Natasha Macmillan, Business Unit Director - Everyday Banking
Visa and Mastercard dominate the landscape of credit card options in Canada, offering a plethora of choices for consumers. These two credit card giants share many similarities and at times are almost indistinguishable from each other. Both Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted by most retailers, providing a range of rewards credit cards, cash back credit cards, and low interest credit cards under their badges.
That said, the choice between Visa and Mastercard remains a common question when selecting a new credit card. The truth is that there are some subtle differences that, depending on your unique spending patterns, may influence whether you should choose a Visa or Mastercard credit card.
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Mastercard vs. Visa: the remarkable resemblance
First of all, it's crucial to recognize that neither Mastercard nor Visa act as direct credit card issuers. It is not possible to obtain a credit card directly from these companies. Credit card terms, such as interest rates or reward structures, are not set by Mastercard or Visa. They also don't handle credit card applications or approval processes.
Credit cards are issued by banks or credit unions, commonly known as “issuers”. These organizations manage the credit cards, rewards, points, and associated debt incurred when using the card. When you make your monthly payment, borrow money, or owe interest, you’re doing so through your bank or credit union – not Visa or Mastercard.
Instead, Visa and Mastercard are processing networks and perform more of the behind-the-scenes operations. Both earn revenue by partnering with card issuers, acting as intermediaries between financial institutions and merchants. They manage the intricate process of digital transactions, ensuring your credit card can be used across an extensive network of establishments. For instance, every time you swipe your credit card, Mastercard or Visa collect a fee.
Mastercard vs. Visa: the subtle distinctions
While Mastercard and Visa are incredibly similar in their offerings (the more significant differences lie with the credit cards offered by the issuers), there are some differences that you should keep in mind.
Visa and Mastercard are both widely accepted worldwide, with 44 million merchants taking Visa and 37 million accepting Mastercard. Notably, certain merchants, such as Costco, No Frills, and formerly Walmart (although this has changed), don't accept Visa. If you frequently shop at specific retailers, its a good idea to double-check that they accept your credit card of choice. Alternatively, you can maintain a second backup credit card to cover all of your bases.
Extra perks and benefits
Another noteworthy distinction relates to credit card perks and benefits. While issuers largely determine rewards and cash back benefits, Visa and Mastercard offer unique perks. For instance, a Mastercard credit card with airport lounge access will provide you with a membership to Mastercard Airport Experiences. On the other hand, Visa offers airport lounge access through Priority Pass.
Additional differentiation include complimentary Boingo Wi-Fi membership, and a unique partnership with Cirque du Soleil for Mastercard holders. Mastercard also offers cardholders access to Priceless Cities, an entertainment perk that offers deals and tickets to live events and culinary experiences. Visa meanwhile offers Visa Infinite perks on premium cards, providing a rotating roster of travel and lifestyle deals like complimentary wine tastings and a free fourth night at select hotels. While these perks differ marginally, they shouldn't be the sole determining factor when choosing between Visa and Mastercard.
Infinite vs. World Elite
Finally, there is a notable distinction in the premium tier cards offered by Visa and Mastercards. Premium tier cards are identified by specific titles: “Infinite” for Visa (for example, the CIBC Dividend Visa Infinite) and “World Elite” for Mastercard (like the BMO CashBack World Elite Mastercard).
Here’s a summary of the benefits for each premium tier:
- 24/7 concierge
- Up to 12 types of insurance coverage
- Visa Infinite Dining Series
- Visa Infinite Wine Country Program
- Visa Infinite Luxury Hotel Collection
- 24/7 concierge
- Up to 15 types of insurance coverage
- Mastercard Priceless Cities
- Cirque du Soleil
- Complimentary Boingo wi-fi membership
While the issuing bank or credit union determines eligibility, minimum income requirements vary for premium offerings from Mastercard and Visa. For example, Visa Infinite Cards require a minimum annual income of at least $60,000 (or $100,000 for households), while World Elite Mastercards demand an income of $80,000 (or $150,000 forhouseholds).
Depending on your annual income, Visa Infinite cards may be more within your reach.
