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Canada’s 10 Best Overall Credit Cards for September 2021

When used responsibly, credit cards are a fantastic way to earn travel rewards and unlock other incredible experiences.

Here are our recommendations for the best overall credit cards in Canada.

Best Overall Credit Cards

Best Credit Card for Travel Rewards

The Business Platinum Card from American Express is the fastest way to use credit card rewards to supercharge your travel aspirations.

The card offers a welcome bonus of 100,000 Membership Rewards points, currently its best ever. Those points can have incredible value when transferred to frequent flyer programs. American Express has transfer partners in each of the three major airline alliances, so you’ll be able to fly just about anywhere.

Specifically, Canadians can transfer MR points to Air Canada’s Aeroplan program. The best long-haul premium cabins on Air Canada’s partners can cost quite a few points, and cards with such a big welcome bonus are few and far between, so the Business Platinum Card is a great way to get you there more quickly.

Furthermore, if you can refer family, friends, or business associates to open their own rewards credit cards, the Business Platinum Card is the best card to get first. Every time you successfully refer a friend to apply for an American Express business credit card, you’ll receive an additional 20,000 MR points for yourself, plus your associate will get the best available welcome offer for them.

You’ll also get many of the same premium travel benefits as the personal Platinum Card, such as automatic Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status, access to Amex’s Fine Hotels and Resorts program, and unlimited Priority Pass airport lounge visits for yourself and a guest.

And the best part is that you don’t need to be a business owner in the traditional sense to qualify for the card. You can apply as a sole proprietor, using your own name as the business name. Unlike other banks, Amex is unlikely to require proof of your business operations, so individuals should have no trouble applying.

Best Premium Travel Credit Card

When it comes to premium perks, the American Express Platinum Card takes the crown. The annual fee is no joke, but the card offers such strong benefits that you may find it worthwhile.

Like its small business counterpart, the personal Platinum Card earns Membership Rewards points, the most flexible transferable rewards in Canada. You can get a welcome bonus of 85,000 MR points over your first two years with the card by applying through a refer-a-friend link.

Normally, the card earns 3 MR points per dollar spent on dining, and 2 MR points per dollar spent on travel. That’s arguably better than the Cobalt Card’s 5 MR Select points on dining, since the Platinum Card’s rewards are more flexible for high-value flight redemptions.

Also, as Amex’s flagship product, the Platinum Card tends to receive the best rebates throughout the year. You’ll get some on other premium cards, and on lower-tier Amex cards, but Platinum cardholders can expect to get the cream of the crop.

As for travel perks, the Platinum Card reigns supreme over other top-tier credit cards. You’ll get unlimited visits to Priority Pass airport lounges for you and one guest, as well as Plaza Premium lounges and American Express Centurion Lounges for you, your spouse, and two children under the age of 21 or one travelling companion.

Looking at hotel status, you’ll get automatic Marriott Bonvoy Gold Elite status, Hilton Honors Gold status and Radisson Rewards Gold Elite status. You won’t find that on any other premium credit card in Canada.

You might prefer the Business Platinum Card for similar perks with a different rewards structure on spending, or a mid-tier credit card if you’re just looking for lounge access. But if you want the most wide-ranging benefits, the American Express Platinum Card is the total package.

Best Cash Back Credit Card

The SimplyCash Preferred Card from American Express earns 2% cash back on all purchases. You can mix and match other cards with higher category rates, but this one stands alone for everything else.

Also, this card has a very reasonable annual fee of just $99. Compared to other premium cards which clock in at $120 or higher, you’ll be hard-pressed to find such a strong base earn rate at a better price.

This card is without a doubt a great choice, whether as a simple solution for a slim wallet, or as a supplement to a shrewd roster of cards with other specific strengths.

Best Credit Card for Daily Spending

The American Express Cobalt Card is our choice for the best credit card in Canada for everyday expenses. It’s earned this accolade thanks to a combination of its high earn rate and the value of its rewards.

You’ll earn 5 MR points per dollar spent on food and drinks, including groceries, restaurants, bars, and food delivery services. For a spending category that makes up a large portion of the average Canadian’s budget, you definitely want to make sure you’re earning high rewards on those purchases.

You could simply cash out your points for statement credit, but you also have the option to transfer them airline or hotel partner programs. That flexibility sets the Cobalt Card apart from other high-earning cards.

Plus, as an American Express card, you’ll get some of the best ongoing benefits throughout the year, in the form of occasional Amex Offers.

Best Credit Card for Beginners

High annual fees aren’t the only way to earn huge travel rewards. If you’re just getting your feet wet, you might want to start with a mid-tier option like the CIBC Aeroplan Visa Infinite Card.

