Best Travel Credit Cards in India (Nov 2019) – Review and Comparison
Confused over which credit card to choose for domestic/international travel?

Best Travel Credit Cards in India (Nov 2019) – Review and Comparison

Credit cards have become part of life today. They are easy to get and multiple offers make them lucrative. However with too many options available in market, it becomes difficult to choose which credit cards one should own.

In this article, I have compared the top 16 travel credit cards on different parameters. Based on that, I have listed the Best Travel credit cards in India as on Nov 2019. These offer maximum value for money in terms of free tickets/lounge access etc. In the end, I have recommended Top 4 Credit Cards for Domestic Travel and Best 7 Indian Credit Cards for International Travel.

Assumptions

  1. This article is written only on cards whose fees is up to 5000/- per annum. Will write separate article for higher fees cards.
  2. Banks use their own basis for points calculation. Some calculate on basis of per 100 rupees spent, some on per 150 rupees spent etc. For convenience and ease of comparison, i have changed the basis to points per 600 rupees for all credit cards.
  3. This article is written assuming that 4 people of a family will be travelling together and the cards should give benefits including lounge visits to all of them.
  4. I have rated travel cards on following parameters: Benefits they offer, Reward , Redemption value, # of free lounge access

So without wasting much time, let us review the various cards in market.

Note – You can also read the Final Recommendation at end of article if you are in a hurry and do not want to read the entire article πŸ™‚

American Express Platinum Travel Card

Snapshot
EligibilityIncome > 6 Lakh per annum and already hold any other bank credit card
Joining fees3500/-
Renewal fees5000/- (No waiver)
Free lounge access (Domestic)4 per annum (1 per quarter)
Free lounge access (International)0
Rewards RedemptionEarn 12 points for every 600/- spent
Redeem – 1 point = 50 paise
BenefitsFlight tickets worth 23,500/- in first year and worth 19,000/- every renewal year if annual spend > 4 Lakh.

Taj voucher worth 10,000/- every year if annual spend > 4 Lakh.
AdvantagesDisadvantages
You get free flight and Taj vouchersNot accepted everywhere as it requires a different swiping machine
Very professional and fast customer care service. They address all your concerns quicklyNo free international lounge access. They only offer free Priority pass membership. But every visit will be charged at 32$.
High redemption ratioHigh Mark-up fee pf 3.5% for all international transactions
Air accidental insurance cover – Covered if ticket booked using Amex card 
Should you take it?
  • Inspite of not getting waiver on annual fees, this is still a MUST have card. Value of vouchers you receive is significantly higher than what you pay.
  • Since this is not accepted in small retail stores, get this card only if you do more of Online / Mall shopping or if your expenses are more on High class hotels/restaurant.

Click here to apply for Amex card to get special joining benefit of 2000 Membership Rewards Points on spending INR 5,000 in the first 90 days of Card membership + Zero annual fees for the first year (valid till 30 Jan 2020)

HDFC Bank

Snapshot
CriteriaDiners Club MilesDiners Club PremiumHDFC Regalia
EligibilityNo eligibilityMonthly Salary > 1 LakhNo eligibility
Joining fees1000/-2500/-2500/-
Renewal fees1000/- (waived on annual spend of 1 Lakh)2500/- (waived on annual spend of 3 Lakh)2500/- (waived on annual spend of 3 Lakh)
Free lounge access (Domestic)12 per annum (3 per quarter)12 per annum (3 per quarter)12 per annum (3 per quarter)
Free lounge access (International)666
Rewards RedemptionEarn 16 points for every 600/- spent

Redeem – 1 point = 50 paise
Earn 16 points for every 600/- spent

Redeem – 1 point = 50 paise
Earn 16 points for every 600/- spent

Redeem – 1 point = 50 paise
Benefits1000 reward points worth 500/- on joining/renewalVoucher of Zomato Gold, Amazon Prime, MMT Double Black if annual spend >5L

