I’ve been a big fan of credit card rewards since I received my first credit card while in University. Back in those days, it was a student credit card that gave me HBC rewards which could have been used towards stores like Zellers (which no longer exists). While Zellers wasn’t my first choice back in the day, it was better than no rewards like the other student card options.
Luckily, the rewards program offered by credit cards have improved over the years along with the strategies to maximize points. For our family, we are focused on a handful of cash-back and points program. Since I’ve written so much about credit cards and points programs, some readers have asked about these programs and how much they can reasonably expect from them.
A points program really should suit your lifestyle. If you spend a lot on travel, then a travel credit card combined with a loyalty program (like Air Miles) might reap you the best returns. The biggest risk of a large loyalty program is the devaluation of their points, for which Air Miles is famous. To mitigate that risk, I tend to lean towards straight up cash back.
Although I prefer pure cash back, there is a loyalty program that we follow that is a hybrid of a cash back and points program, and that is the Loblaws/Shoppers Drug Mart (SDM) PC Optimum program.
Having said that, in 2018, we gained most of our cash back from:
- Capital One Cash Back Mastercard (no longer available) for everyday spending (1.5% cash back) (see alternative below);
- PC Financial World Elite Mastercard for shopping at Loblaws (3% cash back at Loblaws and affiliated stores);
- PC Optimum app for weekly bonus offers; and,
- Online shopping portals (mostly Ebates and Great Canadian Rebates).
In addition to the above, we have collected a few Air Miles and Aeroplan points on the way, but they are few and far between.
Here are a few more details of each of the programs that we used.
PC Optimum Program ($986.40)
I must say that I’m a fan of this program, but it really only works if you shop at Loblaws affiliated stores (Shoppers Drug Mart, No Frills, Superstore etc). The PC Optimum program is essentially a cash back program however the points can only be redeemed for purchases at the Loblaws group of companies.
We do a lot of our grocery shopping at Loblaws (Dominion here in NL), so this program really works for us. To maximize the points, we have the PC Financial World Elite Mastercard (full review here), combined with using the PC Optimum app which gives you weekly customized offers. To really rev up the points accumulation, we sometimes take advantage of the 20x the points events at Shoppers Drug Mart which can really add up if you use any of their cosmetics or other big-ticket electronic items.
Using the strategies in the article above, we have accumulated a total of $986.40 worth of PC Optimum points for 2018. If you shop at Loblaws stores, this is, in my opinion, the best loyalty program in Canada.
Capital One MasterCard ($495)
To maximize cash back rewards, we funnel as much as we can through a credit card. As mentioned above, we use the PC World Elite Mastercard for groceries, and a now grandfathered Capital One MasterCard for all other expenses. You can even use your credit card for expenses like utilities and property taxes that have been traditionally cash only.
Many years ago, I signed up for the Capital One Cash Back World Elite card that gave me 1.5% cash back and premium insurances, to top it off, it has no annual fee. Unfortunately, this card is not available anymore, but never fret, there is an alternative that might be even better.
The Rogers World Elite Mastercard offers 1.75% cash back on regular purchases, 4% on foreign exchange purchases, no annual fee, and even some insurance! It’s pretty rare for a credit card to offer such a high return with no annual fee so I’m hoping that Rogers doesn’t devalue the card anytime soon. Here is a full review of the pros and cons of the Rogers MasterCard. I still haven’t replaced my Amazon Visa for FX purchases, and the Rogers card is on the top of my list.
With the Capital One Mastercard, we use it for all of our everyday expenses including Costco and gas purchases. For 2018, we spent about $33k on this card resulting in $495 cash back!
Online Shopping Portals ($88.43)
With more and more of our shopping done online, it’s only natural to maximize cash back by using online shopping portals! These are essentially websites that act as the middleman and is completely free to the user.
They make money when you click through to a store via the portal before you make a purchase. When you make a purchase, the portal gets a commission which is then shared with you.
The two online shopping portals that we use are Ebates and Great Canadian Rebates (GCR). I switch between the two depending on which offers the best cash back.
For example, as an Amazon Prime member, we buy quite a bit from Amazon. Right now, Ebates is offering between 1-5% depending on the category while GCR offers 1.3-4.75%.
So what kind of cash back can you expect from these portals? It really depends on your shopping habits, but we’ve generated a few dollars from Ebates and GCR through stores like Dell, Esso, Amazon, and Sportchek. Here are our totals for 2018:
- Ebates: $69.90
- Great Canadian Rebates: $18.53
Putting it Together
Altogether, we’ve had a successful year accumulating cash back rewards with very little effort. It’s really a matter of changing habits to maximize your cash back. For us, the PC Optimum program is a winner and has generated almost $1,000 in cash back this past year alone.
Back to you! Which loyalty programs do you follow and how much have you accumulated?