American Express Cobalt Card

AMEX Cobalt

The American Express Cobalt Card has been getting rave reviews throughout the highly competitive Canadian credit card travel hacker blogosphere… It seems all of these illustrious card mavens just love, love, love this card.

I don’t. The best I can say is I am lukewarm on this one. It took awhile to figure out why – thus I have been unable to wax eloquent on this product, hence the delay on this review. But before my review, here is lowdown on the American Express Cobalt Card.

  • Annual Fee: $10 monthly fee, ($120 annual).
  • Intro Bonus: up to 30,000 Membership Rewards Select (MRS) points; 7.99% on purchases charged to your Card within the first 6 month, 19.99% after.
  • Intro Bonus Minimum Spend: 2500 points for each monthly billing period in which you spend $500 in purchases on card in the first year. This could add up to 30,000 points in a year (but with a minimum $6000 annual spend for 30,000 points).
  • Earn: 5 points per $1 at eligible restaurants, bars, cafes and food delivery in Canada; 2 point per $1 on eligible transit (metro pass, uber rides), gas and travel purchases; $1 on everything else.
  • Redeem: 1,000 points = $10 travel credit or $7 for a non travel credit (5% or 2% return).
  • Perks: American Express Invites (Front Of The Line Advance Access, Reserved Ticketsand E-Updates, Special Offers & Experiences, Special Access); perks, bonus rewards and access to events; The Hotel Collection from American Express (plus a $75 USD hotel credit to use on amenities such as dining, spa or other leisure facilities when charged to the room; a one-category room upgrade at check-in, when available [you must book a minimum 2-night consecutive stay at a participating property online through American Express Travel online]);
  • Travel insurances & shopping coverage: Emergency Medical (15 days under the age of 65); Flight Delay ($500); Baggage Delay ($500); Hotel/Motel Burglary ($500); Lost or Stolen Baggage ($500); Car Rental Theft & Damage Insurance; Travel Accident Insurance ($250,000); Purchase Protection Plan (90 days); Buyer’s Assurance Protection Plan (1 year).

What’s not to like? Well…

Watch the card’s advertorial on Youtube … or this one… what don’t you see? A grey hair, a wrinkle, anyone with kids, images of exotic locales or even a smartly dressed actress running to catch a flight…

The card is being targeted to Canadian urban millennials who have the disposable cash to wine and dine and buy groceries in places that take AMEX (usually more expensive than grocery stores that don’t), ride the metro and take Ubers, and are comfortable with monthly subscription fees…  If you are such a mythical beast then this card might be just what you are looking for. Not me.

Keep in mind, when I look at a card I am interested in maximizing my travel options with the least amount of fuss. Period. For me the best travel reward program is the one that offers the greatest flexibility in using the points, with a large network of transfer partners. On this key criterion the American Express Cobalt Card does not deliver…

The  card’s American Express Membership Reward “Select” (MRS) program is not the same as American Express Membership Rewards (my absolute favourite program). While you get full Use Points for Purchases option, the Fixed Points Travel Programs and transfer to hotel partners, you do not get direct conversion to partner airlines. You can convert MRS points to Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) points, and from there on to some airline partners, but that is more hassle than it is worth for some people. But, 1 Membership Reward point equals 0.5 SPG points, so essentially you can earn 2.5 SPG points on ‘dining and eating’, which is pretty good if you collect SPG points.

The fee-reward structure is “intriguing” (that is how a professor of mine used to refer politely to ideas he thought were “bad”) and may appeal to those who can not afford a significant fee upfront. However, at the end of the day it’s a rather expensive card with merely adequate travel perks compared to the American Express The Platinum Card which is simply the best travel card in the Canadian travel market for frequent flyers. A quick comparison…

  • Fee: Cobalt Card – $120; The Platinum Card – $699 which you can turn to $299 by redeeming the annual travel credits;
  • Welcome Bonus: Cobalt Card – 30,000 American Express Membership Reward “Select” points;  The Platinum Card – 60,000 American Express Membership Rewards points instead of the posted 50,000 (if you use the link The Platinum Card);
  • Minimum spend: Cobalt Card – $6000;  The Platinum Card – $3000;
  • Travel Perks: Cobalt – good but pale in comparison to the bells and whistles that come with the  premium luxury perks (e.g., airport lounge access) you get with The Platinum Card (see here for an in-depth review)

Fundamentally, this is not a churning card, or even a really serious travel points card. Because the minimum spend is spread out over a minimum of 12 $500 purchases over 12 months, you are likely to go way over the actual minimum spend – or maybe miss a month or more of bonus rewards – unless you meet the spend requirements mainly through manufactured spend. It is a decent enough permanent card if you mostly use it for groceries (but several major grocery chains like Walmart, Loblaws, and Costco don’t take Amex), but that is about it. AMEX has finely tuned this card to be not worth churning, and is not marketing it to serious travellers or to Boomers.

So while you may get more points on food and drink on the Cobalt Card  at the end of the day unless you are a huge spender the The Platinum Card is a much better deal if travel is your principal goal.

It won’t have me giving up my Platinum card anytime soon…

 

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