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Natasha Macmillan

The best rewards credit cards in Canada for 2023

Rewards credit cards are the most popular type of credit card in Canada, and for good reason: they offer tons in the way of points, cash back, perks, and insurance. Whether you're looking for a rewards card to make the most of your travel or one to help you maximize earnings on everyday purchases, we've got the right match for you. Read on for our top rewards credit cards in Canada.

 

Best rewards credit card

Ratehub.ca's take

For the third year in a row, we have selected the American Express Cobalt as the Best Overall Rewards Credit Card in Canada. The American Express Cobalt is the perfect choice for a rewards card that delivers for both everyday spending and travel. The card offers a flexible point redemption system, strong travel insurance policy, and a generous welcome bonus. With its top-notch rewards system, cardholders earn 5 times the points on eligible restaurants and food delivery purchases, 3 times the points on eligible streaming services, and 2 times the points on travel and daily transit. This card includes:

  • Generous welcome bonus - earn 2,500 points for each month you spend $500, up to a maximum of 30,000 points.
  • Flexible point redemption options for travel, gift cards, merchandise, or purchases
  • High earning potential for restaurants and takeout compared to other cards
  • Front of the Line Presale and Reserved ticket access to events and special offers
  • Strong travel insurance with up to $5,000,000 in travel emergency medical coverage
  • No fee for additional authorized users (an average fee of $30 - 50 on other comparable cards)

Cons

  • Monthly fee of $12.99 (coming to an annual fee of $156, which is higher than most other rewards cards) 
  • American Express isn’t as widely accepted in Canada compared to Visa and Mastercard
  • Travel insurance package does not cover trip cancellation or medical coverage for cardholders over the age of 65
  • Airport lounge access isn’t provided, which may be disappointing to frequent travels

 

Best travel rewards credit card

Ratehub.ca's take

The Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite card is the ultimate travel credit card, with valuable benefits that set it apart from others. With no foreign transaction fees, its one of the few Canadian credit cards that save you 2.5% on all your foreign purchases. Plus, it comes packed with perks, including: 

  • Generous Scene+ points for every dollar spent on groceries, dining, entertainment, and more
  • Access to airport lounges worldwide (with 6 free visits per year) via Priority Pass
  • Luxury hotel stays and dining experience through the Visa Infinite Luxury Hotel Collection and Dining Series
  • Avis Preferred Plus membership 
  • Comprehensive travel insurance for peace of mind on trips
  • Flexible point redemption
  • Welcome bonus - earn up to 40,000 bonus Scene+ points ($400 value). Offer ends 30 April 2023.

Cons

  • Annual fee of $150 is higher than the average for cards of this calibre
  • Lower return than other cards with comparable annual fees

Best no-fee rewards credit card

Ratehub.ca's take

The Tangerine Money-Back Credit Card is the perfect choice for those who value true flexibility and customization in their rewards program. With no annual fee, you get to choose the bonus categories that align with your spending habits and earn 2% cash back per dollar spent. This is a rare feature in the credit card market, allowing you to avoid being stuck with bonus spending categories that don’t work for you and your spending habits.  Some of the standout features of this amazing credit card include: 

  • Customizable bonus categories: choose up to three from a list of 10 options to earn 2% cash back on; you can change your categories at any time to make the most of your rewards 
  • Cash back is refunded monthly (instead of the standard annual reimbursement), allowing you to enjoy the benefits of your cash back faster 
  • Enjoy the convenience of using your card almost anywhere, including popular retailers like No Frills and Costco
  • Extended warranty and purchase protection
  • Free supplementary cards for authorized users

Cons

  • For all purchases that aren’t categorized under one of your chosen bonus categories, you’ll earn just 0.5% cash back
  • No travel medical insurance or any substantial side perks
  • Not as many perks as other rewards cards

Best no foreign transaction fees rewards credit card

Ratehub.ca's take

The Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite card is the ultimate travel credit card, with valuable benefits that set it apart from others. With no foreign transaction fees, its one of the few Canadian credit cards that save you 2.5% on all your foreign purchases. Plus, it comes packed with perks, including: 

  • Generous Scene+ points for every dollar spent on groceries, dining, entertainment, and more
  • Access to airport lounges worldwide (with 6 free visits per year) via Priority Pass
  • Luxury hotel stays and dining experience through the Visa Infinite Luxury Hotel Collection and Dining Series
  • Avis Preferred Plus membership 
  • Comprehensive travel insurance for peace of mind on trips
  • Flexible point redemption
  • Welcome bonus - earn up to 40,000 bonus Scene+ points ($400 value). Offer ends 30 April 2023.

