In the credit card business, you’re never king for long.
That’s what I learned in asking readers of the Carrick on Money e-mail newsletter for their recommendations on a travel reward credit card. My own card, referred to by the RewardsCanada website as the onetime king of credit cards, is being devalued in August. The card most often mentioned by readers – and it wasn’t even close – was Rogers World Elite Mastercard.
You should draw two lessons from this surprise choice. One, non-bank credit card providers have a lot to offer. Don’t grab one of your own bank’s cards unless you’ve compared the features to see whether they work for your style of spending and the type of rewards you want.
Two, nothing gold can stay in the credit card world. Great rewards turn into good or mediocre rewards with time.
My own travel reward card, Capital One Aspire Travel World Elite Mastercard, recently announced that the highly competitive across-the-board earn rate of 2 per cent would be cut back to 1.5 per cent. That’s two points for every $1 spent turning into 1.5.
A total of 141 readers e-mailed to highlight a specific card and 35 different cards were named. Rogers World Elite Mastercard, issued by a Rogers Communications subsidiary called Rogers Bank, got 21 mentions. Surprised that a telecom company outdid the banks, I did a bit of research on the card and found that a couple of great features were dialled down as of June 2. Did all the people recommending the card know?
We’re talking some fairly big changes to the card’s stellar rewards. Previously, cardholders could earn 4 per cent rewards on all eligible purchases in foreign currencies. Now, we’re down to 3 per cent cashback on U.S.-dollar purchases only. You headed to the States any time soon? Me neither.
The Rogers card also offers 1.5 per cent rewards on all other eligible purchases, down from 2 per cent on Rogers products and 1.75 of all others.
There’s still strong value in this card – it has no annual fee and that U.S.-dollar cashback rate more than offsets the 2.5 per cent fee that all but a few cards charge on purchases made in currencies other than the Canadian dollar. Also, there’s a new benefit of global WiFi for the primary cardholder through a service called Boingo Wireless.
But the devalued earn rate for points on the Rogers card suggests that the search for alternatives must continue. The next most-mentioned card by readers was the family of no-fee PC Financial Mastercards. There are three, each aimed at a different income level and offering a different number of PC Optimum points for each dollar spent.
We already have a PC Financial Mastercard in our family arsenal – it’s ideal for life in the pandemic because it earns points you can put toward groceries at supermarkets in the Loblaws chain and Shoppers Drug Mart stores. But I do see a return to travel at some point, and thus a role for reward cards focused specifically on travel.
The third most-mentioned card, Scotia Passport Visa Infinite, is right in this zone. It’s notable for charging no fees on foreign transactions, offering flexibility in using rewards to book travel, as well as a broad range of insurance coverages. You get two reward points for every buck you spend at eligible grocery stores, restaurants, entertainment purchases and daily transit (one point per dollar for other purchases). The annual fee is $139.
Other often-mentioned cards were TD First Class Travel Visa Infinite, BMO World Elite Mastercard, HSBC World Elite Mastercard and a bunch of American Express products, notably Cobalt and SimplyCash Preferred.
A surprise name in this group of frequently mentioned cards was Brim Financial, an independent Mastercard issuer that has been in the market only since August, 2018. Brim has a three-card lineup with no foreign transaction rates and reward earn rates of 1 per cent, 1.5 per cent and 2 per cent. Brim World Elite, the 2 per cent card, has a $199 annual fee that is waived for this year.
One notable feature with Brim is that you can earn extra points by using the card at selected retailers such as Lululemon and Nike. It’s a prime example of how you can’t be sure you’re getting the best value in credit cards today unless you look beyond the banks.
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