When we talk about travel with Miles and Points, it almost always refers to air travel, but sometimes an old fashion road trip can be the best option. Road trips tend to incur specific expenses that add up quickly, and maximizing spending multipliers on credit cards can make a big difference.
Whether you’re moving from the Prairies to the Saint Lawrence or want to take in the Canadian Rockies on the scenic route, I’ll show you how to get the most bang for your buck when it comes to what credit card you should be using for your next road trip.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the best credit cards for road trips for Canadians.
Best Credit Cards for Fuel Purchases
Fuel will be your biggest expense with any road trip, and with prices rising in Canada for the summer, any break at the pumps is appreciated. Oddly though, my first tip for saving money at the pump starts at the grocery store.
The Scotiabank Gold American Express card earns a Canadian-best six points per dollar at Empire-operated grocery stores such as Sobeys or Safeway. Purchasing fuel gift cards in advance will give 6% cashback after redeeming Scene+ points against your roadside hotel.
The Scotiabank Gold American Express card earns Scene+ Rewards points and gives cardholders the opportunity to earn 5x Scene+ points on grocery, restaurant, and entertainment purchases. This card charges no foreign exchange fees.
For 2023, we selected this card as the Best Credit Card for Grocery Purchases.
Check out our Scotiabank Gold American Express review for full details about this card.
However, suppose cashback isn’t your primary focus, and you prefer aspirational travel such as a business class flight on Eva Air. The American Express Cobalt card will be the right fit in that case as you can earn Membership Rewards points which are transferable to a number of partnered airline and hotel loyalty programs.
The American Express Cobalt card earns Membership Rewards points and gives cardholders the opportunity to earn 5x Membership Rewards on all restaurant, food delivery services, and grocery store purchases.
Check out our American Express Cobalt review for more details about this card.
30,000 Membership Rewards
With a lower earning rate of five Membership Rewards points per dollar at grocery stores, your points balance won’t be as high, but with an average value of $0.02 per point when used with transfer partners, your return becomes 10% or more, depending on how you redeem your American Express Membership Rewards points.
Fuel purchases aside, the Amex Cobalt and Scotiabank Gold Amex cards will also come in handy for fast food purchases off the highway, with 5x multipliers on dining.
If you run into trouble using your gift cards at major gas stations and Amex isn’t accepted, there are two good Visa options. First would be the CIBC Aeroplan Visa Infinite card, as you receive a 3% return in the form of 1.5 Aeroplan points per dollar on all gas station purchases.
In addition, if you’re at a Chevron/Ultramar etc., you get 3 cents off per litre. RBC has a similar promotion with Petro Canada, where you’ll receive 3 cents off per litre, and the RBC ION+ Visa card has the best return with 3 Avion Points per dollar.
Which Gas Station is Best to Fill Up At?
There are three chains in Canada with a nationwide presence, Petro Canada, Esso, and Shell, each with its own rewards programs. On initial look, filling up at Petro and Esso appears to be the best value at 10 points of either currency awarded per 1L of fuel. 10 points have a value of $0.01 and a litre of fuel costs anywhere from $1.50-$1.80, this is a return of 0.6% on average.
Shell being partnered with Air Miles makes things a bit more complicated. If you’ve been following the news surrounding Air Miles, you know it’s been a downward spiral for the program in recent years. However, I find the program intriguing regarding fuel rewards, as recent promotions have paid dividends for me.
Its base earning rate of 1 Airmile per 20L of fuel is relatively poor, representing a return of 0.3%. This year you can get instant Go+ membership through the Shell App, which doubles the earn rate to be equal to Esso and Petro.
For almost every month last summer, Shell and Air Miles offered a promotion of Fill 4 times with 30L or more to get 100 Air Miles or 5 times with 30L to get 150 Air Miles. Using a value for Air Miles of $0.105 and a fuel cost average of $1.65 per litre represents a 7% return!
While the promotion has not been run yet this year, it’s certainly worth watching for, as it’s a massive haul. I took advantage last year by filling my 60L tank in two 30L transactions.
Road trips aside, another reason I like the Air Miles program is that I can redeem for short hop flights on Air Canada and get credited with SQM, SQS, and SQD towards Air Canada Aeroplan Elite Status. While cashback is nice, this was actually key to achieving my 50K status for less cash out of pocket.
Best Credit Cards for Hotels
Canada is huge, so chances are your road trip will require at least one night in a hotel. With only one *meaningful* co-branded hotel card in Canada (cough, the now disappeared MBNA Best Western Card, cough), staying with and focusing on the Marriott Bonvoy program will be your best bet.
While most Canadians will gravitate towards the American Express Marriott Bonvoy card, the American Express Marriott Bonvoy Business card is another available option as you can qualify as a sole proprietor.
