I’m Finally on the Rewards Credit Card Train

November 12, 2014


I’ve written about this topic a few times before: I used to use my two credit cards like they were free money, maxed them both out in June 2011, finally finished paying them off in April 2012 and, a full year later, found that I still didn’t trust myself to use them responsibly. Now I can look back and see it’s not so much that I didn’t trust myself; it was that responsible credit card usage had never been part of my budgeting strategy. I didn’t “get it”. I didn’t understand how people could use their credit cards to pay for everything, and manage to pay off the entire balance and never be charged interest. How was that possible?

In July, it finally clicked. The problem, all along, was that I’d always used credit cards to supplement my income. I saw them as something that could help me buy what I couldn’t afford. So, of course I didn’t understand the concept of using them to earn rewards and be charged nothing to do so – that’s not how they worked in my brain.

Credit cards were what helped me live the life I wanted, even when I couldn’t afford it. Since starting this blog, however, I have learned how to live a good life on the income I make. If I want to do/buy more, I do some freelance work to pay for it – I do not turn to my credit cards. In fact, when I became credit card debt-free, I only kept one credit card (because I’d had it since November 2004, so it held all my credit history) and I barely used it; that changed, after all of this finally clicked.

Once I realized that I probably had what it takes to be a responsible credit card user, I did two things: evaluated my monthly spending and researched the best credit cards in Canada. I’ve been tracking my spending and writing monthly budgets for exactly three years now, so I had lots of history to review. I focused on what I’d spent each month in 2014, and with that I was able to fill in my spending profile on RateHub.ca’s credit card comparison chart. Based on my spending profile, I knew I’d get the most rewards with either a cash back or travel rewards credit card. I did a little extra research on the side, then decided that for budgeting purposes I would test out the best cash back credit card: the Scotia Momentum Visa Infinite*.


I say “test out”, because I wanted to see if I could spend enough money in a year to counter the $99 annual fee that comes with this card. See, when you get a rewards credit card that has an annual fee, you want to spend enough so your rewards not only make you breakeven, but come out ahead – way ahead. (If you can’t do that, look at some of the no fee credit cards that also come with rewards.) Currently, the annual fee on the Scotia Momentum Visa Infinite is being waived for the first year, so I figured there was no harm in making it my test subject. I applied, was approved and, for the past four months, I have used my new credit card to pay for absolutely everything. Has the test been a success? Take a look:


In just four months, I have earned $162.35 in cash back. If you do the math, that means I’ve spent $11,259 ($2,814.75/month) on the card; that’s a big number, but remember that I also pay for some things each month that work reimburses me for, and freelance has helped me pay for a couple flights that I later charged to the card. If I continue on this track, I could earn as much as $487.05 cash back this year (because the annual fee is being waived). If I had to pay the $99 annual fee, though, that would still give me $388.05 cash back (which Scotiabank applies to your November bill). So, I’d say the test has been a successful one! On top of the cash back I’ve earned, I’ve also taken advantage of some discounts only Visa Infinite holders get, and I feel good travelling with a card that has so many travel insurance policies attached to it. Would it surprise you, then, if I said I’m still not sure this is the right rewards credit card for me?

For as much travelling as I’ve done this year, I’m starting to think a travel rewards credit card might be a better fit for me (and my budget). I don’t really know why I hadn’t thought of that before, but since I want to do even more travelling in 2015, I’m keeping my eye on this card. I think I’ll wait until January to apply – or I may not apply at all, who knows. It’s just something I’ve been thinking about… I’ll keep you posted!

Do you use a rewards credit card? What type of rewards do you earn?

Flickr: smemon

  • Dayle November 12, 2014 at 4:13 am

    Hi Cait!

    I have this same card! I’ve only been using it for one month but loving it so far. I will probably stick with it…I don’t travel enough to make one of those my #1 choice. Because bf and I both charged some large purchases last month (he paid me back) I earned a nice $120 back on my November 3rd statement!

    Now that I have also finally taken the plunge, the way I’m managing it is still using my budget so that whenever I spend anything on the VISA, I decuct it from the budget/spreadsheet so I know how much I have left to spend. And I just leave all the money in the bank until the bill comes. I keep the receipts in my wallet until I can enter them in budget/spreadsheet and then I toss what I don’t need. It’s worked really well for me so far!

    • Cait Flanders November 12, 2014 at 3:01 pm

      $120!? Dang, girl! And yes, I do basically the exact same thing re: budgeting. The only thing that still “feels” weird though is logging into Scotia and seeing that I have, for example, a $1,200 balance, but then seeing $1,500 in my chequing account to pay it off with and realizing I’m actually doing it right, haha.

