Fly For Free Faster: Credit Cards With Airline Miles

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.

Related: The Truth About Cash Back Vs. Travel Rewards

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 40,000 miles (terms) $120, first year free Apply Now
TD® Aeroplan® Visa Infinite Privilege* Card Air Canada perks on every flight Up to 60,000 miles (terms) $399 Apply Now
TD® Aeroplan® Visa Platinum* Card Earn Aeroplan miles for a lower annual fee and no income requirements Up to 25,000 miles (terms) $89, first year free Apply Now
American Express® AeroplanPlus®* Card Lowest annual fee of any Aeroplan-branded card 5,000 miles (terms) $60 Apply Now
American Express® AeroplanPlus®* Gold Card High average earn rate with no income requirements 15,000 miles (terms) $120 Apply Now
American Express® AeroplanPlus®* Platinum Card High earn rate and great perks 40,000 miles and a $150 Air Canada eGift card (terms) $499 Apply Now
American Express® AeroplanPlus®* Reserve Card High earn rate and great perks 50,000 miles and a $200 Air Canada eGift card (terms) $899 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 50,000 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

Plus up to 4% cash back.
Ends Dec 18, 2019.

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 50 features and tailers 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:

Sample Aeroplan redemption on Air Canada

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.

Air Canada flight cost
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:

Aeroplan Star Alliance redemption
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:

Aeroplan business class redemption
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?

Air Canada business class 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.

Related: 8 Tips For Using Your Travel Credit Card For A 5-Star Vacation At A 1-Star Cost

5 Airline rewards programs

Which airline programs issue credit cards for the Canadian market?

Here’s an overview of the various programs.

Aeroplan

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.

Both TD and American Express issue Aeroplan branded credit cards.

Alaska Airlines

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,
  • Icelandair,
  • 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.

WestJet

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:

  • Delta,
  • Air France,
  • KLM, and
  • Qantas.

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:

Amex airline transfer partners
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.

TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite

The primary card TD offers is the .

You’ll earn up to 1.5 miles per $1 on your purchases:

  • 1.5 miles per $1 on gas, groceries, drugstores, and aircanada.com purchases (up to $80,000 annually), and
  • 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases.

It also offers a great sign-up bonus:

  • 15,000 miles after the first purchase,
  • 5,000 miles when you add an authorized user, and
  • 2x the miles in the first 3 months, until 20,000 miles have been earned.

Just note that when earning 2x the miles, half of this total includes what you’d normally be earning anyway.

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.

Related: TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Vs. American Express Gold Rewards Card: What’s The Best Aeroplan Card?

TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Privilege

For great perks on every flight operated by Air Canada, whether you paid for it with miles or not, take a look at the .

To start, it comes with an increased sign-up bonus:

  • 25,000 miles after the first purchase,
  • 5,000 miles when you add an authorized user, and
  • 2x the miles in the first 3 months, until 30,000 miles have been earned.

Just note that when earning 2x the miles, half of this total includes what you’d normally be earning anyway.

It also comes with increased earn rates as well:

  • 1.5 miles per $1 on gas, groceries, drugstores, and aircanada.com purchases (up to $100,000 annually), and
  • 1.25 miles per $1 on all other purchases.

Finally, get great perks on every Air Canada flight, including the first checked bag free, priority check-in, and 4 annual passes to Maple Leaf lounges.

TD Aeroplan Platinum Visa

For an Aeroplan card with a lower annual fee, the may be more for you.

For a lower annual fee of $89, you’ll earn:

  • 1 mile per $1 on gas, groceries, and drugstores, and aircanada.com purchases (up to $80,000 annually), and
  • 1 mile per $1.50 on all other purchases.

It also comes with a sign-up bonus worth up to 25,000 miles:

  • 10,000 miles after the first purchase,
  • 5,000 miles when you add an authorized user, and
  • 2x the miles in the first 3 months, until 10,000 miles have been earned.

