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What's the best rewards credit card in Canada?

Take the guesswork out of finding your next credit card. In under 2 minutes, we’ll narrow down which cards offer you the best rewards and perks.

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The best rewards credit card in canada

Compare Canada's best credit cards 2020

The best rewards cards with

all reward types

from

any annual fee
CardBest used forAnnual feeRewards
BMO® CashBack® MasterCard®*

Groceries

$0

  • 3% groceries
  • 1% bills
  • 0.5% other
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SimplyCash™ Preferred Card from American Express®

Everyday spending

$99

  • 10% other
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CIBC Dividend® Visa Infinite* Card

Groceries & gas

$99

  • 4% gas, groceries
  • 1% other
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American Express® Cobalt™ Card

Groceries & dining

$120

  • 5 pts/$1 for groceries, restaurants
  • 2 pts/$1 for gas, travel
  • 1 pts/$1 for other
get more details

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Rewards credit card FAQ

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How to choose the best credit card for you

Step 1: Check your eligibility

When you apply for a credit card, the card issuer (think companies like banks or credit unions who supply credit cards) will determine whether or not you’ll be approved based on two key factors: your income and credit score.

A card's income requirement (if it has one) is easy to find and usually clearly labelled on its application page or highlighted sometime early during the application process. If a card has no mention of any income requirements, it's safe to assume you won't need to earn a specific amount to get approved.

When it comes to credit scores, however, it gets a lot more ambiguous. That's because card issuers don't reference a specific credit score number as a requirement. It shouldn't come as a surprise though that the higher your credit score, the better your odds are of being approved.

As a rule of thumb, you'll generally need a great (720-799) or good (650-719) credit score to be approved for most credit cards. Meanwhile, if you have a fair credit score (600-649), your card choices may be more limited, and if your score is below 600 or you have a recent history of bankruptcy, you won't be approved for the majority of credit cards and may want to consider a secured credit card instead to help rebuild your creditworthiness.

Since credit scores play such an important part of the application process, it can be a smart move to be proactive and check your credit score before applying. Contrary to popular belief, checking your own score has no impact on your credit rating and you can easily find your three-digit score online safely, securely, and for free on websites like Ratehub.ca.

Proceed to step 2 if you have a credit score of at least 650; otherwise consider checking our list of the best credit cards in Canada for bad credit.


Step 2: Ask yourself - will you pay off your card in full or carry a balance?

There are generally two types of credit cards:

  • Cards that’ll earn you rewards
  • Cards that’ll save you on interest

Rewards credit cards

Rewards credit cards are, for obvious reasons, the most sought after. These credit cards will reward you every time you swipe, tap, or key-in your pin to make a purchase by offering either cash back, points, or miles that you can use to pay off your card statement or redeem for free or discounted flights, hotel stays, or merchandise. Depending on the rewards card, you can even access welcome bonuses that give you a bulk of rewards just for signing up, as well as side perks like travel insurance.

While rewards credit cards offer great value, you’ll only come out in the positive if you regularly pay off your monthly balance in full. If you don’t completely pay off your balance, interest will enter the equation, and, since rewards cards have high annual interest rates (around 19.99%), you could end up owing more in interest than you earn in rewards.

According to the Canadian Bankers Association, 70% of Canadians pay off their balance in full every month - avoiding interest charges.

Low interest credit cards

If you typically carry a balance from month-to-month or rely on credit as a back-up option to tie you over during a cash crunch, a low interest credit card will be a better fit for you.

While the majority of low interest credit cards don't offer rewards and provide few frills, their low interest rates (typically below 15%) will help you come out ahead if you do end up carrying a balance - especially when compared to rewards credit cards.

Paying off your balance in full is the best strategy, but if that’s not always an option, you should equip yourself with a low interest card.

Balance transfer credit cards

If you already owe a large balance on an existing credit card, a balance transfer credit card can be a great (albeit more niche) solution to save on interest. Balance transfer cards offer super-low interest rates for a limited time, letting you consolidate old debts and pay them off faster.

Proceed to step 3 if you pay off your balance in full; otherwise consider checking out our list of the best low interest credit cards in Canada.


Step 3: If you’re looking to earn rewards - decide between cash back vs travel vs store credit cards

If you pay off your balance in full every month and have set your sights on getting a rewards card, the next decision you’ll need to make is what type of rewards you want to accumulate.

