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Travel at least every other year or more frequently? Travel rewards offer the best, highest value rewards you can get.
To get the best of the best in rewards value, you might want to check out airline programs.
And while they can be difficult and require a lot of flexibility, you’ll generally always come out on top with smart usage and a little know how.
And to help you get this know how, here’s our official guide to the best credit cards with airline miles.
Best credit cards with airline miles
|Credit Card||Why You Want It||Welcome Bonus||Annual Fee||Apply|
|TD® Aeroplan® Visa Infinite* Card||Air Canada perks on reward flights||Up to 25,000 miles (terms)||$120, annual fee rebated for the first year||Apply Now|
|American Express® Gold Rewards Card||Transfer points to 6 different airlines||25,000 points (terms)||$150||Apply Now|
|American Express Platinum Card®||Transfer points to 6 different airlines and the best perks||25,000 points (terms)||$699||Apply Now|
|Alaska Airlines Platinum Plus® Mastercard®||Annual companion voucher and no income requirements||20,000 miles (terms)||$75||Apply Now|
|Alaska Airlines World Elite® Mastercard®||Annual companion voucher and free checked bags||30,000 miles (terms)||$99||Apply Now|
|WestJet RBC World Elite Mastercard||Annual companion voucher and free checked bags||$250 WestJet Dollars||$119|
|WestJet RBC Mastercard||Low annual fee of $39 and an annual companion voucher||$50 WestJet Dollars||$39|
|Marriott Bonvoy™ American Express® Card||Transfer points to 40 airlines||50,000 points (terms)||$120||Apply Now|
Airline credit cards explained
So how do Airline credit cards work?
All purchases you make on the card earn you miles (or points) in the program. Once your monthly statement comes out, the miles you earned get totalled and added to your connected account with your chosen program.
If the card is affiliated with the program itself, you may also get more privileges when flying with the airline. These include things like companion vouchers, free checked bags, and priority check-in, to name a few.
How to compare different airline credit cards
So, how do you compare these cards?
The best way is to use our compare cards page. Set the top slider to “Travel+” and the page will show all of these cards.
Enter your spending and see how they compare, both on total rewards and by our genius rating. Our Genius Rating takes into account over 126 features and tailors the score based on your preferences.
To see how we got the value of the rewards, each individual card page has the value of the various rewards available, with the best travel value being selected as our displayed rewards. Other redemption options are also listed, and the typical value you can see for each one.
How to supercharge your airline miles
Beyond using your credit card, how can you earn miles?
The fastest way is by actually flying with the airline. Paying with your credit card while also earning points on the ticket is the fastest way possible.
Many hotel and car rental agencies will allow you to collect miles or points (or transfer theirs) for various airlines in lieu of their own programs. This can be an easy way to increase the amount of miles you earn every trip without spending more on flights.
With the exception of Aeroplan, these methods are the only ways to accumulate airline miles faster.
Aeroplan is a unique program because they have a couple of retail partners you can earn with, the biggest one being Home Hardware. They also have their own e-store, where you can use their shopping links to earn miles while shopping at select online merchants.
Aeroplan also runs regular promotions to earn bonus miles as well.
How to fly faster ‒ and for free ‒ with your miles
So, how do you get the best value for your miles? It all depends on the program. But generally speaking, the value you get depends on where you’re flying and what class of cabin you’re in.
On top of that, it can also depend on what airline you’re flying with. The amount of taxes and fees you have to pay will vary by carrier so it’s a good idea to check out the various carriers you can fly with and what their taxes and fees are generally like.
Let’s take Aeroplan as an example. Generally, you’ll get the best value sticking close to home with flights within North America, where we have an average value of 2.5 cents per mile. Why? Taxes and fees are lower, and the flights are relatively expensive for the amount of miles you use.
Outside of North America all bets are off. Here’s an example of a flight from Montreal to Paris in mid-march of 2020.
Here’s the economy redemption, with Aeroplan even labelling it as a great deal:
This Market Fare flight uses only 47,700 miles, less than the standard 60,000 you would need for a flight to Europe. But, notice the taxes, fees, and surcharges bill you have to pay – $688.
How much does this flight actually cost? Not much more – $861. As Aeroplan flights allow schedule changes and offers free seat selection, this comparison flight is a Standard Economy ticket (not basic) with seats chosen as well.
Not a lot of savings here. You’re only saving yourself $173, for a whopping mile value of 0.36 cents. YIkes.
Now let’s check with some alternative Star Alliance carriers. For those same dates, here’s an itinerary that uses Swiss Air and United:
It uses more miles – the standard 60,000 for a trip to Europe. But you’re only paying $189.10 in taxes and fees, because these carriers don’t have fuel surcharges.
