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The Ultimate No Strings Attached Travel Credit Card Portfolio


In this feature of Rewards Canada's Ultimate Credit Card Portfolios we look at the ultimate one for earning flexible travel points that have no strings attached. That means points that you can earn and then use the points on any travel, at anytime, you can book through any provider and even use the points after you purchase the travel. This is the ultimate wallet that most Canadians should have who only travel once or twice per year and don't want to be held back by traditional loyalty programs. We have always recommended that you should carry a Visa, a Mastercard and an American Express card in your wallet. The reason why is that there are benefits, promotions and earning potential unique to each brand of credit card. We won't go into detail here as you can read all about it in our feature on how to Maximize your Miles and Points but here we outline one card from each brand that will help you build up those most flexible travel points faster than ever. Ultimately there are various options that could be utilized for such a portfolio but we look at one card from each issuing family that won't totally break the bank on annual fees but will provide strong travel point earning along with very strong insurance benefits.

What is Rewards Canada's Ultimate No Strings Attached Travel Credit Card Wallet? It is the following three cards

American Express - American Express Cobalt™ Card

Mastercard - HSBC World Elite Mastercard

Visa - Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card

The American Express Cobalt Card is a super strong card and should be part of this wallet for several reasons, it is the number one overall card in Canada and fulfills the Amex position in this portfolio and its the 5 points per dollar earning at certain merchant categories that makes this card stand out. The HSBC World Elite Mastercard is a well rounded travel card that fulfills the Mastercard requirement in this porfolio and if you shop at Costco you'll know you can only use Mastercard in-store. The Scotiabank Passportl Visa Infinite Card rounds out this wallet and is one of only a few Visa cards in Canada to provide true no strings attached flexibility. If you don't have any of these cards just signing up for them and meeting any spend requirements will net you hundreds of dollars worth of travel!

Five Key Benefits of this portfolio

  • Strong points earning potential
  • Provides the utmost in reward flexibility with multiple travel redemption options
  • Great travel benefits
  • Strong insurance coverage
  • Two of three cards feature no foreign transaction fees


Feature continues below


How to maximize your Travel Points earning with these cards

Let's look at category bonuses for earning points first. The main card here is the American Express Cobalt Card card as it earns 5 points per dollar (a minimum 5% return towards travel) on Grocery, Dining and Food Delivery purchases up to $30,000 annually. So you'll want to funnel any of that type spending onto this card until you reach that maximum or if a place does not accept American Express then you'll put all your purchases onto the next card. It also earns 3 points per dollar on select streaming services (a 3% return) 2 points per dollar on travel, transit and gas (a 2% return towards travel) Then all of your spending outside of those categories and Entertainment (see below) as well as any places that do not accept American Express like Costco should go straight onto your HSBC World Elite Mastercard and earn 3 points per dollar for those eligible purchases. Those 3 points per dollar equate to 1.5% return towards any travel. The card also offers 6 points per dollar spent on travel which equals the Cobalt card's 2% return. Finally the third card in the waller, Scotiabnk Passport Visa Infinite Card earns 2 points on every $1 you spend on eligible grocery stores, dining, entertainment purchases and daily transit purchases (including buses, subways, taxis and more) This 2 points per dollar is a 2% return towards any travel and for entertainment purchases (think theatres, sporting events etc) this is the first card to pull out as the other only earn 1 to 1.5%. The rest of this card's earning is 1 points per dollar or a 1% return so it should only be used at those very few merchants that only accept Visa. There are other benefits however to the Scotia card that are ideal like it's Priority Pass membership with 6 free lounge visits which make it ideal for a travel card portfolio like this one. Finally both the HSBC and Scotia cards also come with no foreign transaction fees so they are great cards to have while travelling abroad or even for online shopping outside of Canada. The American Express Cobalt card does charge 2.5% on foreign transactions so it is only ideal for restaurant and grocery purchases abroad since those will earn 5% back and when you subtract 2.5% your return is higher than the HSBC or Scotia cards.

