Archive for 2019

Best Travel Credit Card: Stack Mastercard + Koho Visa Card

Tuesday, November 12th, 2019

When planning my trip to Europe, I wanted to save on financial transaction costs and get a fair conversion rate on exchanging into Euro’s and Swiss Franc.  When I did my research for which credit cards are the best for travel, the Stack Mastercard came up in the results.  I poked around some more and found another card called the KOHO Visa Card.  Both had an app, so I signed up for the two free cards.  My Daughter also signed up for them to use for all our purchases on our trip.  Here is the information on both cards below.

STACK Mastercard

The STACK Mastercard is relatively new to Canadians, but let me assure you, it’s one of the best cards to enter the market in the last few years. First off, the STACK Mastercard is not a credit card, it’s actually a prepaid Mastercard. You load your funds via Interact E-Transfer that gets loaded automatically within a couple of minutes.  You can have your payroll department push part of your pay to it and use can use it to track disposable income of how you spend your money if you want to split your savings and use it to fund a goal like a trip.  It was launched in Canada by a Toronto Financial Tech company and it has a partnership with People’s Trust that has close to 7 billion of assets under management.  You can connect it to Apple/Samsung pay.  For some reoccurring payments via Paypal, Apple, Spotify, etc you can connect it to stack so you will never get a NSF fee if any transaction is not funded.

What makes the STACK card really appealing is that it has no foreign transaction fees. To simply put it, there is no cheaper way to get cash in a foreign country using an ATM or paying for things and using it for all of your spending.  You save the 2.5% foreign transaction fee.  

STACK Mastercard benefits

  • No annual fee
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • No ATM fees (ATM provider may charge a fee)
  • Discounts at a variety of merchants.  140 of them currently.
  • Spend in over 150+ local currencies with worldwide acceptability of Mastercard and Zero Liability Protection.
  • Free Stack to Stack Transfers
  • Virtual Card so you can spend without plastic.  Use the app to freeze the card at anytime.
  • Use stack for virtual pay (Apple, Fitbit, Samsung) and pay with your device.
  • Free replacement card
  • Canadian banking details for Payroll deposit
  • Access to exclusive experiences
  • Real-time notifications, balance updates after transactions or auto loading of funds via app.
  • Spending analysis
  • $5 free when you sign up with my referral link
  • Won’t hurt your credit score (or help it either)

At first glance, the STACK Mastercard doesn’t come with a lot of benefits, but that’s because you’re probably comparing it to regular credit cards. As mentioned, the STACK card is not a credit card, it’s a prepaid option that lets you manage your money better.

If you sign up to STACK with this mobile referral link, you’ll get $5 when you activate your card. This offer is $5 more than the standard referral of $20 which a great incentive to get you started. Note that you must click this link via your mobile device for it to work.

What’s also interesting about the STACK Mastercard is how it encourages you to save. With every purchase, you can round up to the next $1, $2, $5 or $10 and put it towards your savings goals. Within the app, you’ll see your weekly spending habits so you’ll know where your money is going. STACK basically wants you to own your weekly spending, so you won’t have any issues mastering your monthly or annual budget.

(Above you can see I was credited $2 and $1 for a purchase at Starbucks and McDonalds)

As for the rewards, the STACK card doesn’t use a cash back system as many other credit cards do. Instead, they offer curated rewards which are often more valuable. For example, one of the early rewards was a yearly membership to Amazon Prime which has a value of $79. I also saw a promotion with Foodora where you would get $15 off your first purchase, that could be a 20%, 30%, or even 50% return depending on what you ordered.

 

How the STACK Mastercard compares to others

STACK is pretty unique so there aren’t many comparables. As mentioned, you could use your regular debit card, but you would be hit with that 2.5%-3.5% foreign ATM fee and possibly additional ATM fees.

You could compare the STACK card to say the CIBC AC Conversion Card. That card allows you to load funds in 10 different currencies. The rates are competitive, but CIBC still adds a bit of markup. With any non-supported currency, the usual 2.5% fee would apply. CIBC also charges $3.50 – $5 per withdrawal, so even this card adds a lot of fees over time.

