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Published May 5, 2022

8 Best Rewards Credit Cards in Canada for 2022

Compare the best rewards credit cards in Canada across numerous rewards categories, including travel, cash back and more, to find the ideal card for your spending preferences.

Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This may influence which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own.

Nearly to 88% of Canadian credit cards offer some type of rewards program, according to a 2021 report from Payments Canada. This is good news considering over 60% of Canadians said the ability to earn loyalty rewards or discounts was one of their top reasons for using a credit card, according to the same report.

Compare our picks for the best rewards credit cards in Canada, offering travel rewards, cash back, gift cards and more so that you can find the optimal card for your goals and spending habits.

Best rewards credit cards in Canada

Our pick for a low-interest card with bonus rewards on dining and entertainment

HSBC +Rewards™ Mastercard®

  • Annual Fee
    Annual fee rebate for the first year*
  • Interest Rates
  • Rewards Rate
    1x-2x Points
  • Intro Offer
    35,000 Points
  • Our Take
    Why we like it

    This low-interest and low-annual fee rewards card offers bonus points on dining and entertainment purchases, as well as several types of insurance.

    • At 11.9%, you’ll benefit from a lower interest rate on purchases and cash advances than many other rewards cards.
    • Redeem points for travel, as gift cards or as financial rewards.

    • Despite the low interest rate, there’s no balance transfer promotional period.
    • Travel and medical insurance coverage costs an additional $69 per year.
  • Product Details
    • Get up to $200 in total value* for the first year! Must apply by Oct 31, 2022. Conditions apply.
    • Earn 2 Points for every $1 spent on eligible dining or entertainment purchases.
    • HSBC's lowest interest rate for purchases, cash advances and balance transfers.
    • Price Protection Service - find a lower price within 60 days of your purchase, the difference will be refunded, up to $500 per eligible item.
    • Primary Cardholder Annual Fee: $25.
    • Annual Interest on Purchases: 11.9%.
    • Authorized User Annual Fee: $10 Per Card.
    • *Terms and Conditions apply.
    • ®/TM Mastercard and World Elite are registered trademarks, and the circles design is a trademark of Mastercard International Incorporated. Used pursuant to license.
Our pick for bonus rewards on daily spending

American Express Cobalt® Card

  • Annual Fee
  • Interest Rates
    20.99% / 21.99%
  • Rewards Rate
    1x-5x Points
  • Intro Offer
    Up to 30,000 Points
  • Our Take
    Why we like it

    The American Express Cobalt Card boasts high rewards rates on everyday spending, a generous welcome bonus, comprehensive travel insurance coverage, flexible point redemption and plenty of specialty perks to keep things interesting all year long.

    • Earn 150,000 points in the first year by spending up to $30,000 on eats, drinks and groceries. Combined with the 30,000 point intro offer, you could earn 180,000 points in your first year, which you could redeem for travel and more.
    • Easily transfer the points you earn to popular airline and hotel loyalty programs, such as Aeroplan and Marriott Bonvoy.

    • Airport lounge access isn’t provided, which may disappoint some frequent travellers.
    • No travel medical coverage for cardmembers over the age of 65.
  • Product Details
    • In your first year as a new Cobalt Cardmember, you can earn 2,500 Membership Rewards® points for each monthly billing period in which you spend $500 in net purchases on your Card. This could add up to 30,000 points in a year.
    • 30,000 points is enough for:
    • $300 in statement credits redeemed towards purchases charged to your Card or
    • $225 in American Express® Prepaid Cards.
    • Earn 5x the points on eligible eats and drinks in Canada, including groceries and food delivery.
    • Earn 3x the points on eligible streaming subscriptions in Canada.
    • Earn 2 points for every $1 spent on eligible transit & gas purchases in Canada and eligible travel purchases. That's 2X the points on purchases that get you from point A to B.
    • Earn 1 point for every $1 in Card purchases everywhere else. We won't tell you where to spend, we'll just reward you on your Card purchases.
    • Transfer points 1:1 to several frequent flyer and other loyalty programs.
    • Cobalt Cardmembers receive regular Perks such as bonus reward offers and access to great events.
    • Access Front Of The Line® Presale & Reserved Tickets to some of your favourite concerts and theatre performances and special offers and events curated for Cardmembers with American Express® Experiences.
    • American Express is not responsible for maintaining or monitoring the accuracy of information on this website. For full details, current product information and Terms and Conditions, click the Apply now link. Conditions Apply.
Our pick for bonus rewards on daily spending + travel perks

Scotiabank Platinum American Express® Card

  • Annual Fee
  • Interest Rates
    19.99% / 22.99%
  • Rewards Rate
    1x-4x Points
  • Intro Offer
    30,000 Points
  • Our Take
    Why we like it

    Not only does the Scotiabank Platinum American Express card reward you with solid earn rates in four popular spending categories, it also comes with an impressive set of exclusive travel benefits.