Recommended Reading: The Ultimate No Foreign Transaction Fee Credit Card Portfolio

Now we go on to the fun part. Redeeming! All three of these cards provide the utmost in redemption flexibility. You essentially book your travel with whomever you want and when the charge shows up on your account you redeem points against the charge. All three also allow for partial redemptions, so you don't need the full amount of points but rather if you paid $1,000 for your hotel and have $500 worth of points, you can redeem those points for what amounts to a $500 discount on your hotel stay. Now, chances are you'll have points spread out across at least two of the cards here so when it comes to booking travel, put your flights onto one card and your hotel or other travel expenses like a car rental on the other so that you can redeem points from both cards towards the eligible charges. That is the beauty of these cards, you are not stuck to one airline or one hotel, you are not at the whim of a loyalty program that may route you through multiple cities to get to your destination nor have any rooms left to redeem hotel points for. Not to mention, these points are good for any travel, all inclusive vacations, ferry rides and even whale watch excursions (read more about that here ). Even if booked while on vacation, all three cards give you anywhere from two months to twelve months after the charge posts to your account to redeem points for it. That means you can travel without even having the points and collect afterwards to eventually redeem for it.

There are several other travel redemptions to note with two of the cards. The American Express Cobalt Card has its Fixed Points Travel program which allows cardholders to redeem points at fixed amounts for flights. Think of this as your traditional award flight chart from programs like Aeroplan and RBC Avion. With the Fixed Points Travel program your return can actually hit 10% with the Cobalt card as the short haul flight redemption option works out to a 2 cents per point value and if you earned all those points as 5x multipliers you get the 10% return. I won't go into any more detail about Fixed Points Travel as we have a whole other article covering it here. Then you have the option to convert points from the Cobalt Card and HSBC card to various other loyalty programs. With the Cobalt card your best conversion option is to Marriott Bonvoy which can then be further converted to over 40 different airline programs while HSBC offers conversion options to British Airways, Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines.

Recommended Reading: Not all Travel Points and Hybrid Credit Cards are created equal

The Ultimate No Strings Attached Travel Credit Card Portfolio:

Card Card Features

American Express Cobalt Card

Top Overall Travel Rewards Credit Card Top Hybrid Travel Credit

American Express Cobalt® Card

2023 Top Overall Travel Rewards Card | 2023 Top Hybrid Travel Rewards Card
In your first year as a new Cobalt Cardmember, you can earn 2,500 Membership Rewards® points for each monthly billing period in which you spend $500 in net purchases on your Card. This could add up to 30,000 points in a year. That’s up to $300 towards a weekend getaway or concert tickets

Monthly Fee $12.99/month of Cardmembership ($155.88 annually) | Additional Cards: $0 | Annual interest rate 20.99% on purchases and 21.99% on funds advances

  • Earn 5x the points on eligible eats and drinks in Canada, including groceries and food delivery
  • Earn 3x the points on eligible streaming subscriptions in Canada
  • Earn 2 points for every $1 spent on eligible transit & gas purchases in Canada and eligible travel purchases. That's 2X the points on purchases that get you from point A to B 
  • Earn 1 point for every $1 in Card purchases everywhere else. We won't tell you where to spend, we'll just reward you on your Card purchases
  • Transfer points 1:1 to several frequent flyer and other loyalty programs
  • Cobalt Cardmembers receive regular Perks such as bonus reward offers and access to great events
  • Access Front Of The Line® Presale & Reserved Tickets to some of your favourite concerts and theatre performances and special offers and events curated for Cardmembers with American Express® Experiences
  • American Express is not responsible for maintaining or monitoring the accuracy of information on this website. For full details, current product information and Terms and Conditions, click the Apply now link. Conditions Apply
  • Click here to apply for the American Express Cobalt Card

Effective August 15, 2023, Cobalt Cardmembers will earn 5x the points on all eligible eats & drinks charged to their Card up to $2,500 monthly, for the same total of $30,000 annually already in place today.  Cardmembers will also continue to earn 3x on streaming subscriptions, 2x on eligible transit, gas & travel purchases and 1x on everything else. T&Cs apply.  While the annual earn does not change, the new monthly construct intends to curb gaming activity. The change should have little to no impact on the majority of Cardmembers who utilize the Card and Membership Rewards program as it was intended.