HOW TO OPEN A STACK ACCOUNT

Opening a new STACK account is easy…it took me only about 3 minutes total.

You will need your phone to download the STACK app and create an account after entering your basic personal details.

After you receive your card in the mail, you can activate it and load funds using either Interac e-Transfer, direct payroll deposit, or free STACK-to-STACK transfers. Additionally, you can choose to load cash up at a participating Canada Post or retailer with your STACK QR code.

Since the STACK Mastercard is not a credit card, you do not need a good credit score to sign up.

KOHO REVIEW

 

If you haven’t heard of KOHO, it’s a Canadian reloadable Visa card and app that gives you real-time insights on your spending while helping you reach your financial goals by automating some of your savings. This no fee card even gives you 0.5% cash-back on your purchases which is amazing since most prepaid cards give you nothing for your spending.

KOHO Benefits

  • No annual fee
  • 1% cash back bonus for 90 days with O8ZXKFJR referral code
  • Powered by the Visa network and accepted worldwide.
  • Pre-load your budget and spend with cashback with 0.5% cash-back on all purchases
  • Automated savings goals by rounding up each purchase to the nearest $1, $5, or $10 for a side goal.  Sock away spare change automatically to save for a trip.
  • no hidden fees for e-transfer, nsf or monthly fees.
  • lock your card in app.
  • Use KOHO to pay bills, send free e-transfers, pay your credit card bill.
  • Real-time spending insights, transactions & more on mobile app.  Balance updates after each purchase.
  • Partnered with Federally regulated bank to hold your funds and have it backed up.
  • Offers a joint spending account, besides the regular free individual account.
  • Canadian banking details so payroll department can set up payroll deposit.
  • ApplePay compatible

KOHO is a reloadable Visa card so it can be used wherever Visa is accepted. You won’t improve your credit score by using KOHO, but you’ll only spend money that you have available.

There are a limited amount of benefits that come with this no fee card, but that’s not a bad thing since the idea here is to help you understand your spending. That being said, you’ll earn 0.5% in “power up” cash-back on all purchases you make which is impressive since this isn’t a credit card.

Every purchase you make can be rounded up to the nearest $1, $5, or $10. This microsavings is then applied to your savings goal e.g. concert tickets, a new tv, a vacation etc. The idea is that you won’t notice this small transaction, but they’ll add up pretty quickly. You can set up as many savings goals as you want with an amount and KOHO will estimate how long it’ll take you to reach those goals. It’s basically teaching you delayed gratification.

How KOHO works

With KOHO, you get a physical card that comes with a chip and PIN so your information stays secure. The Peoples Trust Company is partnered with KOHO so know that your funds are being securely held.

To load funds onto your KOHO card, all you need to do is send an e-transfer or link your bank account to your card. Your money will show up and be ready for use shortly after. Since you can only spend what you have, you never need to worry about going into overdraft.

What makes KOHO interesting is that it acts like savings account which tracks your spending. With the app (available on the App Store and GooglePlay), you’ll get instant notifications about your purchases and what categories you’re spending your money on. What’s interesting is that you can create custom spending categories so you know exactly what you’ve spent money on.

You’ll even get tips on spending your spending patterns relative to other KOHO users. For example, you may get a tip saying that coffee at McDonald’s is cheaper than Starbucks or a cable plan will cost you less with Rogers compared to say Bell. Those are just random examples to give you an idea of what kind of tips you’d get.

As you continue to use KOHO, you’ll get data on your spending patterns. It’ll show you your average spending for the day or week is. If the app sees that you’re spending above average, you’ll be alerted which will hopefully encourage you to spend less.

 

STACK vs. KOHO

Accounts fees

Both KOHO and STACK have no account fees and no minimum balance requirement. You also get unlimited e-transfers with both prepaid credit cards.

STACK uses the Mastercard network and has no foreign exchange fees and no ATM withdrawal fees. KOHO uses the Visa network and charges 1.5% for any purchases made in a foreign currency. That said, if you upgrade to KOHO Premium which costs $84 a year, you get no foreign transaction fees and some additional benefits.

