With all kinds of different options out there when it comes to credit cards, choosing what is important to you can be difficult. That’s why we built the creditcardGenius slider system to help you with that.

Let’s go through the various credit card features and how they map to our sliders so you can better decide what type of credit card is right for you.

Cash Back vs Travel & Rewards – the 1st slider

Credit Cards have all kinds of rewards but can be boiled down into three main categories:

  • cash back – completely flexible, use for anything
  • flexible rewards  – flexible multi-use points with few restrictions or blackouts
  • travel & store rewards –  less flexible airline miles or store-specific rewards
Cash back, travel and rewards slider

Therefore the first creditcardGenius slider – the rewards slider – has three options:

  • Cash Back – slide all the way to the left
  • Flexible Rewards – keep slider in the middle
  • Travel & Rewards – slide all the to the right
Cash back, travel and rewards slider description

What are ‘Cash Back’ Credit Cards?

Cash back rewards are best when you want simplicity in your rewards. They have a set earning rate so you’ll know what you’ll be earning on all of your spend. Your return on spending is basically calculated for you. A 2% cash back card gives you a 2% return on spending. Simple.

The catch? Even for higher-end cards, cash back cards have lower annual earn rates than their travel card equivalents. While most cards will have sign up bonuses, they are not usually the best available.

Cards with cash back rewards  will show up under the ‘Cash Back’, ‘Flexible’ and ‘Travel & Rewards’ slider positions because cash is the most flexible and can be used for anything, including travel. They don’t tend to rank as highly though because their return on spending and extra perks are typically lower than rewards cards.

Here’s a table of pros and cons of cash back cards:

Pros Cons
Simplicity In your rewards  – cash back is simple and is paid out at a minimum of once per year, regardless of how much you’ve earned.  There’s less waiting for your rewards to add up before you can redeem them.
Does not offer the highest earning potential – while you have a set earn rate, these cards may not have the highest earning potential than a retail specific card or travel cards that earn points towards fixed reward levels (ie Aeroplan).
Lower annual fees  – for the higher end cards, the annual fees are typically less than their travel reward equivalents.
Limited travel insurance coverage – most cash back cards do not have the greatest insurance packages when compared to their travel equivalents.  If you travel often this is something to take into consideration.
Sign up bonuses are hit and miss  – they can be good but usually not great and are often non-existent on no-fee cards.

What are ‘Flexible Rewards’ Credit Cards?

Many travel and rewards cards can redeem your points not only in multiple ways, but also without a lot of restrictions, blackout dates, limited availability, or hoops to jump through. We call this a flex reward card.

Cards with flexible rewards , will show up in both the ‘Travel & Rewards’ and the middle flex categories. And depending on the card can show up the cash back category as well.

These cards will have the same pros and cons as the travel cards, but come with the added flexibility in how you can redeem your rewards.

Having said that, there is usually a varying return in your overall rewards. Take the American Express Gold Rewards Card. You can use your points in many ways:

  • Get a statement credit for any purchase you make to the card - basically cash but lowest reward value.
  • Get a statement credits for any travel purchase from any travel provider - slightly higher reward value
  • Use the American Express Fixed Points Travel Program to redeem for flights booked through the Amex Travel Agency at a fixed point rate - much higher reward value.
  • Convert points Aeroplan miles and redeem them for high value flights – typically the highest reward value but limited availability, blackout dates, and other hoops to jump through.

Our basic table of pros and cons of flex cards:

Pros Cons
Easier to redeem for rewards in ways you want.
Typically the easier the redemption, the less the reward value.
Generally higher reward value over cash back cards.
Often high annual fees.
Great insurance packages.

Travel and Store Rewards

Rewards cards are broken down into two categories:

  • Travel – those that earn rewards towards travel purchases, and
  • Store rewards – those that earn rewards to be used at specific stores and retailers.

Cards that have low-flexibility travel or store rewards will usually only show up under the ‘Travel & Rewards’ slider position. However, if you can also redeem your miles for real cash or flexible rewards in some way (typically at a much lower value), then they will also show up under other slider positions.

These two categories will be discussed separately.

What are ‘Travel Rewards’ Credit Cards?

Travel cards as a group generally tend to offer the highest overall rewards. But these cards can come at a downside of only being able to redeem your rewards on travel purchases. Sometimes other reward choices are available but they typically have a much lower end value. Depending on how often you travel, you may have to wait a while to redeem your rewards.

Travel cards tend to have the best insurance packages as well ‒ and have the highest annual fees for credit cards to account for the extra perks you get to enjoy. If you have a card that is specific to one company, you sometimes also get specific perks when travelling with that company.

Take the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Card for instance. When you travel on an Aeroplan flight reward, Air Canada will give you a free checked bag, priority check in (especially great for big airports with long lines like Toronto & Vancouver), priority boarding and access to a maple leaf lounge (once per year).

Then there’s sign up bonuses ‒ these tend to be more valuable with travel rewards cards .

That same TD Aeroplan card has sign up bonuses worth up to 25,000 miles – enough to take you anywhere in Canada or the continental United States.  Depending on where you’re going you can easily get a value between $500 and $800 or more. In comparison, the best cash back cards have bonuses that top out around $300.

