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How to Earn More Cash Back Rewards

When it comes to earning rewards, most of us are looking for one specific credit card that can help us get the most cash back or travel points for our spending.

I’ve tried a number of different rewards credit cards on their own before discovering that a combination of two or three cards gave me the best results.  Here’s why:

The key to maximizing your rewards is to understand your spending habits and then determine how you’d like to be rewarded for that spending.

Then you need to figure out which credit cards will give you the most cash back or travel points in the categories which you spend the most.

You see, rather than giving us a straight 2 percent cash back on all our spending, most rewards cards use a tiered approach where they offer a higher percentage back on certain spending categories like groceries or gas.

But with a combination of credit cards you can earn up to 2 percent (or more) on your total spending.  That beats the interest rate on most savings accounts these days.

Let’s use a practical example to show how you can earn more cash back on your spending by using a combination of rewards cards.

Here’s FrugalTrader’s household budget broken down into conventional credit card rewards categories:

Category Monthly spend Best rewards card Annual Cash back
Groceries $600 Scotia Momentum Visa Infinite $288
Costco $300 Capital One Aspire Cash World* $54
Gas $280 Scotia Momentum Visa Infinite $134.40
Bills $125 Scotia Momentum Visa Infinite $30
Restaurants $125 TrueEarnings Card from Costco $45
Travel $0 Capital One Aspire Travel World $0
Other $2,316 Capital One Aspire Cash World $416.88
Total $3,746 $968.28

*Credit card hack – Costco only accepts American Express credit cards but you can go to Costco’s website and order gift cards using your Visa or MasterCard.  The gift cards get mailed to you within a few days and then you have to call to activate them, so weigh the hassle against earning a few more bucks in rewards.

Related: How to use your non-Amex rewards card at Costco

FT could earn 2.15% back on his spending by using a combination of the Scotia Momentum Visa (for groceries, gas and recurring bill payments), the TrueEarnings Card from Costco and American Express (for restaurants), and the Capital One Aspire Cash World MasterCard (for everything else).

But wait; let’s not forget the Scotia card comes with an annual fee ($99) so we’ll have to deduct that from his annual cash back rewards.  That brings the total down to $869.28, for a 1.93% return on spending. Still not too shabby!

That’s $420 per year more than you’d get back with a standard 1 percent rewards card like the PC MasterCard.  It’s meaningful when you consider the lengths we can sometimes go to save a few bucks on a purchase.

Using multiple cards can be a bit of a pain because you have to stop and think about which card to use whenever you’re out shopping, plus you’ve got two or three credit card bills to pay each month instead of just one.

But I like to think of earning cash back rewards as a hedge against inflation, and I smile whenever I put another $50 back into my pocket.

Related reviews:

About the Author: Robb Engen is one half of the Boomer & Echo blogging team and shares his passion for earning rewards and using loyalty cards at Rewards Cards Canada.







22 Comments, Comment or Ping

  1. 1. Goldberg

    Does your article assume FT is paying his mortgage and muni taxes using a credit card?

    I stopped using the credit cards to pay for stuff. I found the cashback of about $300 a year was not enough to compensate for my significantly higher spending. While more convenient at the cashier (often just tap and go); by checking my balance once a month, I ended up spending thousands more every year. For about two years, I was constantly asking myself where does all that money go. I never experienced that before and I haven’t since either. I was surprised.

    I find by carrying a specific amount, I’m much more conscious and I spend way less. So no more cashback for me. Credit cards are for the few online purchases or hotels I do during the year.

  2. 2. Robb

    @Goldberg – I’ve removed the budget items that can’t be paid for by credit – things like the mortgage (FT’s mortgage free, though), property taxes, utility bills and insurance.

    Good point on being conscious of your spending. I find that using a detailed budget and tracking expenses helps keep my spending in-line. The credit card then just becomes a tool, one of three methods of payment you can use and the only one that gives you something back.

  3. @Goldberg, do you have a system for your cash? Maybe withdraw x amount per week, and when it’s gone, it’s gone?

  4. 4. Timmyson

    The chart is a little misleading comparing monthly spend in one column with annual rebate in another. This gives a false idea of the advantage of attempting to optimize your spending this way.

  5. 5. Shaun

    I have an MBNA travel rewards card that gives 2% cash back on everything, with no monthly fee, or teirs. Only reason id look at another card is for better travel insurance.

  6. 6. Chris

    I’m with RBC and have an RBC credit card. I like to see all my purchases on my Visa when I log into RBC in real time. I would find it frustrating to have to log in to so many visa/mc/amex systems or is there a way to view purchases from different providers in one spot? Can I link them to my RBC account and view purchases online?

    Thanks for the help.

  7. 7. Robb

    @Timmyson – I’m not sure what is misleading about the chart when one column is labeled ‘monthly’ and one is labeled ‘annually’. Care to elaborate on your comment?

    @Shaun – Ahh, the WorldPoints World 2% cash back card with no annual fee. If you are lucky enough to have this card, which is not available to new customers, then you have no reason to look for another rewards card. Congrats!

    @Chris – Each card would have its own website for viewing your transactions and checking up on your rewards. You could try something like Mint.com as a place to view everything on one screen. Not sure how quickly it pulls the transactions over though (i.e. real time).

    I just bookmark the online log-in screen for each of the three cards I use and sign in whenever I want to take a look at transactions.

  8. 8. Danielle

    Robb, great analysis and nice tip about the costco gift cards. Thanks!