Both cards don’t charge any fees for using an ATM, however, the ATM provider may charge you a one-time fee to access cash from their machines.

Winner: When it comes to fees, STACK Mastercard comes out on top since they don’t charge any foreign exchange fees. This feature alone makes STACK one of the cheapest ways to get foreign currency when travelling.

Rewards earned

With KOHO, you earn 0.5% cash-back on all your purchases. This is amazing since you’re earning rewards even though KOHO isn’t actually a credit card. KOHO also has a few offers from time to time.

STACK doesn’t offer cash-back, instead, they focus more on perks and offers. Some recent offers include a free Spotify membership, $1 off $10 at Esso, $150 off Contiki trips, and $2 off purchases of $25 or more at Shoppers Drug Mart.

Winner: STACK technically comes out on top since their offers are worth significantly more than 0.5% but that only applies if you can take advantage of the offers. Some people may prefer the straight 0.5% that KOHO offers.

 

Security

Both STACK and KOHO are partnered with Peoples Trust where your funds are held. Peoples Trust is a regulated financial institution with $7B in assets so that gives you an extra layer of security but technically speaking, both KOHO and STACK aren’t covered by CDIC.

STACK cardholders would have access to Mastercard’s zero liability coverage which protects you from unauthorized purchases while KOHO has Visa’s zero liability as a standard benefit.

Winner: It’s even

Final thoughts

There’s really no clear winner since both cards are similar. I would say for traveling… go with STACK since it offers no foreign exchange fees with some useful rewards, but STACK and KOHO are prepaid cards and aimed at people who want to manage their money better while earning some rewards.  Great for someone that does not have a credit card that needs to purchase plane tickets and also don’t want your spending going out of control with using credit and wracking up a balance.  I saved close to $100 on my trip with not paying foreign transaction fees.

My Travel Journal + Travel Planner

Sunday, November 10th, 2019

Moving over to Miles&More with Lufthansa, we were given these little journals.  When planning for a work trip last March, I started to fill it up with trip details since I was heading to Germany and then to Italy after as a little personal side trip.  After that trip was over, I started to plan the trip with the kids to Europe.  During the trip, I kept receipts and little papers.

When I got home I taped them all inside and printed some 5×7’s to pepper inside to make a little summary of the trip.  Now it’s getting fat and it’s going to force to to retire it.  Next big trip will be Thailand + Vietnam so I have a new journal for that trip shown below.

New Ride | Road Bike

Thursday, October 10th, 2019

A simple road bike to get me to the gym and when I feel like riding the 8km to work.

Euro2019 Trip | Leg One | Leaving for Toronto to Prague, Czech Republic

Thursday, August 29th, 2019

I arrived in Ajax the night before to meet up with the kids and talk about the trip and stress that we are packing light and using backpacks for this trip.  I brought my tent and camped “stealth” in Ajax and the “Mom” brought them to the Go Train with their passports.  Noah broke his arm a couple of weeks before the trip.  Days before the trip he got a new swimmable cast.  So with that and some travel insurance we were off to the Airport with our 3 backpacks.

Day 1: July 28th Plan

  • Get ourselves to the airport in time so we are not rushed for our flights
  • Fit the 3 of us on one of two different flight options
  • Try and get some “real” sleep on the flight
  • Arrive in Prague the next morning and book somewhere to stay the night

We took off on the GO Train from Ajax to Union Station in Toronto.  We got out of Union and walked across the road to Movenpick Marche at Brookfield Place for some lunch.  $50 later we were on our way on the UP Express that runs from Union Station to Toronto Pearson Airport that is always a reliable 25min trip.  Kids are excited and so am I to finally be able to take them to Europe.  On our way to the airport, I started to shoot some video on my iPhone to make a little travel vlog of the trip, since I’m sure it will give me something to do on the flight and late at night not sleeping due to the JetLag that was coming.

