Tag Archives: American Express

Feb 26: Best from the blogosphere

This week we feature content from old friends and new dealing with a range of interesting issues.

On You and Your Money, Ed Rempel writes about Understanding the Differences Between Financial Advisors and Brokers. He says, “I do think everyday investors are much better off if they have someone in their corner who is recommending a particular investment product because it actually is the best product for them, given their circumstances and life stage. Not because there’s a commission on the sale at the end of the day.”

Doris Belland on Your Financial Launchpad tackles How to deal with multiple requests for donations and money. According to Doris, “The key is to run your financial life deliberately and consciously. Instead of barrelling through life with your nose to the grindstone, dealing with a plethora of urgent matters, spending on an ad hoc basis depending on which squeaky wheel is acting up, I suggest you make a plan and decide ahead of time which items are worthy of your valuable monthly cash.”

If you are spending a lot on Uber, should you buy a car? Desirae Odjick addresses this question on her blog half/BANKED. If you are laying out a large sum (say $1,000) every month on Uber, she agrees that a car makes sense. But if it’s a seasonal thing in really cold weather when you cannot easily walk, bike or take public transit she nixes the idea.

Mark Seed at My Own Advisor interviews Doug Runchey about the perennial question, Should you defer your Canada Pension to age 65 or 70? Runchey suggests that the main reasons for taking CPP and OAS as late as possible are:

  • You don’t necessarily need the money to live on now.
  • You have good reason to believe that you have a longer-than-average life expectancy.
  • You don’t have a reliable defined pension with full indexing, and the CPP and OAS are integral to your inflation-protected, fixed-income financial well-being.
  • You are concerned about market risk to your savings portfolio.
  • You aren’t concerned about leaving a large estate – so you use up some or all personal assets before taking government benefits.

And finally, Maple Money’s Tom Drake puts the spotlight on Canada’s best no annual fee credit cards and the perks they offer. His list includes the:

  • Tangerine Money-Back Credit Card
  • President’s Choice Financial Mastercard
  • MBNA Rewards Mastercard
  • SimplyCash Card from American Express.

The features of each of these cards and a link to the relevant website are included in Drake’s blog.

Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere?” Share the information on http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

Written by Sheryl Smolkin
Sheryl Smolkin LLB., LLM is a retired pension lawyer and President of Sheryl Smolkin & Associates Ltd. For over a decade, she has enjoyed a successful encore career as a freelance writer specializing in retirement, employee benefits and workplace issues. Sheryl and her husband Joel are empty-nesters, residing in Toronto with their cockapoo Rufus.

Nov 16: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

Most of the time when I sit down at my computer to write the weekly Best from the Blogosphere post I have absolutely no idea what the theme will be until I read a few articles from other bloggers that send me off on a tangent.

Such was the case this week when the first message in my inbox was from Robb Engen at Boomer and Echo writing about Mischief Managed: How I Went From Credit Card Abuser To Rewards Card Master. He says optimizing credit spending means using one card for groceries and gas, one for dining and entertainment, one for travel and one for everything else. Last year he used six credit cards to earn over $1,500 worth of rewards.

In 2012 Carla Wintersgill wrote in the Toronto Star about How travel hackers maximize loyalty points. She reports on the inventive way American author Chris Guillebeau collected points through the United States Mint. For a year and a half, it was possible to buy U.S. dollar coins directly from the Mint, which included free shipping. Over the course of a few months, he bought $70,000 in coins using a points-collecting credit card and then re-deposited the coins in the bank to pay his bill.

With Black Friday and Christmas on the horizon, reader may be interested in the Top 5 tips for maximizing miles on your holiday shopping by Patrick Sojka at Rewards Canada. He suggests double or triple dipping to rack up your points faster. This basically involves your mileage earning credit card being used for a purchase where you also earn miles in the same program as the credit card. For example, pay for your Air Canada flight with a TD Aeroplan Visa or American express.

