Earning travel rewards allows you to travel more for less. Earning 5x the points makes it go way faster. That’s possible thanks to multiplier earn rates on the “grocery” category. But you can also do it at over 100 retailers with the simple trick of buying gift cards at the grocery store.
Of course, welcome bonuses worth hundreds of dollars are how you’ll earn the most travel rewards.
But it can’t hurt to also get 5x the points on lots of spending, for the times you’re not unlocking welcome bonuses (which you should still try to minimize as much as possible if you want to earn a lot faster).
Here are the explanations for the gift card trick and the list of retailers where you can easily get 5x the points.
Basics of the gift card trick
I’ll start with a simple overview:
- Some credit cards earn 5x the points at grocery stores
- Grocery stores sell gift cards for plenty of other retailers (without fees)
- So you can get 5x the points at lots of other places for free
Here’s how to take advantage of the gift card trick, step by step:
- You get one of the right cards listed below (that earn 5x the points)
- You buy a gift card at the grocery store with your credit card
- You get 5x the points
- You then use the gift card at the 100+ retailers listed below
- So you get 5x the points indirectly even if it’s not a grocery store
Pretty simple, right?
It really pays to know the pro tricks in the world of travel rewards.
Before I give you details and examples, I want to mention a few other things that I’ll explain below.
You can also use the trick:
- By buying gift cards in certain convenience/general merchandise stores
- They’re sometimes coded as grocery stores
- It depends on your card’s network (Visa, Mastercard, American Express)
- By buying prepaid credit cards to use anywhere instead
- They’re sold in the same displays as gift cards
- It has a major difference though
And there are a few other things to know.
The 5 pts/$ earn rate that you get thanks to the gift card trick:
- Can mean a very different value (≈ 7.5% to 3.3% for example)
- Depending on the rewards program, as they aren’t all equal
- Applies to a limited amount of spending ($30,000 per year for example)
- There’s a workaround to circumvent that, for most travelers
- Might not be worth it every time (for electronics purchases for example)
- By using the tip, you lose your free insurance coverage
- Can be abused (by overly eager travel rewards enthusiasts)
- So there’s a simple tip to follow
Best cards to take advantage of the gift card trick
Here are the cards that earn the most at the grocery store:
- American Express Cobalt Card (5 pts/$ — ≈ 7.5% in lucrative points)
- American Express Cobalt Card (5 pts/$ — 5% in cash back)
- Scotiabank Gold American Express Card at Sobeys-affiliated stores (6 pts/$ — 6% in simple points)
- Scotiabank Gold American Express Card at all other grocery stores (5 pts/$ — 5% in simple points)
- National Bank World Elite Mastercard (5 pts/$ — 5% in simple points)
- MBNA Rewards World Elite Mastercard (5 pts/$ — 5% in simple points)
- BMO CashBack World Elite MasterCard (5% in cash back)
- CIBC Dividend Visa Infinite Card (4% in cash back)
- Scotia Momentum Visa Infinite Card (4% in cash back)
- American Express SimplyCash Preferred Card (4% in cash back)
- BMO eclipse Visa Infinite Card (5 pts/$ — 3.33% in simple points)
We’ll have a more detailed comparison soon, but you can check out our ranking of the best credit cards for groceries to see their welcome bonuses (the most important thing if you want to earn $25,000+ in free travel, as I have) and all the other details.
The Amex Cobalt Card is obviously the best by far!
Because points can be transferred to Aeroplan points, which have literally unlimited value. So if you use them well, you can in fact earn 10% everywhere very easily, instead of “just” 7.5% at our conservative Flytrippers Valuation.
That’s the beauty of variable-value rewards, at least if you like good deals and maximizing things! The Amex Cobalt Card is so good that even Americans are jealous of it (and they’re literally never jealous of anything in Canadian travel rewards, believe me).
It’s absolutely my favorite card as a travel rewards pro who has many cards.