    • A comprehensive travel protection package including seven different types of coverage.
    • 10 free VIP airport lounge visits per year with a complimentary Priority Pass membership

    • The $399 annual fee is quite a bit higher than other rewards cards.
    • The bonus rewards rates drop down to the 1x flat rate after a $100,000 annual spend.
  • Product Details
    • 4x Scene+ points per dollar at eligible gas stations, grocery stores, and on dining and entertainment, up to $100,000 annual spend.
    • 3x Scene+ points per dollar spent on Scene+ Travel hotel and car rental bookings using your card.
    • 1x Scotia Rewards points per dollar on everything else.
    • Scene+ points can be redeemed for travel purchase, merchandise and other non-travel rewards such as gift cards and prepaid cards.
    • You must redeem a minimum of 5,000 points per travel-related rewards redemption, equivalent to $50 in travel savings. Points must be redeemed within 12 months of the purchase date.
    • $399 annual fee.
    • Redeem points for any flight, any time through Scene+ Travel, a full-service travel agency. Plus, take advantage of a best price guarantee on airfare.
    • Get a Hertz #1 Club Gold membership for special privileges and rental car benefits at over 8,500 locations in 147 countries.
    • Enjoy culinary events and experiences, entertainment, luxury fashion, tours, and more through American Express benefits, including American Express Invites, Platinum VIP offers and access to 24/7 premium concierge services for restaurant reservations, show tickets, and gift purchases.
    • Lounge access at over 600 VIP airport lounges around the world with a complimentary Priority Pass membership, which includes 10 free visits per year.
    • 12 types of insurance provided, including 31-day travel medical benefits — up to $2 million in coverage — for you, your spouse and any dependent children under the age of 65. 10-day coverage available for those over the age of 65.
    • Preferred rates: 19.99% for purchases, 22.99% for cash advances.
    • To be eligible, you must have a Canadian credit file and be a Canadian resident of the age of majority in the province or territory where you live.
Our pick for bonus rewards on restaurants, groceries and household utility bills

MBNA Rewards World Elite® Mastercard®

  • Annual Fee
  • Interest Rates
    19.99% / 24.99%
  • Rewards Rate
    1x-5x Points
  • Intro Offer
    30,000 Points
  • Our Take
    Why we like it

    This card offers a competitive sign-up bonus and accelerated earn rates on useful categories like restaurant and grocery purchases and household utility bills.

    • An impressive array of perks and insurance benefits for travellers, such as concierge services and rental car discounts.
    • Flexible redemption options, including cash back, brand-name merchandise, gift cards, charitable donations and travel.

    • Intro offer does not include a waived annual fee.
    • The 5x bonus rewards rate on restaurants, groceries, digital media, memberships and utility drops down to a 1x flat rate after you spend $50,000.
  • Product Details
    • 5x MBNA Rewards Points per dollar on restaurant, grocery, digital media, memberships, and household utility purchases up to $50,000 annual spend, then 1x.
    • 1x MBNA Rewards Points per dollar for every $1 on everything else.
    • Redeem MBNA Rewards Points per dollar for cash back, brand-name merchandise, gift cards from participating retailers, charitable donations, and travel.
    • The redemption value for travel is 100 points per $1, while cash and charity donations are 120 points per $1. MBNA rewards points never expire.
    • $120 annual fee.
    • Receive Birthday Bonus Points equal to 10% of the total number of points earned in the 12 months before the month of the primary cardholder’s birthday, up to a max of 15,000 points.
    • Use your MBNA card to save 10% off Avis and Budget rental car base rates in Canada and the U.S., and 5% of base rates internationally.
    • Access to the MBNA installment payment plan.
    • Eleven types of insurance provided, including 21-day travel medical benefits — up to $2 million in coverage for those under 65 years of age, and comprehensive rental vehicle coverage.
    • Preferred rates: 19.99% for purchases, 24.99% for cash advances.
    • To be eligible, $80,000 (individual) or $150,000 (household) annual income is required. Also, you must have a Canadian credit file and be a Canadian resident of the age of majority in the province or territory where you live.
Our pick for bonus rewards on daily spending and incentives for ​​authorized users

BMO eclipse Visa Infinite

  • Annual Fee
    Waived first year
  • Interest Rates
    20.99% / 23.99%
  • Rewards Rate
    1x-5x Points
  • Intro Offer
    60,000 Points
  • Our Take
    Why we like it

    The BMO eclipse Visa Infinite boasts a generous intro offer, competitive rewards rates on popular daily spending categories and point-boost incentives for adding an authorized user.

    • You can earn up to 10% more points by adding an authorized user to your account.
    • Mobile device insurance up to $1,000.

