Travel Benefit Credit Cards: Spend your way to free travel – Here’s how

August 22, 2020 9:22 AM

Credit cards, especially travel benefit cards, when played right can be highly rewarding. There are more than 150 credit card variants across 28 banks available in India; 25+ cards offer travel related benefits.

credit cards, travel benefit credit card, best travel benefit credit cards, free travel, Air India SBI Signature Card, Club Vistara SBI Card Prime, HDFC Bank Diners Club Black Credit Card, American Express Platinum Travel Credit Card, Flying Returns miles, Air India, Vistara ticketsCustomers should divert all their expenses to the various credit cards for maximum benefits.

These are uncertain times: 5 months of pandemic already and it ain’t going away anytime soon. Covid ate away the summer vacations this year; everyone was forced to reschedule travel, unless critical. While it won’t be prudent to plan any unnecessary travel till the pandemic is under control, one can spend smart to score an almost free vacation once travel resumes. Yes, you read it right – a free vacation!

Credit cards, especially travel benefit cards, when played right can be highly rewarding. There are more than 150 credit card variants across 28 banks available in India; 25+ cards offer travel related benefits.

The best travel cards are below. Go and pick the card which suits you the most.

Air India SBI Signature Card

Ideal for high spenders, this card comes at a cost of Rs 4999 (+GST) per annum. The card is optimized at 20 lakh spends annually which accrues the cardholder minimum 200K Flying Returns miles equivalent to 6 Delhi-Singapore or 20 Delhi-Mumbai one way tickets on the Air India network. The miles can also be redeemed on Star Alliance members but the attractiveness varies depending upon the airline. Points accrue on all spends (ex wallets) irrespective of merchant category. Additional benefits include 8 complimentary domestic airport lounge visits annually. No special Air India privileges is a dampener but easily compensated by other benefits.

Club Vistara SBI Card Prime

Best for moderate spenders, this card comes at a cost of Rs 2999 (+GST) per annum. Spends are optimized at 8 lakh annually which accrues a cardholder 9 one-way Vistara tickets (5 Premium Economy + CV miles equivalent to 4 Delhi-Mumbai tickets). The card holder also gets a 10K Yatra hotel voucher on achieving the 8 lakh spend milestone. 12 airport lounge visits (8 domestic + 4 international) are complimentary each year. Card holder also gets complimentary Club Vistara Silver membership which gives benefits like separate check-in counters, 5 kg extra luggage, etc. Points accrue on all spends (ex wallets) irrespective of merchant category.

HDFC Bank Diners Club Black Credit Card

More of a lifestyle card, Diners Black still offers good travel benefits to find a place in this list. While the benefits have been gradually reduced over the last year and now pales compared to its former self, this super premium card still packs a strong punch.

The card comes at an annual fee of Rs 10,000 (+GST; waived on annual spends of 5 lakh) and offers 3.3% equivalent base rewards on all spends (ex wallets and EMIs). A cardholder can earn up to 10X rewards (33% value) on HDFC Bank portal ‘SmartBuy’ capped at 7500 points monthly. SmartBuy has wide assortment ranging from Amazon, Flipkart, 100+ brand vouchers and travel bookings. Reward points can be redeemed for travel subject to a cap of 70% of booking value. Cardholders also get a number of complimentary memberships like Zomato Gold, Times Prime, Amazon Prime, etc. On achieving spend threshold of 80K, the cardholder is entitled to select merchant vouchers of 1K each month. Cardholder gets unlimited lounge access and limited Golf privileges. The benefit quotient of this card is directly proportional to the quantum of 10X rewards transactions. This card is best suited for high spenders with minimum 10 lakh annual spends with at least 25% in 10X rewards. A huge handicap is limited merchant acceptance for Diners Club cards.

American Express Platinum Travel Credit Card

A simple non-airline card with good travel benefits suited for low spenders. Comes at Rs 3500 (+GST) annual fees and optimal benefits kick in at 4 lakh annual spends with travel vouchers worth 15800 and a Taj Hotels voucher worth 10k. Cardholder also gets 4 complimentary lounge visits a year. No reward points on Fuel, Insurance, Utilities and EMI conversion at Point of Sale. Like Diners, low merchant acceptance for American Express cards plays a spoilsport.

The above cards when used singly or in smart combination with other credit cards can lead to accelerated rewards and significant savings on travel. Customers should divert all their expenses to the various credit cards for maximum benefits. If short on achieving the spend milestones, I recommend cardholders explore paying rent through various websites (Cred, NoBroker, etc) where the only requirement is the bank account and PAN details of the recipient with money instantly credited. These websites levy 1-1.6% charges offering a straight rewards arbitrage opportunity along with 45 days free credit period. HDFC and SBI also have many ongoing other merchant cashback, etc offers compared to American Express and hence preferred. That dream vacation is much closer than we think, just needs some smart planning and spending.

(By Ashish Lath, Vice President-Strategy & Marketing, Clix Capital)

Disclaimer: This is the personal view of the author.

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