Best Credit Cards for Railway Ticket Bookings in India 2019

Few credit cards in India provide high enough rewards on rail transactions to outweigh the commonly imposed surcharge, which can range anywhere from 1% to 2.5%, depending on the card. We've picked out a few options that could either net you a profit (or at least negate the surcharge) on rail transactions while also providing other great value.

Best Credit Cards for Railway Ticket Bookings
Our Top PickIRCTC SBI Platinum Card4-10% value back + surcharge waiver on IRCTC online bookings
GroceriesHDFC Bank Bharat CardNet 4% on rail, 5% on groceries, online shopping, travel & more
Air MilesJetPrivilege HDFC Diners1.4% net back on rail, free Jet Airways tickets, unlimited lounge
Air India SBI SignatureNet zero rail charge, Rs. 11,250 in bonuses, 8 lounge visits/year
SecuredKotak Aqua GoldRail surcharge waiver, Rs. 750 annual bonus (Rs. 150,000 spend)

Best Credit Card for Rail Bookings: IRCTC SBI Platinum Card

Consider this if you want IRCTC vouchers as your credit card reward

Age Requirement None listed by issuer
Annual Income Requirement None listed by issuer
Bonuses
  • Welcome Gift: 350 points on Rs. 500 single transaction (excluding fuel) in first 45 days

The IRCTC SBI Platinum Card is far and away the best credit card in India for rail bookings. Each year, you'll receive 10% back on AC1, AC2, AC3, EC and CC (via IRCTC website) from 15 January to 31 March and 15 July to 15 September. From 1 April to 14 July and 16 September to 14 January, you'll receive 4% back. All other non-fuel retail purchases will net you a solid 0.80% back (1 point for every Rs. 125 spent, 1 point = Rs. 1 IRCTC voucher). Getting the IRCTC SBI Platinum Card is a no-brainer if you're focusing on maximising your return on rail spend.

  • Annual Fee: Rs. 500 1st year, Rs. 300 thereafter
  • Rail Reward Rate: 10% on IRCTC website bookings 15 Jan–31 Mar and 15 July–15 Sep; 4% from 1 April–14 July and 16 Sep–14 Jan (applicable for AC1, AC2, AC3, EC, CC)
  • Other Reward Rate: 1 point per Rs. 125 spent on non-fuel retail purchases
  • Point Value: 1 point = Rs. 1 IRCTC voucher
  • Rail Surcharge: Waived on IRCTC website bookings; Rs. 30 + 2.5% of transactions booked at counter
  • Fuel Surcharge Waiver: Transactions Rs. 500–3,000 (max Rs. 100 waived per cycle)
  • Annual Fee: Rs. 500 1st year, Rs. 300 thereafter
  • Rail Reward Rate: 10% of IRCTC website bookings 15 Jan–31 Mar and 15 July–15 Sep; 4% from 1 April–14 July and 16 Sep–14 Jan (applicable for AC1, AC2, AC3, EC, CC)
  • Other Reward Rate: 1 point per Rs. 125 spent on non-fuel retail purchases
  • Point Value: 1 point = Rs. 1 IRCTC voucher
  • Rail Surcharge: Waived on IRCTC website bookings; Rs. 30 + 2.5% of transactions booked at counter
  • Fuel Surcharge Waiver: Transactions Rs. 500–3,000 (max Rs. 100 waived per cycle)

Best Rail Card for Groceries, Online Shopping & More: HDFC Bank Bharat Card

Consider this if you're a moderate spender who makes at least Rs. 144,000 per year

Age Requirement 21-60 (65 if self-employed)
Annual Income Requirement Rs. 144,000 (Rs. 200,000 if self-employed)

The HDFC Bharat Card offers great value back on moderate rail spend, as well as on many other categories (including groceries, online shopping, travel, fuel, mobile recharge and bill pay). You'll earn 5% on these categories, but be mindful there is a Rs. 150 monthly cashback cap on each of: 1) IRCTC bookings + groceries + fuel + mobile recharge + bill pay, as well as 2) SmartBuy (HDFC's online platform for travel, shopping & more) + EasyEMI (pre-approved loan facility) + PayZapp (payments product). So, if you do spend enough to exceed the caps, you're 5% return will decrease. Further, the rail transaction surcharge of 1% will reduce your net value back on IRCTC bookings.

Last, note that you won't get any cashback on dining, a big category for many, and that you must make Rs. 144,000 per year to get approved. Overall, if you're looking for a great cashback card for moderate spend on IRCTC bookings and many other categories apart from dining, get the HDFC Bharat.