When you use travel rewards, at some point you may be juggling way more credit cards than the average consumer. Even with a really good system to ensure that you have paid your cards in full each month, at some point something may slip through the cracks. On Frugal Travel Guy, Caroline Lupini explains How to Get Credit Card Late Fees Refunded and Interest Charges Reversed at least once, but it is important not to make a habit of missing payments.

In a guest post on the Canadian Finance Blog, How to Get the Best Value from Air Miles Rewards, Retire Happy blogger Jim Yih explains how he exchanged 15,850 Air Miles for six flights from Edmonton to Ottawa that saved him $2475.99. He calculates that he is getting about one Air Mile for every dollar spent and his equivalent cash back is about 1.67% over the longer time frame. He also endorses double-dipping and believes that with a little more conscious effort and awareness he can get the reward up to a 2% cash back equivalent.

Do you follow blogs with terrific ideas for saving money that haven’t been mentioned in our weekly “Best from the blogosphere?” Share the information with us on http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card.

Loyalty programs: Which one is best?

By Sheryl Smolkin


Canadians love loyalty programs. The 2013 Loyalty Census from the industry research group Colloquy reports that 120 million consumers in this country belong to at least one loyalty program and the average number of loyalty programs per household is 8.2. But the challenge you face is selecting the loyalty programs that will give you the best bang for their bucks.

Typically websites that evaluate loyalty programs either rank programs based on the stated preferences of survey participants or by weighting various features like points per dollar spent and the value you can get when you spend the points in different ways.

But the research company Environics recently developed a “time to reward” algorithm for Colloquy that ups the ante by predicting how many months it actually takes to earn $100 CAD in rewards.

The calculation not only takes into consideration the potential payback from a program, but factors like usage patterns, the ability to double-dip (i.e. get points for the dollar value of your travel purchase plus the number of miles you fly) and how much you buy from a particular retailer.

Initially, over 1000 Canadians surveyed online in March 2014 by Environics were asked to select which of 23 top loyalty programs (14 of which have a non-credit loyalty card only) they used to collect loyalty rewards or dollars in the past three months. The programs in the list had membership of at least one per cent of the Canadian population and multiple programs could be picked from the list provided.

The top 10 selected were:

  • 72%: Air Miles
  • 35%: Shopper’s Optimum
  • 29%: Canadian Tire Money
  • 28%: Aeroplan
  • 28%: PC Points
  • 23%: Petro-Points
  • 17%: Scene Rewards
  • 17%: HBC Rewards
  • 13%: Club Sobey
  • 12%: Sears Card

However, once all 23 programs were assessed by Environics applying “time to rewards” metrics, rankings in some categories changed. Not surprisingly, the Air Miles and Aeroplan programs took the first and second spots for long and short haul flight rewards. Both are “coalition” loyalty programs (members can earn points through hundreds of retail partners, as opposed to just one).

But Aeroplan dropped to the number three spot after the Shoppers Optimum card when it came to how quickly cash equivalent rewards can accumulate. The Shoppers Drug Mart program regularly runs promotions where a large number of points is awarded for spending specified amounts on certain days.

The research also revealed the credit cards that will get a program member to a cash equivalent or merchandise reward the quickest tend to be retailer-specific or bank-issued credit cards. The Canadian Tire Cash Advantage MasterCard, the Best Buy Reward Zone Visa and the RBC Shoppers Optimum Card ranked 1, 2 and 3 in this category.

The Environics Research contains many more “time to reward” comparisons for loyalty programs and loyalty credit cards you can check out here. There is also an interactive online tool where you can test which Canadian loyalty programs will get you to your desired reward faster (i.e. travel rewards, cash or merchandise) using either your own spending pattern or pre-programmed Statistics Canada data.

Of course your favourite loyalty program may not have sufficient market penetration to even have been considered in the Environics study.

