If you’re thinking about applying for a new travel rewards credit card, it’s wise to choose one that suits your particular travel plans. At the moment, there are a wide variety of better than usual sign-up offers so it can be a challenge to narrow it down and make a decision. In this post are a few examples of cards and trips that might go well together.
Earning points through credit cards
There is no real disputing that the easiest way to accumulate a significant stash of points or miles is by capitalizing on a great credit card sign-up offer and then using the card diligently (and never carrying a balance). If you’re paying for stuff anyway, you might as well take advantage of the opportunity to receive extra value from your spending.
Of course, it’s not always easy to know which credit card is the right one for you and I suspect sometimes the hype around an elevated welcome bonus can lead to folks applying for cards that aren’t all that compatible with their travel aspirations. Consequently, they end up with a boatload of points they don’t have a use for. Avoid that scenario by taking the time to research which rewards programs or sign-up offers align with your specific goals.
To that end, below are a few sample card & trip combinations. There is no one best credit card for every travel plan but I’d say these are all reasonable choices.
Please note that this is not any sort of ranking and there are other excellent sign-up offers out there not mentioned in this post.
(For full details on the credit cards, visit the websites for each and review the terms and features carefully.)
1. MARRIOTT BONVOY AMEX
Sign-up bonus: 65,000 points when you charge $3000 in net purchases in the first six months; 15,000 points when you use the card in month 14-17 of holding the card; 5x on eats and drinks (including groceries) up to 25,000 points in the first 6 months
Offer expires: Aug. 3, 2021
Earning rate: 5x on Marriott purchases; 2x on all other spending
Annual fee: $120
You get a free night certificate worth 35k points every year after the anniversary of acquiring the card which effectively compensates for the annual fee. There are also occasional Amex offers you can register for to earn statement credits. Like many Amex cards, there is no minimum income requirement and holders receive a bonus for referring others to the card. Marriott Bonvoy points are best used for hotels but you can also be converted to a number of frequent flyer programs as well.
If you have any plans to visit our nation’s capital, Marriott points can be very useful. I’ve written on the blog before about using points for an Ottawa trip and highlighted the Courtyard Ottawa East and Four Points by Sheraton Hotel & Conference Centre Gatineau. Both are Category 2 properties which are hard to find in many cities. And the Courtyard Ottawa Downtown is just one level higher at Category 3. So with hotels ranging from 10,000 to 20,00 points (off-peak Cat 2 to peak Cat 3 nightly rates), the Marriott Bonvoy Amex welcome bonus should cover all or nearly all of your stay. The best deal would be a five night booking since you’ll only have to pay for four.
For other destinations, use Marriott’s Hotel Directory to search by category to see where else you can stretch your points into multiple free nights.
2. SCOTIABANK GOLD AMEX
Sign-up bonus: 30,000 Scotia Rewards points (worth $300) when you spend $1000 in the first three months after approval; 20,000 points when you spend $7500 in your first year; no annual fee in the first year
Offer expires: August 31, 2021
Earning rate: 5x on groceries, restaurants and entertainment; 3x on gas, transit and streaming services; 1x everything else
Annual fee: $120
(Great Canadian Rebates offers a $100 rebate until October 31, 2021.)
The multiplier bonus on groceries and gas makes this a good card for everyday spending. It’s also one of the few Canadian credit cards that does not charge a 2.5% foreign transaction fee.
Universal Orlando Resort
People naturally associate Orlando with Disney but you can have an awesome (and more affordable) theme park vacation without the Mouse. The key is upgrading your Universal tickets to the lowest tier of annual pass to take advantage of heavily discounted onsite hotel rates. That said, you’ll need flexibility with your dates and be prepared to stalk the APH rate website to score a deal, especially at one of the deluxe resorts that includes unlimited express passes with the room.
I chose the Scotiabank Gold Amex because you need to book directly to get the discount. A card that requires you to use their booking portal such as TD Rewards etc. won’t work. Conveniently, you have up to twelve months after the purchase to redeem points against the charge. And the card has no forex fees.
