The best BMO credit cards in Canada for 2020 (and how BMO rewards cards work)

Charlotte Sinclair
by Charlotte Sinclair November 18, 2019 / 1 Comment

Bank of Montreal (BMO), one of Canada’s big five banks, offers over a dozen personal credit cards with a wide range of benefits.

Whether your financial priorities are earning cash back, saving points towards travel, or a low interest rate, it’s easy to find a card that’s suited to your personal needs and spending habits. Below, we break down our picks of the best BMO credit cards for 2020.

The best BMO credit cards in Canada

Credit Card Best BMO Card For Annual Fee
BMO World Elite Mastercard (View) Travel Points $150 (Waived for 1st Year)
BMO CashBack World Elite Mastercard (View) Cash Back $120 (Waived for 1st Year)
BMO CashBack Mastercard (View) No Annual Fees $0
BMO Air Miles World Elite (View) Air Miles $120 (Waived for 1st Year)
BMO Preferred Rate Mastercard (View) Low Interest $20
Shell CashBack World Mastercard (View) Gas $79
BMO CashBack Mastercard (View) Students $0
Also read: How BMO rewards cards work

Best BMO credit card for travel

BMO World Elite Mastercard

  • $150 annual fee (waived for the first year)
  • Earn 3 BMO Rewards points per dollar on travel, dining and entertainment purchases; 2 points per dollar on everything else
  • Earn 35,000 bonus points (value: $250) when you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months
  • VIP lounge access with the included Mastercard Airport Experiences membership, plus 4 complimentary passes per year ($140 value)
  • Income requirement: $80,000

The BMO World Elite Mastercard is one of the best travel credit cards in Canada. You’ll earn three BMO Rewards points per dollar on travel, restaurant and entertainment-related purchases and two points on everything else, which you can redeem for flights on virtually any airline with no blackout dates. You can even use your points to cover the cost of flight taxes and surcharges.

For context: 1 BMO Rewards point equals to roughly $0.007 when redeemed for travel, so that works out to a strong return of between 2.1% and 1.4% on all your everyday purchases.

The BMO World Elite Mastercard also provides an excellent range of travel perks, including airport lounge access with four free annual passes to Mastercard Airport Experiences that opens up the door to over 1,000 airport lounges across the globe and on its own carries a value of $140. Cardholders also have access to a full suite of insurance benefits (emergency travel, travel accident, personal effects insurance, and more), with no limit on trips per year.

The icing on the cake: the card’s stacked welcome offer, which includes a first year annual fee waiver and 35,000 bonus points ($250 value) that is automatically added to your account when you spend $3,000 within your first three months.

Best BMO credit card for cash back

BMO CashBack World Elite Mastercard

  • $120 annual fee (waived for 1st year)
  • Welcome Offer: 5% cash back on all purchases (up to $200) for first 3 months
  • 1.5% cash back thereafter
  • Free access to Roadside Assistance membership
  • Income requirement: $80,000

The BMO CashBack World Elite Mastercard is a straight-forward cash back credit card that offers a flat 1.5% rebate on all your everyday purchases. It’s an ideal choice for cardholders who want to earn an even spread of rewards, value simplicity, and don’t want to think about how to maximize bonus categories. The BMO CashBack World Elite also features a lucrative welcome bonus of 5% back on all purchases for new cardholders in their first three months (up to $200).

BMO’s cash back redemption process is also more flexible than what’s offered by most other banks, letting you redeem your rewards at anytime (provided you have at least $50) as opposed to on a fixed annual or monthly schedule.

While this card does have an annual fee of $120, it also offers premium perks that include free Roadside Assistance (which on its own is valued at $60) along with a number of other benefits including emergency travel medical coverage and a complimentary membership to Mastercard Airport Experiences lounges (you’ll still need to pay $27USD per visit to a lounge though).

Best no fee BMO credit card

BMO CashBack Mastercard

  • Welcome Offer: 5% cash back on all purchases (up to $100) for first 3 months
  • 1% cash back thereafter
  • No annual fee
  • 1.99% introductory rate on balance transfers for first 9 months

The BMO CashBack Mastercard is a great option if you’re looking for a rewards credit card with no annual fee. You can expect to receive 1% back on all purchases with no caps. For a limited time, new cardholders also have the opportunity to pocket five-times the cash back on all purchases for the first three months (up to a maximum of $100) – a hefty welcome offer for a no fee credit card.

