In-depth breakdown: American Express Cobalt vs. Scotiabank Gold AMEX

Jordann Brown
by Jordann Brown September 25, 2019 / No Comments

We’re back with another credit card battle, and this time we’re comparing two of the country’s top overall travel rewards cards.

In one corner we’ve got the Scotiabank Gold American Express – which offers a powerful rewards scheme and great travel perks. In the other corner is the American Express Cobalt, a travel credit card with a points program robust enough to compete with the best.

Let’s jump right into the battle by comparing two of Canada’s best travel credit cards side by side:

Scotiabank Gold vs AMEX Cobalt

Scotiabank Gold vs AMEX Cobalt

Both these credit cards are from American Express, and they each offer strong travel rewards for high volume spenders, but there are differences between the two that may help you decide which one is the right choice for you.

Annual fee

Winner: AMEX Cobalt (but just slightly)

The Scotiabank Gold American Express and the American Express Cobalt both have an annual fee of $120 for the primary cardholder, so the two cards are evenly matched in this respect.

That said, the American Express Cobalt does offer free supplementary credit cards, so it won’t cost anything to add an authorized user. That means you and your partner or family member can both use the Cobalt as a joint credit card to rack up points together without having to pay a second fee. Unlike the Cobalt, the Scotiabank Gold American Express charges $29 for each supplementary card.

If you plan to pick up an additional card under your name, the American Express Cobalt could work out to be the more cost-effective option.

Earning rewards and bonus categories

Winner: Scotiabank Gold American Express (but just slightly)

When you spend with the Scotiabank Gold American Express, you’ll earn:

  • 5 points per dollar on groceries, entertainment, and restaurants;
  • 3 points per dollar on daily transit (public transit, taxis, and rideshares), gas stations, and on select streaming services; and
  • 1 point per dollar on everything else.

The biggest drawback of the Scotiabank Gold when compared to the Cobalt is it doesn’t offer any bonus points on travel purchases, so you’ll get just 1 point per dollar on all your flight and hotel spending.

The American Express Cobalt Card’s rewards scheme is also strong, offering:

  • 5 points per dollar on groceries and restaurants;
  • 2 points per dollar on travel (flights and hotel stays), gas, and daily transit (public transit, taxis, and rideshares); and
  • 1 point for everything else.

The AMEX Cobalt wins in one big area: it offers double the points on travel spending compared to the Scotiabank Gold.

Overall though, the American Express Cobalt only offers 2 points on gas and daily transit compared to the 3 points from the Scotiabank Gold American Express, which is an important consideration when you factor for the cost of your daily commute. The Cobalt also offers fewer bonus categories when compared to the Scotiabank Gold, since it doesn’t offer any bonus points on entertainment purchases or streaming services.

Redeeming points

Winner: AMEX Cobalt

Both these cards boast some of the most flexible travel loyalty programs in Canada, but the American Express Cobalt does win out.

With the Scotiabank Gold American Express, 1 Scotia point always equals to $0.01 (or a straight 1%) when redeemed for travel. It kind of acts like a cash back credit card for flights. You can use points to book flights on the airline of your choice by either using the Scotia Rewards’ full-service agency or through the Scotiabank app as a statement credit. Additionally, you can apply points to cover the cost of taxes and fees.

When redeeming your rewards with the American Express Cobalt, however, you can use your points in either one of three ways:

  • At a flat rate of 1,000 points for $10 (or 1%) for flights on the airline of your choice, similar to the Scotia Rewards program;
  • Through American Express’ Fixed Points Travel Program – which lets you redeem points for round-trip flights against a chart (kind of like Aeroplan) and reap a higher return out of your points; or
  • By transferring your American Express Membership Select points to Bonvoy points.

The Fixed Points Travel Program is a unique advantage the American Express Cobalt has over the Scotiabank Gold, and depending on the flight destination and the price of the ticket, you could get up to 1.5% – 2% per point through this program versus the standard 1%. The only drawbacks of the Fixed Points Travel program are: it isn’t as straight-forward to use, it’s only for round-trip flights out of Canada, and you’ll need to invest a bit of time to identify which flights offer the most return as point values can fluctuate. The good news is that if you prefer simplicity, you also always have the option to redeem points on the AMEX Cobalt for a straight-forward 1%.

The ability to transfer points on the Cobalt to Marriott Bonvoy points adds a further layer of flexibility, letting you maximize the value of your points when redeeming for hotel stays at Marriott International owned hotels.

Travel insurance

Winner: Scotiabank Gold American Express

Points and fees aside, both these credit cards offer robust travel insurance benefits – but the Scotiabank Gold American Express does come out well ahead.