  9. 9. Chris

    Thanks for the response Robb. I enjoy reading your blog!

  10. 10. Robb

    @Danielle and @Chris – My pleasure! Thanks for the kind words.

  11. Nice post Robb. Great to show how credit cards, if used wisely, can be of some benefit.

    When are you coming out with your own credit card? :)

    Mark

  12. 12. Andrew F

    I find the table a bit misleading. It talks about monthly spend and annual cash back. The annual spend is a hair under $45,000, making the cash back rate 2.15%. Not bad.

    You mention the PC Mastercard. The standard one gives 1% back in points on groceries, but anyone spending this kind of money would likely qualify for the black card, which gets 2% back in points. PC Points are, I think, as good as cash and they are redeemable for every day purchases that you make anyway with no additional fees (unlike Airmiles, etc.).

  13. 13. Robb

    @My Own Advisor – hmmm, not a bad idea ;)

    @Andrew F – The PC World MasterCard gives you 2% back for purchases made at Loblaws stores. You still only get 1% back for purchases made elsewhere.

    PC MasterCard was my first rewards card and it was okay. Then I found the Smart Cash card which, at the time, paid 3 percent back on groceries and gas. Then TD bought MBNA and reduced the rewards tier down to 2 percent back on groceries and gas, but only up to $400 in monthly spending.

    That’s when I switched to the combination mentioned in the post, which has boosted my annual cash back by almost 50 percent.

  14. 14. Richard

    Costco offers an Amex card that has some kind of cash back. I forget if it’s 1% or 2% but it’s a pretty easy way to get something back there without having to buy gift cards. It didn’t seem worth using for most other purchases though since it had extra rewards for categories where we don’t spend much.

    I figured out that the Aeroplan points we get are worth about 1.8% which is not bad value, and also acts as a forced spending plan since it isn’t cash we can use for anything. It sounds like our card will be sold to TD soon so I may be looking for a better one (although I don’t mind TD at all since we already have investments there and we never have to hear from CIBC again).

    If you want to compare a 2% return on credit card spending with the interest rates on savings accounts, I should point out that most savings accounts have a unique “100% cash back” feature :) Some countries have cancelled the feature this year so it depends on the local market.

  15. 15. Andrew

    Some people will want to at least consider the Scotiabank Gold Amex (at least for the first year as the sign-up bonus covers the $99 annual fee). It gives 4% back for travel on groceries, gas, & entertainment spending. The gas is a big selling feature for those that are near a Costco gas station (they only accept gift cards or Amex). Costco’s gas prices (at least near me) are about 5% cheaper than neighboring stations and you can earn an additional 4% with this card.

  16. 16. Robb

    @Richard – Yes, that’s the TrueEarnings Card that I mention in the chart. It pays 3 percent back on restaurant spending and 2 percent back on gas spending.

    Unfortunately for everything else, including Costco purchases, the cash back tier looks like this:

    0.25% up to $1,000
    0.50% on the next $2,000
    1% on any amount over $3,000

    That’s why I recommend buying the Costco gift cards online with your MasterCard.

    Good point about the savings accounts ;)

  17. 17. Robb

    @Andrew – The Scotiabank Gold Amex is a good travel rewards card and FT did a great review of it recently. (http://www.milliondollarjourney.com/scotiabank-american-express-gold-review.htm)

    Since this post was about cash back, I included the Scotia Momentum Visa Infinite, which also pays 4% cash back on your grocery and gas spending (plus 2% back at drug stores and on recurring bill payments).

    The travel cards are tougher to compare like this because you have to convert the points to cash value.

  18. 18. Rupert

    With TD taking over MBNA, the Smart Cash MC is not something I want to keep using. I wanted to use the Capital One Aspire Cash World and the Scotia Momentum Visa Infinite to maximize my cash back rewards. But I just found out that Capital One has discontinued their Aspire Cash World MC.

  19. @Rupert, that’s terrible news about the Cap One Aspire Cash World card. Hopefully existing cardholders will be grandfathered. The platinum version is a decent alternative if you’re looking for a free cash back card.

  20. 20. Rupert

    @FT I talked to a C1 rep and he told me that Aspire Cash World MC card holders will still get the same benefits. So no worries for the cardholders. I will probably opt in for the platinum version. Sigh.

  21. 21. Robb

    Terrible news, indeed. Rupert is correct, no changes (yet) for existing cardholders but they have pulled the Aspire Cash World MasterCard and are not accepting new applicants.

    http://www.rewardscardscanada.com/capital-one-aspire-cash-world-mastercard-has-been-discontinued/

    The Aspire Cash Platinum pays 1.25% back (instead of 1.5% for the World card) but doesn’t come with any of the World benefits.

    It’s still the best cash back option for your “other” category spending.

  22. 22. Timmyson

    >@Timmyson – I’m not sure what is misleading about the chart when one column is labeled ‘monthly’ and one is labeled ‘annually’. Care to elaborate on your comment?

    @Robb I’m accusing you of malice, but there is a cognitive trap that people easily fall into. It’s like showing a pie chart from a perspective (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Misleading_graph#Pie_chart, lots of great examples on that page), it makes it a little harder to get the correct idea. I can read the headings, but then I’m looking across the rows and seeing “If I spend $600 on groceries, I get $288 back with Scotia’s card”.

    A less misleading way of putting it would be to have both columns compare money for the same time period: Spend $7200 in a year and get $288 back. That makes the relationship between what I spend and what I get back much more easily understood.

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