As the fiscal year draws to a close, many Canadian banks take this time to reassess and reissue their credit card products.
Over at RBC, we have seen a 450 WestJet Dollar welcome bonus on the WestJet RBC World Elite Mastercard, as well as free DoorDash Dashpass memberships for cardholders. CIBC has seen fit to provide record signup incentives of up to 45,000 Aventura points on the CIBC Aventura Visa Infinite Card.
Meanwhile, BMO has instead opted to retool one of their older products. In this case, they’ve revamped their now-aging BMO World Elite Mastercard product, which earns rewards in the bank’s eponymous BMO Rewards points.
Let’s get into the details, and see if the changes ascend to the level this product’s new name would have us believe.
The BMO World Elite Mastercard: What It Offers Right Now
Right now, the BMO World Elite Mastercard is bare-bones in its simplicity. As with all World Elite Mastercards, it has the same $80,000 minimum personal income or $150,000 minimum household income requirement.
Bundled with these more exclusive income requirements are a dedicated concierge line and robust travel, purchase protection, and extended warranty insurance.
BMO’s travel insurance coverage remains one of the most competitive on the market, because their underwriter’s policies cover both paid and reward tickets.
On the earning side, the BMO World Elite Mastercard currently earns:
- 3 BMO Rewards points per dollar spent on travel, dining, and entertainment purchases
- 2 BMO Rewards points per dollar spent on all other purchases
- A bonus 2 BMO Rewards points per dollar spent on National and Alamo car rentals, giving those niche services an effective 4x multiplier
Considering that BMO Rewards points are worth only 0.67 cents per point (cpp) within BMO’s internal travel portal, this means that the card effectively earns 2.16% on travel, dining, and entertainment, and only 1.33% on everything else.
For travel perks, the BMO World Elite Mastercard also provides four complimentary lounge passes every year for Mastercard LoungeKey participants. Although not as comprehensive as competitors such as Priority Pass or the American Express Global Lounge Collection, LoungeKey does offer its own set of airport restaurant and lounge access choices.
Overall, the BMO Mastercard World Elite package is a bit more “old school” than many contemporary Canadian credit cards, which tend to have accelerated earn rates in multiple categories and a lower one outside of them.
For example, the BMO eclipse Infinite Visa could be seen as BMO attempting to get with the times, with its 5x earning rate on grocery, gas, and dining. There is also a $50 lifestyle credit to offset the $120 annual fee, on top of its lower minimum personal and household income requirements.
At $150 a year, the BMO World Elite Mastercard looks due for a refresh. And coming on May 3, 2022, it will indeed be getting one.
The New BMO Ascend World Elite Mastercard
The first thing being modified will be the name: this product will henceforth be rechristened the BMO Ascend World Elite Mastercard. But, will the product live up to this name?
In terms of lounge benefits and the strong insurances that BMO is famous for, it appears that nothing will change. You’ll continue to receive four lounge passes per year, and the certificate of insurance is set to remain the same.
The biggest changes will come in the form of the new earning rates:
- 5 BMO Rewards points per dollar spent on travel, up to $15,000 spent per year, for an effective 3.67% return.
- 3 BMO Rewards points per dollar spent on dining and entertainment, up to $10,000 spent per year in each category, for an effective 2.16% return.
- 3 BMO Rewards points per dollar spent on recurring bill payments (Netflix, utility bills, etc.), up to $10,000 spent per year, for an effective 2.16% return.
- 1 BMO Rewards point per dollar spent on all other purchases, for an effective 0.67% return.
The annual fee is set to remain at $150, albeit frequently waived in the first year as an incentive to sign up.
Finally, the sleek new designs of the BMO eclipse Visa Infinite and the BMO CashBack World Elite Mastercard would indicate that a physical facelift to the BMO Ascend World Elite Mastercard is a very real possibility.
Does the BMO Ascend… Ascend?
For my money, these changes to the BMO World Elite Mastercard sound like a clear devaluation. Even before addressing the spending caps, the base earn rate outside of category specific spend has been reduced from the current 1.33% to a paltry 0.67%.
This card continues to have a $150 annual fee. This would mean that in a year in which you have to pay the fee, you’d need $22,400 in uncategorized spending just to break even!
When we look at the other categories, it seems clear to me that BMO wishes for this card to be their flagship “travel” product. I can see a bit of a logic to this, as using this card for the taxes and fees on an Aeroplan reward flight will cover that itinerary with their robust insurance.
However, even with 5x BMO Rewards points on travel, I can’t see why one would want to use this card over a dedicated travel product with a stronger rewards currency, like the American Express Platinum Card, when paying fully out-of-pocket.
When we look at the other categories, we also see that dining and entertaining excludes the grocery category. This is a major oversight in the current credit card market, which includes grocery-friendly products such as the American Express Cobalt Card and BMO’s own eclipse Visa Infinite!
Worse yet, the annual spending caps on the new World Elite Ascend Mastercard are lower than on the eclipse product line.
Whereas the eclipse Visa Infinite offers a $50,000 annual cap on its 5x category (which includes groceries), the Ascend caps out at only $15,000 on travel per annum!
But what about the dining, entertainment, and recurring bill payment categories? Well, these max out at only $10,000 apiece.
So, when bundled with the travel category, you have a maximum of $45,000 in categorized spend, which again is $5,000 less than the BMO eclipse Visa Infinite.
Moreover, when you consider maxing out the category caps, you could earn up to 250,000 BMO Rewards points per year with the BMO eclipse Visa Infinite. At 0.67cpp, that equals $1,675 of value.
On the new BMO Ascend World Elite Mastercard, the maximum number of BMO Rewards points you can earn through category spending is 135,000, worth only $904.50.
I’m sorry, but I think the recent card redesigns at the Bank of Montreal need a little bit more scrutiny during their research and development phase.
It’s hard for us as consumers to see the value proposition of the new and refreshed Ascend World Elite Mastercard, and this appears to be another instance in a long-running series of BMO missing out on good opportunities to properly compete in the Canadian credit card market.
For my money, BMO’s upcoming rebranding of its BMO World Elite Mastercard seems to follow a theme we’ve seen time and again: one of devaluations and attempts to short-change customers.
Indeed, these changes are quite baffling to me upon further inspection. Why would BMO offer a card that is objectively a worse performer than another in their own stable, while levying a higher annual fee?
It’s a huge shame, as BMO does offer some excellent insurance perks that at least keep it in the conversation, but it appears to be stumbling once again on the more meaningful fronts.
Here’s hoping BMO soon changes course down this path of continuously devaluing their credit card portfolio into oblivion, although I’m not holding my breath.