As mentioned earlier, BMO’s cash back redemption process is also flexible, letting you redeem your rewards at anytime (provided you have at least $50).

An additional perk is that you can save up to 25% on your next car rental when renting through National Car Rental or Alamo Rent A Car as well as the 1.99% introductory rate on balance transfers for the first nine months.

Honourable mention: No fee credit card

BMO Rewards Mastercard

  • Welcome Offer: 20,000 BMO Rewards points ($140 value)
  • 1 point per dollar on every purchase
  • No annual fee
  • 1.99% introductory rate on balance transfers for first 9 months

If you’re in search of a no fee card but prefer earning points that you can put towards flight tickets over cash back, the BMO Rewards Mastercard is worth your consideration. The card offers 1 BMO Rewards point for every $1 you spend. You can also receive a 20,000 points welcome bonus (approximately $140 value) to help you fast-track and save on your travel plans – 10,000 points after your first purchase and another 10,000 points if you spend at least $1,000 within your first three months. With access to the BMO Rewards Centre, you’ll have the flexibility to book flights on virtually any airline without having to worry about seat restrictions or blackout dates.

It’s worth calling out that since 1 BMO Rewards point equals upto $0.007, the BMO CashBack Mastercard (mentioned above) does offer more bang for your buck.

Best BMO Card for Air Miles

Air Miles World Elite Mastercard

  • $120 Annual fee (waived in the 1st year)
  • Earn 1 Air Miles reward mile for every $10 in credit card purchases
  • Welcome Offer: Get up to 3,000 bonus Air Miles
  • VIP Airport Lounge Access – 2 free annual passes to Mastercard Airport Experiences from LoungeKey
  • Income requirement: $80,000

Out of the half a dozen or so Air Miles credit cards in Canada, the BMO Air Miles World Elite Mastercard is arguably the best – thanks in no small part to its welcome bonus and travel perks.

As a new cardholder, the card’s $120 fee is waived for the first year and you’ll get an injection of 1,000 bonus miles after your first purchase and an additional 2,000 bonus miles when you spend at least $3,000 on the card within your first three months.

In terms of everyday earning, you’ll get 1 mile for every $10 you spend – one of the strongest earn rates of any Air Miles Card. You can also double dip and earn miles twice when shopping from Air Miles partners (like Sobeys and Rexall) by using your credit card and showing your Air Miles Collector Card at the same time.

As far as perks go, you’ll get a full suite of travel insurance benefits and two free passes to over 1,000 Mastercard Experiences airport lounges (which includes access to almost all the same lounges as Priority Pass). Lastly, when redeeming your miles for travel, you’ll get 15% off your redemptions for flights in North America.

Honourable Mention: Air Miles credit card

BMO Air Miles Mastercard

  • Annual fee: $0
  • Earn 1 Air Miles reward mile for every $20 in credit card purchases
  • Welcome Offer: Get up to 800 bonus Air Miles

If the BMO Air Miles World Elite isn’t the right fit for you due to its income requirement ($80,000) or because you prefer carrying a no fee card, the BMO Air Miles Mastercard is a great all-around alternative.

This card has no annual fee and an income requirement of just $15,000. It also lets you rack up miles quickly with its 800 mile welcome bonus (when you spend $1,000 on the card in your first three months) and an everyday earn rate of 1 mile for every $20 in purchases. Similar to other Air Miles credit cards, you can also double-dip and earn twice the miles when shopping from Air Miles partners.

While it does offer purchase and extended warranty protection, along with discounts at select rental car agencies, it, unfortunately, doesn’t offer travel insurance coverage.

Best BMO Card for low interest

BMO Preferred Rate Mastercard

  • Low interest rate of 12.99%
  • $20 annual fee
  • 9 month introductory rate of 3.99% on balance transfers
  • Includes zero liability, extended warranty, and purchase assurance

If you’re looking for a low-interest credit card, you may want to consider the BMO Preferred Rate Mastercard. It carries an interest rate of 12.99% and has a nominal $20 annual fee. If you tend to carry a balance month to month, this card can help save you money because you’ll have lower monthly interest payments compared to the payments you’d make with other cards with higher rates.

