Canada’s 8 best credit card promotions and sign-up offers for 2021

Hyder Owainati
by Hyder Owainati May 14, 2021 / No Comments

From points bonuses and cash back offers to annual fee waivers, there’s no shortage of credit card promotions out there on the market.

Designed to spur interest and entice applications, promotional offers can also help those on the hunt for a new credit card quickly amass hundreds of dollars in bonus rewards. So, while an offer alone shouldn’t be a deciding factor and is just one piece of the puzzle that goes into choosing a credit card, there’s no denying it can make an already great credit card even better.

It’s with that in mind that listed the top promotions available from some of the best credit cards in Canada. Remember, when reading through these offers, make sure to also look into which card would make a good long-term fit for your personal spending habits.

The best credit card promotions in Canada for 2021

Credit card Card promotion
Amex SimplyCash Preferred (VIEW) 10% cash back for first 4 months (up to $400)
TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite (VIEW) 20,000 Aeroplan points (~$310 value) and Air Canada companion ticket
Scotiabank Gold Amex (VIEW) 40,000 Scotia points ($400 value)
American Express Cobalt (VIEW) Up to 30,000 Amex MR Select points (+$300 value)
CIBC Select Visa* (VIEW) 0% balance transfer offer for 10 months
Marriott Bonvoy Amex (VIEW) 60,000 Bonvoy points and $120 credit
BMO Cashback Mastercard (View) 5% cash back for 3 months (up to $100)
MBNA Rewards Platinum Plus (VIEW) 10,000 MBNA points ($100 value)

Amex SimplyCash Preferred

  • First year annual fee waiver: No.
  • Promotional offer: 10% cash back on every purchase you make for the first four months or on your initial $4,000 in purchases (whichever comes first).
  • Value of offer: $400 in cash back rewards.
  • Offer end date: Not specified.
  • Annual fee: $99
  • After welcome offer ends, earn 2% cash back on all purchases, with no limit on how much you can earn
  • Income required: None specified

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The SimplyCash Preferred from American Express might not be the only credit card currently advertising a 10% cash back welcome offer, but dig a little deeper, and you’ll see its offer is more lucrative than the rest. That’s because you’ll earn 10% for your first four months or up to a total spend of $4,000. In other words, its welcome offer maxes at $400. In comparison, most other cash back offers max out at $200 (not including first-year annual fee rebates).

Aside from the 10% welcome promotion, the SimplyCash Preferred stands out for offering the highest flat cash back rate in the market at 2% on all purchases. That simple and lucrative earn rate means: 1. you won’t have to think about bonus spending categories, and 2. you’ll earn twice as much cash back on otherwise generic purchases like online shopping and electronics. The kicker: the card’s annual fee is $99, which is a notch below the $120 charged by most other premium rewards cards.

TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite

  • First year annual fee waiver: Yes.
  • Promotional offer: Earn 20,000 bonus points and receive an Air Canada Buddy Pass (book 1 Air Canada economy flight within North America and receive a second ticket at $0 base fare; taxes and fees still apply).
  • Value of offer: ~$900.
  • Offer end date: August 16, 2021.
  • This offer is not available for residents of Quebec. For Quebec residents, please click here.
  • Annual fee: $139
  • Earn 1.5 Aeroplan points per $1 on eligible gas, groceries, and Air Canada purchases
  • Earn 1 point per $1 on everything else
  • Income required: $60,000

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The TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite offers a seriously stacked sign-up bonus provided in four tiers.

First, the card’s $139 annual fee is waived for the first year. Next, you’ll collect 10,000 bonus Aeroplan points right out of the gate just for making your first purchase on the card. Then, you’ll gain another 10,000 points along with an Air Canada Buddy Pass once you spend at least $1,000 within your first 90 days.

The Buddy Pass effectively functions like a companion airline ticket: when you book one economy seat on an Air Canada flight travelling anywhere within North America (including Mexico and Hawaii), you’ll snag a second complimentary ticket without having to pay the base fare (just cover taxes and fees). Considering the realities of travel in today’s new normal, the Buddy Pass is valid for a whole 12 months or can be converted into 30,000 Aeroplan points to use at another time.

The value of Aeroplan points is hard to pinpoint since they can fluctuate considerably based on the program’s dynamic rewards chart. That said, based on our calculations, the average value of 1 point hovers around 1.55 cents each when redeemed for economy flights on Air Canada and can climb to upwards of 2 cents or more when booking business class tickets or strategically using Aeroplan’s stopover policy.

The TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite is one of the best airline travel cards in Canada, with comprehensive travel insurance, first free checked bags on Air Canada flights, and the ability to earn Miles that get you closer to achieving elite airline status with Air Canada.

