A Look At The Retooled Scotiabank Gold American Express Card

By Robb Engen | June 7, 2019 |

The Scotiabank Gold American Express card is getting a refresh as of August 1, 2019 and the changes should push this card into the conversation for top travel rewards credit card in Canada. What’s that? A card refresh that actually enhances rewards and adds more value for cardholders? Shocking!

Here’s the summary of positive changes coming to the Scotiabank Gold American Express Card:

  • 5x Scotia Rewards points for every dollar spent on groceries, at restaurants and pubs, and on popular food delivery and subscription services
  • 5x Scotia Rewards points for every dollar spent on entertainment including at movies, theatre, and ticket agencies.
  • 3x Scotia Rewards points for every dollar spent on daily transit, including ride-share, buses, taxis, and subway.
  • 3x Scotia Rewards points for every dollar spent on eligible select streaming services.

The Scotiabank Gold American Express card will also now join the Scotia Passport Visa Infinite in the category of no FX fee cards. Cardholders will no longer pay the 2.5 percent foreign transaction fee on any foreign currency purchases including online shopping or when travelling abroad.

Now for the bad news. The earn rate on gas spending got downgraded during the refresh. Gas is lumped into the “Ride & Drive” category, along with daily transit, and will now pay 3x points instead of 4x points. Not a huge deal, but a downgrade nonetheless.

The annual fee for primary cardholders will also be increased from $99 to $120 as of August 1st. For existing Scotiabank Gold American Express cardholders the new annual fee will take effect on your next anniversary date on or after August 1st, 2019.

Finally, coverage for trip cancellation and trip interruption insurance is being reduced from $2,500 to $1,500. Travel medical insurance is also being reduced for eligible persons age 65 and over – with coverage changing from 10 days down to 3 days. Price protection service will also be discontinued.

Retooled Scotiabank Gold American Express Card

I mentioned this refresh puts the Scotiabank Gold American Express card into the conversation for top travel rewards credit card in Canada. The rewards multipliers on groceries, dining, and entertainment are best in class – 5x points!

The sweetener for this card is the no foreign exchange fees, which puts it into a very select category of a handful of credit cards in Canada that don’t charge 2.5 percent on foreign currency transactions.

Related: How we plan to spend money overseas

The card has typically come with a decent welcome bonus (15,000 to 20,000 points) and at times waived the annual fee in the first year, so we’ll see if Scotia continues to offer that for new applicants post August 1st.

Scotiabank Gold American Express vs. American Express Cobalt Card

The comparison that now comes to mind for the Scotiabank Gold American Express card is the other card to offer 5x points on groceries and dining – the American Express Cobalt card. Both offer tantalizing earn rates on other key spending categories.

With Cobalt you get 5 points for every $1 spent at eligible restaurants, bars, grocery stores and food delivery in Canada. Get 2 points for every $1 spent on eligible transit & gas purchases in Canada and eligible travel purchases. Get 1 point for every $1 in Card purchases everywhere else.

The Scotiabank Gold American Express card stacks up favourably against the American Express Cobalt card when it comes to earn rates on key categories – only falling behind in the travel category.

  Amex Cobalt Scotiabank Gold Amex
Annual fee $120 ($10 per month) $120
Foreign currency conversion 2.5% 0%
Rewards per $1 spent    
Grocery stores 5x 5x
Dining 5x 5x
Entertainment 1x 5x
Gas stations 2x 3x
Daily transit 2x 3x
Travel 2x 1x
Streaming services 1x 3x
Everything else 1x 1x

Summary of changes

In summary, the Scotiabank Gold American Express Card gets a significant boost with plus changes to earning points on groceries, dining, entertainment, transit, and streaming services, plus the added benefit of no FX fees. The downside is a $21 increase to its annual fee, a slight reduction in earnings for gas spending, and a downgrade to its insurance offerings.

Depending what Scotia plans to do with its welcome bonus and first year annual fee, this card should be on every frequent traveller’s radar when the changes take effect August 1st, 2019

How We’re Handling Our Money Situation Overseas

By Robb Engen | June 1, 2019 |

We’re about to take our first trip across the Atlantic – a 32 day family vacation in Scotland and Ireland. Many readers have asked how we’re handling our money situation overseas. Gone are the days of traveler’s cheques, replaced by more convenient methods of payment such as credit cards, debit cards, pre-paid currency cards, and widely accessible ATMs.

We’ll be using a mix of these methods while travelling in Scotland and Ireland, with the notion to save money on foreign exchange, have easy access to cash when needed, and decrease the risk of one form of payment not being accepted.

Here’s what we’ll be using to spend money overseas:

  • Cash: Small amount of GBP and EUR currency
  • KOHO Prepaid Visa —> Sign up using referral code RCCANADA and get up to 1.5% cashback on all purchases
  • STACK Prepaid MasterCard —> Get $25 free when you download and activate your STACK card through my referral link (click via your mobile device since it’s an app)
  • Scotia Passport Visa Infinite Card —> No foreign currency conversion fees
  • CIBC Air Canada AC Conversion Prepaid Visa —> A single card loaded with up to 10 currencies

Bringing cash overseas

The last thing I want is to take thousands of dollars worth of Pound Sterling and Euros overseas. I also want to avoid dealing with currency exchange counters while travelling abroad as they tend to have the highest exchange rates.

I funnel 95 percent of my spending onto a rewards credit credit card in Canada and I’d like to be able to do the same in Scotland and Ireland.