      • Dayle November 13, 2014 at 6:41 am

        Same – I still kinda feel rich when I see the $1500 in chequing because previously that is what was left to spend, whatever was in there…but now the spreadsheet tells me that. Need to remember that some/most of that money is already spent and the bill just hasn’t come yet. Cheers to doing it right!

  • Mrs. Frugalwoods November 12, 2014 at 4:14 am

    I use credit cards to pay for everything and then, I pay off the cards in full every month. I love the rewards we reap and it’s well worth it provided you use them responsibly. We use the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express for hotel points, which is a great deal (we’ve stayed for free in hotels worldwide). And we have an Amazon cash back rewards card, which makes most of our purchases from Amazon free! I find that we only have enough spending to support two cards (which my husband and I share). We also purchase everything we can for work and get reimbursed–it’s a great way for us to earn more rewards since our spending every month is pretty low. Enjoy your newfound card rewards bliss!

  • Bette November 12, 2014 at 4:23 am

    I use a cash-back rewards card that lets me accumulate the balance in my account. At Christmas time, I redeem the cash for gift cards, especially with companies that are offering to double or triple the cash-back reward. I then either give the cards as gifts or use them to purchase tangible gifts. I realize while writing this that the rewards card is essentially my Christmas savings plan — and I don’t have to give it a second thought during the year.

  • Strandedrocks November 12, 2014 at 4:42 am

    My main card is the Scotiabank Gold American Express card which costs $99 a year, it’s been ok so far, don’t really like the fact it’s a Amex, many places don’t accept it. I can’t complain though because the first year the annual fee was waived and I paid for a ski trip with the bonus sign up points. For the second year I called and the fee was waived for an extra year so that I can really see if my usage of the card justifies the fee. Mine is a travel card and I had been looking at the one you are reviewing and I think I prefer the cash back, plus Visa is accepted everywhere!

    • Strandedrocks November 12, 2014 at 4:43 am

      ps. I think Krystal from GMMFB uses the Aspire card and she does a lot of travelling.

    • Cait Flanders November 12, 2014 at 2:58 pm

      I’d been looking at that card too, but decided against it because of the AmEx aspect; that’s mostly why I think I’m going to get the Capital One MC! And yes, Visa is accepted everywhere. :)

  • Michelle November 12, 2014 at 4:42 am

    I’m a travel rewards fanatic so I have two travel rewards cards, one for business and one for my personal expenses. I recently switched one card away from Aeroplan though because I’ve found the program is getting junkier by the minute. Too many restrictions. I normally pay both of in full each month but lately my personal one has gotten away from me. I’m on a mission to get that fixed. I usually travel for free each year with the cards which is awesome!

  • Brittany @ Fun on a Budget Blog November 12, 2014 at 4:59 am

    I’m on the same credit card game as Mrs.Fruglawoods–pay it off completely at the end of each month. I only buy things I can afford on a monthly basis so it’s always possible to do this. I like the cash back rewards but have been shopping around for a good hotel/airline option as well.

  • Travis @debtchronicles November 12, 2014 at 5:31 am

    I got on the credit card rewards train……and then I jumped off. I promptly gave that train the one finger salute. With both hands. That spending train just kept going faster and faster and was about to get out of control. I think I’d rather walk.

    • Cait Flanders November 14, 2014 at 5:30 pm

      I hear you, friend – I think that’s why it took me so long to get to where I am today. For months, I couldn’t even keep a credit card in my wallet. Once I got so used to only spending a certain amount each month though, it finally felt ok.

  • HS November 12, 2014 at 5:52 am

    I have a cash back through CIBC. It’s not as good as yours – you only get less than 1% back for the first 3, 000 and then 1% after that. To get the 2% you have to spend 10, 000. The bank dude didn’t tell me that part (although I should have been skeptical and did more digging myself).

    It’s not really worth it for me. I pay off the annual fee with my cash back but I don’t spend nearly enough money to make much off of it. I think right now I’m at $40 profit. Woot.

    I’m going to convert it to the level lower with no fee. It has no rewards, but I don’t use the rewards anyway. And I just get stressed seeing if I am going to pay off the annual fee. Not worth it!

    Clearly I’m with the wrong bank.

