Is the American Express Cobalt Card Worth It?

American Express Canada released the Amex Cobalt card in September 2017. Here's an overview of the Cobalt card and how it might affect U.S. cards in the future. 

The Cobalt card is available to Canadians only, and it's interesting because it distributes the traditional annual fee into monthly payments. 

American Express Cobalt Card

  • Monthly fee: $10
  • Sign-up bonus: 40,000 points; in the first year, earn 2,500 MR points for each month you spend more than $500 on the card. Earn an additional 10,000 MR points when you spend at least $3,000 within the first three months of opening the card.
  • Earn 5x on eats and drinks
  • Earn 2x on travel and transit 
  • Earn 1x on everything else

Is the Amex Cobalt Card Worth It?

To calculate if the Amex Cobalt card is worth it, use the spreadsheet below to calculate the numbers.

Instructions:

1. File -> Save As or Make a Copy
2. Only modify the RED and YELLOW cells, maybe BLUE if it makes sense for you. DO NOT modify the WHITE cells (they contain formulas).

Access the calculator here: http://bit.ly/2lt8xj4

 Amex cobalt calculator

Amex cobalt calculator

 How Much are Points Worth?

The first thing we need to do is figure out how much each MR point is worth. There are four ways to redeem points:

  1. Ticketmaster.ca
  2. Statement credit towards travel purchases
  3. Transfer to SPG at 2:1 rate
  4. Long-haul flight in Canada/CONUS
 how to redeem points

how to redeem points

The best redemption is for long-haul flights in Canada when you book through the Amex travel portal. The caveat is that the flights have to cost under $299.99 to redeem with points.

If you have multiple flights, I would try to redeem for at least 1.8 Cents Per Point (CPP):

  • 1.5 CPP = $225
  • 1.6 CPP = $240
  • 1.7 CPP = $255
  • 1.8 CPP = $270
  • 1.9 CPP - $285
  • 2.0 = $299.99

For any flight redemptions under $270, it might not be worth using points because you're not getting "good value."

How to Redeem Points

The next thing we need to do is decide how to redeem points. Choose between A, B, C, or D and enter the letter in cell O2. 

 enter a letter in cell o2

enter a letter in cell o2

Year 1 Value

The rest of the sheet is fill in the blanks for redeeming points.

  • RED cells = Expenses related to the sign-up bonus of $10,000 MR points after spending $3,000 within the first three months
  • YELLOW cells = Expenses during month 4
  • BLUE cells = The BLUE cells pull from the YELLOW cells and calculate the values for months 5-12

If you hit the minimum spend requirement of $3,000 within the first three months, then you come out ahead with a net $529. You're paying $120 in fees. 

 year one expected value

year one expected value

Year 2 Value

In Year 2, if you were to spend at least $100/month in each category, you would be losing $2/month, which comes out to -$24/year. You're getting $96 in value, but the annual fee is $120.

Again, feel free to alter the BLUE cells with your estimated expenses. 

 year 2 calculations

year 2 calculations

If you're not getting positive expected value, it may make sense to cancel the card.

U.S. Market

Given how popular the Amex Cobalt card is, I'm curious about how it will affect new U.S. products in the future. My educated guess is that Amex is using the Canadian market as a testing ground to see if a similar card would succeed in the U.S. 

I think a similar card would do well in the U.S., but the credit card market is significantly more competitive compared to Canada.

In Canada, a 1% no annual fee credit card is exciting. In contrast, you would need to earn at least 2% on everything to be exciting in the U.S.