If you are looking for a fairly straightforward travel rewards credit card, I’d say the Scotiabank Gold Amex is a good bet. An improved sign-up offer has recently been released and travel prospects are looking better every day. Although this blog is not a credit card review site, I have personal experience with this card so I’ll just share my perspective as a budget traveller and points enthusiast.
Scotiabank Gold Amex
As I talked about in Starting From Scratch: Earning Points For A Low Cost Trip, you should work back from your travel goal and structure your points and miles approach around that objective. Take some time to familiarize yourself with the various credit cards to see what will work best. Just because one has a great welcome offer doesn’t mean it’s right for you.
There are numerous resources online that explain all the features of this card in much greater detail but I’ll go through a few of the highlights to hopefully give you an idea of whether this one might fit into your plans.
Although this is an Amex credit card, the issuer is Scotiabank – not American Express. You do not need to be a Scotiabank client to apply for this card, however if you do bank with Scotiabank and have the Ultimate Package, the annual fee can be waived.
How do you earn points with the card?
The Scotiabank Gold Amex earns Scotia Rewards points at the following rates per dollar spent:
5x at eligible grocery stores, restaurants, drinking establishments, food delivery and meal subscriptions
5x on eligible entertainment purchases
3x on gas, daily transit, rideshare, taxi
3x on select streaming services
1x on everything else
The Scotiabank website includes a rewards calculator where you can enter detailed spending information to see how many Scotia Rewards you’d earn in a year using each of their credit cards.
How do you redeem Scotia Rewards points for travel?
Points are worth 1 cent each (1000 = $10) and you need at least 5000 to redeem.
There are two main ways to use points for travel:
1. Book through the Scotia Rewards Travel Service, or
2. Use the “Apply Points to Travel” feature that allows you to redeem them against travel you booked on your own with card up to 12 months after the purchase.
New Sign-Up Offer
Until August 31, 2021 you’ll receive 30,000 Scotia Rewards points when you spend $1000 in the first three months after approval. If you spend at least $7500 in your first year with the card you’ll receive an additional 10,000 points.
Those 40,000 points represent $400 in value if redeemed for travel.
The annual fee is $120 or $79 for seniors.
Great Canadian Rebates $120 Rebate (till April 30, 2021)
There is a super opportunity to nearly wipe out the first year’s annual fee. When you apply for the card through Great Canadian Rebates you’ll receive a $100 rebate (redeemable in various forms). This offer is a temporary boost compared to the regular rebate amount. It’s possible it could be extended or raised again before Scotiabank’s 40,000 point promotion expires, but for now, the key date is March 31st if you want the $100 rebate. [UPDATE: the rebate has increased to $120 and has been extended to April 30, 2021]
Pros & Cons of the Scotiabank Gold Amex
Like any rewards credit card, there are positives and negatives you’ll need to weigh before taking the plunge.
I’ll start with a few of the positives first…
1. Reward Flexibility
Scotia Rewards points are extremely flexible because one can redeem them for almost any travel purchases charged to the card. Many other bank issued travel points require users to book through their travel service in order to get the best value for the points.
If you’re a frugal traveller, you’ll want to be able so snag good deals wherever you find them which often means booking directly with a travel provider. This card aligns well with that approach.
For example, if there’s a lucrative hotel loyalty promotion from IHG, Choice, Hilton etc. that would yield a sizeable number of bonus points, having to book via a site like TD For Expedia would mean losing out on that opportunity.
In my opinion, this is where the card really shines. I’ve used my points for taxes and fees on Aeroplan bookings and for onsite hotel stays at Universal Orlando where you need to book direct to get the best deals including the terrific seasonal pass discount.
Further, you can redeem points for a travel purchase up to 12 months after it was made with the card. So, you can work on increasing your balance for quite a while before making the redemption.
2. Elevated Earning Rates
A big selling point of the Scotiabank Gold Amex is how many extra points you can earn from everyday expenses like groceries and gas. And you can buy gift cards for other retailers at the grocery store to indirectly get the 5x elsewhere as well. (This could also include gift cards for travel companies like Disney, Air Canada, Hotels.com etc.)
(For spending that doesn’t fall into a multiplier category, consider getting another credit card to earn points at a better rate. You’ll likely need to have a MasterCard or Visa in your wallet anyway for all the places that don’t accept Amex.)
