If you’re feeling the festive budget squeeze this holiday season, take a look at what’s inside your wallet. Market research has found the average Canadian has more than eight loyalty cards and that’s like money in the bank. 

"There are a lot of tricks you can do when Christmas shopping, whether it's online or in-store. Number one, use a credit card that earns rewards," said Patrick Sojka, founder of RewardsCanada.ca, a website that compares travel, credit and retail loyalty card programs.  

Sojka’s favourite reward credit cards include: 

  • American Express Gold Rewards card
  • RBC Infinite Avion card
  • TD First Class Infinite
  • Diner’s Club Rewards MasterCard

Air Miles tops the list of the top 10 rewards programs in Canada, according to marketing research firm Abacus Data. The findings are based on rewards program usage from March to May 2013. Here’s a look at what other programs round out the top 10:

  1. Air Miles
  2. Shoppers Optimum
  3. Canadian Tire Rewards/Money
  4. Aeroplan
  5. HBC Rewards/ Hudson’s Bay Rewards
  7. Scene
  8. Club Sobeys
  9. CAA
  10. PC Points/PC Plus

When it comes to travel point cards, Sojka says Aeroplan and Air Miles are the best options.

“[They] give you the best bang for your buck because they are what is called a coalition program. They have hundreds of partners. You can earn miles and points at so many different stores," he said.

Most travel loyalty rewards programs now have huge merchandise catalogues where you can redeem your points and miles for TV’s, toasters, blenders and gift cards. Many of the reward shopping sites also offer big bonuses for spending your points over Christmas.

Savvy consumers are cashing in. One person who spoke to CTV News said they saved hundreds of dollars on stocking stuffers, while another said they used Save-on-Foods rewards and Air Miles to purchase gift certificates and a DVD player.

When it comes to choosing the right loyalty program for you, pick wisely. All the loyalty programs have their websites with the reward charts so you can quickly see what it's actually worth, and whether it's worthwhile to sign up for that program.

Make sure you understand how the earning and redemption mechanics of the card work, including policies for when points expire. Set a travel goal. Knowing when and where you want to travel will help you narrow down the right card. Once you identify the card you want put all of your spending through that card, but make sure you pay off the monthly balance.