Stack The Deck With Two Rewards Credit Cards To Maximize Earnings

Best Credit Card Combinations for Earning Cash Back and Rewards

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Last updated on September 2, 2022 Comments: 6

Monogamy is a pleasant concept in theory. But can we really expect any one credit card to satisfy all our needs? Rather than committing to one card only, cash back and rewards gurus carefully combine two or more complementary cards to fill in the others’ weaknesses.

We created hypothetical spending profiles for different types of Canadian consumers and ran the numbers to select the best credit card combinations for earning optimal cash back and rewards, without sacrificing the essential card features you need.

When reviewing the below, keep in mind that we’re focusing on long-term, multi-year value, so we didn’t factor the cards’ welcome offers into our calculations. Some of the spending profiles we created are for couples or families; others are for singles (we noted which is which). Because some credit cards are exceptionally strong for different types of spenders, they may appear in multiple categories. Now, without further ado:

Card ComboBest Combo For...Combined Annual FeesEstimated Annual Cash Back/Rewards Value
CIBC Dividend® Visa Infinite* Card + Tangerine World MastercardMaximum Cash BackSee terms + $0$920
Scotiabank Gold American Express® Card + Home Trust Preferred VisaMaximum Travel Rewards$120 + $0$580
BMO CashBack® Mastercard®* + SimplyCashTM Card from American ExpressNo Annual Fee Cash Back$0$245
Home Trust Secured Visa* + KOHO Premium CardBuilding Credit + Earning Cash Back$0 + $84 (or $9/month)$200.5

Best Combo for Maximum Cash Back

CIBC Dividend® Visa Infinite* Card + Tangerine World Mastercard

Let’s say you belong to an average Canadian family; you and your spouse fork over a massive amount of money feeding two insatiable kids and toting them to and from school and extracurricular activities. Groceries and gas take major chunks out of your budget, but you have a number of other expenditures to boot and you want to earn extra cash back in as many categories as possible. The CIBC Dividend® Visa Infinite* Card‘s enhanced cash back rates (after the Welcome Offer ends 4% on groceries and gas; 2% on restaurants, recurring bills, and local transit) pair well with the Tangerine World Mastercard, which allows you to cherry-pick 2-3 complementary spending categories where you’ll earn extra cash back. For the purposes of this exercise we chose drug store and home improvement spending, but your preferred categories will of course vary. The card combination also provides you with a number of other benefits like a complimentary Mastercard® Travel Pass Provided by DragonPass, insurance, and free Wi-Fi access.

This is a digital-exclusive offer. To be eligible for this offer, you must apply for a new eligible card using the “Apply Now” link available on this webpage.

† Conditions apply

Quebec Residents – Learn More about this CIBC product here

Résidents du Québec : Pour en savoir plus sur ce produit CIBC, suivez ce lien

Estimated Annual Spending/Cash Back

Credit CardGroceries + GasRecurring Bills + Restaurants + TransitDrug Store + Home ImprovementOther SpendingEstimated Annual Cash Back Earned
CIBC Dividend® Visa Infinite* Card$14,000 spent (4% back)$6,000 spent (2% back)$0$16,000 spent (1% back)$840
Tangerine World Mastercard$0 spent$0 spent$3,900 spent (2% back)$0 spent$80

Best Combo for Massive Travel Rewards

Scotiabank Gold American Express® Card + Home Trust Preferred Visa

You’re a globetrotting, cosmopolitan bon vivant, and the best way to support your adventurous spirit is to earn enough travel rewards points on your everyday spending to redeem for free flights every year. The Scotiabank Gold American Express® Card is like a mint for earning flexible Scene+ points on your regular purchases, earning 5X Scene+ points per $1 CAD spent on eligible groceries, restaurants, and entertainment; and 3X Scene+ points per $1 CAD spent on gas, local transit, and select streaming services. But it is, after all, an Amex. And although the number of places where Amex is accepted has increased, you won’t be able to use it at every merchant, particularly in Europe. That’s why it’s great to also have a no annual fee Visa on hand for the occasional purchase where your Amex isn’t accepted. Enter the Home Trust Preferred Visa, which waives foreign transaction fees and earns 1% cash back in CAD purchases, so your bases are covered whether you’re in Canada or overseas. The combo’s only noticeable weakness is that it doesn’t provide free airport lounge access, though the Scotia Gold Amex at least provides a discount on Priority Pass memberships.

The below calculations are based on potential earnings for a single cardholder; if you’re part of a couple or family you of course would earn significantly more. Figures are estimated for making about 85% of Canadian purchases and 70% of foreign purchases with the Amex and the remaining purchases with the Visa.

