Just because we can’t travel doesn’t mean we can’t take steps to earn free travel, to be ready for when things inevitably get back to normal. And since being on lockdown at home means your biggest (or one of your biggest) expenses will be groceries, it’s vital to maximize your earnings. You’ll be impressed by the comparison I’ll show you at the end!
Credit cards are the best way for travelers to earn free travel (on one condition, see the basics at the end).
Credit cards are how I have earned well over $1,000 a year in free travel for the past 10 years myself, although it is definitely not with the earn rate on everyday purchases, contrary to the widespread myth. It’s with the welcome bonuses, which are the key to earning rewards a lot faster.
In short, this list is not for the best cards or the best offers. This article is specifically about earn rates on groceries or the grocery “category bonus”, since groceries are a huge expense for everyone.
Here are 4 great cards to earn more rewards on your grocery spending, based on your situation, and then some very important info for all.
I hope the basics section at the end serve as a great introduction, we’ll tell you a lot more in the coming weeks so you can make the best use of this forced downtime and learn how to earn more free travel: sign up for free to get our new travel reward points newsletter.
4 Best Cards For Grocery Spending
Let’s start with the summary table:
Best credit cards for grocery spending
Best Card 1: American Express Cobalt (For Those Who Spend More)
The American Express Cobalt is by far the best in Canada for groceries if you’re a traveler.
- Why it is amazing: it is the best card to earn the maximum value in free travel
- Who it is for: those who spend a lot or don’t really want to get into travel rewards/don’t want multiple cards
- How much it earns on grocery: 5X AMEX Points or 6X Marriott Points per dollar (5% or more back)
- How much it earns with welcome bonus: 10X AMEX Points or 12X Marriott Points per dollar (10% or more back)
- How much the welcome bonus is: it is a unique one, if you maximize it you get $480 in free travel (or more)
- Other benefits: 2X on travel & gas, free additional card, great insurance coverage
- Who can get it: there is no minimum income required
- How to get it: secure American Express application link
My Cobalt Card is my favorite among all of my many cards. It’s so good that even Americans are jealous, and that NEVER happens in the world of travel rewards (sadly).
Simple Grocery Earn Rate
Earning 5X AMEX points per dollar is amazing, but earning 6X Marriott points is phenomenal (1 AMEX point = 1.2 Marriott points). But I’ll focus on the simple points first.
AMEX points are easy-to-use fixed value points, giving you a 5% return (a $50 travel credit for every $1,000 in groceries) that you can apply to literally any travel expense if you want a great return with maximum flexibility and no complexity.
In addition to grocery stores, the category bonus includes restaurants, bars, cafés, and food delivery (like Uber Eats and others).
Doubled Earn Rate With Welcome Bonus
That’s already a great earn rate (I still have my card even if my welcome bonus is long gone, that gives you an idea).
But you can actually double that thanks to the card’s welcome bonus, one that is unique in Canada. Usually, it’s simple: spend X amount in the first 3 months (usually ≈ $1,500) and you get a welcome bonus.
The Cobalt Card‘s welcome bonus is spread over the first 12 months, unlike all other cards. That’s why it’s great for those who spend a lot every month or don’t want to really get into travel rewards (and don’t need to use their spending to unlock more welcome bonuses from more cards).
How the Cobalt Card welcome bonus works: spend $500 every month for the first year (which comes out to just $115 per week) and you’ll get an extra 30,000 AMEX points in addition to the regular earn rate. That’s the equivalent of another 5 AMEX points per dollar (30,000 / 12 / $500) for a whopping total of 10X AMEX points per dollar on grocery and restaurants the first year if you spend $500 per month in those categories (60,000 points total).
That is a simply incredible return. That is a $600 travel credit, less the $120 card fee, for a net of $480 in free travel with a very reasonable amount of grocery/restaurant spending that most of you can easily reach, especially with a family.
