In this edition of Head-to-Head, let’s compare two of the best no foreign transaction fee credit cards in Canada: the Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card and the HSBC World Elite Mastercard.
If you’re a frequent flyer and looking to minimize fees when travelling abroad, which No FX card offers the best value? We’ll compare the cards using a range of criteria to determine which card ultimately comes out ahead.
Let’s kick things off by looking at some of the essentials when considering a credit card: welcome bonuses, annual fees, and earning rates.
1. Welcome Bonus
First and foremost, let’s look at the welcome bonuses, which is one of the most compelling factors when deciding between two credit cards. The Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card and the HSBC World Elite Mastercard differ quite a bit with their welcome offerings.
The Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card currently has a welcome bonus of 25,000 Scene+ points (worth $250), which are rewarded upon spending $1,000 in the first three months.
(The card also rewards an additional 10,000 Scene+ points each year upon spending $40,000, but this higher-volume spend may be cumbersome and better allocated elsewhere.)
Historically, we’ve seen welcome offers of up to 35,000 Scene+ points on the card, as well as the occasional First Year Free deal.
On the other hand, the HSBC World Elite Mastercard has a more complex welcome offer, which varies for Canadians who live in Quebec and outside of Quebec.
The welcome offer is generally broken down into multiple chunks, which are granted upon approval, upon completing a minimum spend, upon adding an authorized user, and upon renewing the card for a second year.
Outside of Quebec, there’s typically a First Year Free promotion offered for new signups. Meanwhile, Quebecers don’t get a first-year fee waiver, but generally get a higher welcome bonus with no minimum spend to compensate.
At the moment, new cardholders can earn a total of 80,000 HSBC Rewards points if they live outside of Quebec or 110,000 HSBC Rewards points if they live in Quebec, worth $400+ either way.
This is slightly lower than the all-time-best welcome offer of 100,000–130,000 HSBC Rewards points, which typically tends to be offered during the winter season.
Verdict: The HSBC World Elite Mastercard has a superior welcome offer at 80,000–110,000 points, depending on whether you live in Quebec or elsewhere in Canada. Historically, the HSBC World Elite has also tended to put on better welcome bonuses than the Scotia Passport as well.
2. Annual Fee
The Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card has an annual fee of $139. We’ve seen First Year Free offers in the past; however, none are on offer at the moment.
Furthermore, on October 1, 2022, the annual fee for this card is increasing to $150.
The HSBC World Elite Mastercard’s annual fee is slightly higher at $149. Non-Quebec residents usually benefit from a First Year Free, while residents of Quebec must pay the annual fee in the first year.
Verdict: Even as the HSBC World Elite Mastercard’s annual fee is slightly higher, most Canadians will benefit from a First Year Free waiver. Furthermore, the Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card’s annual fee is increasing imminently to essentially match its opponent’s annual fee.
Therefore, with the potential for a First Year Free offer, the HSBC World Elite Mastercard comes out ahead.
3. Earning Rates
The HSBC World Elite Mastercard has a two-tier earning structure:
- 6 HSBC Rewards points per dollar spent on eligible travel expenses
- 3 HSBC Rewards points per dollar spent on all other purchases
Every 200 HSBC Rewards points can be redeemed towards $1 in travel purchases, which sets their baseline value at a minimum of 0.5 cents per point (cpp).
You’ll therefore earn a 3% return on travel purchases and 1.5% return on all other purchases for purchases made with the HSBC World Elite Mastercard.
On the other hand, the Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card will offer the following earning structure as of October 1, 2022:
- 3 Scene+ points per dollar spent at Sobeys-affiliated grocery stores (new as of October 1)
- 2 Scene+ points per dollar spent at other grocery stores, dining, entertainment, and transit
- 1 Scene+ point per dollar spent on all other purchases
Scene+ points have a set value of 1cpp, earning a 2% return on groceries, dining, entertainment, and transit, and a 1% return on all other spending, including travel. As of October 1, 2022, the earning rate will increase to 3% at Sobeys-affiliated grocery stores.
Verdict: HSBC has a superior earning rate of 3% when it comes to travel, while the Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite will match with a 3% earn rate at Sobeys-affiliated grocery stores as of October 1, 2022.
