It goes without saying that finding the right credit card could save you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars a year. Whether you’re looking for lower fees, higher net reward points or simply valuable perks like travel medical insurance or rental car savings, every dollar counts. If you use your credit card wisely, pay off your balance monthly and find the right rewards program for you, you’re sure to come out ahead. There’s a slew of credit card options out there, so making a choice can be perplexing. To help you find a keeper or two, MoneySense has done a lot of the heavy lifting for you.
To come up with Canada’s Best Credit Cards 2019, we tapped our credit card tool, which is powered by our partner Ratehub.ca‡. The methodology took into consideration numerous factors, including welcome bonuses, great cash-back value, rental car discounts, flexible travel with no restrictions, high cash-back value, superb insurance packages, and more. Ratehub.ca provides us with results based on their algorithms and the team at MoneySense uses that information and also makes additional considerations when determining the final rankings.
Remember, this is only a starting point. Try our tool and then do some of your own credit card research. Some of the highlights from our package include:
The best credit cards in Canada 2019
- Scotiabank Gold American Express and American Express Cobalt — Best travel rewards cards for everyday spending
- TD First Class Travel Visa Infinite Card — Best Visa travel card
- Scotia Momentum Visa Infinite — Best cash back card with a fee
- Tangerine Money-Back — Best no-fee cash back card
- MBNA Rewards Platinum Plus Mastercard — Best no-fee card for travel reward
- BMO CashBack Mastercard — Best student credit card
- American Express Essential Credit Card — Best low-interest card
- MBNA True Line Mastercard — Best card for balance transfers
- More on the best credits cards — View a complete list of top cards by category
- How do credit cards work —A quick walkthrough
- What’s the best credit for me — How to choose
- Credit card points vs cash back — What to consider before applying
- Our methodology — For greater insight into our rankings
Best travel rewards cards for everyday spending
The Scotiabank Gold American Express has been a long-time favourite for Canadians, and a round of changes as of August 1, 2019, have only improved the offering, especially for travellers.
The first thing you’ll notice is they’ve bumped up their earn rate on Scotia Rewards to a very healthy 5 points per dollar on groceries, dining and entertainment. Gas gets 3 points per dollar, as do spends in two new categories: public transit and eligible streaming services. All other purchases earn you 1 point per dollar spent. And the 30,000-point welcome bonus gives you a robust head start on saving for your next big trip.
Scotia Rewards points are very flexible. You can book your travel through the Scotia Rewards Travel portal, or you can book any type of travel on a different site and then simply apply your points to get a statement credit. In both cases, it takes 100 points to claim $1 in travel, so the value of your points is the same regardless of where you make your reservations.
In other very big news for travellers, this card no longer charges a foreign transaction fee—it’s one of the very few Canadian cards to offer this perk. Consider it a 2.5% bonus (the amount previously charged) on all foreign currency transactions, including online purchases.
The included travel insurance covers you for 25 days per trip and comprises every major type of travel insurance, so you can go on vacation knowing that you’re protected. On the downside, the trip cancellation insurance coverage has been reduced from $2,500 to $1,500 in protection, and seniors are only covered for 3 days rather the 10 days offered previously.
One additional benefit that comes with the card that’s often overlooked is price protection. If there’s a price drop on one of your purchases within 60 days of your purchase, Scotiabank will credit you the difference.
- Annual fee: $120
- Welcome bonus: 30,000 points (25,000 when you charge $1,000 to your card in the first 3 months and an additional 5,000 when you spend $10,000 in the first year)
- Earn rate: 5 points per dollar spent on groceries, dining and entertainment; 3 points per dollar on gas, public transit and eligible streaming services; and 1 point for per dollar spent on all other purchases
- Additional benefits: Members save 35% off Priority Pass membership (no free lounge passes), travel insurance
With a high earn rate, generous welcome bonus and points that are easy to use, the American Express Cobalt card is our pick for one of the best travel credit cards for everyday spending. What makes this card unique is its subscription type model with both the monthly fee and welcome bonus. Think of it as a way of testing out the card before you fully commit.
The points you earn can be used towards the American Express Fixed Points Travel Program which allows you to book any flight, on any airline with no blackout dates. If you prefer to use your rewards for accommodations, you can transfer your points to one of the American Express Hotel partners.
- Annual fee: $120 ($10 monthly)
- Welcome bonus: 2,500 per month, for 12 months when you spend a minimum of $500 to your card each month, to a maximum of 30,000 points total
- Earn rate: 5 points per $1 spent on eats and drinks, 2 points per $1 spent on travel, 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
- Additional benefits: American Express Invites, travel insurance
Best Visa travel card
Some people want to earn points when they travel as well as throughout the year, so that when they do take a trip, they can save on their flights or hotels. If this sounds like you, then the TD First Class Travel Visa Infinite Card is a good choice, since you can rack up the points and then easily make a redemption through Expedia for TD.
The earn rate is simple to understand. You get 3 TD Rewards points per $1 spent; when you make online purchases through Expedia for TD you earn 9 points per $1 spent, and 6 points per $1 spent for phone purchases through Expedia for TD. That means you’re earning a 1.5%, 4.5% and 3% return respectively in travel points. Expedia For TD is just like the regular Expedia platform so you’ll have no problem finding ways to redeem your points.
