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Published October 7, 2021
Updated October 7, 2021

Canada’s 8 Best Rewards Credit Cards of 2021

The best rewards credit cards transform your everyday grocery, gas, restaurant and household spending into easy-to-use points and flexible loyalty program perks.

ALSO CONSIDER: Best travel credit cards || Best cash back credit cards || Best no-fee credit cards || Best student credit cards

Rewards credit cards allow you to earn cash back, points or miles for the purchases you make every day, but the way you earn those rewards varies by card type.

General rewards credit cards, like the ones on this list, give you the chance to earn points on a variety of purchase types, and the flexibility to redeem those rewards for a variety of things, including entertainment, merchandise, gift cards, cash or travel discounts.

All cards on 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.

NerdWallet’s picks for best general rewards credit cards in Canada

 

Scotiabank Platinum American Express card

Our pick for bonus rewards on daily spending + travel perks

Annual Fee
$399
Rewards Rate
1x-4x
4x at eligible gas stations, grocery stores, dining and entertainment, and 1x on everything else.
Intro Offer
30,000 points
Earn 30,000 points when you make your first eligible purchase within two months of opening an account. Offer for new cardholders. Must open an account by November 21, 2021.
  • 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.

    Pros

    • 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

    Cons

    • 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 Scotia Rewards points per dollar at eligible gas stations, grocery stores, and on dining and entertainment, up to $100,000 annual spend.
    • 1x Scotia Rewards points per dollar on everything else.
    • Scotia Rewards 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.
    • Covert Scotia Rewards points to SCENE points.
    • $399 annual fee.
    • Redeem points for any flight, any time through Scotia Rewards Travel Service, 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.

HSBC +Rewards Mastercard

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

Annual Fee
$0 intro for the first year, then $25
Offer available for new cardholders.
Rewards Rate
1x-2x points
2x on dining and entertainment, and 1x on everything else.
Intro Offer
30,000 points
Earn 30,000 points ($150 travel value) when you spend $2,000 in the first 180 days. Must apply by January 31, 2022. Conditions apply.
  • 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.

    Pros

    • 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.

    Cons

    • 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
    • Earn 2x points per dollar on dining or entertainment.
    • 1x points per dollar on everything else.
    • Redeem points for travel, gift cards and valuable merchandise, and financial rewards.
    • $25 annual fee.
    • Added security and convenience via Apple Pay, Tap & go and Zero Liability protection for unauthorized use of the card.
    • Three types of insurance provided: price protection, extended warranty and purchase assurance. Travel and medical insurance is available for an additional $69 annual fee.
    • Preferred rates: 11.90% for purchases, 11.90% 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.

MBNA Rewards World Elite Mastercard

Our pick for bonus rewards on restaurants, groceries and household utility bills

Annual Fee
$120
Rewards Rate
1x-5x
5x on restaurant, grocery, digital media, memberships, and household utility purchases, and 1x on everything else.
Intro Offer
30,000 points
Spend $2,000 in the first 90 days and earn 20,000 points (approximately $165 in cash back value). Enroll for paperless e-statements within the first 90 days for 10,000 bonus points (approximately $80 in cash back value).
  • 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.

    Pros

    • 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.

    Cons

    • 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.

American Express Cobalt Card

Our pick for bonus rewards on daily spending

Annual Fee
$155.88
$12.99 monthly fee.
Rewards Rate
1x-5x points
5x on eats & drinks, 3x on streaming subscriptions, 2x on travel & transit, and 1x on everything else.
Intro Offer
50,000 points
Spend $3,000 in the first three months and receive a welcome bonus of 20,000 points. Spend $500 to earn 2,500 points each billing cycle for a year (30,000 points in a year). New cardmembers only.
  • 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.

    Pros

    • Earn 150,000 points in the first year by spending up to $30,000 on eats, drinks and groceries. Combined with the 50,000 point intro offer, you could earn 200,000 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.