The card has no annual fee for the first year, and a low spending requirement to earn the welcome bonus. It’s an easy choice as you begin to understand how you want to eventually use your travel rewards.

Plus, you’ll get an Air Canada Buddy Pass. You can use it for a two-for-one paid fare, or convert it into 30,000 Aeroplan points if you’d prefer.

As for benefits, you’ll get preferred pricing on Air Canada flight redemptions, free checked bags, and insurance on Aeroplan award tickets when you pay the fees with the card. Also, you don’t have to worry about your hard-earned points expiring as long as you remain a cardholder, so no rush to figure it all out.

Best Credit Card with No Annual Fee

The MBNA Rewards Platinum Plus Mastercard is a surprise contender for our favourite credit card with no annual fee.

Compared to other cards in its class, it has a high welcome bonus, a high base earn rate, and high bonus earn rates on spending in popular categories. For a free credit card, you couldn’t ask for much more.

On top of all that, this is one of the few cards with no fee and no income requirement that offers mobile device insurance. If you pay for your phone with the card, either outright in full or on a monthly plan, you’ll be covered for up to $1,000 in damage.

Although you won’t get outsized value for your rewards, your points are quite flexible, and can be redeemed for any travel booking available on the MBNA Rewards portal. You can use them at a flat rate of 1 cent per point for travel, or 0.83 cents per point for statement credit.

Best Credit Card for Foreign Transactions

The HSBC World Elite Mastercard is our pick for the best credit card in Canada with no foreign transaction fees. It’s a great way to pay “face value” whether you’re travelling overseas or shopping online.

The card earns the equivalent of 1.5% back on all purchases, a great base rate for any card. It also earns 3% on travel purchases, a spectacular rate for that category. For instance, If you’re booking local hotels in a foreign currency, you’ll earn lots of points, and you won’t have to worry about foreign exchange fees driving up your costs.

HSBC Rewards points are very flexible, too. They can be used as statement credit to cover any travel expense on the card. Or, if you prefer to use frequent flyer programs to stretch the value of your points with premium cabin seats on long-haul flights, you can also transfer HSBC Rewards to British Airways AviosCathay Pacific Asia Miles, or Singapore KrisFlyer.

Also, you’ll get a $100 annual travel enhancement credit every year to offset the $149 annual fee. Officially, you can use this credit to cover specific travel upgrades, but it’s easy enough to use for any purchase made with most online travel agencies.

Finally, as a Mastercard, the HSBC World Elite is accepted by the widest range of merchants around the globe. That’s definitely an important consideration for a card that you’ll likely rely on while you’re abroad.

Best Aeroplan Credit Card

Any of the top-tier Aeroplan cards would get you the same perks, but the American Express Aeroplan Reserve Card sets itself apart with bigger bonus incentives for cardholders.

As a premium Aeroplan cardholder, you’ll get the lowest Aeroplan reward ticket prices on Air Canada flights thanks to the preferred pricing benefit, free checked bags on Air Canada flights, priority airport services, and opportunities to spend your way to Aeroplan Elite Status, among other premium benefits.

You’ll get a stellar welcome bonus of 90,000 Aeroplan points plus an Air Canada Buddy Pass, a much stronger incentive than what you’d find on this card’s top-tier competitors with other banks. American Express also has a strong reputation for providing its cardholders with assorted credits throughout the year. I’d expect to get more value from this card annually than from other Aeroplan credit cards in spite of the high annual fee.

Furthermore, the card earns more points on Air Canada and dining purchases than its Visa Infinite Privilege competitors from TD and CIBC. There’s also a referral program, unique to American Express.

Best Credit Card for Hotels

The Marriott Bonvoy Business American Express Card is the foremost co-branded hotel credit card in Canada, with a big welcome bonus in addition to strong ongoing perks.

With an incentive of up to 105,000 Bonvoy points over the first two years, you could spend a night at a Category 8 hotel on any date, even at peak pricing.

Category 8 hotels tend to be high-end luxury properties or in central locations at popular destinations. As these rooms can go for exorbitant prices, they represent spectacular value even after paying the credit card’s $150 annual fee.

The biggest advantage of this credit card over other hotel credit cards is that there are fewer ways to earn luxury stays. While you can also find amazing value for low-end Category 1 Marriott properties, it’s easier to score that calibre of a stay via other means, such as cash back credit cards.

Long-term, starting in your second year with the card, you’ll get an annual Free Night Award worth up to 35,000 Bonvoy points. That’s good for a Category 5 room at standard rates, and you should have no trouble finding one worth more than $150.

Best Air Miles Credit Card

Air Miles isn’t the most obvious choice when it comes to high-value travel rewards. Each of their co-branded cards has different strengths, but we like the BMO Air Miles World Elite Mastercard for its simplicity.

