Seriously, when's the last time we actually got an brand new credit card product here in Canada? For the life of me, I can't remember a single noteworthy new entrant since I started playing the game a few years ago. That's why this week's news about the American Express Cobalt Card is so exciting!
American Express has revealed precious little on their official website, where a mere teaser page for the Cobalt Card has been set up. But in the meantime, a lot of information about the card has been put together – all credit where it's due – by the good folks over at FlyerTalk and RedFlagDeals, as well as the venerable PointsNerd who's done some magnificent investigative work.
Let's delve into the details of what we know so far. This article will also be periodically updated as new information filters through and the card becomes open for applications.
Many sources have confirmed that American Express are taking the Cobalt Card in a completely new direction. Instead of the tried-and-true model of a one-time welcome bonus and a three-month spending requirement, together with an annual fee, the Cobalt Card will be moving towards a monthly rewards cycle.
That means that everything will be calculated on a per month basis. The annual membership fee of $120 is billed across 12 months, at a rate of $10/month. In addition, the minimum spending requirement is now a monthly requirement rather than for the first three months, and it's been set at $500 per month.
In exchange for all that, you'll get a bonus of 2,500 Membership Rewards points for every month that you meet the $500 spending requirement. And if you apply prior to January 30, 2018, you'll get a traditional signup bonus offer as well: 10,000 MR points after spending $3,000 within the first three months.
I have to give Amex credit for their innovation here. It's clear that they're diversifying from their traditionally older user base and targeting the "millennial" segment with the Cobalt Card. Moving to a monthly membership model is entirely consistent with that target demographic.
In fact, the Cobalt almost feels as though it's a monthly subscription of sorts – the "Netflix of credit cards", if you will – and that kind of business model seems to be wildly successful these days. Although it remains to be seen in the adoption phase whether the card will be as much of a game-changer as Amex intends, it's my opinion that the initial Cobalt offering does a good job of setting it up for success.
Now I'm sure you're all excited to be cashing in your monthly 2,500 MR points for Aeroplan or Avios. But hang on a second... it's also been widely confirmed that the Cobalt Card will earn Membership Rewards Select points, which are of a lower "tier" than the usual MR program that we've come to know and love.
Specifically, airline transfer partners will not be available for MR points earned on the Cobalt, while hotel transfer partners will be available, and at the same transfer rates (1:1 to Hilton HHonors and 2:1 to SPG).
The last thing I wanted to say about the bonuses is that since the Cobalt will be giving you spending bonuses rather than a welcome bonus, it wouldn't necessarily make sense to cancel the card and reapply some period of time later as you might do with most other Canadian credit cards.
Instead, the Cobalt is more suited for keeping in your wallet for regular spending, especially if the rewards structure makes sense for you given your spending patterns. Let's talk about that...
Besides the monthly rewards system, the other standout feature we've learned about the Cobalt Card is how you earn rewards on your spending. You'll earn:
- 5 MR points per dollar spent on groceries & dining, specifically "(i) restaurant, quick service restaurant, coffee shop and drinking establishments in Canada, (ii) stand-alone grocery stores in Canada, (iii) delivery of food and groceries in Canada as a primary business"
- 2 MR points per dollar spent on travel purchases, transit, and transportation, specifically "(i) stand-alone automobile gasoline stations in Canada, (ii) travel services or travel bookings including air, water, rail and road transport, lodging and tour operator sales, (iii) local commuter transportation in Canada including subway, streetcar, taxi, limousine and ride sharing services"
- 1 MR point per dollar spent on all other purchases
As you can see it doesn't take a genius to figure out that Amex has the millennial demographic locked in their sights with this credit card. As someone who's often lumped into the millennial category myself, I can attest to the fact that the vast majority of my spending goes towards food and travel, so I'd get amazing value out of this card.
It's also refreshingly great news to finally see a 5x category multiplier on spending in Canada, which is something our neighbours to the south have had for many, many years.