Cash back credit cards

Who they’re right for: Cardholders who don't travel frequently and are looking for a straightforward way to save on everyday purchases.

The Pros 

  • Rewards are cash and can be used to save on your general spending (not just on travel or on select merchandise).
  • Calculating how much your rewards are worth is easy and redemptions are straightforward.

The Cons

  • Typically offer the same selection of bonus categories - like gas and groceries. It’s harder to find cash back cards that offer bonus rewards for every dollar you spend on purchases like flights, dining, or public transit.
  • Usually feature fewer side perks than travel credit cards.

Travel credit cards

Who they’re right for: As you can guess, these cards are geared towards travel savings and those who fly or stay in hotels at least once a year.

The Pros

  • Offer greater value on travel purchases and redemptions (like flights and hotel stays). 
  • Typically provide better side-perks, like more extensive travel insurance benefits with higher potential payouts and longer coverage periods.
  • Often include more lucrative sign-up offers and bonus categories.

The Cons

  • Depending on the points program, calculating exactly how much your rewards are worth can be tricky. 
  • Redeeming rewards isn’t as straightforward compared to cash back credit cards.
  • Travel card sign-up bonuses often have qualification terms (requiring you to spend a certain amount within a three-month time frame).

Store credit cards

A more niche option, store credit cards are offered by only a handful of major retailer brands (i.e. Canadian Tire) that are big enough to issue their own co-branded credit cards.

Who they’re right for: People who are loyal to a certain retail chain and spend big at those stores. 

The Pros 

  • Store credit cards can offer big savings when used at affiliated retailers.
  • Most have no annual fees.
  • Let you earn retail loyalty rewards everywhere you shop.

The Cons

  • Redemption options may be too niche for some, as points can only be redeemed for merchandise from select affiliate stores.
  • Rewards earned on purchases made outside of affiliate stores can often be lacklustre.
  • Typically lack welcome offers for new cardholders.

Proceed to step 4 if you’ve decided to go for a cash back or travel credit card.


Step 4: Identify your spending habits

How much do you spend?

If you use credit for the majority of your day-to-day spending, picking up a rewards credit card with an annual fee can be well worth it. Sure, you’ll have to pay about $120 or so just to carry the card, but in return, you’ll gain access to more rewards, bigger sign-up bonuses, and lucrative perks. Over time, those benefits combined can deliver far greater value than the annual fee.

For instance, the BMO World Elite Mastercard charges a $150 annual fee but offers three times the points on dining, entertainment, and travel purchases, two times the points on all your other spending, a 35,000 point sign-up offer, complimentary travel medical insurance, and access to airport lounges. It’s easy to see how you could come out ahead with this card, even when factoring for the annual fee.

That said, if you’re new to credit cards or just casually use plastic to pay for a few purchases (i.e. less than $500 every month), odds are, you won’t earn enough rewards on a card to offset any annual fee. Additionally, if you don’t value perks like travel insurance, a no fee card will be a better fit and help you avoid paying for perks that you won't be taking advantage of anyway.

What do you spend on the most?

The majority of rewards credit cards offer additional points, miles, or cash back on certain types of purchases - known as bonus categories. Depending on the card, bonus categories can range from the all-to-common gas and groceries to everything from recurring bills, restaurants, cafes, flights, hotel stays, and more.

You’ll want to compare your options and find a rewards card whose bonus categories align with your most common expenditures.

For instance, if you own a car and gas accounts for a big chunk of your monthly spending, you’ll want to consider a credit card that has gas as a bonus category, like the TD CashBack Visa Infinite, which offers three times the cash back (3%) for every dollar you spend at the pump. Meanwhile, if you don’t own a car and rely on public transit and taxis to get around, a card like the Scotiabank Gold American Express (that offers 3 times the points on daily transit) will be better suited to your spending habits. 

If you don’t spend a particularly large amount on specific spending categories and prefer simplicity, you can consider picking up a flat-rate card that offers the same rewards on all purchases with no bonus categories.

Where do you spend the most?

Certain groceries (like No Frills) only accept Mastercard, while others (Sobeys, Wholefoods, and Metro) accept all three major card companies including American Express. Some retailers are affiliated with loyalty programs (like Rexall and Air Miles), while certain airlines and hotel chains offer their own co-branded point programs (like Air Canada and Aeroplan or Marriott and Bonvoy). If you spend a considerable amount at a particular retailer or service provider, you’ll want to factor that into your credit card choice.

