I have been using credit cards since 2001. My first credit card, from Citibank, landed in my snail mail. Many years later, that credit card was converted to a Jet Airways Citibank co-branded credit card (now discontinued), and this was where my journey of using miles for (almost) free air travel began.
A business-class ticket between Mumbai and New York’s JFK airport on Jet Airways, roughly about 16,000 miles flown, cost all of ₹23,000 and 188,000 JPMiles back in 2011 instead of ₹3 lakh when paid in cash. The best part is, most of those JPMiles for my ticket came from my credit card, and not from actual flying.
Credit cards today make it very easy for everyone to collect frequent-flyer miles. And yet, a lot of people I know are usually looking out for the cheapest credit cards, rather than ones that will get them the most miles and benefits they or their families can use.
When looking for options, look at the offerings across the market rather than just looking at the bank you have an existing relationship with—your bank may perhaps not have the best fit for you to maximize your spending. Moreover, private and foreign banks are going to have much better options than the PSU banks.
Another decision would be about what kind of rewards you want to collect. For instance, you could collect credit card points which can be transferred to different airlines or hotels, or you could go with credit cards known as co-brand cards, which transfer to one airline only.
JetPrivilege, India’s largest frequent-flyer programme, has a co-brand tie-up with four banks to help you earn JPMiles. Between HDFC Bank, ICICI Bank, IndusInd Bank and American Express, they have 15 credit cards with fees to suit all budgets. ICICI Bank and American Express even have corporate credit cards for earning JPMiles. If you are a JetPrivilege Platinum tier, fees are waived on most JetPrivilege co-brand cards. JPMiles earned can then be used for redemption tickets on Jet Airways (even upgrades), Etihad, KLM, Air France and at least 20 other airlines that Jet Airways partners with.
At the top end, you can have the Jet Airways HDFC Bank Diners Club Black credit card, which would give you 24 JPMiles/ ₹150 spent booking Jet Airways tickets directly with the airline. HDFC Bank’s tie-up with JetPrivilege means you also get tier points in the JetPrivilege programme as you spend on their co-brand cards, making it easier to upgrade or retain your JetPrivilege status.
Vistara, on the other hand, has a co-brand tie-up with Axis Bank to issue credit cards. Each card comes with free tickets on payment of annual fees, and, if you opt for the highest variant, the Axis Bank Vistara Infinite Credit Card, you get Vistara Gold status and up to four free business-class tickets, one on payment of annual fees and one every time you cumulatively spend ₹2.5 lakh on the card (up to ₹7.5 lakh). On everyday spending, you earn Vistara points, which can then be redeemed for tickets on Vistara or Singapore Airlines.
In the case of Air India, SBI Card offers you a couple of options too. You can earn up to 100,000 bonus Flying Returns miles every year on spending on their co-brand card, which can then be used for redemptions or upgrades on Air India and Star Alliance member airlines.
However, if you are looking for an all-round product which helps you meet your travel and lifestyle needs and does not tie you down to one airline, there are some great options out there. Citibank issues the PremierMiles (entry level) and Prestige credit cards, both of which allow you to earn points which can be transferred to 14 airline partners and two hotel programmes. If you are a CitiGold member, you could get a 30% bonus on rewards earned through the year on your CitiPrestige Card.
American Express Platinum Charge Cards allow you to move Membership Rewards points to 10 airlines and a couple of marquee hotel chains such as Marriott and Hilton. HDFC Bank issues Diners Club cards in India, and it has been offering a lucrative promotion for many years now: You get up to 33% of your money spent as points at specific merchants, which can then be used to buy travel or transfer to partners such as British Airways, Jet Airways, Singapore Airlines, Trident Hotels and others.
To sum up, even if you don’t care about them, those reward points are piling up on your credit card. And you would perhaps be better off using them for a life experience (think flying your better half to Australia in first class!) rather than buying a toaster.
Elevate Your Travel is a column for business travellers by a business traveller.
Ajay Awtaney is founder and editor of Livefromalounge.com, a frequent-flyer website.