    Cons

    • 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
    • 5x Membership Rewards points on eats & drinks (coffee shops, restaurants, grocery stores, and more), up to $30,000 annual spend.
    • 3x Membership Rewards points on streaming subscriptions.
    • 2x Membership Rewards points on travel & transit
    • 1x Membership Rewards points on everything else.
    • Earn 1 additional Membership Rewards point for every $1 you charge to your Cobalt Card on eligible hotel or car rental bookings made with American Express Travel.
    • Redeem Membership Rewards points towards card purchases, statement credits, gift cards, merchandise, travel on American Express Travel Online, flights through the Fixed Points Travel Program, or transfer points to eligible loyalty and frequent flyer programs.
    • You must redeem a minimum of 1,000 points per redemption. 1,000 points = $10 for any eligible purchase. Points do not expire.
    • $12.99 monthly fee.
    • Earn up to $100 USD hotel credit and enjoy perks at hotels and resorts in more than 30 countries — including one-category room upgrade at check-in — with The Hotel Collection.
    • American Express Experiences offers dining, entertainment, retail and wellness offers and events, plus Front Of The Line presale and reserved tickets.
    • Amex Offers and the Cobalt Perks program provides perks, bonus rewards and more.
    • Access to Plan It, the American Express Installment Program.
    • 10 types of insurance provided, including 15-day travel medical benefits — up to $5,000,000 million in coverage per insured person under age 65.
    • Preferred rates: 20.99% for purchases, 21.99% 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.

BMO eclipse Visa Infinite

Our pick for bonus rewards on daily spending and incentives for ​​authorized users

Annual Fee
$0 intro for the first year, then $120
Offer available for new cardholders.
Rewards Rate
1x-5x points
5x on takeout & food delivery, dining out, groceries, gas and transit, and 1x on everything else.
Intro Offer
40,000 points
Spend $3,000 in the first three months and earn 25,000 points, plus 15,000 points on your first anniversary. Annual fee waived for the first year. New cardmembers only.
  • 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.

    Pros

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

    Cons

    • 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.

President's Choice Financial World Elite Mastercard

Our pick for a no-fee card with bonus rewards on daily spending

Annual Fee
$0
Rewards Rate
10x-45x
45x at Shoppers Drug Mart, 30x at many grocery stores, at least 30x per litre at Esso Mobil gas stations, 30x at PC Travel, and 10x everywhere else.
Intro Offer
0.97%
Pay 0.97% interest on promotional balance transfers for the first six months. New accounts only.
  • 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.

    Pros

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

    Cons

    • 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.

BRIM

Our pick for a no-fee reward card with a digital-first experience

Annual Fee
$0
Rewards Rate
1x-30x points
1x points on everyday purchases. Up to 30x on retail partners in the eShop.
Intro Offer
$200
Earn up to $200 in first-time reward bonuses at participating retailers.
  • 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.

    Pros

    • 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.

    Cons

    • 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.

Desjardins Odyssey World Elite Mastercard

Our pick for bonus rewards on groceries, restaurants, entertainment and public transportation

Annual Fee
$130
Rewards Rate
1.50%-3% BONUSDOLLARS rewards
3% on groceries, 2% on restaurants, entertainment and public transportation, and 1.5% on everything else.
Intro Offer
N/A
  • Our take

    Why we like it

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

    Pros

    • 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.

    Cons

    • 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.
    • World 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.

Methodology

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.

How rewards credit cards work

By Barry Choi

General rewards credit cards typically deliver points that you can redeem for cash back, merchandise, gift cards, experiences, travel costs, and more.

With so many choices out there, selecting a general rewards 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 general rewards credit card can help you decide.

What are rewards credit cards?

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.

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.

General rewards credit cards

Most major financial institutions have a general rewards credit card. The points you earn can typically be redeemed for 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, but 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.

General 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 general travel rewards 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 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.

Are there additional rewards that come with 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.

» MORE: How to apply for a credit card and get approved

What is a reward credit card’s earn rate?

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.

What are the most popular Canadian credit card rewards programs?

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:

Airline rewards

  • Aeroplan, the loyalty program of Air Canada is Canada’s largest airline.
  • Air Miles, a loyalty program that isn’t associated with any specific travel brand.
  • WestJet Rewards, the ​​loyalty program of Canada’s second-largest airline.

