Can there really be one single BEST credit card?
Most people would say "no".
I agree, there is no one size fits all ... but, there is a one size fits MOST.
I've been honing my credit card comparison system that tracks and ranks credit cards by 50+ features for nearly 7 years now. I'm not just comparing points or rewards either. I'm figuring out the true value of each different reward point or mile and combining that with all the other features, insurance, and perks that each card offers so cards can be compared apples to apples. The result is one simple score out of 5.
All the research has been done and all the numbers have been crunched and updated. Finally, there can be one true champion that is best for most Canadians in 2017.
Of course, the decision of whether the winner meets your needs is all yours ... but you won't find a better starting point than this. (Not sure what to pick? Take this short quiz and find out.)
Best Credit Card Overall
American Express Gold Rewards
The total rewards package of the American Express Gold Rewards Card simply cannot be beat.
First, you get an extremely flexible rewards program in Membership Rewards that allows you to use your points to book any type of travel with any travel provider. Or, you can get up to 3x the reward value by converting your points 1:1 to real airline miles with Air Canada's Aeroplan or British Airways' Avios. Doing so opens up nearly free flights on 42 airlines through airline alliances. Now, you can even redeem your points for statements credits against everyday purchases, like groceries, albeit at a lesser value than travel rewards.
Next, you discover that you earn double points on an unheard of 4 bonus spending categories: gas, groceries, drugstore, and travel. Other cards either don't offer bonuses, limit them to 1.5x, or have points that are far less valuable with no airline mile conversion options. No other card offers a bonus on ALL travel purchases either.
Then, you notice the massive 25,000 point sign up bonus worth $750 in free flights. The first year is always free. The annual fee is a reasonable $150. For such a premium card, there are no minimum income requirements when most competitors require $60,000+. You pinch yourself when you realize you're looking at $1,740 worth of flight value in the first year if you spend a reasonable $2,000 per month on stuff you would buy anyway.
Finally, you get a well-rounded travel insurance package at no extra cost that offers 10 types of free insurance including 15 days of emergency medical coverage and a nice suite of perks. Those include: a free secondary card, more bonus miles if you book with American Express Travel, free upgrades and credits at partner hotels, elevated Hertz Gold status, Front of the Line, special event invites, Apple Pay support, and more.
Best Cash Back
MBNA Rewards World Elite
The MBNA Rewards World Elite MasterCard completely dominates the cash back category giving you the best of all worlds.
That's likely because it was built to be more of a travel rewards card that also allowed you to redeem your points for cash at the same 2% rate. You get most of the insurance and perks of your typical travel rewards card combined with the flexibility and simplicity of a cash back card.
With this card you get 2 points per dollar spent which works out to 2% cash back on ALL your purchases with no tiers, limits, or hoops to jump through. That high rate, combined with the low $89 fee mean that you will earn more cash with this card than its closest competitors.
But, how does that translate into total rewards? If you count the 10,000 point sign up bonus worth $100 in cash back or travel and you spend a reasonable $2,000 per month on the card, then you'll pocket $511 in the first year after you've already paid off the annual fee. Then it will drop to $411 in year two and every year after that.
There's more than just max cash to consider though...
You also get to redeem your points any time you want, any way you want - direct deposit, cheque, statement credit, travel, merchandise, even charity donations. Most other cards only let you redeem once a year and then only as a statement credit.
It even offers 8 types of complimentary insurance coverage including rare price protection coverage that allows you to price match any purchase charged to the card with any lower price you can find without the usual restrictions. Oh, and let's not forget that you can use it at Costco locations because it's a MasterCard and that TD Bank owns MBNA if you're looking for name recognition.
Best No Fee Cash Back
The SimplyCash Card from American Express
The American Express SimplyCash card has been a rock at the top of the Canadian no fee cash back landscape. While other cards have been changing and generally reducing their benefits, this card has remained constant with 1.25% cash back awarded on ALL purchases with no tiers or limits.
The main issue at play when determining if this card is for you, is the fact that American Express cards aren't quite as widely accepted as MasterCard and Visa. Most major stores, chains, and restaurants accept Amex, but you will find a few that don't.
