Credit Card Review: Air India SBI Visa Signature

With this post, I am reintroducing the Credit Card Reviews series in India, which I had to stop a while ago due to paucity of time.

Air India & GE/SBI Credit Cards recently teamed up to launch co-branded credit cards which could earn you quite some miles, making me think of calling it perhaps the best credit card to earn miles in India at the moment. They’ve launched 2 credit cards, one at the Signature level and one at the Platinum level, and I will review both separately.

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Sign-Up Bonus: This credit card offers a tidy sign-up bonus of 20,000 Air India miles to start you up with the credit card product. You also get an upgrade voucher from Air India.

Renewal Benefits: You get 20,000 Air India miles on payment of fees every year, and another upgrade voucher.

Fee: The credit card fee is tagged at (upto) Rs. 4,999 plus taxes per annum.

Eligibility: Not publicly disclosed

Features: The card comes with the usual stuff, such as a Priority Pass at the lowest end, where you need to pay $27 every trip to the lounge. There is also access built-in to the Visa Lounge Access Program, which offers you lounge access to 9 different domestic airport lounges. Although what I could pick up here, stated only 8 lounges. Only 2 lounge visits allowed per quarter. Perhaps they could have done better, by allowing access to the Air India lounges as well, which I’ve usually found to be empty.

The other feature which is noteworthy, is the ability to step up in the Air India Flying Returns program based on your spend. For spending Rs. 5,00,000 per annum, you get into their Silver tier, and for spending Rs. 10,00,000 per annum, you get into their Gold tier. There is still a platinum tier ahead of you, but this is pretty generous I’d like to believe. However, what I can’t understand yet is how does this work if you’re a frequent AI traveller and you travel enough to earn the status on your own as well.

Earning Flying Returns Miles: To earn Flying Returns Miles, you just got to use the card. You earn 1 mile for every Rs. 25 spent on the card, and 1 mile for every Rs. 5 spent on Air India tickets. That is just not it, you even get milestone bonuses along the way, as shown below.

To put it in perspective, if you spent Rs. 10,00,000 in a year on this card, you could get into the Gold club of the Air India frequent flyer program, which gives you 2 upgrade vouchers, access to AI lounges, and a very low cancellation/rebooking fee of Rs. 200 on all domestic tickets of Air India. Plus, you get the following miles:

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Spend Based Miles for Rs. 10,00,000: 40,000 Miles

Cumulative Bonus miles: 90,000 Miles

Total Mileage earned: 130,000 Miles

Which makes it a fabulous spend of only Rs. 7.69 per mile earned. WOW!

Redeeming Flying Returns Miles: Of course you can use your miles on Air India redemptions, but then you can also use these miles for redemptions on Singapore Airlines & Lufthansa, and for upgrades on Air India flights. You need only 112,500 points for a first class redemption to the USA.

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Overall assessment: I’ve said it before, and I am saying it again. I’m WoW’d by the earning potential on this card, and does come with nifty benefits as well. However, this being related to Air India, I’m of course always circumspect of the Quality of Service once you are on board the plane. But if you’re not as fussy, this is the card for you! What are your thoughts?

Update (18 Oct 2013): There is also a free Air India Upgrade Voucher that comes along with the card on payment of annual fees.

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About Ajay Awtaney

With a post-graduate degree in management studies from MDI Gurgaon and graduate degree in computer science from the University of Delhi, Ajay brings a systematic and objective approach on the table for his audience in dissecting travel and loyalty programs in India and around the world, and how to benefit from them. Ajay has been quoted in various reputed traditional and online media including The Hindustan Times, Inside Flyer, Bloomberg, DNA India, Conde Nast Traveller, The Telegraph, Mumbai Mirror, Mint, MoneyLife and The USA Today.

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  1. Today i received SBI AIR INDIA Signature Card. I am already flying returns member and this information was never gathered while applying for this card. I could see some number below my name on the card that i received which i think is new Flying returns membership number. Can anyone guide me how would i connect with my existing flying return membership number?

