The Best Rewards Credit Cards in Canada for 2021

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A rewards credit card is right for you if…

If you can say “yes” to the following, then a rewards credit card is likely a good fit.

  • You use a credit card regularly and want to get rewarded for that spending
  • You don’t have a large amount of existing credit-card debt
  • You have a fair or better credit score
  • You are confident you can use your credit card wisely

If you do have a lot of credit-card debt already, a balance transfer card may be the better choice. If you have a poor credit score, or no credit history at all, then you can use a secured credit card to build up your credit. And if you’re unsure if you can use a credit card wisely, you may be safer sticking with a prepaid card (note: some of these also have rewards!).

Now, let’s make choosing a rewards card easier for you

Focus on these five things as you look at the options below, and you might find it a bit easier to decide:

  1. Our rating: We rate all of these cards on a five-star scale. Five-star cards are those that we think will be a better choice for most Canadians. You can read about our ratings-methodology for rewards cards. If you want to focus on just one thing, we humbly suggest this rating, as we’ve spent countless hours making sure it brings the best cards to the top.
  2. Type of rewards: The primary types of reward are flexible points, cash back, travel points, and brand-specific points. Each has pros and cons. (read more)
  3. Rewards earning levels: Look for cards that have higher earn rates. When there’s a tiered system with bonus points for certain categories, make sure those bonus tiers align to your typical spending. (read more)
  4. Welcome bonus: Rewards just for signing up? Yes, please. Higher welcome bonuses are better, but make sure you’ll meet the qualification criteria. (read more).
  5. Annual fee: Yes, all things equal, no annual fee is better. But in the world of rewards cards, all things aren’t always equal. An annual fee can make sense if it means more net earnings. (read more)

The Motley Fool Canada's top rewards picks at a glance:

Credit cardIn briefRating
American Express Cobalt ® CardBest overall rewards card
StarStarStarStarStar
Scotiabank Gold American Express CardRunner-up best overall rewards card
StarStarStarStarStar
American Express ® Aeroplan ® Reserve CardBest high-end rewards card
StarStarStarStarStar
CIBC Aventura Visa InfiniteBest Visa rewards card
StarStarStarStarStar
SimplyCash ™ Preferred Card from American ExpressBest cash back rewards card
StarStarStarStarEmpty Star
BMO World Elite MastercardBest Mastercard rewards card
StarStarStarStarEmpty Star
SimplyCash ™ Card from American ExpressBest no-fee rewards card
StarStarStarStarEmpty Star
PC Financial World Elite MastercardBest store-brand rewards card
StarStarStarStarEmpty Star
Tangerine Money-Back Credit CardBest companion rewards card
StarStarStarStarEmpty Star
Tangerine World MastercardBest companion rewards card
StarStarStarStarEmpty Star
KOHO Premium Prepaid VisaBest prepaid rewards card
StarStarStarStarEmpty Star

Our top pick: American Express Cobalt ® Card


The American Express Cobalt card is head and shoulders above most other rewards cards in Canada, it’s as simple as that. There’s a high rewards earn rate via a tiered points system: 5 points per $1 for groceries and restaurants, 3 points for eligible streaming services, 2 points for travel and transit spending (including plane tickets), and 1 point for everything else. The points are Amex’s Membership Rewards®, meaning they are both on the higher-value side and very flexible. The current welcome bonus of up to 50,000 Membership Rewards is outstanding and there’s a wide variety of additional perks, like travel and shopping insurance.

Pros:

  • High rewards earn rate with bonus categories that will work for most people
  • Generous welcome bonus
  • Wide variety of perks beyond the points

Cons:

See this offer on American Express’s website

Runner up: Scotiabank Gold American Express Card


The Scotiabank Gold American Express Card is just a hair behind Amex’s Cobalt card, but shares many of the features that make our top pick stand out. The tiered points system is generous and the bonus categories will fit most people’s spending (5x points for groceries, restaurants, and certain entertainment spending; 3x points for gas, transit, and certain streaming services; 1x for everything else). The Scene+ points are flexible and easy to redeem. And though the potential 40,000 Scene+ points in the welcome bonus isn’t quite as high, it’s still a great offer. But you do get a few things with this card that you don’t with Cobalt: the annual fee is waived in the first year, there’s no foreign transaction fee, and there’s a 6-month 0% balance transfer offer (a 1% balance transfer fee applies).