  • Annual Fee: Rs. 500 (after 1st year, waived on annual spend Rs. 20,000)
  • Earn Rate: 5% cashback IRCTC, groceries, fuel, mobile recharge, bill pay (max Rs. 150 cashback on sum of 4 categories), HDFC SmartBuy (travel/online shop), EasyEMI (pre-approved loan facility) & PayZapp (max Rs. 150 cashback on sum of 3 categories); no cashback on other
  • Rail Surcharge: 1.0%
  • Fuel Surcharge Waiver: Transactions Rs. 400+, max Rs. 250 waived/month
  • Insurance: Accidental death insurance Rs. 50 lakhs; fire/burglary protection for goods Rs. 5,000+ for 180 days
  • Annual Fee: Rs. 500 (after 1st year, waived on annual spend Rs. 20,000)
  • Earn Rate: 5% cashback IRCTC, groceries, fuel, mobile recharge, bill pay (max Rs. 150 cashback on sum of 4 categories), HDFC SmartBuy (travel/online shop), EasyEMI (pre-approved loan facility) & PayZapp (max Rs. 150 cashback on sum of 3 categories); no cashback on other
  • Rail Surcharge: 1.0%
  • Fuel Surcharge Waiver: Transactions Rs. 400+, max Rs. 250 waived/month
  • Insurance: Accidental death insurance Rs. 50 lakhs; fire/burglary protection for goods Rs. 5,000+ for 180 days

Best Air Miles Credit Cards for Rail Bookings

Air miles credit cards are some of the most valuable in the market. We've recommend a couple of our favorites whose high reward rates could net you a profit or cancel out the typical rail transaction surcharge.

JetPrivilege HDFC Bank Diners Club Credit Card

Consider this if you want unlimited lounge access and unlimited golf

Age Requirement 21-60 (65 if self-employed)
Annual Income Requirement None listed by issuer
Bonuses
  • Welcome Gift: 1) 15,000 JPMiles (worth ~Rs. 6,750), 2) waiver of 1-way base fare Economy Class ticket, 3) Rs. 750 voucher for return ticket, 4) 15 JetPrivilege Tier Points upon first swipe > Rs. 50 and 5) an extra 15,000 JPMiles on Rs. 150,000 of spend within first 90 days
  • Renewal Bonus: 1) 10,000 JPMiles (worth ~Rs. 4,500), 2) waiver of one-way base fare Economy Class ticket, 3) Rs. 750 voucher for return ticket and 4) 5 JetPrivilege Tier Points

The JetPrivilege HDFC Diners Club Card is one of the most valuable overall in India. All transactions (except fuel) earn a great 2.4% value back (8 JPMiles per Rs. 150), including on rail bookings. According to IRCTC, HDFC cards on the Visa/Mastercard network have a 1.0% booking surcharge, but it does not mention Diners Club specifically. Assuming HDFC Diners Club cards also are charged 1%, you'll net a 1.4% profit, one of the better rates in the market. As long as you fly Jet Airways, the card's annual fees are easily offset by the welcome and renewal bonuses of 25,000 JPMiles (worth about Rs. 11,250), 2 one-way base fare tickets waived and Rs. 1,500 return ticket waiver. If you're a high spender, you'll also get an extra 15,000 JPMiles (~Rs. 6,750) on spending Rs. 150,000 in your first 90 days.

Additionally, you'll get an excellent 7.2% back (24 miles per Rs. 150; 1 JPMile = ~Rs. 0.45) on Jet Airways bookings, and another 5% off base fare tickets. On the perks side, the card is one of the few in the market with unlimited lounge access, specifically to the Diners Club network (600+ lounges worldwide). Its travel perks also include domestic airport premiere check-in and extra baggage allowance. Last, you'll get unlimited free golf games (green fee waiver) at ~20 courses in India and 40 worldwide, as well as unlimited lessons at 14 courses across 9 cities in India. This is a fantastic card primarily for flying Jet Airways, and you'll also net a relatively good return on your rail bookings.

  • Annual Fee: Rs. 10,000 (first year), Rs. 5,000 (beyond first year)
  • Earn Rate: 8 JPMiles/Rs. 150 spent except fuel; 3X miles & 5% off Jet Airways base fare
  • Est. Point Value: 1 JPMile = ~Rs. 0.45
  • Est. Rail Surcharge: 1.0%
  • Fuel Surcharge Waiver: Transactions Rs. 400 – 5,000; max Rs. 1,000 waived per month
  • Perks: Unlimited Diners Club Lounge access (600+ lounges globally); unlimited free golf games (green fee waiver) at ~20 courses in India & 40 worldwide; unlimited free golf lessons at 14 courses in India; domestic airport premiere check-in & extra baggage allowance; earn JP Tier Points; dining discounts
  • Annual Fee: Rs. 10,000 (first year), Rs. 5,000 (beyond first year)
  • Earn Rate: 8 JPMiles/Rs. 150 spent except fuel; 3X miles & 5% off Jet Airways base fare
  • Est. Point Value: 1 JPMile = ~Rs. 0.45
  • Est. Rail Surcharge: 1.0%
  • Fuel Surcharge Waiver: Transactions Rs. 400 – 5,000; max Rs. 1,000 waived per month
  • Perks: Unlimited Diners Club Lounge access (600+ lounges globally); unlimited free golf games (green fee waiver) at ~20 courses in India & 40 worldwide; unlimited free golf lessons at 14 courses in India; domestic airport premiere check-in & extra baggage allowance; earn JP Tier Points; dining discounts

