Cash may claim to be king, but the smart money is on using credit. As long as you don’t carry a balance, using credit cards for your purchases can entitle you to numerous benefits ranging from discounts, to free holidays and even cold hard cash.

Provided you pay your balance in full every month – thereby avoiding all interest payments – the interest rate charged is really a moot point. Instead, when shopping around for a card, focus on the tangible rewards.

Rewards few know about

I bet you didn't know that the main provider of your plastic has their own rewards program. That's right, Visa, MasterCard, and American Express all have their own incentives to entice you to use their product. Unfortunately, they’re not as well known as the standard cash back and reward options so users may be missing out.

Here’s a rundown of some of the perks you may be eligible for with three of the most popular credit card brands out there:

Visa

Regardless of the type of Visa card you hold, you’re eligible for a variety of deals for using it at select retailers. There’s a dedicated website, visaperks.ca, which lists discounts on dozens of items in 15 categories ranging from books, music, and movies to women’s fashions.

You can save up to 75% on magazine subscriptions, get 10% off of online purchases at New Balance, and you can even save on travel. (If I had known about this site a couple months ago, I would have saved $50 when we booked our family vacation at Flight Centre – rats!)

And if all that online shopping’s made you hungry, you can save $20 on an order of groceries from GroceryGateway.com, or take 25% off the bill when you order in from any of the hundreds of restaurants on JustEat.ca.

American Express

Like the others, American Express also offers a variety of cash-back, travel, and retailer-specific cards so you can reap the rewards that you most desire.

But they also have a unique incentive that allows their customers to jump the queue. Amex’s Front of the Line program offers cardholders a chance to purchase tickets to concerts or make reservations for events like Toronto’s twice annual Summerlicious and Winterlicious restaurant extravaganzas before the general public can. Amex even buys blocks of tickets for popular shows so while others are frustrated trying to get through the TicketMaster lines, cardholders can get access to seats through a special subpage on the site: www.ticketmaster.ca/americanexpress.

Finally, if you travel a lot, you may find it’s worth splashing out $500 in annual fees for the company’s AeroplanPlus Platinum Card. Among the many incentives included are a dedicated express line when checking in at airport security and complimentary access to more than 500 VIP lounges at airports around the world once inside.

MasterCard

MasterCard has also mastered the art of specific retail partnerships. If you do a lot of driving – and fretting about the cost of gas – you might want to sign up for a Petro-Point MasterCard. Shop at Shopper’s Drug Mart frequently? Then opt for the Shoppers Drug Mart MasterCard and earn Optimum points on every purchase. And, like their bank accounts, PC Financial offers a no-fee MasterCard that also includes a chance to earn free groceries via their PC Points program.

Sign up for this card like I did and, periodically, you’ll get a newsletter in the mail that includes coupons for bonus points for buying specific products, spending a set amount on a single visit, and even discounts on purchases using the card at other retailers like Chapters. (I recently combined this promo with my Chapters’ iRewards card to stock up and save 20% on books, magazines, and some gifts from their toy and houseware sections.)

Finally, to compete with the Amex Front of the Line program – and capitalize on its popular “priceless” advertising campaign – MasterCard has recently launched Priceless Cities, where cardholders can get discounts, freebies, and exclusive access to items like Toronto Maple Leafs tickets.

Allan Britnell

Toronto-based freelancer Allan Britnell is an award-winning writer with nearly 20 years’ experience. He covers a diverse range of topics, including DIY and professional home renovation projects, nature and the environment, small business, personal finance, and family and health issues. He is also the managing editor of Renovation Contractor, the publication written for small- and medium-sized contracting and custom home building companies. He lives in Toronto with his wife, two daughters, and their dog, Oscar.

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