two students hanging out

4 rewards programs every student should join

Getting a credit card as a student can play a positive role in establishing your credit history.

Obviously, on a student budget, you should not be relying on credit if you do not have the funds to repay your balance each month. Going wild on extra credit is a sure-fire way to compound any student debt you may graduate with, on top of unnecessary credit debt.

If you don’t necessarily want a credit card, but still want to collect points from a certain retailer, most of the rewards programs mentioned below can either be attached to some sort of financial account or not.

However, rewards cards can make regular spending an adventure. When you’re purchasing the same items you would normally purchase while collecting points that could potentially go towards making those normal purchases free or discounted, what’s not to love?

All you need is a rewards program that suits your lifestyle. So, as a student, what could this lifestyle be?

The student lifestyle?

We get it: you love coffee! And you’re probably always in a library on a computer; or if not, in class; or if not, winding down with some beers; or if not, you’re probably grabbing a bite to eat between classes. Please stay away from that instant ramen!

The best starter cards for students will have no extra or annual fees while also allowing you to collect points on routine purchases. To qualify for a credit card, you’ll usually have to display some sort of part-time income, otherwise, you’ll likely need a co-signer on the credit application.

Below are some rewards cards from retailers that feature little to no fees, some great rewards and straightforward approval. Some of the programs mentioned below will not even have a credit-base, only a rewards system that helps you get the most out of your loyalty.

Air Miles

Do you have Air Miles? It’s a popular rewards program that allows you to turn daily purchases into rewards.

Groceries, gas purchases and even online shopping can turn into rewards to be used for movie tickets, household appliances and more. Thousands of companies offer Air Miles reward miles, unlike some programs that only offer rewards at the retailer’s particular store.

One classic student haunt, the LCBO, will ask for your Air Miles card every time you make a purchase. How many points have you said no to in this lifetime? How about during this semester?

PC Optimum

What used to be two different programs merged into one this year. The PC-Optimum rewards program allows shoppers to collect points at Shoppers Drug Mart and a variety of grocery stores that fall underneath the Loblaw umbrella.

PC Optimum points are available from stores like Loblaws, Real Canadian Superstore, No Frills, Joe Fresh and Shoppers Drug Mart. Since there is nearly no one able to say they do not frequent any one of those aforementioned stores, you may as well scoop up a free points card.

As a student, you’re probably familiar with a few or all of those PC retailers. You can purchase back-to-school clothes on the cheap from Joe Fresh, grab some bath, beauty, and even school supplies from Shoppers Drug Mart, and take care of that ramen craving at either Loblaws or No Frills, where you will also buy vegetables.

Once collectors have earned at least 10,000 points they can redeem them for $10 off in-store, or multiples of such. And a word to the wise: the Optimum points from Shoppers escalate quicker than grocery points, in my experience.

Taking out a debit or credit PC Financial account will also rack those points up even quicker.

HBC Rewards - Hudson’s Bay Company

This loyalty program attached to the HBC brand lets customers earn points for purchases at popular retailers like The Bay, Home Outfitters, and affiliated Canadian websites.

Every 2,000 points equals a $10 gift card, which could come in handy if you’re outfitting your new apartment, dorm room or wardrobe at these stores. Saving up your points can get you even better gift cards, topping out at $100 values.


With all that studying, you’re going to want to relax and hit the cinema at one point or another. This is where SCENE points come in to give you and your friends some free entertainment once in a while.

This rewards program is attached to Scotiabank, where you can choose to open a debit or credit account to collect SCENE points, or you can do it a bit slower with a dedicated SCENE points card you can use at the movies and other affiliated stores.

When it comes to rewards, you’re usually able to collect more, faster, if you take out a financial account with the provider.