    • Limited travel insurance may disappoint frequent travellers.
    • The bonus rewards rate drops down to the 1x flat rate after a $50,000 annual spend. Considering how many categories fit into the cap, hitting the limit will be easy for families and big spenders.
  • Product Details
    • 5x BMO Rewards points per dollar on takeout & food delivery, dining out, groceries, gas and transit, up to $50,000 annual spend.
    • 1x BMO Rewards points per dollar on everything else.
    • Earn 10% more points on all purchases when you spend $50 to add an authorized user to your account.
    • Pay with points or redeem BMO Rewards points on travel, merchandise, experiences, cash, BMO Savings or Investment account credits, and more. Points do not expire.
    • $120 annual fee.
    • Score a $50 statement credit each year to use however you want.
    • Visa Infinite benefits, including the Visa Infinite Luxury Hotel Collection, Visa Infinite Dining Series, Visa Infinite Concierge, and the Visa Infinite Troon Golf Benefit which offers discounts at 95 resorts and courses around the world.
    • Six types of insurance provided, including mobile device insurance worth up to $1,000.
    • Preferred rates: 20.99% for purchases, 23.99% for cash advances.
    • To be eligible, $60,000 (individual) or $100,000 (household) annual income is required. Also, you must have a Canadian credit file and be a Canadian resident of the age of majority in the province or territory where you live.
Our pick for a no-fee card with bonus rewards on daily spending

President’s Choice Financial World Elite Mastercard

  • Annual Fee
  • Interest Rates
    20.97% / 22.97%
  • Rewards Rate
    10x-45x Points
  • Intro Offer
  • Our Take
    Why we like it

    This card offers incredible accelerated earn rates on spending at the types of retailers people use every day — drug stores, grocery stores and gas stations — in addition to a high earn rate on trips booked through President’s Choice Travel.

    • Quickly rack up points toward free groceries, gas, drug store purchases and travel.
    • A rare World Elite Mastercard with no annual fee.

    • Points can only be earned and redeemed at participating Loblaw-owned stores, Shopper’s Drug Mart/Pharmapix, and Esso gas stations. You must wait until you have at least 10,000 points before redeeming rewards, and you can’t transfer them to other loyalty programs.
    • No airport lounge access, despite being a World Elite card.
  • Product Details
    • 45x PC Optimum points per dollar on Shoppers Drug Mart purchases.
    • 30x PC Optimum points per dollar on Loblaw-brand grocery store purchases.
    • 30x PC Optimum points per dollar per litre of gas purchased at Esso Mobil.
    • 30x PC Optimum points per dollar on PC Travel purchases.
    • 10x PC Optimum points per dollar on all other purchases.
    • Redeem a minimum of 10,000 points for free products and groceries at participating stores (in person and online).
    • No annual fee.
    • 24/7 concierge service to make dinner reservations, reserve event tickets, deliver gifts and more.
    • Access to identity theft services to help you avoid identity theft or restore your identity if stolen.
    • Four types of insurance provided, including 10-day travel medical benefits for those under age 65.
    • Preferred rates: 20.97% for purchases, 22.97% for cash advances.
    • To be eligible, $80,000 (individual) or $150,000 (household) annual income is required. Also, you must have a Canadian credit file and be a Canadian resident of the age of majority in the province or territory where you live.
Our pick for a no-fee reward card with a digital-first experience

Brim Mastercard

  • Annual Fee
  • Interest Rates
    Rates vary by card member
  • Rewards Rate
    1x-30x Points
  • Intro Offer
    Up to $200
  • Our Take
    Why we like it

    The standard Brim Mastercard is a tech-savvy, no-fee rewards card. It offers an impressive mobile app with budget tracking, an eShop with hundreds of retailers, partnerships with five mobile wallets, free global Wi-Fi and no foreign transaction fees — even when shopping online.

    • Rewards are easy to understand — each point is worth $0.01 — and you can earn up to 30x at select retail partners, including small local businesses and big brands.
    • There’s no fee for additional cardholders or a family card.

    • Included insurance types are more limited than the Brim World or World Elite Mastercards.
    • Brim is a virtual bank with no physical bank branches, so you must be comfortable with a digital-first experience.
  • Product Details
    • 1x points per dollar on everyday purchases, with no annual spend limit.
    • Up to 30x points per dollar on retail partners in the eShop.
    • Points have a straightforward value of $0.01 and can be redeemed on transactions or as cash back. $1 minimum redemption required. Points do not expire.
    • No annual fee.
    • Brim’s Family Card option lets you add additional card members, set and adjust their spending limits, block types of transactions and track spending — perfect for teaching teens smart budgeting.
    • Enhanced security features allow you to lock your card and block online or foreign transactions instantly.
    • Stay connected with access to over 1 million Boingo Global Wi-Fi hotspots around the world.
    • Access to the Brim Installment plan.
    • Five types of insurance provided: common carrier accident insurance, mobile device insurance, event ticket protection, extended warranty and purchase security insurance.
    • Preferred rates vary by card member.
    • No foreign exchange fees.
    • To be eligible, you must have a Canadian credit file and be a Canadian resident of the age of majority in the province or territory where you live.
Our pick for bonus rewards on groceries, restaurants, entertainment and public transportation

Desjardins Odyssey® World Elite® Mastercard®

  • Annual Fee
  • Interest Rates
  • Rewards Rate
  • Intro Offer
  • Our Take
    Why we like it

    The Desjardins Odyssey World Elite Mastercard offers unlimited rewards, uncapped bonus categories, and impressive insurance and travel perks.