Pros:

  • High rewards earn rate with bonus categories that will work for most people
  • Generous welcome bonus
  • No annual fee in the first year

Cons:

  • $120 annual fee after the first year
  • On the American Express network, which is comparably less accepted versus Visa and Mastercard

See this offer on Scotiabank’s website

Best high-end rewards card: American Express ® Aeroplan ® Reserve Card


If you’re looking to really upgrade your rewards experience, this could be your card. Yes, there is a $599 annual fee, but you get a lot in return. The tiered rewards program gives you 3 Aeroplan points per $1 spent on Air Canada, 2 points on restaurants and food delivery, and 1.25 points on everything else. Aeroplan points are generally best if you travel, but can be fairly flexible, plus they are generally worth a bit more than other rewards-program points. The welcome bonus is up to a massive 90,000 Aeroplan points along with a Buddy Pass for a round-trip flight within North America. The (mostly travel-focused) perks beyond the points have a distinct high-end feel, from priority boarding with Air Canada, to airport lounge access and complimentary valet service at Toronto Pearson.

Pros:

  • Attractive earn rate on a valuable points program
  • Very generous welcome bonus
  • Higher-end perks like airport lounge access, airport valet service, and priority boarding

Cons:

  • $599 annual fee
  • Travel focused (so less valuable if you don’t travel frequently)
  • On the American Express network, which is comparably less accepted versus Visa and Mastercard

See this offer on American Express’s website


More detail on our top-rated rewards credit cards:

American Express Cobalt ® Card

Best overall rewards card

Our Rating:

StarStarStarStarStar

5.0 stars

Open Account

On American Express's secure website.

Top Perks
  • Earn accelerated rewards (2x) on eligible travel purchases (including flights)
  • No annual fee for supplementary cards
  • Up to $100 USD hotel credit to use on amenities like dining, spa or other leisure facilities when charged to the room
Open Account

On American Express's secure website.

Rewards

  • 5x Membership Rewards® on eligible food and drink
  • 3x Membership Rewards® on eligible streaming subscriptions
  • 2x Membership Rewards® on eligible travel and transit
  • 1x Membership Rewards® on everything else

Welcome bonus

Up to 50,000 Membership Rewards® points in the first year (20,000 points when you spend $3,000 on the card in the first 3 months of card membership and 2,500 points per month for each month that you spend $500 on the card during the first year)

Learn more

Annual fee:

$155.88 ($12.99 monthly)

Eligibility:

Credit rating: Fair

Updated: 12/01/2021. This post was not sponsored. The views and opinions expressed in this review are purely those of the author. American Express is not responsible for maintaining or monitoring the accuracy of information on this website. For full details and current product information click the Apply now link. Conditions apply.

Scotiabank Gold American Express Card

Runner-up best overall rewards card

Our Rating:

StarStarStarStarStar

5.0 stars

Open Account

On Scotiabank's secure website.

Top Perks
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 0% for 6 months on balance transfers (1% balance transfer fee)
  • Multiple useful insurances including trip cancellation, flight delay, and rental car
Open Account

On Scotiabank's secure website.

Rewards

  • 5x Scene+ points on eligible dining, grocery, and entertainment
  • 3x Scene+ points on eligible gas, transit, and streaming services
  • 1x Scene+ points on everything else

Welcome bonus

Up to 40,000 Scene+ points (worth up to $400 towards travel). No annual fee for the first year.

Learn more

Annual fee:

$120

Eligibility:

Credit rating: Good
Minimum income: $12,000

American Express ® Aeroplan ® Reserve Card

Best high-end rewards card

Our Rating:

StarStarStarStarStar

5.0 stars

Open Account

On American Express's secure website.

Top Perks
  • First checked bag free on Air Canada
  • Worldwide Companion Pass when you spend $25,000 prior to card anniversary date
  • Airport lounge access, plus special perks at Toronto Pearson, including complimentary valet service
Open Account

On American Express's secure website.

Rewards

  • 3x Aeroplan points on Air Canada purchases
  • 2x Aeroplan points on dining and food delivery
  • 1.25x Aeroplan points on everything else

Welcome bonus

Earn up to 90,000 Welcome Bonus Aeroplan points plus a bonus Buddy Pass. (30,000 points and a Buddy Pass when you spend $3,000 within the first 3 months and 5,000 points for each billing period in which you spend $1,000 during the first 12 months).

Annual fee:

$599

Eligibility:

Credit Rating: Very Good

CIBC Aventura Visa Infinite

Best Visa rewards card

Our Rating:

StarStarStarStarStar

5.0 stars

Top Perks
  • Priority Pass Membership and 4 complimentary visits per year at 1,300+ airport lounges
  • Fee rebate for NEXUS trusted traveller application ($50 value)
  • Valuable insurances including flight delay, trip cancellation, and mobile device insurance
Rewards

  • 2 points per $1 spent on travel at CIBC Rewards Centre
  • 1.5 points per $1 spent at eligible gas stations, grocery, and drug stores
  • 1 point per $1 spent elsewhere

Welcome bonus

Up to 35,000 Aventura points (20,000 when you make your first purchase and 15,000 when you spend $1,000 or more monthly during the first year). Annual fee waived for the first year.

Annual fee:

$139

Eligibility:

Credit rating: Good
Minimum annual income $60,000 (or $100,000 household)

SimplyCash ™ Preferred Card from American Express

Best cash back rewards card

Our Rating:

StarStarStarStarEmpty Star

4.5 stars

Open Account

On American Express's secure website.