Voucher of BookMyShow/TataCliq/OLA if monthly spend >40K

2 golf games per quarter
Annual membership of Zomato Gold
AdvantagesDisadvantages
HDFC Regalia card is accepted everywhereDiners Club Miles/Premium cards are not accepted everywhere as they require a different swiping machine
Earn 10X reward points on all purchases via Smartbuy (https://offers.smartbuy.hdfcbank.com/). This includes shopping on Amazon/Flipkart/Yatra/Cleartrip/Myntra etc.If there is any name/address change, you will have to visit the bank or send courier. It cannot be done online.
Diners card offer 10x rewards also on BookMyShow, Swiggy, Myntra, Nature’s Basket, ZoomCar and PayZapp
Low markup of 1.99% on international transactions
Air accidental insurance cover – 1Cr (Miles and Premium), Overseas emergency hospitalization – 25L (Miles and Premium), Travel insurance cover – 55K
Highest redemption ratio
Best Travel Credit Cards in India (Nov 2019) - Review and Comparison
10X rewards offered via HDFC Diners card
Should you take it?
  • Between Diners Club Miles/Premium and Regalia card, it is better to take Regalia as it is accepted everywhere and benefits are almost similar to Diners.
  • Biggest advantage on HDFC is the 10x reward point. For a spend of 600 rupees via SmartBuy, you will earn 160 points (worth 80 rupees) instead of 16 points (worth 8 rupees). Hence I will rate thes as one of the best Travel Credit Cards in India and will recommend everyone to take one of these HDFC cards.

Planning a foreign trip? Remember to read my article on Things to do before International Travel before embarking on your trip

Citibank / Yes bank / Kotak Card

Snapshot
CriteriaCitibank Premier MilesYes Bank PreferredKotak Royale
EligibilityNo eligibilityMonthly Salary > 1.5 Lakh / ITR > 18 LakhAnnual Salary > 24 Lakh
Joining fees3000/-2500/- Currently being offered as lifetime free card1499/-
Renewal fees3000/- (No waiver)2500/- (No waiver. But renewal fees = bonus points. So technically a free card) .
Currently being offered as lifetime free card
999/- (waived on annual spend > 1 Lakh)
Free lounge access (Domestic)24 per annum (6 per quarter)12 per annum (3 per quarter)8 per annum (2 per quarter)
Free lounge access (International)040
Rewards RedemptionEarn 60 points for every 600/- spent on airline/hotel; 24 points on other categories.

Redeem – 1 point = 45 paise
Earn 48 points for every 600/- spent on travel/dining; 24 points on other categories.

Redeem – 1 point = 25 paise
Earn 16 points for every 600/- spent on dining/airline/hotel; 8 points on other categories.

Redeem – 1 point = 45 paise
Benefits10000 points (worth 4500/-) on spending 1000/- within 60 days of card issuance;

3000 points (worth 1350/-) on renewal
15000 points (worth 3750/-) on joining

10000 points (worth 2500/-) on renewal

20000 points worth 5000/- if annual spend > 7.5 lakh

Golf – 1 free golf lesson per month 3 Green fee waiver per annum
10000 bonus points (worth 4500/-) on spend of 4 Lakhs

30000 bonus  points (worth 13500/-) on spending 8 Lakhs
AdvantagesDisadvantages
Citibank Premier miles card
a. No expiry of reward points.
b. Highest Domestic Lounge access.
c. 1st year benefits are more than the charges.
d. Air accidental insurance cover – 1 Cr.
Citibank Premier miles card
a. No international lounge access.
b. Renewal does not give much benefit.
c. High International transaction fees – 3.5%.
Yes Bank Preferred
a. Free card as renewal fees = bonus points even if you don’t cross 7.5 Lakh limit.
b. 25% discount on movies via BookMyShow.
c. Air accidental insurance cover – 1 Cr.
d. International transaction fees – 1.75%
Yes Bank Preferred
a. Low redemption ratio.
Kotak Royale
a. Low joining and renewal fees.
b. Low limit for fees waiver.
c. Air accidental insurance cover –??.
Kotak Royale
a. No international lounge access.
b. High International transaction fees – 3.5%.
Should you take it?
  • Among these three cards, my preference will be Yes Bank card as renewal is free even if I do not achieve 7.5 Lakh milestone it is currently being offered as lifetime free card .
  • Between Citi and Kotak. I will suggest Citi if your annual spend is < 8 Lakh because Citi offers higher reward points and no expiry of points. However, if your annual spend is > 8 Lakh, then choose Kotak as it gives bonus worth 13.5K.