    • Comprehensive insurance, including premium travel medical and mobile device protection worth up to $1,500.
    • Eight free passes to the Desjardins Odyssey Lounge at Montreal-Trudeau airport per year.

    • No intro offer or ability to waive the annual fee.
  • Product Details
    • 3% in BONUSDOLLARS per dollar spent on groceries.
    • 2% in BONUSDOLLARS per dollar spent on restaurants, entertainment and public transportation.
    • 1.5% in BONUSDOLLARS per dollar spent on other purchases.
    • Redeem BONUSDOLLARS for statement credits, financial products and services, charity, rewards, gift cards, purchases, and travel.
    • 1 BONUSDOLLAR earned = $1 you can redeem. BONUSDOLLARs do not expire.
    • $130 annual fee.
    • Airport lounge visits — 8 free passes to the Desjardins Odyssey Lounge at Montreal-Trudeau airport per year, plus entrance to more than 1,000 LoungeKey airport lounges as part of Mastercard Airport Experiences provided by LoungeKey.
    • orld Elite Mastercard benefits, including cash back with Mastercard Travel Rewards when travelling outside of Canada, VIP events and offers through Priceless Cities, and access to over 1 million Boingo Global Wi-Fi hotspots around the world.
    • Up to 25% off Hertz car rentals and up to 10% off Thrifty or Dollar rentals.
    • Access to Accord D financing, and up to $5,000 a day cash advances at a rate of 19.9%.
    • 12 types of insurance provided, including 60-day travel medical benefits — up to $5,000,000 in coverage per person under age 59. 31-day coverage is available for ages 60-64. 15-day coverage is available for ages 65-75.
    • Preferred rates: 19.9% for purchases and cash advances.
    • To be eligible, $80,000 (individual) or $150,000 (household) annual income, or assets under management of $400,000, is required. Also, you must have a Canadian credit file and be a Canadian resident of the age of majority in the province or territory where you live.
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NerdWallet Canada selects the best general rewards credit cards based on overall consumer value. Factors in our evaluation include each card’s annual fee, foreign transaction fees, rewards earning rates, ease of use, redemption options, domestic and international acceptance, promotional APR period, bonus offers, insurance offers, and cardholder perks. Cards eligible for this list earn rewards through points or as rewards program dollars, which are redeemable for merchandise, gift cards, experiences and more, sometimes including travel. Hotel cards, airline cards, and rewards cards that offer bonus rates on travel spending are not included in this list.

Summary of the best rewards credit cards:

Best rewards credit card with low-interest

  1. HSBC +Rewards™ Mastercard®

Best cards for bonus rewards on daily spending

  1. Scotiabank Platinum American Express® Card
  2. American Express Cobalt® Card
  3. BMO eclipse Visa Infinite

Best cards for bonus rewards on groceries, restaurants and more

  1. MBNA Rewards World Elite® Mastercard®
  2. Desjardins Odyssey® World Elite® Mastercard®

Best no-fee rewards cards

  1. President’s Choice Financial World Elite Mastercard
  2. Brim Mastercard

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How rewards credit cards work in Canada

By Barry Choi and Shannon Terrell

With so many choices out there, selecting a rewards credit card can quickly become overwhelming.

Do you go for a credit card that rewards you for shopping at a particular store, a card that has accelerated earn rates on a category that fits your lifestyle, a card that has flexible redemption options, or something else?

Knowing how rewards work before and after you apply for a rewards credit card can help you decide.

What is a rewards credit card?

With rewards credit cards, you can earn points or miles on just about every purchase you make. The type of rewards you get depends on the credit card you have. Additionally, how you can use your rewards depends on the loyalty program set up by the issuer.

What makes rewards credit cards appealing is the idea that everyday purchases could be transformed into something you really want, like tickets to a concert or a free first-class flight.

How rewards credit cards work

As far as usage is concerned, rewards credit cards are similar to any other credit card. You charge your purchases, and then you get your statement when your monthly billing period is up. It is especially important to pay off your balance with rewards cards because interest charges can erode the rewards you earn.

In other words, as long as you’re on top of your bills, you can earn some sweet rewards without doing anything extra.

Types of rewards credit cards

There are dozens of rewards cards out there, but generally speaking, you can break them down into five different categories. Knowing what’s typically included within each category is essential since it’ll help you determine what card is best for you.

