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Are travel credit cards worth it?
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What are some side perks you can find on travel credit cards?
What are travel credit card points worth?
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How do travel cards work?
Fundamentally, all travel credit cards in Canada work the same way: for every dollar you spend on the card, you'll earn points or miles that you can redeem to either offset or completely cover the cost of a travel purchase.
The more you spend, the more points or miles you'll earn, and the more you can save on travel.
Outside of those fundamentals though, the intricacies around how you redeem rewards and how much each point or mile is worth can vary depending on the credit card and its rewards program. We touch on some of the major differences between credit card travel programs below.
Why get a travel card?
If you're a frequent traveller (whether for business or pleasure), carrying a great travel credit card can make your life much easier.
Travel cards allow you to take advantage of deals and save on expenses like flights, accommodations and car rentals through the collection and redemption of points or miles. In addition to that, most travel cards also come with extra perks such as VIP lounge access, complimentary baggage check at airports, hotel room upgrades, and priority boarding, among others.
The best travel cards also offer thorough, comprehensive insurance packages as well, covering you in case of medical emergency, flight cancellation/delay, rental car loss/collision, and more.
How to apply for a travel credit card
The first thing you'll want to do before applying for any new credit card is make sure you meet it's criteria for eligibility. While each card and provider may differ, in general you'll need:
- Canadian residency or citizenship
- A Canadian credit file
- Age of majority status in your home province or territory
- Annual income (this will depend on the card’s minimum income requirement)
Once you're ready to apply online, simply click through the application portal on your provider's website and follow these steps:
- Read and confirm the details, terms and conditions of your chosen card.
- Provide the personal information required (this usually includes your full name, date of birth, residential address, phone number, and email)
- Provide your Social Insurance Number
- Provide financial information such as your annual income and any recurring monthly expenses.
- Confirm your identity by providing photos of an original government-issued ID such as a passport or driver’s license
- Take an extra moment to look over the information you’ve supplied, then submit your application.
One important thing to note is that credit card applications almost always involve a hard credit check. While these will take a temporary bite out of your credit score, the damage is easy to bounce back from after a few months of responsible credit usage. Too many applications and credit checks at once, however, can cause serious damage to your credit and reduce your chances of being approved for credit cards, mortgages, or other loans in the future.
General travel cards versus co-branded travel cards
General travel cards
General travel cards aren’t associated with any one particular airline or frequent flyer program, and the points you earn on these cards can be redeemed for travel from a large selection of flight carriers and hotel chains. The major appeal of general travel cards is their flexibility, as many let you redeem points for flights from literally hundreds of carriers of your choice. If you don’t frequently fly on a particular airline and value choice over the benefits that come with holding airline loyalty status (like priority check-in), general travel cards are a better fit for you.
It’s worth noting that when you’re redeeming points on a general travel card, in some cases, you’ll have to use the credit card’s proprietary travel agency (i.e. BMO Points must be redeemed on BMORewards.com or with a BMO travel agent).
Best general travel credit cards in Canada: American Express Cobalt, TD First Class Visa Infinite, BMO World Elite Mastercard, MBNA Rewards Platinum Plus.
Co-branded travel cards
Co-branded credit cards are connected to a specific frequent flyer or loyalty program (i.e. Aeroplan, Air Miles, or Marriott Bonvoy), and are a testament to the old adage “loyalty pays.”
These cards can offer great value by letting you earn bonus rewards or discounts whenever you use the card at retailers, airlines, or hotels that are partnered with the co-branded credit card. In many cases, these cards also entitle you to loyalty member perks like priority check-in, free nights stay at a hotel or free checked bags.
While these cards aren’t known for their flexibility - as the points you earn can only be redeemed from one of the co-branded card’s partners - they can be the right choice for you if the card in question is associated with your favourite airline, hotel program, or retail network.
Best co-branded credit cards in Canada: TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite, Marriott Bonvoy Card from American Express, BMO Air Miles World Elite.
Consistent versus variable point programs
Consistent points programs
Consistent points programs are just that - consistent. No matter the airline, hotel, destination, or time of the year, the value of each point will remain the same. For instance, when redeeming Scotia Rewards Points for travel, 5,000 points always equal to $50, or $0.01 per point. In the same vein, 140 BMO Points always equals $1 when booking travel, which works out to a consistent $0.0071 per point.
The big advantage of consistent points programs is they’re straightforward and make it easy to calculate how much your rewards are worth. If you’ve got 30,000 Scotia Rewards Points, you’ll know you have exactly $300 worth of rewards. It’s worth highlighting though, points are only consistent within the context of travel rewards (i.e. flights and hotel stays), and point values can fluctuate when redeemed for merchandise, gift cards, or statement credits.
Best consistent points programs in Canada: American Express Membership Rewards, TD Rewards, BMO Rewards, Scotia Rewards, and MBNA Rewards.
Variable points programs
Variable or flexible points programs rely on charts or tables to calculate how much your rewards are worth - often factoring in things like destination and seasonality into the equation. That means the value of your points can vary depending on when and where you’re travelling.