The card often offers a first year annual fee waiver, and it’s rather friendly to repeat welcome bonuses. Suffice to say, your Air Miles will rack up quickly when you open this card, but there are also good reasons to keep it long-term.

What makes this card unique is that you can use 15% fewer Air Miles when you book flights within North America. Regardless of how you earn your Air Miles, you’ll always want to have this card when it comes time to use them.

Also, BMO’s World Elite cards are known for providing travel insurance on partially paid tickets. That means you can pay for the taxes and fees for a flight reward (whether with Air Miles or with another program, like Aeroplan) with this credit card, and your trip will be covered in the event of delays, accidents, and other mishaps.

Credit Cards: What You Need to Know

Why use a credit card?

You’ve probably heard that using a credit card is risky or bad for your financial well-being. That couldn’t be farther from the truth.

It’s true that credit cards give you the ability to spend money that you don’t have. Doing so is always a losing proposition, though. If you don’t pay your balance in full every month, you’ll be subject to sky-high interest rates exceeding 20%.

However, just because you can spend money you don’t have, that doesn’t mean you have to. As long as you’ve developed a healthy personal finance mindset, there’s no downside to having a credit card – you’ll have nothing to lose and everything to gain!

Here are some of the benefits of using credit cards responsibly, which you can’t get when you pay with other methods like cash or debit:

  • You’ll earn gigantic rewards, easily achieving several business class flights or upwards of $1,000+ in cash back each year.
  • You’ll build a healthy credit history, which can help you secure better terms if you ever need a larger loan for a mortgage or a business.
  • You’ll get fraud protection on your spending accounts.

What should you look for in a credit card?

There are a number of factors that differentiate credit cards. You (probably) won’t get them all, so it’s important to know what you’re looking for before you apply for a new card.

The biggest variable is the type of rewards that the card earns. There are two basic categories:

  • Cash back rewards are self-explanatory. Almost every credit card issuer has at least one product that earns cash back.
  • Travel rewards are more complex, as each rewards program has different valuations and rules for how you can use your points.

Travel rewards are broken down further:

  • Each bank offers an in-house rewards program. Some examples include American Express Membership Rewards, RBC Avion, and CIBC Aventura. Depending on the bank, these points can be used in a variety of ways, such as statement credit, travel bookings, merchandise, gift cards, or transferred to external programs. Generally, travel redemptions have the highest value.
  • Many banks also partner with external loyalty programs and offer co-branded credit cards. These cards directly earn points for airline, hotel, and other partners like Aeroplan, Marriott Bonvoy, or Air Miles. Those points generally can’t be transferred and can only be used within their program, but they also tend to present the best opportunities for making redemptions above face value.

To earn rewards, there are two main components to look out for:

  • Many credit cards have a welcome bonus, with spending requirements that you have to meet in order to earn extra points or cash back. Read the terms and conditions, and make sure that you apply for cards not only with a bonus that you want, but also with one that’s achievable for your spending habits and budget.
  • On an ongoing basis, you’ll also earn rewards on everyday spending. Some cards award extra points for shopping at merchants in a specific category or industry, such as grocery stores, restaurants, or gas stations, or travel providers. Consider loading up on those cards for the categories where you tend to spend the most.

You’ll also want to look out for perks and benefits of being a cardholder. These might include things like insurance, lounge access, annual credits or vouchers, elite status, or roadside assistance.

There’s a wide range of annual fees on the market, ranging from cards with no annual fee (and basic benefits) to high annual fees (and premium perks). There can be good value on both ends of the spectrum for anyone, as long as the price you pay is worth it for the benefits you get year after year.

Additionally, many cards offer a “First Year Free” promotion – a great way to sample a mid-tier credit card and earn a solid chunk of rewards with no obligation for a long-term financial commitment on your part.

What’s the optimal strategy for credit cards?

More than just a vehicle for spending money, you should treat credit cards as an indispensable tool for earning heavily-discounted travel experiences.

While there’s still good value in cash back, credit card rewards are most useful for travel. Travel credit cards will likely form the backbone of your strategy for two reasons.

First, travel credit cards tend to have bigger bonuses. They generally target the luxury market more than cash back cards, with premium bonuses and perks accordingly.

Second, the cash cost of an equivalent experience is often ridiculously high compared to the face value of the points. While there can be some fees involved in earning points, those fees are still way lower than the price of paying your own way with cash outright. As such, you can often redeem your travel rewards for “outsized” value.

Credit card welcome bonuses are the foundation of your rewards. Simply put, you’ll earn many more points, and you’ll earn them much faster, than if you only focused on optimizing everyday spending.

