BMO AscendTM World Elite®* Mastercard®* Review

Last Updated on August 30, 2022

Rewards Canada's unbiased review of BMO's flagship travel rewards credit card



BMO Ascend World Elite Mastercard

The BMO AscendTM World Elite®* Mastercard®* was introduced to the Canadian market as the BMO Rewards World Elite Mastercard in March of 2010 and in fact was the first World Elite Mastercard in Canada. Over the past 12 years the card has undergone numerous changes, the latest of which from May 2022 includes the change of the card's name.

The card used to be an amazing travel rewards credit card contender and in fact back in 2015 we ranked it as the number one Travel Points credit card with an annual fee. But that was then and this is now, and the numerous changes the bank has made to the card and the BMO Rewards program over the years saw it fall to fifth place in that category and well out of the top 10 overall cards in Canada. And that was prior to changes in May - those most recent changes may very well make the card completely fall out of our rankings for 2023. Read on to find out more.

The review of the BMO Ascend World Elite Mastercard is broken down into the following sections:

Overview

The BMO Ascend World Elite Mastercard has been BMO's flagship travel rewards card ever since it launched over a decade ago. The recent changes made to the card by BMO have it being marketed even more so now as a key travel rewards card. The card offers airport lounge access membership with annual free visit passes, decent points earning on travel purchases and BMO's famously strong travel insurance coverage - all of which should appeal nicely to travel enthusiasts who want to have a credit card with BMO.

Costs & Sign up Features

The BMO Ascend World Elite Mastercard has an annual fee of $150. This used to be on the higher end for premium cards but now is closer to the norm with a lot of cards in this category running between $139 and $150. Additional (supplementary) cards are $50 each annually.

If we can recall correctly, the standard welcome bonus on the card is 35,000 BMO Rewards Points however this card does seem to have an increased welcome bonus offers with a first year annual fee waiver in place all the time.

Right now the BMO Ascend World Elite Mastercard has a welcome bonus offering up to 60,000 BMO Rewards points and a first year annual fee waiver. The bonus is awarded as 30,000 points when you spend $3,000 on the card in the first three months and then 2,500 points for each subsequent month in which you make at least $2,000 in purchases on your card, for 12 months. Thus to earn the entire bonus you will have to complete $27,000 in spending on the card over the course of 15 months. For your information, this is one of the highest spend requirements of any credit card in Canada.

As it is a World Elite Mastercard it does have minimum income requirements of $80,000 (individual) or $150,000 (household)

Earning

The card earns BMO Rewards points like other proprietary BMO cards and has category multipliers on the types of purchases:

  • 5 points for every $1 spent on eligible travel purchases
  • 3 points for every $1 spent on eligible dining and entertainment purchases and recurring bill payments
  • 1 point for every $1 spent everywhere else

The 5x points for travel is capped at $15,000 in spend for this category annually and the three 3x points categories are all capped at $10,000 in annual spend each.

Point Valuation Chart

Spending Category Points earned per dollar spent Rate of return when booking your own travel Rate of return Cash Back
Travel 5 3.34% 2.5%
Dining
Entertainment
Recurring Bills
3 2% 1.5%
All other spending 1 0.67% 0.5%

 

Recommended reading: When earning 5x points isn't the same as earning 5x points - a loyalty lesson

Redeeming

Primary travel redemption: BMO Rewards points earned on this card can be redeemed for travel booked with any travel provider at a rate of 150 points for a $1 credit.

On the redemption side, the points earned with the BMO eclipse Visa Infinite Card can be redeemed for any travel that is booked via any travel provider. Up until August 2022 this wasn't the case as you had to book your travel via BMO Rewards. However, most likely due to technical issues they encountered earlier in 2022 and the competition they face from other cards BMO has moved to a permanent pick your own travel provider to buy travel with and redeem points against the charge model.