When I polled several prominent personal finance bloggers to find out the loyalty programs they use the most, Tom Drake (Canadian Finance) said his number one choice is a Costco Executive Membership, which is notably absent from the Environics study. It pays back two per cent of most purchases throughout the year in cash. “I also pay using my True Earnings Card from Costco and American Express which gives me another one per cent cash back or two per cent when I fill up with gas,” he says.

Robb Engen (Boomer & Echo) identified Scene Rewards which allows you to earn points that can be spent on free movies, concession food and music downloads as probably one of the most under-rated loyalty programs in the country. He also subscribes to Amazon Prime for $79/year because it gives him free two-day shipping on most items that Amazon carries.

And even though he is an avid Air Miles fan, Jim Yee (Retire Happy) believes it’s important to take a balanced approach to racking up points vs other important cost-saving considerations. “Safeway gives Air Miles but sometimes it’s more convenient or less expensive to shop elsewhere for groceries,” he says.

How to choose a travel rewards card

By Sheryl Smolkin


I got my first travel rewards card in the mid-1990s when I was doing a distance LLM at University of Leicester and had to travel to Europe for series of residential weekends.

Without a great deal of thought, I opted for a CIBC Aerogold card because in addition to getting one point for every mile in the air, points were also awarded for amounts spent on household expenses with 1.5 per dollar credited for purchases at some grocery stores, drug stores and gas stations.

But it was often very hard to get Aeroplan seats on the flights we wanted to take. And it got even more difficult when Aeroplan instituted the current program, where the number of points required to reach a particular destination varies depending on the time of day, the day of the week or the time of the year.

When I started researching travel rewards cards again for this article, I realized that the current selection of over 70 cards is mind boggling and selecting a card that delivers the best value depends on whether you pay a fee, how much you spend each year and where you want to go.

In all cases, unless you pay off your credit card balance every month, the interest you pay on the outstanding balance will quickly erode the value of any travel benefits.

The most up-to-date resource I found was Rewards Canada. Here is their top 2012 pick in two categories with some of the key features of each card.

Top Travel Points Credit Card (with annual fee)

Capital One® Aspire Travel™ World MasterCard®*

The Capital One Aspire Travel World MasterCard has has been number 1 in this category for three years. Here are some of the reasons why:

  • Earn 2 reward miles for every $1 – on all purchases
  • Get 35,000 bonus reward miles with your first purchase
  • Get 10,000 anniversary bonus reward miles every year
  • Annual fee of $120. No additional fee to get a second card for “an authorized user.”
  • This card can be a good choice for someone who spends at least $2,000/month.

A requirement of this card is a minimum personal income of $60,000 or household income of $100,000.

Top Travel Points Credit Card (with no annual fee)

American Express Blue Sky Credit Card (2011: 1)

The Blue Sky Credit Card has been top in this category for four years. Here’s why:

  • Earn 2 points for every $1 in eligible card purchases at your chosen 5 places.
  • Earn 1 point for every $1 in card purchases everywhere else.
  • Earn a welcome bonus of 7,500 points the first time you use the approved card

I encourage you to follow the five step guide to choosing a travel rewards on the Rewards Canada website for a brief description of the types of travel rewards credit cards and what to look out for when choosing one.

There is an excellent chart updated to January 2013 comparing features of a series of the most popular Canadian travel cards. The Choosing a Travel Rewards Credit Card Flow Chart can also help you narrow down what category and type of card you should choose.

Have you selected a new travel rewards credit card lately? Have you had good or bad experiences with the card you are currently using? Send us an email socialmedia@saskpension.com. If your story is posted, your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card. And remember to put a dollar in the retirement savings jar every time you use one of our money-saving ideas.

If you would like to send us other money saving ideas, here are the themes for the next three weeks:

21-Mar Insurance Getting a better deal on car, house insurance
28-Mar Books Comparing eReaders
04-Apr Real estate New or resale house? Pros and cons