At Frugal Flyer, we live and breathe credit cards and their rewards programs. Whether the use of points for award flights, lounge access, elite status, travel insurance benefits, or ease of purchasing when abroad, credit cards uniquely enhance nearly all aspects of travel when leveraged properly.
As such, we’ve decided to implement a yearly practice of selecting a subset of credit cards in the Canadian market and recognizing their best-in-class status across different verticals.
We do not take these awards lightly. Each of the credit cards we select is unique and deserving of recognition, not haphazardly chosen. Read on to see how we determine these awards, which cards we’ve awarded for this year, and why.
Our Process for Selecting the Best Credit Cards
We make our selections at the beginning of each calendar year in January, based on the attributes of a given card at that point in time. We review the overall credit card market and determine which cards are the strongest contenders for a given category of award. We then compare and contrast them on a more granular basis to make a final decision.
As the first iteration of our awards, we’ve chosen to start with a small subset of categories related to both travel and lifestyle:
- Insurance, bother overall and travel-specific
- Earn rate for grocery purchases
- Foreign transaction fees
Without further ado…
The Best Credit Cards of 2023
The best credit card categories and winners of each category are displayed in the table below.
Best Overall Insurance Credit Card
National Bank World Elite Mastercard
Best Credit Card for Grocery Purchases
Scotiabank Gold American Express Card
Best CashBack Card for Grocery Purchases
BMO CashBack World Elite Mastercard
Best Foreign Transaction Credit Card
HSBC World Elite Mastercard
Best Overall Insurance Credit Card: National Bank World Elite Mastercard
The National Bank World Elite Mastercard earns À la Carte Rewards points and offers cardholders benefits such as $150 in annual travel credits and access to the National Bank VIP lounge in the YUL International terminal. Due to its stellar travel insurance and purchase protection benefits, we deemed this card the Best Overall Insurance Credit Card of 2024.
Check out our National Bank World Elite Mastercard review for more details.
0 À la carte Rewards
Why We Chose This Card?
The National Bank World Elite Mastercard was a relatively easy choice as the best overall insurance card and would win the category of ‘best travel insurance’ card as well. This card’s insurance benefits are stacked, from travel insurance, to purchase protection to mobile device insurance.
Not only is this card’s travel insurance competitive in terms of coverage amounts, but its coverage is more flexible than most other cards on the market, for example including medical coverage for cardholders up to 74 years of age (most cards cover up to 65 only). Furthermore, if you use this card to pay for taxes and fees on an award booking, you are still eligible for coverage.
The National Bank World Elite also offers purchase protection against theft and breakage for 6 months from the date of purchase, and triples the manufacturer’s warranty, up to an additional 2 years. Mobile device insurance coverage is also provided for 2 years from the date of purchase.
Other Attributes of the National Bank World Elite
The National Bank World Elite is no slouch when it comes to other card features excluding insurance. It offers a very strong earn rate of 5 À la carte rewards points per dollar spent at grocery stores and restaurants, comes with a strong welcome bonus along with $150 travel enhancement credits, and offers a rebate on the $150 annual fee in the first year.
Read our complete review of the National Bank World Elite to learn more.
Runner Up: BMO World Elite Cards
If you’re looking for a card specifically for travel insurance, and tend to book award flights using points, the only other contenders are the BMO World Elite line of credit cards, including the:
- BMO Ascend World Elite Mastercard
- BMO Air Miles World Elite Mastercard
- BMO CashBack World Elite Mastercard
We go over the best credit cards for award bookings in this article: Credit Card Travel Insurance For Award Flights.
Best Credit Card for Grocery Purchases: Scotiabank Gold American Express
The Scotiabank Gold American Express card earns Scene+ Rewards points and gives cardholders the opportunity to earn 5x Scene+ points on grocery, restaurant, and entertainment purchases. This card charges no foreign exchange fees.
Check out our Scotiabank Gold American Express card review for more details.
Jul 1, 2024
Why We Chose This Card?
In terms of pure earning rate, the Scotiabank Gold American Express credit card is the best card for grocery purchases in Canada as a result of the new Scene+ Rewards partnership with Empire. With this partnership, the card now earns 6 Scene+ points per dollar spent at Empire grocery stores including predominantly Safeway and Sobeys, among others. Since Scene+ points can easily be redeemed for 1 cent per point, this is as good as earning 6% cash.
Even if you don’t shop for groceries at Empire stores, you will earn 5 Scene+ points per dollar spent at all other grocery stores, which is the highest rate available in the market in Canada. The card also earns 5 Scene+ points per dollar spent at restaurants, food delivery, and entertainment purchases.
Other Attributes of the Scotiabank Gold American Express
The Scotiabank Gold American Express card is one of the few credit cards in Canada with no foreign transaction fees and has strong insurance coverage including mobile device insurance and car rental insurance.
Furthermore, the card typically has a strong welcome bonus and no first-year annual fee.
Read our complete review of the Scotiabank Gold American Express to learn more.