Maximize Even Further With Marriott
The Cobalt Card is really very good even with the simple points. But if you want to absolutely maximize the value you get, you can transfer your points to Marriott, giving you a potentially greater return (6,000 Marriott points for every $1,000 in groceries). A free night in a Category 1 hotel requires just 5,000 or 7,500 points (off-peak dates or standard dates), so that can be worth way more than the credit if you use the points well (that’s the beauty of variable-value points: you can outsized value).
With the welcome bonus, it’s even crazier: you’re earning 12X Marriott points per dollar!
That $500 in food spending per month will give you a total of 72,000 Marriott points. That’s a whopping 15 free nights in Category 1 hotels (in Spain, South Africa, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, India, etc.) which is easily worth $1,500 since free nights with points include taxes. It’s also a very decent 8 free nights in Category 2 hotels, also worth over $1,000.
Let’s be conservative and value those 72,000 points at $1,000 net: that means your effective earn rate on your grocery spending is not “just” 10%… it’s 16.67%. That is simply amazing. Many are used to settling for 1.5% back (10 times less) and are satisfied.
Same expense, but $1,000 in rewards instead of $90. (That’s why welcome bonuses are the key to earning lots of free travel).
By the way, see how $600 compares to 15 hotel nights? (That’s why variable-value points are so much more lucrative than travel credits if you want to maximize your free travel.)
The Cobalt Card also allows you to transfer to Hilton points, although these are only more valuable than Marriott in very specific cases (1 AMEX point = 1 Hilton point). We’ll talk more about the Hilton sweet spots, update our already existing Marriott content, and publish an ultimate guide to maximizing the Cobalt card very soon.
Finally, while not all grocery stores accept AMEX, many do. I literally changed my grocery store to Metro just for this card; that’s how rewarding it is. Sobeys, Safeway, Whole Foods, and Food Basics are just some of the others that accept AMEX.
You can even earn this great 5X or 6X grocery bonus on many other categories with my pro tip. Simply buy gift cards from merchants at the grocery store, and voila: you get the category bonus on everything (see the last section for details).
Other benefits include a free additional card, meaning your partner can have a card and earn twice as fast. You’ll also earn 2X AMEX points (2.4X Marriott points) on gas, transit, and travel. Finally, you’ll get great travel insurance (including medical, flight delay, car rental, and retail protections—the only ones missing are trip cancelation/interruption).
Apply for the American Express Cobalt Card (secure AMEX application link)
Best Card 2: Scotiabank Gold American Express Card (For Those Who Spend Less)
The Scotiabank Gold American Express Card is the best alternative and has unique features.
- Why it is amazing: it earns just as much if you just want a travel credit
- Who it is for: those who spend less or don’t want hotel points
- How much it earns on grocery: 5X Scotia points per dollar (5% back)
- How much the welcome bonus is: $90 in free travel net by spending $1,000 in 3 months
- Other benefits: 3X on gas, no foreign transaction fee, excellent insurance coverage
- Who can get it: there is a minimum income of $12,000 required
- How to get it: secure Scotiabank application link
The Scotiabank Gold American Express Card card gives you the same 5X (5%) on grocery, without the need to spend as much every single month (albeit with a smaller welcome bonus). So it’s almost just as good for those who aren’t interested in transferring points to Marriott or Hilton. And Scotia points are just as easy to use as AMEX points: you can also apply them online to literally any travel purchase as a travel credit.
You’ll get a welcome bonus worth $90 net if you reach the minimum spend of $1,000 in the first 3 months ($210 less the $120 fee), and then you’ll be maximizing your grocery purchases. Again: Metro, Sobeys, Safeway, Whole Foods, and Food Basics are just some of the grocery stores that accept AMEX.
It is an especially interesting card for travelers who might not be eligible for other travel cards. Once you start traveling again, it’s one of the rare cards without the 2.5% foreign transaction fee that cards from all other major banks charge.
Most importantly, it’s one of the rare cards with good travel insurance for those who earn under $60,000 annually. All main types of insurance are included: medical, flight delay, car rental, trip cancelation/interruption, and retail protection.