Some of the best Visa and Mastercards in Canada
Best for Groceries & gas
based on spending $2,200/mo after $120 annual fee
- Earn rewards
1pt – 4pts / dollar earn rate
- Welcome bonus
200 bonus points (a $200 value)
Ratehub.ca’s 2023 Award Winner – Best Cash Back Credit Card
Welcome Offer: Get a first-year annual fee rebate and earn 10% cash back welcome bonus of up to $200 (first 4 statements)!†
- After that, get 4% cash back on eligible gas, EV charging and grocery purchases.†
- 2% cash back on eligible transportation, dining purchases and recurring payments†
- 1% cash back on all other purchases†
- Get cash back on demand – redeem your cash back at any time when you have a minimum of $25 through CIBC Online and Mobile Banking®†
- Save on gas with CIBC and Journie Rewards
- Link and use your CIBC Dividend® Visa Infinite* Card with Journie Rewards to automatically save up to 10 cents per litre† at participating Pioneer, Fas Gas, Ultramar and Chevron gas stations.†
- This is a digital-exclusive offer.To be eligible for this offer: 1) this offer must have been directly communicated to you from CIBC or from a partner/affiliate; and 2) you must apply for the eligible card through the link provided in the CIBC or partner/affiliate communication to you.† This offer is reserved for you. Please do not forward it to anyone else.
- CIBC may approve your application, but you are not eligible to receive this Offer if you have opened, transferred or cancelled another eligible card within the last 12 months.†
- This offer is not available for the residents of Quebec.
- †Terms and Conditions Apply
The biggest selling point of the CIBC Dividend® Visa Infinite is its impressive rewards on everyday essentials. On top of the 1% earn rate for all purchases, this card earns an industry-leading 4% cash back on both groceries and gas purchases – two of the most common spending categories for Canadian households.
- High earn rates on specific categories: Significantly higher earn rates on groceries, EV charging, and gas than most other cards (4% cash back)
- Flexible cash back redemption: Users can redeem rewards at any time as a statement credit starting in increments of $25
- Convenient payment option for large purchases: Access to CIBC’s Pace It program, allowing you to pay off large purchases in monthly increments
- Exclusive program access: Access to the Visa Infinite Program, entitling you to attend special dining events and hotel perks at participating hotels and restaurants
- Income requirement: The annual fee ($120) and personal income requirements ($60,000) may be prohibitive
- Limited insurance coverage: Insurance coverage isn’t as comprehensive as other similar rewards cards (if insurance is a priority for you, consider the cards featured on our list of Best credit cards for travel insurance)
The CIBC Dividend Visa Infinite offers an impressive 4% cash back on both groceries and gas - two of the most popular spending categories among Canadian households. This card also gets you 2% cash back on dining/food delivery, daily transit, and recurring payments, making it one of the most solid cash back cards on the market today.
Points can be flexibly redeemed in increments of $25 or more, and you’ll also receive some key insurance benefits, including out-of-province/country travel emergency medical insurance and mobile device insurance.
Best for Aeroplan Points
based on spending $2,200/mo after $139 annual fee
- Earn rewards
1pt – 1.5pts / dollar earn rate
- Welcome bonus
30,000 bonus points (a $600 value)
- Anniversary bonus
10,000 pts (a $200 value)
- Earn up to $1,200 in value†, including up to 40,000 Aeroplan points†, no Annual Fee for the first year† and additional travel benefits. Account must be approved by March 4, 2024.
- Earn a welcome bonus of 10,000 Aeroplan points when you make your first purchase with your new card†
- Earn 20,000 Aeroplan points when you spend $5,000 within 180 days of Account opening†
- Plus, earn an anniversary bonus of 10,000 Aeroplan points when you spend $7,500 within 12 months of Account opening†
- Enroll for NEXUS and once every 48 months get an application fee rebate†
- Plus, share free first checked bags with up to 8 travel companions†
- Get an annual fee rebate for the first year†
- To receive the first-year annual fee rebate, you must activate your Card and make your first Purchase on the Account within the first 3 months after Account opening. To receive the Additional Cardholder first-year annual fee rebate, you must add your Additional Cardholders to your Account by March 5, 2024.