Estimated Annual Spending/Cash Back

Credit CardGroceries + Restaurants + EntertainmentGas + Local Transit + Streaming ServicesOther Spending (Canada)Other Spending (Foreign)Estimated Annual Rewards/Cash Back Earned
Scotiabank Gold American Express® Card$8,700 spent (5 pts p/$1)$2,250 spent (3 pts p/$1) $3,800 spent (1 pt p/$1) $1,400 spent (1 pt p/$1)55,450 points = $554.5 when redeemed for travel
Home Trust Preferred Visa$1,500 spent (1% cash back)$350 spent (1% cash back)$700 spent (1% cash back)$600 spent (no cash back)$25.5 cash back

Best Combo for No Annual Fee Cash Back

BMO CashBack® Mastercard®* + SimplyCashTM Card from American Express

BMO CashBack Mastercard and SimplyCash Card from AMEX

You’re single and working hard to steadily develop your career, but you don’t quite meet the annual income requirements to qualify for some of the upper-tier cash back cards. What’s more, even if your income level did allow you to qualify, your more frugal instincts just can’t stomach the thought of paying an annual fee for a credit card. Fortunately the BMO CashBack Mastercard®* and SimplyCashTM Card from American Express make a great no annual fee card combo to earn as much cash back as possible at no set cost to you. The BMO card’s 3% cash back rate on groceries* will earn back on what’s probably your biggest expense category; the rest of your purchases you can put on the SimplyCashTM Card from American Express, which earns 1.25% back on everything (provided the merchant accepts Amex). We estimate that combining the two cards will earn $245 for the below annual spending profile; just remember that cards without annual fees come with drawbacks—the BMO card’s 3% earn rate on groceries only applies to the first $500 spent per monthly statement. If your grocery bills are far higher than that—as they likely will be for, say, a growing family—consider biting the bullet and paying an annual fee for a cash back card with higher spending limits.

Estimated Annual Spending/Cash Back

Credit CardGroceriesOther SpendingTotal Cash Back
BMO CashBack® Mastercard®*$4,000 spent (3%)$0 spent$120
SimplyCashTM Card from American Express$0 spent$10,000 spent (1.25%)$125

*Terms and conditions apply

BMO is not responsible for maintaining the content on this site. Please click on the Apply now link for the most up to date information.

Best Combo for Building Credit + Earning Cash Back

Home Trust Secured Visa* + KOHO Premium Card

Your credit score is lowish (below, say, 650) and unfortunately you don’t qualify for entry-level cash back or rewards credit cards. You want to take out a secured credit card in an effort to improve your credit score, but you’re bummed that secured cards usually earn bupkes cash back or rewards points. Not to fret; there’s still an effective strategy you can use to both build your credit score *and* earn back on what you spend: Put about ⅓ of your spending on a secured credit card, like the Home Trust Secured Visa*, while putting the remaining ⅔ of your spending on a prepaid card that earns rewards, like the KOHO Premium Card. Regularly repaying the balance on your Home Trust Secured Visa* allows you to gradually build up your credit score, and the KOHO Premium Card will meanwhile earn cash back on all its purchases, with an enhanced 2% earn rate on groceries, restaurants, gas, and local transit. The great thing about prepaid cards like KOHO is that your credit score has no bearing on your approval. And after some time passes and you’ve built up your credit score a bit with the secured card, you can choose to either stick with the prepaid card or gravitate toward a traditional unsecured credit card.

Estimated Annual Spending/Cash Back

Credit CardGroceriesRestaurantsGas and TransitOther SpendingEstimated Annual Cash Back
KOHO Premium Card$6,000 spent (2%)$1,500 spent (2%)$1,200 spent (2%)$5,300 spent (0.5%)$200.5
Home Trust Secured Visa*$0 spent$0 spent$0 spent$7,000 spentN/A

Fidelity Is Overrated

Remember, credit cards have neither feelings nor divorce lawyers. Choosing the right mix of cards can ensure you’re covered in every direction, optimizing your ability to earn back on what you spend, improving your credit utilization ratio, and ensuring you’re covered in benefits from head to toe. 

If you’d like to spruce up your rewards even further, periodically review our list of cards with really attractive welcome offers and try out new combinations from time to time. Nabbing multiple cards with great sign-up bonuses can kickstart your earnings into overdrive, particularly if the cards have first year annual fee waivers and low spending requirements to get their bonuses. Though our recommended combinations above are for only two cards at a time, you might elect to add a third into the mix. Just be careful not to lose track of your spending—the right number of credit cards varies from one individual to a next, and three or more cards may be a recipe for success in some cases and for disaster in others.

*This post was not sponsored. The views and opinions expressed in this review are purely my own.

