Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Top 3 Travel Credit Cards

Every aspiring traveler in India is envious of his global counterparts when they talk about cheap airfares and redeeming air-miles for holidays. While this is a growing fad in our country, the system and the credit cards have not fully matured to support the model.

So, while you wait for things to catch heat, here are some of the credit cards that could be handy given the current scenario. 

1. Citbank Premier-Miles Credit Card

Source: Google, Citi
Pro's:
  1. You get to redeem your miles for travel and hotels: most of the travel cards have airline tie ups and miss the other essential element - 'stay'. 
  2. Miles utilization is linked to the ticket/room pricing: a fair system that benefit travelers who plan their trips in advance
  3. Never expiring miles: this is possibly the best feature of this card. Unlike JP miles or gift vouchers these miles have an infinite validity period
Con's
  1. Redemption pricing is slightly higher than the pricing in their travel partner's website (GoIbibo is their official travel partner)
  2. Low on miles granted: They offers 10 miles for every INR 100 spent for airline bookings and 4 miles for every 100 spent on other expenditure. 
  3. Low credit limit for non Citibank customers: Card offers low credit limit for non citibank customers
Best recommended usage strategy: For all your travel bookings (except Jet if you have a JP partner card). For other expenses, depending on benefits available in your other cards. 

Fees: This card comes with an annual fee of INR 3000

2. AMEX Platinum Travel Credit Card

Image result for amex platinum travel card
Source: Google images; Amex
While this is not exactly a travel card, it has some excellent rewards which Indian travelers would love to get their hands on. The cards has a milestone based rewards system whereby the customers get Indigo vouchers upon sign up and spending INR. 1.9 lakhs and Indigo and Taj vouchers when cumulative spend reaches INR. 4.0 lakhs. 

So the most cash equivalent of rewards that one can avail in a one year cycle is worth around INR. 33,800. 

Pro's
  1. High on rewards: their rewards is easily among the highest you would find among comparable credit cards
  2. Lounge access - You get limited free access to select Amex lounges and also a free membership to Priority Pass; however, entry to priority pass lounges would be charged. 
  3. Enjoy high credit limit: Amex typically offers a higher credit limit than your other cards
Con's
  1. Voucher benefits come with a limited validity and are restricted to their airline and hotel partners
  2. No benefits for spends over INR 4 lakhs in a year
  3. No accelerated points or miles privileges for frequent travelers except small discounts on travel booking partner Makemytrip. 
Best recommended usage strategy: Use this card for all your non-travel expenses if you use more than one travel card. Limit usage once you have availed maximum rewards (i.e reached the INR. 4.0 lakh milestone). 

Fee: First year fee - INR. 3500 (plus taxes) and renewal fee INR. 5000 (plus taxes)

Hack - You could apply through paisa bazaar and get the first year free. 

3. JetPrivilege HDFC Bank World Credit Card

Image result for jetprivilege hdfc bank world credit card
Source: Google, HDFC
I am wannabe Jet loyalist and have been trying hard to accumulate jetmiles. They are among the few and earliest Indian airline's to launch a loyalty program and is also possibly the best connected in terms air-routes. 

Pro's
  1. High on miles (rewards) - You earn 18 miles for every INR. 150 spent on flights booked using Jet airways website and 6 miles for every INR. 150 spent on other bookings. So if you are a frequent traveler on Jet Airways - this card could come handy. 
  2. Lounge Access: The card provides access to mastercard lounges and also offers free priority pass membership. Unlike your Amex travel card, the cardholder gets 5 five free entry's to the priority pass restricted lounges. 
  3. Receive miles across a host of  non-airline expenditure which include stay, dining, subscriptions, etc
  4. 5% discount on Jet airways flight Bookings
Cons
  1. Only Jet Airways flights: Miles redemption is restricted to airline ticket bookings only and comes with a prefixed validity period. 
  2. Low value for miles: Though the redemption has been linked to airfare, it works on a slab based model; therefore the miles spent per booking might be slightly higher than your bookings with PremierMiles or other cards. (e.g - a round trip from Chennai to Bangalore would cost you INR. 3,500 if booked in advance. The same would however cost you 10,000 miles if one was to redeem miles for this booking. 
Best recommended usage strategy: For all your flight bookings on Jet Airways and hotel bookings through partner websites such as Agoda, Booking.com, Rocketmiles, Kaligo, etc. Some of these sites may be priced slightly premium, especially for bookings with miles as rewards. 

Also, check Jet Privilege website to know what other expenses you can get miles for. 

Fee: First year and renewal fee of INR. 2500 per annum. The renewal fee would be waived based on expenditure milestone being achieved. 

Jet privilege platinum members can get this card for free.  

Note: There are Jet Privilege partner cards, but this had the best return on annual fee. 

About Me
I use all of the above cards and I am currently accumulating miles to see India (if not the world). The above views are based on my personal experiences (positives and struggles) and the views may vary from other users. 

