Best Travel Credit Cards in India for 2020

Axis Bank Air Vistara Infinite

After writing on Air Vistara credit cards last week, I thought of figuring out the best travel credit cards available in India.  Simply because when we go on vacation or travel, the single largest expense is the flight cost.

While there are only 2 full-service domestic airlines in India that offer air-miles, the travel credit cards space has lot more choices thanks to few international airlines offering co-branded credit cards locally and few card issuers who allow conversion of reward points to air-miles of multiple airlines.

Of all the travel credit cards available in India, I have listed the best 5 cards below. For others, I have made a comparison table to indicate why they did not make the cut.

Comparison methodology for travel credit cards

  • To arrive at the estimated value of 1 air-mile, I took the average fares of five international routes from Mumbai, which is Dubai, London, New York, Singapore and Bangkok.
  • These average fares were then compared to the redemption chart of each airline to arrive at the value of 1 air mile.
  • For example, Air Vistara’s Mumbai Singapore fare for December travel is 21,500 and that for February travel is 13,000. Thus average fare is somewhere around 17,000. While one would need to redeem 22,000 CV points for the same flight ticket. air miles would give an approx. value of 1 CV point at 75paisa. Detailed working for all airlines is available here.
  • Annual spend on the card is 12L i.e 1L/month.

The best 5 travel credit cards in India

Top 5- BestTravel Credit Cards

Best 5 Travel Credit Cards

5. Etihad Guest SBI Premier credit card

Etihad Guest SBI Premier Card

SBI cards launched two Etihad Guest co-branded credit cards earlier this year. Etihad Guest SBI Premier and Etihad Guest SBI. As the name indicates, Etihad Guest SBI is the premium variant, thus it offers better rewards among these travel credit cards.

Fees

  • Joining and annual fees of INR4,999 + GST.
  • Second-year onwards, the annual fee is waived off on spending INR5L every year.

Rewards and Benefits

  • 2 Etihad miles for every 100 spent; 4 Etihad miles for every 100 spent on international spends and 6 Etihad miles for every 100 spent on Etihad website.
  • Welcome benefits:
    • 5000 Etihad miles
    • Etihad Guest Gold tier status for 1 year
    • 2 Wifi vouchers on first Etihad Airways booking
  • Recurring and Milestone benefits:
    • 1,500 Etihad miles of spending INR1.5L every quarter, i.e. one can get up to 6,000 Etihad miles annually.
    • 3% discount on Economy class fares and 10% discount on Business class fares
    • 1 companion voucher on achieving an annual spend of INR8L.
  • Lounge access:
    • 8 complimentary domestic lounge access per year (Max 2/quarter)
    • Priority Pass membership and 4 lounge access outside India per year (Max 2/qtr)

Verdict:

On my comparison methodology on spending INR12L/annum, one gets an earn rate of 2.6%, which is just about decent. However, if one uses the card smartly i.e spend ~INR8L on this card then the reward rate jumps to a minimum 3.2%. Further, if one takes Etihad often, then earn rate would be fantastic as one would earn 5x points on spends done on the Etihad website.

Nonetheless, the features and benefits on this card are mediocre as targets for milestone benefits and companion vouchers are a bit too steep. Further, the lounge access is only for the primary cardholder and not for add-on members. Not to forget, only 4 international lounge access is also a downer. On the positive side, Gold tier membership does provide access to Etihad’s business class lounges.

4. HDFC Bank Dinersclub Black credit card

HDFC Bank Dinersclub Black Credit Card

HDFC Bank Dinersclub credit card has this tendency to feature among top 5 cards, no matter which comparison one does. This is what makes Dinersclub Black the best credit card available in India now. Detailed reviews of HDFC Dinersclub is here and here.

The reason why Dinersclub Black features as one the best travel credit cards is its miles conversion options. This card offer 1:1 miles conversion on multiple airlines i.e. British Airways Executive Club (Avios), Singapore Airlines (KrisFlyer Miles) and Club Vistara.

With a default earn rate of 3.3% on any spend and 1:1 miles conversion option makes this card a winner. In addition, not to forget the famed 10x program which gives rewards of up to 33.3%. Also not to forget, the unlimited lounge access to both primary and add-on card holders.

For the comparison, I assumed miles were converted to Singapore Airlines’ KrisFlyer miles earning only the base rate of 3.3% on a spend of INR12L. Another assumption is that one would do a monthly spend of INR80K+ to get INR1,000 vouchers every month.

3. Air India SBI Signature credit card

Air India SBI Signature

Fees

  • Joining and annual fees of INR4,999 + GST.

Rewards and Benefits

  • 4 reward points miles for every 100 spent; 30 reward points for every 100 spent on Air India website and app on tickets for self. 10 reward points for every 100 spent on all other bookings on Air India.
  • Welcome benefits:
    • 20,000 reward points on payment of joining fees
  • Recurring and Milestone benefits:
    • 5,000 reward points of payment of annual fees
    • 20,000 reward points on spending INR5L in a year, additional 30,000 reward points on achieving INR10L spend and further 50,000 points of spending INR20L in a year.
  • Lounge access:
    • 8 complimentary domestic lounge visits per year (Max 2/quarter)
    • Priority pass membership but no complimentary lounge access

Verdict:

Air India SBI Signature is one of the oldest travel credit cards in India and it is still one of the top travel credit cards. On the comparison methodology, it gives an earn rate of 3.8%, which is good. Nonetheless, if used smartly, i.e. booking personal tickets using this card gives a whopping 30 points on spend of 100, which is nearly 15% reward rate (valuing 1 Air India mile at 50paise). In the assumed expenditure of INR12L, if one takes INR1L spend towards personal travel on Air India flights, the reward rate jumps to 6.3% thanks to 30 rewards points on Air India booking. Thus, this card suits well for people who travel across the country where Air India has better connectivity.

