I’ve been planning to start a review of all the travel credit cards in India for a while now, but various things have kept me busy to be able to commit some time to this. But, it is a go now and I hope to update it as frequently as possible. I will start the series with The American Express Gold Charge Card this week. I got this card when the benefits on the Kingfisher First American Express card were modified.
American Express revamped the Gold Charge Card in 2011, and made it one of the most competitive charge card products in the Indian market. Except for people who get their company-sponsored American Express cards way back, people usually did not know of the ‘Charge Card’ concept around India much.
Sign-up bonus: None.
Fee: Free for the first year, INR 4,500 plus taxes on renewal (5,000 MR points bonus on renewal which almost pays for the fee).
Eligibility: A minimum gross annual income of INR 8,00,000.
Features: This is not a travel credit card actually, but a great card for everyone who cares to put their spends on plastic rather than cash and debit cards. No rollovers allowed since you will pay up everything at the end of the month. One of the reasons I love the American Express Gold card is the fantastic level of service you receive as a cardholder. Yes, you are not Platinum, but the service is great and prompt. I’ve had a couple of times when bonuses did not credit to my account in time, and a simple call would help you get your points credited instantaneously.
You got to remember this is a charge card, so no pre-set spending limits. But that does not mean you’re going to go out and buy that six-figure jewellery set on day one and be approved the charge. Your spend and repayment history will gradually dictate how your charges will be approved.
Another particular feature I like a lot is the Online Fraud Protection Guarantee. This being the only charge card I carry around, I use it all the time for online purchases as well. And sometimes, those details can be reaching the wrong hands (unintentionally!). I personally experienced this Fraud Protection Guarantee a few months back.
One fine Sunday evening, I started receiving text messages about various charges on my card from all over Europe and the USA, this while I was watching TV at home in Mumbai. Someone who had the card details was trying to take me for a ride and had used it for travel bookings for more than, err, 1500 $ over 7-8 transactions in Euros and Dollars. I got a call from the Fraud Protection Team (they called, I did not) and I told them I was unsure where these charges were from. Based on my advise they declined 4 high value transactions straight away, and one had gone through for ~USD 600. This one, after a couple of follow-up calls with me, they knocked off (pending investigation) and I got the credit back for the entire amount within 24 hours. 6 weeks later, I received another letter stating that the temporary credit was being reversed and a permanent credit being applied since they found the charge did not originate from me. And yes, they blocked my card on their own initiative after talking to me, and sent me a new one within 48 hours. Now imagine disputing such transactions with other banks in India.
Membership Rewards: The reason I moved away from spending on the Kingfisher Amex was quite simply the fact that Amex/Kingfisher one fine day decided that they wanted all my MR points to be autosweeped into my Kingfisher KingClub account, and I was not happy since this took away the decision-making of when I want to transfer points from my hands to the hands of Amex. (Recently, Amex reversed the decision with Kingfisher in totters!)
That said, Membership Rewards are the single most important reason I like American Express so far. While there is a list of 600 options where you can burn your MR points, the most important ones for me are the options to transfer them to airmiles or hotel points as per my choice. 1.6 MR Rewards earn 1 JP Mile and 1.25 MR Rewards earn a Air India/ Kingfisher mileage point.
Earning Membership Rewards: Earning MR points is a breeze on this card. The card comes inbuilt with a 1000 MR point bonus every month provided you make 4 transactions of INR 250 or more every month on the card. I pay my bills and the 4 transactions are taken care of. That makes 12000 MR points bonuses in a year for tasks you’d anyway do. Plus, there is a 1000 MR bonus if you put in a standing instruction for bill payments, and another 5000 MR bonus on renewing the card.
Apart from that, regular earning means you earn 1 MR point for every INR 50 spent on the card and 1 MR point for every INR 100 spent on fuel and utilities.
A very promising feature to earn MR points is also the bonuses that are announced at various points of time. For instance, the current bonus being offered is a 5X bonus on grocery stores and supermarket spends which is valid till June 30, 2012. Now, the supermarket next door does not accept an Amex, but some others do (Foodhall, Food Bazaar, Le Marche amongst others). So I don’t go out of my way to stock up every Sunday, but when I am around a big store I sure do use my Amex there.
Burning Membership Rewards: Like I mentioned earlier, there are over 600 MR point redemption options in the Membership Rewards catalogue. For me, the ones that matter the most are the redemption options on airmiles and hotel rewards. I’m upset that Amex decided to impose a INR 250 redemption fee on airmile transfers, which was not a part of the original sign-up documents with Amex.
Here is how Amex fares for airline redemptions:
- 1.6 MR points = 1 JP Mile(9W) / 1 Avios(BA/IB) / 1 Asia Mile (CX)/ 1 Finnair Plus point/ 1 Royal Orchid Mile(TG)/1 KrisFlyer Mile (SQ)/ 1 Flying Club miles (VA)/ 1 Etihad Guest point (EY)
- 1.25 MR points = 1 Kingfisher / 1 Air India mile
Amex MR points are also transferable to Hilton HHonors and SPG.
A customized offer on this card (something I will not take), is the ability to encash 25000 MR points for 1 out of 6 Gold Rewards. These include iPods, travel packages at WelcomGroup, Tissot watches, CK gift vouchers or gaming consoles from Sony.
For those of you who want to quickly build up a stash of MR points and use it on your travel exploits later, you could and should use this card. And with the first year free, you could always try it out and cancel if it does not work to your satisfaction. This is one of my personal favourites.
LinkedIn promotion: Like I mentioned in this post, Amex and LinkedIn are running a special promotion whereby you can refer yourself and your known ones for an Amex Gold Card (free of cost!) and the referrer gets an award of 10,000 MR points on your application being successful. If you’d want a reference, drop me a line at email@example.com and I will be happy to send you a link.
- Why my American Express Gold Card is fast gaining walletshare!?
- Amex bites the bullet on the Kingfisher Amex Credit Card
- Now, get an American Express Card at a discount via LinkedIn referrals
- And now its American Express India’s turn to downgrade Membership Rewards
Disclosure: This post is not at the initiative of Amex or their associates and I am not earning any fees to write this piece. It is purely my own opinion about the card and its utility.