Recently there's been a lot of buzz from Canadian's losing the Chase Marriott Visa. Although it is still to be confirmed, it's looking unlikely that we will get a replacement card from another financial institution and instead there will likely be a push to the SPG AMEX card. Naturally, this led me to doing some research to see if it's worth taking the plunge.
First let me say AMEX has a fantastic rewards program, but unlike in the US, it's acceptance in Canada and abroad from a merchant perspective is mediocre at best. So although the $30,000 Gold bonus and $40,000 free night bonus really aren't that hard to attain for most middle-income families, it is an issue when merchant acceptance is not broad enough. You still get 2 Starpoints for every Marriott/Starwood stay (expires Feb 15/18) and 1 for every other purchase, equaling 6 and 3 Marriott rewards points respectively after the 3:1 ratio. Pretty solid. But, recognizing I may only get to take advantage of the 3:1 conversion ratio and miss out on the other spend bonuses I did some exploring for some alternatives.
Enter the AMEX Cobalt card (offered only in Canada), it's still a fairly new card (~Sept 2017), but it's generating a lot of buzz.
From an entertainment access and shopping coverage aspect everything is the same as the SPG Card, from the travel insurance perspective things basically line-up perfectly with two discernible differences, the AMEX Cobalt Card has Emergency Medical Insurance (out of province/country): Provides coverage for eligible emergency medical expenses incurred while traveling outside your Canadian province or territory of residence, for the first 15 consecutive days of each trip, up to a maximum of $5,000,000 per insured person, for all insured persons under the age of 65. SPG does not. Both have Travel Accident Insurance, but SPG has $500k with while Cobalt has $250k.
With the Cobalt you get nothing, it's all about the transnational earning (more on this below). With SPG you get the free weekend night award at $40,000. Upgrade to Starwood Gold at $30,000 and you're considered a Preferred Plus member just for having it (same as how the Marriott Card gives Silver status, just no nights bonus).
Daily Spend/Earn Rate
With the SPG you get 1 Starpoint for every day purchases and 2 for hotel bookings (expires Feb 15/18). These can be transferred to Marriott at the 3:1.
The Cobalt Card was designed to be targeted at millennials, but in my opinion it's a card for everyone. With this card you earn 5x the AMEX points on purchases at grocery stores, restaurants, bars, cafes and food delivery services! You might be wondering, okay... in simple terms please...
AMEX points are convertible to SPG points at a 2:1 ratio, this means for every dollar spent at a 5x location you are earning 2.5 SPG points or 7.5 Marriott Reward Points vs the 3 you get with the SPG Card, this is a 250% higher earn rate!
For purchases on travel, transit and gas you earn 2x AMEX points, equal to 1 SPG point. Lastly, for everything else you earn 1 AMEX point, equal to 0.5 SPG points.
With the SPG Card you get 20,000 Starpoints after $1,500 in purchases in your first 3 months. I'll be generous and say 25,000 points as this is the upcoming offer.
With Cobalt you get 2,500 pts per monthly billing period up to 30,000 for your first year when you spend more than $500/month (easy target) + 10,000 bonus points if you spend $3,000 in your first 3 months. So a total of 40,000 bonus points which is equal to 20,000 Starpoints.
Edge: Slight edge to SPG (potential maximum faster + current 5,000 bonus)
$120 for SPG, $10/mo for Cobalt (first monthly annual fee card). Probably not a big factor for the majority, but still cool.
Edge: Equal or slight edge to Cobalt
With the Chase Marriott Visa exiting Canada you may be looking for alternatives, but before you go right to the obvious answer (SPG AMEX), strongly consider the AMEX Cobalt.
Look at where you do your spending, if you do a lot of spending on food and drinks (includes grocery stores) then the Cobalt is likely the choice for you. Also when thinking about day-to-day purchases ask yourself if the $30,000/$40,000 SPG bonuses are even reasonable if only 50-75% of merchants accept AMEX. Next ask yourself do these bonuses even given you enough value? Also keep in mind AMEX points are intended to be used as AMEX points, this is a hybrid card of travel/shopping points with conversion options. The AMEX stand-alone points platform has a lot of value and flexibility, I just wanted to paint a direct comparison in terms of SPG/MR points as that's probably most applicable to those here.