But I realize not every merchant will accept credit cards, and that certain forms of transportation lend themselves better to using cash. That’s why I plan on taking out a small amount of foreign currency from my Canadian bank before we travel. I’m talking about ~$100 worth of GBP and ~$100 worth of EUR.

Starting our journey with a small amount of cash gives us the flexibility to use it as needed to cover any airport incidentals, tipping, and transportation to our hotel from the airport in Edinburgh.

Using the KOHO Prepaid Visa Card

KOHO prepaid Visa

I signed up for the KOHO card shortly after it launched in Canada and use it for miscellaneous spending. KOHO is a prepaid Visa card, not a credit card, so you pre-load it with funds and then spend down the balance. It comes with a mobile app to track your balance and spending. It’s also compatible with Apple Pay.

I’ll be honest, there were two reasons I signed up for KOHO. One was to get up to $60 in free cash (use referral code RCCANADA), plus another $20 when I referred my wife to the card. But second, and more importantly, was for this upcoming trip overseas.

I wanted to save money on foreign exchange and KOHO only charges 1.5 percent on foreign transactions versus 3.5 percent that banks and credit card issuers charge.

I’ve simply loaded up the card with money (via e-Transfer) and now I can use it abroad at any ATM with a Visa Plus sign, or at any merchant that accepts Visa. You’ll get real time notifications in Canadian Dollars, so you’ll always be on top of your spending.

The biggest advantage as a prepaid Visa card is that I can preload it with a set amount and know that I can’t overspend or get into debt if we get carried away on our trip. I also like the fact that I can use it like a Visa, or withdraw cash from an ATM as needed.

Read my full KOHO review over on Boomer & Echo.

Using the STACK Prepaid MasterCard

STACK prepaid MC

Along the same lines as KOHO, STACK is a prepaid MasterCard that will help you save on foreign exchange fees while travelling abroad. Use STACK world-wide wherever MasterCard is accepted. Access your cash anywhere without paying ATM withdrawal fees – although you may incur a fee from the machine itself – and pay zero transaction fees when making purchases outside of Canada.

Get $25 free when you download and activate your STACK card through my referral link.

Note that STACK ran into some problems with its card provider and so those who signed up earlier in the year may not have received their cards yet. I’m told card printing resumed in mid-May so those delays should be caught up soon.

I’ll use STACK overseas in the same way as KOHO – preloading a set amount ahead of time and then use it like a MasterCard or withdraw cash at an ATM if needed.

Why carry two prepaid cards? Well, for one I’d like to try them both out firsthand so I can report back on the pros and cons of using them in a real-life situation overseas. And, two, it’s frankly a hedge in case one of them does not work as advertised.

Scotia Passport Visa Infinite Card

I signed up for the Scotia Passport Visa Infinite Card last summer. The main draw is that it’s one of the few credit cards in Canada that comes with no foreign transaction fees. I also couldn’t pass up the amazing welcome offer of up to 40,000 Scotia Rewards points and six free airport lounge passes!

I plan on using this card for the majority of our spending on groceries, dining, transportation, and at major attractions that accept credit cards. I’ll try and save the prepaid cards for miscellaneous spending and for withdrawing cash as necessary.

With the Scotia Passport Visa Infinite card I’ll not only save on foreign currency mark-up (other credit cards charge 2.5 percent), I’ll also earn 2 Scotia Rewards points for every dollar spent at eligible grocery stores and on dining, entertainment, and daily transit purchases (including buses, subways, taxis, etc.).

CIBC Air Canada AC Conversion Prepaid Visa

CIBC Air Canada® AC conversion™ Visa* Prepaid Card

File this one under, why the heck not? I signed up for the AC Conversion Card specifically to try it out for this trip. I like that it can hold a variety of foreign currencies so I can spend in the local currency like a debit card. Again, it’s a prepaid Visa card so you preload it with a set amount and then spend down the balance.

The ten currencies you can load onto the card are: U.S. Dollars, Euros, British Pounds, Australian Dollars, Japanese Yen, Hong Kong Dollars, Turkish Lira, Swiss Franc, Mexican Pesos and Canadian Dollars.

You can load the card through their website or mobile app and the funds show up instantly, ready for immediate use. I used the Scotia Passport Visa Infinite card to load $100 worth of GBP and $100 of EUR onto my AC Conversion Card so I’m ready to try it out on the trip.

For those wondering, loading the card from my Scotia Visa did not count as a cash advance – it posted as a regular purchase.

I’ll be sure to report back on how it worked when I get back from my trip. You can sign up here for the CIBC Air Canada AC Conversion Prepaid Visa card.

Final thoughts on spending money overseas

It takes some creativity to figure out how to best handle spending money in a foreign currency abroad. Carrying too much cash puts you at risk for theft and loss. Not carrying any cash is risky because your credit card might not be accepted at certain merchants or your credit card issuer may lock your account if they suspect suspicious activity (like trying to make purchases in a foreign country).

Finally, while ATMs likely give the best exchange rate compared to foreign currency counters, you need to make sure to check the debit card network to make sure your card is compatible. You also might have a daily cash withdrawal limit that could cause problems when trying to access cash overseas.

For all of these reasons I’m taking precautions and using five different methods of payment during our month-long trip to Scotland and Ireland. I want to make sure we can spend money without any hassle, save money when possible on foreign exchange, and limit the amount of cash I carry to protect us from theft or loss.

How do you handle spending money abroad in the U.K. and Europe?

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