The American Express Marriott Bonvoy card earns Bonvoy points and offers cardholders benefits including an annual free night and 15 qualifying nights towards elite status.
Check out our American Express Marriott Bonvoy review for more details about this card.
75,000 Marriott Bonvoy
I’ve talked a lot about the long-term value of Bonvoy cards in my Best Use of Marriott Free Night Certificates article, so there’s no worry about the annual fee, as you’ll easily recoup it. Getting an effective 4.5% return in the form of 5 Bonvoy points per dollar will be the best you can find for hotel expenses in Canada. I like the Free Night Certificates so much that our family has four cards, and my parents each have a card.
If there are no Bonvoy properties at a good stopping point along your drive, The American Express Cobalt card will be your best bet with two points per dollar on travel spend, giving a 4% return on any hotel stay.
A niche case here would be the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, as you can transfer points to Hyatt, where free nights can be had for as little as 3,500 World of Hyatt points.
This catch is that this card is only available to those with a US credit history, which is only possible if you have a US tax number, such as an SSN or ITIN. World of Hyatt also only has two Category 1 properties in Canada, so it’s probably more realistic to use this program when traveling south of the border.
Best Credit Cards for Roadside Assistance
If your car is over six years old, chances are its factory warranty has expired, and so has any free roadside assistance program that went with it. While roadside assistance doesn’t come complimentary on any credit cards we consider “travel” cards, there are a few cards you can consider adding to your wallet to take advantage.
The TD Cash Back Visa Infinite card comes with a complimentary membership to TD Auto Club. If you have a credit limit of $5,000 or higher, you could even consider performing a TD product switch to this card. In order to take advantage of the membership, simply call the TD Deluxe Auto Club number on the back of your credit card.
The TD Cash Back Visa Infinite card earns cash back and gives cardholders the opportunity to earn 3% cash back on all eligible grocery purchases, gas purchases, and regularly recurring bill payments.
200 Cash back
If you are unable to get the TD Cash Back Visa Infinite credit card, the dark horse of this article comes into play, the Canadian Tire Triangle World Elite Mastercard.
I have this card as I signed up for it way before I was ever into Miles and Points and lived around the corner from a Canadian Tire. I did pretty well with the card, and while it’s no American Express Platinum card in terms of overall value, it definitely punches above most no-annual-fee credit card options.
The Canadian Tire Triangle World Elite card earns Canadian Tire Money and offers cardholders benefits such as complimentary gold membership to the Canadian Tire roadside assistance program.
Check out our Canadian Tire Triangle World Elite review for more details about this card.
0 Canadian Tire Money
With free roadside assistance in Canada and the US included for just holding the card year after year, the value can be seen with just one tow truck call. While it’s obviously not an outcome you would like to see, nothing is worse than having travel plans disrupted and a $200 towing bill.
Best Credit Cards When Road Tripping in the US
This category is something that I’m very familiar with. With my significant other changing cities every 13 or so weeks, we’re on a major road trip at least three times per year. I chose to delve into the world of US credit cards and employ many of the strategies I discussed above but with the US American Express Gold card and Chase Freedom Flex card.
However, if that’s not your jam, grabbing one of the best no foreign transaction fee credit cards for Canadians will be your best bet. I like the HSBC World Elite Mastercard for this specific use case because the travel multiplier still exists, unlike the Scotiabank cards.
The HSBC World Elite Mastercard earns HSBC Rewards points and offers cardholders benefits including an annual $100 travel enhancement credit* and free Boingo Wifi membership.
For 2023, we selected this card as the Best Foreign Transaction Credit Card.
Check out our HSBC World Elite review for more details about this card.
80,000 HSBC Rewards
It’s so powerful that your return on spending at a US Marriott property is actually higher than if you used the Canadian American Express Marriott Bonvoy card. Because of the 2.5% fee on the Amex Marriott Bonvoy card, your return is only 2% vs the 3% you receive in the form of 6 HSBC Rewards points. If you needed another reason to get a no FX fee card, I’d say that math is a pretty good one!
Unfortunately, getting more than a 2% return for spending other than travel is pretty hard. Most pre-paid gift cards you can buy with a Scotia Gold or Cobalt at a grocery store won’t work in the US.
At least with the HSBC World Elite Mastercard and its recently updated earning structure, you’ll get 2% back on Gas and groceries even when abroad. If it’s worth a 1% extra reward to you, you can always grab some fast food gift cards at a grocery store once you cross the border.
Road trips will be a necessity for most Canadians at some point in their travel journey. As you tend to be eating, sleeping, or filling up with gas as the main activities, it’s easy to take advantage of using the right credit card for those spending categories to work towards your next luxurious trip or redemption.
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