Recommended reading: The BMO technical issues saga:

Simply put you can go to Air Canada, WestJet, Expedia, Via Rail, Avis or virtually any other travel provider, book your travel and then when the charge shows up on your account you can redeem your points towards it. When you redeem for a travel purchase you do so at a rate of 150 points to $1 and you have up to 30 days after the charge posts to your account to redeem points towards it. Do note only travel charges made on the primary card can be redeemed for, that is, if you have an additional card on your account and they make a travel purchase you cannot redeem points for that charge.

Points can also be redeemed for many other non-travel items like merchandise, gift cards, BMO financial products and even for any purchases made on the card. BMO calls this last option their Pay with Points option where you can redeem as little as 200 points for a $1 statement credit.

Features and Benefits

The primary benefit this card provides is excellent airport lounge access and it also has the standard benefits that come on all Canadian World Elite Mastercards.

Airport Lounge Access

The BMO Ascend World Elite Mastercard offers an annual Mastercard Travel Pass provided by DragonPass membership which normally costs up to US$99 per year. The membership provides discounted access to over 1,300 lounges worldwide.

The card also provides four (4) complimentary visits per calendar year to any of the lounges in the program. This is a unique benefit to this card as all other Canadian World Elite cards do not offer any free visit passes.

World Elite Mastercard benefits
  • Boingo Wi-Fi Boingo Wi-Fi for Mastercard Cardholders provides access to more than 1 million premium Wi-Fi hotspots worldwide at no charge. This also covers Wi-Fi on several airlines including WestJet.
  • Apple Music Receive 4 free months of Apple Music

Insurance

The Ascend World Elite Mastercard comes with a very strong insurance package that includes the following:

  • Out of Province/Country Emergency Medical Insurance (up to 21 days for hose under age 65)
  • Trip Cancellation Insurance
  • Trip Interruption Insurance
  • Flight Delay Insurance
  • Baggage Delay Insurance
  • Lost or Stolen Baggage Insurance
  • Car Rental Theft and Damage Insurance
  • $500,000 Travel Accident Insurance
  • Purchase Protection Plan
  • Extended Warranty Plan

This is one area the BMO card stands out as it has rare insurance coverage of award/reward tickets from other loyalty programs. Unlike most cards that require 75% or more of the travel charge and/or only points from its own proprietary program being used, BMO's coverage simply state full or partial payment and thus will cover tickets such as Aeroplan reward tickets so long as the taxes and fees from that reward ticket are paid for with your BMO card as that would constitute a partial payment.





What is good about this card

One of the best things about this card is the business class lounge access it provides. It is the only World Elite Mastercard in Canada to offer complimentary visits on top of the Mastercard Travel Pass provided by DragonPass membership that comes standard on all Canadian World Elite Mastercards. With the going rate of US$32 per visit those four passes are worth US$128 or over C$160. That in itself pays for the annual fee on this card.

The travel earn rate at 5 points per dollar, which translates to a 3.34% return when you redeem for any travel at the 150 points to $1 ratio is another good thing about this card. This is especially so now that BMO allows its cardholders to redeem for any travel booked with any provider at this rate.

The insurance offered on the card is great since it can cover reward redemptions from other programs. There are points and miles enthusiasts who get this card just for the reason.

What is not so good about this card

There are a few things that aren't so good about this card. The first is the ridiculously high amount of spending required and lengthy timeline to get the welcome bonus. Even American Express' Ultra Premium $699 per year Platinum Card doesn't require you to spend nearly as much to get a bonus that is worth at much more than what this card offers.

