The travel sector was hit the hardest when the world was rattled by the Covid-19 pandemic. Many individuals put off their international travel plans and opted for domestic travel instead.
India is an incredibly diverse country, encompassing everything from beaches to the majestic Himalayan mountains, scorching deserts to the icy environs of Kashmir. With modern cities like Mumbai and spiritual destinations like Haridwar, India offers a wealth of experiences – beyond what one may have imagined – waiting to be explored.
The potency of credit card rewards is immense as they can enable you to travel the globe at minimal cost. While it's commonly known that using airline miles can substantially reduce international travel expenses, the same holds true for domestic travel. Let’s delve into the possibilities for credit card holders to redeem their reward points for free domestic travel.
Co-branded credit cards
There are two options for credit card users in India to avail free travel. The first is to use a co-branded credit card and the second involves converting credit card reward points into airline miles.
Several co-branded credit cards are available in India, allowing users to earn specific airline miles or points on their daily expenses. These miles or points can be redeemed to purchase flight tickets.
Axis Bank offers co-branded credit cards in partnership with SpiceJet and Vistara, while SBI Card has co-branded credit cards with Air India and Vistara, among others. Kotak Mahindra Bank and HDFC Bank offer co-branded credit cards in association with IndiGo. By selecting a credit card based on their flying preferences, individuals can take advantage of the associated benefits.
The more commonly used and preferred method to obtain free flights using credit card rewards is the second option – converting credit card reward points to airline miles.
Credit cards of banks such as HDFC Bank, Axis Bank, AMEX, IndusInd Bank, AU Small Finance Bank, and HSBC provide options to convert reward points to airline miles. For travel within India, Vistara and SpiceJet are the best options.
However, it's essential to keep in mind that Vistara primarily operates flights from Delhi and Mumbai, which may not be as advantageous for those living in West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, or other parts of the country because of connectivity issues.
Vistara provides an official award chart that outlines the number of CV points (the airmiles currency of Vistara) required to travel between two places. If you plan to fly from Delhi to Mumbai, you'll need 5,000 CV points for economy class, 8,500 CV points for premium economy, and 18,000 CV points for business class. If you wish to travel from Kolkata to Mumbai, you'll require 6,000 CV points for economy, 10,000 CV points for premium economy, and 23,000 CV points for business class.
However, Vistara offers only a limited number of seats in each class that can be booked using CV points or ticket vouchers, and seat availability is a significant concern when using airmiles, not just for Vistara but for all major airlines.
SpiceJet offers the option of booking revenue tickets directly with SpiceClub points, with a fixed conversion rate of 1 SC point equaling 50 paise for all redemptions. If you wish to book a flight from Kolkata to Delhi, which costs Rs 6,000, you can use 12,000 SC points to pay for the ticket instead of cash.
IndiGo flight tickets can also be booked the same way using 6E Reward points, with a conversion rate of 1 reward point equaling 1 rupee. This means that if the ticket price for an Indigo flight is Rs 10,000, you can use 10,000 6E Reward points instead of cash to pay for it. However, it's important to note that 6E Rewards is not IndiGo's frequent flyer programme and is only accessible to co-branded credit card holders. Normal credit card reward points cannot be transferred to your IndiGo 6E Rewards account.
Global airline alliances
Another interesting option is available for booking Air India domestic flights through Miles&Smiles, the frequent flyer programme of Turkish Airlines. You can transfer your reward points from your credit card to Miles&Smiles and book economy or business class tickets within India for 7,500 miles or 12,500 miles, respectively. Both Air India and Turkish Airlines are Star Alliance partners, which allows you to book tickets on any of the alliance's airlines using another partner's airmiles. While you can also book Air India tickets using United Airlines airmiles, the miles requirement is slightly higher.
Options for booking domestic flight tickets with credit card reward points are quite limited. Excluding Vistara, there isn't a very robust frequent flyer programme for domestic flights in India. The issue with Vistara is limited connectivity to cities other than Delhi, Mumbai, and Bengaluru, which may not be the preferred choices of travelers from other parts of the country.
Surprisingly, India's largest domestic air carrier, IndiGo, lacks a proper frequent flyer programme, even though it has the potential to become the top choice for Indian frequent flyer programmes due to its extensive network.
It’s best to choose a credit card based on your needs and spending habits. Redeeming rewards for free air travel shouldn't be too complicated.
Save more while spending money.
Sumanta Mandal is the Founder of TechnoFino