Axis Bank

Snapshot
CriteriaAxis SelectAxis PrivilegeAxis Vistara (V) / Vistara Signature (VS)
EligibilityAnnual salary > 9 LakhAnnual salary > 6 LakhAnnual salary > 6 Lakh
Joining fees3000/-1500/-1500/- (V) / 3000/- (VS)
Renewal fees3000/- (No waiver. If you have burgundy a/c and monthly salary is > 50K, you will get free lifetime)1500/-  (Waived if annual spend > 2.5 lakh)1500 (V) / 3000 (VS) (No waiver on both)
Free lounge access (Domestic)8 per annum (2 per quarter)8 per annum (2 per quarter)8 per annum (2 per quarter)
Free lounge access (International)6 per annum00
Rewards RedemptionEarn 60 points on every 600/- spent on retail shopping; 30 points on other categories;

Redeem – 1 point = 20 paise
Earn 30 points on every 600/- spent

Redeem – 1 point = 40 paise
6 (V)/ 12 (VS) points on every 600/- spent

Renewal – 1 point =?? (approx. 40 paise but depends on multiple factors in air miles conversion)
BenefitsJoining bonus – 5000 points worth 1000/-

Club Marriott membership on joining/renewal on spend of above 30,000/- in first 3 months.
Entitles you to discount on rooms and dining

6 complimentary golf rounds per year; additional 3 on spend of 3 lakhs per year
Yatra voucher worth 5000/-on paying joining fee and completing 3 transactions within 3 months

3000 points worth 600/- on renewal
Vistara Card =>
Joining & Renewal – 1 Vistara economy ticket

Spend 50K within first 3 months of card issuance to get 1000 bonus CV points

Get 1 economy ticket each on achieving milestone of 1.25 / 2.5 / 6 Lakh


Vistara Signature Card =>
Joining & Renewal – 1 Vistara premium economy ticket

Spend 75K within first 3 months of card issuance to get 3000 bonus Club Vistara points

Get 1 Premium economy ticket each on achieving milestone of 1.5 / 3 / 4.5 / 9 Lakh
AdvantagesDisadvantages
a. Vistara card will give you free flight tickets (base fare)

b. Vistara free ticket does not have any limit on the price of ticket. Should just be within the route operated by Vistara airline in India.

c. Air accidental insurance cover – 2.5 Cr
a. International transaction fees – 3.5%

b. Low reward redemption ratio

c. Renewal does not give much benefit on Select/Privilege cards
Should you take it?
  • I do not find much value in Select card as they just offer membership (with some discount) on Club Marriott. Not free night. And there is no waiver on renewal.
  • Privilege is good as it gives joining vouchers. But not sure what are the renewal benefits
  • Vistara cards give flight tickets but since they fly only to limited destinations, this card is not suited for everyone.
  • If I have to choose 1 among these, I will pick Vistara card. Low fees and low slab to achieve free tickets can help in making this a free card. Take this if Vistara airline operates in/near your city.

SBI / RBL Bank

Snapshot
CriteriaSBI PrimeSBI EliteRBL Icon Card
EligibilityNo eligibilityNo eligibilityNo eligibility
Joining fees3000/-5000/-5000/-
Renewal fees3000/- (Waived if annual spend > 3 lakh)5000/-  (Waived if annual spend > 8 lakh)5000/- (No waiver)
Free lounge access (Domestic)8 per annum (2 per quarter)8 per annum (2 per quarter)8 per annum (2 per quarter)
Free lounge access (International)4 per annum (2 per quarter)6 per annum (2 per quarter)0
Rewards RedemptionEarn 90 points for every 600/- spent on BigBasket; 60 points on dining/grocery/movies; 12 points on other categories.

Also earn 120 reward points for every 600/- spend on birthday  

Redeem – 1 point = 25 paise
Earn 60 points for every 600/- spent on dining/grocery/movies; 12 points on other categories.

Also earn 120 reward points for every 600/- spend on birthday.

Redeem – 1 point = 25 paise.
Earn 12 points for every 600/- spent. 10x on international and weekend dining spend

Redeem – 1 point = 25 paise
BenefitsGift worth 3K (choose from Pantaloons/Shoppers Stop/Yatra/Bata) on joining.

No gift on renewal

Pizza hut voucher worth 1000/- on quarterly spend of 50K

Gift voucher worth 7K (of Yatra/Pantaloons) if annual spend over 5Lakhs
Joining – gift worth 5K (choose from Pantaloons/Shoppers Stop/Yatra/Hushpuppies/Bata).