Top Perks
  • No annual fee for supplementary cards
  • Valueable insurances including baggage delay, flight delay, and car rental
  • Entertainment and dining perks with American Express® Experiences
Open Account

On American Express's secure website.

Rewards

2% cash back on all spending (after your Welcome Rate ends)

Welcome bonus

Earn 10% cash back for the first 4 months (up to $400 cashback).

Learn more

Annual fee:

$99

Eligibility:

Credit rating: Good

Updated: 12/01/2021. This post was not sponsored. The views and opinions expressed in this review are purely those of the author. American Express is not responsible for maintaining or monitoring the accuracy of information on this website. For full details and current product information click the Apply now link. Conditions apply.

BMO World Elite Mastercard

Best Mastercard rewards card

Our Rating:

StarStarStarStarEmpty Star

4.5 stars

Top Perks
  • 4 free airport lounge passes per year
  • Free access to over 1 million Wi-Fi hotspots around the world with Boingo Wi-Fi
  • Save up to 25% off rentals at participating National Car Rental and Alamo Rent a Car locations
Rewards

  • 3x BMO Rewards points on eligible travel, dining and entertainment
  • 2x BMO Rewards points on everything else

Welcome bonus

Up to 30,000 BMO Rewards points and annual fee waived for 1st year

Annual fee:

$150

Eligibility:

Credit rating: Very good
Minimum income: $80,000 (individual), $150,000 (household)

SimplyCash ™ Card from American Express

Best no-fee rewards card

Our Rating:

StarStarStarStarEmpty Star

4.5 stars

Open Account

On American Express's secure website.

Top Perks
  • No limit on cash back you can earn
  • Entertainment and dining perks with American Express Experiences
  • Purchase protection up to $1,000 per occurrence
Rewards

  • 1.25% cash back on all spending (when your Welcome Rate ends)

Welcome bonus

4% cash back for first 6 months (up to $200 cash back)

Annual fee:

$0

Eligibility:

Credit rating: Good

PC Financial World Elite Mastercard

Best store-brand rewards card

Our Rating:

StarStarStarStarEmpty Star

4.0 stars

Top Perks
  • No annual fee
  • Car rental and travel emergency medical insurance
  • Identity theft assistance service
Rewards

  • 30 PC Optimum points per $1 at President's Choice grocery stores (like Loblaws, No Frills, and valu-mart)
  • 45 PC Optimum points per $1 at Shoppers Drug Mart
  • 30 PC Optimum points per $1 at Esso, Mobil, and PC Travel
  • 10 PC Optimum points per $1 everywhere else

Welcome bonus

Up to 100,000 points (a $100 value)

Read our full PC Financial World Elite Mastercard review

Annual fee:

$0

Eligibility:

Credit rating: Very good
Minimum income: $80,000 (individual), $150,000 (household)

Tangerine Money-Back Credit Card

Best companion rewards card

Our Rating:

StarStarStarStarEmpty Star

4.0 stars

Open Account

On Tangerine's secure website.

Top Perks
  • 6 months 1.95% interest on balance transfers made in the first 30 days (1% fee applies, 19.95% interest after 6 months)
  • Get a 3rd 2% rewards category if transferring rewards into a Tangerine savings account
  • Purchase coverage for the first 90 days
Rewards

  • 2% Money-Back Rewards in two categories of choice
  • 0.5% Money-Back Rewards on everything else

Welcome bonus

Earn an extra 15% back (up to $150) when you apply for a Tangerine Money-Back Credit Card by December 31, 2021 and spend up to $1,000 in everyday purchases within your first two months.*

Read our full Tangerine Money-Back Credit Card review

Annual fee:

$0

Eligibility:

Credit rating: Fair
Minimum income: $12,000

Tangerine World Mastercard

Best companion rewards card

Our Rating:

StarStarStarStarEmpty Star

4.0 stars

Open Account

On Tangerine's secure website.

Top Perks
  • Get a 3rd 2% rewards category if transferring rewards into a Tangerine savings account
  • Valuable insurances including rental car and mobile device insurance
  • Access to Boingo Wi-Fi at over 1 million hotspots worldwide
Rewards

  • 2% Money-Back Rewards in two categories of choice
  • 0.5% Money-Back Rewards on everything else

Welcome bonus

Earn an extra 15% back (up to $150) when you apply for a Tangerine World Mastercard by December 31, 2021 and spend up to $1,000 in everyday purchases within your first two months.*

Annual fee:

$0

Eligibility:

Credit rating: Good
Minimum income: $60,000 (individual) or $100,000 (household)

KOHO Premium Prepaid Visa

Best prepaid rewards card

Our Rating:

StarStarStarStarEmpty Star

4.0 stars

Open Account

On KOHO's secure website.

