In this feature of Rewards Canada's Ultimate Credit Card Portfolios we look at the ultimate one for those who make lots of purchases in currencies other than the Canadian dollar. It looks at credit cards in the Canadian market that do not charge a fee of 2 to 3% on purchases made in foreign currencies. It is the ideal portfolio for those traveling outside of Canada a lot, those shopping online from the U.S. and other countries and even business owners who are importing items that can be paid for with a credit card.
As we typically recommend, you should carry a Visa, a Mastercard and an American Express card in your wallet. This is standard with all of our Ultimate Wallets. The reason why is that there are benefits, promotions and earning potential unique to each brand of credit card. We don't go into detail here as you can read all about it in our feature on how to Maximize your Miles and Points but we do outline one card from each brand that will help you build up those travel rewards points all the while saving you a good chunk of change by not having to pay those pesky foreign transaction fees. Ultimately there are various options that could be utilized for such a portfolio but we look at one card from each issuing family that we feel are the best fit for this mission.
What is Rewards Canada's Ultimate No Foreign Transaction Fee Credit Card portfolio? It's the following three cards:
I have to admit, not only is this the Ultimate No Foreign Transaction Fee credit card portfolio but it is a contender for the 'Ultimate' of Ultimate Credit Card Portfolios! It is the trifecta for someone looking to have an amazing travel rewards credit card portfolio. There are many reasons why this is so. You have a card that is one of the strongest points earning cards in Canada (the Scotiabank Gold Amex), a card that is a hybrid card - that is, you can use the points via the credit card's proprietary reward program or convert them to several airline frequent flyer programs (the HSBC World Elite Mastercard), provides travel benefits like airport lounge access (both the HSBC and Scotia Passport cards), airline fee benefits (HSBC) and much more. No to mention the fact that with the two Scotia cards the Scene+ points earned on each are pooled into one rewards account which accelerates the growth of your points balance! This portfolio truly has it all.
The first card in the portfolio is the Scotiabank Gold American Express card. This card would be set as the main card in this portfolio and you would want to put all your possible spending in Canada on the card. The main reason is that the card is very strong for points earning. It earns 5 points per dollar spent at eligible grocery stores, on dining and entertainment (in Canada), 3 points per dollar spent at eligible gas stations, daily transit and select streaming services (in Canada) and 1 point per dollar spent everywhere else. The key wording here is 'in Canada' as all purchases not made in Canadian dollars will earn 1 point per dollar spent. Those numbers translate to a 5%, 3%, and 1% return when redeeming for travel and since this is travel rewards card portfolio that is key. And when it comes to redeeming for travel this card is as flexible as they come. You book the travel how you want, when you want, with whomever you want and then when that travel charge shows up on your account you redeem your points against that charge. Want to book a flight directly with Air Canada, pay for it on this card and then redeem points for it! On top of that you'll still earn Aeroplan miles on the flight.
Related: Scotiabank Gold American Express - Enhancements launch today along with an increased welcome bonus
The second card in the portfolio is the HSBC World Elite Mastercard and is the bank's first competitive product designed that doesn't require you to bank with HSBC or hold a ton of assets. This is the card you will pull out of your wallet for travel purchases and any spending that doesn't have a category bonus with the two Scotia cards. For travel purchases the card earns 6 points per dollar spent which translates to a 3% return towards travel redemptions. Being a hybrid card, this card provides the highest level of flexibility out of all the cards in the portfolio. You can redeem for any travel purchase you charge on the card at a rate of 1,000 points for a $5 credit (this is how you find the 3% and 1.5% returns listed above). And just like both of the Scotia cards, you book the travel how you want, when you want, with whomever you want. The other travel option this card provides is the ability to convert HSBC Reward Points to frequent flyer programs. Three of them to be specific, British Airways, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles and Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer. At the time of posting this conversions to this programs equated to 0.96 to 1.92 Asia Miles per dollar spent, 1.08 to 2.16 KrisFlyer Miles per dollar spent and 1.2 to 2.4 Avios per dollar spent. When you take into account that most frequent flyer miles (or Avios) are worth around 1.5 cents per mile for economy class redemption and typically no less than 2 cents per mile for business class or higher you can see where there is outsized value provided by the credit card. You do however have to take into account the intricacies of frequent flyer programs like availability issues, having to be flexible on your travel dates and undesirable routings to get to your final destination. As we have always said here on Rewards Canada - the key to making the most out of a frequent flyer program is flexibility - not on the part of the program but on the part of the member. That brings us back to why we love Hybrid cards - they give you the best of both worlds - the flexibility found from a proprietary credit card reward program and the ability to take advantage of the huge value provided by frequent flyer programs. Then you have the benefits the card provides like Mastercard Airport Experiences Provided by LoungeKey and an annual travel enhancement credit that provides some nice savings when travelling if you check bags, have to pay for seat assignments etc.