Hotel rewards

  • Marriott Bonvoy
  • Best Western Rewards
  • Hilton Honors
  • Wyndham Rewards

» MORE: Popular loyalty programs for Canadians who love to travel

General rewards and travel rewards programs

Bank credit card travel rewards programs tend to be highly flexible since you can use your points on a variety of rewards, but each program is different. Some allow you to transfer your points to airlines and hotel partners, while others have an added fixed points redemption chart that can give you good value. You’ll want to find out how you can redeem your points before you commit.

Besides travel, most of these programs allow you to use your points on gift cards, merchandise and even statement credits. They may not have the same value as travel redemptions, but at least you have more options.

Popular programs for general and travel rewards include:

  • American Express Membership Rewards
  • BMO Rewards
  • Brim Rewards
  • CIBC Rewards
  • Desjardins BONUSDOLLARS
  • HSBC Rewards Program
  • MBNA Rewards
  • National Bank À La Carte Rewards
  • RBC REWARDS
  • Scotia Rewards
  • TD Rewards

Store rewards programs

With store rewards programs, you really need to pay attention to the details to figure out if they’re worthwhile. Some stores have a cash back program, so it’s straightforward to understand. However, many use a points system that can be tricky. First, you need to see how easy it is to earn points, and then you need to determine if the redemptions are worth it.

If you shop at a store frequently, it may be worth signing up for their loyalty program. Getting a co-branded credit card can earn you more points, but it may not be necessary.

Some of Canada’s most popular store rewards programs include:

  • Amazon Rewards
  • Canada Tire’s Triangle Rewards
  • Cineplex SCENE
  • Hudson’s Bay Rewards
  • PC Optimum
  • Walmart Rewards

How do I determine the right rewards credit card for me?

Every credit card is good for at least one thing, so deciding on which card is best for you can be difficult.

Questions to ask yourself

Before you apply for a new rewards credit card, ask yourself the following questions:

What type of rewards do I want to earn?

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.

Is there a 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 covers the annual fee or jumpstarts your earning with thousands of free points or miles.

What is the 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.

Is there an 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.

» MORE: When is an annual fee worth it?

How flexible are the rewards?

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.

What additional benefits do I want?

Besides the type of rewards, welcome bonus and earn rate, the additional benefits included will often help sway your decision. Travel insurance, airport lounge access, no foreign exchange fees, etc. can all be pretty valuable.

» MORE: Types of credit card insurance to know

When a rewards credit card is 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:

  • 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.

» MORE: How to use your credit card like a pro

When a rewards credit card is not worth it

Even though the positives are clear, that doesn’t mean you should sign up for a rewards credit card right away. Think about the situations where it may not be worth getting a credit card and see if they apply to you:

  • 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.

» Prefer cash back?: See our picks for the best cash-back credit cards in Canada

Using credit card rewards

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.

» DON’T WAIT: 7 tips for paying off your credit card every month

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.

» TRAVELLING?: Discover the best ways to use your credit card overseas

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.

» MORE: How many credit cards should I have?

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.

» MORE: How to stack credit card rewards

  • FAQs

    • Do rewards points ever expire?

      Yes, rewards points can expire. 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.

      When it comes to bank rewards programs, your points may never expire as long as your credit card account is in good standing. Of course, your account would only fall out of good standing if it becomes delinquent or you use your credit card for fraudulent activity.

    • How do rewards credit cards work?

      Rewards credit cards earn points or miles on purchases. The type of rewards you earn depends on the credit card you have.

      • Cash-back cards earn a percentage of cash.
      • General rewards cards earn points.
      • General travel rewards cards earn points or
        miles.
      • Airline and hotel cards earn points or miles.
      • Store rewards cards earn points on in-store or online purchases.

      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.

    • What can I do with credit card reward points?

      You can redeem the points you earn for travel costs, merchandise, gift cards, experiences and more.

      Redeeming your credit card rewards is often easy, but the process will differ depending on the program. Some only allow you to redeem your points or miles through specific rewards portals, while others allow you to redeem your points for any purchase made after the fact.

    • How much are credit card reward points worth?

      The value of your points or miles will vary depending on the rewards program 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

    • What credit score do I need to get a travel credit card?

      In most cases, a good credit score is required to get the best travel credit cards. However, some secured credit cards and prepaid options offer rewards, and are more suitable for people with bad or fair credit scores.

    • 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 rewards as part of your employment or business, it may be taxable.

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