With airline transfers partners restricted on the Cobalt Card, the next best option for your MR points is of course to transfer to Starwood Preferred Guest at 2:1 ratio. This means that you could be earning 2.5 Starpoints per dollar spent at grocery stores and restaurants, which is an absolute dream of an earning rate.
After all, Starpoints are notoriously difficult to earn, with most co-branded cards around the world offering only 1 Starpoint per dollar on spending. So getting 2.5 Starpoints per dollar is an incredible proposition, and the mind wanders as to any potential ways to generate truckloads of Starpoints via "diligent" grocery store shopping...
(I should note, however, that the future of the combined Marriott/SPG rewards program remains unclear, and any changes to the program and/or partnerships with Amex might result in a shift in the value proposition as well.)
Looking at the 2x multiplier categories, the earn rate on travel purchases is the same as the American Express Gold Rewards Card. With the recent news that the Gold Rewards Card will no longer waive the annual fee in the first year, it's perhaps unclear which card is more competitive when it comes to booking travel – the annual fee on the Gold Rewards Card is higher ($150 vs $120), but the MR points you earn on that card can actually be transferred to airline partners, unlike the Cobalt.
From what I've gathered, the American Express Cobalt Card will come with very comprehensive travel insurance benefits, not far from being on par with the other medium-to-top-tier Amex cards like the Gold Rewards Card or even the Platinum Card.
The major coverage categories are pretty much all included, with the exception of Trip Interruption and Trip Cancellation. In particular, the following benefits are included:
- Emergency medical insurance, of up to $5,000,000 per insured person
- Lost, stolen, or damaged baggage insurance, of up to $500
- Baggage delay insurance, of up to $500
- Car rental loss or damage insurance, so you can save on the insurance fees usually charged by car rental companies
- Hotel or motel burglary insurance, of up to $500
I think it's a great move by Amex to include medical travel insurance on the card. A lot of younger travellers I know don't see the need to obtain travel insurance before each trip, or don't want to deal with the hassle, especially if they're often on the road. (I'm often guilty of this myself.) The fact that travel insurance is included if you book your trip with the Cobalt Card is sure to be appealing to many cardholders.
The American Express Cobalt Card became available for applications on September 26, 2017. It should be noted that the Cobalt Card is supposedly a credit card rather than a charge card, and you can usually only hold two credit cards with Amex at once (there's no limit on charge cards).
Great Canadian Rebates is offering a $50 cashback for applying for the card, and the bonus offer is the exact same as applying directly through the Amex website. You can access the application at the below link:
There's also a great offer of a $100 statement credit when you make a purchase of $100 or more on Ticketmaster. This is on top of all the great perks and bonuses I've already mentioned. You can access the offer at the below link:
I will also update with more information on the card as it comes out. In particular, those of us who like collecting points still have lots of questions, such as:
- Will there be a limit to how many MR points can be earned under the 5x multiplier? (Update: Doesn't seem like it.)
- Will you be able to pool MR points earned on the Cobalt Card with regular MR points? (Update: Doesn't seem like it, and this was probably wishful thinking to start with.)
- Will there be referrals for the Cobalt Card? Will you be able to refer from Cobalt to Cobalt only, or from/to other cards in the Membership Rewards family as well? (Update: YES – you are able to refer FROM and TO either the Cobalt Card or the American Express Gold Rewards Card for 5,000 MR points a pop. These will be regular MR points if you're referring from the Gold Rewards Card, and MR Select points if you're referring from the Cobalt Card.)
After a couple of years of mostly negative changes to their suite of credit cards, it's a breath of fresh air to see American Express shake things up a bit and come out with a completely new card.
I wish Amex every success with the Cobalt Card. I will certainly be grabbing one and trying it out, and I expect to get very good value out of it, given that my spending patterns are pretty much a hand-in-glove fit with the rewards structure.