Tag Archives: MasterCard

May 8: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

In late April the Globe and Mail’s Globe Talks series widely advertised a panel discussion called “Invest Like A Legend” hosted by Report on Business editor Duncan Hood and featuring speakers David Rosenberg, William J. Bernstein and Prett Bannerjee.

When Kerry K. Taylor aka Squawkfox read about the session, she immediately blogged her displeasure in A woman’s place is on a panel.She wrote, “Despite The Globe’s inability to ‘find’ a lady investing expert, both my Twitter feed and my inbox exploded with prospective panelists. So I made a binder — a binder full of financial women.”

Therefore, in solidarity with some of the terrific financial women I have met over the last several years as a personal finance writer, this week’s Best from the Blogosphere highlights some of their work.

In her blog Want to cash-out on your real estate? Read this, Lesley-Anne Scorgie says, “When times are good in real estate there are plenty of reasons to cash-out. But, the cash-out only works to your financial benefit if you’re actually putting real money towards your net worth…that does not mean selling an expensive property and using the equity to buy a less expensive property.”

Toronto Star consumer columnist Ellen Roseman documents changes to Tangerine Bank’s no-fee money-back MasterCard that she says “wowed so many Canadians eager for innovation.” She notes that barely one year after the launch, Tangerine MasterCard is raising fees and cutting benefits – a move many customers call bait and switch. For example, the two percent rebate on two categories of purchases remains. But the rebate on all other purchases dropped to 0.5%, starting April 29.

Cait Flanders, who has previously written about her one year shopping ban and extensive decluttering says it’s now time for her to embrace slow technology. While she acknowledges freely that social media has played an important role in forging her personal and business relationships, she has committed to:

  • A 30-day social media detox (April 29th – May 28th).
  • Figure out the role she wants social media to play in her life.
  • Check/reply to email less often (also experiment with not checking on her phone).
  • Figure out the role she wants technology to play in her life (phone, computers, TV, etc.)
  • Read from a book every day

Jordann Brown, who blogs at My Alternate Life, recently shared her experience in How to Sell a Car in Canada as a Beginner. She researched how much her Volkswagen City Golf was worth and concluded she could sell it for much more than the $1,200 the dealership offered her when she bought her 2014 Subaru Crosstrek. She determined the car was worth $4,000, had the car professionally cleaned and did some small repairs. The car was advertised for $4,500 on Kijiji and after several days she happily accepted a $4,000 cash offer.

And finally, Jessica Moorhouse shares valuable information about banks and credit unions with free chequing accounts in Canada. You will not be surprised to discover that the list does not include the big five banks. However, Tangerine is now owned by the Bank of Nova Scotia.


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.

Put SPP under the Christmas tree

By Sheryl Smolkin

It’s tough to come up with ideas year after year for memorable holiday gifts, particularly for young adults. One gift that will stand the test of time is contributions to a retirement savings account with the Saskatchewan Pension Plan.

Anyone age 18 to 71 can join SPP. Participation is not restricted by where they live or membership in other plans. However, in order to contribute members must have available RRSP room. The member application form is available online and must be submitted with a photocopy of the prospective member’s birth certificate, driver’s license or passport.

Maximum annual contributions (which become locked in until retirement) are $2,500/year but up to $10,000 per year can be transferred in from another RRSP. SPP is designed to be very flexible and to accommodate individual financial circumstances. There is no minimum contribution. Even contributing $10 per month will build an SPP account and provide a plan member with additional pension at retirement.

Contributions can be made in a number of ways: directly from a bank account using the PAC system on the 1st or 15th of the month; at a financial institution using a contribution form; using a VISA or MasterCard; through online banking; or by mail to the Plan office in Kindersley. SPP also provides the option to make contribution online using your VISA or MasterCard.

This means you can make an SPP contribution as a one-time gift this Christmas or make recurrent gifts at regular or irregular intervals for future occasions. One way to encourage your friend or relative to continue contributing to SPP is to offer to match contributions up to a specified amount – much like employers do in company plans.

The Plan’s average return to members since inception (1986 – 2015) is 8.10%. The five year average is 7.57% and the ten year average is 5.25%.  SPP has independent, professional money managers. The funds are invested in a diversified portfolio of high quality investments to ensure a competitive rate of return.

Chances are that 20-somethings entering the work force today will have precarious work for at least the first few years of their career with organizations that do not offer a retirement savings plan. Once they are married and have children, retirement savings may take a back seat to mortgage payments and daycare costs.

