As American Express ads from the 1970s onward suggest, it’s the card many of us don’t leave home without, and with good reason—many reasons, in fact. Amex offers some of the highest-earning and most-perk-filled credit cards around, regularly landing it on the annual rankings of the best credit cards in Canada. As well, it’s the only credit-card company that issues its own cards, rather than going through a bank. And while Amex isn’t accepted as widely as Visa and Mastercard, it is taken at virtually all major retail and food chains, particularly in major Canadian cities. Which card is right for you? Here, we break down the top five American Express credit cards by category to help you decide.

The best American Express credit cards in Canada

Card Rewards / Features Annual fee
American Express Cobalt
(get more details)
*
  • 5 pts/$1 on groceries & dining
  • 2 pts/$1 on travel, gas & transit
  • 1 pt/$1 on everything else
  • 1 pt = 1% / up to 1.75% in travel rewards
$120
SimplyCash Preferred
(get more details)
*
  • 2% cash back on all purchases
$99
SimplyCash
(get more details)
*
  • 1.25% cash back on all purchases
$0
American Express
Essential
(get more details)
  • Low 12.99% APR
$120
American Express
Platinum
(get more details)
  • 3 pts/$1 on dining
  • 2 pts/$1 on travel
  • 1 pt/$1 on everything else
  • $200 travel credit
  • Airport lounge access
  • Transfer points to airlines
  • 1 pt = 1% / +1.75% in travel rewards
$699
American Express Gold Rewards
(get more details)
*
  • 2 pts/$1 on travel, gas, groceries, and drug stores
  • 1 pt/$1 on everything else
  • 1 pt = 1% / up to 1.75% in travel rewards
  • Transfer points to airlines
  • 1 pt = 1% / +1.75% in travel rewards
$150

Best overall Amex rewards card

American Express Cobalt*

The impressively high earn rate of the American Express Cobalt credit card makes it a standout option. It offers five times the points on essentially all food spending categories (think: groceries, dining out, coffee runs and so on) and twice as many points on travel (flights, transit, gas and even rideshares). Given how much of most people’s spending goes toward these categories, it’s a pretty great (not to mention effortless) way to net a tidy sum toward future travel. Plus, as a welcome bonus, Amex will reward you with 2,500 points for every month you spend at least $500 on the card within your first year—up to a whopping 30,000 points. These can be redeemed for flights and hotels through Amex’s Flexible Points Travel Program, in which every 1,000 points is equal to $10 (or $0.01 per point). Or you can redeem through the Fixed Points Travel Program, where, if you’re a little flexible and can find your way around a rewards chart, you can potentially get up to 75% more value out of your points on round-trip flights out of Canada.   

  • Annual fee: $120 ($10 monthly)
  • Welcome offer: Up to 30,000 points (2,500 points for every month you spend a minimum of $500 on your card in your first year)
  • Earn rate: 5 points per $1 spent on food (including groceries, restaurants and food delivery); 2 points per $1 spent on travel, transit and gas; 1 point per $1 spent everywhere else
  • Income requirement: None
  • Additional benefits: Travel and shopping insurance; American Express Invites

Get more details about the American Express Cobalt*


Best cash-back Amex card

SimplyCash Preferred from American Express*

If travel is not on your radar these days (for obvious reasons), money to spend however you’d like would be a more useful reward. That’s what you get with the SimplyCash Preferred, with its impressive flat rate of 2% cash back on everything—yep, everything—you buy. No other cash-back credit card out there can compete with that. With SimplyCash Preferred, you’ll earn at least double the cash back on purchases compared to most other cards, which typically offer only a 0.5% to 1% reward. This also makes it one of the best cards to use for online shopping, something we’re doing now more than ever. There is one catch, though: You can only redeem your rewards annually every September, unlike some cash back cards that allow you to redeem more frequently. But your patience will be rewarded—2% back on a whole year’s spending will feel like a nice little windfall. And at $99, the annual fee is below the average of $120.

  • Annual fee: $99
  • Welcome offer: Earn 10% cash back in your first four months (up to $400 cash back)
  • Earn rate: 2% cash back on all purchases
  • Income requirement: None
  • Additional benefits: Travel and shopping insurance; American Express Invites

Get more details about the SimplyCash Preferred from American Express


Best no-fee Amex card

SimplyCash from American Express*

Some of us just don’t have room in the budget for expenses like annual fees, which is why you may consider American Express’s SimplyCash credit card. But just because you’re not paying a fee for your card doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be rewarded for using it. SimplyCash is one of the highest-earning no-fee credit cards in Canada, offering 1.25% back on every dollar you spend. This is particularly impressive when you consider that most other no-fee rewards cards only offer 0.5% back on the majority of everyday purchases. However, the one drawback is the limited timing when it comes to rewards: You can only redeem once per calendar year in September. 

