A rewards credit card allows you to earn points, cashback, or miles when you use it to pay for eligible purchases.
What is a Rewards Credit Card?
A rewards credit card refers to any credit card that enables you to collect points, cashback, or miles from everyday purchases you make using the card.
You can then redeem these points for various items, including merchandise, gift cards, entertainment events, travel-oriented discounts, or just plain cash.
Various rewards cards are available to consumers today, and each is designed to appeal to different consumer spending habits.
Some are well-suited for frugal shoppers who are adamant about saving money on everyday items, like groceries.
Others cater to avid globetrotters who wish to keep their travel expenses in check by earning discounts on flights and accommodation.
Using a rewards card is straightforward and convenient.
Each time you make an eligible purchase, you’ll automatically collect points on your account.
You can track and redeem your points through your card issuer’s online banking portal or mobile app.
You can classify rewards cards in three categories:
General Rewards Credit Cards
These cards earn you points that you can redeem for a wide array of rewards, such as merchandise, gifts cards, or discounts on trips.
Because they offer a general-purpose rewards program, you won’t receive the most lucrative deals compared with cards geared toward a specific niche, like travel.
Travel Rewards Credit Cards
These cards enable you to earn points or miles to convert to travel-oriented rewards.
Depending on the rewards program structure, you can receive valuable discounts on airfare, car rentals, accommodation, cruises, and vacation packages.
Some travel credit cards offer loyalty programs tied to a particular airline and hotel brand.
The former type is referred to as a frequent-flyer program.
For example, Aeroplan is a loyalty program owned by Air Canada.
TD, CIBC and American Express all offer Aeroplan earning cards.
You can convert your points to obtain discounts on flights connected with the Air Canada brand or any carrier that’s part of the Star Alliance network.
Cash Back Credit Cards
These cards offer the most convenient, transparent, and straightforward rewards program: you earn a cash rebate on a specific percentage of your spending each month.
To extract the most value out of your credit card points, look for redemption deals where each point earns you at least one cent worth of rewards measured in Canadian dollars.
Choosing the Right Rewards Credit Card
There’s a wide assortment of rewards cards to choose from, with each geared toward a specific budget and lifestyle.
As a result, it can be overwhelming to sift through what’s available to find the one that’s right for you.
Here are some criteria you can use to help narrow your search before you apply for a new credit card:
1. Review your Spending Habits
Your primary goal should be to find the card that most closely aligns with your spending habits.
That way, you’ll be able to maximize the number of points you collect through your everyday purchases.
First, create a list of the goods and services that make up the bulk of your spending.
These could be things like gas, groceries, restaurants, clothes, electronics, and vacations.
Break down your list into clear categories to determine the ones that will score you the most points.
Second, ask yourself how you’d like to spend your points.
Are you primarily interested in acquiring free household items? Do you prefer receiving straight cash in your bank account periodically? Or are you keen on getting a deep discount at a luxury hotel on your overseas excursions?
Each card specializes in a different set of rewards, so be sure to focus on those that enable you to convert points to things that matter to you the most.
2. Analyze the Earn Rate of the Card
A rewards card earn rate refers to the number of points you earn with each eligible purchase.
Most cards operate under a flat-rate or bonus rate model.
With a flat-rate structure, you accumulate points based on a fixed percentage on every eligible purchase.
For example, you may earn a 2% rate per dollar on a cashback card, which translates to a rebate of $2 for every $100 you spend.
For a general-purpose rewards card, you collect a certain number of points for every dollar you spend.
Each point has a specific cash conversion value set by your card issuer.
For example, under a model where you earn 1 point for each cent you spend, you’d garner $1 worth of points if you charge $100 to your card.
Under a bonus-rate model, your earn rate varies according to which spending category purchases fall into based on your card’s rewards program policy.
For example, your card may allow you to collect a 3% cashback rate for each dollar you spend on gas, 2% on food and dining, and 1% on everything else.
3. Flexibility of the Rewards
The ability to transfer your points is a nice perk as there are times when your points provide more value if used through an alternative rewards program.
Certain card brands allow you to transfer rewards points to hotel and frequent-flyer programs, allowing for the possibility of superior redemption deals.
For example, if you use the CIBC Aventura card, you can send your points over to the Aeroplan loyalty program.
In addition to transferability options, you’ll want to examine the number of redemption options available, whether blackout dates apply, and if earned points have an expiry date.
In general, credit card points and miles don’t expire, but those earned through a frequent flyer or hotel program may expire after an extended period of inactivity.
Benefits of a Rewards Credit Card
Before you sign up for a rewards card, it’s wise to get acquainted with both the benefits and drawbacks you may experience when using one.
Here are a few benefits.
1. A Great Way to Save Money
Suppose you’re looking to trim your household expenses.
In that case, a rewards card can help you achieve this goal if you use it routinely and responsibly.
Rewards cards can net you great savings, especially when it comes to travel-oriented costs.
2. Access to Valuable Perks
Many rewards cards offer a wide range of perks that can come in handy.
These may include airport lounge access, enhanced security features, roadside assistance, travel insurance, zero foreign transaction fees, and an extended purchase warranty.
3. Opportunity to Earn a Sign-up Bonus
Rewards cards routinely offer lucrative sign-up bonuses to entice customers.
You can earn a large amount of points from the get-go, giving you a head start in amassing the levels needed to redeem for your favourite rewards.
Drawbacks of a Rewards Credit Card
1. Rewards Programs Can Be Complex
Navigating your way around rewards programs can be challenging and frustrating.
They can be pretty complex, with numerous rules governing how you can acquire, redeem, transfer, and value your points.
2. High Annual Fees
If you’re looking to get the most out of a rewards card, be prepared to pay a steep fee for the privilege of doing so.
The high annual fees that accompany certain cards are enough to dissuade some consumers.
3. Numerous Restrictions
While a particular rewards program may seem like a solid deal at first glance, onerous restrictions may be embedded in the fine print:
- There may be a monthly or yearly ceiling on the number of points you can earn
- Your card issuer can arbitrarily alter the cash conversion value of points
- There may be minimum redemption requirements
- You may be limited to how frequently you can redeem points
Frequently Asked Questions
- Is a rewards credit card the same as a credit card?
Yes. A rewards credit card has the same attributes as any regular plain vanilla credit card. It serves the same function – to allow you to borrow money from a credit facility extended to you to make purchases.
The only difference is that you earn points on eligible purchases with a rewards card. You can redeem these points for travel discounts, merchandise, gift cards, and other rewards.
- Do all credit cards give you rewards?
Not all credit cards come with a rewards program, though most do, given their popularity among cardholders.
With few exceptions, secured credit cards don’t allow you to collect any points, cashback, or miles. The same applies to student card and “starter” credit cards, which are geared toward users with little or no previous credit experience or poor credit.