Which Credit Cards Are Best For Earning Rewards?

One of the most frequent questions readers ask is which credit cards are best for earning rewards.  Unfortunately, the most common answer is “it depends”.  Do you prefer travel rewards or cash back?  How much do you spend every month, and in which categories do you spend the most (i.e. groceries, gas, travel)?

As for the cards, which ones offer bonus points for signing up?  How much do you have to make in order to qualify?   Do you mind paying an annual fee?

You can see why a credit card comparison tool can help.

Which rewards cards do I use?

For years I’ve tried to find the best combination of rewards cards to fit my spending profile.  Below, I’ve highlighted the best credit cards that I use to get the most back from my every day spending.  I’ve also rounded up the best current promotion for signing up for each card:

Scotia Momentum Visa Infinite

This is the top cash back credit card in Canada because it pays 4 percent back on grocery and gas purchases, plus 2 percent back on purchases at drug stores and for recurring bill payments.

Spending on this card averages roughly $835 per month and I’ve earned $250 cash back since November.  Make sure you spend enough on groceries and gas to justify the $99 annual fee.  You’ll also need to meet the minimum income requirements in order to qualify.

Capital One Aspire Travel World MasterCard

I use the top-tier card from Capital One for “everything else”, which means any purchase that falls outside of groceries, gas, drug store, and recurring bill payments.

Surprisingly, that’s a lot.  The past six months we’ve averaged $1,670 spending on this card, which includes bigger ticket items we’ve purchased like a new BBQ this spring and a new couch for the basement.  Any travel spending goes on this card as well.

Related: Best credit cards for travel rewards

The Capital One card pays 2 points for every dollar spent and so far this year we’ve earned 32,500 miles.  That’s enough for a $300 travel credit or else the miles can be converted into $244 cash back.

TrueEarnings Card from Costco and American Express

About half our grocery shopping is done at Costco and so we signed up for the TrueEarnings Card to earn a bit of cash back on our spending (Costco does not accept Visa or American Express).  We spend about $350 per month at Costco and I just received a cheque for $44 on this year’s spending.

A quick note about this card: It looks like it has been discontinued.  I emailed American Express and here’s what they had to say about it:

“I can confirm that American Express and Costco Canada will no longer be partnering to offer a co-branded credit card in Canada.  As such, no new applications for the TrueEarnings Card from Costco and American Express will be processed at this time.  There isn’t much more that I can share as we’re still finalizing the details on this, however, in the meantime Cardmembers will still be able to use their Costco co-brand Card as usual until further notice.” – Amanda Betti, Public Affairs & Communications, American Express Canada.

That doesn’t sound good for fans of this card, so stay tuned to see how this will affect current cardholders.

Scotiabank Gold American Express Card

This was fortuitous, but I had signed up for the Scotiabank Gold American Express card a few months ago to take advantage of a 15,000 welcome bonus promotion.  They also waived the $99 annual fee in the first year.

I used the card for a trip to Toronto in the spring, but it hasn’t made it into my card rotation yet.  The travel card pays 4 points for every dollar spent on groceries, gas, dining, and entertainment.

Related: Three rewards cards worth a look today

If the TrueEarnings card ends up being discontinued then I’ll use this card at Costco and for restaurant spending.  I have 16,000 points at the moment, which works out to $160.

Amazon.ca Rewards Visa

Nearly every credit card charges a ridiculous 2.5 percent fee to convert purchases made in a foreign currency into Canadian dollars.  But the Amazon.ca Rewards Visa does not charge for foreign currency conversion.  For that reason alone, this card is worth holding if you ever travel to the U.S. or abroad.

We’ve also started using Amazon for more of our shopping – Christmas and birthday presents, electronics, etc.  With this card you’ll get 2 points for every dollar spent at Amazon.ca, plus 1 point for purchases made anywhere else.

For foreign purchases, that means you’ll essentially get a 3.5 percent return on your spending.

Every 2,000 points are automatically converted into a $20 statement credit.

I haven’t used the card outside of Canada (yet) but I have made a few purchases online and earned 800 points ($8) to date.

Promotion: Use this link to sign up and you’ll get a $20 Amazon gift certificate upon approval.

Final thoughts

It would be nice if one credit card issuer could offer a card that could satisfy all of our needs.  Unfortunately, the trend is moving toward co-branded niche partnerships (like the new CIBC Tim Hortons Visa), so we’re forced to carry multiple cards in order to maximize the rewards on our spending.

I’ve found the key is to use one or two cards to cover the majority of your purchases (like the Momentum Visa / Aspire Travel combo) and then fill in the gaps with niche cards (like Costco or Amazon) that fit your unique spending habits.

Our household spends about $3,000 per month (or $36,000 annually) on our credit cards and that will translate into roughly $750 worth of rewards – just over 2 percent back.

Which credit cards do you use to maximize your rewards?

