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Looking for a new rewards credit card

With the new changes to the MBNA Smart Cash Platinum MasterCard, I’m on the hunt for a different credit card.

I use my credit card for as many purchases as I can, and pay off the balance at the end of every week. This is the only way that rewards credit cards work – because if you keep a balance, obviously that negates any bonus you would earn that month. :)

When I got the MBNA MasterCard, I used to get:

  • 5% cash back on gas and grocery purchases up to $600/month for the first 6 months
  • 3% cash back on gas and grocery purchases up to $600/month afterwards
  • 1% cash back for all other purchases
This was the perfect card for me because most of my monthly spending came from groceries and gas. However, as of December 1st, the benefits have changed drastically.
  • 5% cash back on gas and grocery purchases up to $400/month for the first 6 months
  • 2% cash back on gas and grocery purchases up to $400/month afterwards
  • 1% cash back for all other purchases up to $1,250/month – which includes groceries and gas

As you can see, that drastically cuts down on the rewards I would be earning. But the thing is, there aren’t that many great travel or cash back credit cards available in Canada that don’t have ridiculous fees. I’m sure by now, you’ve all read Bridget’s post on her American Express card with the $699 annual fee.

While perhaps that might be a cost she’s willing to stomach because of the rewards, I could never pay that kind of fee – no matter how much I earn. In fact, I’ve never been able to get over paying any amount for an annual fee. Until now.

The Capital One Aspire World Travel MasterCard costs $120/year and seems to be a pretty good alternative to the MBNA MasterCard. It requires a minimum personal income of $60,000, or a household income of $100,000.

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As for my spending habits, I typically charge anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 per month, depending on travel and business expenses.

And while that $120 annual fee bothered me at first, the benefits seem to be pretty solid:

  • Earn 2 reward miles for every $1 – on all purchases
  • 35,000 bonus reward miles with your first purchase
  • 10,000 anniversary bonus reward miles every year (worth $100)
  • The 10,000 bonus reward miles (equal to $100) means that the annual fee will only cost me $20.

    I also like that their rewards system makes it easy to redeem. You don’t need to book through them, and there are no blackout dates. You book your own trip, and then redeem your miles to pay for your travel – and because I travel often, I like travel rewards cards better than cash back cards. It lets me save for a specific thing, which I will always use.

    Aside from this Capital One card, I even contemplated going back to my American Express Blue Sky card because it didn’t have an annual fee, and the rewards were pretty good. However, all of the problems I’ve had in the past with them (and the countless fraud charges) means I will never use Amex Blue Sky again.

    If you are an MBNA Smart Cash Platinum card holder – will you be sticking with the card, or switching over to something else?

    Understanding foreign currency conversion fees

    It is extremely important to understand foreign currency conversion fees – which is how much your debit and credit cards will charge you when you use them outside of Canada. Even though I travel to the USA often, I never really took the time to research into just how much using my credit card was costing me. So save yourself some money by spending a few minutes calling the number on the back of each credit card. Have them explain the fees and currency conversion amounts to you.

    A foreign currency conversion fee is charged to consumers to help offset the cost incurred by credit card companies and the bank, since international transactions are more expensive to process than domestic transactions.

    For example, with my MBNA Platinum Plus MasterCard (still the greatest credit card in the world, BTW), all transactions made in a foreign currency will be converted to Canadian dollars. Then, an amount equal to 2.5% of the converted transaction amount will be added to the total.

    Meanwhile, my President’s Choice Financial (PCF) MasterCard first converts all foreign transactions into U.S. dollars, and then into Canadian dollars, before charging a 2.5% foreign currency conversion fee.

    Aside from credit cards, my options are using my ING Direct or PC Financial debit cards. You will not be able to make individual transactions at stores with either debit card, but you can use them both to access your money through bank machines.

    PC Financial charges $3 per withdrawal from bank machines located outside of Canada. In addition, they also charge a fixed rate of 2.5% of the converted amount as their foreign currency conversion fee.

    ING Direct, on the other hand, charges $2 for each withdrawal from foreign bank machines, but does not charge a foreign currency conversion fee.

    The picture in this blog post shows the only things I carry in my wallet: ING Direct debit card, MBNA MasterCard, Bahn25 discount train card, and driver’s license. I also carry my passport at all times, as well as my NEXUS card – not that it helps me at all over here. My PCF MasterCard, PCF debit card, and any other cards I have are kept locked away in the apartment.

    Aside from understanding the foreign currency conversion fees associated with both your debit and credit cards when traveling abroad, here are some tips to help keep you safe and save you money:

    Inform your credit card company of your travel plans. Nothing would be more frustrating than having your credit card declined and suspended for suspicious use, because you didn’t take the time to let the card issuer know of your overseas travel plans.

    Avoid Dynamic Currency Conversion. Foreign merchants will sometimes try to take advantage of tourists by offering to quote the final price of your purchase in U.S. dollars, instead of in the local currency. The exchange rate is selected by the merchant, and is usually much higher than your credit card. Make sure you know the currency conversion rates before you buy anything. Or, you can download a smartphone app that will do the conversion for you.

    Double-check your card expiration date. Your trip could take a serious nosedive if you suddenly discover that your credit card is set to expire while you’re traveling. Contact customer service to see if they can issue you a card with a new expiration date, or mail you a new card to your address abroad, closer to when the card will actually expire.

    Stick to using one credit card (but bring a back-up). Using a single credit card will make it easier for you to track your spending while you are away. But, you should also bring a back-up credit card just in case of an emergency – such as, your credit card being suspended, or losing your wallet. The back-up card should be stored somewhere else besides your purse or wallet – like in a safe in your hotel room, or in a money belt if you need to have it with you.

    What tips do you have for using your credit and debit cards abroad?

    Dear American Express: WTF!?

    I received ANOTHER fraudulent charge on my CANCELED American Express card.

    Oh yes I did! Remember when I blogged about this exact thing happening FIVE SEPARATE TIMES THIS YEAR!?

    Well, it happened again and I am beyond pissed.

    Last week while on vacation, I received an e-mail invoice from American Express, saying that I had a balance owing for the December billing cycle. Weird. So I logged into my online account and saw that there was a $29.99 charge that I clearly didn’t make.

    So yesterday I called to dispute the charge, and the customer service rep wasn’t helpful at all. He couldn’t tell me why I kept getting charges on a canceled card – in fact, he didn’t even know my card was canceled! I had to explain that it’s been happening over and over again, but he actually didn’t really seem to care. He also said that it would take 6-8 weeks to resolve the dispute, even though all of the past disputes were either solved immediately, or within a few business days. And once this new dispute finally gets resolved, I will receive correspondence by mail. I asked if there was a way to get e-mail correspondence, as I would be living in Germany by then, but apparently it’s not possible.

    It’s incredibly frustrating. All I want is for someone to tell me what I need to do to stop this from happening again. I am so sick and tired of having to call in and dispute charges on cards that I have already cancelled. I am willing to do whatever it takes, but someone needs to tell me what I’m doing wrong. How do I stop charges from happening on cancelled cards? What does cancelling a card actually mean, if charges can still go through on it? Why can’t anyone at Amex give me a straight answer?!

    The last time this happened, I spoke with someone from Amex who said that it was my responsibility to periodically check my account to ensure that all charges I don’t recognize are being flagged. Then, it is my responsibility to call in to lodge a dispute. That made me angry. How is it my responsibility to check my CANCELLED credit card accounts for fraudulent charges, when these charges shouldn’t even be happening in the first place!? Shouldn’t it be the responsibility of Amex to make sure that this kind of thing doesn’t happen?

    Please. Somebody make this American Express nightmare end.

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