Runner Up: American Express Cobalt
The runner-up to the Scotiabank Gold American Express is certainly the American Express Cobalt credit card, which earns 5x Membership Rewards on all restaurant, food delivery services, and grocery store purchases. Learn more: Review: Amex Cobalt Card.
Best Cash Back Card for Grocery Purchases: BMO CashBack World Elite Mastercard
The BMO CashBack World Elite Mastercard earns cash back and offers cardholders the opportunity to earn up to 5% cash back on all grocery purchases. As a result, for 2024 we selected this card for the award for Best Cashback Credit Card for Grocery Purchases.
Check out our BMO Cashback World Elite Mastercard review for more details.
250 Cash back
May 31, 2024
Why We Chose This Card?
As groceries are one of the most significant lifestyle purchases in most Canadian’s budgets, a credit card with a strong earning rate on groceries should be a staple in everyone’s wallet.
However, when we ranked the best credit cards for groceries in Canada, there were several subjective drawbacks of the top contenders, including the Scotia Gold, Amex Cobalt, and National Bank World Elite, namely that all of these cards earn points towards bank loyalty programs and in the case of American Express, have lower merchant acceptance.
The BMO CashBack World Elite Mastercard doesn’t suffer from any of these ‘drawbacks’ and is an ideal card for someone looking to earn simple cash back on their grocery purchases. At 5% cash back on grocery purchases, you will be earning a nice return if you can maximize the $500 monthly spending cap.
Other Attributes of the BMO CashBack World Elite
In addition to earning 5% on groceries, the BMO CashBack World Elite has strong earning rates in several other lifestyle categories:
- 4% on transit (on the first $300 you spend monthly)
- 3% on gas and electric vehicle charging (on the first $300 you spend monthly)
- 2% on recurring bill payments (on the first $500 you spend monthly)
The card has a welcome offer of 10% cash back in the first 3 months (maximum of $260 cash back) and the annual fee is waived in the first year. The card also comes with other notable benefits including an extended manufacturer’s warranty of 2 additional years for eligible purchases, and free roadside assistance.
Read our complete review of the BMO CashBack World Elite Mastercard to learn more.
Runner Up: Scotiabank Momentum Visa Infinite
If you’re looking for a strictly cash back earning credit card for grocery purchases, the main competitor to the BMO CashBack World Elite is the Scotiabank Momentum Visa Infinite. While it earns a slightly lower rate of 4% on groceries, there is no monthly spending cap like the BMO card, only an annual cap of $25,000. It also earns 4% on recurring bill payments and subscription services.
Best Foreign Transaction Credit Card: HSBC World Elite Mastercard
The HSBC World Elite Mastercard earns HSBC Rewards points and offers cardholders benefits including an annual $100 travel enhancement credit* and free Boingo Wifi membership.
For 2023, we selected this card as the Best Foreign Transaction Credit Card.
Check out our HSBC World Elite Mastercard review for more details.
This card has been discontinued and is unable to be applied for (11/2023).
0 HSBC Rewards
Why We Chose This Card?
The HSBC World Elite Mastercard is a premium card offering no foreign transaction fees and a strong earning rate of 3% on travel purchases. This makes it an ideal choice as both a card to use when traveling abroad and for making your travel bookings which might be charged in foreign currency. As a Mastercard it has good merchant acceptance as well vs. American Express, and merchants are generally categorized properly, which can be an issue with some Canadian credit cards.
For these reasons, the HSBC World Elite is deserving of the award for “Best Foreign Transaction Credit Card”.
Other Attributes of the HSBC World Elite
The HSBC World Elite Mastercard also comes with a strong welcome bonus and annual $100 travel enhancement credit. The $149 annual fee is free for the first year.
The card provides access to free in-flight WiFi via Boingo.
As far as earning rates go, the HSBC World Elite is strong, earning
- 3% in travel rewards on all eligible travel purchases (6 points per $1)
- 2% in travel rewards on all eligible gas, grocery, and drugstore purchases (4 points per $1)
- 1% in travel rewards on all other eligible purchases (2 points per $1)
HSBC Rewards are a flexible points currency that can be redeemed towards travel purchases for 0.5 cents per point or transferred to other frequent flyer programs like British Airways Avios, KrisFlyer, and Asia Miles.
Read our complete review of the HSBC World Elite to learn more.
Runner Up: Scotiabank Gold American Express
There aren’t a lot of competitive credit cards that offer no foreign currency exchange fees in Canada. Aside from the HSBC World Elite, the best option is the Scotiabank Gold American Express.
An option for another Mastercard would be the Brim Financial World Elite, however, the Scotia Gold offers a stronger welcome bonus. There is also the Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite card to consider, which is a good choice for a travel card as it comes with 6 complimentary lounge passes. Check out our list of the best no foreign transaction fee credit cards for Canadians to learn more.
It is already shaping up to be an exciting year for Frugal Flyer, and our inaugural credit card awards only add to the excitement. While we’ve elected to start with a small number of categories with only four carefully chosen awards, we look forward to adding more categories in future years to recognize the most valuable credit cards available in Canada.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on what cards deserve an award and what categories we should consider next!
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