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Home > Business > Special

Want a top gun ride? Use your credit card

Sangeeta Singh | December 17, 2005

Ever imagined that your credit card could fetch you a Hyndai Elantra, a trip to the Antartica, a gravity-defying experience, or a cruise on the river Nile - for free? Well, you can get them all if you have an American Express card.

The membership reward programme for Amex is so designed that for every Rs 40 that a cardholder spends, he earns one point. The bank also offers exquisite lifetime experiences to its platinum cardholders.

So one can choose from discovering the beauty of Antartica, a lazy cruise on the Nile, an expedition to East Africa, or a walk on the Great Wall of China. If these don't thrill you, how about an exquisite top gun experience in a subsonic flight, or a bird's eye view of Hong Kong in a helicopter, or real rally driving experience in Australia?

Naturally, these are not easily earned, but points can be supplemented by cash out of one's pocket. So if a card holder has earned300,000 points - which means the customers should have made a purchase of over Rs 1.2 crore (Rs 12 million)over a period of time - and if he or she is ready to chip in another Rs 1.2 lakh he/she can take the top gun experience.

Similarly, if one has earned 350,000 points and is willing to pay another Rs 150,000, one can win an experience very close to being in outer space in a special zero-gravity flight along with an exclusive dinner with a cosmonaut in Moscow.

Alternatively, the person will have to earn not less than 900,000 points and 11 lakh (1.1 million)points respectively to bank only on reward points. However, those who are nowhere close to 3 lakh points have missed the bus; both the gravity-defying and top gun experiences are valid only till December 31 this year.

But don't lose heart. In its Earn-and-Burn programme, Amex has over 400 options across retail, lodging, merchadising, dining and travel. And the reward options range between 1,000 and 15 lakh (1.5 million)points spread over platinum, gold and green cards.

"Membership rewards is a key differentiator between American Express cards and other competing products offering its members choice, relevance, convenience and aspirational value," says K L Muralidhara, country manager, American Express, India.

However, other banks are not far behind on these counts. HSBC offers goods ranging from cordless phones and cameras to Tupperware lunch boxes, besides gift vouchers.

Standard Chartered offers anything from Titan gift vouchers, executive bags and overnighters to Sahara Cosmos points for Air Sahara. Again, ICICI Bank Xpress Rewards programme gives its customers up to 10 reward points for every Rs 200 spent and redemption of these points against exciting purchases.

But Amex's Rajiv Ahuja says American Express is a cut above the rest. "We have many reward options between 50,000-15 lakh points, which shows we have a customer base that spends in that magnitude," he says.

Customers, however, say half the rewards offered by Amex are not affordable. "I would rather go by awards that can be redeemed on a day-to-day basis," says an executive with a multinational company possessing both Citibank and American Express cards.

He is particularly impressed by the Jet Airways Citibank Card, which allows cardmembers to earn four Jet privilege miles for every Rs 100 spent. Again, its Indian Oil Card, which not only gives a fuel surcharge waiver to its cardmembers but also bonus turbo points, is picking up.

Also, there is the Hutch Card, which gives three minutes of free talktime for every Rs 100 spent on the card. The company also claims it offers fancy options at premium levels like in the Gold card and Diners cards.

But its Cash Back loyalty programme is what is being talked about. "It is the only card which gives you cash back every month whether you pay the entire amount due or opt for the revolving credit facility," says T R Ramachandran, business manager-cards.

So far there is just one taker (whose identity American Express would rather not reveal) for Amex's Hyundai Elantra. But Rajiv Ahuja is not giving up: "On a total of 15 lakh points or with a combination of 800,000 points and Rs 225,000 in cash, many customers are making enquiries about the Elantra."

No doubt, for those virtually living on their credit cards, there's more to these offers.

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