Obviously the flights aren’t as good (you stop in Zurich on the way there and Newark on the way back), but it’s a much better value for your miles – a value of 1.12 cents.
The 3rd option is to save your miles and get a business class seat. Here’s an option for these same dates:
There weren’t any direct flights available on our dates. But for only a slightly higher taxes and fees bill (which is aided by flying on Swiss Air), you get a business class seat instead (ignore the top up costs, this Aeroplan account doesn’t have enough miles for the full redemption).
How much would a similar flight cost?
Now we’re talking. Slightly higher taxes and fees compared to the Air Canada economy redemption, but the fact that you only need double the miles for a flight that costs about 5.5 times more is a pretty great deal.
You’re going to get a great value of just under 3 cents per mile with this option. A great return, especially when you consider the best economy redemption was just over 1 cent, and the all-Air Canada economy ticket left you with a paltry value of 0.36 cents.
So the lesson? Do your research, and test book plenty of options and dates to make sure you get great value for your miles.
5 Airline rewards programs
Which airline programs issue credit cards for the Canadian market?
Here’s an overview of the various programs.
The program belonging to Canada’s largest airline, Aeroplan lets you use miles on Air Canada, as well as 40 Star Alliance carriers to get you almost anywhere on Earth.
How do you redeem miles for flights? You need a set number of miles, depending on where you want to fly – these are called Fixed Mileage flights.
For Air Canada flights only, there are also Market Fare flights, where the number of miles you need varies based on the price of the flights themselves.
You can find more details on the difference between the 2 on this Aeroplan page.
But, as shown above, not all Aeroplan redemptions are created equal. They’re definitely best used for economy flights within North America, or business class seats to anywhere in the world.
How many miles do you need for a flight? Here’s a link to the Aeroplan flight redemption chart.
An unheralded program is Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan.
While Alaska Airlines themselves only fly to Alberta and BC (and a few border cities), they’re partnered with 18 different airlines from around the world, perfect for the international traveller.
Here are a few of their partners:
- British Airways,
- Cathay Pacific,
- Emirates, and
- Korean Air.
Mileage Plan operates similar to Aeroplan – you need a set number of miles depending on where you want to fly to. This page lets you know how many miles you’ll need for a free flight.
Like Aeroplan, the taxes and fees bill you have to pay varies by airline, so you’ll need to do some research to find the best deals. Business and first class seats always offer great value for your miles as well.
MBNA is the issuer of Alaska Airlines credit cards.
Canada’s second-largest airline operates WestJet Rewards.
Unlike the previous 2 programs where you have to redeem a set amount of miles to fly somewhere, WestJet operates a simpler program. You earn dollars which can be used to pay for the base airfare of any flight, not only those operated by WestJet, but also their partners. Here are these partners:
- Air France,
- KLM, and
RBC issues 2 different WestJet Mastercards.
Amex Membership Rewards
Let’s state the obvious here – Amex Membership Rewards is not an airline program, but an in-house rewards program operated by American Express themselves.
But, one of the ways you can use your points? By transferring them to airlines – 6 in fact.
Here are the various transfer options:
While they’re not all at a 1:1 ratio, the most common option used would be Aeroplan, to which Membership Rewards points are transferred at a 1:1 ratio.
So, in fact it can be the best choice available, as you get many options you can choose from. However, since these cards don’t actually belong to any one airline program, you won’t gain any airline-specific benefits.
Amex issues 2 personal cards that can transfer points to their airline partners.
Bonus: Marriott Bonvoy
Similar to Membership Rewards, Marriott Bonvoy isn’t an airline program.
But, you can transfer your points to over 40 different airlines, most of them at a 3:1 ratio, including Aeroplan. You can see the full list of airlines and their transfer ratios here.
The best part? Transfer your points in increments of 60,000, and you’ll get a 25% transfer bonus as well.
For example, say you transfer 45,000 points to Aeroplan, you would wind up with 15,000 Aeroplan miles. Increase that to 60,000 though, and you’d get 20,000 Aeroplan miles, plus the 25% bonus of 5,000 miles, for a total of 25,000 miles, effectively lowering the ratio to 2.4:1.
With an average Aeroplan mile worth 2.5 cents each, it actually makes for the best option to use your Marriott points – 1.04 cents per point versus 0.97 cents when redeemed for hotel stays.
To make these transfers even better, Aeroplan occasionally has deals like this one where you can earn another 30% bonus miles as well.
Airline credit cards
For all the programs mentioned, here are the credit cards you can get for each one.
