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Weekend Reading: What’s In Your Wallet Edition

My approach to credit card spending has evolved over the years. Once I got out of debt and got my spending under control, I quickly realized (if you paid off your card in full each month) that using a rewards credit card was much more advantageous than paying with cash or debit.

I started out years ago with a basic PC MasterCard and earned rewards in the form of free groceries. This was handy when our kids were still in diapers and we were grateful for every additional $20 we could get back on our spending. Then, with a little more research, I found a cash back credit card that helped us double our rewards on the very same purchases.

Now that our kids are older, and we’re travelling more often (Scotland and Ireland last summer. Maui and Italy next year), I’ve found travel rewards cards to be way more lucrative for our spending. I don’t mind paying an annual fee to unlock free flights, hotels, and other perks like airport lounge access and additional travel insurance.

Core Spending Rewards Cards

So what’s in my wallet today? I’m fortunate to have a grandfathered version of a Capital One Aspire Travel World Elite MasterCard (no longer open to new applicants) that my wife and I use as our primary spending card. That’s because it pays 2 percent back on every purchase and comes with 10,000 bonus miles each year on my card anniversary. That’s worth $100 and almost completely offsets the $120 annual fee. This card is particularly useful for grocery spending, since the majority is done at Costco, which only accept MC.

A No Frills grocery store and gas station popped-up nearby our house a few years ago and so we find ourselves shopping and filling-up our tanks there fairly often. That led me to getting the PC Financial World Elite MasterCard, where we earn additional PC Optimum points on our spending at Loblaw’s stores and Shoppers Drug Mart. I don’t track these rewards closely, but it seems I’m redeeming $20 at least once a month.

Rounding out my core spending is what’s arguably considered the best all-around credit card on the market today – the American Express Cobalt Card. This card pays 5x points on eats and drinks, so I use it primarily at Safeway, Save-On-Foods, and at liquor stores and restaurants that accept American Express. I use the Membership Rewards-Select points to transfer to the Marriott Bonvoy hotel rewards program at a rate of 5:6 (5,000 MR-S points = 6,000 Marriott Bonvoy points).

Travel Rewards Cards

I’ve also found the American Express Platinum card to be extremely valuable, even at the outrageous $699 annual fee. I get an annual $200 travel credit, automatic gold elite status at Marriott hotels, plus unlimited airport lounge access for me and my wife. I use the highly flexible Membership Rewards points to either transfer to Aeroplan or simply to redeem points for travel purchases.

I mentioned the Marriott Bonvoy hotel rewards program – which is easily the best in Canada. I applied for the Marriott Bonvoy American Express Card last year to take advantage of the 50,000 bonus points and decided to keep the card and pay the annual fee because it comes with an annual free night at a category 5 hotel (35,000 points).

Finally, I hold the WestJet RBC World Elite MasterCard for the annual round trip discounted companion voucher anywhere WestJet flies.

These are the cards in my wallet throughout the year, however I often supplement my rewards by taking advantage of special promotions on other credit cards. My criteria for this activity is that the card must have an attractive sign-up bonus ($200 or more), be easily attainable (welcome bonus triggered at first purchase is great, but a reasonable minimum spend is okay, too), and offer the annual fee free of charge in the first year.

A good example of that, currently, is the TD Aeroplan Visa Infinite Card. You can earn up to 40,000 Aeroplan miles and the annual fee is waived in the first year.

This Week’s Recap:

This week I took an in-depth look at house down payment options, including the pros and cons of putting down 5 percent, 10 percent, and 20 percent.

Over on Young & Thrifty I reviewed the robo-advisor RBC InvestEase. From the article:

“For RBC clients currently invested in a managed mutual fund portfolio, switching to InvestEase is an absolute no-brainer to save on fees and achieve better investor outcomes.”

From the archives: Can robo-advisors hold up in a market downturn?

Promo of the Week:

I mentioned that we shop fairly regularly at No Frills and also at the Real Canadian SuperStore. I’m not sure what took me so long, but I recently signed up for the PC Insiders program. In my opinion, it’s one of the hidden gems in the Canadian rewards and loyalty space.

The annual subscription costs $99 and it unlocks some fantastic benefits, including:

  • Extra points
  • Free shipping
  • Free online grocery pickup
  • $99 travel credit
  • Annual surprise gift

Plus:

  • 20% back in points on all brands of baby diapers and formula
  • 20% back in points on all PC Organics Products
  • 20% back in points on all PC Black Label Collection purchases
  • 20% back in points on all Joe Fresh® purchases, in store and at joefresh.com
  • 20% back in points on all beautyBOUTIQUE online orders

Use my referral code – RE1483 – to join the PC Insiders program and take advantage of all of these benefits.

Weekend Reading:

The Scotiabank Gold American Express card got a refresh and now comes with no foreign exchange fees, in addition to 25,000 welcome points.

The streaming wars are about to begin, with Apple TV+ and Disney+ set to launch next month in Canada. Here’s a great look at all the streaming services soon to be available.

Studies show that for every retiree who is spending too little, there is another one who is spending too much. Will your savings outlive you, or vice-versa?

The Blunt Bean Counter Mark Goodfield with a great explanation of what to do when your spouse dies before you.

Is real estate still a good investment for Canadians? Why we shouldn’t be making property investment decisions based on headlines.

Is investing risky? PWL Capital’s Ben Felix takes a deep dive into what exactly you’re risking in his latest common sense investing video:

I loved this piece by Morgan Housel on why new technology is a hard sell:

“Convincing people that you can solve their problems is harder than it seems because people don’t want to be told that the way they’ve always done things is wrong.”

Rob Carrick tackles a controversial topic with a balanced look at the give and take of reverse mortgages.

This New York Times pieces takes a look at the advice in three of the most popular personal finance books ever sold.

Finally, I love Wealthsimple’s Money Diaries series and their latest explains why baseball legend Mike Piazza was successful because you booed him.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

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2 Comments

  1. Diane Brown on October 27, 2019 at 1:33 pm

    I am thinking of cancelling my WestJet card-every time I have tried booking the Companion fare, and then comparing it with the regular fare, by the time I have factored in the cost of the card, and the spending required to accrue not very many travel dollars, I am better off travelling other airlines, especially if I am not checking baggage

    I recognise that it may be advantageous to more frequent fliers, who regularly check baggage

    Your thoughts

    • Robb Engen on October 28, 2019 at 10:57 am

      Hi Diane, it really depends on where you fly. You might not find good value in a short-haul, but if you’re flying Toronto to Vancouver, for example, the companion voucher is well worth it.

      You could always cancel for now and then sign up again shortly before you need to book travel. They often have a $250 WJD promotion and sometimes that comes with the first year free, so you’d get the companion voucher and $250 in the first year – making the card much more attractive again.

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