Related: HSBC World Elite Mastercard review
Rounding out this portfolio is the Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card. It was the first no foreign transaction fee card in Canada to be issued by a major bank. This card is very similar to its Gold American Express card brethren except for being a Visa card of course! Its base points earning is the same at 1 point per dollar but then its category bonus rates are lower than the Gold Amex version and there is a good reason why. That higher earn rate of 2 points per dollar on grocery, dining, entertainment and daily transit is not limited to purchases in Canadian dollars. It is awarded on purchases in those categories made in any currency. So if you are dining at a restaurant in Chicago you'll earn the 2 points per dollar and save your 2.5% thanks to the no foreign transaction fee. On the redemption side this card is exactly the same as the Scotiabank Gold American Express card - 1,000 points = a $10 credit on travel charges. And as we mentioned before, if you have both of the cards the points pool into one Scene+ account. With this portfolio you have the beauty of only dealing with two reward programs even though you have three cards. On the benefits side the key feature this card provides is a Priority Pass membership with 6 free lounge visits which has a combined value of US$291 - and this is an annual benefit.
All three cards also come with some really good welcome bonus offers that provide you with well over $800 in travel credits and varying travel and purchase insurance benefits.
Here's how you should split up your spending with this credit card portfolio:
Of note both of the Scotia cards have a $50,000 annual cap on the category bonus spending. Should you reach that cap on one card move your spending to the other. Meet the cap on both? Move all spending to your HSBC card.
Also with the above example we are considering that you are only interested in using points from all three cards towards credits for travel purchases made on any of the cards. Should the HSBC transfer options to British Airways, Cathay Pacific or Singapore Airlines be of more interest to you, you'll of course want to shift more of your spending to that card.
Here are the details on these three cards
Special offer: Earn up to 80,000 points* ($400 travel value) PLUS a full annual fee rebate for the primary cardholder for the first year* ($149 value) and receive a $100 annual travel enhancement credit*. Must apply by February 28, 2023. Conditions apply.
• Earn 3% in travel rewards on all eligible travel purchases (6 Points per $1) and earn 1.5% in travel rewards on all other eligible purchases (3 Points per $1)
There you go. With these three cards you are pretty much ensuring that you have a great travel rewards credit card portfolio covering all three major card issuers and not having a worry at all as to whether you'll be paying any foreign transaction fees!
You do have several other card options you could look at in this portfolio - not a whole lot though seeing there only around 10 no foreign transaction fee cards in Canada. For the American Express option you could look at using the American Express Cobalt Card, it is very similar to the Scotiabank Gold Amex in that it earns up to 5x points on purchases and provides the utmost flexibility when you redeem for travel and it has no set income requirement. The main difference from the Scotia card is that the Cobalt card still has a 2.5% foreign transaction fee but it's point multipliers do work globally not just in Canada. For the Mastercard side your best option instead of the HSBC card would be one of the Brim Financial Mastercards. They have three versions of their card from a no fee Mastercard to a World Elite Mastercard at $199. All three of the cards feature no foreign transaction fees. Finally on the Visa side your next best option after the Passport Visa Infinite card would be the Home Trust Preferred Visa as it is the only other Visa card in Canada with no foreign transaction fees but you don't earn any rewards on foreign transactions.