American Express AeroplanPlus cards

Of course, TD isn’t the only issuer of Aeroplan cards. Amex has their own line up as well, with 4 cards to choose from.

Amex AeroplanPlus Card

The lowest fee of any Aeroplan-branded card is the .

For an annual fee of $60, you’ll earn 1 mile for every $1 spent. Plus, get a welcome bonus worth 5,000 miles when you spend $500 in the first 3 months.

Amex AeroplanPlus Gold Card

Next in the Amex AeroplanPlus lineup is the .

For an increased annual fee of $120, you earn 1 mile per $1 spent on the first $10,000 in annual spend, which is increased to 1.25 miles per $1 after that.

And, it comes with a welcome bonus worth 15,000 miles after spending $1,500 in the first 3 months.

Amex AeroplanPlus Platinum Card

For increased perks and earn rates, the offers quite a bit for its $499 annual fee.

First, you’ll get an increased welcome bonus of 40,000 miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months.

Plus you’ll get a $150 Air Canada eGift card after spending $6,000 in the first 6 months.

As for earn rates? You’ll earn:

  • 1.25 miles per $1 spent on the first $25,000 in annual spend, then
  • 1.5 miles per $1 after that.

Where this card really shines is the perks. Here’s what it offers:

  • annual companion voucher worth 15,000 Aeroplan miles,
  • unlimited visits to Maple Leaf lounges,
  • Priority Pass membership (but no free visits), and
  • priority services at Toronto Pearson Airport.

Related: Credit Card Faceoff: Amex AeroplanPlus Platinum vs. Amex AeroplanPlus Reserve

Amex AeroplanPlus Reserve Card

For the most perks of any Aeroplan branded card, have a look at the .

And while it has a steep annual fee of $899, it has plenty to offer as well.

First off, it has one of the largest welcome bonuses of any credit card. Earn 50,000 Aeroplan miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months.

Like the Platinum Version, it also offers an Air Canada eGift card as well. Get a $200 gift card when you spend $6,000 in the first 6 months.

To top it off, here’s what you’ll earn on your purchases – 1.25 miles per $1 spent on everything, which is increased to 2 miles on eligible Air Canada purchases.

But for an annual fee of $899, it better have plenty else to offer. It offers everything the offers, as well as:

  • annual $200 travel credit,
  • increased companion voucher value, worth up to 25,000 miles,
  • unlimited visits to Priority Pass lounges (on top of Maple Leaf Lounge), and
  • 5 free checked bags per year on Air Canada.

Amex Membership Rewards Cards

There are 2 Membership Rewards cards that can transfer points to airlines. Just note that points collected with the can’t be transferred to airline partners, which is why we didn’t include it here.

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 on gas, groceries, drugstores, and eligible travel, and
  • 1 point per $1 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.

Related: American Express Gold Rewards Card Review

American Express Platinum Card

For red carpet treatment and lavish perks, the can’t be matched.

First it comes with a huge welcome bonus of 50,000 points after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months.

But the earn rates aren’t quite as robust:

  • 3 points per $1 on eligible dining,
  • 2 points per $1 on eligible travel, and
  • 1 point per $1 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.

Related: American Express Platinum Card Canada Review: A Rare Metal Card With Premium Perks

Alaska Airlines credit cards

MBNA offers 2 credit cards for Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan. Despite their names, they’re both quite similar.

Related: Alaska Airlines Credit Cards Review: Hidden Gems For The International Traveller

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?

The has a higher welcome bonus – 30,000 miles after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months. But it also has relatively high income requirements of $80,000 personal or $100,000 household.

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 (until January 6, 2020), 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.

Related: WestJet RBC World Elite Mastercard: Deep Dive Review

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 on all purchases, which is accelerated to 5 points per $1 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.

Related: Marriott Bonvoy Amex Canada Review & Point Value Analysis

In summary

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.

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