Top Perks
  • 1.2% interest on both spending and savings accounts
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • One free international ATM withdrawal per month
Rewards

  • 2% cash back on groceries, restaurants, and transportation
  • 0.5% cash back on everything else
  • Up to 5% cash back at certain brand partners

Welcome bonus

None

Annual fee:

$84

Eligibility:

N/A (Prepaid card, no qualifications)


Our ratings methodology for rewards credit cards

We rate the cards on this page on a five-star scale. Curious how we crunch the numbers and wade through features to get to these handy star ratings? Well then, this section is for you.

Our ratings process is based on a combination of how we go about choosing cards for our own wallets as well as what we view as important to the average Canadian.

So for rewards cards, here’s what we consider:

Rewards earnings

For each rewards-points system, we calculate a point value based on the conversion value of those points into cash or cash-like instruments (like a statement credit or Amazon gift card) and the value purchasing international airline tickets. For cash back cards, we simply take the cash back yield.

We then use data on the average spending by category for the typical Canadian, and apply the terms of each card’s points system to that spending. That is, if a card offers 3x points for spending on restaurants, but only 1 point for spending on gas, this captures how that breaks down. This gives us the number of points that average Canadian is likely to earn with that card.

Then, it’s simply multiplying the estimated points we’ve calculated by the estimated point value to get a dollar value.

Welcome bonus value

For the welcome bonus, we take the total potential points for that bonus and multiply it by the value we calculated for the points to get to a dollar value for the welcome bonus.

We add the value of the welcome bonus to what we calculated for the rewards earnings.

Annual fee

If the card charges an annual fee, we deduct that from the total that we calculated so far. If a card has an annual fee, but waives it for the first year, we take it out of our calculation as well, since we’re looking specifically at the next year. We do not add or subtract anything for supplemental cards.

All of the other perks

There are a lot of other perks that credit cards offer, especially rewards cards. Some of these perks are really valuable. But as hard as it is to value all of the things above, putting specific values on perks like airport lounges or mobile device insurance, all of which you may or may not use, gets overly complex and not especially helpful to you.

Likewise, we don’t use potential balance transfer savings as part of the initial rankings calculation for rewards cards. If you have credit-card debt and need a balance transfer to help you pay it down, check out our favorite balance transfer cards, focus on getting that card debt paid down, and then turn your focus to maximizing rewards.

But obviously we don’t ignore all of this. If there’s a few hundred dollar difference in the rewards value of two cards, the one with the higher rewards value is the card we’re going to recommend. However, if two cards are close in the amount of rewards value they offer (again, that’s earned rewards, plus welcome bonus, minus annual fee), we take a close look at the other perks and any balance transfer offers and may bump the lower-rewards-value card over the other on that basis.

Will this rating methodology work for you?

Because we’re basing this on the idea of the “average Canadian” (whatever that means, right?), our aim is that for most people reading this, yes, our star rating should equate to a better or worse card for you.

There are some instances where our ratings may not work for you. Here are the top reasons they may not:

  • You spend a lot more than the average person. If you are a really big spender, your results could differ considerably from how we run our calculations. The quick remedy to this is to look for the higher-end cards among those we recommend. You’ll likely benefit more from these cards than the average user.
  • You spend a lot less than the average person.If you spend a lot less than average, your results will also diverge from how we do our ratings. In this case, opt for a card with no fee. Yes, earn rates and perks will be less, but it should work out better for you since your earnings won’t be eaten up by an annual fee. We actually have a whole page comparing just our favorite no-fee cards.
  • You don’t plan to maximize your rewards. You don’t have to be a credit-card-rewards wizard to get a lot out of a rewards credit card, but we do assume you’re aiming to generally try to get the most out of your rewards card. For example, if the card offers 5x points on groceries and 1x on everything else, but you prefer to always pay for your groceries in cash… well, that’s just going to throw everything off, right? It’s ok if you’d prefer not to think about how and when to best use your credit card! But if that describes you, you’d probably be better off with a cash back card, and likely a no-fee cash back card.

Now, what exactly is a rewards credit card?

Let’s get back to the basics. Rewards cards allow you to earn points, miles, or cash back when you use your card for eligible purchases. Though some rewards cards will offer you higher rewards for an annual fee, you can find plenty of great no-fee cards in Canada.

What are the types of rewards cards?

Rewards cards are typically broken into four big categories: general (flexible) points cards, cash-back cards, travel-rewards cards, and store cards.

The quick-and-dirty info on these different types is:

  • Flexible-points cards will typically give you the best earning opportunities, but also require the most work to optimize your spend and redeem your points.
  • Cash-back cards are the easiest type of rewards card because you don’t have to mess around with redemption and conversion. You just get cash. But they also tend to be less lucrative.
  • Travel-rewards cards can be fairly lucrative, but also generally more restrictive on earning and redemption versus flexible-points systems. Though this isn’t as true as it used to be.
  • Store- or brand-specific cards are the most restrictive in terms of where you can earn points — typically far higher earn rates at affiliated stores and brands — and redemption — often you can only redeem for affiliated store credits. However, within those bounds, they can sometimes be even more lucrative than other points cards. So if you are a regular shopper at a store or brand group with a points card, it’s worth checking out.