Air India SBI Signature Credit Card

Consider this if you fly Air India

Age Requirement None listed by issuer
Annual Income Requirement None listed by issuer
Bonuses
  • Welcome Gift: 20,000 Reward Points (worth about Rs. 9,000)
  • Renewal Bonus: 5,000 Reward Points (worth about Rs. 2,250)
  • Anniversary Bonuses: Spend Rs. 5 lakh for 20,000 points, Rs. 10 lakh for an additional 30,000 points and Rs. 20 lakh for an additional 50,000 points (worth about Rs. 45,000 total)

The Air India SBI Signature Card is the best-in-market for the typical Air India flyer. On all card charges other than Air India bookings, which includes rail spend, you'll earn great value back of ~1.8%, (4 points per Rs. 100; 1 point = 1 Air India mile = ~Rs. 0.45). Note that the rail transaction surcharge on this card is 1.8%, so you'll likely net zero profit on this category. So, we want to be clear that you should primarily go for this card for its Air India rewards, knowing that net zero profit on rail charges is quite good compared to most others.

Specifically, most of the card's monetary value comes from its bonuses, including its welcome gift worth ~Rs. 9,000 in Air India miles. If you happen to be an ultra-high spender, you'll benefit further from the anniversary bonuses of up to ~Rs. 45,000 in value. Then, on Air India bookings, you'll receive top-of-market 13.5% value back for yourself (30 points per Rs. 100 spent), and excellent 4.5% rupee value back (10 points per Rs. 100) booking for others. Of the card's 2 lounge programs, the 8 domestic visits per year with the Visa program has the most value. Last, you'll also get tier upgrade benefits for Air India. Bottom line, if you fly Air India, get this card as it will have the best travel rewards for you.

  • Annual Fee: Rs. 4,999
  • Earn Rate: 30 points per Rs. 100 spent on Air India for yourself; 10 points per Rs. 100 spent on Air India for others; 4 points per Rs. 100 on all other spend
  • Estimated Point Value: 1 point = 1 Air India mile = Rs. 0.45
  • Rail Surcharge: 1.8%
  • Fuel Surcharge Waiver: Transactions Rs. 500 – 4,000; max Rs. 250 per month
  • Perks: Visa Domestic Lounge Program (8 free visits/year, max 2/quarter; lounges across 6 major cities), free Priority Pass membership (USD 27 charged/visit), Air India tier upgrade benefits
  • Annual Fee: Rs. 4,999
  • Earn Rate: 30 points per Rs. 100 spent on Air India for yourself; 10 points per Rs. 100 spent on Air India for others; 4 points per Rs. 100 on all other spend
  • Estimated Point Value: 1 point = 1 Air India mile = Rs. 0.45
  • Rail Surcharge: 1.8%
  • Fuel Surcharge Waiver: Transactions Rs. 500 – 4,000; max Rs. 250 per month
  • Perks: Visa Domestic Lounge Program (8 free visits/year, max 2/quarter; lounges across 6 major cities), free Priority Pass membership (USD 27 charged/visit), Air India tier upgrade benefits

Best Secured Credit Card for Rail Bookings: Kotak Aqua Gold Credit Card

Consider this if you have poor or limited credit history

Age Requirement 18-75
Annual Income Requirement None listed by issuer
Bonuses
  • Anniversary Bonus: Spend Rs. 150,000 in a year and get cashback of Rs. 750 or 4 free PVR tickets

The Kotak Aqua Gold is the one credit card against fixed deposit out there that offers a waiver on rail ticket surcharges (up to Rs. 500 waived per year). Also known as secured credit cards, they are great to start with, build credit and eventually move up to a more valuable card. Most of the monetary value comes from its anniversary bonus of Rs. 750 (or 4 free PVR tickets). However, you must clear Rs. 150,000 in spend each year to earn the bonus and make the card profitable. We would only recommend this card if you need a credit card against fixed deposit, spend a lot on rail tickets and value waiving the surcharge.

  • Minimum Fixed Deposit: Rs. 25,000
  • No rewards earned on everyday purchases
  • Fuel Surcharge Waiver: Transactions Rs. 500 – 3,000 (max Rs. 3,500 waived per year)
  • Rail Surcharge Waiver: Max Rs. 500 waived per year
  • Minimum Fixed Deposit: Rs. 25,000
  • No rewards earned on everyday purchases
  • Fuel Surcharge Waiver: Transactions Rs. 500 – 3,000 (max Rs. 3,500 waived per year)
  • Rail Surcharge Waiver: Max Rs. 500 waived per year
Dan Grossman

Dan is a Senior Research Analyst at ValueChampion India, focusing on credit cards. He holds a B.S. in Mathematics & Economics from the University of Michigan, and previously worked in the financial services industry at Capital One and Moelis & Company.