Any traveler will agree that there is nothing more joyous than freebies. Free hotel stays, discounts, food vouchers, and most importantly free flights. Now, everything in life isn't technically free, but thanks to the competitive travel market of today, these freebies are somewhat possible to achieve.
There was once a time when frequent flyer miles meant something. Now, with the economy hitting the ground hard and travel expenses (including indirect costs like fuel surcharge) touching the sky, frequent flyer miles just aren't the same. We have to travel twice as far and still pay out high taxes and surcharges before we can dream about utilizing those meager miles that will probably expire soon... and in my case they mostly do.
So, when Citibank invited me to a bloggers event at Olive Bar and Kitchen to talk about their newest product, a credit card merged with a miles accumulating machine, I was all ears. Having recently used airline miles to buy a ticket, and not fully satisfied with the entire procedure, my curiosity got the best of me.
This isn't a solicited post, but since Citibank were gracious enough to invite me, so I decided to use their card and some of its features as a guide to express my views as a traveler and also get yours about what we desire. What is it that we really want when we look for a card (airline or credit) that provides us with miles that we can spend to get those much needed free flights?
It is also pertinent to note that Citibank is aiming this card primarily to the traveler. You might travel infrequently but the benefits of the card are such that it glorifies travel and hence is called Premier Miles. The said card has been released in about 8 Asian countries with plans to go worldwide in the near future.
The rustic charm of Olive Bar and Kitchen gave it a Mediterranean feel, a perfect setting for the event, and a nice way to meet fellow bloggers of which there were about 10-12. Citibank's Chief Marketing Officer, Mr. Sanjeev Kapur, was first up and was quite confident in claiming that the new card was a "category buster" and even "world's best travel card". I have always liked a challenge so below I'll take on some key points about the card and use it as a benchmark to state whether they really do make an impact on the customer and not? I do not want to compare other cards with this because honestly I do not have the time. My aim for the post is to present the viewpoint of a traveler. What is it that we like, want, and appreciate when we patronize an airline or credit card.
The Point Calculations - Rs.100 gets you 4 Points on a non-airline purchase and if you book directly with an airline Rs. 100 gets you 10 Points.
I for one have never really bothered about the point calculations. I am told these are industry firsts and the quickest way to get to that free ticket. For me, I have to confess, the goal is what is most important. I simply want to get to the free flights, without bothering about which card gives me how many points. Do you compare the points per rupee factor when you get a credit card? Is it important?
The Go To Platform (www.premiermiles.co.in) - A travel website designed by Citibank where patrons can buy and redeem flights and hotels.
This is something that interested me. It does make the entire process of redeeming the points easier and best of all across a number of airlines rather than just one. How competitive are the prices of the flights/hotels only time will tell, but the fact that there are more options is definitely a plus point.
No Expiry - With unused points always remaining in your accounts, this is probably the biggest attraction.
Off late Airline cards and Credit Cards both have started expiring points. That for me has always been an issue of irritation. So, as a rule, in any card, points once earned should remain with the customer forever.
Short Booking Notice - Citibank states that it is possible to book flights and even redeem points for flights up to 3 hours before departure, provided there are seats available. No matter the kind of seat, as long as it is available you will get a spot.
I'm a family man and my travels are usually planned much in advance keeping in mind school holidays. So, I cannot comment on the usefulness of the feature, but it does seem practical especially for the business traveler.
The Airline Group - Premier Miles with the help of its online booking site has access to a number of airlines including the low cost airlines. Moreover, it is possible to transfer the miles to the about 6 other airlines (at present, with expansion in the future).
The bigger the airline group the better. I feel the theory behind this card is to have one card for all airlines, and it somewhat achieves that. Although, the more airlines in both the above scenarios the better.
Twice the Benefits - When you use Premier Miles you accumulate the points on the card, plus you are still getting miles on the airline frequent flyer card.
This is one of the most essential benefits I could find. Not only are we getting the airline miles on the airline frequent flyer card, but we also get points on the Premier Miles card. This is also where the whole idea of the card being mainly for travelers come into place, because it is only a traveler who will make the most of the miles that are collected on the Premier Card. So yes, it is a limiting card, but then it doesn't hide away from this fact.
One Card - Using the points/miles accumulated is not limited to the credit card holder.
Although most airline programs also allow you to "gift" a ticket with your points, it is again a plus point. Using one card for the family can mean accumulating the points at one place.
Taxes - At present the taxes (without the surcharge) have to paid by the customer, i.e. he/she cannot use the miles to pay for taxes.
This is my personal biggest problem with getting "free tickets". For me a free ticket should be just that... FREE! An example(from a frequent flyer program of an airline) would be that I can travel from Birmingham, UK to Amsterdam on a ticket worth £99, but if I were to buy it with points, I would pay £101 in addition to the points in the name of taxes. I am told that by the end of the year the taxes for flights will be payable through points as well, and I truly hope that Premier Miles does that.
Annual Fee - Yes, like most credit cards there is an annual fee of Rs. 3000,- You are however given 10,000 points up front in the first year and 3000 points in the years following.
My point of view is that don't give me anything free, just don't charge me anything either. Unfortunately the card also does not waive the fee if you make transactions of a certain value. I do understand that it is one of the ways that banks make money off the credit cards, but as a customer paying an annual fee for a debit card or a credit card is always annoying. In this case, the frequent flyer cards are a little bit better as they are free, but with expiring points, making this a tough decision.
So there you have it... a few points that every traveler considers when joining a frequent flyer program or in this case taking on a credit card specially designed for travelers.
On the outset, the card does look interesting especially for individuals who travel regularly. But, what is it that you would want in a card like this or from an airline card? Do you find the benefits useful or does it not make much difference to you? Have you ever actually used the points you have accumulated for anything good, something you really wanted? Do tell...
Note – Please keep the comments (if any) limited to travel and the requirements from a card, and not about the card provider.