You’ll also receive coverage for zero liability, plus extended warranty and purchase protection. An additional perk of this card is the 3.99% promotional rate on transferred balances for the first nine months. While not necessarily the lowest promotional rate on balance transfers, the rate will only increase to 12.99% after the promotional period ends and not 22.9% like most of the other cards on this list.

Best BMO Card for gas

Shell CashBack World Mastercard

  • $79 annual fee
  • 3% cash back at Shell gas stations
  • 1.25% cash back everywhere else
  • Free roadside assistance membership ($69 value)

If gas is one of your single-largest recurring expenses, then you’ll want to set your sights on the BMO Shell CashBack World Mastercard. You’ll earn 3% cash back when you refuel at any of the 1,300 Shell stations across Canada. As an added bonus for drivers, the card offers a free roadside assistance membership, which on its own has a $69 value and will provide complimentary flat tire changes, winch services (up to an hour) and towing services up to 10km to the nearest qualified repair facility.

For all purchases not made at Shell gas stations, you’ll pocket 1.25% cash back per dollar. It does have a $79 annual fee, but it’s more than offset by the cash back on gas and everyday spending along with the complimentary roadside assistance membership.

Best BMO Card for students

BMO CashBack Mastercard

  • No annual fee
  • Welcome Offer: 5% cash back on all purchases (up to $100) for first 3 months
  • After welcome offer, get 1% cash back on every purchase

This is the second time we’ve mentioned the BMO CashBack Mastercard on this list, but it’s not by mistake. As well as being BMO’s top overall no fee card, the BMO CashBack Mastercard is also the bank’s best credit card for students.

The BMO CashBack Mastercard for students offers all the benefits of the regular card including the same 1% cash back on every purchase and 5% welcome offer. The fact it’s got no annual fee and no income requirement makes it a great match if you’re a student looking to pick up your first credit card, build up your credit history, and earn something in return on your spending at the same time. Simplicity is a major part of the card’s appeal: You’ll get the same rewards on every purchase and won’t have to think about how much each point is worth – which is perfect for credit card novices.

In our opinion, this card really outshines other student cards since it offers 1% back on everything. In comparison, many other student cards from the big banks offer 0.5% on most purchases.

One important thing students should know is the BMO CashBack Mastercard, like almost all rewards cards, comes with a 19.99% annual interest rate. As long as you pay off your statement in full and on time every month, you won’t owe any interest – so use your card selectively and only for purchases you know you can afford.

More on BMO credit cards

BMO Rewards

If you carry either the BMO World Elite Mastercard or the no fee BMO Rewards Mastercard, you’ll join the bank’s own branded loyalty program and earn BMO Rewards points on every dollar you spend.

When using BMO Rewards points for travel, you’ll get $1 for every 140 points you redeem. That works out to a consistent value of about $0.007 per point. The advantage here is that unlike some other programs, point values won’t change based on your flight destination – making it easy to calculate what your rewards are worth in dollar terms.

BMO Rewards points are also super flexible since you can use points to book flights with virtually no airline restrictions and can apply points to cover the cost of flight tickets as well as any associated taxes and fees.

The one drawback is that when you’re redeeming points, you’re required to use BMO Rewards’ proprietary website and can’t use points to book flights directly from an airline or third-party travel website. That said, it’s not all bad since BMO Rewards does offer a price matching guarantee. According to BMO, “if you find a lower advertised price (for airfare or vacation packages) available to the general public through a Canadian retail website at your time of booking, the BMO Rewards Centre will match it.” Simply put, if you find a comparable flight for cheaper, you won’t lose out on the better value.

Aside from travel, you can also redeem BMO Rewards points for merchandise and gift cards from BMO Rewards’ online catalogue. For these non-travel redemptions, point values can fluctuate. For example, the value of 1 BMO Rewards point will be different depending on if you redeem points for a free iPhone or a necklace from Pandora, or even from one gift card to another. You can even redeem BMO points for cash to invest in a BMO account (in which case, you’ll get about $0.0067 per point) or to pay off your monthly balance (about $0.0033 per point).

On average, you’ll get more value out of your points when redeeming BMO points for travel and less for merchandise, gift cards, cash, or anything else non-travel related. As a result, we suggest you stick to using BMO Rewards points for travel as much as possible, and if you’re not much of a flyer, consider a straightforward cash back credit card instead of a points card.