Flexible-points credit cards

Most major financial institutions have a general rewards credit card. The points you earn can typically be redeemed for a variety of lifestyle rewards, such as entertainment, merchandise, gift cards or financial rewards, as well as travel purchases.

Unlike travel rewards cards, general rewards credit cards might not offer the same travel perks and benefits expected by frequent travellers, such as comprehensive travel insurance or free airport lounge visits. But, foregoing these perks often means a lower annual fee.

Airline rewards credit cards

Airline credit cards allow you to earn points or miles for a specific airline. What’s interesting about airline credit cards is that the points you earn can usually be used on any airline that’s part of their network.

For example, Aeroplan is the loyalty program for Air Canada. Even if you don’t have one of the best Aeroplan credit cards, or you can use your points for a flight on any carrier that’s part of the Star Alliance network. There are also some general travel rewards programs, such as Air Miles, that also earn miles and can offer some additional value.

Depending on the tier of your airline rewards credit card, you may get additional perks such as free checked bags, priority boarding and increased status. Having an airline credit card is highly lucrative if you frequently fly with one airline or network.

Hotel rewards credit cards

While some people love the idea of free flights, getting a luxury stay at a nice hotel appeals to other people. Some would argue that hotel rewards are better than airline rewards since some hotel chains have a greater reach. For example, Marriott has over 7,000 properties in 130+ countries, so no matter where you’re travelling, it won’t be hard to find a room where you can use your points.

Hotel rewards credit cards will also typically include benefits that will make your stay more comfortable. For instance, you could get early check-in and late check-out. You could also get free high speed Wi-Fi or enhanced status.

Travel rewards credit cards

If you’re not loyal to one specific airline or hotel chain, then a general travel rewards program is something that will interest you. The points you earn can typically be used for any type of travel redemption, such as airfare, hotels, car rentals, cruises, and even vacation packages. Since your points don’t belong to one specific program, you have more options.

Some travel credit cards only allow you to use your points when booking travel through their online portal, while others let you use your points for any travel purchases you charge to your card.

Store or brand rewards credit cards

Many major retailers have their own loyalty programs and some even have a co-branded credit card. If you were to sign up for their store credit card, you would usually earn more points on in-store and online purchases.

Admittedly, the overall rewards you earn with a store credit card may not be as lucrative compared to travel rewards, but they can still be valuable. For example, many store cards offer an immediate bonus when you apply. You may also get an immediate welcome bonus when you apply, such as 15% off on first-day purchases. Plus, most store credit cards don’t have an annual fee, so one could make sense if you frequently shop at the same store.

Gas rewards credit cards

If you’re often on the road, you may want to consider a gas rewards credit card. These cards offer points or cash back rewards whenever you spend money to top up your tank at a gas station. Some gas rewards cards offer accelerated earnings when you spend money on fuel — any time, anywhere. Other rewards cards only let you earn points when you visit eligible gas station chains.

Popular credit card rewards programs in Canada

Credit card rewards programs are very appealing, but with so many different ones available, it’s important to understand how each loyalty program generally works before choosing a card. You don’t need to know the ins and outs of every program, but you do want to have a general idea of what they can do for you and how you could use your points.

Here’s a breakdown of some of the most popular rewards and loyalty programs in Canada:

Air Miles rewards

With nearly 10 million active Air Miles accounts in Canada, there’s a decent chance you’re already familiar with the Air Miles rewards program. Members collect Air Miles rewards — also called Rewards Miles — by making purchases at partner retailers using an Air Miles credit card. Rewards Miles can be redeemed for free flight tickets, cruise tickets, hotel stays, merchandise and more.

Aeroplan rewards

Aeroplan is a travel rewards loyalty program run by Air Canada, Canada’s largest airline.

Aeroplan points can be earned by signing up for an Aeroplan credit card; flying with Air Canada or any of its partner airlines, including Air India, Lufthansa and United; or booking qualifying hotel stays, car rentals and in-store purchases with Aeroplan’s brand partners, like Avis, Home Hardware and Sephora.

Like Air Miles rewards, Aeroplan points can be redeemed for flight tickets, hotel stays, gift cards and more.

PC Optimum rewards

The PC Optimum loyalty rewards program is owned and operated by Loblaws, a Canadian retail conglomerate. Members earn points each time they make qualifying purchases at eligible stores, including Loblaws, Real Canadian Superstore, No Frills and Shoppers Drug Mart. Members can also earn points when purchasing fuel at Mobil and Esso gas stations.

The PC Optimum points system is straightforward: every 10,000 points is worth $10 and can be applied to in-store purchases at partner stores. There’s even a PC Optimum mobile app to help you track points and special weekly offers.

American Express Membership rewards

AmEx carriers, this one’s for you: the American Express Membership rewards program is only available to — you guessed it — American Express cardholders. The program offers points every time you swipe your card on an eligible purchase. Points can be redeemed for travel experiences, merchandise, gift cards — you can even use your points to pay for Amazon purchases.