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Author Bio

GreedyRates is Canada’s go-to resource for all things personal finance. Our expert articles and videos cover every topic under the financial sun, including credit cards, credit scores, loans, bank accounts, budgeting, investing, RSPs, TFSAs, GICs, taxes, and more. Want our advice on a personal finance issue? Send us an email at [email protected] and we’ll gladly give you some free tips.

Article comments

6 comments
CardGuy says:

Where’s the Rogers World Elite MasterCard? 1.75 back on EVERYTHING. 4% on Foreign Transactions (Net +1.5% after the -2.5% fee). NO ANNUAL FEE. Can redeem for statement credit on any purchase.

That paired with Amex Cobalt/Scotia Amex Gold.

No thanks on paying 2x annual fees. This combo is much better.

The GreedyRates Team says:

Hey CardGuy,

Great shout out for one of our favorite cards: The Rogers World Elite Mastercard! We appreciate it, but unfortunately, we can’t cram every awesome card into each article. However, the Rogers World Elite card is featured heavily in many of our ‘Best Of’ lists, for exactly the same reasons you mentioned and more. The generous flat rate on all Canadian dollar spending is clutch, as is the idea that this applies (but at 4.00%) on all foreign currency purchases. The flexible redemption is a newer concept that for us, solidifies the card’s placement in the top tier, and when you can use this feature through the Mastercard Pay With Rewards application, even better!

Keep in mind that as a non-Big Five bank in Canada, Rogers cards are riskier to use as a primary card because they may not have the same level of support. Same with Amex, obviously. For this reason, pairing the Cobalt or Scotia Gold Amex cards with the Rogers card may sometimes result in moments where both the Amex isn’t accepted and the purchase isn’t eligible for cash back or redemption via Rogers.

GreedyRates

Shawn says:

Nice article! Qualifying as the “every man” who don’t want to pay any fee, those are my no-fee credit cards for 2018-2019 :
Tangerine Money-Back (2%) : Drugstore, entertainment, recurring bills.
MBNA smart cash platinum plus (2%) : Groceries, gas.
Capital One ( For Costco Member ) (3%) : Restaurants.
NBC echo (when it was a no fee card) (1.5%) : Online purchase.
Fido Mastercard (1.25%) : Everything else.
I’m thinking about applying for the RBC cash-back (3 cents off per litre of gas at Petro-Canada + 0.5% cash-back + 20% more petro-points). But, hey, I think I may have enough cards to deal with. (I can’t always go to Costco gas station, that’s why the average 3% cash-back on gas at Petro-Canada is appealing)

But if I had to choose only two, I’ll go for the Tangerine Money Back + Fido MasterCard as you suggested (You did a great job).

The GreedyRates Team says:

Hey Shawn,

Glad to hear from an “everyman” about his thoughts on some of our most recommended no-fee credit cards. Appreciate the shout out as well! Now, onto a little commentary of our own. It seems to us like you have a lot of credit cards, and just for the sake of de-complicating your life a bit (as well as consolidating debt, if you have any) you could choose to reduce your arsenal by one or two cards. There are some credit cards that offer all-in-one functionality across two or three of the cards you currently deploy for various purchase categories. It might even be worth your while to choose a card with an annual fee, as this makes the task at hand more manageable. Most annual fees are justified by better perks anyway.

One example that comes to mind is the Cash Back Visa Infinite card, which asks you to pay a $120 annual fee, but rebates it during your first year. This way you can test it out and also take advantage of its generous bonus of 9.00% cash back during your first 3 months on gas, groceries, and recurring bills. The standard rate afterwards is 3.00% on these categories, which is better than the two 2.00% cards you currently use to cover these bases. We’re not sure what you annual income is, and we wouldn’t ask you to publish it if you don’t want to, but it’s also a factor if you want to pursue the consolidation strategy. Otherwise, if your debt utilization ratio, credit, and annual fee situation are all above board, getting another card is alright.

If you want more precise and personal correspondence feel free to get in touch via email at [email protected]. Thanks again for your comment!

GreedyRates Staff

Tamir Kojfman says:

You should consider the PC Financial World Elite Mastercard because everyone needs groceries, Loblaws (including Shoppers Drug Mart) stores are everywhere.

Never redeem PC Plus Points on more groceries, then you won’t earn extra points. Use the points to redeem for gift cards at other retailers but not ones you earn bonus points on otherwise you’ll lose out on bonus points again.

Capiche?

GreedyRates says:

Hi Tamir,

Definitely a nice alternative no fee option. We didn’t include it for 2 reasons. The first was because the 3% cash back rate is only good for Loblaw stores, we wanted a card that appealed to all readers. The second was that the Scotia Momentum card offers 4% cashback (gas & grocery), which is higher than the 3% cashback at Loblaw stores.

Nice idea to redeem for gift card to save grocery purchases for earning opportunities instead of redemptions.

GreedyRates Staff