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Part 1: Getting Started with Credit Cards

To the point

Before analyzing the different loyalty programs, learn the basics about credit cards: credit card networks, card types, fees, benefits, credit history and which credit card to start with!

Credit card networks

There are three major networks on the market:

  • American Express
  • Mastercard
  • Visa

Each of these networks will license its credit card branded products to the banks, and give them a regulatory framework to comply with (minimum income required, fees, etc.).

Each network will offer banks different types of products:

amex logo

Credit cards
Charge cards
No minimum income required for most

mastercard logo

Mastercard (no minimum income)
World Mastercard ($60,000 individual or $100,000 household)
World Elite Mastercard ($80,000 individual or $150,000 household)

visa logo

Classic Visa / Gold / Platinum (no minimum income)
Visa Infinite ($60,000 individual or $100,000 household)
Visa Infinite Privilege ($200,000 household)

Each of these products has different basic features:

  • Minimum individual / household income required
  • Benefits
  • Insurance packages

It is then up to the banks to choose the products they want to offer to their customers.

Some banks will be able to offer cards from different networks (American Express, Mastercard, Visa).

Scotiabank, for example, is the only one to offer credit cards from all three networks!

Then each bank will be able to add:

  • welcome offers
  • benefits for card holders
  • additional insurance warranties

The goal: to make their credit cards more attractive in comparison to their competitors’ cards, and to offer them to their (new) customers!

You now understand why it is really inaccurate to say:

I have a World Elite.

Rather, we will say:

I have the National Bank’s World Elite Mastercard®.

The credit card is a “loss-leader” for a bank: it allows the bank to “attract” new customers from competing institutions!

Different types of cards on the market

You have to understand:

  • classification
  • benefits / perks

Several types of cards are on the market and belong to a class that can be subdivided into several subgroups.

Each credit card network (American Express, Mastercard, Visa) can offer different types of cards

The debit card

With a debit card, money is immediately taken from your checking account when you withdraw cash from an ATM or when you buy something.

The debit card will generally not offer any point-related benefits.

Mastercard and Visa have debit cards.

The credit card

There are credit cards for:

The credit card is not linked to your checking account. This has the great benefit of allowing you to own credit cards from institutions other than your current bank / credit union.

The credit card has limit that is pre-set by the issuer and it allows you to defer payment in relation to the time of purchase.

The balance on a credit card can be carried over from month to month against the payment of a very high interest rate.

In the travel hacking world, YOU MUST fully pay your credit card each month.

The charge card

Some institutions, such as American Express, issue charge cards.

The charge card is not linked to your checking account.

Its limit is unknown to the customer (only the issuer knows it) and it allows you to defer payment in relation to the time of purchase.

The charge card monthly balance MUST be entirely paid each month and cannot be carried forward with an interest rate.

The prepaid card

The three networks offer prepaid cards: you will load the amount you want on it and use in the same way you would use a debit card.

These cards are not really interesting (no way to earn points). They will be used, for example, to load money in foreign currency for a trip.

Example of prepaid cards: BMO U.S. Dollar Mastercard or KOHO Visa Prepaid Card.

The different credit cards

There are just under 200 credit cards in Canada, as you can see in our credit card comparator. ! No wonder you have trouble finding your way around: that’s why milesopedia has set up a comparator and establishes ranks the best credit card offers!

The features differ for each of these cards and various perks such as the following exist:

  • a warranty when your card is stolen or lost
  • 24-hour customer service in the event of a stolen card, with emergency replacement of this card
  • travel assistance and insurance
  • personal assistance
  • Concierge services

Amidst all the credit cards, several different types of cards exist. We’ve categorized them for you in a sidebar menu on the right, but here are a few:

Our search engine can help you choose the right credit/charge card !

Credit card fees

Annual fees

Annual fees are an integral part of the reward earning process.

All too often we see people make their choices based on this criterion and move towards credit cards with no annual fee. However, they are often wrong to do so: these credit cards have few advantages over those with annual fees.

On the other hand, what you have to watch out for are promotions! Some credit cards offer the first year of membership for free, such as the BMO® AIR MILES® World Elite®* Mastercard®*!

We could divide the annual credit card fees into four types:

TYPE EXAMPLE AVERAGE COSTS
Basic card Visa Classic $0 – $50
Standard card World Mastercard $50 – $120
Premium card World Elite / Visa Infinite $120 – $150
High-end card Visa Infinite Privilege / American Express Platinum $399 – $899

The most interesting cards will often be the standard/premium/high-end cards.

Although there is an annual fee, the benefits obtained (as well as the subscription bonus in the first year) more than compensate for the fees paid!

But it isn’t uncommon for a card without an annual fee to also have an interesting welcome bonus, such as the Best Western Rewards® Mastercard.

Costs related to purchases, withdrawals, transfers

Here, we will talk about the fees charged by your institution in different cases such as:

All of these fees can usually be avoided with good credit card management and with a judicious choice in cards, such as cards with no foreign currency fees.