Flexible-points cards

Flexible points cards give you points for every dollar you spend. For example, you may earn one point for every $1 you spend, with two points for every $1 you spend on groceries.

It’s possible to calculate a value for the points that you earn on a points card. However, that value can vary considerably depending on how you convert those points. For example, converting points to a gift card or statement credit tends to give you the least value for your points. Depending on the card, this often works out to between $0.007 and $0.01 per point.

When you convert those same points to goods, services, or travel, it’s usually possible to get a lot more value out of those points. In this case, seeing redemption rates of $0.02 to $0.04 per point is not unusual. Getting the most value out of your points can take some time and effort, but for many people it can also be a fun “game”.

Well-known points schemes that fall under this category are American Express’s Membership Rewards and Scene+.

Cash-back credit cards

As the name suggests, a cash back credit card gives you cash back for all eligible purchases.

You typically have a number of different ways to redeem your cash. Most programs allow you to apply your cash back rewards to your statement balance. Other programs give you the option of depositing your cash back in your checking or savings account, mailing you a check, or sending you a gift card.

Hands down, cash back cards are the easiest rewards credit cards to deal with. You don’t have to concern yourself with how you convert your rewards or optimize the value of each point. The flip side to that though, is that with a little effort you can very often earn much higher value from other types of rewards cards.

Travel-rewards credit cards

Travel rewards cards earn points or miles that you can redeem for travel purposes, such as airfare, hotels, rentals, and cruises. Most travel cards offer special travel perks, such as traveler’s insurance, and some feature no foreign transaction fees.

Travel rewards credit cards are very similar to points-based cards, except that the points are often air-miles programs with particular airlines and redemption opportunities are more focused on travel goods and services. Some travel-specific points programs have gotten much more flexible in recent years, but if you’re not a regular traveler, these programs aren’t likely to benefit you as much as others.

There are a couple of things to keep in mind with travel rewards cards. First, many will charge an annual fee, though the extra rewards often make the fee well worth it. Also, though some travel rewards cards do not charge a foreign transaction fee, many do. The cards that do charge a foreign transaction fee can be great for paying for travel before you leave (airfare, hotels, etc.), but aren’t ideal for paying for things while you travel.

Store or brand credit card

Store credit cards are issued by specific retail stores or brand groups with rewards targeted toward that store’s goods. Examples include President’s Choice, Canadian Tire (Triangle), Amazon, and Hudson’s Bay.

Each card will have its own rules, along with its own criteria for how you can redeem your rewards. For example, some store credit cards will only offer you rewards if you use the card in that specific store or within its brand grouping, while others will offer you rewards for all purchases, though double points or cash back for purchases made with affiliated brands.

Store cards can be a really great choice if you are a regular shopper of the brands that are affiliated with the card. But no matter how great the rewards program, if you don’t normally shop with the affiliated brands, it generally won’t make sense for you to get that card.

But… these categories aren’t always rigid

Keep in mind, there aren’t always hard lines between these categories. Some cards will offer you cash back for all purchases, along with extra points for shopping at certain retail stores. Other cards will give you extra points for travel purchases, while also rewarding you generously for purchases in other spending categories, such as food and entertainment. Though there is some crossover between these types of cards, a card’s rewards program will typically be more favourable to certain purchases over others.

How do rewards programs work?

Rewards programs offer you points or cash back for each $1 you spend. An easy comparison point from one rewards card to the next is how many points or how much cash back you get for each of those dollars you spend. But beyond the amount of rewards you earn, you also need to look at the way the program is structured.

You’ll usually see rewards programs structured in two ways.

  • Flat rate systems give you a flat earning percentage for each $1 spent. For example, if a rewards card offers you 2% cash back, you’ll earn $2 for every hundred you spend, whether that’s on groceries, travel, or pet supplies.
  • Tiered systems give you multiple earn rates, each attached to certain spending categories. For example, a card might give you 3% for all grocery purchases, 2% on gas and transit purchases, and 1% on everything else.

Both cash back and points (including travel and store cards) programs can follow a flat-rate or tiered system.

For obvious reasons, a flat-rate system is simpler. But tiered systems can be more rewarding. If you are considering a tiered-system card though, you need to consider whether the high-earning tiers are categories where you actually spend. A card could offer 10x points (which would be a lot for most points systems) on gas purchases, but if you live in a city and rely on public transit or the post-office world means that you work from home and rarely have to drive anywhere, that earn rate isn’t going to do much for you.

