American Express Cobalt Review (Canada)

Filed Under: Canadian Credit Card Reviews
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The banking environment here in Canada means we don’t have as many choices as our southern neighbours when it comes to credit cards. When Canada’s smaller market size is combined with our more conservative banks, the result is a lot of pretty boring cards. Amex, however, upended the status quo last year with its American Express Cobalt™ Card.

The Cobalt Card is Amex’s attempt to attract millennials to the brand, which is traditionally aimed at higher-income households in Canada. But with an easily achievable first-year bonus, strong ongoing category bonuses, and flexible reward options with Membership Rewards Select Points, the Amex Cobalt is a card everyone should consider.

5x on dining, groceries & more

Lots of cards offer bonus points for dining, but the Cobalt category is broader, including restaurants, bars, groceries, and food delivery services in Canada. We all have to eat, so this is a benefit for everybody.

As always, the fine print on category bonuses is key. Amex uses merchant codes to determine whether your purchases are coming from restaurants, coffee shops, bars, grocery stores, or “services for which delivery of food or groceries is the primary service.” So UberEats and Canada’s hometown hero SkipTheDishes are eligible, but grocery purchases made through more general retailers, like Amazon or Walmart, likely are not.

Based on online reports, despite clearly being food, purchases from meal kit companies like Hello Fresh and ChefsPlate aren’t posting with the bonus, so you may want to put those charges on another card.

That said, most grocery stores carry more than just groceries, so if you’re someone who picks up gift cards from the grocery store for holidays and birthdays, you should be able to earn 5x points on those too. That benefit may be why a key limitation on this benefit came into effect in August 2019 – the 5x bonus will max out at $30,000 in spend annually – anything above and beyond will earn just 1 point per dollar. The limit is based on your card anniversary date, NOT the calendar year.

2x on gas, local transport, and travel

Again, this is the kind of earn bonus that applies to your everyday life, not just jet setting jaunts. With the Amex Cobalt Card, you will earn 2x points on gas, taxis, public transit, and ridesharing services within Canada, as well as on flights, train tickets, ferries, hotels, and tours worldwide.

As with the Food and Beverage bonus, this one relies on merchant codes, so any snacks you buy in the gas station convenience store will likely garner you 2x points, rather than 5x.

1 point per dollar on everything else

The reward bonus categories cover a lot of ground for day-to-day and travel expenses, but on all other purchases, a 1 point per dollar rate applies.

Reward flexibility

So what can you do with all those points? The answer is almost anything, though the value can vary considerably depending on your choice.

The simplest option, and the lowest return, is to apply the points against individual purchases on your statement. 1,000 points get you $7, or $0.007 per point. Points applied against travel purchases get a noticeable bonus, with 1,000 points worth $10.

Points can also be redeemed for merchandise in the Membership Rewards shop, with values typically in the range of $0.007-$0.01 per point, depending on the item.

But the real value comes from the Fixed Points Travel Program, which lets you redeem points for revenue tickets, and is a program that doesn’t exist in the US. Offering redemption values as high as $0.02 per point, there is potential for huge value here when combined with the 5x spend multiplier.

I’ll have a specific post soon with details on the Fixed Points Travel Program, such as what counts as Popular or Short-haul destinations.

One key warning: the Membership Reward Select Points earned on this card aren’t the same as the Membership Reward Points earned by cards like the American Express® Gold Rewards Card or The Platinum Card®. While there are a few differences, the biggest one for travelers is that Aeroplan transfers aren’t allowed. So keep that in mind when considering the card.

Amex Cobalt first-year bonus

This bonus offer allows you to earn up to 30,000 extra points in your first year as an Amex Cobalt cardholder.

For each monthly billing period in which you put $500 in purchases on your card, you earn an additional 2,500 reward points. Given the excellent category bonuses on many of your everyday purchases, putting $500 per month through this card is a no-brainer, with the potential to earn up to 5,000 points per $500 for the first year.

Referral bonus

Convert friends and family to the Amex Cobalt Card and you can get another 5,000 reward points per approved referral to a maximum of 75,000 points.

Monthly fee

I track my budget pretty carefully, but I always forget to account for my credit card’s annual fee hitting my account. The Amex Cobalt Card has adopted the more modern and predictable approach of a smaller monthly fee. At $10/month, the annualized total is pretty similar to other rewards cards on the market, but it is also unlikely to take you by surprise.

Cobalt Perks program

Cobalt Cardmembers receive regular perks, bonus rewards and access to great events. Past Cobalt Perks include:

  • Earning extra Membership Rewards® Select points for spending on Cobalt
  • Getting statement credits for using your Card with your favorite brands
  • Early access to blockbuster movies, and tickets to VIP concert experiences

While the perks are quite varied, past offers have included bonus points from retailers like Amazon.ca that provide an easy opportunity to get bonus points from your day-to-day spending.