Scotiabank Gold American Express

  • First year annual fee waiver: No.
  • Promotional offer: Get 30,000 bonus points when you spend at least $1,000 within your first 3 months and an additional 10,000 points provided $7,500 is spent on the card within your first year.
  • Value of offer: $400.
  • Offer end date: Point bonus ends August 31, 2021.
  • Annual fee: $120
  • Earn 5 Scotia Rewards points per $1 spent on groceries, restaurants, cafes, and entertainment
  • Earn 3 points per $1 spent on gas, public transit, ride share services, taxis, and streaming services
  • Earn 1 point per $1 spent on everything else
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Income required: $12,000

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The Scotiabank Gold American Express is one of the most widely appealing rewards credit cards in Canada, offering between 3x and 5x the points on a range of common spending categories – from restaurants and groceries to gas and transit. That adds up to a ton of points on your everyday purchases. On top of all that, the card’s welcome offer gives you the opportunity to earn $400 worth of bonus travel rewards.

Scotia points are extremely flexible and can be redeemed for free or discounted flights on any airline at a flat rate of 5,000 points for $50 (or 1 cent per point). The Scotia Gold Amex is also among the minority of cards to waive its foreign transaction fees, so you can avoid paying an extra 2.5% on top of the exchange rate whenever making purchases in a foreign currency – like when swiping your card across the border or shopping online from international websites that don’t accept payments in Canadian dollars.

American Express Cobalt

  • First year annual fee waiver: No.
  • Promotional Offer: 2,500 bonus points for every month you spend at least $500 on the American Express Cobalt. This offer is applicable for the first twelve months and can add up to 30,000 points.
  • Value of offer: +$300.
  • Offer end date: Not specified.
  • Annual fee: $120 (charged at $10 monthly)
  • Earn 5 points per $1 on restaurants, coffee shops, bars, grocery stores, and food delivery
  • Earn 2 points per $1 on gas, taxis, public transportation and travel
  • Earn 1 point per $1 on all other purchases
  • Income required: None specified

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A quick glance at the American Express Cobalt and it’s easy to see who this credit card is made for: foodies, travellers, and millennials.

One of Canada’s best travel credit cards, the Amex Cobalt offers an earn rate of 5x on all food-related purchases (including food deliveries, restaurants, groceries, and cafes). For those who rely on public transit to get around, the card earns 2x the points on taxis, public transit, and rideshare services such as Uber. The card’s desire to appeal to millennials extends to its unique fee structure, which is charged monthly at a rate of $10 instead of as an upfront $120 annual fee, mirroring the subscription pricing models of Netflix and Spotify.

The Amex Cobalt also has plenty of wide appeal thanks to its earn rate of 2x the points on gas and travel (including flight tickets and hotels) and its flexible rewards program with points that can be redeemed for flights on any airline. The card also provides access to Amex’s lucrative Fixed Points Travel Program, early-bird tickets to concerts through American Express Invites, and top-notch travel medical insurance.

In terms of its sign-up bonus, the Amex Cobalt will offer you 2,500 bonus points for every month you spend a minimum of $500 on the card during your first year. If you don’t spend at least $500 in a particular month, you’ll lose out on 2,500 bonus points but you’ll still be eligible to earn bonus points in the next month. If you hit the $500 spending threshold for all twelve months in a row, you’ll rack up a total of 30,000 bonus points.

The value of one Amex Membership Reward point tends to hover between 1 cent up to 1.75 cents, depending on whether you choose to redeem using Amex’s Flexible Points Travel Program (1,000 points equal $1 in travel rewards) or Amex’s Fixed Points Travel Program (rewards values fluctuate depending on which region of the world you’re flying to and from).

CIBC Select Visa* Card

  • First year annual fee waiver: Yes.
  • Promotional offer: Transfer your credit card balance and get 0% interest for up to 10 months with a 1% transfer fee.
  • Offer end date: Not specified.

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  • Annual fee: $29
  • Low regular interest of 13.99% on purchases, cash advances, and balance transfers
  • Annual income required: $15,000 (household)
  • Other qualification requirements: Canadian residency status and no history of bankruptcy for the past 7 years

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Not all welcome offers are about points bonuses and accelerated cash back. Case in point: the CIBC Select Visa has an unbeatable balance transfer offer of 0% for 10 months that can help you address past credit card debt.

If you’re juggling balances on multiple credit cards and paying as much as 19.99% in annual interest charges, you can consolidate your debts on the CIBC Select Visa and clear off your balance while paying nothing in interest for a whole ten months. Even after the balance transfer offer ends, you’ll only be charged a 13.99% annual interest rate on any remaining transferred balance instead of the typical 19.99% or 22.99% charged by most rewards credit cards.

Depending on the size of your credit card debt, the CIBC Select Visa’s balance transfer offer can help you save several hundreds of dollars in interest.

Below, we provide a quick snapshot of some other noteworthy credit card promotions you’ll want to consider in your hunt for some new plastic to add to your wallet.