Air Miles

With any of BMO’s Air Miles credit cards, you’ll earn (you guessed it) Air Miles.

An Air Miles credit card can be a great fit for you if you’re an Air Miles Collector and do a lot of your shopping from stores affiliated with the program. That’s because you can earn miles twice when shopping from Air Miles stores – provided you pay with your Air Miles credit card and show your Air Miles Collector Card at the same time.

Air Miles can be collected in-store at a number of partner retailers (like Rexall, Sobeys, Metro, LCBO, and Shell) as well as many others online (like Adidas, Aldo, and more).

You can redeem Air Miles in one of two ways:

1. Dream Miles, which you can use to book free flights. The value of Dream Miles aren’t consistent and vary depending on two key variables – your flight destination and the time of the year you’re travelling. That’s because Air Miles relies on an elaborate chart system, making it hard to pin point the exact value of each Dream Mile. The redemption process also isn’t the most flexible. You can’t redeem Dream Miles on all airlines or use Miles to cover taxes or fees. Your options might also be further limited since Air Miles does have seat restrictions.

For all its complexities, Dream Miles can offer great value when you book in advance and fly to certain destinations. For example, we’ve calculated you can get up to a very strong $0.1535 per Dream Mile when redeeming for a flight to British Columbia during low season. On average, Ratehub has calculated the value of 1 Dream Mile to be $0.121 for flights. Aside from flights, you can also use Dream Miles to get merchandise from Air Miles’ large catalogue of products that includes everything from watches and electronics to toys and more.

2. Cash Miles, which you can use towards your everyday purchases at Air Miles Partner stores to earn discounts. Cash Miles redemptions are pretty straightforward. You can redeem 95 cash miles to get $10 off your purchases at Air Miles Partner retailers – either in store at the counter or online with e-vouchers.

One of the major benefits of Cash Miles over Dream Miles is simplicity. Cash Miles values are consistent (1 Cash Mile always equals to $0.105), so working out the value of your rewards is easy. Plus, Cash Miles help you save on your everyday shopping instead of travel, which can be a better fit if you’re not much of a flyer. There are some drawbacks to Cash Miles though. For one, Cash Miles can only be redeemed at eligible Air Miles Partner stores (including Metro, Cineplex, Shell, and more) – so it’s not as flexible as a full-fledged cash back credit card. Second, on average, you’ll get less value out of your Miles when using them as Cash Miles versus Dream Miles.

One final but important note: once you redeem your Miles as Dream Miles or Cash Miles, you can’t swap between the two. So make sure to put considerable thought into which Miles type is right for you beforehand.

Cash back rewards

With any of BMO’s cash back credit cards, you won’t have to wait an entire year to get your rewards like with some other cash back cards. As soon as you’ve accumulated at least $50 in rewards on your BMO Card, you can start redeeming your cash back at any time in increments of just $10.

Bundle BMO accounts and save on fees

You don’t have to open a bank account with BMO in order to get a BMO credit card. In fact, you can have a credit card, chequing account, and savings account from different banks all at the same time. 

That said, there can be advantages to sticking with one financial institution for everything. Case in point: The BMO Premium Chequing Account

If you open a BMO Premium Account and also have a BMO credit card, you’ll automatically get the card’s annual fee waived every year. The BMO Premium Chequing will rebate the annual fee for either one of the following cards: the BMO World Elite ($150 annual fee), the Air Miles World Elite ($120 annual fee), or the BMO CashBack World Elite ($120 annual fee).

Keep in mind though, there are some caveats to the BMO Premium Chequing Account. First, it’ll only waive the annual fee on a BMO credit card for the primary cardholder, not on authorized users. Second, and most importantly, the BMO Premium Account is free as long you maintain a $5,000 balance in your account but it’ll cost $30 monthly if you don’t maintain that balance. Therefore, this account is only really worth it if you can sustain a $5,000 minimum balance at all times.

BMO and the Mastercard advantage

All of BMO’s credit cards are Mastercards. That’s a plus, since out of the three major credit card companies in Canada (the others being American Express and Visa), Mastercard credit cards are the most widely accepted. In fact, some major retailers (like Costco and No Frills) only accept Mastercard.