To both max your cash potential and deal with the acceptance problem, I suggest combing this card with the Tangerine Money-Back MasterCard that allows you to get 2% cash back on up to 3 bonus spending categories YOU get to choose and change as needed. That means no matter where you're spending the most money, you'll always get 2% on those most important purchases and then 1.25% everywhere else. If you encounter a store that doesn't accept Amex and isn't on your 2% category list, then you can still use your Tangerine card to get the regular 0.5% cash back it offers.
Finally, SimplyCash has a sign up bonus of 5% cash back on gas and groceries for the first 6 months you have the card. This bonus is capped at $250, but that's still a generous $5,000 in spending on gas and groceries you can do before you reach the limit. If you're having a hard time spending the full $5,000, just load up on gift cards at the grocery store gift card mall to your favourite stores before your 6 months is up, get your 5%, and then spend the gift cards as fast or slow as you want.
American Express Gold Rewards
The Gold Rewards card gets another nod as the best travel credit card for the same reasons it has been named Best Overall. It simply gives you the most rewards and travel benefits for a card with a reasonable $150 annual fee.
The only thing holding it back from being the one piece of plastic people should use exclusively is some stores still don't accept American Express. That list is pretty small though. I can use my Amex at most places I shop, but there are a few big ones like Loblaws/Superstore and Costco that won't accept it.
Here's a tip: simply keeping a no-fee cash back MasterCard like the Tangerine Money-Back as a backup fixes the acceptance issue. You can even get up to 7 bonus spending categories by combining the 4 from Amex with the 3 more YOU get to choose from Tangerine.
The massive sign up bonus of 25,000 points that can be converted to Aeroplan in a few clicks online and the first year annual fee being waived are reason enough to give this card a try. Test it out for a year, see if your favourite shops accept it, and if you don't think it gives you enough value you don't need to keep it for the second year.
Best No Fee Travel
MBNA Rewards MasterCard
No fee travel credit cards are few and far between - I was only able to find 16 to compare.
Why? The increased rewards, insurance coverage, and perks that travel credit cards are known for don't come cheap. Annual fees are needed to support all those benefits.
The MBNA Rewards MasterCard manages to avoid an annual fee while being both a travel and cash back credit card in one. It gives you complete flexibility over how you redeem your points. This flexibility, coupled with a very strong insurance package for a no fee card, is what propels it to the top of this category.
You get 1 point per dollar spent, which works out to 1% of your spending back as rewards that you can use for travel or cash. Points can also be redeemed for merchandise and charitable donations. It comes with a 5,000 point sign up bonus (limited time) worth $50 in cash back or travel and 7 types of insurance coverage, including 1 Million in travel accident coverage and $2,000 in trip interruption.
Best AIR MILES
BMO AIR MILES World Elite MasterCard
If you're an AIR MILES junkie, then this is the card you want. Period.
It's so far ahead of all the other AIR MILES cards it isn't even funny. In fact it scored 70% higher than its closest competitor. In other categories, the gap between second and first place is typically 10% or less.
Why is the BMO AIR MILES World Elite MasterCard so much better than its competitors?
First, it gives you the best AIR MILE earning rate of any card - 1 Mile per $10 spent on ALL purchases. Then, you get an exclusive 25% discount on the cost of reward flights making your Miles more valuable. Next, it has the 2nd best insurance package of ANY credit card in Canada with 14 types of insurance including 15 days travel medical, $2500 trip cancellation, and $750 personal effects that covers you for lost or stolen items for the entire duration of your trip (very rare).
Finally, it has great perks like concierge, a
1000 2,000 mile sign up bonus (limited time), lounge access, and free extra cards.
American Express Gold Rewards
There's big changes coming to Aeroplan in 2020 when Air Canada launches a brand new rewards program. Aeroplan will still continue on as a rewards program in Canada and all your miles will be protected - but it is possible reward value could change.
Until then, Aeroplan still continues to give one of the best reward values of any Canadian travel rewards program. With a little work you can get a 3 cent value for each of your Aeroplan miles, whereas most other rewards programs offer a 1 cent value.
The American Express Gold Rewards Card isn't an Aeroplan branded credit card, but it allows you to convert Membership Rewards points 1:1 to Aeroplan, so it might as well be. As the top overall card, it was a shoe in to win as the top Aeroplan card as well. The double rewards bonus for gas, grocery, drugstore, and travel purchases in a card with a $150 annual fee is just too hard to compete with.
