The American Express Gold Rewards Card has long been considered one of Canada’s most iconic credit cards. However, it’s the American Express Cobalt Card that has received the lion’s share of attention since its launch in 2017, especially after undergoing significant positive changes in 2021.
The Cobalt is often considered the ultimate lifestyle card, popular among millennials thanks to its excellent category spending multipliers. Meanwhile, the Gold Rewards Card continues to posses known for providing a generous welcome bonus without a high annual fee.
Both cards are powerful for earning Membership Rewards points, renowned for their flexibility and value in unlocking high-value travel.
In this edition of Head-to-Head, we’ll pit the American Express Cobalt Card against the American Express Gold Rewards Card.
1. Welcome Bonus
Let’s compare the welcome bonuses on the two cards from a historical viewpoint, as the specific bonuses at any moment in time can always fluctuate.
Since its relaunch in mid-2021, the Gold Rewards Card has offered a welcome bonus between 50,000 and 75,000 MR points.
There’s typically a minimum spending requirement of $3,000 in the first three months, and some parts of the welcome bonus can also be structured as 10x points on travel or as a second-year component to be granted between months 14 and 17.
Meanwhile, the Cobalt Card has always had a unique signup structure, in which you earn 2,500 MR points for each of the first 12 months in which you spend $500, for a total of 30,000 MR points in the first year.
On top of this, we’ve seen limited-time bonuses on the Cobalt Card with a minimum spending component (typically $3,000 in the first three months), which can bring the overall welcome bonus as high as 50,000 MR points.
Verdict: Although the offers on both cards do vary over time, the Gold Rewards Card typically offers an equal or higher welcome bonus than the Cobalt Card.
2. Points Currency
Ever since the Cobalt Card made significant improvements in mid-2021, the two cards effectively earn the same type of points currency: our beloved American Express Membership Rewards points, which can be transferred at a 1:1 ratio to Aeroplan and British Airways Avios, a 1:1.2 ratio to Marriott Bonvoy, and many more partner programs.
Under the surface, the Cobalt Card continues to earn “MR Select points”, which is technically a lower tier of points compared to the Gold Rewards Card’s “true” MR points.
However, the only meaningful difference here is that the two tiers of points cannot be combined into a single pool of MR points, since the Cobalt Card earns in a lower tier.
Verdict: For most practical redemption purposes, the two cards earn equivalent Membership Rewards points – the most powerful points currency in Canada.
3. Annual Fee
Both cards have fairly reasonable annual fees, but again, there are differences in the structure.
The Amex Cobalt Card charges a monthly fee of $12.99, yielding a total yearly fee of $155.88.
On the other hand, the Amex Gold Rewards Card has a fee of $250, charged on the first billing statement and annually thereafter.
On the surface, it seems that the Cobalt Card has the lower annual fee in addition to a more flexible payment structure. However, the Gold Rewards Card also comes with an annual $100 travel credit, which can be redeemed for any type of travel booked through American Express, including refundable hotel purchases.
When the travel credit is netted against the annual cost, we can think of Amex Gold Rewards Card as having an effective annual fee of only $150.
Verdict: Taking the Gold Rewards Card’s $100 travel credit into account, it’ll cost you slightly less out-of-pocket per year compared to the Cobalt.
4. Earning Rates
The American Express Cobalt Card has one of the best earning rate structures for ongoing spending of any Canadian credit card. It’s the only card offering 5x MR points in any spending category, and will therefore be difficult to beat.
The Cobalt Card earns:
- 5 MR points per dollar spent on eligible groceries and dining, up to $30,000 spent per membership year
- 3 MR points per dollar spent on eligible streaming services
- 2 MR points per dollar spent on eligible travel purchases, gas, and transit
- 1 MR point per dollar spent on all other eligible purchases
Meanwhile, the Gold Rewards Card has the following earning structure:
- 2 MR points per dollar spent at gas stations, grocery stores, and drugstores in Canada
- 2 MR points per dollar spent on eligible travel purchases (and 1 additional MR per dollar spent when booking your hotel or car rental through American Express Travel)
- 1 MR point per dollar spent on all other purchases
We can see that both cards earn 2x points on travel and gas purchases and 1x points on all other purchases. The Gold Rewards Card holds the edge when it comes to spending at drugstores, but the Cobalt Card’s 5x earning rate on “eats and drinks” simply cannot be beat.
Plus, the Cobalt Card can effectively earn 5x points on a much wider range of purchases as well, by buying gift cards at grocery stores for use at other retailers up to the annual limit of $30,000 in purchases per year.
Verdict: The Cobalt Card’s 5x multiplier is significantly more valuable than the 2x maximum on the Gold Rewards Card. Unless you happen to do all your shopping at drugstores, the 5x earning rate of the Cobalt Card make it a clear winner in this category.
5. Foreign Transaction Fees
Both cards continue to levy an industry-standard 2.5% foreign exchange fee. In this respect, neither card is as strong as Canada’s best No FX Fee credit cards when making foreign purchases.
The one exception may be if you’re spending in the “eats and drinks” category on the Cobalt Card. Although the terms say otherwise, foreign dining and groceries purchases do continue to earn 5x MR points, so the Cobalt Card would still earn you a good return despite the 2.5% FX fee.
Verdict: In terms of the foreign transaction fee itself, the two cards are deadlocked at an uninspiring 2.5% surcharge.
6. Card Type
American Express offers both credit cards (which have established credit limits) and charge cards (which come with no preset limit). Each cardholder can typically hold a maximum of four credit cards at one time, with no restrictions on the number of charge cards.
While the Gold Rewards Card was previously designated a charge card, it has now switched to being a credit card as of its mid-2021 relaunch. Meanwhile, the Cobalt Card has always been a credit card since it was launched in 2017.