With the annual fee of $120 being rebated for the first year and a welcome bonus of up to 90,000 points—which has a travel value of up to $450—this could be the best travel credit card offer available right now.
- Annual fee: $120—rebated for the first year
- Welcome bonus: 20,000 TD Rewards points when you make your first purchase on the card; plus an additional 2 times the points on card purchases made in the first 3 months, up to a maximum of 60,000 points; and an additional 10,000 points for adding another cardholder to your account by December 1
- Earn rate: 9 points per dollar spent on travel online with Expedia for TD; 6 points per dollar spent on travel via phone order with Expedia for TD; 3 points per dollar spent on all other purchases
Best cash back card (with a fee)
With this card, you’ll get 4% cash back on groceries and recurring bill payments you put on your card; 2% on gas and public transit spends; and 1% on all other purchases. Together, these make up some of the highest earn rates in the country.
- Annual fee: $120 (first year free)
- Earn rate: 4% cash back on groceries and recurring bills; 2% on gas and public transit; 1% on everything else
- Additional benefits: Travel insurance, Concierge service, Visa Infinite Dining and Music Series
Best cash back card (no fee)
If you’re looking for a no fee, cash back card, then the Tangerine Money-Back card needs to be on your radar since you can earn up to 2% cash back on three categories of your choice. You’re given two categories that earn you 2% right away, but if you set your cash back to deposit directly into your Tangerine account, then you get to choose a third category. All other purchases earn you 0.5% in cash back so make sure you choose your categories based on how much you spend.
There aren’t really any additional benefits with this card, but that’s okay as Tangerine is trying to provide you with a simple credit card solution that encourages you to save the cash back you earn on your spending.
- Annual fee: None
- Earn rate: 2% cash back on up to 3 categories of your choice, 0.5% on all other purchases
- Welcome offer: Get 4% cash back on your 3 categories for the first 3 months
- Additional benefits: Purchase Assurance, Extended warranty
Best travel rewards card (no fee)
The MBNA Rewards Platinum Plus Mastercard doesn’t give you a huge sign-up bonus, but the 10,000 points are easy to earn since all you need to do is make any purchase within 90 days of getting your card to earn 5,000 points and then enrol into e-statements to get another 5,000 points.
MBNA points are flexible since you can redeem them for a variety of things such as travel, a statement credit, and more, but you get the most bang for your buck on travel redemptions where it’ll cost you 100 points to claim $1 in travel. For reference, it takes 200 points to claim $1 in cash back.
- Annual fee: None
- Welcome bonus: 5,000 bonus points if you enroll in e-statements and another 5,000 points after your first purchase
- Earn rate: 2 points for every dollar spent on gas, groceries, and restaurants, 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases
- Additional benefits: Purchase Assurance, Extended warranty
Best student credit card
The academic year tends to be front-loaded with expenses: text books, lab supplies and, if you’re living off-residence, housewares and the cost of setting up utilities. This is where a rewards card comes in handy, especially with a juicy welcome bonus of 5% cash back on purchases on your first three statements. After the bonus period, you’ll still earn 1% cash back on everything else.
- Annual fee: $0
- Welcome bonus: 5% cash back on your first three statements (purchases totalling up to $2,000)
- Earn rate: 1% cash back on all purchases
- Additional benefits: Extended insurance on purchases made with the card; up to 25% off rentals at eligible Alamo and National Car rental agencies
Best low-interest credit card (for carrying a balance)
American Express Essential Credit Card
People looking to reduce the amount of interest they pay should consider a low-interest credit card such as the American Express Essential Credit card. You won’t earn anything for your spending, but the interest rate is just 8.99% which is significantly lower than the average of 19.99% that most other credit cards charge.
If you’re currently carrying a balance on a credit with a higher interest rate, then you should take advantage of the optional balance transfer at the time of application. Balances transferred will only be charged 1.99% for the first six months so you can focus on reducing your debt.
- Annual fee: None
- Welcome bonus: Optional balance transfer interest rate of 1.99% for the first six months
- Earn rate: N/A
- Additional benefits: Amex invites
Best balance transfer credit card (for consolidating debt)
The MBNA True Line Mastercard is another balance transfer credit card but it has a few unique features. With the balance transfer option, your promotional interest rate is 0% for the first ten months. There is a balance transfer fee of 3% with a minimum of $7.50, but you get 90 days from the time of your account opening to complete your balance transfer.
Once your promotional period ends, your interest rate goes up to 12.99% which is still lower than most credit cards, but you should try to pay off your balance when your rate is 0% so you can avoid any additional interest charges.
- Annual fee: None
- Welcome bonus: Optional balance transfer interest rate of 0% for the first ten months (1% transfer fee, $7.50 minimum).