Where to go for the gift card trick
You can find a lot of gift cards in pretty much all stand-alone grocery stores. Most of the gift cards listed in the last section are offered no matter the grocery store, but some gift cards are only in certain grocery stores (or only in convenience stores).
Some convenience stores code as groceries (if you don’t pay at the pump). For example, convenience stores like Circle K, Mac’s, and Couche-Tard are coded as grocery stores on the American Express (Amex) network. The Visa and Mastercard networks have their own merchant codes. Convenience stores usually have nice gift card displays.
General merchandise stores don’t normally code as grocery stores, but there are exceptions: Giant Tiger does code as a grocery store for Amex, for example. Walmart Supercenters might code as grocery stores on the Mastercard network, although there’s a workaround with Amex too, as I’ll show you in the next section with 2 of my examples.
For Amex cards specifically, most grocery stores in Canada accept American Express cards. Loblaw-affiliated stores are the main exception (along with most IGA stores in Québec, but that will change soon), and it really is worth changing grocery stores to get ≈ 7.5% in lucrative rewards.
I certainly changed grocery stores myself, to be able to use my Amex Cobalt Card. Amex cards often have the best welcome bonuses and the best earn rates, so they’re a must in everyone’s travel rewards strategy. It really doesn’t matter that they are not as widely accepted (it’s not as bad as it was in years past, too).
Concrete examples of the gift card trick
To give you a striking example, I had a $700 purchase to make at Canadian Tire. For car tires.
Why would I take my credit card directly to Canadian Tire and earn just 1 point per dollar (since it’s not a grocery store)?
- I took my card that earned 10X the points on groceries (10X was a special promo)
- I bought $700 in Canadian Tire gift cards at a convenience store that codes as a grocery store with Amex
- I paid with the gift cards at Canadian Tire
This gave me 7,000 points (literally a free reward flight to Vancouver) instead of just 700 points.
Exact same purchase: 10X more points, 10X more free travel.
Even without that 10X promo, the Amex Cobalt Card‘s regular 5 pts/$ rate is amazing and gives you 5 times more rewards so easily.
Again, it’s my favorite card to use and one of the rare ones that are worth keeping after the 1st year’s welcome bonus!
One last example: for my food (and non-food) purchases at Walmart, which isn’t coded as a grocery store by Amex, I buy Walmart gift cards at a convenience store that codes as a grocery.
So I earn ≈ 7.5% at Walmart too. That’s 5 times more rewards than what most people get for the exact same purchase. There’s a reason I get to travel for less (and therefore more often) than most people.
Logistical aspect of the gift card trick
I always keep my purchase receipt and activation proof for all gift cards and prepaid credit cards, in case something’s wrong. But in many years (and many many cards), I’ve never had an issue.
I find it practical to always write the remaining balance behind the card, to avoid having to go check online every time. That allows me to know when to get a new one, so I never miss out on earning 5 pts/$. So each time I use one, I update the balance immediately when I get home, with a marker.
There are no PINs on gift cards or prepaid cards, so don’t lose them. That said, even normal credit cards can now be used without a PIN by using contactless payment, so it’s not really very different. It’s just that I assume that gift cards and prepaid cards don’t have the same protections credit cards have if it happens. I’d rather take steps not to find out, so I have a Tile tracker in my wallet (it beeps if my wallet moves away from me).
Spending caps with the gift card trick
For categories with multiplier earn rates, credit cards impose spending limits.
(That’s because some people find savvy ways to earn many many points and abuse these multiplier rates, I’ll talk about that in another post…)
The spending caps are annual or monthly, depending on the card. All cards are different obviously, on all aspects. They’re different products, that’s normal.
Anyway, as an example, let’s take the best. The Amex Cobalt Card gives you 5 pts/$ on a maximum of $30,000 per year. That’s not too restrictive for average spenders. It will soon change to $2,500 per month. Same total, just more logistics to maximize it (without being too restrictive for most people, as they don’t spend that much every month anyway).
