The fact is, Canadians prefer to do the majority of their banking in one place and so many will look to their bank to provide a solid rewards credit card to help them earn points on everyday spending.
I don’t mind taking shots at the big banks for charging excessive fees and delivering, shall we say, less than compassionate customer service. But I also like to give credit where credit is due, and that’s why I’ve rounded up the best travel, cash back, and speciality rewards credit cards offered at each of the big banks.
We’ll start with Scotiabank, which has – hands down – the best overall suite of credit cards on the market.
Best travel: Scotiabank Gold American Express
This travel card lets you earn big rewards for spending in core categories like groceries, gas, dining, and entertainment – at 4x the points you’ll earn rewards quickly. Redeem your points by booking travel through Scotia Rewards or book on your own and apply points to your trip expenses later.
Current promotion – Get the $99 annual fee waived in the first year, plus 20,000 bonus points – worth $200 in travel.
Best cash back: Scotia Momentum Visa Infinite
The current cash back king in Canada gives you 4 percent cash back on your grocery and gas spending, plus 2 percent back at drug stores and on recurring bill payments. Cash back is paid annually as a statement credit.
Current promotion – Get the $99 annual fee waived in the first year, plus a 1.99 percent introductory interest rate.
Best specialty: Scene Visa card
I’ve described this rewards card before as a hidden gem and that’s because you can earn an incredible return on your spending when you pair it with a Scene rewards card and redeem points for free movies.
A favourite amongst students and movie-lovers alike, this no-fee card pays 5 Scene points for every $1 spent at Cineplex theatres, plus 1 Scene point for every $1 spent elsewhere.
Current promotion – Get 2,000 bonus points with your first purchase.
Canada’s biggest bank offers the next best suite of credit cards, led by an impressive line-up of travel rewards cards.
Best travel: Tie between RBC Avion Visa Infinite and WestJet RBC World Elite MasterCard
RBC Avion Visa Infinite is one of the most popular travel rewards cards in Canada because of the ability to book flights with any airline with no blackout periods. You can also turn RBC rewards points into WestJet dollars and British Airways miles.
The WestJet RBC World Elite MasterCard, on the other hand, is tops for frequent WestJet flyers and offers a generous round trip companion flight every year for just $99 (plus fees and taxes) to anywhere in Canada or the continental U.S.
Current promotion – Get 15,000 welcome points when you sign up for the RBC Avion Visa Infinite card.
Current promotion – Get $250 WestJet dollars as a welcome bonus.
Best cash back: RBC Cash Back MasterCard
This no-fee card pays 2 percent back on your first $6,000 spent annually on groceries. It also pays 1 percent back on your first $6,000 spent annually outside of grocery stores.
Current promotion: None.
Best specialty: Target RBC MasterCard RBC Shoppers Optimum MasterCard
Now that Target has fled the country with its tail between its legs, this category goes to the Shoppers Optimum MasterCard, which earns you 15 points for every dollar spent at Shoppers stores, plus 5 points for every dollar spent elsewhere.
Current promotion – Apply and get 15,000 bonus points with your first purchase.
Coming in third is BMO with its decent line-up of World and World Elite MasterCard’s.
Best travel: BMO World Elite MasterCard
After Capital One discontinued its Aspire Travel World MasterCard, this premium offering from BMO might have a case for being the top travel rewards credit card in Canada.
Earn 2 percent back on every dollar spent, and your points will cover ALL flight charges – including taxes. It also has top-of-the-line insurance benefits, including out of province medical coverage.
Current promotion – Get a 30,000 welcome bonus – equal to a $300 travel credit.
Best cash back: BMO CashBack World MasterCard
This cash back card comes with a $79 annual fee but pays a straight 1.25 percent back on your spending. You’ll also earn 3 percent cash back on purchases at Shell and get complimentary roadside assistance coverage.
Current promotion – Get $25 in CashBack points after your first purchase.
Best specialty: BMO SPC CashBack MasterCard
Another student favourite, this one pays 0.5 percent cash back on all spending, plus SPC discounts of 10 to 15 percent at hundreds of stores across Canada.
Next up is CIBC. Even though the bank wound up losing half of its Aeroplan portfolio to TD, it still comes in fourth place with a well-rounded credit card line-up.
Best travel: CIBC Aventura Visa Infinite card
After losing its exclusivity of Aeroplan-branded cards, CIBC revamped its Aventura offering to become the anti-Aeroplan – by focusing on a better redemption experience with no blackout periods or restrictions, and points that don’t expire.
Cardholders get 1.5 points for every dollar spent at gas stations, grocery stores, and drug stores.
Current promotion – Get 15,000 bonus points on your first purchase.
Best cash back: CIBC Dividend Unlimited World Elite MasterCard*
This cash back card pays 0.5 percent on your first $3,000 in spending, 1 percent on spending between $3,000 and $15,000, 1.5 percent on spending between $15,000 and $35,000, and 2 percent on spending between $35,000 and $50,000.
*Although it’s the best that CIBC offers in the cash back space, the tiered earnings structure, coupled with the $79 annual fee, makes this cash back card a dud.
Best specialty: CIBC Tim Hortons Double Double Visa card
A soon-to-be rival to Scotia’s Scene card for students across the country, the Double Double Visa card gives you 1 percent back in Tim Cash with every purchase. You’ll also get a free Timbit 50 pack for every 50 purchases, plus a free baked good when you make 5 purchases per month.
Current promotion – Get a $20 Tim Cash bonus after your first $200 in spending
TD made a big splash when it lured half of the Aeroplan-branded credit card portfolio away from CIBC, however outside of its new suite of Aeroplan cards, TD’s credit card line-up leaves something to be desired.
Best travel: TD First Class Visa Infinite card
Aeroplan gets all the attention, but the TD First Class Visa Infinite stands out for its excellent insurance coverage and flexible options when it comes to redeeming points.
Earn 1.5 percent return on your spending, plus a 4.5 percent return on any travel booked through Expedia.
Current promotion – Get a 20,000 welcome bonus.
Best cash back: TD Gold Elite Visa card*
This cash back card pays a straight 1 percent back on all purchases, with no limit to how much you can earn.
*But with a $99 annual fee, and no option to earn bonus points on your spending, this is an uninspiring offering from TD and not worth applying.
Best specialty: TD Drivers Rewards Points Visa
This is a no-fee card, but that’s about all it has going for it. Drivers Rewards is so bad that it made the list of worst rewards cards on the market.
Many of the best rewards cards come from credit card issuers like Capital One, Chase, and MBNA. But, as we’ve seen in recent years with the devaluing of the Smart Cash card, and the discontinuing of cards like Aspire Cash, Aspire Travel, and even Chase’s Sears MasterCard, we can’t always count on these card issuers to keep their products on the market (and at market leading rewards).
That’s why it might be safer to go with one of the big banks, especially if you prefer to have some consistency when it comes to the cards in your wallet.