    • @ Sampath- I faced the same problem. Despite filling up my existing Flying returns no. in the application form , they issued a fresh number.
      I called up Air India flying returns.. They asked me to send an e mail explaining the situation. After about a month, they cancelled my old membership and activated the new membership. They also transfer the points balance from the old account to the new account.

      During the process you also have to submit address proof and photo id proof.

      Hope this helps.

      • Thank you. This helps. I have actually written to SBI CARD for changing the number on the card instead of approaching AIR INDIA.
        If I fail to get it modified at SBI CARD, then I approach Flying returns.

        • Approaching SBI is like banging your head on the wrong door.
          Even with Air India FR you have to bang the head.. but that’s the correct door.

          • Thanks Krishna Kumar.
            Why I banged my head against SBI Door was that one of the members in this discussion has actually got it done from SBI.
            It was Shan as below:
            Shan says:
            January 3, 2014 at 2:48 pm
            OK, here’s the final update about my “what’s the number beneath my name” saga. I’m gonna take it from the top.

            First, I got my card and it had that number, which should’ve been my AI Flying Returns number. So I called up SBI to confirm that and they said no, it’s something AI needs to activate. So I called up AI and they said that no, the number printed is not your FF. (At this point, I posted my first question about this number on this blog – see above).

            So I called up SBI again, and they said that they had made some mistake. I got a new card, having my ‘real’ AI Flying Returns number.

            Bottom-line: don’t trust SBI/AI to sort things out. You have to call them and ensure everything is in order.

  2. Hi Ajay,
    I had a question!
    My Air India gold membership expires in this month, and my spends on the card this year has crossed 5L plus but it will take a bit time to reach 10L. Is there any possibility that the card will be yet maintained at gold or will it be downgraded.Please forgive me in case you have mentioned it in any of the earlier posts as an answer to anyone’s queries.

  3. @KJ Beyond 10 lakhs only the normal reward rate (4/100, 20/100 AI) would apply.

    I would suggest that you use some other card after reaching that threshold as all milestones have been met (max bonus and upgrade to Golden Edge).

    If you are spending 20 lakhs you should use Citi Prestige or Diners Black in addition to AI SBI Signature.

  4. Guys, any idea what happens after INR 10 lakh = 90000 bonus rewards

    What if I spend 20 lakhs, does that mean the bonus will be 180000?

  5. Hi Ajay,

    I am about to receive the SBI Air India Card, thanks to your review. You had mentioned that the miles earned on this can be used on Singapore Airlines and Lufthansa.

    Do I have to first transfer to Air India and then redeem on other airlines using star alliance?

    Thanks for your time,
    Krishna.

  6. so today is the day I finally got my SBI signature card. and appalling as it may sound, there is absolutely no system in place for processing credit cards by SBI. I applied online mid august and got an immediate approval. I was surprised at the efficacy of the website in granting an approval. Next day I promptly got a call from customer care saying my application is approved and someone would come over in the next couple of days to collect my documents for verification. Great I thought , how prompt could this be. After 2 weeks of getting no reply I mailed the customer care. I received a reply saying that my application is under process and I would receive a reply soon. Now wasn’t my application already approved online, so I thought lets wait and watch. Another couple of weeks passed and no reply so I mailed them again only to receive the same response. So much for the efficient website granting me an approval. In the mean while I received my Citibank Prestige card and forgot about the SBI card. then on the 30th of Oct I received a call from SBI saying that my application for their credit card was with them and they needed my documents immediately. Well I got the call in the morning and by afternoon someone was already at my office to collect my documents. Ok so I thought this was the final step. Over the next couple of days I kept getting verification calls from different executives, all unaware that someone had called me earlier to verify my details. Then a message saying that my application is in process and I will receive a reply in the next 11 days. I can totally understand anyone’s frustration of having to go through this application process. finally on November 12th I got a message saying my application is approved and the card should reach me in 7 days. Well it came in 2 days.

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