Another plus point of this card is given that Air India is part of Star Alliance; hence, the reward points earned on this card can be used on other Star Alliance partners.

The downside of this travel credit card is no tier upgrade on Air India FF program, no waiver of annual fees (though this is compensated by equivalent reward points) and no international lounge access with domestic lounge access limited to only 2/quarter.

2. SBI Club Vistara Prime

SBI Club Vistara Prime

Eligibility and Fees

  • Annual and joining fees of 2,999+ GST/ year

Rewards and Benefits

  • 4 Club Vistara (CV) points for every 200 spent.
  • Welcome Benefits:
    • Complimentary one-way domestic Premium Economy ticket
    • Club Vistara Silver membership
    • 3,000 CV points on spend of 75,000 in the first 90 days of card issuance
  • Recurring Benefits:
    • Milestone benefits of 1 Premium Economy ticket on achieving spends of 1.5L, 3L, 4.5L and 8L in a year. i.e. 4 Premium Economy tickets on spending 8L in a year.
    • 1 Hotel E-voucher worth 10,000 from Yatra on spending 8L in a year
    • 2 complimentary domestic lounge access per quarter
    • Priority Pass membership + 4 complimentary lounge visits (max 2/quarter)

Verdict

On annual spends of INR12L, the reward rate on this card comes at 4.9%; however, as mentioned in the previous post, on optimal usage of INR8L per annum, the reward rate is of 6.6%.

On the positive side, the card offers complimentary lounge access (though limited) and Air Vistara’s CV points can be used to be book tickets on Singapore Airlines. However, the downside is the limited network of Vistara both on domestic and international routes.

1. Axis Bank Air Vistara Infinite

Axis Bank Air Vistara Infinite

Eligibility and Fees

  • An annual income of min. 600,000 per annum
  • Annual and joining fees of 10,000 + GST/ year

Rewards and Benefits

  • 6 Club Vistara (CV) points for every 200 spent.
  • Welcome Benefits:
    • Complimentary one-way domestic Business Class ticket
    • Club Vistara Gold membership
    • 10,000 CV points on spend of 100,000 in the first 90 days of card issuance
  • Recurring Benefits:
    • Milestone benefits of 1 Business Class ticket on achieving spends of 2.5L, 5L, 7.5L and 12L in a year. i.e. 4 business class tickets on spending 12L in a year.
    • 2 complimentary domestic lounge access per quarter
    • 6 complimentary rounds of golf

Verdict

Axis Bank Air Vistara is the most premium credit card of all Air Vistara cards, offering up to 4 Business Class tickets in a year. No wonder it comes at the top with effective benefits of over 11%. While the spends required is high to get maximum benefits and not to forget the high annual fees too; nonetheless, one can get 2 Business Class tickets on spend of 500,000, which is very good. However, not sure how many people travel very often in Business Class especially in the domestic circuit. Therefore, for anyone who travels often, Axis Bank Vistara Infinite credit card is a no brainer as one can get benefits of over 11% on annual spends of 1,200,000.

However, on the flip side, considering the income levels of people opting this card, the card doesn’t offer international lounge access which is a big downer.  Though this is somewhat made up by Gold Tier membership on Club Vistara which offers 2 lounge visits and some enhanced privileges when flying on Singapore Airlines.

Special Mention: HDFC Bank Dinersclub Clubmiles

HDFC Diners Club Miles

The one card I would make a special mention about is HDFC Bank Dinersclub Clubmiles. This card on the comparison method scored 2.1% earn rate, which is mediocre compared to other travel credit cards. Nevertheless, because it is part of Dinersclub 10x program the reward rate on this card can go into another orbit. Plus, this card is available at an annual fee of INR1,000+GST only, which gets waived of on annual spends on just INR100,000. Till date, this card has given me an earn rate of over 6%. A detailed review of the card is available here.

Other travel credit cards

For the other cards, considered for comparison, a snapshot is shown below. Most of the cards below end up giving earn rate of between 1-2%, which is not very good. Which is largely due to the absence of milestone/additional benefits combined with high annual fees.

Best Travel Cards-Remaining Cards

Best Travel Cards-Remaining Cards

Conclusion

The obvious question comes to mind which travel credit card to prefer, an airline co-branded credit card or the one that gives conversion option with multiple airlines.

Well, there is no straight Yes or No answer to this. However, my thought would be; for frequent fliers, a co-branded airline card may make sense as it gives them preferred status with airlines, tier upgrades and chance to use points for upgrades from economy to the higher class.

On the other hand, for a person like me who travels occasionally a card such as Dinersclub would be more useful. As I can move my credit card points to multiple airlines depending on my travel plans. In addition, I can extend my reward points’ validity by converting points on credit card to air miles, when nearing expiry.

Do let me know, whether you agree with my thoughts and also tell about which travel credit card you use.

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