News & Resources

Credit Card Tiers: Your Guide

Nov. 17, 2014
4 mins
An older man takes off his glasses as his wife shows him paperwork

Selecting and applying for a credit card can be overwhelming. Terms like gold, elite, and platinum can seem arbitrary, the differences between them confusing. To help clarify, we’ve assembled a quick-and-dirty reference guide for the different tiers of Canada’s most popular credit cards, MasterCard and Visa.

MasterCard

Standard

Features and perks: Nothing fancy. Holders can use their card in more than 200 countries, plus at ATMs to withdraw cash. Zero Liability policy is included — a cardholder’s liability for unauthorized purchases is $0. Other benefits are dependent on card type and issuer.

Fees: Depends on the card type and issuer, but most start at $0.

What you need to apply: No minimum income requirement for some cards.

Examples:

An all-around basic card with no annual fee and modest reward earnings with 0.05 Air Miles earned on the dollar. New signups get a 400 Air Miles bonus, and the credit card can be used in conjunction with the Air Miles rewards card to double up on points at the till.

A favourite of savvy grocery shoppers - this card earns points toward free food at Loblaws and Great Canadian Superstore locations, plus merchandise from Joe Fresh. With one point earned on the dollar, it's a solid and practical rewards choice for the fee-averse shopper.

World

Features and perks: All the features of a standard MasterCard.

Fees: Depends on the card type and issuer, but can be $0 or around $99/year for some cards.

What you need to apply: Excellent credit history and a minimum requirement of either a personal income of $60,000/year or a household income of $100,000/year for most cards.

Examples:

  • Concierge services
  • Premium travel insurance
  • Extended warranty on purchases
  • Price protection, within 60 days
  • Coverage for damaged or stolen items, within 90 days
  • *Other benefits are dependent on card type and issuer
  • Capital One Aspire Travel World MasterCard

Are you serious rewards earner? For a $120 annual fee, you'll be earning two rewards miles on all purchases, with no retailer or category restrictions. New signups get a sweet 35,000 bonus point gift (a $350 travel credit), and the card also comes outfitted with Travel Emergency Medical and Travel Cancellation insurance.

A great option for the regular commuter; this card earns three cash back points on the dollar on purchases at Shell locations, and 1.25 cash back points earned everywhere else. New signups get a $25 cash back point bonus upon first purchase, and the card also includes Car Rental Collision insurance, flight delay and baggage insurance.

World Elite

Features and perks: All the features of a standard and World MasterCard, plus:

Fees: Depends on the card type and issuer, but can go up to $150/year for some cards.

What you need to apply: Excellent credit history and a minimum requirement of either a personal income of $70,000/year or a household income of $120,000/year for most cards.

Examples:

  • World Elite MasterCard Experiences and Offers, such as hotel discounts and upgrades, golf and spa savings, and more.
  • BMO World Elite MasterCard

For a $150 annual fee, you'll earn two BMO travel points on the dollar, and new signups will receive a $300 travel credit. BMO also uses a restriction-fee redemption model, meaning no blackouts, per-capacity seat limitations and includes lounge access with an included Priority Pass membership. This card also includes comprehensive travel insurance coverage such as rip cancellation/trip interruption/trip delay insurance, and car rental collision damage waiver for up to 21 days.

This card charges a $89 annual fee and earns two mbna rewards points on eligible purchases. New signups will also receive a 10,000 point bonus with first eligible purchase, and there is no rewards earnings cap.

Visa

Classic

Features and perks: Pretty basic. Holders can use their card in more than 170 countries, plus at ATMs to withdraw cash. Zero Liability policy is included — a cardholder’s liability for unauthorized purchases is $0. Book a hotel room and receive a guaranteed reservation, no matter how late you check in. Other benefits are dependent on card type and issuer.

Annual fees: Depends on the card type and issuer, but most start at $0.

What you need to apply: A minimum requirement of a personal income of $12,000/year for most cards.

Examples:

This no-fee option doesn't earn rewards, but offers a very competitive promotional 3.99% balance transfer rate for the first six months on balances moved over from another card (it goes up to 16.99% after that). The regular interest rate is also lower than the market average at 16.99%.