Cons

  • Annual fee of $150 is higher than the average for cards of this calibre
  • Lower return than other cards with comparable annual fees

Best premium rewards credit card and best rewards credit card for travel perks

Ratehub.ca's take

When it comes to extra perks, the American Express Platinum Card is in a class all its own and is very easily classified as the best premium credit card in Canada. While its annual fee isn't cheap, the American Express Platinum Card offers all the bells and whistles and benefits that make it worthwhile making it a traveler’s dream credit card.  The perks offered with this card include: 

  • Very lucrative welcome bonus - earn up to 80,000 rewards points ($800 value).
  • High earn rate on dining and travel purchases 
  • No minimum income requirement - a rarity for a card of this caliber
  • Complimentary airport lounge access with unlimited passes to Priority Pass and Centurion lounges 
  • Dedicated 24/7 concierge service
  • Annual $200 travel credit
  • Best in class travel insurance coverage and VIP benefits at Toronto Pearson Airport including access to Pearson Priority Security Lane, free valet parking (usually a $25 fee), and 15% discount on parking as a statement credit
  • Upgraded gold hotel status with Marriott Bonvoy, Radisson Rewards and Hilton Honors and car rental privileges with Hertz and Avis 
  • Transfer point 1:1 to several frequent flyer programs

Cons 

  • A very high annual fee of $699, which can be seen as $499 after the annual $200 travel credit
  • American Express isn’t as widely accepted in Canada compared to Visa and Mastercard

Best rewards card for gas and groceries

Ratehub.ca's take

Unlock a world of rewards with the CIBC Dividend® Visa Infinite. This card offers the best rewards for everyday essentials, with a 1% earn rate for all purchases and an industry-leading 4% cash back on both groceries and gas purchases – two of the most common spending categories for Canadian households. Thanks to CIBC’s new Cash Back on demand feature, you can choose to redeem rewards any time, starting at just $25. Here are some additional features you can expect with this card: 

  • Supercharged savings with higher earn rates on groceries and gas (4% cash back)
  • Flexibility to redeem your cash back whenever you need it, in increments of $25
  • Access to CIBC’s Pace It program, allowing you to pay off large purchases in monthly increments
  • Excellent digital-only welcome bonus -  earn 15% cash back welcome bonus of up to $300 (first 4 statements).
  • Experience exclusive dining events and hotel perks through the Visa Infinite Program

Cons

  • Annual fee ($120) and personal income requirements ($60000) may be prohibitive 
  • 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)

Best retail rewards credit card

Ratehub.ca's take

If you’re a loyal shopper with a particular retailer, it’s usually wise to take advantage of their store rewards card if offered (especially if it comes with no annual fee). Using a retail rewards card is a great way to save big on regular, everyday purchases, and the best example of this is the PC Financial World Elite Mastercard. You could easily rack up big savings with no annual fee taking away from your rewards at Loblaws banner grocery stores (Loblaws, No Frills, Valu-Mart, and more), Shoppers Drug Mart and Esso Mobil stations. Some additional features with this card include

  • High earn rate potential at all Loblaws-owned grocery stores and PC Travel, Shoppers Drug Mart locations and Esson Mobil stations
  • Access to Mastercard World Elite benefits (Boingo WiFi, Dragonpass airport lounge access, plus more)
  • Point redemption is easy and straightforward - as soon as you have 10,000 points, you can redeem them for $10 off at any Loblaws-owned retailers
  • No annual fee
  • Extra travel insurance perks
  • Easy-to-understand point redemption

Cons

  • Can only redeem points in increments of 10,000
  • High $80,000 personal income requirement which could be prohibitive to many
  • Points cannot be transferred to other loyalty programs 
  • Very strict redemption rules - points cannot be used to pay for purchases at non-Loblaws retailers or redeemed against a statement balance. Plenty of other rewards cards on the market offering more flexibility

Best rewards credit card for Aeroplan

Ratehub.ca's take

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 card’s limited-time welcome offer is impressive: Not available to display at the moment.. Users can earn 1.5 points for every dollar spent on eligible gas, grocery and direct through Air Canada purchases (including Air Canada Vacations) and 1 point per dollar on everything else. Plus, this card comes with some great perks , including:

  • Aeroplan points can be redeemed for flights on Air Canada or over 27 Star Alliance member airlines (including United Airlines and Lufthansa, to name a few)
  • Access to Air Canada perks: first bag checked free on Air Canada flights for the primary cardholder and up to eight travel companions (up to $30 in savings per traveler on flights across Canada and the US) plus the ability to earn credits towards achieving elite airline status
  • Up to $100 in Nexus Membership reimbursements available every 48 months; allowing for smoother cross-border travel within Canada or between the US
  • Comprehensive travel insurance benefits with 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
  • Can get double the Aeroplan points when using this card in conjunction with your Aeroplan card at participating retailers

Cons

  • The card’s annual fee is $139 versus the $120 typically found on comparable rewards cards
  • The Aeroplan points program isn’t the most straightforward, and navigating your way around the program’s quite elaborate rewards chart / understanding how to best maximize points can require considerable effort
  • Aeroplan points can’t be redeemed on any airline but only on Air Canada and Star Alliance Members

