Lockdowns may have put a wrench in weekend brunch plans and dining out, but odds are, you’re still spending a sizeable chunk of your budget on restaurants.
Multiple studies show the pandemic has led to a huge uptick in the use of food-delivery apps. Meanwhile, once restrictions are lifted and vaccines are widely rolled out, Canadians are expected to embrace old dining habits (54% of whom eat out at least once per week according to StatisticsCanada).
Whatever your reason for eating out – whether it’s for convenience or to treat yourself – here are Canada’s top credit cards that’ll earn you the most rewards at restaurants.
Best rewards points credit cards for dining
American Express Cobalt Card
The American Express (Amex) Cobalt easily propels to the top of our list of the best credit cards for dining. With this card, you’ll earn 5 Amex Membership Rewards points for every dollar spent on a range of food-related purchases (including restaurants, bars, cafes, and food delivery services).
When using Amex’s Fixed Points Travel rewards chart to redeem for flights, you can get upwards of 1.75 cents per point or the equivalent of up to an 8.75% return at restaurants.
Prefer to keep things simple and don’t want to rely on rewards charts?
You can opt to redeem points for travel rewards in flat increments of 1 cent per point (or a 5% return at restaurants). Amex Membership Rewards points never expire and can even be redeemed for prepaid cards or cash credits at a rate of 0.8 cents or 0.7 cents per point respectively to help you save on everyday purchases. It’s this flexibility that makes the Amex Cobalt such a great option.
Some more good news: you’ll earn the same 5 points per dollar on grocery purchases, which is why the Amex Cobalt earned a top spot on our list of the best credit cards for groceries as well as restaurants.
New cardholders can also benefit from an enticing welcome offer that can add up to 30,000 bonus points (potentially over $300 value): you’ll earn 2,500 bonus points each month you spend at least $500 on the card within your first year (up to 30,000 points).
While the Amex Cobalt does have a $120 annual fee, it’s charged at a more manageable $10 per month. Supplementary cards are included too, so you and a loved one can rack up even more points together without having to think about additional authorized user fees.
One important consideration is since this card is issued by American Express, it may not be accepted at some dining establishments. That being said, American Express is accepted at over 96,000 locations across Canada including almost all restaurant, bar, and cafe chains as well as popular independently-run dining establishments in major cities across the country. Not to mention, the majority of food delivery apps (including UberEats, Skip the Dishes, and Ritual) accept American Express.
Scotiabank Gold American Express
When redeemed for travel from any airline or hotel of your choice, 1 Scotia point is worth a consistent 1 cent (kind of like cash back but for travel rewards). That means you’ll be racking up the equivalent of a 5% return on all your dining purchases.
The kicker: Scotia Rewards categorizes UberEats as a “travel service”, which means you can apply your points towards UberEats purchases and reap the same 1 cent per point return typically reserved for travel rewards like flights or hotel stays. The other option is to redeem Scotia points for gift cards, cash credits, or merchandise, in which case values can hover between 0.8 cents and 0.5 cents per point depending on what exactly you redeem for.
Since the Scotiabank Gold American Express is one of the few cards to waive its foreign transaction fees, you can also avoid the 2.5% to 3% in additional charges you would normally owe when making purchases in non-Canadian currencies; like if you were to dine out while south of the border. The caveat: you’ll earn the same 1 point per dollar on everything you buy in a non-Canadian currency.
The card currently offers a lucrative welcome bonus of up to 40,000 points ($400 travel value): 30,000 bonus points provided $1,000 is charged to the card within your first three months along with an extra 10,000 points so long as you spend at least $7,500 over the course of your first year.
Like the Cobalt mentioned above, the Scotiabank Gold is an American Express card. So, while it’s accepted at most major restaurant chains and food delivery apps, that may not be the case for every restaurant or bar you visit. As with any Amex card, using a two-card strategy and carrying a second no annual fee Visa or Mastercard can ensure you always have a backup payment option.
BMO eclipse Visa Infinite
The BMO eclipse Visa Infinite is arguably the highest-earning Visa credit card to use at restaurants, making it the ideal choice if your favourite food joints don’t happen to accept American Express or if you prefer to stick with using just one card for everything.
You’ll earn 5 BMO points per dollar at restaurants (as well as groceries), which works out to the equivalent of a 3.57% return in travel rewards.
BMO points are redeemable in flat increments of 140 points for $1 in travel rewards, so points are valued at 0.71 cents each. BMO points don’t have an expiry date, can be used to book flight tickets on virtually any airline, and values are always consistent regardless of when or where you’re flying so you won’t have to do any mental gymnastics or reference elaborate rewards charts.
The BMO points you earn can also be redeemed for cash credits at a slightly lower rate of 0.5 cents per point (2.5% at restaurants) or deposited in a BMO investment account to help boost your portfolio at a rate of 0.67 cents per point (3.33% at restaurants).
While the card does carry a $120 annual fee like most premium rewards cards, the BMO eclipse Visa Infinite offers a unique $50 lifestyle credit every January that can be applied towards virtually any card purchase. This effectively cuts the annual fee down to $70, giving it a major competitive edge while helping to boost your rewards ROI. As an added bonus, you can also increase your points earn rate by 5% on all your purchases if you add an authorized user to the account (like your partner or spouse).
One important caveat: BMO announced points values on travel redemptions will face a change on May 5, 2021, and travel rewards will be redeemable at a lesser value in increments of 150 points for $1 (or 3.33% at restaurants) moving forward.
Best cash back credit cards for restaurants
Tangerine Money-Back Credit Card
One of Canada’s most flexible rewards credit cards, the Tangerine Money-Back Card lets you earn 2% cash back in up to three different spending categories of your choice (one of which includes restaurants).
While 2% is not objectively the highest rewards rate on dining, the major benefits of this card are that it has no annual fee or rewards caps (so you’ll always collect 2%, regardless of how much you spend at restaurants, cafes, and bars throughout the year). That’s a standout feature for a no fee credit card, as most include spending caps in their terms and conditions that can put a ceiling on your rewards-earning potential.
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Simplii Financial Cash Back Visa
Launched in 2018, the no annual fee Simplii Financial Cash Back Visa is one of the best cash back credit cards for dining in Canada. Issued by Simplii Financial, an online-only bank, the card earns 10% cash back at restaurants for your first 4 months (up to a maximum of $50) and 4% cash back thereafter.
There is a notable drawback to this card though: while it offers a high cash back rate on dining upfront, it comes with a steep cap on your rewards earn rate. The 4% cash back rate on restaurant purchases is only applicable up to $200 in annual rewards (or $5,000 in annual restaurant purchases). After that, you’ll net just 0.5% cash back. You’re also required to open a bank account with Simplii just to be considered eligible for the card.
Drawbacks aside, the fact the Simplii Financial Cash Back Visa has no annual fee means it can make for a great companion card that can help you pocket some additional savings on your restaurant-related purchases.
Capital One Mastercard
This co-branded credit card from Capital One and Costco offers 3% cash back at restaurants. Combined with the fact it charges no annual fee makes it a contender on our list of the best credit cards for dining. There is a major drawback to this card however: its less than ideal redemption process.
Every year, you’ll receive a coupon equivalent to your annual cash back earnings that can only be redeemed at Costco Warehouse locations and nowhere else. Moreover, as a store credit card, you’ll likely have access to a lower credit limit compared to what most other cards offer, which can prove limiting if you’re a power spender.
Another important caveat: Capital One is officially ending its partnership with Costco sometime around October 2021, and this card is expected to be discounted soon.
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