  • Annual fee: $0
  • Welcome offer: Earn 2.5% cash back in your first three months (up to $150 cash back)
  • Earn rate: 1.25% cash back on all purchases
  • Income requirement: None
  • Additional benefits: Travel and shopping insurance; American Express Invites

Get more details about the SimplyCash from American Express*


Best low-interest Amex card

American Express Essential

There are times when unexpected extra expenses—leaky roof, sick dog, those boots you told yourself you weren’t going to buy—make us rely on our credit card a little more. And that’s when paying off the full balance at the end of the month isn’t always within budget. It might take a few billing cycles to get back in the black, and in the meantime, the interest on those outstanding payments can be… painful. The American Express Essential Card takes away some of that pain with its low interest rate of 12.99%. Compare that with the 19.99% interest rate of most other cards, and it’s clear that this difference could amount to significant savings for anyone who struggles to pay off their card from time to time. As well, unlike other low-interest credit cards, the Essential comes with no annual fee. Bonus: This low interest rate also applies to cash advances, a reassuring option to have for those situations when you’re in a pinch and need cash pronto.  

  • Annual fee: $0
  • Interest rate: 12.99%
  • Income requirement: None
  • Additional benefits: Travel and shopping insurance; American Express Invites; Plan It—The American Express Installment Program

Best premium Amex card

The Platinum Card by American Express 

PC Financial Word Elite MastercardIf you like prestige, the Platinum card is for you. This is one of Amex’s premium offerings—which means it comes with a hefty annual fee ($699), but enough perks to make it worth the investment. With an earn rate of triple the points on dining out compared to other cards, and double on travel, you’ll be racking up rewards every time you order in, fill the gas tank, do the weekly grocery shop and more. The options for redeeming points are varied: Put them toward flights or hotel, with every 1,000 points equalling $10, via the Flexible Points Travel program; using the Fixed Points Travel Program’s travel chart to get potentially more value out of them; transfer them to frequent-flyer or hotel-loyalty programs; or even redeem them in the form of gift cards at premium retailers like Holt Renfrew. 

The Platinum card, as one might expect, comes with some serious benefits. It entitles its holder to American Express Platinum concierge services, a $200 travel credit that’s renewed each year and—perhaps the holy grail for frequent flyers—airport lounge access. You’ll be able to take advantage of Amex’s highly coveted Centurion lounges as well as more than 1,200 Priority Pass lounges around the world, making layovers—and even flight delays—a whole lot more bearable. Maybe the coolest thing about this card? It’s metal instead of the usual plastic. This luxe detail, however, may make you want to flash your card more often. (Consider yourself warned.)

  • Annual fee: $699
  • Welcome offer: 50,000 points when you spend $2,000 within the first three months
  • Earn rate: 3 points per $1 spent on food (including restaurants, cafés and bars); 2 points per $1 spent on travel services and bookings (excluding gas and local transit); 1 point per $1 spent everywhere else 
  • Income requirement: None (just a good-to-excellent credit rating)
  • Additional benefits: Travel and shopping insurance; American Express Invites; Fine Hotels & Resorts exclusive benefits; automatic Elite status in multiple hotel programs; benefits at Toronto Pearson airport, such as priority-security-lane access and complimentary valet service  

Best Amex card for points optimizers

American Express Gold Rewards Card

Like the Platinum Card by American Express covered above, the American Express Gold Rewards credit card earns Membership Rewards points—arguably the single most flexible points program in Canada. With plenty of transfer options, it is an easy choice for the seasoned points optimizer who cares about maximizing values over simplicity. You can transfer your points to other travel programs, including Aeroplan, British Airways Avios, Marriott Bonvoy and others, often at favourable transfer ratios. Make the right transfer and you can get a big boost in your rewards value. For example, you can trade 1 Membership Rewards point for 1 Aeroplan point, which can then be redeemed for upwards of $0.04 per point on certain business class flights. Think of this like currency conversion, where you try to get the best rate on exchange. 

You can also stick within the American Express rewards ecosystem and redeem points using the Fixed Points Travel program, you’ll get upwards of $0.0175 per point, which is a good deal. Values do vary, so make sure you consult the rewards chart. 

  • Annual fee: $150
  • Earn rate: 2 points per $1 spent on travel, gas, groceries and at pharmacies; 1 point per $1 on everything else 
  • Welcome offer: Earn 25,000 points when you charge $1,500 in your first 3 months 
  • Income requirement: None
  • Additional benefits: Comprehensive travel insurance, including emergency medical, travel accident, hotel burglary; car rental theft or damage coverage; access to Amex hotel booking program The Hotel Collection; and American Express Invites for event discounts and early access to ticket sales

Get more details about the American Express Gold Rewards Card*


About American Express Cash Back Cards

Not all cash back credit cards are created equal. In fact, every credit card company handles its cash back programs a bit differently. Neither of Amex’s two cash back cards features bonus categories, opting instead to let you earn accelerated rewards on every purchase at a flat rate. Cash back is universal and easy to calculate. At a 1.25% earn rate, $1 charged equals $0.0125 in cash back. 