Amex perks

Ultimately, the Amex Cobalt Card is also an Amex and carries all of the rock-solid protections usually associated with the Amex brand. Insurance coverages include emergency medical, flight delay, baggage delay, hotel burglary, lost or stolen baggage, car rental theft and damage, travel accident, purchase protection, buyer’s assurance, and Amex’s fraud protection guarantee.

Amex Cobalt Card also includes the Amex Front of the Line program, which gives cardholders access to pre-sales for concert and event tickets.

In sum

Overall, the Amex Cobalt Card strikes as an excellent gateway into the Amex brand, combining plenty of opportunities to earn reward points, broad reward options, and all the features and protections you’ve come to expect from Amex, plus some perks aimed at millennial interests.

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So, what do you think – does Amex’s pitch to millennials resonate for you, or have they missed the mark on this hard-to-pin-down demographic?

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Comments
  1. Kate, I think you missed the best reward the card has. The ability to convert Cobalt MR points to Marriott Bonvoy at 5MR=6 Bonvoy

  2. Whaaaaaat…no “Bottom line”? Ironic considering it’s the one post where the term is almost used correctly 🙂

    The new limit of 30,000 points per year is why I won’t apply for the card. I find it a bit of a bait and switch, tbh.

  3. And you CAN convert MR (Cobalt) points into Aeroplan miles, by running them through a Bonvoy account. Transfer MR to Bonvoy, then shift Bonvoy points to Aeroplan miles.

  4. @KyleB, Ben values Bonvoy points at 0.7c each, so the fixed points flights at 1.8-2.0c each seems like a much higher value to me.

  5. Typo? At the beginning of this post, a warning is described about this card earning Membership Rewards *Select* points rather than “regular” Membership Rewards points. Then, at the end, mention is made of earning extra (regular?) Membership Rewards points based on Cobalt spend. In other words, it’s not *entirely* clear if all bonuses are Membership Rewards *Select* or (regular.)

  6. Okay, I just have to say, as a fellow Canadian, this article is really poor. The $30,000 change comes into effect today, August 20, not August 1. A simple click on the Cobalt page on the AMEX Canada website will show this. The card has been out since 2017, so it didn’t come out “last year”. Also, as another commenter already said, the best perk of this card is that is transfers to Marriott at 5:6, which was left out of your article.

    I’m excited to see more fellow Canadian content on here, but please please research and double-check everything before posting because the last thing we need is false or incomplete information being spread around, especially to an audience the size that OMAAT has.

  7. If you have an Amex that earns “full” MR points (Gold or Platinum), can you transfer the MR Select to full MR?
    I think that’s possible in the US, but not sure in Canada.

  8. @Todd: There’s no limit on the number of points you can earn with the Cobalt card. The only limitation is on the 5x multiplier, which applies on the first $30K spent in that category per year. (After that, you’ll still earn 1x the points per dollar spent in that category.) Factoring in the 30K bonus for spending $500+ each month on the card, it’s perfectly feasible to hit 100K MR Select points in the first year, even with only pretty casual spending.

  9. Carlos, yes it does. The only one I remember that didn’t—that I ever had—was the Chase Marriott. But Chase left the Canadian scene a while back.

  10. Are your valuations of 1000 points = $7 described here in CAD or USD?

    Also notable: acceptance of AmEx in Canada (at least in Quebec) sucks. For example, it’s not accepted at my local (major) grocery store — so much for the 5X bonus!

  11. I’ve got agree with some here, this is not well researched. This card has been out for some time and the details are public knowledge. I’m all for Canadian content but make it readable.

  12. What cross border cards can a US citizen apply in the Canadian market or for that matter worldwide?

  13. “I’ll have a specific post soon with details on the Fixed Points Travel Program, such as what counts as Popular or Short-haul destinations.”

    When you do, I hope it is in-depth and well researched on this option. Some suggestions include how to book the flights you want and not the ones it suggests (ie: segment by segment, mix multiple airlines etc). This would be very unique and useful information.

    Thanks for adding a Canadian perspective and looking forward to it refining and improving with each post.

  14. “Based on online reports, despite clearly being food, purchases from meal kit companies like Hello Fresh and ChefsPlate aren’t posting with the bonus, so you may want to put those charges on another card.”

    Are you sure about that? At least on the US side, Hello Fresh purchases most definitely do post as grocery purchases when you pay with an Amex. I’ve been taking advantage of the 4x on groceries with the Amex Gold on Hello Fresh boxes for quite some time now.

  15. Hi Kate, welcome ! How about additional cardholders, in my case my wife . Is it possible? Is there a fee? Thank you

  16. Looks (as in aesthetically) exactly like the Amex Explorer in Australia. That was an amazing offering for a while, 100,000 point signup bonus, 2x points on everything, and linked to Platinum Edge (3x on fuel/supermarket) all points transferred 1:1 to airlines.

    Our MR programme was decimated in April, it’s not 2:1 for airlines. Was good while it lasted though.

  17. On Amex’s website, Cobalt is marked to be earning Membership Reward Points instead of Membership Reward Select Points. There are also articles online released recently reporting Amex phasing out Select Points. Can you verify that?

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