Finally, the 5X category bonus includes restaurants, cafés, bars, and food delivery services like the Cobalt Card. But it also includes entertainment: movies, theaters, and ticket agencies. You also earn 3X on gas and transit, as well as streaming services like Netflix.
Apply for the Scotiabank Gold American Express Card (secure Scotiabank application link)
Best Card 3: Scotia Momentum Visa Infinite (For Cashback)
The Scotia Momentum Visa Infinite is the best for cashback if you earn over $60k, and is the best for groceries if your grocery store does not accept Amex cards.
- Why it is amazing: it has a good earn rate and is the rare cashback card with a welcome bonus
- Who it is for: those who want simpler less-valuable cashback instead of travel points
- How much it earns on grocery: 4% cashback per dollar
- How much the welcome bonus is: $200 cashback by spending $2,000 in 3 months
- Other benefits: 4% on recurring payments, 2% on gas & transit, great insurance coverage
- Who can get it: there is a minimum income of $60,000 required
- How to get it: secure Scotiabank application link
We usually don’t recommend cashback cards for travelers: cashback is infinitely less rewarding than travel rewards points. But given the current situation, for many who have lost income, cashback could be useful.
And the Scotia Momentum Visa Infinite allows you to maximize your grocery purchases, with a simple 4% cashback. It is also a Visa card, meaning every grocery store accepts it. It also has a welcome bonus that is valuable, which isn’t that frequent with cashback cards: you get a 10% cashback promo for the first 3 months, up to $2,000 in purchases, which is an easy $200 cashback to get.
The 4% category bonus only includes grocery stores (not restaurants) but also includes recurring payments and subscriptions like utilities, insurance premiums, meal kits, Netflix, Spotify, gym memberships, etc. And you earn 2% on gas and transit.
All main types of insurance are included: medical, flight delay, car rental, trip cancelation/interruption, and retail protection.
The card has no fee the first year, but unlike the others on this list, it requires $60,000 in annual income.
Apply for the Scotia Momentum Visa Infinite Card (secure Scotiabank application link)
Best Card 4: BMO eclipse Visa Infinite* Card (For Those Who Want A Higher Welcome Bonus)
The BMO eclipse Visa Infinite* Card is a brand-new card that is the best non-Amex card for groceries, at least for those who want a higher welcome bonus than the Scotia Momentum Visa Infinite Card above, or those who plan to add an authorized user to their account (additional card), or those who want the second year effectively free as well.
- Why it is amazing: it has a nice welcome bonus and a good earn rate
- Who it is for: those who shop at a grocery store that doesn’t accept Amex, want a higher bonus, want an authorized user, or want the 2nd year effectively free as well
- How much it earns on grocery: 5X BMO points per dollar (3.55% back)
- How much it earns if you add a $50 card: 5.5X BMO points per dollar (3.905% back)
- How much the welcome bonus is: $342 in free travel net by spending $3,000 in 3 months
- Other benefits: 5X rate also applies to restaurants, gas, and transport
- Who can get it: there is a minimum income of $60,000 required
- How to get it: secure BMO application link
Apply for the BMO eclipse Visa Infinite* Card (secure BMO application link)
Best Card 5: Tangerine World Mastercard®(For Cashback At Walmart)
At Flytrippers, we love giving you more for your money, so we’ll add a 5th card, the Tangerine World Mastercard.
- Why it is amazing: it counts Walmart Supercenter as a grocery store
- Who it is for: those who want cashback and who shop for groceries at Walmart
- How much it earns on grocery: 2% cashback per dollar
- Who can get it: there is a minimum income of $60,000 required
- How to get it: secure Tangerine application link
We usually don’t recommend no-annual-fee cards: no annual fee means no welcome bonus, and it’s generally a very bad idea to get a card that gives you $0 upfront when so many cards give you hundreds. But as mentioned, many need cashback now.
