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  • Jason

AMEX IMPROVES COBALT CARD OFFERINGS


If you already hold an American Express Cobalt card then you will know that American Express has significantly improved the benefits offered by the card. If you don't already hold the Cobalt card, well, you should seriously think about making room for this card in your wallet.


When American Express introduced the Cobalt card into the Canadian market in 2017, it was an instant hit, primarily because it offered the following multipliers on purchases all at a relatively reasonable fee of $10 per month:

  • 5X earnings on groceries, restaurants and meal deliveries

  • 2X earnings on gas, transit, air travel and ride sharing purchases

The 5X earnings rate on groceries, restaurants and meal deliveries was particularly attractive in comparison to other cards. The one down side was that the points earned were Membership Rewards Select (MRS) points which, unlike the Amex Platinum or Gold cards which earn Membership Reward (MR) points, could not be transferred directly to airline loyalty programs. MRS points could, however, be transferred to the Marriott Bonvoy program at a rate of 1 MRS = 1.2 Marriott Bonvoy points. As a result, the card was particularly well placed for collecting Marriott points since, for example, $1 spent at a grocery story would equal 5 MRS points which could then be converted to 6 Marriot Bonvoy points. That well surpassed the earning rate on the American Express Bonvoy card where $1 spent on groceries only yields 2 Marriot Bonvoy Points. Once the MRS points were converted to Bonvoy points, you could then convert them to Aeroplan at a rate of 60,000 Bonvoy points = 25,000 Aeroplan points. Going through that process worked out to an effective earn rate of 2.5 Aeroplan points per dollar spent on groceries, restaurants and meal delivery. Needless to say, many people saw the value proposition offered by the Cobalt Card and it was a hit in the marketplace.


Improved Benefits

As of August 16, 2021, American Express has further improved the card benefits to include the following:

  • The card now earns MR points rather than MRS points.

  • A new multiplier category: earn 3X points per $1 spent on eligible streaming subscriptions which includes Apple TV+, Apple Music, Crave, Disney+, fuboTV, hayu, Netflix, RDS, SiriusXM Canada, Spotify and TSN.

  • Mobile Device Insurance which provides up to $1,000 coverage for theft, loss or accidental damage to your phone (note, this coverage requires that you have purchased your phone with your Cobalt card).

The big news here is that the Cobalt card now earns MR points rather than the more limited MRS points. As a result the points can now be transferred directly to Amex airline loyalty partners such as Aeroplan and British Airways Avios. In the case of Aeroplan and Avios points, MR points transfer at a rate of 1:1. With the 5X earning multiplier for grocery stores, restaurants and meal delivery, $1 spent at a grocery store, restaurant or on meal deliveries will now earn 5 MR points which is equal to 5 Aeroplan points. When it comes to grocery, restaurant and meal delivery purchases, there is no better card currently on the market to earn MR points.


As well, the addition of the new streaming multiplier category to the already existing multiplier categories is a welcome opportunity to provide a small boost to your collection of MR points.


Increased Fee

The old saying, "Nothing in life is free", equally applies to increased benefits on credit cards. Previously the Cobalt charged a monthly (as opposed to annual) fee of $10 per month. That monthly fee has now been increased to $12.99 per month, amounting to an effective increase on an annual basis of $35.88. In my view, the modest fee increase is easily outweighed by earning more versatile points that can result in higher value redemptions.


Increased Welcome Bonus

Prior to implementing the new benefits of the Cobalt card, the official welcome bonus was 30,000 MRS points. Upon the launch of the improved Cobalt card benefits, Amex is currently offering a 50,000 welcome bonus - and those points are now MR points, transferable to 50,000 Aeroplan points. As the Cobalt card has always done, the points are awarded over the course of the first year and require monthly spend, as follows:


  • 2,500 MR points for each month in the first year that you spend $500 or more on your Cobalt card = 30,000 points

  • 20,000 MR points when you spend $3,000 or more on your card in the first three months.

To earn the welcome bonus you would need to spend at least $7,500 ($1,000 each of the first three months and $500 per month for the next nine months). If all of that spend was for dining, groceries and meal deliveries, you would get 5X MR points, totalling 37,500 points. Adding that to the welcome bonus, would net you 87,500 MR points at the end of the year. That would be enough to redeem for a one way business class ticket to Europe or Japan if you transferred those points to Aeroplan. Alternatively, you could book a return economy ticket to Europe. A pretty fantastic return for the $155 in fees you would incur over the year.


Conclusion

The Cobalt card was already a pretty great card with its earning multipliers. Amex has gone and made it even better. The fact that one can now earn 5X MR points on groceries, restaurants and meal deliveries is huge. The increased fee seems fair given you will now earn MR points rather than MRS points thereby opening up transfers to airline loyalty programs.


What is curious is that the Cobalt card now provides significantly more earning power than Amex's premiere credit card products. It earns considerably more MR points on grocery purchases than the 2X MR points earned by the Amex Gold, at only a slightly higher fee. It also earns significantly more MR points for restaurant purchases than the 3X MR points earned by the Amex Platinum, all at a much lower annual fee. Indeed, the Cobalt card seems to be the total package when it comes to earning MR points. It makes one think that Amex will need to improve the offerings of its Gold card and its flagship Platinum card to avoid people jumping ship from those cards to the cheaper Cobalt card. Certainly the Amex Platinum card comes with a suite of benefits that are not offered by the Cobalt card, but at a very hefty fee in comparison to the Cobalt card. As for the Gold card, which is currently closed to new applications, I currently see very little reason to hold the Gold card over the Cobalt card.





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