The base earn rate of 1 point per dollar is not good at all. One point in the BMO Rewards program is worth .67 cents or the equivalent of a .67% return when redeemed for travel and even less for other rewards. I am of the opinion that no premium card should have a base earn rate below 1% or at least consumers who want a premium card should not settle for one that does. Yet BMO now has three premium cards with 0.67% base earn rates. That's absolutely atrocious. I would never pay a $150 annual fee on a card that can't give me a 1% base earn rate. Consider shopping at Costco, you are only going to earn 0.67% with this card. What do other cards offer? HSBC World Elite is 1.5%, Rogers World Elite is 1.5%, Brim World Elite Mastercard is 2% and the list goes on (See: Top 5 Mastercard Cards to use at Costco)

The annual cap on the accelerated travel earn rate. The card is being marketed as the most rewarding premium travel card in Canada and yet they cap the 5x points for travel at $15,000. For Canadians who travel once or twice per year this may be fine but if you want to appeal to travellers who could spend a lot on this card, that is a low amount. We here at the Rewards Canada family easily spent way more on travel pre-pandemic and will probably be back at levels that eclipse that amount in 2023. I'll be honest the way BMO has worked their cards and their rewards program over the past few years I would bet they are banking on people not reading the fine print to learn about the travel spending cap.

Who should get this card

  • Consumers who want a World Elite Mastercard that offers airport lounge access with free annual passes
  • Consumers who do travel and spend less than $15,000 per year on travel purchases. And are willing to use a different card to get better returns on all non-travel spending.
  • Consumers who want a card that will provide insurance coverage for redemptions from other reward programs
  • Consumers who bank at BMO and want to keep all financial products with one bank (especially if your bank account(s) cover credit card annual fees)

Conclusion

As with the majority of cards issued by BMO the BMO AscendTM World Elite®* Mastercard®* has fallen down the ranks in our market. The bank is one of the few that has been taking away more than they are giving across the majority of their credit card portfolio. Overall there are quite a few better options in the market when looking across all aspects of cards. However there is a place in the market for this card - primarily due to the most recent change of allowing cardholders to redeem for any travel from any provider, its insurance coverage and airport lounge access. If you get this card and avoid making any non-accelerated purchases on it, it actually provides a decent earn to burn return of 2% to 3.34% that you can utilize for any travel. For many it can fill the spot of being a secondary or tertiary card in their wallets only to be used on those accelerated category purchases, for the lounge access passes and the insurance coverage.

Latest card details:



BMO AscendTM World Elite®* Mastercard®*


Annual Fee: $150 Primary Card (Waived in first year) $50 Secondary Card
Interest Rate: Purchases 20.99% Cash Advances 23.99% (21.99% for Quebec residents)

Welcome offer: Get up to 60,000 points and the annual fee waived in the first year for both the primary cardholder and authorized users.*
Bonus offer awarded as follows: 30,000 points when you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months, and 2,500 points for each subsequent month in which you make at least $2,000 in purchases on your card, for 12 months.

  • 5x the points for every $1 spent on eligible travel purchases,*
  • 3x the points for every $1 spent on eligible dining and entertainment purchases and recurring bill payments,*
  • 1 point for every $1 spent everywhere else.*
  • Now get the highest rewards points for travel of any premium flexible travel card in Canada!†
  • Complimentary membership in Mastercard Travel Pass provided by DragonPass,* with four annual complimentary passes.
  • Access over 1 million Wi-Fi hotspots around the world - all at no added cost, and no added fees or roaming charges*
  • Get valuable benefits and offers for digital everyday services from a variety of on-demand apps and subscription services
  • Points you can use to cover all flight charges & taxes*
  • Fly on any airline, with no blackout dates*
  • Best-in-class travel and medical insurance (unlimited trips per year)*
  • BMO Concierge Service*
  • Unlock Mastercard Travel Rewards cashback offers when you travel and shop outside of Canada


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    BMO is not responsible for maintaining the content on this site. Please click on the Apply now link for the most up to date information
    †Statement based on a comparison of the redeemable value of the non-promotional travel rewards points earned on premium flexible Canadian credit cards as of May 3, 2022. “Flexible” is defined as points earned when you purchase travel anywhere and “premium” refers to cards with an annual fee of ≤ $150 or has an income requirement of ≤ $150,000 annual individual income.


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