- Earn rate: N/A
- Additional benefits: None
- NOTE: APR and balance transfer offer is different for residents of Quebec
Canada’s Best Credit Cards — Rewards Overview
|Card||Net reward (excluding 1st-year sign-up bonus)|
|Scotiabank Gold American Express||$612|
|American Express Cobalt||$501|
|Scotia Momentum Visa Infinite||$369|
|TD First Class Travel Visa Infinite Card||$303|
|Tangerine Money-Back Credit Card||$286|
|MBNA Rewards Platinum||$348|
|BMO CashBack Mastercard||$120|
In-Depth: THE BEST CREDIT CARDS BY CATEGORY
- Best Rewards Credit Cards
- Best Travel Credit Cards
- Best Cash Back Credit Cards
- Best No Fee Rewards Credit Cards
- Best Low Interest Credit Cards
- Best Balance Transfer Credit Cards
- Best Student Credit Cards
How do credit cards work?
It’s important to understand exactly what credit cards do, so you can use them with maximum advantage without falling into financial trouble. There are lots of benefits. For instance, they offer you a line of credit that can be used when you make a purchase, for balance transfers and/or cash advances. So they are like short-term loans with a balance that must be paid back every month. As you pay down your balance, the credit available to you the following month goes up.
A credit card’s strongest advantage is convenience. Simply pay for your purchase with your credit card and you will be billed for the outstanding balance the following month—no cash in your wallet required. Other benefits include the ability to accrue rewards and points—such as cash back or travel points—based on a percentage of your purchases each month, usually between 1% to 4%, depending on which credit card you own. You can then redeem those points for gift cards, travel, products or other items offered through the credit card company’s online rewards catalogue.
Credit cards can also help you build credit. Always pay on time and your credit score will be high (650+) allowing you in future to borrow for a mortgage or a car loan in future at a reasonable interest rate from your local financial institution.
Of course, credit cards need to be used responsibly and work best when you are a disciplined spender. Have only one or two cards in your wallet and make sure they match your spending habits. And of course, make sure you can pay off the balance in full (or at the very least make the minimum payment) every month so you don’t have to pay hefty interest on your unpaid balance. This can result in costly fees as well as points knocked off your credit score—a real no-no. But with a bit of diligent oversight and self-control, credit cards become helpful and convenient financial tools that can make everyday purchases simple and easy.
How to decide: What is the best credit card for me?
When deciding on which credit is the best for you, you need to look at your priorities. If you normally carry a balance or you want to reduce your debt, then a low interest or balance transfer card should be the only things you consider.
For those who always pay off their full balance every month, then they need to decide whether a travel or cash back card makes more sense for them. Travel cards can offer lucrative rewards, but if you don’t like to travel, there’s no point in getting a travel credit card. If this sounds like you, then a cash back card may be the way to go.
Now that you’ve got your category of card selected, take a look at the earn rate, additional, benefits, and what type of points you earn for each card. If you happen to spend a lot on gas and groceries, then look for a card that has a high earn rate for those categories.
Credit card points versus cash back: What to consider before deciding
In the end, most decisions will come down to a cash back or travel rewards credit card? As mentioned, travel rewards can be lucrative, but cash back is simple since you don’t need to worry about any potential travel restrictions. Think about the following for each type of card.
Cash back cards: The first thing you want to look at is the earn rate. Take a look at your spending habits and pick a card that will earn you the most rewards. For example, if you spend a lot on gas, then pick a card that earns you more cash back at gas stations. High earn rates are great, but keep in mind that many of the top cards have a high income requirement to be approved. Cash back is simple to understand, but some credit cards will only give you what you’ve earned after you reach a minimum amount or once per calendar year. Find out how you’ll get paid and make sure you’re okay with it before you apply. If you’re considering a card with an annual fee, make sure the extra cash back you earn is worth more than the fee. If it’s not, stick to a no fee card.
Rewards credit cards: Generally speaking, cards that earn you points are usually best used for travel redemptions. These cards will likely give you other ways to cash out your points, but the majority of the time, you get the most value for your points when redeeming for travel. Similar to cash back cards, you want to pick a card that gives you the most points on the categories you spend the most money. You also want to figure out what type of travel you prefer. you could get an airline branded credit card or a hotel one. There are also credit cards that allow you to redeem for any type of travel. Regardless of what you go with, you need to know how the reward programs work so you can maximize your points.
More on our methodology
For the Best Credit Cards 2019 ranking we ran the numbers for each of the cards in the seven categories based on $2,000 in monthly spending ($1,000 monthly for the student cards) as well as interest rates and offers. We also made some assumptions on spending—grocery spend of $500, gas of $200, restaurants of $200 and bill payments of $125, travel of $175, entertainment of $225, pharmacy purchases of $75 and other purchases of $500. (These were adjusted lower for student cards).
The end game was a magic number—that is, the annual net reward in dollar terms to identify the top cards in each category, plus an honorary mention. As highlighted above, our methodology also took into consideration other factors, including the value of a credit card’s welcome bonuses, insurance benefits and flexibility.
‡MoneySense.ca and Ratehub.ca are both owned by parent company Ratehub Inc. We may be partnered with some financial institutions, but this does not influence the “Canada’s Best Credit Card” rankings. You can read more about this in our Editorial Code of Conduct.