I like to eat. I like to drive. And for those two reasons alone the card is the best card out there for those of us whose goal is to maximize the cash return from a credit card.

That’s because it offers an unmatched 4% cash back on food and gas purchases coupled with 2% on drugstore and recurring purchases and 1% on everything else.

Many cards offer 1% on all purchases with no fees. Some competitor cards even offer 2% on all purchases. And from a simplicity standpoint – those are better alternatives. But if you spend lots of money on groceries and gas…

Scotia comes out on top entirely due to the multiplying effect of a 4% return on food and gas spending.

Don’t believe me? Check out the numbers below.

But first, do me a favour:

Honestly figure out your yearly gas and grocery spend, and be willing to put it all on your card.

In my case, that’s about $1,500 in gas purchases and a food bill of about $9,000 (of which at minimum $6,000 is purchased with credit).

Monthly, that comes to a $125 + $500 = $625 total which generates a 4% return of $25 cashback:

625 x .04 = $25

For my circumstances, it’s fair to say I charge about $2,000 per month on my card which leaves another $1,375 in spending earning the base 1% which adds another $13.75 cashback:

$1,375 x .01 = $13.75

Together that comes to $38.75 monthly for a yearly total cash back of $465.

Spend Gas Food Other Total
Monthly $125 $500 $1,375 $2,000
Yearly $1,500 $6,000 $16,500 $24,000
Cash back % 4% 4% 1%
Monthly Return $5 $20 $13.75 $38.75
Yearly Return $60 $240 $165 $465

The alternative is to go with a premium card that offers a flat 2% on ALL spending, and I will admit: the simplicity of that formula tempts me mightily.

But it only beats out this card if your food and gas spending is less than 33% of your monthly total. Otherwise the 4% return offers much better returns.

Check out these numbers which increase the grocery and gas spend while maintaining an average monthly spend of $2,000.

(Let’s assume for a minute that you’re feeding a family of lions from Whole Foods and transporting your haul in a Hummer from a grocery store on the other side of town!)

Spend Earn Spend Earn Spend Earn Gas + Food % Increase
Gas + Food Other Total Monthly Yearly
4% 1%
$667 $26.68 $1,333 $13.33 $2,000 $40.01 $480.12 33.35% 0
$750 $30.00 $1,250 $12.50 $2,000 $42.50 $510 37.50% 12%
$850 $34.00 $1,150 $11.50 $2,000 $45.50 $546 42.50% 27%
$1,000 $40.00 $1,000 $10.00 $2,000 $50 $600 50.00% 50%
2% 2%
$667 $13.34 $1,333 $26.66 $2,000 $40 $480 33.35% 0
$750 $15 $1,250 $25 $2,000 $40 $480 37.50% 0
$850 $17 $1,150 $23 $2,000 $40 $480 42.50% 0
$1,000 $20 $1,000 $20 $2,000 $40 $480 50.00% 0
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The break even point

If you’re considering other cards – and you should – the break even point where the Scotiabank Momentum VISA Infinite starts pulling away as the better alternative is at the $667 food and gas spend on an average $2,000 monthly bill. (Or 33% of your monthly spend as the chart above indicates.)

In the example above you’d earn $480 with either option.

Anything below that and you’re better off with something else.

At the break even point, you can make a great argument for other cards that offer easier access to your cash back rewards or have some other great benefits.

But at every dollar above that 33% threshold, this card gets better and better. As your food and gas costs increase as a percentage of your monthly spend – so do your rewards.

If you do indeed spend 50% of your credit card bills on food and gas, you’d be increasing your annual cash back rewards from $480.12 to $600 – a cash increase of $120 for simply buying the necessities of life. (That’s a bit of an exaggeration. A car is not a necessity. A bike is. But that’s another topic altogether.)

Think that’s unrealistic? Think again. According to Statistics Canada, the average yearly food expenditure is $6126 per year, based on census numbers for 2015.

As for gas costs, we’re a one car family of four driving a Hyundai Elantra about 15,000 km per year. Probably a little under average. If you drive a larger vehicle or have a second car, the numbers above are totally attainable.

I’ve purposely left out the 2% return earned on drugstore and recurring purchases to make the math above simpler.

But it’s worth noting that adding a few regular bills to the card will further enhance the returns. In my case, that includes:

  • monthly bills for Netflix ($10)
  • TekSavvy phone ($15),
  • and a car insurance payment ($70).

I feel it’s cheating to include my car insurance payment in my calculations. Because while it earns me 2% rewards, it also costs me 1% in service fees in order to have it as a monthly bill in the first place!

I could have paid the bill as a lump sum but it would only have earned me 1% in rewards so spreading out the bill was better for cash flow and it still earns me 1% even after the service fees.

Added perks

On top of the cash back, the card also offers concierge services and insurance benefits. I’ve never had any interest in calling a toll-free number just to have someone help me book a trip or plan an outing so that’s a benefit I’ll pass on – but the insurance perks are a nice touch. They include the following:

  • Travel Emergency Medical Insurance (up to 15 days)
  • Trip Interruption Insurance
  • Flight Delay Insurance
  • Lost or Stolen Baggage Insurance
  • Rental Car Collision/Loss Damage Insurance
  • Purchase Security and Extended Warranty

The coverage is comprehensive and competitive to other premium cards available. And they’re something you can and should use.

I took advantage of the rental car collision benefit – and saved myself an extra $300 by charging the rental to my card and waiving the rental company’s $15 a day insurance on a family trip to Europe last summer.

Related: The Best Credit Cards for Shopping at Costco Canada Stores

The Cons

The cash back and benefits are great. But it’s not all sunshine and unicorns.

The negative is that as a premium card, it comes with an annual fee of $99.

That’s waived in the first year to entice you. And personally, I was able to have the year two fee waived after some cajoling with bank staff…

In this, my third year using the card, no such luck. The fee stayed. No matter how exceedingly pleasant I was on the phone.

And seeing the $99 annual fee show up on my February statement left me bitter enough to start considering other cards once my cashback is applied this year in November.

But I comfort myself with the knowledge that even after deducting the fee from the cash back rewards, I still come out ahead of a no fee card that offers just a generic 1% reward. And also with knowing that all premium cards have an annual fee in that $100 range.

The other downer is that the cashback earned does not actually come to you as cash or immediately. It’s earned monthly and is awarded at the end of 12 months.

It stays on the card and you can see it’s exact worth on every statement until it’s redeemed either as a statement credit or deposited into a chequing account.

I actually liked having the amount stay and grow on my statement until my November redemption where it helped fund some Christmas gift purchases. And I loved knowing I would get the full amount earned and not have any trapped or orphan cash lost because I needed to redeem it at some arbitrary amount.

Finally, there is a limit of $25,000 per year in the 4% gas and grocery rewards and a similar $25,000 limit on the 2% bill payment and drugstore categories.

Above that spending cap, purchases in all categories earn only 1%. So there is a finite limit to the cash back which sucks.

But seeing as how I’d need to be feeding a family of eight driving teenagers to be near that spending limit, I’m feeling OK…for now.

The bottom line

Those negatives aside, the rewards math makes the Scotiabank Momentum Visa Infinite my go to card for groceries and gas.

And if the logic above applies to you, join me at the checkout aisle in the grocery store.