The 25,000 point sign up bonus, first year free, and respectable insurance and perks package it has seals the deal.
Best Insurance Coverage
BMO CashBack World Elite MasterCard
Notably, most cash back credit cards have terrible insurance coverage. Exceptionally, here we have a cash back credit card that doesn't just have decent insurance coverage - it offers the best insurance of any card in Canada.
The BMO CashBack World Elite actually makes an amazing flexible travel rewards card if you choose to use your cash back on travel. Hey, why not, cash can be used for anything right?
The bottom line: it offers 14 different types of insurance and is best overall in 4 of those categories. Here's the complete list:
- Extended warranty on purchases - up to 2 years extra.
- Loss/damage protection on new purchases - 180 days.
- Personal effects - up to $750 for the entire trip duration (very rare).
- Travel accident - up to $500,000.
- Emergency medical - trips up to 8 days.
- Trip cancellation - up to $2,500.
- Trip interruption - up to $2,000.
- Flight delay - up to $500.
- Baggage delay - up to $200.
- Lost/stolen baggage - up to $750 using personal effects coverage.
- Hotel burglary - up to $750 using personal effects coverage.
- Rental car accident - up to $200,000.
- Rental car personal effects - up to $1,000.
- Rental car theft/damage.
Other benefits include 1.5% cash back on ALL your purchases and free roadside assistance which is an extremely rare perk, perfect for road warriors. That alone can recoup most of the $120 annual fee and then all the insurance and cash back you get is just gravy.
The Platinum Card
The Platinum Card is in a class of its own when it comes to amazing perks.
I got this card myself a couple of years ago for the big sign up bonus and crazy perks and was very hesitant to give it up. I kept it for a 2nd year because of its high 15,000 point bonus for referring others (worth $450 in flights when transferred to Aeroplan). Earlier this year I went back to the Gold Rewards Card because I am no longer actively referring people and couldn't justify the $699 annual fee.
What kind of perks are we talking about?
It starts with a $200 annual travel credit that you can use on any travel booked through American Express. This is based on a calendar year, so you can actually use the credit twice before your 2nd year annual fee kicks in, effectively reducing the first year fee from $699 to $299. The huge 50,000 point sign up bonus (worth $1,500 in flights) can't be ignored either.
Then there's these:
- Redeem points for ANY type of travel or convert 1:1 to Aeroplan or Avios airline miles.
- Unlimited airport lounge access for you and a guest at Priority Pass lounges worldwide (very rare).
- Additional access to American Express lounges and select lounges at most Canadian airports.
- Free valet service and discounted parking at Toronto Pearson.
- Priority security lane access at Toronto Pearson.
- Discounted companion tickets, complimentary upgrades, and special airfares with select airlines.
- Complimentary upgrades, free breakfast, late checkout, or spa credits at more than 700 hotels worldwide.
- Complimentary Starwood Preferred Guest Gold status.
- Complimentary Club Carlson Gold Elite status.
- Complimentary Hilton HHonors Gold status.
- Fast track to Fairmont President's Club Platinum status after only 5 nights stayed - 30 normally required.
- Free Preferred Golf membership for 1 year giving you free rounds at select golf resorts with a 2 night stay.
- Standby MD travel medical concierge including house calls in foreign countries.
- Advanced ticket sales and reserved seating at select events with Amex Invites & Front Of The Line.
- Dedicated customer service line for Platinum cardholders.
- Unique experiences exclusively for Platinum cardholders.
- Discounts and upgrades on Hertz and Avis car rentals.
- Platinum concierge AND travel service.
Making the Right Choice
Everyone's preferences are different, that's why we take a holistic approach to comparing credit cards that factors in much more than just rewards.
We look at nearly every feature imaginable and incorporate them all into our rankings. By choosing one of our top-ranked cards you are guaranteed to get both high rewards and a well-rounded card that is flush with benefits.
In particular, the American Express Gold Rewards gives you a great balance of rewards, flexibility, insurance coverage, fees, bonuses, and perks that none of its rivals can match. If you like to travel or need to fly longer distances at all, then it's a smart choice for you.
Finally, remember that letting credit cards with rewards entice you into much higher spending and debt is NEVER worth it. Only get one if you will pay it off in full each and every month.