Interest costs

Points and miles collectors are generally not know to have credit card interest charges!

In fact, if you have unpaid balances on your credit cards, there’s no point in starting to earn reward points: the interest charges you pay will completely cancel out the benefit you get from your credit cards.

It is therefore important to carefully pay your bills at the end of each period and to check that no payment has been forgotten. Interest could run over time if you don’t pay attention to it and compromise your budget or even your credit report.

Should you negotiate your annual fee?

The perks of credit cards

It would be unreal to detail all the perks of credit cards.

As we have seen above, each network has different benefits for their products. The banks then add their own “layer” of additional perks.

Options, therefore, vary depending on the type of card and the issuer (some will therefore be unavailable for some issuers).

However, we can summarise the broad outlines of these benefits in a few points.

Purchase protection

Three examples:

  • Extended Warranty: Double / Triple the retailer’s original manufacturer’s warranty for up to one year by paying for your purchases with an eligible card.
  • Price protection: If you find the same item at a lower price within 60 / 90 days of the purchase charge on your eligible card, you may be refunded the price difference.
  • Purchase protection: Get protection for most items you purchase with your eligible card if your item is damaged or stolen within 90 / 120 days of the purchase date.

Personal assistance

Two examples:

  • Concierge services: Get exclusive and personal assistance when booking dinners and tickets to activities, locating items that are difficult to find, buying and delivering gifts or gettting services for your company.
  • Hot line: Get assistance virtually anytime and anywhere for any questions regarding your card.

Personal protection

Two examples:

  • Zero Liability: Pay only for purchase charges that you have authorized on your card account. You are not responsible for unauthorized purchases.
  • The charge back procedure: It is possible to get a refund for a service / product that was not received and which was charged on the credit card. One can think, for example, of the cancellation of flights by the airline due to unusual circumstances.

Travel assistance

Two examples:

  • International service: Get help virtually anytime and anywhere, in the language of your choice. Use your credit card services to report lost or stolen cards, get emergency card replacement or emergency cash advances, find out where an ATM is or if you have questions about your account.
  • Access to VIP lounges at airports: Depending on the credit card, you may have free or paid access to airport lounges.

Travel coverage: credit card insurance

There are many types insurance coverage:

  • Collision / Damage Insurance for car rentals: This insurance covers the costs of damage or theft of your rental vehicle if you use your eligible credit card to book and pay for the entire cost of the rental.
  • Accident and Medical Emergency Travel Insurance: This insurance protects you and your family in case of accidental death and dismemberment if you purchase your tickets using your credit card. For added peace of mind while traveling, your credit card provides emergency medical coverage anywhere in the world for you, your spouse or dependent children traveling with either parent.
  • Travel Cancellation Insurance: This insurance protects you and your family in the event of lost, non-refundable or unused payments and deposits in the event that your travel is interrupted or cancelled, if you have purchased your tickets using your eligible credit card.
  • Baggage delay insurance:This insurance reimburses the purchase of basic personal or business items should the arrival of your checked baggage from a public carrier be delayed, if you have paid for the purchase of your tickets using an eligible credit card.
  • Insurance against damage or loss of luggage:This insurance reimburses you for the repair or replacement of your registered suitcases or carry-on bags that have been damaged or lost by your common carrier and you have paid the full cost of your transportation tickets using your eligible credit card.
  • Hotel or motel burglary insurance:This insurance provides a refund for the loss of your personal belongings due to burglary in your hotel or motel room. Your stay at the hotel must have been paid in full by the means of an eligible credit card.

Insurance will differ greatly depending on the type of card and the issuer. Check all coverage options before applying for a card or going on a trip!

Special offers to cardholders

Some card will offer experiences and offers.

Some credit card holders will take advantage of exceptional offers from high-end retailers, hotels, airlines.

To help you choose the right credit card or charge card, use our credit card comparator! It is possible to filter according to your personal or family income!

The credit report

When applying for a credit card, the card issuer will check your credit report and review your credit score which represents your current financial situation.

Two institutions will provide this information: Equifax and Transunion.

A credit history will compile information such as:

  • your current credit (mortgage, car loans, etc)
  • your employment history
  • your debts (such as late payments, bounced cheques, accounts transferred to a collection agency, judgments, bankruptcies, etc.)

It is important to know that a credit card application will only count for 10% in your credit score.

80% of your credit score is based on:

  • your payment habits (35%)
  • your credit usage ratio (30%)
  • your credit history (15%)

You should know that information can be kept for six years in your file:

  • negative information (e.g. late payment) can affect your credit rating for many years
  • positive information will improve your credit rating over the long term (timely payments, multiple cards approved, etc).

To improve your score, we will always suggest that you pay your balances as soon as you can rather than wait until the end of your card billing cycle!

To conclude, credit card issuers want to know:

  • whether you’re a good or bad customer
  • if you have debts
  • if other institutions have (successfully) granted you credit

As you will understand, keeping a low profile is recommended if your score has been impacted. We must learn to pay our debts and our bills before applying for a new credit card !

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