    • Cait Flanders November 12, 2014 at 2:55 pm

      You don’t just have to get a credit card from your bank! I’m actually a big believer that you shouldn’t. I don’t have any bank accounts with Scotia, I just did my research and knew they had the best cash back credit card, so I signed up for it. I’d check out canipayless.com, enter your spending profile and see which ones come up for you. You can choose a no fee rewards credit card, too! They don’t offer the same level of rewards, but you’ll still earn something for using the card. :)

      • Dayle November 13, 2014 at 6:42 am

        I also don’t have any accounts with Scotia… and I was a little surprised/put off that I had to go into the branch to pick-up my card. Did you?

        • Cait Flanders November 13, 2014 at 6:50 am

          Nope – that’s strange! It came right to my door.

  • Will: FirstQuarterFinance.com November 12, 2014 at 6:12 am

    Congrats on trusting yourself!

  • Kassandra November 12, 2014 at 6:21 am

    We have a few credit cards. Some are straight cash back rewards and others are rewards for pretty much anything including travel. The only thing we don’t charge is rent and trust me, I would if I could because that is a serious amount every month lol. We make sure to PIF before the statement due date.

  • Aleksandra Sagan November 12, 2014 at 6:27 am

    Earning nearly $500 of ‘free money’ on your credit card would be awesome!

    I use the Aeroplan Visa, which both G and I have. We’ll be using the points from our cards next fall for a bigger trip – we hope!

  • Shanondoah November 12, 2014 at 6:30 am

    I use the petro-points mastercard, I love it because I get bonus points at grocery stores and pharmacies (I think) – plus every month I go over $1000 I get an extra 5000 points which is every month because I put everything on it.

  • Barry @ Moneywehave November 12, 2014 at 7:01 am

    I charge everything I possibly can to get rewards. That being said at small businesses I’ll use cash and I still track my spending to ensure I don’t blow my budget.

    • Cait Flanders November 12, 2014 at 2:53 pm

      I try to do the same, Barry!

  • Trista November 12, 2014 at 7:48 am

    A points card was my original downfall when it came to my credit card debt. I went from a $1000 card to a $5000 card. Once I maxed myself out I took the first opportunity to switch to a no fee, low interest card. That one was later closed by the bank. I currently have one low limit, low interest card that I have been paying off in full the last couple of months. It does have an annual fee and now that I do not carry a balance I really need to switch it to something else.. I’d like to get a rewards card but the couple times I’ve tried for one I’ve been declined.

    My Dad has tried a number of rewards cards. He bought a snowblower with his Canadian Tire reward card years ago. He paid everything on it, even my books and tuition when I was in university. He has enough points on his Avion for his trip to Australia once he’s ready to go. He and his wife also have the RBC WestJet rewards VISA which gives them each a $99 companion flight each year. They usually take two vacations a year so this has been great for them. Dad has always been a money role model for me. He’s a great money manager.

    • Cait Flanders November 14, 2014 at 5:31 pm

      Sounds a lot like my dad, Trista! If only we’d learned from them a little sooner, eh? Oh well. We’re on the right track now.

  • Michelle November 12, 2014 at 7:52 am

    Love this! I’m all about travel hacking. We are currently on a trip that is mainly paid for with credit card rewards. Can’t beat this!

  • Jason St-Hilaire November 12, 2014 at 9:26 am

    I have a Capital One Aspire Cash World from when they were offered (effective 1.5% cash-back) without any annual fee. I put everything I can on it.

    Lately I’ve been looking at the Scotia Momentum Visa Infinite too. Most of our purchases are groceries and gas, and next year when we move to a new house, our gas budget will increase. But the annual fee, the fee for an additional card and the fact that we’ll apply for a mortgage next year puts me off a bit…

    • Cait Flanders November 14, 2014 at 5:33 pm

      Would you keep the Capital One card? Because that card’s annual fee is even higher (although additional cards are free, right?). If Scotiabank is still offering to waive the $99 fee next year, you could always just get it for 1 year and test it out, to see if you like it / it works with your budgeting needs!

      • Jason St-Hilaire November 16, 2014 at 9:45 am

        My grandfathered Capital One Aspire Cash World has no annual fee. Ideally I’d keep it so I can use it for any purchase that is not groceries, gas or pharmacy, but that’d only get me about $30 more back per year. I don’t think that’s worth the hassle.

  • Tonya@Budget and the Beach November 12, 2014 at 10:06 am

    Welcome aboard! :) If you are responsible with credit cards the rewards are absolutely amazing. I’ve done a lot of traveling the last couple years where if I hadn’t used cc’s it might not have been possible.