With my flight benefits at work, I decided to book us on Air Canada since the direct flight with Air Canada Rouge leaves Toronto close to 5PM.  As a back-up, we booked on a credit card the 8:20PM Toronto to Munich flight with Lufthansa.  I’ve been checking the flight load all week leading up to departure and LH471 to Frankfurt was at capacity and it looked like LH495 to Munich would fill up also.  The space on AC1922 with Air Canada looked good all week.  A night before the Air Canada app will show you how many people are on the plane for those who are flying “Standby” and it had about 80 open spots… so I knew we would be leaving on the direct flight at 5PM.  Once we land, I would refund the Lufthansa ticket.

The configuration of the flight is a 2-3-2 for economy and we were put in the middle 3 seats with Noah riding in the middle.  With the early departure of 5pm and us landing in Prague at 7AM local time… I knew it would be tough on the kids since it was only 1AM Toronto time and we had our whole day ahead of us so trying to get some sleep on the flight was important so after dinner I would force them to use the eye-mask and ear plugs I packed to try and get some sleep.  At the airport we went through security with no issues.  A bit of juggling since we took some stuff out of our main packs and had little bags for our personal items to distribute the weight.  They didn’t weigh or measure any of our bags.  We also asked the gate if we could get on first with Noah’s arm and that helped secure space in the overhead bin for our backpacks all together.

 

Below is the first episode of our travel vlog:

 

I’ve never flown Air Canada Rouge before.  I’ve heard stories that the cabin in economy is tight.  I also heard that there are no screens on the back of the seat and you have to download the AC App and you can stream movies on your device.  I knew were would get food.  I was hoping to fly with Lufthansa so the kids could experience our airline on a long haul flight.  Maybe on the way back we will fly Lufty.

On the flight, I was really pleased with the food and the room.  My legs fit… so I was happy.  I just couldn’t enjoy a cold beer on the flight like LH471.  The boarding and gate staff were great.  Noah and Chantal tried to sleep and I think they drifted off for about two hours.

Euro2019 Trip | Leg Two | Landing in Prague, Czech Republic

Thursday, August 29th, 2019

Day 2: July 29th Plan

  • If we made the flight then we had to book somewhere to stay when we land
  • Make our way downtown Prague and drop off our bags
  • Go find something to eat and see how we feel with JetLag
  • Check-in to our accommodations
  • See if we feel like going out again to check out the city.
  • Get some much needed sleep.

Episode Two below capturing hitting the ground in Prague:

After landing in Prague we found a quiet place to sit down and login to the wifi to book somewhere to stay.  I used Hostelworld to find and book PLUS Prague for 2 nights.  Since I didn’t know if we would get on a the plane it was better to book something after we land.  After booking… it was time to go through customs and find the express bus that would take us downtown to the Hostel so we can drop off the packs and go out for breakfast.

 

Getting tickets is easy.  We just picked up 3 24hr metro ticket that is good for all the busses, subway and trams.  It didn’t take too long to get downtown via the express bus that takes us to the “Yellow” subway line that we can take to our hostel to drop off our packs.

Below you will see the start of the “Yellow” line to the far left.  That’s where the airport bus drops you off at and we just took the yellow line west to the “Red” line where we simply go north 3 stops and the Hostel is right there.  Downtown Prague is where Yellow and Red touches the Green line.

It was too early to check-in so we took off downtown to look around a little and get something to eat.  We got off at Muzeum and went up to the surface.

We walked around and snapped some pictures and took in the first sights of Old Town Square.  I wanted to take them to a place that the Honest Prague Guide talked about Lokal so we had to walk and check it out.  We wanted to get some traditional Czech dishes to try.  I wanted a mid-morning Czech beer.  We ordered Roastbeef with Tomato sauce with Czech Bread Dumplings, 6 week old ripened fried cheese, Pork Leg Schnitzel fried in butter, Pork braised with Kohlrabi and buttered potatoes.  After that we got some local Czech money and off we went to explore a little more.

 

At 3PM we made our way back to get our room at the PLUS Prague Hostel.  We selected a private room and headed up to unpack our bags a little.  This is a cool little place.  Very large and clean with many rooms to mingle and chill.  It has a pool and sauna downstairs with a little gym and a big kitchen to cook meals and eat.  Outside in the back it has a beach volleyball court and ping pong tables and attached is a bar that serves pizza, burgers and bar food.  In the mornings there is a buffet for about 7CAD that has eggs and bacon and other breakfast stuff to fill up for your day ahead.

