Credit is a fantastic tool when used wisely. Choosing the right revolving credit facilities for your needs is an ongoing process that I both enjoy, and have benefited from over the years. Which card will provide the best return through points, air miles, or cash back rewards? Which card will bring more value through services I’d otherwise pay for such as travel insurance, emergency health coverage, or the concierge service that helped plan my engagement years ago? For me, the Amazon.ca Rewards Visa was about more than rewards or included services it was about lowering my cost of spending by 2.5% when outside of Canada. Here’s why you should consider adding the Amazon.ca Visa to your wallet:
First, some context.
The cost of a foreign transaction (using your Canadian card to pay in USD or any non-CAD currency) is 2.5% on almost all Canadian credit cards. Most don’t realize this fee even exists as it’s wrapped into the exchange rate and conversion shown on the monthly statement. In other words, it’s hidden. If you were to spend $5,000 in foreign currency per year over 10-years on your credit card (in the US through online purchases or while traveling anywhere outside of Canada) this would equate to savings of $1,250. That’s enough for roundtrip airfare for 3 to China or if invested $125 of that was invested annually at a 10% return, you’d be left with $2,191.40 after 10-years. No matter how you spin it, if there’s a way to avoid the 2.5% with zero cost to you, why wouldn’t you?
Currently, there are two Canadian cards that do not charge a foreign exchange fee: Amazon’s Rewards Visa and the Marriott Rewards Premier Visa. After reviewing the Mariott card in detail, I opted for the Amazon fee due to the fact that: 1) I rarely stay at Mariott’s, 2) My primary rewards card today is RBC’s Infinite Avion and spreading rewards across cards does not prove effective under most circumstances and 3) I try to avoid fees unless they make sense (the Marriott has a $120/annual fee while the Amazon has none).
Other options include a Canadian US currency Credit Card however typically these cards do not offer rewards and require that you have a USD account to make payments from. This adds complexity to the situation and personally, I want my rewards! For the past few years, I’ve used my US-based Bank of America Rewards Visa for a few years now to avoid the foreign exchange fee however the inconvenience of having to buy USD, and then to physically take it down to US drove me to the Amazon.ca Rewards Visa.
The Amazon card offers the following features that are worth noting:
- $20 Gift Card for Amazon.ca for signing up
- No Annual Fee
- 2 points per $1 spent on Amazon.ca (auto redemption on amazon.ca at a credit of $20 per 2000 points)
- 1 point per $1 spent everywhere else (auto redemption on amazon.ca at a credit of $20 per 2000 points)
- No Foreign Transaction Fees
While exchange rates still apply, what most don’t consider is the fact that Visa’s exchange rates are, under most circumstances, always going to be sharper than any bank regardless of your relationship with them or how much currency you buy annually. Visa’s rates will typically be as close to the actual exchange as you can get short of trading forex. This is attractive.
Both myself and my wife have been using our cards now for roughly 1-month. Here are the extras you won’t read about on Amazon’s site about their card:
- Their online portal is very dated and appears to be based on the same platform as PC Financial’s Mastercard backend (for those that have or currently use a PC Mastercard). While this certainly shouldn’t be a showstopper for anyone, it is not an easy-to-navigate interface and offers few features beyond basics.
- Account alerts are available, though very basic in nature. Here is an example of an alert: “You have asked us to e-mail you when the balance for your account ending in XXXX is greater than the amount you specified on Chase Canada Online. The balance for your account is now greater than this amount. If you want to view your balance, please sign in to Chase Canada Online at http://online.chasecanada.ca and refer to the Account Summary page. If you want to check the balance amount you set for this alert or change or turn off this alert, please refer to the Alerts Manager page on Chase Canada Online.” Not overly informative if you have multiple accounts you’re tracking.
- Online account history is available however formal online statements are not. For those of you trying to go paperless, this Chase-backed card will not offer you that luxury. While you’ll be able to sign in to see recent transactions, due dates, balances, or monthly history, you will continue to receive paper statements and online reports do not appear to offer the 7-year history us Canadian’s require.
- Pre-authorized Debit (PAD) is not supported. Typically I set up all of my credit cards to pay off the full balance from the previous month’s statement automatically on the due date. This offers me the convenience of automatic payments on the actual date that the statement is due and not a day before allowing me to maximize the credit card grace period.
- Customer service over the phone has been good for the most part. Customer service via their secure messaging service through their online portal has left much to be desired. I rely on secure messaging when traveling abroad due to time-zone differences and the cost and convenience of making phone calls while traveling.
If you spend any significant amount on non-CAD currency transactions on a regular basis, this is definitely a card to consider. With no annual fee, 1% “cash back” rewards on all purchases, and an overall cost saving of 2.5% on all foreign transactions, I’m willing to compromise on the downsides mentioned above for this card. It’s a winner in my books.
Were you aware of the 2.5% fee on all foreign transactions? How do you get around it (or do you)? Leave your comments below!