Renewal – nothing

Bonus –
a. Movie tickets worth 250/- per month

b. 50000 points worth 12,500/- per year (10000 points each on 3 lakh, 4lakh and 15000 points each on 5 lakh and 8 lakh spend)

c. 4 rounds of complimentary green fees access, 1 complimentary golf lesson per month
Joining – 20000 bonus points (worth 5000/-)

Renewal – nothing

Milestone based bonus – 45000 reward points worth 11250/- per year( 10000 points on spending 3 Lakh rupees, 15000 points on spend of 5 Lakh, another 20000 points on spend of 8 Lakh)

BOGO twice a month on movie ticket via BookMyShow

Complimentary golf rounds and discount on green fees
Advantages Disadvantages
SBI Prime / Elite card
a. Complimentary Trident membership
b. Complimentary Vistara membership with 1 class upgrade
c. Air accidental insurance cover – 50 Lakh
d. International transaction fees – 2%
SBI Prime / Elite card
a. Low reward redemption ratio
b. Renewal does not give much benefit
RBL Card
BOGO on movies via BookMyShow
RBL Card
a. No renewal bonus
b. No international lounge access
c. Low redemption ratio
Should you take it?
  • Both cards of SBI are similar. Both give you vouchers equal to joining fees in 1st year. But no voucher is given on renewals. Prime gives you additional Pizza Hut vouchers and more points on Big basket and movies/birthdays. Elite gives you free movie tickets and golf lessons. It is your personal choice on which to get.
  • Both RBL Icon and SBI Elite offer same advantages. Between them, choose SBI Elite as it also offers international lounge access and higher value of milestone benefits on crossing 8 Lakh limit.
  • If you are not having any other card and can achieve 8 Lakhs annual spend, take Elite card. Else take Prime card.

ICICI Bank / Standard Chartered

Snapshot
CriteriaICICI CoralICICI RubyxStandard Chartered Ultimate
EligibilityNo eligibilityNo eligibilityNo eligibility
Joining fees500/-3000/-5000/-
Renewal fees500/- (Waived if annual spend > 2.5 lakh)2000/-  (Waived if annual spend > 3 lakh)5000/- (No waiver. But renewal fees = bonus points. So technically a free card)
Free lounge access (Domestic)4 per annum (1 per quarter) airport and railway lounge8 per annum (2 per quarter) airport and railway lounge16 per annum (4 per quarter).
Free lounge access (International)0012 per year (1 per month only if previous month spend > 20,000/-)
Rewards RedemptionEarn 6 points on every 600/- spent on Fuel/Insurance/Utilities; 12 points on other categories; 24 points on international spend.

Redeem – 1 point = 25 paise.
Earn 6 points on every 600/- spent on Fuel/Insurance/Utilities; 12 points on other categories; 24 points on international spend

Redeem – 1 point = 25 paise.
Earn 20 points on every 600/- spent

Redeem – 1 point = 100 paise.
BenefitsMilestone based bonus – 10000 points worth 2500/- per year (2000 points on spending 2 Lakh rupees, 1000 points on every spend of 1 Lakh thereafter)Welcome voucher worth 5000/- 

Renewal – Nothing

Milestone based bonus reward points – 15000 points worth 3750/- (3000 points on spending 3 Lakh rupees, 1500 points on every spend of 1 Lakh thereafter) 

2 complimentary rounds of golf per month on spend of 50000/- in previous month
Joining – Upto 10,000/- cashback on MakeMyTrip

5000 points (worth 5000/-) on renewal

Golf Benefits
AdvantagesDisadvantages
ICICI Card

4 free movie tickets per month via BOGO offer (2 each on BookMyShow and Inox app/counter).
Also gives complimentary railway lounge access.
Air accidental insurance cover – 1 Cr (Rubyx)
ICICI Card

Low reward redemption ratio.
Renewal does not give much benefit.
High International transaction fees – 3.5%
Standard Chartered Ultimate
a. Free Card as Renewal Fees = Bonus Points
b. High redemption ratio
c. Low international transaction fees – 2%
d. Air Accidental insurance cover – ??
Standard Chartered Ultimate
a. High Joining fees
b. UPTO mentioned for MakeMyTrip. We all know how many T&C get applied when there is UPTO word anywhere
c. International lounge access is subject to previous month spend
d. You only get 1 International lounge per month. So if you are hopping flights and plan to use international lounge, you will have to pay for more than 1 transaction
Should you take it?
  • If you love movies and have an Inox near you, then definitely take one of the two ICICI cards.
  • Between Coral and Rubyx, I will prefer Coral due to lower fees and similar benefits.
  • Benefits offered by Standard Chartered Ultimate is not much. However, if you frequently travel abroad, it is a good to have card due to 1 international lounge per month, low markup fees and high redemption ratio.

