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ROB CARRICK

Have you been hit by changes to your rewards card? Add to ...

Financial Literacy Month is coming to an end after much activity by the big banks to school the nation on budgeting and saving.

Now, let’s school you about the big banks. They are not your helpful neighbour. While there are some great people working in bank branches, the corporate policy is that customers are a means to a profit. A deal’s a deal with clients, until it no longer suits the bank.

We got the macro view on this when the entire banking sector declined to let customers benefit from the full extent of interest rate cuts made by the Bank of Canada earlier this year. Now, we have the micro view in what Toronto-Dominion Bank has done with a credit card that I happen to own. It’s the TD First Class Travel Visa Infinite card, which offers reward points you can use to book any type of travel.

TD has recently made changes that can devalue the card’s No. 1 benefit, which was that you could book your own trip however you wanted and pay with points valued at $1 in travel savings per 200 points in your account. Effective Nov. 15, you have to book through TD’s Expedia portal, or you face a devaluation of at least some of your points so that $1 in travel would cost 250 points.

“We regularly review our products and services and sometimes make changes,” TD said in an e-mail that noted improvements to insurance offerings on the card and some new flexibility for booking travel. However, the bank also acknowledged that the changes would mean up to $300 less in card benefits for travel not booked through TD’s Expedia site.

I’ve written a bunch of columns over the years about credit card reward programs being devalued or discontinued. It happens. What’s frustrating about the TD example is that while the bank squeezes one card, it’s pouring the love into another one. That would be the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Card, which is the result of TD’s relatively new relationship with the Aeroplan travel rewards program.

TD paid a lot to hook up with Aeroplan and it needs to keep adding customers to make the deal work. That’s why you’ll find sign-up bonuses of 15,000 Aeroplan miles, which could be enough to get you a short-haul economy flight within Canada or to a U.S. destination. If you responded to recent offers on third-party websites such as RewardsCanada.ca, you could have received 20,000 points. Regardless, it feels like holders of the TD First Class Travel Visa card are the chumps helping to attract new Aeroplan card holders.

TD started warning about this change months back and then decided to postpone the effective date to Nov. 15 from Aug. 16. The details of the change teach us yet another financial literacy lesson: The more complex the explanation from a bank about changes it’s making, the more you’ll hate the change.

The TD First Class Travel Visa card used to be refreshingly simple – you redeemed points in 10,000 increments that gave you $50 toward whatever travel deals you found. Now, TD has introduced tiering for those not using TD’s Expedia site. You get $1 in travel rewards per 250 points for the first 300,000 points you’re using for a trip, which means 10,000 points equals $40. For additional points used on a trip, 200 points equal a dollar and so 10,000 points equals $50.

There are some improvements to the card. The new points system for non-Expedia bookings lets you redeem points to the nearest dollar of the cost of a trip (Expedia redemptions are still in $50 increments). Also, the maximum payment for trip cancellation rises to $1,500 per person from $1,000 (if you charge your trip on your TD card) and travel medical insurance gives people under 65 a coverage period of 21 days, up from 15.

Another financial literacy lesson to note here is that banks get away with making changes like the ones to First Class Travel Visa Infinite because customers let them. Care to change the passive profile of the Canadian bank customer?

Patrick Sojka of RewardsCanada.ca suggests two alternatives to TD First Class Travel Visa Infinite for people who want the utmost in flexibility when using travel rewards. One is Capital One Aspire Travel World Elite MasterCard, which he described as a “TD Rewards/RBC Avion/CIBC Aventura killer,” and the other is American Express Gold Rewards.

For more personal finance coverage, follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

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Follow on Twitter: @rcarrick

Also on The Globe and Mail

Drawing Conclusions: Two things to think about when it comes to credit card rewards (The Globe and Mail)

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