Credit cards are a fact of life and depending on your point of view they’re either a necessary evil or a useful tool for building credit and earning rewards. We prefer the latter, which is why I’m always on the lookout for the best credit card offers.
But with seemingly hundreds of credit cards on the market aimed at everyone from low income college students to high-rolling frequent fliers, it’s almost impossible to anoint one card to rule them all. After scouring the market we identified five categories and named our top credit card picks for 2017:
Top Travel Rewards Credit Card
When it comes to travel rewards, flexibility is king. No serious travel miles collector wants to be handcuffed to one airline or one points program. They don’t want blackout dates or seat restrictions, and no milk-runs or red-eye flights.
That’s why our top credit card pick in the travel rewards category is the Capital One Aspire Travel World Elite MasterCard. The card offers arguably the best value for everyday travellers. Earn 2 miles for every dollar spent on the card. New sign-ups get 40,000 miles after spending $1,000 in the first three months. That’s $400 in travel!
Here’s the thing I love about this card: Book with any airline or hotel and then use use your miles to “erase” the purchase after it appears on your statement. There are no tiers – for example if you redeem a charge for $149 it will cost 14,900 miles, and if you redeem a charge for $550 it will cost you 55,000.
The downside: An $150 annual fee is on the high end of the travel rewards category. However, the 40,000 miles early spend bonus is more than enough incentive to give the Capital One Aspire Travel World Elite MasterCard a try as your everyday travel rewards card.
Top Cash Back Credit Card (Annual Fee)
Some people can’t be bothered with a travel rewards program and who can blame them after seeing the Air Miles expiry fiasco unfold last year. A cash back program is as straightforward as it gets. Simply use your card and earn a percentage back on every transaction, usually in the form of a statement credit.
Cash back rewards programs have increased in popularity in recent years and some cash back credit cards can be nearly as lucrative as their travel rewards card cousins. Our top cash back credit card is the Scotia Momentum Visa Infinite Card.
This cash back king offers a juicy 4 percent back on grocery and gas purchases, 2 percent back on drug store spending and recurring bill payments, and 1 percent back on everything else. While it does come with a $99 annual fee, the first year is free for new sign-ups.
The downside: While you can earn a lot of cash back with the Scotia Momentum Visa Infinite card, the program issues a statement credit just once per year.
Top No-Fee Rewards Credit Card
To some people the idea of paying an annual fee for a credit card doesn’t sit well. That’s fine, but recognize that your options to earn rewards decreases substantially when you move from an annual fee card to a no-fee card. And travel rewards? Forget it. No-fee travel rewards cards do exist but their benefits are so diluted that it’s not worth the trouble.
Stick to a no-fee cash back credit card. Our top pick is a relatively new card, Tangerine’s Money-Back Credit Card. The unique feature of this no-fee card is that you get to choose the categories in which you’d like to earn more cash back. Earn 2 percent in three categories if you want your rewards redeemed into a Tangerine savings account, or earn 2 percent in two categories if your rewards are deposited back onto your credit card.
New sign-ups get to earn 4 percent in their chosen categories for the first three months. Did I mentioned cash back programs were straightforward? I stand corrected.
The upside: A little-known feature of this card is that it charges just 1.5 percent on foreign currency conversions instead of the typical 2.5 percent that other major card issuers charge.
Top Welcome Bonus
Whether you’re a seasoned credit card points churner or just looking to test-drive a new rewards card, a strong welcome offer carries a lot of weight in your decision. A good welcome bonus offers $250 or more in value. Even better if the first year is free.
We found the American Express Gold Rewards Card ticked both of those boxes. New sign-ups get 25,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $1,500 in the first three months. Earn 2 points for every dollar spent. There’s no annual fee in the first year, but after that it jumps to $150/year.
The upside: Points can be transferred 1:1 to Aeroplan and 25,000 points is enough to redeem for a round-trip flight almost anywhere in North America.
Top Credit Card for Foreign Transactions
We mentioned earlier about foreign transactions and how nearly every credit card issuer charges an incredibly high 2.5 percent fee just to convert your foreign currency purchases back into Canadian dollars.
The upside: Earn 2 percent back on your Amazon purchases and get a statement credit each time your rewards balance reaches $20.
As with most banking products we find that Canadians stick to what they know, which often means using a standard credit card issued by their main bank.
Consider switching to one of our top credit card picks this year and see the kind of earning potential you’ve been missing out on all of these years. Indeed, you can easily earn hundreds of dollars in a year in cash back or travel rewards simply by funnelling all of your everyday spending onto a good rewards credit card.
Readers: Do you agree or disagree with our selections? Are there any cards you would add to our top credit card picks for 2017?