- Earn Aeroplan Points on your everyday purchases
- Travel with confidence with Travel Medical Insurance†
- Complimentary Visa Infinite* Concierge service† available 24/7
- Earn 1.5 points† for every $1 spent on eligible gas, grocery and direct through Air Canada® purchases (including Air Canada Vacations®) made with your card
- Earn 1 point† for every $1 spent on all other Purchases made with your Card
- Earn points twice when you pay with your Card and provide your Aeroplan number at over 150 Aeroplan partner brands and at 170+ online retailers via the Aeroplan eStore (www.aeroplan.com/estore).
- Your Aeroplan Points do not expire as long as you are a TD® Aeroplan® Visa Infinite* Cardholder in good standing.
- Earn big rewards on the little things: Earn 50% more Aeroplan Points and 50% more Stars at participating Starbucks® stores. Simply link your TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Card to your Starbucks® Rewards account. Conditions apply.
- †Terms and conditions apply.
- Financial institutions pay us for connecting them with customers, including by paying for advertisements, clicks, or when someone applies for/is approved for a product. Terms and conditions apply between you and the provider of the product – please be sure to review them. Product information and details vary for Quebec. The content provided on our site is for information only; it is not meant to be relied on or used in lieu of advice from a professional. Partners/Advertisers are not responsible for the accuracy of information on our site. However, not all products we list are tied to compensation for us. Our industry-leading education centres and calculators are available 24/7, free of charge, and with no obligation to purchase. To learn more, visit our About us page.
For Aeroplan clients and frequent Air Canada fliers, the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite card offers exceptional benefits for earning more points to redeem on airline travel.
- Aeroplan redemption: Redeem Aeroplan points for flights on Air Canada or over 27 Star Alliance member airlines, including United Airlines and Lufthansa, to name a few
- Air Canada perks: Access Air Canada perks, including the first bag checked free for the primary cardholder and up to eight travel companions, potentially saving up to $30 per traveller on flights across Canada and the US. Plus, earn credits towards achieving elite airline status
- Nexus Membership reimbursement: Receive up to $100 in Nexus Membership reimbursements every 48 months, making for smoother cross-border travel within Canada or to the US
- Comprehensive travel insurance: Enjoy a strong travel insurance package, including up to 21 days of out-of-province/country medical emergency coverage, flight delay insurance, lost/delayed baggage insurance, and even hotel/motel burglary insurance for stays within the US and Canada
- Double Aeroplan points: Get double the Aeroplan points when using this card along with your Aeroplan card at participating retailers
- Annual fee: The card’s annual fee is $139, which is slightly higher than the $120 typically found on comparable rewards cards
- Complex points program: The Aeroplan points program isn’t the most straightforward, and it can take some effort to understand how to best maximize points. Note that Aeroplan points can only be redeemed on Air Canada and Star Alliance Members
Aeroplan clients and frequent Air Canada fliers searching for a card to help them earn more on travel should look no further than the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite. The biggest benefit of this card is that if you use your Aeroplan card in conjunction with this card at participating retailers, you’ll get double the points.
Best for Everyday spending
based on spending $2,200/mo after $120 annual fee
- Earn rewards
1pt – 10pts / dollar earn rate
- Welcome offer: Get up to 10% cash back in your first 3 months and the $120 annual fee waived in the first year*
- Earn more cash back on the categories that mean the most:
– 5% on groceries*
– 4% on transit including ride sharing, taxis and public transportation*
– 3% on gas and electric vehicle charging*
– 2% on recurring bill payments like your monthly phone bill or favourite streaming service*
– 1% unlimited cashback on all other purchases*
- Get the highest cash back earn rate on groceries in Canada.*
- Get valuable benefits and offers for digital everyday services from a variety of on-demand apps and subscription services
- Extended Warranty Plus*
- Purchase ProtectionPlus*
- Complimentary membership in Mastercard Airport Experiences provided by LoungeKey*
- Access over 1 million Wi-Fi hotspots around the world – all at no added cost, and no added fees or roaming charges*
- Complimentary Roadside Assistance Program*
- BMO CashBack World Elite Travel and Medical Protection*
- BMO Concierge Service*
- Unlock Mastercard Travel Rewards cashback offers when you travel and shop outside of Canada
- BMO is not responsible for maintaining the content on this site. Please click on the Apply now link for the most up to date information
- Cash Advance Interest 23.99% (21.99% for Quebec residents)
- The offer may vary in Quebec
If you’re looking for the best cash back Mastercard on the market right now, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better deal than the BMO Cash Back World Elite. Cardholders will get an industry-leading 5% back on groceries, then 3% back on gas (including electric vehicle charging), 4% on transit and 2% on recurring bills. That’s a whole lot of value on one card. Plus, the annual fee of $120 is quite reasonable for a card with this much earning potential.