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  1. Dan @ Our Big Fat Wallet on July 20, 2014 at 4:10 pm

    I use the scotiabank momentum card as well for gas/groceries. I haven’t heard of the capital one aspire travel world but it looks like a decent option. That is unfortunate about the Costco amex card, sounds like it will affect not only new applicants but also (possibly) current cardholders

    • Echo on July 21, 2014 at 6:52 am

      Yes, too bad about the Costco Amex card, but if it means Costco starts to accept Visa and MasterCard then I’m all for the change.

      The nice thing about the Capital One card is that, in addition to the 35,000 welcome points you get 10,000 points every year on your card anniversary. That’s worth $100, which basically reduces your annual fee from $120 to $20 every year. Not bad!

  2. Gary on July 21, 2014 at 8:38 am

    thats a bummer about the true earnings card but we have the chase sears card so we’ll hope for costco to accept master card and visa. we would save the 2.5% admin fee while in the US for 5 months while using our chase master card from sears. i hate fees but we’ve kept our air miles master card for the discounts on airmiles required for flights. thanks for the update robb — rewards change so fast now; its hard to keep up.

    • Echo on July 21, 2014 at 9:06 am

      Hi Gary, that’s a sweet deal for you to use while in the U.S. Do you shop at Costco down south? How are the prices compared to up here?

      • Gary on July 21, 2014 at 9:46 pm

        prices for beer and wine are incredible. (12 cans of beer $8.99). all meat prices are considerably lower than here. (strip lion steaks $5.99/ pound). the only negative i can point out is that prices have been gradually increasing for the past 2 years!

  3. aB on July 21, 2014 at 8:58 am

    I use the Scotiabank Momentum card as well for gas and groceries. You should make a mention that groceries is store dependent. Meaning stores like Real Canadian Superstore, is all groceries.

  4. Barry Choi on July 21, 2014 at 2:17 pm

    I recently picked up the Amazon rewards cards just to use for travel. My main card is my Visa infinite travel but seeing how I’m not a huge fan of Expedia anymore it might be time for a switch.

  5. Bernie on July 22, 2014 at 10:31 am

    I don’t believe in paying a fee to own a credit card. Why not have a follow-up article on the “best rewards no fee credit cards”.

    • Echo on July 22, 2014 at 10:59 am
      • Bernie on July 22, 2014 at 11:58 am

        Thanks Echo. I’ve had my PC MasterCard for about 13 years & like it quite a bit. Looking at this article from 2012 I don’t see enough of a reason to switch to any of the other listed cards, at least over the long term.

        WalMart’s MasterCard isn’t listed. I wonder how it compares to PC.

        • Echo on July 22, 2014 at 12:11 pm

          Hi Bernie, Wal-Mart’s card pays 1.25% back for purchases made in-store, and 1% back for purchases made elsewhere. I’d say it stacks up well against the PC MasterCard, since you can get bonus PC points when you use your card at SuperStore. I’d make the choice based on which store you shop at the most.

          • Bernie on July 22, 2014 at 12:20 pm

            Good points Echo…thanks!

  6. Joel on July 22, 2014 at 11:19 am

    Bernie, I used to think the same thing although with the huge rewards from the Scotia VISA Infinite (4% gas, groceries)I did the math and we will come out well ahead of the $99 annual fee considering we spend thousands of dollars per year on these two items. I suspect this is the same for others although perhaps this card is more beneficial for families with kids who spend a lot feeding the offspring.

    • Echo on July 22, 2014 at 12:09 pm

      Hi Joel, that’s the thing – once you do the math you can easily determine whether the annual fee is worth paying (it’s waived in the first year, anyway), and you’ll see how 4% handily beats 1%.

      For some reason, most PC MasterCard customers are extremely loyal to their card, even when presented with evidence that another card could earn them more points.


    • Bernie on July 22, 2014 at 12:09 pm


      I’m retired. I prefer to pay for gas & groceries with my ATM card which is PC Financial as is my MasterCard so I get the same 1% reward with every purchase. I suppose I could do as you do to get extra rewards but I’d have to completely realign my mindset & budget to make a go of it. I don’t feel it’s worth my while as I don’t average thousands in purchases.

      That said, we’re all different. Nice to see your card works for you!

  7. Janine on July 22, 2014 at 11:44 am

    Damn it! I was literally going to call today to get a Costco Amex =(

    • Echo on July 22, 2014 at 12:06 pm

      Hi Janine, I guess you’ll have to wait and see what they come out with next.

  8. Angela on July 22, 2014 at 12:45 pm

    We just switched last year from the CIBC Aeroplan Visa to the TD First Class Travel Infinite because we were so sick of fighting with the Aeroplan website.

    My husband is Australian, so our focus is a card that will subsidize our flights back to Oz every couple of years. We get the TD one for free because we have a full service account with them (and yes, I know that means we have $5,000 parked in a chequing account earning very little interest, but it’s viewed as part of our emergency fund).

    I just used the online site to redeem the value we had built up, and was very happy with its ease of use. It’s been a good fit for us thus far.

    • Echo on July 22, 2014 at 3:33 pm

      Hi Angela, sounds like you made the right decision. Aeroplan has had its share of unhappy customers lately so I’m surprised more people haven’t made a switch.

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