After getting upstairs… we all claimed our beds and had a nap.  Our room had this layout bottom-right above and I had the bottom bunk over to the left and the kids had each a twin bed.  You pay for the fourth person to get a private room.  It was 3PM in Prague.  We have been up for 26 hours straight at this point and we were cooked.

We slept for about 5 hours and got up and went downstairs to get some food and we took it easy and caught up with friends in Canada while I edited video and we talked about the things we could do the next day and what I wanted to do since I did some researching on what Prague had to offer.  My evernote Prague folder was full and I made the kids put evernote on their phone so they had all the access to everything on the trip and they could see the agenda.  It was peppered with “Don’t tell Mom any of the details”.  Since I didn’t want to answer a thousand questions about what we were doing every day of the trip.

 

 

Euro2019 Trip | Leg Two | Exploring Prague, Czech Republic

Thursday, August 29th, 2019

Day 3: July 30th | Prague, Czech Republic | 2nd Full Day in Prague

After taking the subway back downtown.  We hit up Prague’s City Hall and it’s historic Paternoster Lift shown above.  AKA “The Elevators of Death”.  This doorless 20th-century elevator doesn’t stop or slow down and don’t get crushed if you slip.  Sounds like a nightmare doesn’t it.  If you enter City Hall just keep walking to the right and skip the normal elevators and you will stumble one of 9 of these working in Prague.  These are a dying breed after modern day safety regulations having banned their construction.  These were created in the 1860’s in England these were in government buildings and stores in Germany and around Europe.  These elevators travel in a loop.  Thanks to the Honest Prague Guide for pointing this out to me to check out.  It was Noah’s fave attraction.  This one consists of 12 cabins.  You have to be fairly quick to jump on and off.  Be careful not to loose your cellphone in the crack of the floor.  More on that later.

We continued to wander the crooked streets of Prague wandering around the old city centre.

Prague’s famous Astronomical clock which was first installed in 14fucking10.  Third oldest in the world and only still working.  It’s mounted at Old Town Hall and the clock mechanism itself has three main components: the astronomical dial representing the position of the sun and moon in the sky displaying various astronomical details; statues of various Catholic saints stand on either side of the clock.  When the clock strikes at the top of the hour the 12 Apostles do the walk to present themselves in the two windows.  The figure of Death represented by the skeleton strikes the time.  The calendar dial represents the months.  Local legend says the city will suffer if the clock stops and neglected.  A ghost mounted on the clock nods his head in confirmation of this.  The clockmaker was blinded after it was created so he could not make a clock like this for any other city in Europe.  He later threw himself into the gears of the clock killing himself and disabling the clock for a couple of hundred years before it was repaired.  Gothic figures were added over the years and also with the Golden Rooster crowing was also added.  If you look closely nets were added to keep Pigeons away.

The weather was good, so we decided to hit the “Yellow” subway line north west and out of the downtown to Prosek.  We wanted to ride the Bobsled Track shown below.

Bobova Draha Prosek is a cool little track that is open all year round.  If you get a group pass it works out to 2.70CAD per ride.  Once out of the main starting block… out comes the phone to record.  Chantal slowed down at the beginning and waited for me to be right on her tail.  The heavier you are the faster you go.  I was a little scared and I was using the break on some of the turns since you go up to the top on the corners.  I’m not 11 years old anymore and weigh 68 pounds anymore.  I’m now built for speed to match my moniker.

Such a great place.  10 minutes away is Kart Planet that has really fast Go Karts but kids are not allowed and with Noah’s arm he could not drive since you can convince them to let kids ride if they really can drive a racing kart.  So with “Lighting McQueen” having a messed up wrist we will have to pass and maybe we will come back in the future.

Coming back into the city we wanted to go out for dinner in Old Prague and picked Caffe Italia under the towers and sit out on the patio.  Big up’s to them on the beer glasses.  We sent home to Mom the photo of Noah below enjoying Prague.  Beer is cheaper than coke.

Last night in the PLUS Prague hostel and in the morning we will switch venues for two more nights in Prague.