Helping a friend or relative to develop the retirement savings habit and topping up their savings is an invaluable gift. Savings of just $2,500/year earning interest at 5% will result in a retirement savings balance of $237,672.11.

So make gift giving this year easy by putting  SPP under the Christmas tree!

Nearly half of Saskatchewan residents live from pay cheque to pay cheque

By Sheryl Smolkin

For many working Canadians and for those in Saskatchewan, the road to a comfortable retirement is becoming longer and more difficult.  A large portion of the working population is living pay cheque to pay cheque, unable to save, and worried about their local economy, according to the Canadian Payroll Association’s recently released eighth annual Research Survey of Employed Canadians

The survey reveals that only 36% of working Canadians and 37% of those in Saskatchewan expect the economy in their city or town to improve in the coming year.

Many working Canadians are cash-strapped and barely making ends meet. Nationally, and in Saskatchewan, almost half (48%) report it would be difficult to meet their financial obligations if their pay cheque was delayed by even a single week.

“A significant percentage of working Canadians carry debt, have a gloomy view of their local economy and are fearful of rising interest rates, inflation, and costs of living,” says Patrick Culhane, the Canadian Payroll Association’s President and CEO. “In this time of uncertainty, people need to take control of their finances by saving more. ‘Paying yourself first’ (by automatically directing at least 10% of net pay into a separate savings account or retirement plan) enables employees to exercise some control over their financial future.”

Incomes flat, saving capacity drained by spending and debt

“Survey data suggests that household income growth has stalled, as respondents reporting household income above $100K has hardly increased in five years,” says Alec Milne, Principal at research provider Framework Partners. “In fact, real incomes have actually declined when inflation is taken into account.”

While pay has remained largely unchanged, employees’ spending and debt levels have affected their ability to save. Nationally, and in Saskatchewan, 40% of employees say they spend all of or more than their net pay

Despite employees’ challenging financial situations, only 28% of respondents across the country cite higher wages as a top priority.  Instead, an overwhelming 48% nationally, are most interested in better work-life balance and a healthy work environment. In Saskatchewan only 25% prioritize higher wages, while 45% are most interested in better work-life balance and a healthy work environment.

“Clearly, many Canadians are concerned about their financial situation,” says Lucy Zambon, the Canadian Payroll Association’s Board Chair.  “But better work-life balance does not have to mean reduced financial security if you spend within your means.”

Over one-third (39%) of working Canadians feel overwhelmed by their level of debt, an increase from the three-year average of 36%. Debt levels have risen over the past year for 31% of respondents. In Saskatchewan, 35% feel overwhelmed by debt and 35% say their debt level has increased this year. Unfortunately, 11% nationally and 9% in Saskatchewan (among the lowest nationwide) do not think they will ever be debt free.

Similar to prior years, 93% of respondents nationally carry debt (96% in Saskatchewan). Over half of respondents nationally (58%) said that debt and the economy are the biggest impediments to saving for retirement.

Retirement savings fall short, retirement pushed back

Half of Canadians and 59% of Saskatchewan respondents think they will need a retirement nest-egg of at least $1 million.

Unable to save adequately, the vast majority of working Canadians have fallen far behind their retirement goals, with 76% nationally and 74% in Saskatchewan saying they have saved only one-quarter or less of what they feel they will need.

Nearly one-half of employees nationally (45%) now expect they’ll have to work longer than they had originally planned five years ago, primarily because they have not saved enough. Nationally, respondents’ average target retirement has risen to 62, whereas these same respondents’ target retirement age five years ago was 60, before reality set in.

Saskatchewan Pension Plan makes retirement savings easy

The Saskatchewan Pension Plan makes saving for retirement easy by offering all Canadians between the ages of 18 and 71 a flexible series of contribution options that can be modified at any time. Plan members can contribute up to $2,500/year:

  • Directly from their bank account or credit card using the PAC system on the 1st or 15th of the month using a semi-monthly, monthly, semiannual, or annual schedule.
  • Using VISA® or MasterCard® online at SaskPension.com or by calling toll free, 1-800-667-7153.
  • At financial institutions, in branch or online
  • By mailing directly to the SPP office in Kindersley

Members can also transfer up to $10,000/year from another RRSP into their SPP account.

RRSP frenzy

 

With the RRSP deadline a mere three weeks away, we thought providing you with an FYI blog would make this time of year easier for everyone.

Monday, February 29, 2016 is the final day to contribute to your RRSP for the 2015 tax year. SPP contributions must be received at the office in Kindersley on or before that day.

