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A woman speaks with a bank teller at Bank of Montreal in the financial district of Toronto on June 24, 2020.Carlos Osorio/Reuters

The year of the pandemic is a heck of a time to be in the business of offering travel reward credit cards.

So hang in there, all you banks that have partnered with Air Canada and the Aeroplan customer loyalty program, which is currently taxiing toward a relaunch on Nov. 8. Your time will come when the pandemic is over and people reconnect with travel.

For now, cards like the new BMO eclipse Visa lineup are a better fit for the lives we’re living. Spending a lot on food lately? These cards give you five times the points when you buy groceries, a restaurant meal and more. Tired of patiently accumulating points for some hazy reward down the road? Using a mobile phone app, you can redeem points earned with these cards to pay for purchases you just made.

The rewards offered by these two BMO eclipse Visa cards are good enough to stand out and too good to last. If you sign up, go in with the understanding there’s a strong chance one or more benefits will get peeled back.

The eclipse lineup: BMO eclipse Visa Infinite has a $120 annual fee (waived in the first year) and is aimed at a millennial audience, while BMO eclipse Visa Infinite Privilege costs $499 a year and targets an affluent clientele. Both cards demonstrate a few of the trends driving the market for credit cards and financial products in general.

One is the growing dominance of millennials – let’s say young adults – in influencing new product design in financial products. American Express Cobalt is a similarly pitched credit card, while Toronto-Dominion Bank’s new GoalAssist app addresses millennial investing needs.

Another trend is the emergence of a third path of card rewards beyond travel points and cash back. Erminia (Ernie) Johannson, BMO’s group head of North American personal and business banking, said clients want more flexibility in both how and when they use their points. “Burn your points in the moment, or save them up,” she said.

The Aeroplan relaunch was expected to juice the level of competition in the reward business and it’s happening. Changes are coming to Aeroplan-linked credit cards issued by American Express, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce and Toronto-Dominion Bank (RatesDotCA has done a helpful summary of changes, online at bit.ly/2JBMwv3.)

BMO’s eclipse cards offer a couple of novel features that raise the level of competition across the reward card market. One is what BMO is calling a “lifestyle credit” – a statement credit of $50 a year for Visa Infinite and $200 for the Infinite Privilege.

There’s also an option to accelerate your points-earning power by adding a secondary cardholder. Doing so would land you 10 per cent more points with Visa Infinite and 25 per cent more with Infinite Privilege.

Further to that point about benefits being rolled back: The fine print for the eclipse cards calls the points bonuses for secondary cards an “introductory feature.” Also worth noting is the cost of those supplementary cards – $50 a year for Visa Infinite and $99 for Visa Infinite Privilege.

Travel rewards are an investment in the future, while cash-back cards offer predictability in their benefits to clients. If the third path of rewards appeals to you, then your primary task is to find a card that offers rewards in sync with your spending.

One way to do this is to maximize your exposure to spending that nets you more points than the standard allotment per dollar spent. Eclipse Infinite offers five times the standard points on groceries, dining, gas and transit, while the Infinite Privilege card adds drugstore purchases as well as travel. Amex Cobalt offers five times the points on food and double on travel and transit, while Scotiabank Gold American Express gives you five times your basic points on food and entertainment and three times on gas, transit and eligible streaming services.

There are also cards offering a steady two-times earn rate – Brim World Elite Mastercard is a newish example (note the reward level applies on spending up to a $25,000 annual cap).

In addition to ramping up the level of competition in points-earning power, BMO’s eclipse card also scores well on “welcome” points. You get 40,000 with the Infinite version and 50,000 with Infinite Privilege. BMO says that with approximately 42,000 points, customers can redeem points for dinner for two at a nice restaurant. Other examples: 2,400 points for lattes for two and 16,800 points for a spa treatment.

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