Hands up who saw this coming? Okay so that’s one, two, three, four… pretty much all of you then.
Last year, JP Morgan Chase Bank announced their withdrawal from the Canadian market by closing off their two remaining credit cards – the Amazon.ca Visa Card and the Marriott Rewards Premier Visa Card – to new applicants. Existing cards remained functional, and cardholders were informed they’d be “grandfathered” for the time being (i.e., they’d still be able to make purchases and earn rewards on their cards as usual).
Well, it looks like all of that is coming to an end as well, since Chase has confirmed that both the Amazon.ca and Marriott Visas will be operationally discontinued on March 15, 2018.
What’s Happening to the Amazon.ca Visa?
This page on the Chase website provides the full details on what’s happening, and I imagine that existing cardholders will be contacted by mail as well.
Back in its heyday, the Amazon.ca card was an excellent card to obtain and keep around forever, since it didn’t the 2.5% foreign transaction fee that the big Canadian banks like to charge, you’d get a solid 1% return on purchases, and there was also no annual fee to pay. The optimal strategy for foreign purchases was therefore to always use your Amazon.ca card.
Unfortunately, the card was axed before I ever got around to writing about it, but existing cardholders have still been able to take advantage of the card’s features in the meantime. On March 15, however, the card will no longer be usable for purchases, and all remaining reward points will be cashed out.
Normally, what happens with the rewards points on this card is that a cash-out is automatically initiated when you reach 2,000 points, resulting in a $20 statement credit. It appears that on March 15, any remaining points will be cashed out in similar fashion. If you had a zero balance previously, chances are you’ll end up receiving a cheque in the mail for a small credit balance.
You’ll still have to pay any remaining balance, and customer support will still be available using the phone number on the back of your card. As it turns out, for the last year or so, Scotiabank has been providing the customer service for the Chase credit cards on a contract basis, and will continue to do so as some customers pay down their balances over time.
What’s Happening to the Marriott Card?
This is where the news may come as a bit of a surprise, since the Marriott card was only closed off to new applicants as recently as September of last year. Nevertheless, I spoke to Chase about this card, and was informed that it, too, will be ending as of March 15, 2018.
Not only was the Marriott Visa a similarly excellent choice for foreign transactions, it was a great way to rack up Marriott Rewards points as well, and its consistent first-year fee waiver made it a favourite among “churners”.
As you’d expect, the points you’ve earned on the card will remain with Marriott Rewards, since they’re transferred to the hotel rewards program on a monthly basis. Meanwhile, I also asked Chase about the Category 1-5 free night certificate that cardholders receive on their one-year anniversary of holding the card. After consulting an internal memo, the representative confirmed that the certificate will be awarded after March 15, 2018, even if your first-year anniversary falls after this date.
The representative wasn’t sure when exactly the certificate would be awarded, since the memo only confirmed that it was to be awarded, by Marriott Rewards, after March 15. If I were to venture a guess, I’d say that it’ll arrive in your account a few weeks after that date.
It seems to me, then, that the optimal strategy for those of you holding the card whose first-year card anniversaries fall after March 15, is simply to hold onto the card until it gets closed by Chase, since it's looking like you’ll be able to score a free hotel night out of it. In my opinion, this is only fair since the annual free night certificate was marketed as a huge selling point of the card.
If your card anniversary is coming up before March 15, I’d say that, given the card is becoming defunct, you have good chances of claiming your free hotel night and then getting a pro-rated refund on your annual fee for the following year. And if you don’t want to chance that, there are numerous data points of people receiving their free hotel night and then cancelling the card within 30 days of the annual fee posting, thereby receiving a full refund.
In any case, as with the Amazon.ca card, there will continue to be full customer support available on the Marriott Visa for some time to come, so you’re free to resolve any issues even after the credit card ends for good.
Unlike the Amazon.ca card, however, I haven’t been able to find official communication from Chase on the matter, other than the word of customer service representatives (although I’d imagine cardholders should be contacted by mail relatively soon). If anyone receives conflicting information, please do share in the comments so that we can establish a full picture.
This leaves American Express’s SPG Card, Business SPG Card, and Cobalt Card as the only good ways of earning points in the combined Marriott/SPG rewards program for now. The stage is set for a brand new Marriott credit card in Canada, hopefully sooner rather than later…
Other No FX Fee Cards
One of the most worthwhile reasons to get the Chase cards was the ability to spend in foreign currency without taking an extra 2.5% hit. With these cards being phased out soon, which options remain for Canadians who fancy the occasional spending spree in euros, kroner, or reais?
The Home Trust Preferred Visa, which hasn't really been on anyone's radar so far, seems to be a potential like-for-like replacement for the Amazon.ca card. With no annual fee, 1% cashback on all purchases, and no FX fees, I just might grab one of these cards and funnel all of my foreign purchases through it. Free enrollment in the Roadside Assist program is a nice perk as well.
While the Rogers Platinum MasterCard and the Fido MasterCard both charge a 2.5% FX fee, they also give you 4% back on purchases made in a foreign currency, meaning that you receive net cash back of 1.5% on all your FX spending. That's not bad at all, and these cards can also be handy to have around if you're a Rogers or Fido customer.
The HSBC Premier World Elite MasterCard doesn't charge FX fees, and also offers 3 HSBC Rewards points per dollar spent, which can be transferred to other frequent flyer programs like British Airways Avios, Asia Miles, and Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer. However, you do need to have considerable assets with HSBC to be considered eligible for this card.
Another viable option is to use your US credit cards, if you've gotten started in that space. The majority of premium travel cards in the US don't charge FX fees, and also allow you to earn more powerful rewards on your foreign spending. With services like VBCE, Knightsbridge, or TransferWise, you can keep your overall risk-neutral FX cost as low as 1%. There's also certain ways to achieve better-than-spot FX rates with these services...
Goodbye, Chase Canada, it was nice knowing you. Thanks for putting up a decent fight in our tricky, sparsely populated market, and for giving us a few great years of easy Marriott points and convenient FX solutions. The Marriott Rewards credit card baton will hopefully be passed on to another issuer relatively soon, and for existing cardholders, I'm sure the parting gift of one final free night certificate is something we'll come to appreciate.