Planning a foriegn trip? Remember to read my article on Things to do before International Travel before embarking on your trip

Not Considered

Following banks/cards are not part of this list due to unfavorable criteria:

  1. IndusInd => Did not find any good card within 5K fees.
  2. Kotak => Their Privy League Signature card is good. But is only for Privy League Banking Relationship customers.
  3. Stan Charted => Their Priority Visa Infinite is good. But is only reserved for Priority Banking customers.
  4. HSBC => Their Premier card is good. But is only reserved for Premier banking customers.
  5. HDFC Diners Club Black => One of the best credit cards in market. But is not accepted everywhere and the eligibility of monthly salary > 1.75 Lakh makes it hard to get and has resulted in it being removed from the comparison.
  6. ICICI Sapphire => Though its renewal fees is 3.5K, high joining fees of 6.5K has resulted in this card being out of the list.

Final Recommendation on Best Travel Credit Cards in India

So while all the above listed cards are Best 16 Travel Credit Cards in India (Nov 2019), it is difficult for everyone to own all of these. Hence, we have recommended the following cards based on the cost vs benefits they give.

For Only Domestic Travel
  • Take Amex Platinum Travel Card, HDFC Regalia, ICICI Coral, SBI/Axis Vistara and Yes Bank Preferred
  • You get – 13 domestic airport lounge per quarter, 10 international lounge per year, 4 movie per month, golf lessons, minimum 1 Vistara ticket, 14k of Spicejet ticket and 10k of Taj stay
  • Cost of getting these – 1st year = 8,000/- / Renewal year = 9,500/-
  • Minimum Annual spend required for benefits – 4 L (Amex) and remaining on any other card
  • Recommended Annual spending pattern to achieve maximum value –
    • 4 Lakh on Amex to get flight and Taj vouchers
    • 1.25 Lakh on Axis Vistara to get 2 flight tickets (1 on joining/renewal and 2nd on 1.25 Lakh limit). Using these and Amex vouchers, you can enjoy a free vacation πŸ™‚
    • Remaining on HDFC Regalia (especially when purchasing stuff from Amazon/Flipkart etc). Assumption is that we will pay renewal fees
    • Nothing on ICICI Coral except when there is good cashback offers going on. Assumption is that we are OK to pay renewal fees of 500/- on this card
For International travel
  • Add SBI Prime and Diners Club Miles to list of cards mentioned in Domestic list
  • Extra benefits you will get – Vistara upgrade, 20 international lounge access per year, International lounge access for 4 people per trip (via Regalia, Diners Club Miles, SBI Prime and Yes Bank Preferred), golf sessions
  • Minimum Annual spend required for benefits – 4 L (Amex) and remaining on any other card
  • Cost of getting these benefits on minimum annual spend – 1st year = 12,000/- / Renewal year = 13,500/-
  • Recommended Annual spending pattern to achieve maximum value –
    • 4 Lakh on Amex to get flight & Taj vouchers
    • 1.25 Lakh on Axis Vistara to get 2 flight tickets (1 on joining/renewal and 2nd on 1.25 Lakh limit). Using these and Amex vouchers, you can enjoy a free domestic vacation πŸ™‚
    • 1 Lakh on Diners Club MIles card to get renewal fee waiver
    • Remaining on HDFC Regalia (especially when purchasing stuff from Amazon/Flipkart etc)
    • Nothing on ICICI Coral and Yes Bank Preferred except when there is good cashback offers going on. Assumption is that we are OK to pay renewal fees of 500/- for these cards
  • Cost of getting these benefits on recommended annual spend – 1st year = 13,500/- / Renewal year = 15,000/-

Related article – Read my detailed article on all the Free credit cards you should have to maximize your savings

You may also be interested in my amazing article on how you can get your next IPhone / International holiday completely free.

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This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Ajay

    Informative and nice blog

  2. Dr. Mamta

    Very informative and useful blog. The writer has sound knowledge

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