None of the 3 cards above that have a category bonus for groceries will have a category bonus at Walmart. But the Tangerine World Mastercard does: it gives you 2%. It’s because Walmart Supercenters do not “code” as groceries for Visa and AMEX cards, but they do for Mastercard (only Supercenters, not regular Walmarts).
And since many do their grocery shopping there for the significant savings, this will allow you to earn 2% back if you buy groceries at a Walmart Supercenter. You can also choose one other category where you’ll earn 2% cashback.
As a no-annual-fee card, insurance coverage is limited, but it does have rental car insurance. It also requires a $60k annual income.
Apply for the Tangerine World Mastercard (secure Tangerine application link)
Credit Card Basics
It’s important to keep in mind that credit cards are great, as long as you pay them all in full every single month. That’s the one condition; the most important rule.
We are travel reward points experts and getting into “travel hacking”, as it’s called, is great for your credit score and is veryyyyy lucrative. But that’s only true if you always pay all everything in full on time. We know many are struggling financially with this crisis unfortunately, so credit cards are not recommended in those situations.
For others who are in a financial position that hasn’t changed, keep in mind that the importance of what your card earns is often overestimated: the key to travel rewards, and the way to easily earn $1,000 in free travel each year, is earning welcome bonuses by applying for multiple cards a year, which is also better for your credit score than just having one card (contrary to the very widespread myth).
That way you use your spending to unlock welcome bonuses that are much more lucrative than any card’s regular earn rate.
That said, it’s great to combine both: welcome bonuses and cards with great earn rates, especially for common expenses like groceries.
It’s precisely by having multiple cards that you’ll be able to maximize each expense with the appropriate card that offers a bonus in that category. I use a different card for almost every type of purchase (at least when I’m not unlocking a welcome bonus).
Grocery Category Bonus Basics
How category bonuses (increased earn rates on certain categories like groceries) work is based on how a merchant is “coded”. The bank can’t know you are buying groceries at Costco: Costco isn’t a grocery store and therefore isn’t included in the category bonus.
But the flip side of that principle is it also means you can buy gift cards for plenty of other merchants at your grocery store, and earn that 12% earn rate I just told you about (or at least that 5% that is easily accessible for all) on many other expenses, not just groceries. That’s one of our favorite pro tips.
Why get just 1 point per dollar on Canadian Tire purchases (because it’s not a bonus category) when you can buy a Canadian Tire gift card at the grocery store, get 5 points per dollar (400% more rewards for the same purchase) and then use the gift card at Canadian Tire? Just make sure you are using this trick for things that you don’t need credit card retail protections for (purchase protection and extended warranty), that aren’t eligible for retail protections, or if you wouldn’t have used it anyway.
Finally, many don’t think rewards are worth it, but look at this comparison of returns many Canadians get:
- 0% back with debit or cash
- 1% back with a basic card
- 2% back with a good card
- 4% back with a very good card below
- 5% back with excellent travel cards below
- 10% back with the best card with the welcome bonus
- 12% back with the best card and using variable-value points
- 16% back with the best card and maximizing variable-value points
The exact same purchase, but you can get either 0% back or 16% back!!!
See how important it is to choose the right cards?
And most importantly how welcome bonuses and variable-value points can increase the value of your rewards?
Want to learn more about travel reward points?
These are the best credit cards in Canada for grocery purchases, at least for travelers who want to maximize the travel rewards they earn.
Have any questions about travel points? Tell us in the comments!
Cover image: Produce aisle (photo credit: Scott Warman)
Advertiser Disclosure: Flytrippers receives a commission on links featured in this blog post. We appreciate if you use them, especially given it never costs you anything more to do so, and we thank you for supporting the site and making it possible for us to keep finding the best travel deals and content for you. In the interest of transparency, know that we will NEVER recommend a product or service we do not believe in or that we do not use ourselves, as our reputation and credibility is worth far more than any commission. This principle is an essential and non-negotiable part of all our partnerships: we will never give any third-party any control whatsoever on our content. For more information on our advertiser disclosure, click here.