Scotiabank has the edge with a 0.5% higher earning rate on groceries, dining, entertainment, and transit, which make up a large portion of everyday spending.
Overall, the card with the better earning rates would depend on your spending habits.
If you spend more on groceries than you do on travel, the Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card is looking brighter. On the other hand, if you’re using the card primarily for travel purchases, the HSBC World Elite would be the better companion.
Perks and Benefits
Additional perks and benefits offered by credit cards can make a strong case for either keeping it in your wallet in the long run or turfing it after a year.
1. Travel Enhancement Credit
When you sign up for the HSBC World Elite Mastercard, you’ll get an annual $100 Travel Enhancement Credit. This travel credit can be used towards travel purchases such as seat selection fees, baggage fees, lounge access passes, and more – including Aeroplan taxes and fees and refundable hotels.
Moreover, this travel credit goes a long way towards offsetting the $149 annual fee. Since it’s an annual benefit, if you choose to keep the card for the long-term, it effectively reduces the annual fee to $49 every year.
On the other hand, the Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card doesn’t offer any similar perks.
Verdict: The HSBC World Elite Mastercard is the clear victor here with its useful $100 Travel Enhancement Credit, which can be reliably redeemed at face value to effectively offset against the annual fee.
2. Redeeming Points
Many of Canada’s major banks force you to redeem their proprietary points for travel through in-house travel agencies. Some of these travel portals can be quite clunky and difficult to deal with, and can also limit your range of options of what type of travel to book.
Fortunately, both the Scotiabank’s Scene+ and HSBC Rewards offer excellent flexibility when redeeming your points. Both credit cards allow you to book with any travel provider and redeem points to offset the cost.
One difference with the HSBC World Elite Mastercard is that you only have up to 60 days after the charge posts to redeem points, whereas the Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite provides up to 12 months after the charge posts to redeem points against it.
Verdict: It’s great to see that both cards offering flexibility when it comes to redeeming points for any travel purchase.
The Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card comes out slightly ahead in this regard, with a much longer period in which you can redeem your points retroactively.
3. Transfer Partners
HSBC Rewards points can be transferred to frequent flyer program partners as follows:
- 25,000 HSBC Rewards points can be converted into 8,000 Cathay Pacific Asia Miles.
- 25,000 HSBC Rewards points can be converted into 9,000 Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer miles.
- 25,000 HSBC Rewards points can be converted into 10,000 British Airways Avios.
Of particular note is the ability to transfer HSBC Rewards points into Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer miles. HSBC Rewards is the sole Canadian bank transfer partner with KrisFlyer, which provides access to one of the most sought-after airline experiences in the world: Singapore Airlines Suites Class.
Aside from transferring Marriott Bonvoy points or dabbling in US credit cards, HSBC Rewards gives Canadians the most direct access to Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer miles.
Meanwhile, Scene+ points earned on the Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card cannot be transferred to any airline or hotel partners.
Verdict: This is a significant advantage for the HSBC World Elite Mastercard, as these points can be redeemed for First Class and business class tickets with some of the best airline products out there.
This enables HSBC Rewards points to be redeemed at a higher value than their baseline 0.5cpp, compared to Scene+ points’ fixed value of 1cpp.
4. Foreign Transaction Fees
The HSBC World Elite and Scotia Passport both offer no foreign transaction fees, which is one of the most compelling features to both cards.
The two products use the Mastercard and Visa mid-market rates, respectively, which is equal or very close to the true mid-market FX rate.
Most other credit cards levy a 2.5% fee on foreign transactions, making these two cards stand out as excellent choices when travelling abroad.
Verdict: We have a clear tie in this category, with both cards offering excellent value thanks to their 0% foreign transaction fees.
5. Airport Lounge Access
The Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite comes with a standard DragonPass membership. Moreover, six free lounge passes are provided annually to cardholders.
The HSBC World Elite Mastercard also offers an annual lounge access membership with DragonPass. Unfortunately, each lounge visit with the HSBC World Elite Mastercard will have to be paid for, and there aren’t any complimentary lounge visits provided with the card.
Verdict: Since the HSBC World Elite Mastercard does not offer any free passes, the Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card comes out clearly on top thanks to its six free lounge visits.