Some tiered systems aren’t fixed, and instead allow you to choose one or two categories for which you’ll get the higher earn rate. This is obviously better than a fixed-tiered system, since you can align it to your spending, but these cards tend to be less generous overall.

Cash back cards are generally simpler in terms of how you get your rewards. You earn your cash back based on the rewards rate and then the cash is either credited to your account or mailed to you as a check.

In points systems, you collect your points in your points account, and then log into that account to convert your points into goods, services, travel, statement credits, etc.

What’s really important to know about points programs though is that there are many specifics that differ from one program to the next. So while it’s great to understand generally how a points program works, it’s even more important to know how the specific program you’re using works. That means it’s critical to dig into the details. Sure, you can use the points program without knowing all of the specifics, but if you want to get the most out of your points, knowing the ins and outs is a must.

What reward programs are there in Canada?

Points programs are more generally known as “loyalty rewards” programs and there are quite a few good ones in Canada. You don’t need a credit card to participate in many of the top rewards programs — for instance, you can earn Aeroplan points by flying Air Canada, no matter what credit card you use. Same goes for PC Optimum points if you shop at Loblaws-brand stores.

Where credit cards come into the picture is when a credit card issuer partners with one of these rewards programs. Then it’s possible to also earn rewards points for a given program by using that particular credit card. The PC Financial Mastercard, for instance, allows users to earn PC Optimum points just for spending on the card. In some instances, like American Express’s Membership Rewards program, the primary way to earn points is by using a credit card.

Here’s a quick look at some of the most popular loyalty points programs in Canada:

  • Air Miles – One of the largest programs in Canada. “Collectors” can earn Air Miles rewards points from a wide variety of brand partners, from Sobeys Ontario and Metro to Hudson’s Bay and Holiday Inn. Both BMO and American Express offer credit cards that allow users to earn Air Miles points.
  • Aeroplan – The Aeroplan points program is Air Canada’s points system, so the most obvious way to earn and redeem points is through Air Canada flights. However, Aeroplan rewards participants can also redeem rewards for hotels, rental cars, and even gift cards and merchandise. Other ways to earn Aeroplan points include linking your Aeroplan account to your Starbucks rewards card or using one of the Aeroplan-linked credit cards from TD, American Express, or CIBC.
  • PC Optimum – If you regularly shop at Shoppers Drug Mart or any of the Loblaws brand stores, or fill up at Esso or Mobil, then there’s a good chance that the PC Optimum program is familiar to you. Spending money at any of the above locations (or JoeFresh) can earn you PC Optimum points. Using the PC Financial credit cards allows you to collect PC Optimum points even faster at the PC-affiliated retailers, as well as on the rest of your everyday spending.
  • American Express Membership Rewards – As you might guess from the name, this rewards program is hitched specifically to use of an American Express credit card. The Membership Rewards program is one of the most flexible and potentially lucrative of the credit card rewards programs, especially if you are looking for travel rewards.
  • Petro-Points – Petro Canada’s Petro-Points program allows you to earn points every time you fill up your tank, and points can be redeemed for discounts on fuel (naturally) as well as in-store purchases, car washes, and gift cards. While there aren’t Petro-Points cards per se, Petro Canada has a partnership with RBC, so if you link an RBC credit card with a Petro-Points account, you’ll save on fuel and increase the points you earn through both programs (Petro-Points and RBC Rewards).
  • Cineplex SCENE Rewards – If you’re into dinner and a movie, SCENE is a handy rewards program to have. Members earn rewards for visiting Cineplex theatres, as well as eating at partner restaurants like Swiss Chalet, Harvey’s, and Montana’s. The Scotiabank SCENE credit card is an option to earn SCENE points faster and on a broader variety of spend.

This list only scratches the surface of loyalty programs in Canada. And essentially every bank has its own program — including TD Rewards, BMO Rewards, Scotia Rewards, CIBC Aventura, and RBC Avion Rewards.

What credit score do you need to get a rewards card?

While every credit card company is different, your credit score should be at least good (680 or above) if you want to be sure your application will be accepted. Some credit card companies will give rewards cards to those in the average range, but it’s not common.

Does the card network matter? Visa vs. Mastercard vs. American Express

All credit cards — and that certainly includes rewards credit cards — work because they’re on a credit card network that sends a message from the merchant (where the purchase is made) to the bank that issues the card, to let that bank know that you’ve made a purchase. The three networks that host basically all credit cards in Canada are Visa, Mastercard, and American Express. The question, then, is whether it makes a difference which network your card is on.

Let’s start with the network where it may make the most difference: American Express. Many consumers already have the notion that American Express cards are not as widely accepted as either Visa or Mastercard, and that’s true. And that may cause some consumers to skip over Amex cards. The problem with that, especially when it comes to rewards credit cards, is that American Express simply offers the best rewards credit cards. The rewards and welcome bonuses are more generous and the perks beyond the points are compelling.