Proceed to step 5.


Step 5: Read up on credit card side perks

Beyond just points or cash back, many rewards credit cards come with perks that can offer huge money-saving potential. Depending on the card, that can range from everything from complimentary roadside assistance and airport lounge access, to hotel upgrades and no foreign transaction fees. While your choice of card may not necessarily hinge on these side benefits, they can help you narrow down your selection.


The best Canadian credit cards - by category

Best overall rewards credit card

The American Express Cobalt

Why is it one of the best?

  • Earns a whopping 5X the points on “eats and drinks”, which encompasses a huge range of purchases including restaurants, groceries, food deliveries, bars, and cafes.
  • Earns 2X the points on virtually everything “travel” - from gas, flights, and hotel stays to public transit, taxis, and even rideshares.
  • The card’s $120 annual fee is easy-to-manage as it’s charged at a rate of $10 per month.
  • The card comes with a sign-up bonus that adds up to a potential $300 in value in your first year.
  • It won’t cost anything to add authorized users, making the American Express Cobalt a great option if you plan on sharing an account with a partner or family member.
  • You can redeem points flexibly for travel rewards in one of three ways. If you prefer simplicity, you can redeem at a flat rate of 1 point = 1 cent for travel purchases through AMEX’s Fixed Points Program. If you’re a points optimizer who knows your way around more elaborate rewards charts and tables, you can leverage AMEX’s Flexible Points Program to further maximize points values. Or, you can transfer your points to hotel loyalty programs from the likes of Marriott Bonvoy.
  • Comes with comprehensive travel insurance.
  • You won’t need to earn a minimum personal annual income of $60,000 or $80,000 to qualify for the card like other premium rewards credit cards.
  • You can retroactively apply points against travel purchases up to three months after the purchase date. Plus, points never expire.

Any drawbacks?

  • American Express isn’t as universally accepted as Visa or Mastercard (Tip: you’ll want to be prepared and carry a back-up debit card or a no fee credit card from Mastercard or Visa just in case you’re shopping at a merchant that doesn’t accept AMEX). 
  • You can’t transfer the points you collect on the AMEX Cobalt to airline loyalty programs like you can with other American Express credit cards.

Best no-fee travel credit card

MBNA Rewards Platinum Plus

Why is it one of the best?

  • You’ll earn 2X the points in three different bonus categories - gas, groceries, and restaurants - a lucrative earn rate for a no-fee credit card.
  • You’ll get 1 point per dollar on all your other everyday purchases.
  • MBNA points values are easy-to-understand, with 1 point = 1 cent. Plus, points can be redeemed flexibly on virtually any airline and don’t have an expiry date.
  • The card’s stacked sign-up bonus can add up to over $100. 
  • While primarily a travel rewards card, the MBNA Rewards Platinum Plus also offers great redemption values on gift card rewards.
  • As a Mastercard, the MBNA Rewards Platinum Plus is accepted virtually everywhere.

Any drawbacks?

  • Like many other no-fee cards, the MBNA Platinum Plus doesn’t come with comprehensive built-in travel insurance.
  • Bonus categories have an annual spending cap. You’ll earn 2X the points on gas, groceries, and restaurants up to a maximum of $5,000 in spending per category, after which you’ll earn 1 point per dollar. This cap resets every year.

Best cash back card for groceries and gas

CIBC Dividend Visa Infinite

Why is it one of the best?

  • You’ll get a strong 4% cash back on both groceries and gas purchases - a combination that can’t be out-earned by any other Canadian cash back credit card.
  • The card has a $99 annual fee, which is below the average $120 annual fee charged by most premium rewards credit cards.
  • Get comprehensive insurance: including travel and auto rental collision and loss damage coverage.
  • With CIBC’s unique Pace It program, you can pay off larger card purchases in instalments at a lower interest rate in the event you’re not able to pay off your balance in full.

Any drawbacks?

  • The card’s other bonus categories (2% at Telus and Tim Hortons) are nice-to-haves but are niche and may not be taken full advantage of by all cardholders.

Best flat-rate cash back credit card

The SimplyCash Preferred from American Express

Why is it one of the best?