Therefore, you’ll want to focus on applying for new credit cards as often as you can. However, it’s critical to make sure you have a plan to meet the minimum spending thresholds required to earn each welcome bonus, otherwise your annual fees will go to waste.

That said, some credit cards offer good long-term value as keepers. There are a variety of considerations that might compel you to keep a card for more than one year:

While it would be nice to drill credit card rewards down to an exact science, the reality is that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Instead, there are a number of general principles to guide you depending on your circumstances.

First, consider your goals. Cash back won’t get you very far if you’re looking for First Class flights. Travel rewards aren’t much use if you aren’t a traveller. There are a lot of good credit cards out there, and just because we’ve ranked one highly doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the best choice for you.

Second, consider your limitations. Credit card rewards aren’t quite as simple as free travel. If you’re trying to avoid high annual fees, or if you’re a low spender, you might prefer a slow-and-steady approach, rather than going after the biggest bonuses as fast as you can.

Additionally, other factors might come into play, such as having a lower income or a weaker credit history. Those challenges might rule you out from some lucrative rewards cards, at least in the short-term – although you’ll still be eligible for others.

Don’t miss our credit card filter, which is set up so that you can apply all sorts of personal goals and limitations as you navigate how they all compare.

Regardless, there are a few overarching tactics that are useful for anyone:

  • Always pay your balance in full and on time. This helps you maintain low credit utilization (and a higher credit score). More importantly you’ll avoid accumulating any debt on your purchases, which would immediately wash away the value of the rewards you’ve worked so hard to earn.
  • Keep old credit cards open, even if you don’t use them on a regular basis. It’s good for your credit file if you have longstanding accounts with a healthy record of on-time repayment. If possible, see if you can downgrade these cards to a version that has no annual fee.

Ultimately, no matter where you are in your credit journey, you want to maintain a healthy credit file today, so that you’ll be more likely to be approved for more cards (and the rewards that come with them) in the future. After all, credit card rewards are a marathon, not a sprint, and developing a long-term strategy can be very beneficial for anyone.

Frequently Asked Questions

Isn’t it bad for my credit score when I apply for a credit card?

Only temporarily, and the impact is negligible. In fact, long-term, your credit score will likely improve as you demonstrate the ability to repay and responsibly maintain many cards. You can read more in our Newbie’s Guide.

Will I lose my welcome bonus if I cancel a credit card after the first year?

No. However, you should keep each credit card open for at least six months – it’s better for your credit report and for your relationship with the bank.

Can I transfer points from Program X to Program Y?

Probably not. Banks definitely don’t have a mechanism to transfer points to a competitor.

Airlines and hotels have some partnerships, but still very few. You’ll find more ways to redeem points for a partner’s product than to transfer points to a partner’s program.

That’s one of the reasons why we highly covet American Express Membership Rewards, RBC Avion, HSBC Rewards, and Marriott Bonvoy points – transferable rewards currencies are rare in Canada, and those ones all have several valuable and interesting transfer partners.

Can I use my travel rewards for cash back?

Many rewards currencies can be used for statement credit or gift cards, but usually at a lower value than what you’d get for a travel redemption.

What’s the difference between air miles and Air Miles?

Your friend casually tells you: “I collect air miles.” When the words are spoken, it’s not always clear what they mean.

Air Miles, as a proper noun, refers to a Canadian rewards program. Despite a travel-oriented name, it’s more of an all-around shopping program. You’ll primarily earn and redeem Air Miles at retail partners. There are some travel sweet spots, but generally it’s not a useful program for scoring aspirational First Class experiences around the world.

It’s possible that your friend isn’t being specific about which rewards program they’re collecting. Some people use the generic phrase “air miles” interchangeably with words like points, rewards, or miles.

Often, the travel rewards attached to a specific loyalty program, such as Air Canada’s Aeroplan or American Express Membership Rewards, have much different uses than Air Miles.

If your friend is simplifying it for you, bring up your knowledge and talk shop. Or if they don’t actually know what type of travel rewards they’re earning, send them to Prince of Travel and we’ll straighten them out!

2 Comments
  1. Nidhi

    Hi Ricky or Josh or someone else from Prince of Travel team, I am undergrad student and I don’t own any business but i have sold things on Facebook market place. And I definitely have items I can list on Ebay 😉 Do you think I can still be eligible for the Amex biz platinum card offer if I do this? Thanks in advance

    P.S I am beginner to the world of points but I’d like to dive in head first and feel confident thanks to your you tube channel, Ricky <3 Thank you!

    1. Josh YVR

      Assuming your credit history is otherwise good, you should have no trouble getting approved! Put your own name as the business name, since you’re operating as a sole proprietorship.

Josh Greenberg

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