That means you can make purchases of $30,000:
- at the grocery store
- at retailers available with the gift card trick
- anywhere else with the prepaid credit card trick below
And you’ll get 5 pts/$ on everything. That gives 150,000 very valuable points for those who like to maximize.
If you reach that limit, that probably means you have a family or at least a life partner. A “Player 2” as we say in the world of travel rewards.
Get them to get their own Amex Cobalt Card to get another welcome bonus and another $30,000 at 5 pts/$! It’s easy to circumvent the cap this way.
If you’re playing solo or want to do even more than $60,000 in spending, then you can add a Scotiabank Gold American Express Card too. The points aren’t worth as much, but they’re still very good. That one is capped at $50,000 per year.
Free insurance coverage and the gift card trick
Here’s the main caveat of the gift card trick.
By paying with a gift card or prepaid credit card, your purchases won’t be covered by the purchase protections (for theft, loss, damage, etc.) and extended warranties that come free with almost all good credit cards.
So only use this tip for purchases where you don’t want to have these protections (that still leaves a lot of purchases).
For example, when I buy an expensive electronic item, the free insurance coverage is often worth more to me than the extra points.
But for something like clothing, food at Walmart/Costco, or anything like that, I’d much rather get 5 times more rewards (although I recently learned that some people get a full refund for worn-out clothes with these protections, I might try it for a scientific purpose… I love to try out everything).
Every traveler’s priorities are always different, of course. But the vast majority of people are too busy/lazy to make insurance claims for those 2 specific coverages, even if it’s so easy and fast. So if you’re in that group, take the bonus points on everything, obviously.
To be fair, there’s also the fact that many don’t even know that cards have these insurance coverages; we’ll have a detailed guide soon.
Gift card trick abuse
If you don’t abuse the gift card trick, you won’t have any problems (I’ve been doing thousands of dollars a year myself for years). In fact, in theory, you could even abuse… as long as you follow the simple pro tip.
Abuse is when some people use their credit cards only to buy gift cards or prepaid cards and no other transactions AND when they buy many of them (we’re talking amounts in the thousands of dollars monthly).
The fact of the matter is that in Canada (unlike in the USA), card issuers do not get access to the data showing what you buy. At all.
But obviously, they can suspect it. Again, if you’re not doing huge amounts, don’t worry. But if you want to be extra safe, the main tip is to just use your card for a bit of other organic spending too. Not JUST for prepaid credit cards and gift cards.
It’s especially important for prepaid credit cards, as those are considered “cash equivalents” way more than simple gift cards.
Finally, another tip is to camouflage those prepaid card or gift card purchases. For example, an amount of $500 + a $7.95 activation fee + the tax on the fee (which varies by province) charged regularly makes it obvious that it’s a prepaid credit card plus the activation fee. So just throw in one or more item that you need anyway to make it a bit less obvious.
If you just use the trick for gift cards, especially if you’re not doing huge amounts, you’re even less likely to have issues.
But if you always buy gift cards with nothing else on that transaction, for a nice even and rounded $200.00 or $300.00 amount… it makes it pretty easy for the card issuer to figure out you’re always buying gift cards. Again, just throw in one or more item that you need anyway, to make sure the amount is never an even rounded number. That’s it!
And if you do decide to abuse for thousands and thousands of dollars, you must accept the risks. Protect your points by transferring them or redeeming them quickly.
The prepaid credit cards trick
Note that you can also apply this tip to buy anything anywhere, instead of just the retailers available in the gift card displays. Like for your Costco purchases for example!
By simply buying $500 Mastercard or Visa prepaid credit cards.
Gift cards are free, but prepaid credit cards have an activation fee, so it lowers your effective earn rate a bit, but not much: many have an activation fee of just $7.95!
It’s profitable if you know how to do math!
That’s only a 1.6% fee, far less than what you earn in rewards with 5X the points.
It’s important to know how to do the math in the world of travel rewards! You see, the fee is even technically just 1.5% (because you also earn 5 pts/$ on the fee too).
In short, that gets you a net of ≈ 6% back everywhere with the Amex Cobalt Card (7.5% minus 1.5%), including at Costco for example.
