As you may know, my amazing joyride with SPG MBNA’s Starwood Preferred Guest card has come to an end as of February 28, 2010.  It was an amazing ride- I got to stay in Hawaii for $25 to $50 a night, got to use my points to augment my travel to Australia, and got to stay in Portland’s Westin as well.  I am now a credit card orphan looking for a new no fee travel credit card to use.

Related: Canada’s Best Travel Rewards Cards

In my quest to find the perfect travel card (for some reason, cash back cards just don’t do it for me!  I’m more into travel cards and trading points in for free flights- don’t ask me why I’m weird like that), I hope to highlight some of the options that I have been researching.

American Express Starwood Preferred Guest

What SPG is offering now is the American Express Starwood Preferred Guest credit card.  It didn’t surprise me as they already have a relationship with American Express in the United States.  They haven’t actually released it yet, but that it’s coming in March 2010 (though we’re already in mid-March).  Here are some of the details from their site:

  • Earn 1 Starpoint®* for every $1 in purchases charged to the Credit Card (this is different- it used to be 1 starpoint for $2)
  • Earn 10,000 Bonus Starpoints – enough for up to 3 FREE nights (on the first transaction)
  • Receive a Free Weekend Night Award after you reach $40,000 in purchases on the Card annually
  • Earn Gold Preferred Guest®* status after you reach $30,000 in purchases on the Card annually
  • Enjoy the flexibility to pay balances in full or over time
  • $120 annual fee (annual interest rate 19.99%)

What?? Did I just read that there was an annual fee? =(  $120 is too steep for me.  Everything else sounds really good, but I’m not too fond of having to pay a yearly fee just for using a credit card and getting the benefits.  Besides, American Express isn’t accepted as readily here in Canada as say, Mastercard or Visa. Just a side note to all of you who are orphaned by the SPG MBNA Mastercard as well, you need to make a transaction within a year (either use your points or add some points) or else your points will go *POOF*!

American Express Blue Sky Credit Card

Here are some of the details of this card:

  • No fee
  • You get 12,000 bonus points on your first $3000 in purchases in the first six months
  • You get 1.25 points for every $1 you spend
  • For every $6000 you spend, you get $100 towards any travel (you can buy your travel ticket etc. first, then deduct it from your statement).  In  a way, it sort of works like a cash back card.  It gives you cash back on travel purchases only.
  • It works out to be about a 1.6% return

Citibank Petropoints Mastercard

You’re probably thinking whhhatt? We’re talking about TRAVEL cards, here, not gasoline cards!

The secret is that the Citibank Petropoints Mastercard has an affiliation with Asia Miles (the reward redemption company for Cathay Pacific Airways, part of the OneWorld alliance- think American Airlines, Qantas, British Airways, Japan Airlines) and you can transfer your Citibank Petro points to Asia Miles!

  • No fee
  • You earn 10 points for every $1 spent on the credit card
  • 10 Petropoints is equal to 1 point of Asia Miles (you can only transfer Petropoints to Asia Miles, not the other way around)
  • So basically for every $1 you spend, you get 1 Asia Mile (There is an Asia Miles RBC Visa that gives you the SAME $1 to 1 point but it has an annual fee of $150!).  You’ll have to convert this manually online or by phone though, at 10,000 point increments (=1000 Asia Miles)
  • If you sign up through PetroCanada’s website before March 29, 2010 they’ll give you 15,000 bonus points (that’s equivalent to 1500 Asia Miles)
  • You save $0.02/Litre of gasoline each time you use your Petropoints mastercard to pay for your purchase

The Good:

I like how this is no fee, and there is opportunity to earn more points based on filling up at PetroCanada gas stations.  I like how it’s a 1:1 conversion (without having to pay the $150 a year annual fee for the RBC Visa card).

The Bad/ Somewhat Ugly:

Asia Miles makes you pay for the taxes and fees associated with the flight purchase, though this isn’t usually very much.  Sometimes Asia Miles redemptions will be a bit difficult, especially if you’re looking for a flight during the peak season.  I know I was in a bit of a pickle last summer when the flight BACK HOME wasn’t confirmed until a few days before I had to go home.  Also, Asia Miles is limited to the above air lines, and it can be difficult to find a flight from Vancouver to Edmonton, for example.  You would end up having to take a flight from Vancouver to Seattle, then Seattle to Edmonton (AND you have to fork up more points!) because there are no direct flights with American Airlines.

Asia Miles DO expire.  I think they last for about 3 years unless you pay some extra money to “save” them.

MBNA Travel Rewards Elite Mastercard

This is the replacement card for MBNA SPG mastercard holders.  MBNA wanted to make sure their business didn’t go elsewhere so they’re making a new card that would be somewhat appealing.  This card is apparantly ‘exclusive’ to previous SPG MBNA card holders.  There’s a non-elite version of the Travel Rewards Card and it has an $89 annual fee.