As a World Elite product, the HSBC World Elite Mastercard offers unlimited global access to Boingo Wi-Fi hotspots, including access to free Wi-Fi access on select airlines, such as WestJet and Virgin Atlantic.
The Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card does not come with Wi-Fi privileges.
Verdict: You never know when free Wi-Fi will come in handy, and the HSBC World Elite Mastercard easily wins here thanks to its Boingo Wi-Fi benefit.
1. Supplementary Cards
The Scotiabank Passport Visa offers one free additional card each year. Every additional supplementary card thereafter will be subject to an annual fee of $50.
The HSBC World Elite Mastercard charges $50 for each additional card with no initial free supplementary cards. However, under HSBC’s prevailing welcome bonus structures from 2021 onwards, adding a first supplementary cardholder results in an additional bonus of 10,000 HSBC Rewards.
Verdict: This is a small win for the Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card due to the free first supplementary card, with a tip of the hat to the HSBC World Elite Mastercard for giving extra points for adding an authorized user in the first year.
As travel-oriented credit cards, both cards offer substantial insurance benefits, with a few key differences.
Both credit cards offer auto rental collision insurance up to $65,000 and common carrier travel accident insurance up to $500,000.
The insurance offerings begin to differ with emergency medical insurance coverage. The Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card offers up to $2 million for the primary cardholder, spouse, and dependants for trips of up to 25 days.
On the other hand, the HSBC Mastercard only offers up to $1 million in emergency medical coverage, but for a longer duration of up to 31 days.
HSBC does not offer any travel medical insurance for those over 65, while Scotiabank will cover those 65 and older for up to three days.
Although cardholders are covered under Scotiabank for a slightly less amount of time, I’d say that 25 days would still be sufficiently long for most travellers, and the additional $2 million offered by the Scotia Passport Visa Infinite Card surpasses the HSBC World Elite.
Meanwhile, when it comes to trip cancellation and trip interruption coverage, Scotiabank offers up to $1,500 per covered person, with a $10,000 total. HSBC comes in at a slightly higher offer of $2,000 per person, up to a total of $5,000.
The better option here would therefore depend on whether you tend to travel solo, as a couple, or as a larger family.
Both credit cards offer delayed and lost baggage insurance. Scotiabank offers $1,000, and HSBC offers $750. Furthermore, Scotiabank’s lost baggage can be claimed within four hours, while HSBC does not kick in until 12 hours.
Lastly, Scotiabank provides hotel and burglary insurance of up to $1,000, while HSBC does not.
Verdict: If insurance is a high priority for you, the Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card has better coverage on balance, with more generous amounts on the emergency medical travel insurance and lost and delayed baggage insurance in particular.
3. Ease of Getting Approved
The HSBC World Elite Mastercard has a minimum income requirement of $80,000 or a household income of $150,000.
The Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite Card has a minimum income requirement of just $60,000 or a household income of $100,000, resulting in an easier approval threshold.
4. Visual Appearance
Both cards have a similar appearance. The cards use black and grey as the primary colours, and have a subtle design printed onto the card.
While both cards are sleek and dark, neither card stands out significantly in this department, and I’m happy to call it a tie here.
Both the Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite and the HSBC World Elite Mastercard offer excellent flexibility for redeeming travel points, and their standout No FX Fees feature make them well-suited for those travelling abroad.
Overall, though, I’d pick the HSBC World Elite Mastercard as the more well-rounded option, and name it as the victor in this round of Head-to-Head.
The HSBC World Elite typically offers a very strong welcome bonus with a juicy first-year incentive, a higher earning rate of a 3% return on travel, and unique perks and benefits like the $100 Travel Enhancement Credit and Boingo Wi-Fi.
Furthermore, HSBC Rewards has better redemption capabilities due to the ability to transfer points to three airlines partners, unlocking the potential for redeeming points at a higher value when booking First Class or business class flights.
On the other hand, if you prioritize earning on regular spend, airport lounge access, and insurance benefits, the Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite might be your preferred choice, especially once the higher earn rate at Sobeys-affiliated grocery stores kicks in as of October 1, 2022.