Unlike with some other credit card providers, however, you won’t enjoy the flexibility of redeeming cash back on-demand at any time. With American Express, the cash back is automatically deducted from your card balance only once per year, every September.

Must-know facts American Membership Rewards points—and points values

American Express Membership Rewards is one of the most valuable and flexible rewards programs in Canada. But to make the most of it, it’s important to understand how the points work and how much points are worth. 

American Express points come in two varieties: Membership Rewards (MR) and Membership Rewards Select (MR Select). 

You’ll earn MR points with the American Express Gold and American Express Platinum. MR Select points are earned with the American Express Cobalt and the American Express Choice cards. While both MR and MR Select can be redeemed in a variety of ways, there are some slight differences between the two as covered below.  



MR points MR Select points
Flexible Travel Points Program Yes Yes
Fixed Travel Points Program Yes Yes
Transfer options Hotel and airline partners Only for hotel partners
Statement credits Yes Yes
Gift cards / merchandise Yes Yes

Travel

Travel is one of the most popular ways to redeem any of American Express points programs, partly because of the flexibility. There are several ways to make the most of your points, and you don’t need to use American Express’s in-house travel agency. You can redeem points for purchases booked directly from an outside airline, hotel or travel agency.

American Express Flexible Travel 

The most simplified travel redemption comes from the Flexible Travel points program, where each point is worth $0.01 towards flights, hotel stays, car rental, vacation packages and cruises. You can redeem points for travel in flat increments of 1,000 points, worth $10. Both MR and MR Select points are eligible.

American Express Fixed Travel

If you’re looking to maximize your points value and score great deals, you might want to use the Fixed Travel points program. Here, you redeem points for round-trip flights out of Canada, based on a regional rewards chart. Both MR and MR Select points are eligible.

Point values vary depending on the flight and region you’re travelling to, with each region requiring a minimum number of points in exchange for a maximum price ticket 

For example, let’s say you’re flying from Toronto to Montreal (a short-haul flight within Canada).

  • According to the rewards chart, you’ll need a minimum of 15,000 points, which can cover up to a maximum $300 of a flight ticket’s base price (not including taxes). 
  • If you find a ticket that costs $350 ($250 plus $100 in taxes)you would redeem 15,000 points and pay $350 (total price of the ticket). 
  • Then, American Express would refund you $250—the base price of the ticket, not including taxes. 

Ultimately, you would pay 15,000 points plus $100 out of pocket for the $350 ticket, which works out to $0.0167 per point—far greater than the $0.01 per point value you’d receive in the Flexible Points program.

Transfer options

One of the benefits of American Express Rewards points is the ability to transfer your points to six different frequent flyer programs, often at favourable ratios. For example, you can transfer 1,000 Membership Rewards points for 1,000 Aeroplan Points at a 1:1 ratio. The value of Aeroplan Points fluctuates. But, depending on which flight you redeem them for and how well you optimize your trip, you can reap as much as $0.02 to $0.04 per point, especially on business class flights. The right transfers can boost your rewards values. Be aware that Membership Rewards Select points can’t be transferred to airline partners.

Transfers don’t only apply to airlines. You can transfer either Membership Rewards and Membership Rewards Select points to hotel partners including Marriott Bonvoy and Hilton Honors. Point values and transfer ratio fluctuate by program, so do the math to get the very best deal. 

Statement credits

If you’d rather spend points on your everyday card purchases, you can do that, too, though the value is not as good as with travel. When using a statement credit, 1,000 points equals $7 (which is $0.007 per point). If you find you prefer rewards to save on everyday purchases in general, your best bet is to stick with a cash back credit card instead of a travel rewards card since they offer redemptions values on everyday purchases.

Gift cards and merchandise

Sometimes you just want to cash in your points for a gift card or merchandise—and with American Express Membership Rewards you can do that, too. The values on merchandise vary dramatically, so getting a deal may take a bit of math, but you can expect around $0.0075 per point on gift cards.

Amex acceptance–is it really an issue?

If you read up on American Express cards, you’re going to notice that they carry a warning about how widely accepted they are. It’s true Mastercard and Visa can be used at more places, but the stigma around American Express may be slightly overblown. 

American Express is accepted at more than 96,000 places across Canada including most department and big box stores like The Bay, Walmart, Canadian Tire, and Home Depot, as well as thousands of restaurants and cafes, including a large number of fast food and chain restaurants as well as food delivery apps. Metro and Sobeys grocery stores accept American Express, but Costco and Loblaws stores do not. Shoppers Drug Mart, some independent restaurants and several smaller mom-and-pop shops don’t take American Express. 

Where does this leave you? Rather than forgoing the valuable rewards and perks found with many American Express cards, our advice is to carry at least two cards with you. Bring your American Express along with another no-fee Visa or Mastercard, just in case.


More on Canada’s best credit cards

The post The best American Express credit cards in Canada 2021 appeared first on MoneySense.