  • Rob November 12, 2014 at 10:55 am

    For years now we’ve each used a cash back Visa credit card with the reward cash back being credited to our December statements, which is the one with all our year end holiday expenses charged to it. The timing is great as the cash back amounts put a nice dent in our bottom line balances owing. Of course throughout the year we routinely pay off all our monthly credit card balances in full, thereby incurring no service charges.

    I also don’t feel the need to pay an annual membership fee for my wife’s and my credit card since VISA is making more than enough money from merchant processing fees resulting from all the business that I send their way using these cards.

    I decided not to use travel rewards cards for two reasons: (1) we don’t travel enough and (2) I read where often one is limited as to when and where one can use these travel reward points. So we prefer good old dependable flexible cash as our credit card loyalty reward.

    And finally, notwithstanding the above, I’ll often consider paying for large purchases of goods and/or services in straight cash if I can work out a deal with the merchant for a cheaper price if I don’t pay by credit card (thus saving the merchant from having to pay the credit card processing charge). A win-win for the both of us, It never hurts to ask.

    • Cait Flanders November 14, 2014 at 5:38 pm

      Yes, I love that my cash back will be applied to my November bill. I actually think my December spending on the card will be relatively low, so this sets me up nicely for the holidays / new year.

      What I love about the Capital One travel card is that you can redeem points for ANY travel expenses. The card works a little differently, in that you pay for something first (so I could buy a flight on Expedia) and then login to the Capital One site and essentially “erase” a purchase by throwing points at it. Really neat! The welcome bonus is also worth $350, which is almost 3 x the annual fee. Clearly I’ve made up my mind on this one, haha… but yes, it only makes sense if you travel often!

  • Bridget November 12, 2014 at 11:38 am

    Welcome to the dark side ;)

    jk you know I love my gold amex (I miss my platinum one so much!!). I charge everything then pay the whole bill when it comes. I rack up rewards like crazy… used to be even better when I could charge purchases for work then be reimbursed.

    Fiance & I are starting to use my credit card for household purchases now so we can rack up the points. We’re saving for our big vacation next year. We’ve already spent $500 in rewards already so they’re really easy to keep building up…. I’m actually hoping I can get to $1,000 in reward points for our trip in August 2015 but I’m only at $22 so that might not be possible haha.

    • Cait Flanders November 14, 2014 at 5:39 pm

      You’re going on a trip BEFORE the wedding!? Haha. Where to?

  • L November 12, 2014 at 12:18 pm

    The BF and I charge all of our joint expenses to a no fee cash back card, works great for us. With the bonus promotions on the first year we got back over $300, which we were very happy with. I have my own travel points cards but they do have an annual fee. I’m not finding it worth the annual fee so I will likely cancel it soon.

  • Katie Pelton November 12, 2014 at 1:54 pm

    I can only imagine how it feels to trust yourself with credit! I thought I had reached that point after paying off some debt. I got a Barclays Arrival MasterCard, which is a fantastic travel credit card (2 miles per dollar on everything + 10% miles back on redemption), and of course the rewards were great but I find myself paying off thousands in credit card debt once again.

    It was so nice to read your perspective because I used to treat credit the same way – as a supplement to my income, which is of course how I got myself back into trouble. Reading your story is helping me realize that as I work on my spending habits, I can get to the point of smart credit usage again.

    Good luck and if you’re considering a travel card, I highly recommend the Barclays Arrival :)

  • Debt Hater November 12, 2014 at 4:42 pm

    Good luck with managing your new credit card, you hit the nail on the head. You can’t use it to supplement your income you need to treat it more like a debit card. I’ve set an auto payment each month to pay my entire statement balance so that I know the cash has to be in my checking account to cover the spending.

    It will be a great feeling when you can redeem your cash back for statement balance later on down the road. If the card has an annual fee try to call and get that waived again if possible, or ask if you downgrade to a no-fee card after.

  • Darcy November 12, 2014 at 6:29 pm

    My boyfriend’s family is in Quebec and we want to do a big Europe trip for our honeymoon, so we went with the BMO Air Miles World Mastercard to help us pay for flights.

  • Maria November 12, 2014 at 6:38 pm

    I have the same rewards card, love it!

    For travel rewards… I use Scotiabank’s American Express Gold card (First year annual fee waived, 30k bonus points = $300)

    • Cait Flanders November 14, 2014 at 5:40 pm

      MoneySense rated that the #1 travel rewards credit card in Canada. Scotiabank is dominating this scene right now, haha.

  • Gia T. November 13, 2014 at 11:21 am

    I love good rewards credit cards! For US-based folks there seem to be a good amount out there, but my favorites are Chase’s cashback ones and Amex.