Here’s a table of the pros and cons of travel cards:

Pros Cons
Generally have higher reward value over cash back and flexible rewards.
They have some of the highest annual fees.
Tend to have the best insurance packages.
Rewards redemption isn’t simple – depending on your card, you may have to wait to redeem you rewards until enough points are built up.
More free perks including extra brand-specific perks with some cards.
Often high annual fees.
Usually have the best sign up bonuses.

Another pro for travel is the fun factor. Planning and dreaming what to do and where to go – with your points...is lots of fun.

What are ‘Store Rewards’ Credit Cards?

If there is particular store or retailer you shop at frequently, it may be worth looking into whether they have a branded credit card.

While retail cards will have an average to below average return rate on spend, the earn rate tends to go up when you use it at the retailer it’s designed for.

Take the Scotiabank Scene Visa (which earns 1 point per dollar spent). Say in your area a general admission movie costs $12.00 and you need a 1,000 points to get that move for free, your earn rate is 1.20% on your base spend (which is an average return). But, use it a Cineplex Theatre where you earn 5 points per dollar spent, and you get a very high return of 6.00% on your Cineplex spend (close to one of the highest returns you can get).

Another benefit is that sometimes cardholders will be given special discounts, offers, or increased rewards several times throughout the year. These offers are typically above and beyond what the everyday shopper will get, even during a big sale.

They can also have some decent sign up bonuses . The Scene Visa will give you 4,000 points after spending $500 in the first 3 months – enough for 4 general admission tickets.

This card also typically come with no fee, but generally lack any kind of insurance package.

Our basic table of pros and cons of retail cards:

Pros Cons
Great returns for the spend at the card’s specific retailer(s).
Average return on spend at other retailers.
Typically no annual fee.
No insurance package.
Store-specific savings and bonuses.

Can have good sign up bonuses.

No Fees vs Max Return – the 2nd slider

Depending on what you want in a card, there may be an annual fee associated with it. C redit cards come with annual fee to compensate card issuers for the higher rewards and perks made available to cardholders.

Deciding which is more important between no annual fee versus getting the max return is what this second slider is about.

No fees credit cards versus cards with maximum return on spending slider

What Are ‘No Fee’ Credit Cards?

Quite simply these are credit cards that have absolutely no annual fee, which at first glance seems very attractive.

To justify paying an annual fee, you would need to be spending   around $1,500 per month to offset the annual fees from the extra rewards value you get from spending on the card.

The one big exception to that is that some cards come with specific perks, companion flights or free checked bags for example, that might be highly valuable to you even if you spend less. If you’re interested in perks, make sure you select ‘Perks’ on the 3rd slider.

An annual fee card will generally also have better sign up bonuses (especially the travel cards as you know).

One way to possibly get the best of both worlds (no fee with high return on spending), is to consider retail or store cards.

No Fees Pros Annual Fee Pros
Monthly Spend is approx less than  $1,500 Monthly spend is more than $ 1,500
Shop at set retailers and use their cards Travel frequently (due to the free insurances)
Can’t stand paying them Enjoy perks
Typical return on spending is less 1% Better sign up bonuses
Typical return on spending is above 1%

(...or you can also pick up the phone and try to get your annual fee waived .)

There is also nothing wrong with going with a straightforward  no fee card  – just know you won’t get the best return possible.

What Does ‘Max Return’ Mean?

This means credit cards that likely give you more points, miles, or cash back for each dollar you spend on your card.

If getting the maximum return on your spending is what you’re after – and your monthly spend is at least $1,200 to $1,500 or more  – then exploring the ‘Max Return’ list of cards may be the better choice.

No fees credit cards versus cards with maximum return on spending slider description

For more accurate and more personalized results, use our monthly spending calculator on the sidebar.

Low Interest vs Perks – the 3rd slider

Low interest credit cards versus cards with the most perks slider

What are ‘Low Interest’ Credit Cards?

If you carry more than trivial balance on your card, you’re much better off forgoing any rewards and getting a reduced interest rate card.

For example, say you have a balance of $2,000 on your card and say a typical card has an interest rate of 20% – you are paying $400 a year in interest alone. On a typical spend, you’re wiping out your rewards on a typical $2,000/month spend.

Switching to a low rate card like the American Express Essential Card which has an introductory rate of 1.99% for 6 months (and a rate of 8.99% after that) – you would pay $109.90 in interest for the year. A savings of $290.10 for the year.

Another good card is the MBNA Platinum Plus Mastercard with 0% introductory rate for 12 months.

Low interest credit cards versus cards with the most perks slider description

What are Credit Card ‘Perks’?

Credit cards perks are extra features or bonuses a card has outside of the usual spending rewards. This can things like:

  • how flexible the rewards are,
  • how easy rewards are to redeem,
  • how big the sign up bonus is,
  • Free companion flights
  • VIP treatment at the airport,
  • and much more.

That means, if you don’t carry a balance, then the added perks that premium cards offer may be the way to go.

Premium cards typically have an annual fee of at least $120 and a typical purchase interest rate of around 19.99%.

Read our list of 17 credit card perks how they work.

Got questions?

Deciding what’s most important to you in a card isn’t always straightforward, so we hope this guide is helpful.

In case we missed something, send us a note using our contact form.

Or, check out our answers to Frequently Asked Questions

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