  • You’ll earn 2% cash back on every purchase - so you won’t have to think about maximizing bonus categories. Plus, the flat 2% earn rate can’t be beaten by any other Canadian cash back credit card.
  • As a new cardholder, you’ll earn an accelerated 5% cash back for your first six months (up to $300).
  • It won’t cost anything to add authorized users, making it a great option if you plan on sharing an account with a partner or family member.
  • Comes with comprehensive travel insurance.
  • You won’t need to earn a minimum personal annual income of $60,000 or $80,000 to qualify for the card like other premium rewards credit cards.

Any drawbacks?

  • American Express isn’t as universally accepted as Visa or Mastercard (Tip: you’ll want to be prepared and carry a back-up debit card or fee credit card from Mastercard or Visa just in case you’re a retailer that doesn’t accept AMEX). 

Best overall no fee cash back card

Tangerine Money-Back Card

Why is it one of the best?

  • You’ll earn 2% in up to three bonus categories. No other no fee card offers as much cash back in as many bonus categories.
  • Tangerine is the only card issuer to let you pick your own bonus categories. You have the freedom to choose your own bonus categories from a total of ten options - including everything from gas, groceries, restaurants, and recurring bills, to more niche options like home improvement and furniture.
  • You can change your bonus categories at any time (however, it’ll take at least one statement period for changes to come into effect).
  • If you qualify for the high-tier Tangerine World Mastercard ($60,000 personal annual income required), you’ll get additional perks like mobile device and rental car damage and loss waiver insurance.

Any drawbacks?

  • You’ll earn just 0.5% on all other everyday purchases that aren’t categorized under one of your chosen bonus categories (Tip: since it’s a no fee credit card and you can customize your bonus categories, the Tangerine Money-Back is a great card to use in combination with another to up your earn rate).

Best no fee cash back card for groceries 

BMO CashBack Mastercard

Why is it one of the best?

  • Earn an impressive 3% cash back on grocery purchases, which can’t be beaten by any other no fee cash back card.
  • You’ll also get 1% on recurring bills.
  • As a new cardholder, you’ll earn 5% cash back for your first three months (up to $100).
  • Get up to 25% off rental cars from eligible National and Alamo Rent a Car agencies
  • The BMO CashBack Mastercard has a low income requirement, and is even accessible to students.

Any drawbacks?

  • Bonus categories have a monthly spending cap. You’ll earn 3% on groceries and 1% on recurring bills up to a maximum of $500 in spending per category every month, after which you’ll earn 0.5% cash back. This cap reset every monthly statement period.
  • You’ll earn just 0.5% on all other everyday purchases.

Best low interest card

MBNA True Line Gold Mastercard

Why is it one of the best?

  • At 8.99%, the MBNA True Line Gold has the lowest fixed interest rates of any credit card in Canada. Its interest rate is over half that of the typical credit card (which usually charge 19.99% APR on carried-over balances).
  • It has a below-average annual fee of $39.

Any drawbacks?

  • The card doesn’t currently offer a balance transfer promotion to help consolidate your debt.

TIP: if you want to save on interest charges but don’t want to pay an annual fee, consider the no fee MBNA True Line Mastercard, which has a fixed interest rate of just 12.99%.


Best balance transfer card

CIBC Select Visa

Why is it one of the best?

  • The CIBC Select Visa currently has an unbeatable balance transfer offer promotion of 0% for your first 10 months.
  • The card’s regular interest rate is 13.99%, which is below the average so you can still save on interest even after the balance transfer promotion ends.
  • It’s got a low annual fee of $29.

Any drawbacks?

  • Balance transfers include a flat 1% transfer fee (which is typical for balance transfer credit cards).

Cards summary (+/-)

Author bio

Luke Sheehan, VP of Marketing

As Vice President of Marketing at Ratehub.ca, Luke splits his time between coming up with ways to inspire Canadians to choose better personal finance and serving as our resident credit card expert. His insights and tips on credit card points programs, maximizing rewards and minimizing interest, and the major moves made by the big banks have been shared on CTV News, CBS News, Huffington Post, CP24, Newstalk1010, and more. Originally hailing from the United Kingdom, Luke made the move to Toronto in February 2012 as a member of the leadership team at Just Eat and has held senior marketing roles across a variety of sectors including e-commerce, real estate, and now, fintech.

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