How to choose what’s most important to you when it comes to credit cards.
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.
Credit Cards have all kinds of rewards but can be boiled down into three main categories:
Therefore the first creditcardGenius slider – the rewards slider – has three options:
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.
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:
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
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:
Our basic table of pros and cons of flex cards:
Rewards cards are broken down into two categories:
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.
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.
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:
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.
If there is particular store or retailer you shop at frequently, it may be worth looking into whether they have a branded
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.
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
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
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:
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.
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
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.
(...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.
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
$1,200 to $1,500 or more – then exploring the ‘Max Return’ list of cards may be the better choice.
For more accurate and more personalized results,
use our monthly spending calculator
on the sidebar.
If you carry more than trivial balance on your card, you’re much better off forgoing any rewards and getting a reduced interest
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.
Credit cards perks are extra features or bonuses a card has outside of the usual spending rewards. This can things like:
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.
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