Few years ago, I was extremely excited to take my first trip to India, a country that I’ve always been fascinated by.
Unfortunately, India is one of the furthest countries from the United States, and it’s always going to be more expensive to fly there than to most other destinations.
But once you arrive in India, you’ll find it to be one of the most affordable places you can go.
For example, it’s generally pretty easy to find a car, a driver, and a tour guide for about $100 a day in India’s capital of New Delhi.
And fortunately, you can earn points and miles from your credit card that you can use for flights to India and even hotels.
Finding the Right Credit Card for a Trip to India
Most of the time, it makes sense to earn points in a credit card rewards program that allows transfers to miles with multiple airlines.
Here are the top travel rewards credit cards that you can use for your trip to India:
Alaska Airlines Visa Signature card from Bank of America
This card offers 30,000 bonus miles after you make $1,000 in new purchases. It also offers 3x miles for all Alaska purchase, and 1 mile per dollar spent elsewhere.
But I’m sure that you’re wondering if Alaska Airlines even flies to India, right?
They don’t, but you can redeem your miles to fly there with several of their partners. Round-trip award flights to India on Air France or KLM are 80,000 miles in economy or 140,000 miles in business class.
Another option is Cathay Pacific flights, which require a steep 100,000 miles in
Finally, you could consider Emirates, which would be 85,000 in economy or 165,000 miles in business class. There’s a $75 annual fee for this card, and no foreign transaction fees.
Chase Sapphire Preferred
The Chase Sapphire Preferred is a premium rewards card that offers a 50,000 point sign-up bonus, and earns 2x on travel and dining charges.
Points are earned in the Chase Ultimate Rewards program, which allows you to transfer points to miles with seven different airline partners, and points with four different hotel programs.
For example, you can transfer your points to United, which offers round-trip awards to India for 85,000 miles in economy and 140,000 - 160,000 miles in business, depending on if the intercontinental flight is operated by United.
And since Air India is also a member of the Star Alliance, you can add on flights to smaller cities in India, not just New Delhi or Mumbai.
You could also transfer the points to the Flying Blue program, which is the one for Air France and KLM.
Flying Blue also partners with Delta, and offers round-trip economy awards to India for 80,000 miles.
However, their business class awards are a more unreasonable 200,000 miles round-trip. This card has a $95 annual fee that’s waived the first year.
Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite MasterCard
This card offers new applicants 30,000 bonus miles after spending just $1,000 within three months of account opening.
You earn double miles on all American Airlines flights and one mile per dollar spent elsewhere.
Other benefits include a free checked bag, priority boarding, and discounts on in-flight food and beverages.
Award flights from the 48 contiguous states to India on American Airlines are 80,000 miles round-trip in economy class and 140,000 miles round-trip in business class.
American is partnered with several different carriers that serve India and are part of the OneWorld Alliance including British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, Qatar, and Sri Lankan.
In addition, it also partners with Jet Airways, and Indian carrier that serves India from Toronto via Amsterdam.
This card has a $95 annual fee that’s waived the first year, and no foreign transaction fees.
Starwood Preferred Guest Card from American Express
This card currently offers new cardholders 25,000 bonus Starpoints after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first three months of account opening.
You can also and an extra 10,000 bonus Starpoints after you make an additional $2,000 in purchases within the first six months, for 35,000 bonus points and a total of 40,000 points.
And since this program offers a 5,000 bonus when you transfer 20,000 points to miles, you can earn 50,000 miles with several different airlines that serve India.
Options for transferring your miles include the Flying Blue program of Air France and KLM, which offers round-trip flights to India in economy class for 80,000 miles round trip.
Other options include American Airlines and ANA Airlines of Japan. ANA offers round-trip award flights from North America to Japan for 70,000 miles round-trip in economy class and 115,000 in business class.
Starwood points can also be useful for award nights in hotels. It offers numerous properties in India, many for just 10,000 points a night or fewer.
And since Marriott acquired the Starwood brand, you can transfer each Starwood point to three Marriott points, and stay in even more hotels throughout India.
And when you redeem your points for free night awards, either through Starwood or Marriott, you receive your fifth consecutive night for free.
There’s a $95 annual fee for this card that’s waived the first year, and no foreign transaction fees.
Amex EveryDay Credit Card
This card offer a great way to earn Membership Rewards points, which can be transferred to miles with 17 different airlines. It currently offers 15,000 bonus points after making just $1,000 in new purchases within three months of account opening.
But what’s exceptional about this card is that It features 3x points at US supermarkets (on up to $6,000 spent each calendar year), 2x points at US gas stations, and 1x elsewhere.
In addition, you also get a 50% points bonus each billing period that you make 30 or more transactions, which allows you earn 4.5x, 3x and 1.5x respectively.
One way to use these points for an award flight to India is to transfer them to ANA, which requires the least amount of points for this trip.
As a Star Alliance member, you can redeem ANA points for flights operated by Air India and numerous other carriers.
Another Membership Rewards transfer partner is Air France/KLM’s Flying Blue program.
There’s a $95 annual fee for this card, but it does have a 2.7% foreign transaction fees.
What Credit Cards to Use in India
Once you reach India, you will still want to have the right credit card for your purchases.
Nearly all merchants in India that accept credit cards accept Visa and MasterCard, and most accept American Express. The Discover card is gaining acceptance, and can be used anywhere you see the Diner’s Club International logo.
Like any trip outside of the United States, you’ll want to use a credit card that has no foreign transaction fees.
The only card mentioned here that has foreign transaction fees is the American Express Everyday Preferred, which imposes a 2.7% fee on all charges processed outside of the United States.
If you are renting a car, be very careful which card you use, as many, such as American Express cards exclude India from their coverage.
Thankfully, Chase and Citi offer worldwide coverage including India, but you should still ask for a coverage letter that you can show to the rental car company, so it won’t force you to buy additional coverage.
Nevertheless, India is still very much a traditional society, and you will still find many vendors that don’t accept credit cards or those who simply prefer cash.
You should never use your credit card to access cash from an ATM, as it will likely be subject to large cash advance fees, and a very high cash advance interest rate. In addition, interest will alway be incurred on cash advances. Unlike new purchases, there is no grace period for these transactions.
Instead, you should take always have an ATM card with you to access cash.
An ATM card that works in the United States will work at nearly any ATM machine in India.
You can also bring US Dollars with you for exchange, but you are unlikely to receive as good of an exchange rate as you would with your debit card or credit card.
With a population of over four times the United States, India is an amazingly diverse and exciting destination.
Despite the great distances involved, visiting India is well worth the trip.
By using the right credit cards to earn travel rewards, you can visit India sooner than you may have thought, and for a lot less money.