TD Aeroplan Visa cards
The primary issuer for Aeroplan branded cards is TD.
TD offers 3 different Aeroplan cards, depending on your tastes and income, and we’ll look over the top one.
TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite
The primary card TD offers is the
You’ll earn up to 1.5 miles per $1 spent on your purchases:
- 1.5 miles per $1 spent on eligible gas, groceries, drugstores, and aircanada.com purchases (up to $80,000 annually), and
- 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases.
It also offers a great sign-up bonus of up to 25,000 miles after making your first purchase and spending $1,500 in the first 3 months.
To top it off, it comes with great benefits when flying on Aeroplan Rewards flights, including priority check-in and your first checked bag free.
Amex Membership Rewards Cards
There are 2 Membership Rewards cards that can transfer points to airlines. Just note that points collected with the
American Express Gold Rewards card
Your first choice is the
Earn a welcome bonus of 25,000 points after spending $1,500 in the first 3 months.
It also comes with great earn rates on all your purchases:
- 2 points per $1 spent on gas, groceries, drugstores, and eligible travel, and
- 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
It’s actually our top choice for airline rewards. No other card will earn you as many miles, nor have the option to use your points with 6 different programs.
American Express Platinum Card
For red carpet treatment and lavish perks, the
First it comes with a huge welcome bonus of 25,000 points after spending $2,000 in the first 3 months. But the earn rates aren’t quite as robust:
- 3 points per $1 spent on eligible dining,
- 2 points per $1 spent on eligible travel, and
- 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
But that’s okay since what you’re REALLY getting this card are for the perks. Here’s just a taste of what it offers:
- annual $200 travel credit,
- automatic advanced status in 4 hotel programs, including Marriott Bonvoy,
- access to the Hotel Collection and Fine Hotels and Resorts,
- unlimited lounge visits for the cardholder and a guest at Priority Pass lounges, and
- international airline program for discounts on premium economy and business class seats.
It truly offers great benefits for its $699 annual fee.
Alaska Airlines credit cards
MBNA offers 2 credit cards for Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan. Despite their names, they’re both quite similar.
Alaska Airlines Platinum Plus Mastercard
Let’s start with the
Earn a welcome bonus worth 20,000 miles after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months. You’ll also earn 1 mile for every $1 spent, accelerated to 3 miles on Alaska Airlines purchases.
It also comes with an annual companion voucher. Every year on your card’s anniversary, book a flight on Alaska Airlines for yourself, and bring someone else with you for just $99 USD plus taxes and fees.
For a $75 annual fee and no income requirements, it actually has quite a bit to offer.
Alaska Airlines World Elite Mastercard
So what are the differences between these 2 cards?
It also offers free checked bags on Alaska Airlines for the cardholder and up to 5 others travelling on the same reservation.
Finally, it has one more type of insurance and a higher annual fee of $99.
But that’s it. The earn rates are the same, and both have the companion voucher.
RBC WestJet Mastercards
As for Canada’s 2nd largest airline, WestJet has partnered with RBC to offer 2 cards.
WestJet RBC World Elite Mastercard
The premium offering is the WestJet RBC World Elite Mastercard.
First off, you can earn $250 WestJet dollars after your first purchase. And for a limited time, earn a bonus $100 WestJet dollars as well.
You’ll also earn 1.5% back in WestJet Dollars on all purchases, which increases to 2% on WestJet purchases.
Plus it comes with its famous companion voucher – ranging from $99 to $399 plus taxes and fees – as well as free checked bags for the cardholder and 8 others travelling on the same reservation.
WestJet RBC Mastercard
For a lower annual fee of $39, there’s also the WestJet RBC Mastercard.
Earn $50 WestJet Dollars after your first purchase, and earn 1% in WestJet Dollars on all purchases, which increases to 1.5% on WestJet purchases.
It also includes a companion voucher for flights within Canada, which cost $199 plus taxes and fees to use.
Marriott Bonvoy cards
Marriott Bonvoy has only one personal card in Canada – the
To get you started, you can earn 50,000 Marriott points when you spend $1,500 in the first 3 months.
And, you’ll earn 2 points per $1 spent on all purchases, which is accelerated to 5 points per $1 spent at Marriott properties.
It also comes with great Marriott Bonvoy perks to use as well:
- annual free night voucher for a stay worth up to 35,000 points,
- automatic silver elite status, and
- 15 elite night credits every year.
Airline miles offer high-value rewards that can get you the biggest return on your spending.
And, just because a card doesn’t have an airline logo on it, doesn’t mean you can’t get airline miles from your points (although these cards don’t have any airline benefits).
Do you have a favourite airline credit card?
Let us know in the comments below.