It’s also surprisingly flexible: there’s no limit to how much cash back you can earn, you’ll be able to redeem for as little as a dollar at a time, and you can spend your rewards on your statement, deposit it in a BMO bank account, or use it towards stock trading at BMO InvestorLine.
Best for Flexible spending
based on spending $2,200/mo after $0 annual fee
- Earn rewards
2pts – 10pts / dollar earn rate
- Welcome bonus
100 bonus points (a $100 value)
- Ratehub.ca’s 2023 Award Winner – Best No Fee Cash Back Credit Card
- Life’s back in session. Enjoy it with an extra 10% back.*
- Apply for a Tangerine Money-Back Credit Card by April 30, 2024 and earn an extra 10% back (up to $100) when you spend up to $1,000 in everyday purchases within your first 2 months.*
- Earn 2% Money-Back Rewards on purchases in two 2% Money-Back Categories of your choice, and 0.50% Money-Back Rewards on all other purchases.
- Earn extra rewards – have your Money-Back Rewards deposited into a Tangerine Savings Account, and get a 3rd 2% Money-Back Category.
- No limit on the amount of Money-Back Rewards you can earn.
- Change your 2% Money-Back Categories to suit your spending.
While the fact that the Tangerine Money-Back Credit Card is a no annual fee card, what really sets this card apart is the customizability. With this card, you can choose your own bonus categories (which will earn you a strong cash back rate of 2% per dollar spent). This is rare in the credit card market and means you can avoid being locked into a bonus category that you can’t take full advantage of or that doesn’t align with your spending habits.
- Customizable bonus categories: Flexibility to pick up to three bonus categories to earn 2% cash back on (out of a total of 10 options), which is in sharp contrast to most other cards where you have fixed bonus categories that you have no control over. Users are also given the freedom to change the bonus categories at any time (changes will take up to 90 days to come into effect)
- High cash back earning rate: 2% cash back per dollar on bonus categories is one of the richest earn rates for a no-fee card
- Wide acceptance: Widely accepted almost everywhere including No Frills and Costco
- Additional cards at no cost: Free supplementary cards for authorized users
- Frequent cash back reimbursement: Cash back is refunded on a monthly basis, instead of the standard annual reimbursement
- Limited cash back for non-bonus categories: For all purchases that aren’t categorized under one of your chosen bonus categories, you’ll earn just 0.5% cash back
- Limited travel insurance and perks: No travel medical insurance or any substantial side perks
If you’re looking for a great all-around cash back card with no annual fee, the Tangerine Money-Back Mastercard might just be the perfect fit. With this card, you’ll earn an unlimited 2% cash back in two spending categories of your choice (there are a total of 10 categories to pick from, including everything from groceries, restaurants, gas, and more), and 0.5% on all other purchases. Plus, if you opt to have your cash back rewards deposited into a Tangerine Savings Account, you’ll get a third category earning 2% cash back (making opening a savings account with the online bank a no brainer).
In sharp contrast to the Tangerine Money-Back Card, most other no fee rewards cards from Mastercard (or Visa) either offer only two bonus categories, earn up to a maximum 1%, or have rewards caps that can put a ceiling on how much cash back or points you can collect.
The flexibility to pick your own bonus categories - to match your particular spending habits - is a standout feature and isn’t offered by any other credit card in Canada. Better yet, Tangerine lets you change your chosen bonus categories at any time (though, it can take one statement period for the changes to come into effect).
The bottom line
Bottom line: your choice for a new credit card should not be made solely on whether it’s a Visa or Mastercard.
There’s a wide variety of other criteria to take into consideration, like interest rate, monthly fees, rewards, and perks. These criteria will have a much more significant impact on the utility of your credit card choice than whether it is a Visa or Mastercard. That said if you are comparing two credit cards that are virtually identical in stats, the Visa or Mastercard label could indeed serve as the deciding factor in your final decision.