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Building a Credit Card Portfolio for Frequent Travellers

Carefully putting together a credit card portfolio to optimize your purchases can be a hassle. That being said, a frequent traveller has a lot of travel expenses that can be optimized if you put together a strong credit card portfolio.

If anyone were to ever ask me what’s the 1 best credit card to get for travelling. I will never really be able to give that answer, because a combination of credit cards work best. You will never have full optimization for only having 1 credit card.

If you absolutely want to only have 1 credit card, then I would just go with a credit card associated with your bank and keep pushing them to waive the annal fee year after year, if you have a fee to pay. But if you are interested in putting a maximized portfolio together, then read on!

Frequent Traveller

First off, let’s define what is considered a frequent traveller. For the purposes of this post, a frequent traveller is someone who travels a monthly average of:

  • Twice a month or at least 4 flights segments
  • 1 week of hotel stays combined throughout the month
  • Spends at least $2,000 a month of travel expenses (including reimbursements by work)

Credit Card Portfolio

Give or take what is reasonable, depending on your personal situation. With the above conditions in mind, I am going to recommend a credit card portfolio that suits this frequent traveller.

  1. American Express Platinum Card
  2. American Express Gold Card
  3. One of: MBNA Rewards World Elite MasterCard, Capital One Aspire Travel World Elite MasterCard or Bank of Montreal World Elite MasterCard
  4. Possibly one or more of: MBNA Alaska Airlines World Elite MasterCardRBC WestJet World Elite MasterCardRBC Cathay Pacific Visa Platinum or RBC British Airways Visa Infinite
  5. Possibly one or more of:  MBNA Best Western MasterCardChase Marriott Rewards Premier Visa or American Express Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card

1) American Express Platinum Card

  • $699 annual fee
  • Earn 1.25 point for every $1 spent on all purchases
  • Receive a $200 Annual Travel Credit
  • Receive a complimentary and discounted companion tickets and upgrades
  • Airport lounge access worldwide
  • Premium hotel program membership

I would have this credit card in my wallet for all the above listed perks associated with this credit card. This is probably the best travel credit card out there for Canadians. Also note that you now have Hilton Gold elite status for having this credit card. This benefit was added in 2016.

2) American Express Gold Card

  • $150 annual fee (waived the first year)
  • Earn 2 points for every $1 spent on travel (flights, hotels, car rentals, cruises, etc.), gas, groceries and drug stores purchases
  • Earn 1 point for every $1 spent on all other purchases

I would use this credit card for all the category spend bonuses where you can earn 2 points for every $1 spent. This is an even better earning ratio than the Platinum version above. For all other purchases, I would use the Platinum card instead to earn the 1.25 points per dollar. This way, you can rack up the American Express Membership Reward points so much faster. I consider them the most valuable transferable points currency out there. Just watch for transfer bonuses, such as the current 25% bonus to British Airways Executive Club.

3) Fixed Rewards Credit Card

As we know, American Express is not accepted everywhere, so it would be good to have a fixed rewards credit card as a back up option for all other purchases not accepted by American Express. I would say that the Capital One Aspire Travel World Elite MasterCard is the top choice, so long as you are grandfathered to the older version. Otherwise, I would go with the Bank of Montreal World Elite MasterCard, especially if you are a client of Bank of Montreal, then you can push to get the fee waived every year. If you are tired of paying the fees, then I would simply go with the MBNA Rewards World Elite MasterCard, as they have the lowest annual fee of the 3 choices.

For all 3 credit cards, you will be getting 2 points per dollar, which essentially comes out to a 2% return on all purchases. You will need to use these points on travel expenses.

4) Airline Co-Branded Credit Card

Since you already have the American Express Gold Card, all travel purchases will already be spent onto this credit card. But if you are fly frequently with one of the specific airlines, it may be worth looking into their co-branded credit cards, just for the purchases of their tickets:

  • Alaska Airlines (MBNA Alaska Airlines World Elite MasterCard)
  • British Airways (RBC British Airways Visa Infinite)
  • Cathay Pacific (RBC Cathay Pacific Visa Platinum)
  • WestJet (RBC WestJet World Elite MasterCard)

5) Hotel Co-Branded Credit Card

Exactly the same line of thinking as the factor above. I would just put all my hotel purchases on the American Express Gold Card, unless I frequently go to one of the following hotel chains:

  • Best Western (MBNA Best Western MasterCard)
  • Marriott (Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Visa)
  • Starwood Hotels and Resorts (American Express Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card)

I would add that if you wanted a credit card that waives its foreign transaction fees, then be sure to have the Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Visa.


As you can see, a combination of credit cards will really help you optimize your earnings for each spending. For sure it may feel like a hassle to worry about so many different credit cards. But when you are redeem for your rewards, it will feel worth it!

As usual, do your personal calculations first, before deciding which credit card makes the most sense to put together.


  1. I closely fit your profile – when my travel is averaged out for the year.

    Agree with most of your recommendations but would put in an additional plug for the Chase-branded cards – saving the 2.5% foreign exchange fee goes along way when you’re across borders. That being said I also seem to get better value from the Marriott rewards points than most.

    1. Awesome. Yea unfortunately there is only Chase Amazon and Chase Marriott left that waives its foreign transaction fee. Now there is the Rogers card too. Chase Marriott is probably the optimal card for the profile in this post as you pointed out, which I lumped together in the last note. Would liked to add another in a future post when we see more credit cards competiting!

  2. I still use my Amex Gold at SPG chain, as I gain 2 points per dollars versus 1 SPG. In the past, I often top-up my SPG account using AMEX MR at the ratio 2:1. Still, I prefer to hold AMEX MR versus SPG, because of the flexibility. Since we can’t churn AMEX SPG anymore, I drop it off my portfolio, as I used it only when I couldn’t get the AMEX gold category bonus. As I mostly fly international business class, I don’t see the value of the AMEX platinim

    1. Definitely AMEX Gold gives the better return with 2 points per dollar on travel expenses. Good move. AMEX Plat is good for lounge access and getting the last 1.25 points for all other purchases that doesn’t get you 2 points per dollar with the Gold.

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