Marriott Bonvoy American Express

  • First year annual fee waiver: No.
  • Promotional offer: New cardholders earn 60,000 bonus Bonvoy points after spending $3,000 in the first three months. Plus, get a $120 cash credit when you charge $10,000 purchases to your card in your first twelve months.
  • Value of offer: The equivalent of 3 free nights at select Category 2 hotels and $120.
  • Offer end date: Not specified.
  • Annual fee: $120
  • Earn 5 points in eligible Card purchases at participating Marriott Rewards hotels and 2 points on all other purchases
  • Automatic Marriott Bonvoy Silver Elite Status
  • Income required: $60,000

BMO CashBack Mastercard

  • Promotional offer: Earn 5% cash back for your first 3 months or on your initial $2,000 in purchases (whichever comes first).
  • Value of offer: $100 in cash back.
  • Offer end date: Not specified.
  • No annual fee
  • 3% cash back on groceries and 1% on recurring bills ($500 monthly cap on each category)
  • 0.5% cash back on everything else
  • Income required: $15,000

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The entry-level BMO CashBack Mastercard offers one of the top welcome offers for a credit card with no annual fee: 5% cash back on everything for the first three months up to $100.

Aside from the welcome offer, there are plenty of other reasons why the BMO CashBack Mastercard deserves a spot in your wallet. Firstly, at 3% cash back, the BMO Cashback Mastercard easily ranks among the highest-earning credit cards for groceries in Canada. Second, the fact it has no annual fee means there are no downsides to keeping the card and using it selectively (namely, for groceries). Finally, there’s BMO’s uber-flexible redemption system that lets you access your cash back rewards at any time of the year in increments of as little as $1.

MBNA Rewards Platinum Plus

  • Promotional offer: Receive 5,000 bonus points after making $500 in eligible purchases within the first 90 days of account opening and another 5,000 bonus points when you enroll for e-statements within the first 90 days. Plus, earn 4x the points on bonus categories for the first 90 days.
  • Value of offer: +$100 in travel rewards.
  • Offer end date: Not specified.
  • No annual fee
  • Get 2 points‡ per $1 on eligible gas, groceries and restaurant purchases ($5,000 annual cap on each category).
  • Earn 1 point per $1 on everything else
  • Income required: None specified

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The MBNA Rewards Platinum Plus should be on the radar of anyone who’s looking for a travel card but wants to avoid paying an annual fee. Why? Simple. It offers some of the best returns on your everyday purchases for a no fee points card.

The fact MBNA points can be redeemed for a straight 1% for travel means you’ll earn between 2% and 1% back on all your spending on this card.

The card’s welcome offer is also great since it lets you easily rack up $100 worth of travel points just for making $500 in purchases and for signing up for e-statements within the initial 90 days of opening your account. The icing on the cake: you’ll earn double the points (4%) on your bonus categories for the first 90 days. The only drawback is the card’s travel medical insurance coverage isn’t as comprehensive as most other annual fee rewards cards (and coverage is important if you happen to travel a lot).

6 Important considerations when looking at credit card promotions

1. While it may be tempting to apply for a credit card on the merit of its promotional offer alone, it’s important to evaluate whether it would make a good long-term fit for your personal spending habits. Unless you’re accustomed to churning cards on the regular, odds are you will keep a credit card after its promotional offer ends and when its regular earn rate or annual fees kick in.

So, if one of the best credit cards for gas has a particularly strong promotional offer but you don’t own a car, you may want to consider an alternative credit card – even if its welcome offer is lacking in comparison.

2. A credit card promotion may be an efficient way to amass bonus rewards, but it’ll rarely scratch your instant gratification itch. Whether it’s a points offer or accelerated cash back, in most cases, card issuers won’t provide your bonus immediately and you’ll have to wait several weeks before your rewards are redeemable.

3. It’s important to note credit card promotional offers often have terms and conditions that can impact your eligibility. In the case of a points bonus for instance, you will often be required to meet a minimum spending threshold in order to unlock the offer (i.e. spending a minimum of $1,000 during your first three months of card membership). In other instances, you’ll need to maintain an account in good standing to avoid losing out on the bonus. You also typically won’t be eligible for a card’s welcome bonus if you already have an account open with the card issuer. For instance, Scotiabank card welcome offers explicitly exclude anyone who is currently a primary or secondary cardholder of a Scotia credit card or had a Scotia account opened within the previous two years.

4. Any credit card you apply for – whether it has a promotional offer or not – can affect your credit score. While a credit card application may only temporarily impact your credit score by a few points, you may want to keep this in mind in case you have a big financial decision to make in the near future that will require a credit check (such as a rental or mortgage application).

5. Credit card promotions can offer hundreds of dollars worth in bonus rewards, but that’ll be in vain if you don’t pay off your balance in full. If you’re driven to overspend just to qualify for the welcome offer in time, you can end up racking up a large balance and owing more in interest. The best credit card promotions have qualification terms that can be met by your regular spending habits.

6. Credit card promotions usually exclude “manufactured spending.” If you make a big-ticket purchase just to hit a card promotion’s spending requirement and return that item soon after, that won’t count. For instance, the BMO World Elite offers 25,000 bonus points if you spend at least $3,000 within your first three months but its terms and conditions specifically state “refunds, credit or debit adjustments” are excluded.