Petro-Points rewards

The Petro-Points rewards program offers points for visiting Petro-Canada gas stations. The system is straightforward enough: pump 1L of gas or spend $1 in-store — earn 10 Petro-Points. Points can be redeemed for fuel, car washes, in-store purchases or online gift cards.

Petro-Canada doesn’t issue its own credit cards but some RBC credit cards offer accelerated Petro-Point earn rates.

Cineplex SCENE Rewards

If you’ve visited a Cineplex theatre in the last decade, you’ve likely heard of SCENE points. What started out as a rewards program for Cineplex ticket purchases and concession stand spending has since evolved into a robust points system with numerous ways to earn and redeem, called Scene+. This new points system is the offspring of the Cineplex SCENE program and Scotia Rewards, Scotiabank’s credit card rewards program.

You can still earn Scene+ points when you visit a Cineplex theatre, but you can also earn points when you visit Playdium, eat at partnered restaurants, shop with partnered retailers — even book travel excursions through Scene+ Travel. Earn accelerated Scene+ points with the Scotiabank SCENE Visa credit card.

Does the card network matter? Visa vs. Mastercard vs American Express

Credit card companies, commonly referred to as issuers, are the banks, credit unions and other financial providers through which you might apply for a credit card. There are dozens of credit card issuers in Canada.

Credit card networks, on the other hand, provide the technology and infrastructure that makes credit card transactions possible — and effortless — almost anywhere in the world. There are only three credit card networks in Canada: Visa, Mastercard and American Express.

The network to which your rewards credit card belongs may affect how widely the card is accepted, processing costs and cardholder benefits. Generally, however, all three of the major networks offer attractive rewards card options in Canada.

Using credit card rewards

When choosing a rewards credit card, it’s important to understand the rate at which you will earn points and what options you have for redeeming them.

How rewards credit cards earn perks

The earn rate on a rewards credit card is the number of rewards points or miles you earn on each dollar spent.

Some cards offer a flat rate, which means you earn the same amount of rewards on every purchase. For example, you may earn 2 points for every $1 you spend with your card.

Most rewards credit cards have a tiered rewards structure when making purchases. The type of structure can vary quite a bit between cards. For example, you may have an accelerated earn rate on purchases made in certain categories, such as travel, groceries, gas and drugstores, or at stores that belong to a certain brand family. All other purchases will use the lower base earn rate.

Ideally, you want to choose a credit card with an accelerated earn rate that is aligned with your spending habits.

How to calculate the value of credit card rewards

Knowing how to calculate the value of your points or miles is essential since not every redemption value is the same. By establishing a baseline value for your points, you can decide if specific redemptions are worth it — even if you’re not getting the maximum value.

The formula used to determine the value of one point is as follows:

Cash value of the redemption x 100 / number of points required = Cost per point

This formula can be applied to any redemption regardless of the loyalty program. For example, let’s say you want to redeem 13,400 points for a $100 gift card. Your formula would be the following:

$100 x 100 / 13,400 = .75 cents per point

Do rewards points ever expire?

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been a member of a loyalty program or how many points you’ve accumulated; you can lose everything if you’re not paying attention.

Generally speaking, most loyalty programs that belong to an airline or hotel have a defined expiry date of 12 – 18 months. However, that only applies if there’s been no account activity in your account during that time. If you earn or redeem just one point during that time, your clock would reset. Even if you’re not travelling anytime soon, you could make a small redemption or donate some points to ensure you don’t lose the rest of your points.

When it comes to bank credit card rewards programs, it’s unlikely your points will expire as long as your credit card account is in good standing. Your account would only fall out of good standing if it becomes delinquent or your credit card is used for fraudulent activity.

How to redeem general credit card rewards

Rewards programs offered through a bank typically have their own website where you can make redemptions. They’ll usually have separate tabs where you can choose from travel, gift cards, merchandise, and financial rewards. While this can be handy, you’re typically limited to their offerings. For example, you wouldn’t be able to book an Airbnb via their site.

That said, some general rewards programs allow you to redeem travel purchases that weren’t made through the bank’s website as long as you charge it to your credit card.

Redeeming store rewards points

Store rewards points are typically redeemable only in-store or online. When you’re checking out, have the cashier scan your loyalty card. You’ll then be able to redeem as many points as you like. If you’re making an online purchase, you’ll need to log in first. Then, when you’re paying, there should be an option to redeem your points.

Rewards credit card terms and conditions

Like all credit cards, rewards credit cards generally have a set of terms and conditions to which you must agree in order to become a cardholder. Terms and conditions specific to your credit card issuer, as well as each type of rewards card they offer, should be available online. You will also likely receive a written copy of the terms and conditions when you receive your physical card in the mail.