3. CIBC AEROPLAN VISA INFINITE (or TD AEROPLAN VISA INFINITE)
Sign-up bonus: 10,000 points upon first purchase; 10,000 points and a Buddy Pass when you spend $1000 by the 4th statement (90 days for TD); first year annual fee rebate
Offer expires: unpublished (Aug. 16. 2021 for TD)
Earning rate: 1.5x on gas, groceries and Air Canada, 1x on all other purchases
Annual fee: $139
You have 12 months to make a booking with the Buddy Pass. Note that applicants can only get one Buddy Pass per credit card tier, so if you appy for both cards you won’t get two unless the second is a business or premium card. There is also an unpublished policy allowing members to convert the Buddy Pass into 30,000 Aeroplan points. Cardmembers and up to eight others on the same reservation get a first checked bag free when flying Air Canada. Holding an Aeroplan credit card also gives you “preferred pricing” with Aeroplan so point redemptions will be a tad cheaper.
The Buddy Pass that comes with the CIBC or TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite cards presents especially good value for flights from Atlantic Canada to Hawaii. When you buy one economy ticket on Air Canada, you only have to pay the taxes and fees on the second. If there are three of you travelling, you could use the 20,000 bonus Aeroplan miles for a one-way reward flight for the third person which ranges from 17,500 to 25,000 on Air Canada’s Points Predictor Tool.
4. AMEX AEROPLAN CARD
Sign-up bonus: 44,000 points when you make $3000 in purchases in the first six months; 1000 points for each monthly billing period in which you spend $500 in purchases in the first six months; 5x on eligible eats and drinks purchases up to 25,000 points in the first six months
Offer expires: Aug. 3, 2021
Earning rate: 2x on Air Canada purchases; 1.5x on eligible dining; 1x on everything else
Annual fee: $120
This is a charge card not a credit card so you cannot carry a balance – each statement must be paid in full. There is no minimum income requirement to apply. Like the CIBC and TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite cards, you and up to eight others on the same flight reservation get first checked bag free on Air Canada and you’ll be entitled to a small discount on Aeroplan redemptions.
Lufthansa recently announced that its new leisure subsidiary, Eurowings Discover, would be flying Halifax to Frankfurt seasonally in 2022. This is great news for Aeroplan members in the Maritimes because it makes many destinations reachable with only one connection from YHZ. And because it’s a partner airline, the points are fixed at 35k one-way for cities under 4000 flown miles. If you fully maximize the 75,000 point sign-up bonus with the Amex Aeropan Card you’ll have enough for a round-trip ticket with a stopover for an additional 5000 points.
5. SCOTIABANK PASSPORT VISA INFINITE
Sign-up bonus: 30,000 Scotia Rewards points (worth $300) when you spend $1000 in first three months; 10,000 points when you spend $40,000 in the first year; 5x the points on travel purchases in the first three months (up to a total of $2500 in travel purchases); first year annual fee waiver
Offer expires: Oct. 31, 2021
Earning rate: 2x on groceries, dining, entertainment and transit; 1x on everything else
Annual fee: $139
(Great Canadian Rebates offers a $100 rebate until October 31, 2021)
With this card you get 6 free airport lounge passes every year and like the Scotiabank Gold Amex, there are no foreign transaction fees. If you bank at Scotiabank and have the Ultimate Package you can escape the annual fee on one credit card up to $139 so this might be an avenue to pursue after the first year.
Europe Small Group Tour
If you prefer a guided experience, a small group tour is a great alternative to the big coaches. (As an example, Rabbie’s is a reputable company that started out offering tours in Scotland that has since expanded to the continent. They’d probably be my first choice for a multi-day tour.) Under the current offer, the Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite gives 5x the points on travel purchases in the first three months of holding the card so you’d earn extra points for booking it, assuming it codes correctly as travel. You’d also save a little by not having to pay foreign transaction fees. You then have 12 months after making the purchase to redeem points against the charge.
