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How Credit Card Bonus Categories Affect Rewards in 2018

Get the card that fits your spending

There are over two hundred different credit cards in Canada, but they all do one thing the same – allow you to spend your money. So why should you choose one over another?

The answer is: rewards.

Be careful, though. Rewards programs are geared towards making you spend more than you normally would by enticing you with points. If you end up spending more than you can afford to pay off, the resulting interest charges will quickly erase any benefit the points you earned had.

It’s a simple fact that the more you spend, the more you earn. It might not be so obvious that the more you can spend, the more efficient it is to earn those points – even if spending is the same.

Many of the best credit cards in Canada require a personal income of at least $60,000, or a household income of at least $100,000. Those cards will earn more points per dollar than cards without a minimum income, regardless of how much is actually spent.

For that reason, it’s important to get the card (or cards) that best fit your current spending. As you go through different life stages, your “best” card will likely change. For example, the Scotia Momentum Visa offers 2% cash back on eligible purchases and has no minimum income requirement. The Scotia Momentum Visa Infinite offers 4% cash back on those exact same purchases and requires a personal income of $60,000 or a household income of $100,000. While there is a higher annual fee for the Infinite card ($99 vs. $39), the additional cost can be offset by the increased rewards, so long as you use it right.

 

The right card at the right time

When you go to the grocery store, should you use your Scotiabank Gold American Express or your American Express Cobalt Card? They both have groceries as a bonus category, so it doesn’t matter, right?

Wrong.

The Scotiabank Gold Amex gives you 4 points per dollar on gas (and points are worth 1₵ each) while the Cobalt card gives you 5 points (also worth 1₵ each). Simple math will tell you that the Cobalt card has better value at the grocery store than the Gold card.

Everybody has to eat, but the amount you spend on food can play a huge part in determining which card is best. If you’re single, you’ll spend less on food than a family would. If you don’t have a car, you’ll spend much less on gas than someone who does own one (for obvious reasons).

The Cobalt card has two major bonus categories – groceries and restaurants (including bars). If you live alone and don’t eat out often, is it worth it to get the Cobalt card? Probably not.

Not everybody can or should have multiple credit cards with annual fees, despite those cards having better rewards than no-fee alternatives. In that case, you have to pick the one card that best fits your spending, instead of all the cards.

That’s why we made this list – to show you how the exact same amount of spending (in this case, $2000/month) can have drastically different rewards depending on where you spend your money.

We compared four cards here:

 

American Express Cobalt

BMO World Elite MasterCard

Scotia Momentum Visa Infinite

Scotiabank Gold American Express



To see how every Canadian credit card stacks up, compare credit cards here. Estimate your monthly spending in each of the categories and get personalized results.

 


 

The List




 

You might notice how neither the BMO World Elite MasterCard nor the Scotia Momentum Visa were the winners here. That’s for two reasons.

1.       BMO recently lowered the value of their rewards program by 40%, making it much less enticing

2.       The Momentum Visa Infinite is a cash back card, not a rewards card. Cash back cards typically have lower value, but give you cash instead of forcing you to redeem for flights/hotels/other items. If you prefer having cash in hand, the cash back card came close to the others for balanced or family-oriented shopping.

While these numbers were based on $2,000 in monthly spending, the rankings are largely the same even if total spending was only $1,000. The only difference is that, at $1,000/month, the Scotiabank Gold Amex slightly edges out the Cobalt card for the “Downtown Foodie” category, instead of the Cobalt being the clear winner.


Chris Chris 01/26/2019
Canadian personal finance buff and all-around writing enthusiast, Chris loves breaking down complicated money ideas to show that they're really not so complex. 
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