There’s several fast convenient ways to make your SPP contribution in order to meet the deadline.

  • Use your credit card via;
    • yours online banking service;
    • call our office (1-800-667-7153) during regular business hours or;
    • you can use our website.
  • Cheques can be mailed into our office, please make sure you mail them no later than mid February.
  • If you are in the Kindersley area come visit our office and make your contribution in person.

In case you missed it, the SPP balanced fund returned 6.25% in 2015.  The short-term fund return was 0.45% in 2015. You are can see your full returns here.

A couple of weeks ago we posted an SPP quiz in this blog. If you haven’t already taken the quiz, check it out at http://wp.me/p1YR2T-1dI. There is a chance to win prizes!

Finally, watch the snail mail for tax receipt and member statements coming your way over the next month.

You can reach us at info@saskpension.com or check out our website:  saskpension.com.  We have an enhanced wealth calculator that can help you determine how long your money will last in retirement.

Thanks for your continuing support of SPP.

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8 ways seniors can travel on a budget

SNOWBIRDS SERIES
By Sheryl Smolkin

With the devalued Canadian dollar, the cost of travelling for seniors is 25% to 30% higher than it was at this time last year. So it is more important than ever for snowbirds to find ways to travel on a budget. Whether you are planning to follow the sun or travel somewhere more exotic, here are some ways you can spend less and still have a great adventure.

    1. Use your rewards: If you don’t have a rewards card that allows you to cash in points for travel, this may be the time to get one. For many programs like Air Miles, you can collect points based on where you do your everyday shopping. Travel cards often offer big bonuses just for signing up. For example, the Capital One Aspire World Elite MasterCard costs $150/year but you will get 40,000 points that can be redeemed for $400 in travel rewards once you spend $1,000 on the card.
    2. The road less-travelled: Budget travel blogger Matt Kepnes says although flights to Asia and Eastern Europe are not cheap, once you get there, good hotels and dining can be inexpensive. ” He told the Globe & Mail “Cambodia, Thailand and Korea all have amazing food, friendly people and fun nightlife. You can get by on $20 to $30 a day if you want to go cheap.”
    3. House swapping: There are many international agencies that organize house swaps between strangers, including: http://www.homeexchange.com/, http://www.homeforexchange.com/, http://www.lovehomeswap.com/, http://www.intervac.ca/, http://www.seniorshomeexchange.com/, and http://www.knok.com/. A house swap can save you on accommodations, food and beverages and allow you to really experience life in a new city or country. However, do your due diligence and get references to make sure you are not being ripped off. And get a damage deposit and check your home insurance coverage before you hand over the keys.
    4. Book early, Book late: If you book a cruise or other tour package long before you leave, there are often significant discounts and you only have to put down a small deposit until a few months before you travel. In one case I booked a cruise in Canadian dollars and although the dollar tanked before I paid the balance, the price tag stayed the same. Similarly, if you wait until the last minute, many vacations are deeply discounted. If you are retired, you have the flexibility to take advantage of a last minute deal.
    5. Earn while you travel: If you plan to go somewhere warm and stay for an extended period, there may be ways to earn money to defray the cost of your trip. Give private English lessons. Sell an article about your travels to a local newspaper. Provide consulting services to companies in the industry you retired from. As long as you have a computer and Wifi you can work from almost anywhere in the world.
    6. Free attractions: Do some research before you decide on a destination. Look for discounts and free attractions. We are taking our daughter’s family including our three and a half year old granddaughter to Washington D.C. in March and the trip will be more affordable because most of the city’s museums, memorials and other attraction are free. Another example is the public transport concessions for seniors in the U.K. The Senior Railcard is an annual savings card that’s available to anyone aged 60 or over. You buy it for a one-off cost and it will get you to big discounts on most rail fares in the UK.
    7. Volunteer vacations: There are many opportunities to volunteer abroad. Fees will vary, depending on the organization, your destination and the type of project you are working on. You will typically have to pay for your own airfare but you will be billeted and eat with local families. This website list describes some options for Jewish seniors interested in volunteering in Israel.
    8. Lifelong Learning: Road Scholar, the not-for-profit leader in educational travel since 1975, offers 5,500 educational tours in all 50 U.S. states and 150 countries. Alongside local and renowned experts, experience in-depth and behind-the-scenes learning opportunities, from cultural tours and study cruises to walking, biking and more. Prices are all inclusive with no hidden costs.