Yet another example of why it’s absurd to want to avoid fees without looking at both sides of the equation. Avoid fees that don’t give you anything of course, but those who know how to do math should gladly pay $7.95 when it gets you 2,539 Amex points instead of 500 points (2,039 Amex points are worth ≈ $31).
I always buy $500 prepaid credit cards with my Amex Cobalt Card to use them at Costco and at every merchant that isn’t available via the gift card displays directly (when I’m not using my spending to unlock the many welcome bonuses I get every year of course).
Obviously, always buy the $500 cards, never less. This spreads out that already low fee over a bigger amount. Paying $7.95 on $500 is just a 1.6% gross fee as I said, but paying $7.95 on a $100 prepaid card is an 8% gross fee… not the same thing at all. Doing the math is vital in this world!
You won’t find no-fee Costco gift cards at the grocery store… so that’s why the prepaid credit card trick is the best way to maximize your earnings at Costco! I earn ≈ 6% there, which is 6 times more than those who have Costco’s very own credit card (that doesn’t even have a welcome bonus to boot)!
And I don’t need the extended warranty to buy bulk chicken breasts! Make sure to get a prepaid Mastercard and not a prepaid Visa, as Costco only accepts Mastercards.
Also, some convenience stores and grocery stores even have $500 prepaid Mastercards with a lower $5.95 fee, which is just a 1.2% fee! But those have gotten harder to find recently.
Finally, the same insurance warning applies, but there’s an additional warning with prepaid credit cards: I recommend keeping your empty ones in case you would have to do a return for a refund (sometimes the original card is required).
List of retailers that can indirectly count as a grocery store
As mentioned, some gift cards are available at just one of the retailers, some are available everywhere, some are not always in stock everywhere either… but this gives you a good idea of the possibilities.
Start keeping an eye out and stopping at the gift card displays in stores near you (grocery stores and those that code as grocery stores).
You might even have more options than this list, as it’s based on my own findings here in Québec (I would assume the selection is pretty similar Canada-wide since these are mostly national brands, but we don’t always get everything here).
- Hudson’s Bay
Hardware & home
- Canadian Tire
- The Home Depot
- Various packages
- SportChek/Sports Experts
- Foot Locker
- Golf Town
- Bass Pro Shops
- Sporting Life
- Best Buy
- Cineplex Cinemas
- Guzzo Cinemas
- American Eagle Outfitters
- Old Navy
- Banana Republic
- Saks Off 5th
- La Vie en Rose
- Bath & Body Works
- Virgin Mobile
- Chatr Mobile
- Freedom Mobile
- Lucky Mobile
- Public Mobile
- Various calling cards
- EB Games
- App Store / iTunes
- Google Play
- PlayStation Store
- Nintendo eShop
- League of Legends
- World of Warcraft
Food & Gas
- Esso / Mobil
- Super C
- Uber Eats (Uber card)
- Door Dash
- Tim Hortons
- Dairy Queen
- Burger King
- Pizza Hut
- Taco Bell
- The Keg
- Swiss Chalet
- Pizza Delight
- East Side Marios
- The Landing
- Vinnie Gambini
- La Cage
- La Belle & La Bœuf
- Baton Rouge
- Ben & Florentine
- Première Moisson
- Microbreweries (Packages)
Images of the gift card displays
This is a typical convenience store gift card display (Couche-Tard in Québec).
This is a typical Giant Tiger gift card display.
This is a typical grocery store gift card display (Super C or Metro in Québec; many use the same displays).
Want to get more content to learn how to earn more free travel?
Gift cards purchased at the grocery store will get you the phenomenal 5X the points earn rate at 100+ retailers instead of just at the grocery store. This is a great pro tip for those who have the American Express Cobalt Card, the Scotiabank Gold American Express Card, or the National Bank World Elite Mastercard that all earn 5X the points.
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Featured image: Gift card display at a Super C grocery store (photo credit: Andrew D’Amours/Flytrippers)