Fern Meluha, Mumbai



Star Category - 5 Star (Ecotel)
Location - Powai, Mumbai
Stayed at this hotel during my last visit to Mumbai and checked in late after a long day of meetings. To my pleasant surprise they upgraded me to a junior suite room and that was the first of the many memorable things from the stay here. 

Location
The hotel is located in the heart of Powai and is also close to commercial establishments in the locality. 

Given my desire to explore the neighborhood when I am in a new city, this hotel was perfect for a small dessert and dinner sojourn. 

Room & Facilities 
When you get more for what you pay, you are more likely to be impressed. That is clearly my views about the stay here and junior suite room is perfectly designed if you are carrying work back to the hotel. 

I stayed up late to work and watch the Indian wrestler bring us the first medal and that was the perfect icing to the stay here. 

On to details, the room had a study, two tv's, a cloak room, a mini bar counter and very comfortable and cozy king-sized bed.


Pricing
They are priced slightly premium and having stayed at similar priced properties in other parts of the city, this was definitely among the ones I found most comfortable in many ways. Hence, it could be considered necessary premium. 

Food
Had a quick breakfast and did not have enough time to do justice to their breakfast spread. 

But what little I had, found it just above average. However, would definitely want to have a more elaborate meal next time. 

Service
The staff were extremely courteous and the check in process was hassle free. 

On a summary note, a hotel stay I enjoyed and one I would surely want to revisit: 

Fern Meluha, Mumbai



Star Category - 5 Star (Ecotel)
Location - Powai, Mumbai

Stayed at this hotel during my last visit to Mumbai and checked in late after a long day of meetings. To my pleasant surprise they upgraded me to a junior suite room and that was the first of the many memorable things from the stay here. 

Location
The hotel is located in the heart of Powai and is also close to commercial establishments in the locality. 

Given my desire to explore the neighbourhood when I am in a new city, this hotel was perfect for a small dessert and dinner sojourn. 

Room & Facilities 
When you get more for what you pay, you are more likely to be impressed. That is clearly my views about the stay here and junior suite room is perfectly designed if you are carrying work back to the hotel. 

I stayed up late to work and watch the Indian wrestler bring us the first medal and that was the perfect icing to the stay here. 

On to details, the room had a study, two tv's, a cloak room, a mini bar counter and very comfortable and cozy kingsized bed. 

Pricing
They are priced slightly premium and having stayed at similar priced properties in other parts of the city, this was definitely among the ones I found most comfortable in many ways. Hence, it could be considered necessary premium. 

Food
Had a quick breakfast and did not have enough time to do justice to their breakfast spread. 

But what little I had, found it just above average. However, would definitely want to have a more elaborate meal next time. 

Service
The staff were extremely courteous and the checkin process was hassle free. 

On a summary note, a hotel stay I enjoyed and one I would surely want to revisit: 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Beyond Indus - Beyond Awesome

Was here as a part of preview of the Ola Prime restaurant week. I had chosen to dine here for the silliest reasons:

1. I turned vegetarian for two months and I believed if there was any cuisine that would appeal to me, this was most likely to be it. 

2. Forgot to add, not just vegetarian- but no desserts too. I assumed it would be easier to skip desserts when dining at a North Indian cuisine restaurant. A judgement I was grossly incorrect about and regretted when I saw my friend eat desserts like there was no tomorrow. 



About the food:
We were served with paapad and an in-house pre-meal appetiser. This appetiser or chips made from Indian breads was crispy and combined fabulously well with the hung curd-garlic-olive dip. 

Starters:

1. Brocolli Simla mirch or cheesy brocolli
This was well cooked brocolli with a healthy cheese infusion; never tasted anything better made of Brocolli. Loved it! 

2. Lal mirch paneer tikka
Moderately soft paneer chunks with a good spicy flavour. 

3. Hara bara kebab
Not my favourite among the three, but nailed it for sure. 

Main course:
1. Aloo tee wadi da bharta - on a normal day, I would have definitely never ordered a dish with potatoes in it, that too at a luxury diner. But this, is by far (when I say far, I really mean far) the most interesting and tasty use of potatoes I have come across in North Indian/ Punjabi cuisine. 

The curry is made with mashed potatoes and I literally had to snatch my share from the otherwise carnivore friend. 

2. Paneer lababdar
A perfect contrast for the aloo curry, even-though both aren't the spicy options. They nailed the lababdar and it had the right balance; it's one dish I love but find overbearing in a few restaurants - this was fortunately not the case here. 


3. Kadai vegetables
This was the extremes to which a temporary convert carnivore would go. That said, it was an extreme I was impressed with. 

Breads: tried pudina parata, chilli olive naan and garlic naan. As always, would rate the garlic naan best. 