Common terms and conditions include:

  • The rights of your card issuer under the agreement.
  • Your rights under the agreement.
  • How you earn points.
  • Rewards categories.
  • How you can use your points.
  • How to transfer your points.
  • Under what circumstances you might lose your points.
  • When your reward points might expire.

How to pick the right rewards credit card

Every rewards credit card is good for at least one thing, so deciding on which card is best for you can be difficult. Here are some important criteria to compare and consider:

Type of rewards

Think about your short and long-term goals. For example, if you’re planning a honeymoon and want to have an epic trip, then getting a travel rewards credit card to earn a free flight might be the right thing to do. Alternatively, let’s say you want to save money on your grocery bills. Then getting a credit card with grocery rewards or a co-branded store credit card to earn discounts and in-store credit might be a better choice.

Welcome bonus

If you’re trying to decide between several cards with similar rewards, the tiebreaker can often be the sign-up bonus. Some credit cards offer a generous intro offer that is more than the annual fee or jumpstarts your earning with thousands of free points or miles.

Interest rate

When comparing rewards cards, be sure to take a look at the interest rate — and there may be more than one:

  • Promotional interest rate. Some cards offer promotional or introductory interest rates that stay in effect for a set period of time — typically six to 18 months. These rates tend to be lower than the regular rate that applies once the introductory period is over. Some cards even offer 0% introductory interest rates.
  • Purchase interest rate. This rate determines how much interest you’ll owe on any outstanding balance, which is especially important if you don’t always pay off your credit card in full.
  • Cash advance interest rate. If you withdraw cash from an ATM using your credit card, that transaction may be subject to a different interest rate than the one applied to regular purchases. This interest rate, also called a cash advance rate, may be higher than your purchase interest rate and may also be accompanied by a flat-rate transaction fee.
  • Balance transfer interest rate. Transferring an existing balance from one credit card to another may call your balance transfer interest rate into effect: an interest rate that only applies to funds relocated from another credit card.

Earn rate

Every credit card has a base earn rate, but just about all of the best rewards credit cards in Canada have an increased earn rate for specific bonus categories. For store rewards cards, you’ll usually get an increased earn rate on in-store and online purchases. However, if you have a general rewards credit card, you could earn extra points on categories such as groceries, gas, pharmacies and more. The earn rate is essential since choosing a card that lines up with your spending can quickly increase the number of points or miles you earn.

Annual fee

If you’re firmly against the idea of paying an annual fee for your credit card, then you’ll instantly narrow down your choices. That said, rewards credit cards that have an annual fee typically come with more benefits that could be worth more than that yearly fee.

Reward flexibility

Having a lot of points is meaningless if it’s hard to redeem them. Look for a loyalty or rewards program where you know you’ll be able to use your points without much trouble. What you’re looking for are programs where there are no blackout dates and many different redemptions options. You’ll also want to consider if the program has any transfer partners, as that’s another way to use your points. Additionally, knowing if and when your points expire is key to making sure you don’t lose your hard-earned rewards.

Additional benefits of reward credit cards

Besides the main categories covered by general rewards credit cards, consider the additional perks that are included. These extra perks can often be the thing that helps you choose one card over another.

Consider the following benefits that often come with rewards credit cards:

  • Rental car discounts and insurance. Certain cards will earn you cheaper rates on rental cars — even internationally — as well as some insurance coverage.
  • Security features. It’s becoming more common for rewards cards to offer things like identity theft protection, the ability to lock your card, or block foreign and online transactions, via a mobile app.
  • Mobile device insurance. In recent years, mobile device insurance has become a popular benefit. Basically, if your mobile device, including your wireless phone and tablet, is damaged, lost or stolen, you can make a claim.
  • Roadside assistance. This perk can help you out if you ever run into car troubles. Be sure to read the details of your roadside assistance plan, as the process of making a claim can be very specific.
  • Extended warranty. Many credit cards will lengthen your warranty up to one additional year as long as you charge the full cost of the purchase to your card.
  • Price protection. If you find a lower price after making a purchase, some credit cards will give you back the difference as long as it falls within a specific time period.
  • Concierge service. A credit card concierge can help you with basic tasks such as booking travel, ordering fits and securing event tickets.
  • Airport lounge access. Some credit cards include airport lounge access, plus free annual lounge passes. These benefits could easily have a value of over $300, so it can offset any annual fee you might pay.
  • Travel insurance. Depending on the credit card, an extensive travel insurance package could be included. This could cover things such as medical expenses, trip cancellation, lost luggage, and more.
  • No foreign transaction fees. Many credit cards charge a 2.5% fee when you make a purchase in any currency that’s not Canadian dollars. If your card has no foreign transaction fees, then you’re just paying the straight exchange rate.

As you can see, the list of additional benefits you can get with your rewards credit cards can be pretty extensive. Always prioritize the perks that are important to you when applying for a card.

How to get a rewards credit card

Eligibility criteria for rewards credit cards are fairly standard: you need to be a Canadian resident and you need to be the age of majority in the province or territory where you live.