So what should you do if you want a top-notch rewards card, but are concerned about Amex cards being accepted? For one, know that most of the major restaurants, retailers, and services that you use do accept Amex. There are notable exceptions, like Loblaws and Costco, but outside of that, whether it’s Tim Hortons or McDonalds, Sobeys or Metro, Canadian Tire or Amazon.ca, your American Express card will be accepted.

There’s also a fairly easy solution for the times that Amex isn’t accepted: have a secondary card. If you take out an Amex for the rewards and perks, there’s (usually) no reason that you cannot have a Visa or Mastercard in your wallet as well. There are no-fee rewards cards on the Visa and Mastercard networks that you can take out and have a solution for shopping at places that don’t take Amex and avoid losing out on a rewards-collecting opportunity.

But while American Express does offer rewards cards that are a cut above, there are still some very solid rewards cards on the Visa and Mastercard networks. If the rewards and perks of one of these line up better for you or you are concerned about card acceptance and you are against the idea of multiple cards, then this is a fine way to go.

In this case, does Visa vs. Mastercard matter? We’ve written more specifically about the difference between Visa and Mastercard, but in short: it doesn’t matter all that much. Both are worldwide networks with wide acceptance and both are network-only operators that exclusively partner with banks to issue cards (whereas American Express is the card network and card issuer for most of its cards). So for the most part, choose card that fits your needs and don’t stress about whether it’s Visa or Mastercard.

Where some differences do come in are the perks that are offered based on card tier within the Visa and Mastercard networks. You may notice that a card is often not just a Visa card, but a Visa Infinite card or a World Elite Mastercard. The “Infinite” and “World Elite” here denote card tiers and denote Visa- and Mastercard-offered perks. The card issuer will usually highlight the top perks that come with the card tier, but it can be worth it to familiarize yourself with the perks of that rewards tier as well, so you don’t miss out on valuable offerings.

About those welcome bonuses

You don’t want to miss out on welcome bonuses when you’re comparing rewards credit cards, because they can get very generous in Canada. And we mean very generous. Welcome bonuses for many of the top cards can easily be in the $100s, and some can even get above $1,000.

There are a few things that you have to know about welcome bonuses to get the most out of them (and not miss out altogether!).

There are Terms & Conditions to qualify

Yes, you need to understand whether you qualify for the welcome bonus, or you may not get it at all, no matter how much you spend in your first months as a cardholder. Typically it’s pretty simple: if you had the same card, or a very similar card from the same issuer, within the past couple of years, there’s a chance you won’t qualify for the welcome bonus. This is the card companies trying to avoid people gaming the system too much.

With that in mind, if you’re salivating over an Amex card and you’ve never held an Amex card of any sort, there’s little chance you won’t qualify for the welcome bonus (if you’re accepted for the card, of course). If you’re concerned you may not qualify, just make sure to read the terms and conditions of the bonus on the issuer’s site.

You have to spend a certain amount… be sure that makes sense!

There are certain welcome bonuses that you get just for qualifying for the card. Those are great. But many require that you spend a certain amount on the card within a certain period of time. This is not a license to spend money that you wouldn’t have otherwise spent! Please re-read that last sentence before continuing. Yes, you can shift spending from elsewhere onto the new card to meet the welcome-bonus requirements, but don’t overspend to get a welcome bonus.

Beyond that, make sure you understand the spend level and timeframe you have for the welcome bonus to make sure that you get it.

Watch for the multiple bonuses, with multiple timeframes

On some cards, especially those with the biggest bonuses, there are multiple timeframes for earning your bonuses. Most typical is an initial bonus you can earn by spending a certain amount in the first two or three months of card ownership, followed by a secondary bonus you can earn by spending a certain amount every month throughout the first year of card ownership.

Who should get a rewards credit card?

When used responsibly, rewards cards are excellent choices, as they can help you earn a lot of money.

But they’re not for everyone. For one, if you plan on carrying a high balance, the costs from interest may outweigh the rewards (in this case, you may be better off with a low APR card). Additionally, if your credit score is low, you may not be eligible for a rewards card. For scores lower than 700, you should focus on raising your score first. By improving your credit score, you’ll qualify for more lucrative rewards and potentially with a lower interest rate, too.

Should you pay an annual fee to own a rewards card?

The quick, but unsatisfying answer to this question is: yes, sometimes.

If you don’t have the time or don’t feel like doing the work to figure out if you’ll earn more from a card with an annual fee, it’s safer to just choose a card with no annual fee (we have an entire page of our favourite no-fee cards). Otherwise, a little math can get you to your answer.

More specifically: if the extra rewards outweigh the annual fee, then the card is worth its weight.

Let’s look at an example. Let’s say you’re looking at two cards, Card A and Card B. Card A has an annual fee of $100 and a 5% earn rate. Card B has no annual fee and a 3% earn rate.