While these programs can make the redemption process slightly more complex, they offer one major advantage: The opportunity to maximize greater value out of each point. By strategically planning a trip to a particular destination or during a specific time of year, you can squeeze extra value out of your rewards and go further with fewer points (something you can’t do when point values are always consistent).
Best variable points programs in Canada: American Express Membership Rewards, Aeroplan, Air Miles, Marriott Bonvoy.
Common perks found on travel cards
Many travel credit cards come equipped with perks to make air travel a lot more comfortable. These can include access to VIP lounges, complimentary checked baggage, priority boarding, and higher priority for seat upgrades. Other benefits can include access to expedited security lanes (helping you get to your gate faster) and free valet service.
Once you get to your hotel, you can continue to benefit from using your travel credit card. The Marriott Bonvoy American Express card, for example, offers users the ability to upgrade to their Gold Elite Status after using the card for ten stays at any of their hotels. At this level, cardholders can enjoy extra bonus points, late check-out, enhanced in-room internet service and room upgrades (when available). In addition, members get exclusive room rates, mobile check-in, and a reservation guarantee which ensures that Marriott Bonvoy will arrange alternate accomodations and compensate you for the inconvenience.
When travelling abroad, you want the security of knowing that you're covered in case of any mishaps or emergencies. That's where a travel card comes in handy, as most offer a wide, comprehensive range of travel insurance benefits. These could include (but are not limited to) travel emergency medical insurance, lost or stolen baggage, flight delay or cancellation and car rental loss or collision.
Credit card travel insurance
Whether travelling for business or pleasure, no one wants to consider the things that could go wrong while abroad. Issues like flight cancellations, medical emergencies, and lost baggage aren’t nice to think about, but they do happen. That’s why having travel insurance is so important.
Fortunately, most travel credit cards come with some sort of insurance package. While these can vary in terms of their extent and value, they’ll still typically save you money, as purchasing travel insurance yourself can cost you hundreds of dollars. Let’s take a closer look at the different types of coverage featured in most travel insurance packages.
Out-of-Province travel emergency medical
In Canada, we’re lucky to have provincial healthcare plans that will cover doctor’s appointments and hospital visits at home. Outside of your province’s boundaries, however, your coverage can be quite minimal if any. That’s why out-of-province travel emergency medical insurance is crucial to have.
Typically covering injuries or serious illness up to $1 million, this insurance can take care of hospital stays, private nurses or major dental expenses (among other things). There are a couple of caveats, however.
For one, preexisting conditions aren’t usually covered, so if a long-standing issue lands you in the hospital, you may be on your own. Your age is also a heavy factor in the extent of your travel medical coverage. Those under 65 can typically count on insurance lasting around 20 days or more, while anyone over the age of 65 may have to settle for only a few days of coverage (if they get any at all). That said, some cards offer better coverage than others for seniors, so shop around.
Because this is the most important type of travel insurance, make sure you have a clear sense of what your provider will and will not cover before signing up.
Travel accident coverage
Much like emergency medical insurance, travel accident insurance specifically covers you in the event of dismemberment or loss of life sustained while on a common carrier (i.e. plane, train etc). In the event that death occurs, your spouse or estate would receive the payout. Claims can include medical emergencies such as loss of limbs, sight and hearing.
Travel Interruption / cancellation coverage
While they might sound similar, there are some differences between trip cancellation and trip interruption.
In the case of trip cancellation, you’re only insured from the moment you book the trip until departure. Under this policy, your provider will pay out the non-refundable part of your trip (such as the flight) up to a certain amount. It’s important to note, however, that they won’t accept just any reason for cancellation. Only for specific events such as illness, a death in the family, or a travel advisory will you be reimbursed.
On the other hand, trip interruption insurance starts when you take off and ends once you’re back home. This coverage insures you up to a maximum amount for non-refundable expenses in the event that you need to come home early. These could include things like severe weather conditions or a serious injury/illness that renders you unable to travel safely.
Flight delay insurance
Flight delay insurance covers you in case of unforeseen expenses due to a delayed flight (such as hotel rooms or meals). The amount you’ll be covered for can vary depending on your card, so check with your provider.
In the event that your checked baggage doesn’t arrive on time, your delayed baggage insurance will reimburse you for essential items such as clothing (it typically kicks in if your wait is four hours or longer).
Lost baggage insurance, however, will cover you up to a maximum amount for loss of personal property in the event that your baggage is lost by a common carrier, such as an airline.
Rental car collision loss/damage
In the case of a damaged or stolen rental vehicle, your rental car collision loss/damage insurance protects you by covering any costs related to the event. It’s important to remember, however, that the coverage doesn’t extend beyond your own vehicle, so any harm to other cars, individuals or property would be your responsibility (unless you’ve got liability insurance).
For this coverage to kick in, you’ll have to decline the optional collision damage waiver offered by the rental car company. This can typically run around $20 per day, so having this insurance on your travel card can save you a decent amount. There are some exclusions however, including (but not limited to) luxury cars, motorcycles and RVs.
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