I’ve spent several years reviewing credit cards and trying to determine which card is best. What I’ve learned is that when it comes to finding the best credit cards there’s no one-size fits all answer. That’s because the card that suits you best is uniquely determined by how much you spend, in which categories you spend the most, and the type of rewards you want to receive.
The truth is that the quickest way to maximize your rewards is by using a combination of credit cards. For example, you can have one card for groceries and gas, one card for dining and entertainment, one card for airline travel. That way, you’re taking advantage of each card’s best features, which puts more money back in your wallet.
Related: Compare credit cards here
I’ve taken a snapshot of the best credit cards in Canada today and broken them down into categories to help you figure out which card is right for you.
Best Credit Cards for Cash Back Rewards
Cash back rewards are great because you don’t have to worry about how many miles you need, which flight charts to follow, or whether your points will expire. Most cash back credit card programs give you the option to redeem your points through a statement credit or a cheque in the mail. It doesn’t get much easier than that.
Best Credit Cards For Groceries and Gas:
The Scotia Momentum Visa Infinite card is the cash back king in Canada. That’s because it pays 4 percent cash back on groceries and gas, plus 2 percent cash back on drug store spending and recurring bill payments. The card comes with a $99 annual fee (waived in the first year).
I personally use the Scotia Momentum Visa Infinite card for all of our non-Costco grocery spending. I also use it when I fill-up at Co-op gas bars and through Co-op’s membership rewards program I’m able to earn a juicy 11.5 percent back on gas purchases.
The only downside to this card is that it pays just 1 percent on all other spending.
Best Credit Cards for Everyday Spending:
The MBNA Rewards World Elite card is perfect for someone who’s looking for one rewards card that pays a consistent cash back rate across all spending categories. With this card, you’ll get 2 percent back on every purchase. The MBNA card comes with an $89 annual fee (waived in the first year). You’ll also get 10,000 bonus points after your first purchase.
Using multiple credit cards, such as one for groceries, another for restaurants, and yet another for travel can be a hassle to manage. I know that my wife complains about having a purse full of credit cards (my fault) and she can’t remember which one to use at certain stores.
An everyday spending card that pays a straight 2 percent cash back can help reduce the number of cards in your wallet while still earning big rewards.
A couple of downsides to this card, though: if you spend a lot on groceries and gas then you’re missing out on the higher earning rate from cards like the Scotia Momentum Visa Infinite; and it also lacks a couple of key travel insurance features, such as travel medical and lost luggage.
Best Credit Cards with No Annual Fee:
Some people simply refuse to pay an annual fee for a credit card. That’s fair enough, but understand that no-fee cards typically pay fewer rewards than their premium counterparts.
The best of the no-fee bunch is the SimplyCash Card from American Express. You get 5 percent cash back on grocery, gas, and restaurant purchases for the first six months, then 1.25 percent back on all of your spending afterwards – with no limit on how much you can earn.
The downside is that some merchants choose not to accept American Express cards, meaning you’d be wise to keep a back-up Visa or MasterCard in your wallet.
Honourable mention goes to the new President’s Choice Financial World Elite MasterCard. It’s a no-fee card that pays 3 percent back at President’s Choice and Shoppers Drug Mart stores, and 1 percent everywhere else. The caveat is that you can only redeem your points at PC locations.
Best Credit Cards for Travel Rewards
The allure of a free vacation draws many Canadians to travel rewards credit cards and frequent flyer programs. Travel rewards can be more lucrative, but the trade-off means having to navigate through certain program restrictions and fees.
The WestJet RBC World Elite MasterCard has vaulted to the top of the travel rewards card conversation. That’s because, in addition to a $250 welcome bonus and $99 companion flight, this card pays 1.5 percent for every dollar spent, plus 2 percent for every dollar spent on WestJet flights. This card comes with a $99 annual fee.
The downside: This card is obviously aimed at frequent WestJet flyers and so if you don’t fly regularly with WestJet then you’d be better off with an everyday travel rewards card.
This is a tough category because there are so many choices available. The one that stands out today is BMO’s World Elite MasterCard. First of all, you get an incredible 30,000-point welcome bonus (good for a $300 travel credit). You can also earn 2 percent back on every purchase.
The biggest complaint about most travel rewards programs is that customers aren’t able to redeem their rewards how they want due to seat restrictions or blackouts. And when they do find a flight that works, programs like Aeroplan don’t allow you to use your rewards to pay for fuel surcharges and taxes.
BMO’s rewards program lets you fly on any airline with no blackout dates, and use your points to cover all flight charges and taxes.
The downside: This card comes with a higher-than-most $150 annual fee, and because it’s a World Elite card applicants need to earn a minimum of $70,000 per year to qualify.
I’d be remiss not to include a seemingly innocuous card like the Amazon.ca Rewards Visa. If you weren’t aware that every other credit card in Canada charges a 2.5 percent fee to convert your foreign currency purchases back to Canadian dollars, then you’re missing out on this hidden gem.
That’s right, you’ll not only save 2.5 percent on every dollar you spend in the U.S. and abroad, but you’ll also earn 1 percent back on every purchase (2 percent back on every Amazon purchase). New sign-ups will also receive a $20 Amazon.ca gift certificate upon approval. Reach 2,000 points and you’ll automatically receive a $20 statement credit.
I typically avoid rewards cards that are exclusive to one merchant or retailer. The rewards have to be particularly generous for me to even consider looking at a niche card.
One that stands out just came on the market this week. A partnership between Scotiabank and GM has produced the Scotiabank GM Visa Card and the Scotiabank GM Visa Infinite card.
With the no-fee version, customers get five percent in GM rewards on the first $5,000 of purchases annually, and two percent thereafter with no limits on earnings. With the Infinite card, customers get five percent in GM rewards on the first $10,000 of purchases annually, and two percent thereafter with no limits on earnings. This version comes with a $79 annual fee.
$1 in GM Earnings = $1 off the purchase price or lease of a new Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, or Cadillac.
It’s possible to earn 2 percent or more in credit card rewards just by finding the best credit cards and matching them to the categories in which you spend the most. That works out to $480 when you spend $2,000 per month.
Last year I cashed in on over $950 in rewards from my two main credit cards – the Scotia Momentum Visa Infinite and the now discontinued Capital One Aspire Travel World MasterCard. I then was able to add another $600 in rewards by taking advantage of several sign-up bonuses (and then cancelling the card before the annual fee kicked-in a year later).