HSBC World Elite® Mastercard® Top No FX Fee Credit Card

HSBC World Elite® Mastercard®

Top No Foreign Transaction Fee Credit Card for 2023
Earn up to 80,000 Points* PLUS a full annual fee rebate for the Primary Cardholder for the first year*

Primary Cardholder Annual Fee: $149 (1st year annual fee rebate*) | Authorized User Annual Fee: $0 Per Card | Annual interest rate: 20.99% on purchases and 22.99% on cash advances and balance transfers. | $80,000 personal or $150,000 household annual income

Terms & Conditions apply

Special offer: Earn up to 80,000 points* ($400 travel value) PLUS a full annual fee rebate for the primary cardholder for the first year* ($149 value) and receive a $100 annual travel enhancement credit*. Must apply by August 31, 2023. Conditions apply.

• Welcome bonus of 20,000 points* ($100 travel value)
• Earn 10,000 points* each month when you spend at least $1,000 each month for the first 6 months of account opening (up to $300 travel value)
• First year annual fee rebate for the primary cardholder* ($149)
• Receive a $100 annual travel enhancement credit*

• With the HSBC World Elite Mastercard you earn 6 points for $1 in Net Purchases which are Travel Purchases, 4 Points for $1 in Net Purchases that are Gas, Grocery and Drugstore Purchases and 2 Points for $1 in Net Purchases, other than Travel, Gas, Grocery and Drugstore Purchases.
• Save on all your foreign currency purchases (even online) with no additional foreign currency conversion charges.
• Enjoy maximum flexibility and redeem your Points on your terms for:

• Travel
• Gift cards and valuable merchandise
• Financial rewards
• Rewards for miles

*Terms and Conditions apply
®/TM Mastercard and World Elite are registered trademarks, and the circles design is a trademark of Mastercard International Incorporated. Used pursuant to licence

This offer is only available to residents of Canada other than the province of Quebec (Quebec residents eligible for separate offer)

Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card Canada's Choice Top No Foreign Transaction Fee Card

Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card

Canada's Choice for Top No Foreign Transaction Fee Rewards Credit Card 2022

Earn up to 35,000 bonus Scene+ Rewards points in your first year (that’s up to $350 towards travel). Offer ends Oct 31, 2023

Annual Fee: $150 | Additional Cards: $0 for first card $50 for each additional | Minimum Income $60,000

Terms & Conditions apply

  • Bonus offer broken down as follows:
    - Earn 25,000 bonus Scene+ Rewards points by making at least $1,000 in everyday eligible purchases in your first 3 months.
    - Plus, as a Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite cardholder, you are eligible to earn an annual 10,000 Scene+ Rewards point bonus when you spend at least
    $40,000 in everyday net eligible purchases annually.
  • You’ll earn 3X Scene+ points for each dollar charged to your account on all eligible purchases1 at Sobeys, IGA, Safeway, Foodland, FreshCo, Voilà by Sobeys, Voilà by IGA, Voilà by Safeway, Chalo! FreshCo, Thrifty Foods, IGA West, Les Marchés TradItIon, Rachelle Béry and Co-Op.
  • Earn 2x Scene+ Rewards® points on every $1 you spend on eligible grocery stores, dining, entertainment purchases and daily transit purchases (including buses, subways, taxis and more)
  • Enjoy no FX Mark-up
  • Enjoy Complimentary Airport Lounge Access, plus 6 free lounge visits per year
  • Click here to apply for Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinte Card

Card Reviews:

HSBC World Elite Mastercard Review
American Express Cobalt Card Review

Scotia Passport Visa Infinite Review

Other Card Options:

There are quite a few other options to change up this portfolio a little bit. The first option is on the Mastercard side, you can choose to go with the Envision Financial World Mastercard but you do have the have the full amount points to redeem or the BMO Rewards World Elite Mastercard but it has varying earn rates and is more restrictive when it comes to redeeming. On the Visa side, if you could look at the TD First Class Travel Visa Infinite card as it is fully flexible in regards to redeeming for travel but the value is diluted a bit if you choose to book your travel your way rather than go through their ExpediaForTD portal. Finally you could choose to go with the Scotiabank Gold American Express Card card instead of the Cobalt card. The reasons why is maybe you spend a lot on entertainment (movies etc.) so that's where the Scotiabank Amex earns more than the Cobalt card.

Related: Why proprietary credit card reward programs are the best option for most Canadians

Talk to us!

What do you find works best for you for earning the most no strings attached travel points? Do you use these three cards exactly as laid out above or do you use a different combination? Tell us in the comments section below or join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

Continued reading and related articles:





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