Also read: 8 ways to save on a cruise vacation

Why SPP is a great stocking stuffer

By Sheryl Smolkin

The problem with giving cash or gift cards for Christmas is that the money gets spent and the person receiving the gift often is left with little of long lasting value. Gadgets like the latest video game or smart phone get broken or become obsolete. Clothes may not fit properly to start with, or quickly go out of style.

But if you put the Saskatchewan Pension Plan in your children or grandchildren’s Christmas stocking, you will be giving them a gift that keeps on giving. SPP is a voluntary, money purchase plan you can contribute to in order to help them accumulate funds for retirement.

Anyone between ages 18 and 71 with available RRSP room is eligible to join the 33,000 other people who are already part of SPP. The only way to join SPP is by signing up directly. SPP does not have a sales force and commissions are not paid to anyone for selling the Plan.

Contributions to SPP are permitted up to an annual maximum of $2,500, again, subject to available RRSP room. There is no minimum payment and you decide on the contribution schedule and payment method. For example, choose from one of the following methods:

  • By mail (A contribution form is required )
  • In person or by online banking at your financial institution
  • By phone using your credit card (1-800-667-7153)
  • Online, or
  • Directly from your bank account on a pre-authorized contribution schedule (PAC)

You can change your contribution level or stop making contributions at any time. One way to incent your family members to learn about the plan and keep on saving is to challenge them by agreeing to match their monthly or annual contributions up to a stated amount.

SPP accounts are locked-in and earn interest until the member retires. If he/she dies before retiring, the funds in the account will be paid to the person’s beneficiary.

SPP allocates 100% of the market rate of return, less operating expenses, to members monthly. Since inception, the fund returns have been an average of 8.1%. The return history in the balanced fund for the last 10 years is shown below.

Balanced fund
Year Earnings % MER %
2014 9.10 0.95
2013 15.77 1.00
2012 8.45 1.07
2011 -1.01 1.14
2010 9.42 1.04
2009 12.68 1.01
2008 -16.23 1.00
2007 -0.33 0.94
2006 12.51 0.90
2005 10.13 0.82

Family therapist Carol Mitchell believes so strongly in the Saskatchewan Pension Plan (SPP) that she signed up several of her family members and deposited money into their accounts. She plans to make contributions for these relatives again in 2015.

Mitchell hopes her family members will continue to contribute to SPP above and beyond her gifts to them; however, she recognizes that some years they may have other, more pressing financial priorities. “The flexibility to contribute whatever they can afford to SPP each year is one reason I really like the program,” she says.

“I decided to invest in their futures,” Mitchell continues. “Someday I’m going to die and they are not going to remember they spent the $100 I gave them on a sweater or a dinner out. But when it comes time for their retirement, they’ll remember I believed in them and put money aside in their names.”

Saskatchewan residents need to save more for retirement

By Sheryl Smolkin

A National payroll survey conducted in September 2015 by the Canadian Payroll Association finds three-quarters of working Canadians have saved just 25% or less of their retirement goal, and many expect to work longer. In Saskatchewan, many employees are living pay cheque to pay cheque, most are not saving enough and economic pessimism is high.

The study reveals that the vast majority of employees are nowhere near reaching their retirement savings goals, and more than one-third (35%) expect to work longer than they had originally planned five years ago, with their average target retirement age rising from 58 to 63 over that period.

Nearly one-quarter (21%) say they’ll now need to work an additional four years or more. “I am not saving enough money” was the top reason for delayed retirement.

Far behind retirement goals

Nationally, three-quarters (76%) of working Canadians say they have put aside a quarter or less of what they will need in retirement (up from an average of 74% over the past three years). In Saskatchewan, the number is 71%. And even among those closer to retirement (50 and older), a disturbing 48% are still less than a quarter of the way to their retirement savings goal.

Not only are employed Canadians finding it difficult to save for their retirement, many think they will need a big nest-egg. Half nationally (and 61% in Saskatchewan) think they will need more than $1 million in savings when they exit the workforce.

Most Canadian employees do not expect their financial situation to get better any time soon. Just 33% nationally and 36% in Saskatchewan expect the economy to improve over the next year. That’s down an average of 8% nationally, and down a noteworthy 24% in Saskatchewan, over the past three years.

Living pay cheque to pay cheque

Nationally, a large proportion (48%) report that it would be difficult to meet their financial obligations if their pay cheque was delayed by a single week. In Saskatchewan, 43% say they are living pay cheque to pay cheque.

Illustrating just how strapped some employees are, 24% nationally and 17% in Saskatchewan report that they probably could not come up with $2,000 if an emergency arose within the next month.