Verdict: Both cards are credit cards, and will thus count towards your limit of four American Express credit cards. Given that there are quite a few other Amex credit cards worth holding, this makes choosing one card between the Gold and the Cobalt all the more significant.
Perks and Benefits
On mid-range credit cards with annual fees in the region of $150 like these two, we typically see a handful of perks to justify the cost year after year. Let’s see how the Gold Rewards Card and Cobalt Card compare in this respect.
1. Lounge Access
The Amex Gold Rewards Card offers a few notable benefits in this department. Cardholders gain four complimentary visits to Plaza Premium lounges ever year, which can be used by the cardholder themselves or any of their guests.
This is perhaps the most meaningful lounge benefit on the card, given Plaza Premium’s significant presence in Canada.
In addition, a complimentary Priority Pass membership unlocks access to over 1,300 airport lounges; however, an entry fee of US$32 must still be paid per visit. This makes the Gold Rewards Card inferior to the higher-echelon Platinum Card in terms of Priority Pass lounge access.
The Amex Cobalt Card does not currently have any similar offerings for lounge access.
Verdict: The Gold Rewards Card handily beats out its deep-blue millennial-oriented cousin in this category, offering a meaningful number of Plaza Premium visits per year as one of the primary justifications for $150 net annual fee.
2. Other Benefits
In addition to airport lounge access, the Gold Rewards Card offers a $100 annual travel credit. We’ve already touched upon this benefit above in the Annual Fee section, so we’ll exclude it from this discussion.
There’s also a separate credit worthy of consideration: a $50 (CAD) NEXUS credit once every four years. However, this credit will only go partway towards covering a NEXUS application or renewal, since the application cost is US$50 instead.
Despite the Gold Rewards Card’s rather middling benefits outside of lounge access, the Cobalt Card still doesn’t compete. Indeed, as a card that relies on its 5x earning rate as its main value proposition, there aren’t many ongoing perks to speak of.
Verdict: The Amex Gold Rewards Card offers some “nice to have” benefits compared to the minimal additional perks on the Cobalt Card, and is again the clear winner in this round.
1. Supplementary Cards
While some popular credit cards charge $50 or more for adding authorized users, the Cobalt Card doesn’t charge any additional fees.
Furthermore, you can request up to nine cards for supplementary cardholders, allowing you to spread the 5x earning capacity across all your household members (and take part in their 5x earning capacities too after you’ve hit your $30,000 annual limit on one account).
By contrast, the Amex Gold Card offers only one free additional cardholder. Any more will incur a fee of $50 per year.
Verdict: The Cobalt Card is a lot more favourable for adding supplementary cards. Adding your family members as free authorized users would significantly increase your ability to rack up the points as a household.
2. Travel Insurance
When charging travel purchases to both the Amex Gold Rewards Card and Amex Cobalt Card, you’ll receive a generous array of insurance coverage, including:
- Emergency medical insurance for the first 15 days of each out-of-province trip, up to a maximum of $5,000,000 per insured person under 65
- Lost, stolen, or damaged baggage insurance, up to $500 per trip
- 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
- Travel accident insurance, up to $500,000 for you, your spouse, and any dependent children under 23
However, the Gold Rewards Card sets itself apart with an additional type of coverage: trip cancellation and trip interruption insurance, up to $1,500 per insured per person per trip, up to a maximum of $3,000 combined per trip.
Verdict: Both cards offer excellent medical insurance of up to $5,000,000, standing out against the industry standard of $1,000,000 with comparable cards from competing banks.
However, the Cobalt falls behind with a lack of trip interruption and trip cancellation insurance, so in terms of the overall insurance package, the Gold Rewards Card prevails.
3. Ease of Getting Approved
While similar mid-range travel cards from other banks typically have an annual income requirement ranging from $60,000–80,000, both the Amex Cobalt and Amex Gold Rewards Card cards have no specific income requirements.
A good credit score is still necessary for the best chances of getting approved, although American Express has proven to be among the more lenient issuers historically.
Verdict: Like all American Express products in Canada, there’s no income requirement on either card, and the approval process should be relatively straightforward.
4. Visual Appearance
The Amex Gold Rewards Card has a slick metal finish, with the option to select either the traditional gold colour or a distinct rose gold.
On the other hand, the Amex Cobalt Card has a striking deep-blue design. Since its refresh in mid-2021, the card is made from 99% recycled plastic.
Verdict: While the Cobalt Card still has an attractive look, by all accounts the 99% recycled plastic card issued in 2021 onwards makes it feel a bit cheap.
Compare that to the Gold Rewards Card, whose iconic gold colour is now further weighted with a metal body and a rose-gold alternative, and I’d pick the Gold Rewards Card as the winner of this admittedly rather superficial category.
The American Express Cobalt Card and the American Express Gold Rewards Card are both excellent travel rewards cards in Canada, primarily due to their ability to earn large quantities of all-powerful Membership Rewards points.
The Gold Rewards Card’s welcome bonus is typically stronger than the Cobalt’s; however, if you’re planning on keeping the cards past the first year, then the Amex Cobalt Card far exceeds the Gold Card in its ability to earn points through regular spending, thanks to its 5x MR points on groceries and dining.
If you’re more interested in ongoing travel benefits, though, the Amex Gold Rewards overshadows the Cobalt on its lounge access benefits and travel insurance – all with a marginally lower annual fee, thanks to the $100 annual travel credit.
Overall, if I had to pick one of these cards to keep long-term (perhaps with the Amex four credit card limit in mind), I’d go with the Cobalt for its earning prowess – though not after taking the Gold Rewards Card for a spin on an elevated welcome bonus and a quartet of Plaza Premium lounge visits.