Travel rewards were thrown into the spotlight this summer when TD Bank and CIBC fought for the right to issue Aeroplan credit cards. While the battle raged on, other banks and card issuers were busy enhancing their rewards programs and coming up with offers to entice new customers.

What it all means for consumers is that now may be a good time to shop around, something Canadians don’t do often enough.

Related: The Top Cashback Credit Cards In Canada

According to a survey from American Express Canada, 60 percent of Canadians applied for a credit card through their bank while only 15 percent say they researched their options.

That’s a mistake, according to Brian Kelly, a rewards expert and founder of, who says that you need to spend some time learning about the programs if you want to get the best deal.

“It’s incredibly important to do a little research upfront to ensure you choose the credit card that actually fits your spending habits and lifestyle rather than a default card provided to the masses,” said Kelly in an interview.

Consumers should look at the flexibility of the program and how points can be earned, redeemed, and transferred — all valuable considerations when it comes to making your spending work for you.

Related: Why Your Debit Card Is Costing You Money

Just over a quarter of those surveyed say they don’t even understand what their rewards program offers, and it’s easy to see why when you look at the sheer number of choices, different programs, and affiliated cards available today.

One card that’s worth a closer look is the American Express Gold Rewards Card, which ranked 2nd in MoneySense magazine’s best travel credit cards for 2013.

The Gold Rewards Card lets you transfer points to frequent flyer programs like Aeroplan and Avios among others, or redeem points for travel anywhere in the world without any restrictions or black-outs.

You’ll earn two points for every dollar spent at eligible gas stations, grocery stores and drugstores in Canada, plus two points for every dollar spent on travel.  You’ll get one point for purchases made everywhere else.

In a promotion that may put this card over the top, American Express now offers the Gold Rewards Card at no annual fee for the first year ($150 savings), plus a welcome bonus of 25,000 Points when you spend $500 in the first three months.  The points are enough for a round trip economy flight to almost anywhere in North America.

American Express also offers a refer-a-friend program, the first of its kind within the financial industry, which gives Card members reward points for referring their friends or family to an American Express Card.  For the Gold Rewards Card specifically, this will give 10,000 bonus points to the cardholder for referring a friend or family member to sign up for the Gold Rewards Card.

Note that the Gold Rewards Card is a charge card, and not a credit card.  The distinction is important because charge cards, unlike credit cards, don’t come with a pre-set spending limit, meaning that if you spend a lot you can put it all on one card and rack up the reward points.  Charge cards must be paid off in full each month – late payers face a stiff penalty of 30 percent of the balance.

The Gold Rewards Card has an impressive suite of insurance that covers emergency medical, trip interruption, purchase protection, car rental theft and damage, and lost or stolen baggage.

Related: Why Travel Insurance Is Essential For A Worry Free Vacation

All the insurance coverage in the world doesn’t mean anything if the company doesn’t follow through when you make a claim.  Kelly said his experience with American Express customer service has been amazing.

“I bought a hat when I was on a cruise vacation and lost it when it blew off the boat.  I called AMEX Travel Insurance and they reimbursed me for the charge,” said Kelly.

You can learn more about the Gold Rewards Card here –

This post was sponsored by Amex Bank of Canada. The views and opinions expressed in this blog, however, are purely my own.

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