The very popular SCENE program is famous for earning free movies - no wonder it's such a hit with students and those on a tight entertainment budget. The card earns five points on the dollar when used at Cineplex locations, will score you 10% off at the concession stand, and earns one point on the dollar on all other purchases.

This no-nonsense no-fee option offer basic spending power and includes a few small perks such as a discount at Avis Rental Car and travel accident insurance.

Gold

Features and perks: All the features of a Visa Classic card, plus:

Fees: Depends on the card type and issuer, but can be $0 or around $110/year for some cards.

What you need to apply: A minimum requirement of a personal income of $35,000/year for most cards.

Examples:

  • Emergency card replacement service
  • Emergency cash service
  • Cardholder inquiry service
  • Emergency medical/legal assistance
  • Collision/loss damage insurance
  • Other benefits are dependent on card type and issuer

An ideal card for drivers, cardholders will also receive membership to the Deluxe TD Auto Club and earn one point on the dollar for all purchases. The card also includes a no-fee balance transfer option, comprehensive travel insurance, and preferred rates for Avis and Budget car rentals.

This card has no annual fee, and includes some small earning potential: 0.5 RBC Rewards per dollar on all purchases, which can be redeemed for merchandise, travel and gift certificates. This card also includes travel and car rental collision insurance.

It's saddled with a steeper $110 annual fee ($99 for the first year), but this is one fast-earning rewards card; cardholders get five Scotia Rewards on the dollar on travel-related purchases, and one point on the dollar for everything else. Also included comprehensive travel insurance and 5% cash back travel rebates.

Platinum

Features and perks: All the features of a Visa Classic card, plus:

Fees: Depends on the card type and issuer, but can be up to around $120/year for some cards.

What you need to apply: A minimum requirement of a personal income of $35,000/year (up to $60,000) or a household income of $60,000/year for most cards.

Examples:

  • $5,000 minimum credit limit
  • Emergency card replacement service
  • Emergency cash service
  • Cardholder inquiry service
  • Emergency medical/legal assistance
  • Collision/loss damage insurance
  • Other benefits are dependent on card type and issuer
  • CIBC Platinum Visa

No annual fee, car rental discounts of up to 25% at participating Avis and Budget locations and extended purchasing power.

Cardholders will pay a $99 annual fee, receive 15,000 Bonus TD Points upon approval and earn three TD points on the dollar for all purchases.

Infinite

Features and perks: All the features of a Visa Gold and Platinum cards, plus:

Fees: Depends on the card type and issuer, but can be up to around $120/year for some cards.

What you need to apply: A minimum requirement of a personal income of $60,000/year or a household income of $100,000/year for most cards.

Examples:  

  • Complimentary 24/7 concierge service
  • Elite hotel privileges through the Visa Infinite Luxury Hotel Collection
  • Access to exclusive food and wine offers and events
  • Access to an exclusive Visa Infinite cardholder-only website
  • Other benefits are dependent on card type and issuer
  • CIBC Aventura Visa Infinite Card

Cardholders will pay a $120 annual fee, get 15,000 Bonus Aventura Points on first use of card and an additional 5,000 bonus points when you have at least $500 in purchases during your first three monthly statement periods. Earns one point on the dollar, and 1.5 points on gas and grocery purchases.

For a $120 annual fee, cardholders will earn three TD points on the dollar on all purchases, with triple points earned on travel purchases made through TD's Expedia portal. and will receive a $100 travel credit upon sign up. Features a flexible redemption model with No seat restrictions, blackout periods or advance booking requirements.

Jaclyn Tersigni

Jaclyn Tersigni is a Toronto-based writer and editor. She's written on everything from tea sommeliers to motorcycle-riding granddads to regifting etiquette. With a journalism degree from Ryerson University, she got her start at ELLE Canada and The Globe and Mail. Her interests and hobbies include all things ocean-related (notably, the beach, oysters and surf culture), overbuying used books and clothing, riding her bike all over town and, most importantly, music old and new.

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