Cross-Border Intelligence

1 Remember layering on a new wardrobe before returning from a U.S. cross-border shopping orgy? “Nothing to declare,” we’d trill to Customs while wrapped like Beef Wellington. Maybe it’s time to take that trick 30,000 feet up. Airlines don’t charge (yet) for what you’re wearing, but every major Canadian airline now charges $25 for the first checked bag on their lowest fares for domestic and U.S. travel. In the U.S., Frontier Airlines charges economy passengers as much as $60 for using the overhead bins for a carry-on. It could happen here. We hope what happens first is the arrival in Canada of Southwest Airlines, now flying out of Buffalo, which steadfastly insists on flying two checked bags free and allows a free carry-on. Otherwise, you can sometimes reduce fees by being a frequent flyer or airline club member. Or bundle up.

2 Do you know Trader Joe’s? Shop at this purveyor of cheap fine food when travelling in the U.S., including Buffalo. About 80 per cent of the company’s 4,000 or so products are sold under the TJ label for half the price generally of the brand names that produce them, and none contain synthetic colours, artificial flavours or artificial preservatives. Best of all are the prices: a six-ounce bag of Marcona almonds bathed in olive oil and rosemary sells for US$6.49. Go to for locations, products and prices.

3 With the loonie trading well below parity you don’t want any extra exchange charges. Avoid them by getting a U.S. dollar credit card linked to an American dollar account before you cross the border or order from U.S. websites. You’ll save the extra 2.5 per cent fee added to foreign currency purchases charged to Canadian dollar cards. Canadian banks offer MasterCard and Visa U.S. dollar cards. Annual rates and perks vary. With the BMO U.S. Dollar MasterCard, when purchases total U.S. $1,000 or more in a year, the next year’s annual fee is rebated to your card.