3. Reduced Annual Fee For Seniors
As far as I’m aware, not many credit cards offer a lower annual fee for seniors. This card is only $79 for the 65 and over set compared to $120. If you are a senior or know a senior into points and miles, this could tip the balance toward getting the card.
(Unfortunately, they cut the travel medical insurance down to only 3 days versus 25 days for non-seniors on this card. Check the Scotiabank website for the full details on all the insurance benefits included with the card.)
4. Low minimum income requirement
Compared to other rewards credit card types like Visa Infinite ($60,000) or World Elite MasterCard ($80,000) available from various financial institutions, the $12,000 minimum income required for the Scotiabank Gold Amex is much more accessible.
6. No Foreign Exchange Fees
Unlike most other Canadian credit cards, the Scotiabank Gold Amex does not charge a 2.5% fee for transactions made in a foreign currency. Depending on how much travelling you do outside Canada, this could amount to a decent savings.
7. Amex Offers
Amex puts out occasional deals and for cardmembers for shopping at certain retailers. You need to register your card online for each individual offer. Note that sometimes there is a limit on the number of people who can sign up for certain offers. Other than the Shop Small event that incentivizes purchasing from local businesses, I haven’t noticed too many exciting Amex offers available around here but it’s still a nice feature of the card.
Now on to some negatives…
1. Amex Acceptance
Here in Nova Scotia I’d say Amex acceptance is pretty good. A notable exception is Atlantic Superstore. But by and large, you’ll be able to use the Scotiabank Gold Amex quite freely. Of course, you’ll need a non-Amex for the places that do not accept it.
(Having another rewards credit card might mean having another annual fee but you could of course alternate your non-Amex yearly to take advantage of interesting sign-up offers from other cards that include a first year fee waiver.)
2. Less Exciting Rewards
The reason I characterize the points as “less exciting” is because you can’t really dream big. When you collect points like Aeroplan, Air Miles etc. it’s possible to get outsized value for them depending on the specific redemption opportunity or sweet spot.
For example, say you have family near London, Ontario who you’d like to invite home to Nova Scotia for Christmas. Right now the cheapest flight from YXU to Halifax connecting in Toronto or Montreal is $755 (Saturday, December 18 – Saturday, January 1) but in Air Miles it’s only 2200 miles + $149 in taxes and fees round trip. It’s obviously much better value to use miles than Scotia Rewards.
Scotia Rewards points with their fixed value are always worth the same amount. It’s wonderful when you find a bargain and can conserve your points but not so great when cash prices are high.
Fortunately, you can diversify your points portfolio by participating in more than one program and use each point currency selectively to maximize value.
3. Annual Fee
Annual fees are very common on popular rewards credit cards. While there are typically sufficient benefits included in the card to justify the fee, I know there are folks out there who detest annual fees. That’s a hurdle you’ll have to overcome if you otherwise like the card but fall into that group.
In my view, in addition to the good earning rate with category multipliers and the flexible nature of the points, the travel medical insurance represents a real savings because I usually buy a multi-trip policy every year anyway. And although I hope never to need any of the other travel insurance benefits included with the card, they are definitely reassuring to have.
4. Covid Uncertainty
Even though prospects are looking up with the approval of new vaccines and improved timelines for vaccine distribution, there remains a cloud of uncertainty over the future of leisure travel, at least in the near term. Accumulating travel rewards might seem like a fruitless exercise when you can’t formulate any definite trip plans yet.
I’d say if you can summon some optimism, now is a good time to start stockpiling points for that trip that you’ll surely be able to take eventually. When the time comes that you can travel outside the province, region or country, it would be so great if you can make it happen at a low cost.
In my opinion, the Scotiabank Gold Amex is an excellent credit card for anyone who prioritizes flexibility in travel rewards, regularly shops at merchants that take Amex and is open to supplementing it with another good rewards card for the places that don’t.
If you’re considering the card, I suggest reading some of the more comprehensive reviews of Scotia Rewards on the various websites that discuss Canadian credit cards. Compare it to other options like the Amex Cobalt which offers similar category multipliers or cards that include features that might be better suited to your specific needs, preferences, or spending habits.