There are several factors that separate the good rewards programs from the bad ones.  How quickly can you earn points?  Are there category multipliers or incentives to help earn points faster?  How attainable are the rewards, and are they easy to redeem?

I remember my first rewards card was a CIBC GM Visa.  Every dollar spent earned me points towards a new GM vehicle.  I was convinced I’d get a new car after just a few years of using the card.  What a deal!  Sadly, the reward was too far out of reach, considering that as a student I spent about $150 per month on the card.  No new car for me.

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Since then, I’ve spent a lot of time researching the top rewards credit cards and loyalty programs so that I can explain how best to earn and redeem points.

This post is different because it highlights the worst rewards cards offered in Canada and why they should be avoided.

Worst Rewards Cards in Canada

The criteria for “worst” rewards card included cards that paid back less than 1 percent, offered no incentives to earn more points beyond your everyday spending, and had rewards that were either unattainable or difficult to redeem.

CFL mbna rewards MasterCard

No question the CFL is extremely popular in Canada and so this card might appeal to die-hard football fans.  It claims to offer unique rewards like exclusive CFL experiences, memorabilia, and merchandise.  But vanity aside, there is no good reason to carry this rewards card.  Here’s why:

You’ll get 1 point for every $1 spent on this card, plus 1,000 bonus points after your first purchase and another 1,000 points every year on your card anniversary.

Sounds reasonable, but when you take a look at the rewards catalogue you’ll be disappointed.  A unique Grey Cup Experience, which includes two tickets to the game, two flights to the host city, and three night’s stay in a hotel, will cost you over 600,000 points.

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That means you’ll need to spend nearly $600,000 to earn that many points, which would take you 20 years at a rate of $30,000 card spending per year.

Ok, but what about something small, like a hat?  That’ll cost you 3,790 points – much less than a 1 percent return on your spending.

In reality, there is nothing unique about the rewards this card offers that any football fan couldn’t find on eBay or from the CFL shop online.

TD Drivers Rewards Visa

A rewards program shouldn’t be complicated, but the TD Drivers Rewards Visa does its best to dispel that theory.

With this card you can redeem Drivers Rewards points toward the purchase or lease of the vehicle you want.  You can also redeem points for automotive parts like windshield wipers, tires, floor mats, or a GPS system.

To redeem your points you’ll have to use your card to buy(!) or lease(!) any new or used vehicle, or purchase automotive parts or services, then call TD customer service within 90 days of the purchase and state the number of Drivers Rewards points you’d like to redeem.

I should mention that you need to make your purchase from an eligible merchant(!) as described in the cardholder agreement.

The website states that a $1,500 credit limit may apply to new applicants.  How exactly are you supposed to buy or lease a car for that amount?

ScotiaHockey NHL Visa

Scotia is the hockey bank so it’s only fitting that they’ve come out with an NHL rewards card.  Another vanity card, this one lets you customize your card with your favourite team logo and redeem points toward NHL merchandise and game tickets.

The benefits are decent – you get the standard one point for every dollar spent, plus 3,000 bonus points after your first purchase.  You’ll also get 20 percent off purchases at the NHL store online.

But the cheapest item you’ll find in the hockey rewards catalogue is a $25 gift certificate for the NHL store online for 3,250 points.  That’s a return of just 0.77 percent on your spending.

To redeem your points for NHL game tickets you’ll have to first purchase a ticket with your ScotiaHockey NHL Visa, wait for the transaction to show up on your statement online, and then call Scotia Rewards.  Every 100 points will get you $1 off your purchase.

Like the CFL rewards card, there are some interesting collectibles in the rewards store.  But once again, any savvy hockey fan can find a better and cheaper variety online through eBay or other memorabilia sites.

Final thoughts

The cards I’ve highlighted above try to appeal to the type of customer who’s looking for aspirational rewards.  It’s pure fantasy in the form of cars, one-of-a-kind fan experiences, and unique merchandise.

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But emotion often trumps logic (and math).  When you break down the numbers you’d be better off using a cash back card and then using the cash to buy a unique experience for yourself on your own terms instead of being at the mercy of a rewards call centre.

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