Credit Cards

Money expert Barry Choi reveals his favourite credit cards, loyalty programs and bank accounts

By: Barry Choi on March 18, 2019

As a personal finance expert, I’m often asked about credit cards, loyalty programs, and bank accounts. I’m happy to share what works for me, but it’s important to point out that what you ultimately decide to go with should line up with your personal spending habits and what benefits you prefer. For example, there’s no point in using a travel rewards credit card if you don’t like travelling.

It’s also often worth having more than one credit card or bank account, since they may serve different purposes. There’s nothing wrong with sticking to one program or another, but I like having different options available to me.

With that out of the way, here are my favourite credit cards, loyalty programs, and bank accounts.

Credit cards

I have more than a dozen credit cards. This may seem excessive to some people, but as a credit card expert, I use them for a variety of reasons. These three credit cards are my favourites.

American Express Personal Platinum Card – With an annual fee of $699, many people wouldn’t even consider this card, but I think it’s one of the best travel credit cards out there. I get unlimited airport lounge access and special perks that are available just to Platinum cardholders such as exclusive dining experiences. In addition, the card gives me a $200 annual travel credit, upgraded hotel status, comprehensive travel insurance, and more. The value I get from this card and the experiences more than justifies the annual fee which is why I carry it with me everywhere.

Tangerine Money-Back Card – For those who prefer a credit card without an annual fee, then the Tangerine Money-Back card should be on your radar. The card allows you to select up to three categories where you’ll earn 2% cash-back while all other purchases earn you 0.5%. What’s also unique about this card is how you can claim the cash-back earned as a statement credit or deposited into your Tangerine account every month. That sure beats the once a year option that some other cash-back credit cards offer.

PC Financial World Elite Mastercard – I shop at No Frills and Loblaws a lot so having this card is perfect for me since I earn 3X the PC Optimum points at those stores. When I shop at Shoppers Drug Mart, I earn 4.5X the points which is crazy! PC Optimum is one of the best retail loyalty programs out there — it’s easy to earn and redeem points for groceries or merchandise. Because this is a World Elite Mastercard, you do require a higher personal or household income to qualify for the card, but PC Financial also has two other cards with a lower income requirement which will still allow you to earn extra points.

Loyalty Programs

It seems like every retailer has a loyalty program these days, but my two favourite loyalty programs relate to travel. This shouldn’t surprise anyone since I love to travel, but what I love about travel loyalty programs is how lucrative they can be once you get to know them.

Marriott Bonvoy – As someone who travels often, I try to stick to one hotel chain since I get some great perks with status. The reason I prefer Marriott Bonvoy is that Marriott has 6,500+ properties in more than 120 countries. As a titanium elite member, I get free room upgrades, lounge access, free breakfast, early/late check-in/out, and more points on most of my spending at Marriott properties. These additional perks go a long way. Seriously, nothing beats being upgraded from a studio room to a suite.

WestJet Rewards – In my opinion, WestJet Rewards is the best airline loyalty program out there. Instead of focusing on points and a complicated redemption system, WestJet Rewards allows you to earn WestJet dollars which can be used on WestJet flights. WestJet Rewards has four status tiers: teal, silver, gold, and platinum. As you spend more on WestJet flights and/or vacation packages, your tier status increases. Since the tiers are tied to your spending, you don’t need to worry about segments or miles flown. The benefits of WestJet Rewards are also fantastic since you can get additional perks such as advanced seat selection, lounge access, companion vouchers and more depending on your tier.

Bank accounts

Having a bank account with a digital bank is a must in my opinion since they offer decent interest rates on savings accounts and even sometimes give you a small interest rate for your chequing account. To be realistic, many online banks have similar features, but there are two I like.

EQ Bank – The EQ Plus Savings account is a few years old now and is still quite popular. It offers a high interest rate (currently 2.30%) and gives you unlimited free e-transfers a month. You might think free e-transfers are nothing special, but EQ was one of the first banks to offer them free so it deserves respect for being a pioneer.

Alterna Bank – Another online bank worth mentioning is Alterna Bank which currently has a 2.35% interest rate on their e-High Interest Savings Account. What makes Alterna different is that it offers a TFSA that also pays 2.35% interest, so it’s a good place to park your money if you have a short-term goal in mind.

Illustration by Janine Wong