    Chase gives 1-5% cashback on different categories, and my favorite way to use it is to convert the points into credit and apply it towards my monthly balance.

    Amex I like because they have a rewards program with Amazon, and I get a lot of books for free by using points to buy them.

    Used properly, credit cards do offer a lot of nice perks and rewards. :)

  • Jacquie November 13, 2014 at 2:28 pm

    I have an MBNA Cash Back card which has no annual fee. I’m definitely not getting the type of cash back that you are, but I rarely put large purchases on except for flights overseas which is only once a year. I still don’t trust myself enough to wait until the end of the month for the bill. I’ve mentioned to you before that I obsessively log in and make payments. I use it like a debit card that requires more work. Definitely worth it for the cheques I get in the mail, though!

    My bf buys a LOT of stuff for his company on his card. When I suggested that he ask them for a corporate card, he said “No way! Look at all the cash-back I’m getting!” Well played!

  • Money Pincher November 13, 2014 at 3:53 pm

    Yes! I have two rewards card: PC Financial World Mastercard and Capital One Aspire Mastercard. I use my PC Financial World Mastercard to earn points to redeem gift cards for Christmas gifts.

    I use my Capital One Aspire Mastercards for travel rewards and for booking flights and hotel. They have amazing Trip Interruption coverage that I was able to use last year. Though it took some time to get money back from them, it was quite a straight forward process.

    • Cait Flanders November 14, 2014 at 5:43 pm

      Yes, I’m pretty much sold on getting this card! I’ll just need to do some calculations re: whether it’s worth keeping both, or just charging everything to the Capital One card (when I get it).

  • Revanche November 14, 2014 at 3:19 pm

    Rewards cards are my FAVORITE. They were how I created disposable income for myself back in the day, and I still do.

    I don’t know what the equivalent is in Canada but I love(d) the Chase Sapphire and AmEx SPG cards. With the first year bonus on the Chase Sapphire, I redeemed over $1000 in cash from the points accumulated over the year. It was more convenient than redeeming for the travel rewards (flights, hotels, cars) that would normally have netted 20% more buying power because I couldn’t book the places we wanted using the Chase travel portal. No problem though, I just got the best price I could and the cash defrayed the travel costs nicely.

    The SPG card is my normal go-to and I pay an annual fee of $65 for the privilege of redeeming for free hotel stays throughout the year and excellent customer service. I think I redeemed for the equivalent of about $800+ in hotel rooms this year and we had a really light travel year.

    • Cait Flanders November 14, 2014 at 5:45 pm

      That’s incredible, lady! I’m excited to switch to a travel card / calculate the amount I save on travel throughout 2015.

  • LM November 15, 2014 at 2:05 pm

    Cait – did you keep your original credit card? With your new Scotiabank Visa do you get cash back monthly or annually?

    • Cait Flanders November 15, 2014 at 2:11 pm

      I still have the credit card I got in 2004, yes. The cash back on my new card is treated like a payment on your November bill each year, which means I’ll get $165+ of my next bill paid for.

  • Kristen November 15, 2014 at 4:22 pm

    We have a no fee cash back card that we use for almost everything. We always pay our balance in full, although we do put a lot of $ on it. We figure if we are going to spend it anyway, may as well get rewarded!

  • Natalie December 3, 2014 at 5:59 am

    I am starting Rob Carrick’s trick on combining the reward credit cards and see if my strategy works.

    I am using both Scotiabank Momentum Visa Infinite and the Aspire Capital One MC at the same time. Only charges the ones with 4% /2% cash back reward to the Visa card (i.e. grocery store, gas, recurring bill payments etc). Everything else goes on the capital one MC. Yes they both have annual fee (99 and 120 dollars). But Capital one MC has annual bonus 10000 points which could be redeemed for 75 dollars which makes the card effectively 40 dollars annual fee. So now it comes down to my spending on non essential items and see if the math makes any sense for me to keep the Aspire travel reward card.

    I was looking at the Amex Travel card before, but the beside the fancy brand name and the additional future perks it could bring for Amex travel card, it’s just not economical to do so.

    I also have this card – Chase Amazon Reward Card (with 0 annual fee) which is amazing to use for travel. Reason ? – 0% transaction commission fee for foreign currency transactions. Meaning i can use the card in US, Asia, Europe or any other countries that accept my card, and then transactions amount on my bill will be converted to CAD without the annoying 2.5% transaction commission fee on top of the exchange rate. There might a Visa International Exchange Rate Mark up, but i think it does beat the 2.5% transaction fee.