on the transaction amount

      Here’s a screen shot of the Purchase Eraser tool that shows my hotel stay split in two (the numbers were slightly off from my previous comment but the idea is the same) –

      So I selected the $150 charge and used 15,000 miles to “erase” that charge.

      Check out this post for further explanation on redeeming Capital One rewards –

    • Echo on November 25, 2014 at 4:20 pm

      A quick look at Google Flights ( shows a round-trip from YYC to YVR costs about $328, so it would take 35,000 Capital One miles to “erase” that purchase.

      So remember it will take $15,000 spending to get 15,000 points on your Avion card. It would take $17,500 spending to get 35,000 points with a Capital One card.

      In this case, since you redeem your points for short-haul flights, the Avion card appears to be the better deal.

      The welcome bonus for signing up is similar (15,000 Avion points versus 35,000 Capital One miles), and they both have a $120 annual fee.

      The only difference is that Capital One pays an ongoing 10,000 bonus miles each year on your card anniversary. And additional cards (for your spouse) are free with Capital One but $50/year with RBC.

      Either way, I think you have a good deal, Arnie!

  15. Arnie on November 25, 2014 at 4:36 pm

    Tx for your time and effort, Arnie

  16. Paul_E on March 16, 2015 at 9:48 pm

    Great article and good to see I’m on the right track with my own CC pick. One thing about the Capital One Aspire which has caused my to switch to the BMO World Elite-there is a $10,000 limit on the Capital One card. And they will not/can not increase that limit! It was too much effort to remember to partially pay off the balance every month and we would often hit the limit before month’s end and the card would be declined. What a frustration! The BMO has a more realistic balance limit that suits our lifestyle better. Just something that people should know before getting the Capital One card, its not really mentioned anywhere.

    • Echo on March 17, 2015 at 7:39 am

      Hi Paul, thanks for your comment. I’ve heard that some people have run into challenges with a low credit limit on the Cap One cards.

      Now that Cap One has stopped offering its Aspire Travel card, the BMO World Elite is looking more and more like the new top travel card.

  17. james on December 17, 2015 at 9:32 am

    If you fly in North America, the annual companion ticket offered by RBC Mastercard with Westjet, seem very interesting. Especially if you don’t spend gobs of money on your card–as seems to happening as I get older. Money Sense rates it the best. What do you think?

    • Echo on December 17, 2015 at 9:57 pm

      Hi James, the Westjet MasterCard is great if you regularly fly Westjet. You earn Westjet dollars and so you can only redeem your points towards Westjet flights or vacation packages. It’s a great earning card, but one that lacks in terms of flexibility of redeeming points.

  18. David on December 17, 2015 at 9:39 pm

    I feel like this article needs to be updated. BMO World Elite is a decent choice but does the new offering by Cap One measure up? How does it compare to BMO WE?
    I was thinking about the WestJet card but they don’t include Hawaii in there companion ticket and going to the US is getting more and more expensive with the horrible exchange rate.

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