6. RBC WESTJET WORLD ELITE MASTERCARD
*Sign-up offer: 350 WestJet dollars on first purchase; 2x the WSD on groceries and restaurants; first annual companion voucher $0 instead of $119
Offer expires: August 31, 2021 ($0 companion voucher offer expires Aug. 16)
Earning rate: 2% back in WSD on WestJet flights; 1.5% on everyday purchases
Annual fee: $119
* WestJet Rewards members received an email offer for 450 WSD with the same expiry date
Unlike the Air Canada Buddy Pass which is a one time perk, WestJet’s companion voucher is an annual benefit. The first checked bag is free for up to eight travellers. The now dynamically priced Member Exclusive Fares are not the bargain they once were but remain a feature of the program and a potential use for your WestJet dollars.
(It’s a bit odd that the $0 companion voucher expires on a different date. This card has also had a first year free promo in the past so I’d use the email link for $450 before Aug. 16 or wait till FYF rolls around again.)
Scotland and/or Ireland
If you live in Nova Scotia and want to hop across to Scotland or Ireland, WestJet’s seasonal non-stops to Glasgow and Dublin from Halifax are enticing options. It therefore makes sense to accumulate some WestJet dollars. Just be aware that you can only redeem them against the base fare, not the taxes and fees, and the base fare might only form a small part of the total. Use a site like ITA Software – Matrix Airfare Search to easily see the breakdown of typical transatlantic fares.
The RBC WestJet World Elite MasterCard has a minimum income on the higher side ($80,000 personal) but if you bank with RBC you might have some leeway on that. Otherwise, either go for the lower tier WestJet Mastercard or an RBC Avion Visa whose points can also be converted to WSD. Further, because these RBC cards often have no minimum spend requirement to trigger the welcome bonus, you could combine them with one that does and thus capitalize on more than one bonus.
How and where to apply?
For most credit cards, you can choose to apply online, over the phone or at the branch. Online applications usually work fine but there are occasional glitches.
If you’re applying for a co-branded card, always make sure to check the websites of both the issuer and the loyalty program in case the offers are different. For example, the current sign-up offer for the BMO Air Miles World Elite MasterCard is 2000 bonus miles through BMO’s site but 3000 through the Air Miles link. Also watch for targeted emails for higher than normal offers like the WestJet one mentioned above.
Additionally, there are websites like Great Canadian Rebates that offer an incentive to get the card. Members-only portals like Perkopolis also have credit card offers and in the past there have been special promotions through Travelzoo and even Canada Post.
A few credit cards offer the ability to earn bonus points from referring friends and family to the card. Amex is especially known for this and you can often refer to more than one type of card (for example, the personal or business version). Just note that the welcome bonus through a referral link can sometimes be different than the public offer, either better or worse, so be aware of the details on each option before you apply.
Many of the blogs and websites that provide detailed reviews and in-depth analyses of credit cards have sign-up links through which they receive payment for applications as part of an affiliate agreement. (Perhaps that’s why they often fail to mention when a welcome bonus is higher via referral, which I guess is understandable.) If you wish to support an informative site, using their links is an easy way to do it. Just keep in mind when reading reviews that they have a financial interest in promoting the cards.
Finally, if you’ve heard of Canadians applying for super-sized welcome bonuses south of the border, you might want to think twice about going down that road if you have concerns about legality.
Keep the card for a year or indefinitely?
Before you sign up, consider whether a credit card will likely be one from which you’ll derive sufficient value to justify paying an annual fee when it comes time to renew. Also take into account all the perks and benefits of the card including the insurance coverage. If after a year you don’t feel that it’s worth keeping, you can move on either by switching the card to a different product from the same issuer or by closing it and applying for something else.
Although closing a card can potentially lower your credit score, it’s typically a rather modest drop and rebounds fairly quickly. Obviously if you’re cycling through lots of cards your credit profile could be impacted more significantly. But, whatever your approach to credit cards, it’s most important to pay the balance in full to avoid paying interest.
To sum up, when you apply for a rewards credit card you should have a pretty good idea of how you plan to use the points or miles. Sure, it can be a real chore to get up to speed with all of the programs, but if you set your mind to it and map out a strategy, taking advantage of a terrific limited-time offer can really help put a dent in the cost of your trip. Whether you want to tour great cities, hike in the highlands, relax on the beach or ride the new Velocicoaster, there’s a way to make it happen with points.