First, you want to determine how much you need to spend in order to make up for the $100 you spent on the annual fee. In order to earn $100 on Card A, you need to spend $2,000. So, at $2,000 you break even on Card A.

But now let’s look at Card B. If you spend $2,000 on Card B, you earn $60. Because there’s no annual fee that’s $60 you earn outright. In other words, if you only spend $2,000 in one year, then Card B would be more profitable, even with the extra rewards on Card A.

At what point does Card A become the better deal? $5,000 is the breakeven point. When you spend $5,000 on Card A ($250 – $100 annual fee = $150) you earn as many rewards as Card B ($150). After $5,000 Card A becomes more profitable.

Usually, this will get you to a convincing answer one way or the other. However, it can be worth considering the extra perks here too. Especially on higher-end (read: higher-annual-fee) cards, there can be some fairly valuable rewards outside of the points or cash back — these might include airport lounge access, ride-share rides, or meal-delivery-service subscriptions. If there are certain perks that you know you’ll take advantage of, you can add the value of those into this calculation as well.

Should you own more than one rewards credit card?

It’s not totally outlandish to own more than one rewards card. But don’t go credit-card happy and take out too many. For one, taking out more lines of credit could jeopardize your credit score. And if you have too many similar cards, like too many travel cards, you could end up spreading your rewards too thin, not to mention incurring more annual fees.

For that reason, it’s best to keep your rewards cards to a minimum. When you take out a new card, make sure you have a specific purpose for doing so. For instance, you may be both a frequent traveler, but you spend a great deal of money at the grocery store. In this case, you may want to have a rewards credit card for your grocery purchases and a separate card for travel expenses, both optimized to give you the highest value of rewards.

Or you may have a very lucrative points-based rewards card that has a foreign transaction fee. In this case, you may do most of your spending with that card, but then have a second rewards card that has no foreign transaction fee that you pull out when you’re traveling.

How can you pick a rewards card?

1. Decide the type of rewards card you want

First, pick a rewards program that aligns with your spending habits. For example, if you spend most of your money on food, look for a credit card that gives you optimal rewards for food expenses. Likewise, if you’re a frequent traveler, apply for a credit card with great travel perks and rewards.

2. Compare rewards on cards

Once you’ve narrowed your credit card options to a specific card, start comparing the rewards points, sign-up bonuses, and additional perks in each card.

It’s important to compare all the perks, not just rewards points. Comparing rewards points and percentages can be helpful, but it may be somewhat misleading. For example, you may see that Card A offers you two points for every dollar you spend, while Card B offers only one. A two to one ratio is always better, right?

Not necessarily. The points may equal different dollar values. For Card A, one point may be worth $.01, while for Card B, one point may be worth $.02.

Even if the points have the same dollar value, you may find the perks on one card to be more resourceful than those on another. For a deeper comparison of rewards cards, you can always use this page. We’ll continue updating it with pertinent information on Canada’s best rewards cards.

3. Compare welcome bonuses

Welcome bonuses can really swing the comparison between cards, so make sure to weigh these sign-on and spending offers as you compare one card to the next. But also make sure that your typical spending would mean that you’d qualify for the bonus without overspending.

4. Consider the fees

Finally, pay attention to all the fees associated with a credit card. This includes the annual fee, APR, balance transfer fee, cash advance fee, foreign transaction fees, and late fees. Keep in mind that paying an annual isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But you want to ensure the annual rewards outweigh any fees incurred.

Frequently Asked Questions

Most rewards credit cards offer either points, cash back, or airmiles rewards. Cash back is the most straightforward reward, as it’s either credited to your account or mailed as a cheque. Rewards points can usually be exchanged for a wide range of goods and services, converted to gift cards or forms of cash back, or exchanged for airmiles or other points in other points programs. Airmiles can often be treated similar to rewards points, but will have the greatest value when used for air travel.

With a rewards credit card, you get certain rewards based on how much you spend and, sometimes, in what categories you spend. The simplest rewards credit card might offer a certain percentage of cash back on all of your spending. Other rewards cards may offer a certain number of points per dollar that you spend, with certain spending categories — like travel, groceries, or gas — yielding 2x, 3x, or even 5x points. Cash back is typically either credited to your account or mailed to you as a cheque, while rewards points can then be exchanged for goods, services, travel, or gift cards.

The value of credit card rewards points depends on the program and what you redeem the points for. Points have more value in certain programs than in others and many programs give a much better value when you exchange your points for specific things — like travel or certain service — than if you convert points to gift cards or cash back.

The easiest way to calculate the value of your points is to divide the cost or value of what you’re exchanging the points for by the number of points you need to exchange. For example, if a gift card for $100 requires you to exchange 13,000 points, then your points are worth roughly $0.0077 each ($100 / 13,000). If you can purchase a $500 airline ticket with 26,000 points, then each of those points is worth roughly $0.019 ($500 / 26,000).


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