Best rewards credit card for Air Miles

Ratehub.ca's take

For those who collect Air Miles, the BMO Air Miles World Elite Mastercard offers a generous welcome bonus -  earn 3,000 AIR MILES Bonus Miles and we’ll waive the $120 annual fee for the first year. Must apply by July 31st, 2023.. Beyond that, this card will also earn you a solidly competitive three Air Miles for every $12 you spend at participating retailers (arguably the best bang for your buck among Air Miles cards on the market), two miles for every $12 spent at any eligible grocery store, one mile for every $12 spent anywhere else, and a 15% discount on all Air Miles flights in North America with no blackout dates. Key features of this card include:

  • Three Air Miles per $12 spent at partnered retailers and two Air Miles for every $12 spent at any eligible grocery store
  • 15% discount on all North American Air Miles flights
  • As Air Miles is one of the larger loyalty programs on the market, redemption options are wide and varied (flights, car rentals, hotels, cash, merchandise, etc.)
  • Excellent insurance package including trip cancellation/interruption, emergency medical, and more
  • Complimentary lounge pass with Mastercard Airport Experiences provided by LoungeKey, and free access to over a million Wi-Fi hotspots around the world
  • Complimentary membership in Mastercard Travel Pass provided by DragonPass and an exclusive 25% discount on one worldwide Air Miles flight redemption during the calendar year

Cons

  • Annual fee of $120
  • While the card’s income requirement of $80,000 (or $150,000 per household) may be prohibitive to some, there isn’t much question that this card is the best choice for Air Miles loyalty members.
  • Despite having the best earn rate for Air Miles of any card on the market, the card’s standard rewards value is generally lower than others

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What is a rewards credit card?

Rewards credit cards offer “rewards” in the form of cash back, points or miles for every dollar you spend. You can then redeem these rewards against your statement balance or for travel, merchandise, gift cards, and more (depending on the issuer). 

The ideal user for a rewards card is someone who pays off their statement in full every month. This is because credit card debt generates interest which will begin to eat into and negate any possible savings gained from the collection of rewards.

Types of credit card rewards

 

Cash back rewards

Cash back rewards are just what they sound like - a percentage of cash back you’ll get from each purchase made on your card that you can use to pay off your statement balance or save on upcoming purchases. Most cash back rewards cards will offer higher percentages on select spending categories such as groceries, restaurants or travel, allowing you to earn more if you have a card with accelerated categories that match your buying habits. The main benefit to cash back is how straightforward it is - unlike points, your cash back balance is stated plainly in dollars and cents.

 

Points-based rewards

Points-based rewards work similar to cash back, but require a bit more calculation in order to find their true value (see our FAQ section for more details on this). Like cash back, points-based rewards cards allow you to earn points on each dollar you spend and you’ll typically be able to earn more for certain kinds of purchases. Once you’ve collected enough points to redeem, you can usually do so through the provider’s online portal or app. Depending on the issuer, your redemption options can vary from merchandise and gift cards to travel and statement balances.

 

Miles

Miles are rewards you can earn with co-branded rewards cards such as the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite or BMO Air Miles World Elite Mastercard. With every dollar you spend on cards like these, you’ll collect “miles” which you can redeem for discounts on air travel (or a free flight, depending on how many miles you have). An important note: the amount of miles you collect doesn’t represent how far you can travel for free - instead, it simply signifies how many points you’ve earned. The average value of a mile is around $0.01, but different cards may have higher or lower values depending on their point system.

How to maximize your credit card rewards

 

Pay your bills in full and on time

It’s been said before, but it’s worth repeating: all the rewards you’ve collected won’t mean much if they’re being overshadowed by a mountain of interest-bloated debt, so the best thing you can do to maximize your earning potential is to pay your statements on time and in full. This way, you can take full advantage of your savings and really get the best out of your card.

 

Take advantage of welcome offers

Most rewards cards come with very attractive welcome bonuses, allowing you to earn big if you spend a certain amount on the card within a given promotional period (usually the first three months or so). Strategically plan to make larger purchases on your card within this window in order to take advantage of these offers, as they’ll typically allow you to collect a shockingly high amount of points or cash back very quickly.

 

Spend in accelerated categories

A common factor among many rewards cards is their habit of offering “accelerated” spending categories which allow you to earn higher-than-average points or cash back. These can be anything from groceries, gas, travel, recurring bills or more depending on the card. Before you choose a rewards card, think about what you tend to spend the most amount of money on every month, then choose a card with accelerated categories that match your buying habits to maximize rewards.

 

Stack your cards

For those who can handle multiple cards, a common hack for pro users is to carry multiple rewards cards for different purposes. For example, you may keep a travel rewards card specifically for travel purchases while an everyday cash back card with high earning rates on gas and groceries serves as your primary go-to for weekly expenses. This way, you’ll be able to get the highest rewards possible in every category you spend in.

 

"Double-dip" with loyalty cards

If you carry a co-branded rewards credit card in your wallet (such as the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite), you can effectively “double-dip” your cards by using it alongside your loyalty card at participating retailers, getting double the miles you normally would as you get closer and closer to a free flight.

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