If you've been using the same travel rewards credit card for years, odds are you can get better value from another one. A creditcards.com survey found 21 million people never change credit cards, and 32 million more have been using the same credit card for 10 or more years. In most cases, without a thought as to whether other cards may have benefits that better suit their needs.
Credit card companies offer big time incentives to get their cards into your hands offering everything from free flights and hotel nights, to elite status, airport lounge access, companion flight passes, free checked-bags, insurance coverage, waived fees and more.
In the ever-changing world of credit card travel rewards, one of the newer benefits is an annual credit you can apply to any of a number of travel incidental charges to your credit card. If you've been blindly loyal to your current card, it's unlikely that you've assessed whether this flexible benefit could better meet your needs.
Although credit card sign-up bonuses in Canada are not as lucrative as those in the U.S., you can still stockpile more than a dozen round trip flights and a few free hotel nights from the sign-up bonuses offered by the credit cards listed below. As a Canadian, I earn a handful of free trips each year using this strategy alone, and I explain how ridiculously easy it is to do in this video:
Choosing a CardWith so many travel credit cards to choose from, here's an easy way to narrow which cards offer the best bang for your card:
- Pick three travel benefits that are of most value to you.
- Shortlist cards that offer all three benefits (Just a few cards will offer all three)
To quickly do this, the following list of my favourite travel credit cards for Canadians shows each card's key benefits (Insurance benefits are excluded from the chart for simplicity as the many details cannot easily fit). To review a card's insurance benefits, click 'Apply' beneath that card's picture to view them on their website:
Managing your CardsSome cards offer point multipliers on purchases made from specific vendors in addition to charges for fuel, restaurants and travel purchases. If you have multiple cards (and I recommend you do, and that you keep them in different places in case you lose one), you should know before you make any purchase which card will yield the most points for that specific purchase.
To fast track your points earnings, charge everything you can to your credit cards to earn points per dollar spend as long as you can afford to pay your credit card balance in full each month. If not, any interest you pay will more than offset the value of any points you earn. You can even double dip by charging purchases to vendors that offer points (like Air Miles) for purchases.
Sign-up BonusesTo collect a sign-up bonus, you generally have to charge a pre-set amount to your credit card within a certain timeframe. This is called 'minimum spend'. Terms vary by card which require on average $3,000 in charges in the first three billing cycles. Business and platinum cards offer bigger sign-up bonuses and have higher minimum spend thresholds. Here are some tips to help you meet your minimum spend requirements:
- Don't apply for another card until you have met your current card's minimum spend requirement.
- Charge everything to your credit card as long as you can pay the balance in full each month. *A secret way to charge rent, tuition or income tax payments to your credit card is to use the PayTM app which links to your credit card. It has a $1,500/day payment cap.
- If you travel for work, charge all work-related travel expenses to your credit card, and have your employer reimburse you for those expenses to collect points for dollars spent on business travel.
Annual FeesMost travel credit cards worth having charge an annual fee. Some cards waive this fee for the first year to lure you to sign-up, but a little known way to avoid paying annual fee on subsequent years is to call customer service shortly before your card's anniversary date, and say you want to cancel your card. Agents almost always try to keep you by offering to waive the annual fee or offer free points as an incentive to stay.
Once feeling unable to afford to travel, Russell Hannon uses lean principles to travel at a fraction of the going rate. He has been featured on CNBC, FOX,, CBS, America Tonight, CTV, CBC, Around the World Travel TV and nationally broadcast lifestyle and personal finance shows. He also wrote 'Stop Dreaming Start Traveling: The Ultimate Guide to Traveling More and Spending Less' available at stopdreamingstarttaveling.com.