Here’s the basics of the new card (I haven’t actually received it in the mail yet- expected to arrive in about 4 weeks):

  • You will earn 1 point for every $1 you spend
  • 5000 bonus points on first retail purchase after the new credit card activiation
  • The points can be used towards any type of travel (any hotel, roundtrip flights, vacations and crusies, tours, rental cars)
  • There is a 1% cashback option if you want to get cashback instead of travel
  • The redemption for travel will be handled by Carlson Marketing (which was recently bought out by Aeroplan) who also handles the TD Travel Rewards redemptions as well.  The website is: www.mytravelrewardscentre.com/elite to manage your bookings, it seems super slow though- maybe they’ll work out the bugs soon.
  • No fee ($0 annual fee)
  • You can pay for booking fees and taxes with points
  • Points can be purchased for $0.03 per point (cheap!)
  • Travel Rewards have a 100,000 point accrual limit
  • They’ll give you 2500 points on your anniversary (awe how sweet!)

Here’s the chart on how many points you will need for flights:

How far will your points take you?

DestinationsPoints required for return air travel
Flights within or to the next adjoining province, territory or US state15,000
Flights from Canada to the U.S25,000
Flights from Canada to the following:

  • Bahamas
  • Bermuda
  • Mexico
  • Caribbean
  • Hawaii
40,000
Flights from Canada to the following:

  • South America
  • Central America
  • Europe
60,000
Flights from Canada to the following:

  • Asia
  • Middle East
  • Africa
  • Australia
75,000

That works out to be about a 2% return towards hotels, a 2% to 2.5% return on flights depending on how much flights usually cost and where you’re going (I would save up 75,000 points for the flight to Africa or Australia- the most expensive flights available) and a 3% towards paying for taxes and fees and even travel insurance.

For example, an average flight to Kilimanjoro in Tanzania, Africa is about $2500.  If you spend $75000 (about two years of charging everything to the card), you get 75000 points which is enough for a flight to Africa.  Which works out to be a 3.3% return.  Not too shabby for a no fee card.

The Good:

I like that the MBNA Travel Rewards Elite Mastercard has no annual fee.  I like that you have the option of using cashback instead of travel rewards if you wish.  I like how they have a standard point redemption system depending on where you’re going.  I like how there is no “cap” of $30,000 spent like the previous SPG card.  I like how you can book with any airline that you want.

The Bad/ Somewhat Ugly:

The downside is that the flights are only redeemable from a major gateway in Canada so if you live in a small town, you’ll have to find your way to one of the major cities (Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Regina, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City, St. John’s (NF), Halifax, Saint John (NB), Moncton, Charlottetown, Whitehorse and Yellowknife).  For comparison I looked overseas and card holders in Australia can book from any of their cities, hopefully we will soon too.  Sell below for the resource I used:

http://www.hsbc.com.au/1/2/personal/credit-cards/platinum-qantas

I am curious to know if the hotel bookings are using rack rates, because if they are, then that’s not such a great deal because sometimes you can find better deals on hotwire.com or priceline.

And lastly, kind of a moot point, but the new card isn’t as visually sexy to look at as the previous MBNA SPG card.  I used to get compliments all the time about my pretty card.  The new MBNA Travel Rewards Elite card is plain silvery looking with a plane flying around a globe or something.

Not sure if there is an expiry date for the MBNA Travel Rewards Elite points, this is an important factor to consider.

Youngandthrifty’s Verdict:

I was really looking forward to signing up for AMEX’s SPG card, until I saw that there was a $120 annual fee associated with it.  The AMEX Blue Sky and SPG card aren’t readily accepted everywhere in Canada.  So I think for now, I will stick to the  MBNA Travel Rewards Elite and see how it pans out.  In the future, I may also sign up for the Citibank Petropoints Mastercard so I can rack up my Asia Miles… though one has to do ALL the spending on a main card in order to really rack up those points.  I will think about it some more. =)

Depending on where you’re redeeming your flight for, the Citibank Petropoints Mastercard may be better than the MBNA Travel Rewards Elite card and vice versa.

For example:  If you are flying from Vancouver to Las Vegas, with Asia Miles, it will cost 20,000 points.  With the MBNA Travel Rewards Elite card, it will cost 25,000 points.  On the flip side of the coin, if you’re traveling from Vancouver to Melbourne, Australia, with the MBNA Travel Rewards Elite card, it will cost 75,000 points.  With Asia Miles, it will cost 90,000 points.  If traveling from Vancouver to Tokyo, Japan, with Asia Miles it will cost 45,000 points.  With the MBNA Travel Reward Elite card, it will cost 75,000 points.  You get the point.

What do you think of these credit cards?  Any one that piques your interest more so than the others?  Are you a reward card junkie like me?

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