While more employees nationally say they are trying to save more (71% now, up from 66% over the previous three years), fewer are actually able to do so, with 62% succeeding in their savings efforts (down from an average of 66% over the past three years). In Saskatchewan, just 56% are succeeding in their savings efforts (the lowest of all the provinces/regions).

And savings rates continue to be meagre. About half (47%) of employed Canadians are putting away just 5% or less of their pay. In Saskatchewan, the number is 53% (the top province for number of employees who are under-saving for retirement). Financial planning experts generally recommend a retirement savings rate of at least 10% of net pay.

Nationally, 36% of employees (and 38% in Saskatchewan) say they feel overwhelmed by their level of debt.

“Canadians are saying they are having a difficult time making ends meet, and they are not putting enough aside to reach their own retirement goals,” notes Canadian Payroll Association President and CEO, Patrick Culhane. Edna Stack, Canadian Payroll Association Board Chair, explains: “Payroll professionals can help by setting up automatic deductions from an employee’s pay cheque to a savings plan or retirement program. This is the most effective way for an employee to save, so they can get on the path to a more secure financial future.”

The Saskatchewan Pension Plan allows Canadians with sufficient RRSP contribution room to save up to $2,500/year and transfer in an additional $10,000/year from another RRSP. Members can contribute online using a Visa or MasterCard. SPP contributions can also be made automatically from a member’s bank account.

Oct 19: Best from the blogosphere

By Sheryl Smolkin

One of the ways many of us try to stretch our dollars further is by taking advantage of rewards programs ranging from cash back or travel rewards on credit cards to points cards from your local supermarket or drug store.

I have been a big fan of travel rewards ever since I did a distance Master of Law degree in the UK in the mid 1990s that required me to travel to Europe half a dozen times in two years. But I have a collection of other loyalty cards in my wallet including a punch card from a bakery that rewards me with a free dozen bagels every time I’ve purchased ten dozen in total.

A September 2015 report from Montreal-based Aimia Inc., which operates Aeroplan and other customer-loyalty programs says of the 89% of Canadians enrolled in a loyalty program, 59% have done so with supermarkets, 22% have signed up with banks and 18% with restaurants.

On itbusiness.ca Brian Jackson reported in March 2015 on a research study conducted by Yahoo Inc. The average Canadian has four loyalty program cards in their wallets, the study found. More than half of consumers say they frequently use those cards to accumulate points and miles. Two-thirds of them go online to calculate the value of the loyalty program, and six out of 10 choose loyalty programs that come free-of-charge.

On Robb Engen’s say-so, I replaced my CIBC Aeroplan VISA with a Capital One Aspire Travel World MasterCard about 18 months ago. This week I was delighted to get an email from the company describing how their program has been enhanced by elimination of the the tiered redemption program and the introduction of partial redemptions. Read all about the changes on RewardsCardsCanada and why with these changes, Capital One has further cemented its status as the best value rewards card for everyday travelers.

If unlike your jet setting neighbours, you travel infrequently, you may be interested in the blog on familyfuncanada.com about the best loyalty programs for infrequent travelers. Helen Early says Airmiles can bring you plenty of rewards. According to Early, the best thing about the Airmiles program is that you can earn points almost anywhere, through activities that you probably already do. She also notes that hotel chains like Faimont, Starwood, Best Western and Hilton offer great deals and discounts for even the lowest tier of members.

Krystal Yee wrote a sponsored post on Give Me Back My Five Bucks about how you can be rewarded for everyday purchases when using your debit card. She reports that while there are very few debit rewards in Canada, Scotiabank offers three.

  • The SCENE Debit Card allows you to earn accelerated points through Cineplex online and in person (5x based on purchases) as well as at a few other select locations including Sport Chek, Milestones and East Side Mario’s. You will also earn one point for every five dollars spent in other locations.
  • With the Moneyback Debit Card you can earn 1% on every purchase you make – up to a maximum of $300 per year. Those that open up an account before October 31st will earn double the rewards – $600 – through to that day.
  • With every purchase made on a ScotiaHockey NHL® debit card, you will be entered to win grand prizes including four 2016 NHL® All-Star Game packages, four 2016 Stanley Cup® Final packages, four 2016 Molson Canadian NHL Face-Off™ packages as well as 45 monthly prizes.

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

SHUTTERSTOCK
SHUTTERSTOCK

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

SOURCE: SHUTTERSTOCK
SOURCE: SHUTTERSTOCK

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