Outside this, there may be credit score and annual income threshold minimums to consider, but these vary by card.

When you apply for a rewards credit card, there’s no guarantee you’ll be approved. The credit card provider needs to assess your financial profile to determine if you’re creditworthy. The application process will typically look something like this:

Steps to apply for a rewards credit card

  1. Fill out an application. This can be done online or at your financial institution. The application will ask for some basic information, such as your name, date of birth, address, social insurance number, employer and income.
  2. Your information is checked. The credit card issuer will check your credit history and verify the information that you provided.
  3. A decision is made. If you apply online, instant approval (or disapproval) is possible, but there’s also a chance the credit card issuer will ask you to contact them to provide additional information.
  4. Your card is mailed out. Your credit card will immediately be mailed out and will typically arrive within 14 business days.
  5. Activate your card. Once your card arrives, you’ll need to activate it by logging into your account or calling the number on your card. Once activated, you can use your card to make purchases.

Should you have multiple rewards credit cards?

The number of credit cards you should have ultimately comes down to your financial health, spending habits and goals.

Different rewards credit cards offer bonus or accelerated earn rates for different categories of spending. Likewise, cards vary in the types of reward they can deliver.

In some cases, it can make sense to have a rewards card that helps you capitalize on your biggest areas of spending, like one card that earns significant travel rewards and another that earns bonus points at the grocery stores.

However, multiple credit cards represent multiple opportunities for accumulating high-interest debt, so make sure you’re confident in your ability to pay the bills off in full on a regular basis. And keep in mind that each credit card application can result in a hard inquiry on your credit report, temporarily reducing your credit score.

Is a rewards credit cards worth it?

Everyone sees a different value in rewards credit cards. What works for you may not necessarily be suitable for someone else. Generally speaking, a rewards credit card is worth it in the following scenarios:

Reasons a rewards credit card might be worth it

  • No annual fee. Many credit cards with no yearly fee still come with a few benefits.
  • Rewards align with your spending. If you shop at a specific store regularly or find that a lot of your budget goes toward groceries, a card that rewards you for those behaviours is often worth it.
  • You have a goal in mind. Having a specific redemption in mind is essential since you can then apply for rewards credit cards to help you reach that goal.
  • Good welcome bonus. Sign-up bonuses and intro offers that are given to new applicants are often worth hundreds of dollars.
  • You’re looking to save money. The points you earn from a store rewards credit card can reduce the cost of your purchases.
  • You want a specific benefit. If the credit card comes with a benefit you want, such as no foreign transaction fees or roadside assistance, it could be reason enough to sign up.

Reasons a rewards credit card might not be worth it

Even though the positives are compelling, situations where it may not be worth getting a rewards credit card include:

  • You typically carry a balance. No amount of rewards are worth it if you’re paying interest.
  • You’re worried about your spending. Some people will spend more when they have access to a credit card.
  • You can’t meet the requirements. Most rewards credit cards require applicants to have a good credit score, meet certain income requirements and be the right age. If you aren’t eligible, consider a more suitable option.
  • You’re not getting value out of the annual fee. If you’re not using any of your included benefits, you may want to get a no-fee card.
  • You prefer something simple. Even though redeeming rewards can be easy, it still takes some planning. If you like simplicity, going with a cash-back card may be better.

Making the most of your rewards credit card

If you’ve decided that a rewards credit card is for you, there are a few tips you can follow to ensure you get the most out of your card.

  • Always pay your bills in full and on time, so you don’t pay any interest.
  • Make sure you meet the minimum spend requirement to get your welcome bonus.
  • Pay attention to your earn rate and use your rewards card on purchases that earn extra points.
  • Research your rewards program so you know what you can do with your points or miles.
  • Always calculate the value of your points before making a redemption.
  • See if your loyalty program has a partner network where you can earn additional points.

Although choosing a rewards credit card may require you to do some research, the value you get is often worth it. Getting free stuff on points feels great, especially if it’s something you’ve been saving a long time for.

Other types of credit cards to consider

Although cash-back cards are easy to understand, they shouldn’t be the default card you apply for. Depending on your situation, you may want to consider one of the following types of credit cards instead.

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  • FAQs for rewards credit cards

    • How much are credit card reward points worth?

      The value of your rewards credit card points or miles will vary depending on the rewards program you join and what you redeem them for. If you can, go with the reward that has the highest value.

      By calculating a baseline value for your points, you can decide if specific redemptions are worth it — even if you’re not getting the maximum value.

      The formula used to determine the value of one point is as follows: Cash value of the redemption X 100 / number of points required = Cost per point.

    • Are credit card rewards taxable?

      Credit card rewards are considered a rebate/discount by the Canada Revenue Agency, so you won’t be taxed. Rewards are really no different from a coupon, which isn’t taxable. That said, if you earn cash-back rewards as part of your employment or business, it may be taxable.


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