The Scotiabank Gold’s travel medical emergency coverage lasts for trips up to 25 days compared to the Cobalt’s coverage of just 15 days (which means you may have to pay for additional coverage for longer trips with the Cobalt). The Scotiabank Gold also offers $1,000 for lost/delayed luggage and $500,000 for travel accident insurance, which is double the coverage amount offered by the Cobalt. Finally, the Scotiabank Gold offers trip cancellation/interruption insurance and some coverage (3 days) for senior cardholders – both of which are completely lacking in the Cobalt.

The AMEX Cobalt is no slouch though and it does win out in some areas. For example, while its coverage period is 10 days shorter than the Scotiabank Gold, the Cobalt’s travel emergency medical coverage amount is higher at $5 million. The Cobalt also provides better credit card rental car insurance, as it covers vehicles with an MSRP of up to $85,000 compared to the standard MSRP $65,000, so you can book a more premium rental car without it impacting your coverage.

Side perks

Winner: Scotiabank Gold American Express

In terms of perks, the Scotiabank Gold American Express stands out for offering discounted access to airport lounges. It also comes with no foreign transaction fees, so you won’t get hit with additional charges when using the Scotiabank Gold American Express Card to make purchases abroad. In contrast, the Cobalt offers neither and you’ll be charged with at least a 2.5% fee for every purchase you make with the card in an international currency.

One area where the Cobalt wins out is hotel perks. You can get a $100 USD hotel credit on eligible amenities charged to your room (think spa and gym facilities) redeemable at the time of your checkout as well as a free room upgrade upon arrival at participating hotels.

Both these credit cards provide concierge services, as well as special deals and early access to events and concerts through American Express Invites and Front of the Line services.

Sign-up bonus

Winner: Scotiabank Gold American Express

The Scotiabank Gold American Express and the AMEX Cobalt both have excellent credit card promotions.

With the Scotiabank Gold, you’ll earn 25,000 bonus points ($250 value) if you spend $1,000 within the first three months and another 5,000 points ($50 value) provided you spend a total of $10,000 on the card within the first year.

On the other hand, when you sign up for the American Express Cobalt, you’ll earn 2,500 points for each monthly billing period you spend at least $500. This spending bonus continues for the entire first year of card ownership, meaning you could earn up to 30,000 bonus points (at least $300 value when redeemed for travel rewards).

The fact the Scotiabank Gold American Express offers the majority of its bonus upfront makes it the slightly better and more accessible welcome offer overall in our opinion.

Spending scenario

While both these choices rank among the best credit cards in Canada, let’s put them head to head in this monthly spending scenario to see which credit card accumulates the most points.

Category Amount
Groceries $240
Gas $180
Restaurants $250
Bills $200
Travel $100
Entertainment $60
Pharmacy $20
Everything else $500
Total Monthly Spend $1,550

Scotiabank Gold American Express

  • Annual fee: $120
  • Earn 5 Scotia Rewards points (5%) per dollar spent on groceries, restaurants, cafes, and entertainment
  • Earn 3 points (3%) per dollar spent on gas, public transit, and streaming services
  • Earn 1 point (1%) per dollar spent on everything else
  • Welcome Offer: Upto 30,000 bonus points (value: $300)
  • No foreign transaction fees

Monthly spending $1,550
First-year rewards (with sign-up bonus) 79,320 points
Subsequent years 49,320 points

American Express Cobalt Card

  • Annual fee: $120 (charged at $10 monthly)
  • Earn 5 points per dollar on restaurants, coffee shops, bars, grocery stores, and food delivery
  • Earn 2 points per dollar on gas, taxis, public transportation and travel (air, water, rail, or road transport, plus hotels)
  • Earn 1 point per dollar on all other purchases
  • Welcome Offer: 2,500 points every month you spend $500 in your 1st year

Monthly spending $1,550
First-year rewards (with sign-up bonus) 75,480
Subsequent years 45,480 points

The bottom line

This battle for the title of best travel rewards credit card is a close one. Both cards have very similar annual fees and sign up bonuses.

From a travel rewards perspective, the American Express Cobalt lets you earn more points per dollar spent on travel and offers access to AMEX’s lucrative Fixed Points Travel Program. Meanwhile, the Scotiabank Gold American Express comes with no foreign transaction fees, better travel insurance benefits, and more points on your everyday spending.

In a battle this close, it’s hard to single out one winner. But overall, we’d say the Scotiabank Gold American Express is the best choice for most cardholders since it boasts more travel benefits and offers greater value when using points as a straight-forward 1% redemption. That said, if you’re more of a frequent flyer and plan to regularly tap AMEX’s Fixed Points Travel Program (and understand how to maximize it), the AMEX Cobalt could be the better option as you could potentially redeem your points for a higher value.

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