Vegetable pulao - Typically, the vegetables are tossed in tawa and mixed to make pulao; this was possibly the reason for the vegetables being marginally saltier than the rice. A decent offering minus this inconsistency.




Desserts 
Did not eat them, but a part of me ached as I saw my friend having a mini-meal with my share of desserts included. 


Ambience
A relatively small restaurant if one was to judge by the carpet area. The interiors are however done gracefully and definitely sets the theme for the cuisine. 



Pricing 
The restaurant week is possibly the best time to try for cost conscious customers. But even otherwise, this is a place worth visiting on special occasions. 

On a summary note, this restaurant is the gleaming highlight in the last couple of weeks I have spent as a vegetarian and is one restaurant I would recommend all my north Indian cuisine loving vegetarian friends to try.

Fern Residency, Mumbai

Star Category - 4 star
Location - Chembur, Mumbai
Had stayed at Fern Residency as a part of my official visit to Mumbai a couple of months ago.

About the Hotel:
Its a four star eco-tel business hotel and shares quarters with a club; the club partners as the gym and and pool facilities provider to the hotel.

Location:
Located in Chembur and a stay here would be advisable if the locality has a reason of interest for you. Personally, I found dining options limited in the neighborhood and neither was I inclined to go in search for one after long work days.

Recommended For:Business travelers

Pricing
The room rents are priced between INR 6-7k. I paid different rates as my last day's booking was through an offer I found on trip-advisor, while other days were through direct bookings.

Personally, I found that to be a tad premium given their setup and offerings.

Hospitality & Service (8/10)
The staff are pleasant and welcoming; check-in, stay extension and checkout process was smooth and I have absolutely no complaints about their service.

The first night I noticed the washroom had a minor fix was required, which they had got done without request and seamlessly during the daily room cleanup.

Room (Facilities and comfort)
The room had the basic essentials and maintenance and quality was appreciable. However, the wifi seldom worked during my stay here and I was told they had some server issues; for a business traveler these are certain basic essentials and a failure for 3 nights is impermissible.

Secondly, the beds were excessively soft. Like I could feel a part of myself drown into cotton every-time I neared it. While this is an initial wow factor, frequent hotel users would agree that excessively soft beds does give you back pain; or at least if you have a ponch like me and have a habit of lying on your tummy.


Food
Their breakfasts were a big pass for me and that did not motivate me to try their 'paid dinner'; despite it having a slightly better spread. The masala dosa and chole poori were the two decent offerings in their breakfast menu.

On a summary note, a decent business class hotel but one that I would not be motivated to visit again. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Sora Jima Japanese Fusion Food Festival


A fellow foodie pinged me to inform about a bloggers meet at a Japanese restaurant and I agreed to give it a try despite being apprehensive about it. The hesitation was largely because of my lack of exposure to quality Japanese food and an inherent discomfort with sushi's. That said, after having tried and loved several new cuisines over the last couple of years - I really wanted to get my palate accustomed to the globally loved and enjoyed - Japanese cuisine.

About the Festival 
This festival is in celebration of the Japanese summer and showcases some of their delicacies with a desi (Indian) twist. This made it perfect for a person like me to make a gradual progress and to enjoy and appreciate this cuisine. 

For authentic Japanese food lovers, sticking to their regular menu might be ideal. 

Ambience
Despite the fact that they are the only dedicated Japanese restaurant (or so I believe) in a five star property in Chennai, they are styled in a mini restaurant model with a small and limited dining area. What was impressive though was how the restaurant was structured to accommodate large groups. 


With minor additions to set the theme, the private dining enclosure was one of the attractive aspects from an ambience perspective.  

Service
The staff did a good job in ensuring we were comfortable and in guiding us through the orders. Mr. Sourav who attended our table was an enthusiastic chap and seemed reasonably informed about the dishes. 

The food however is served with a minor lag, which is relatively common among luxury diners. 

Pricing
The promo menu was fairly priced for a five star hotel. However, if one was to benchmark to regular dining joints (I believe that may not be a fair practice though) it could be considered expensive. 

Food
Soup - Chicken clear soup
A clear soup with made of chicken chunks and generous portion of seaweed. The seaweed usage resulted in giving a seafood aroma and taste to the soup and that did not work for me. Considering they had a dedicated seafood soup, I could have might as well tried that if that was the taste I desired. 

Sushi
With Indianised stuffing like paneer tikka and tandoori chicken, these sushi were quite good. At least finding a familiar taste with a bite made it easier for me to accustom to the cuisine.


Starter
We tried the following:
1. Prawn tempura - batter fried prawns served with a good dip. 
2. Teriyaki Chicken - grilled chicken cooked with teriyaki sauce
3. Masala okonomiyaki - a pancake made of vegetables, chicken and fish and topped with mayonnaise. 
4. Rock shrimp tempura - a sauce mixed batter fried dish

The okonomiyaki and rock shrimp tempura were; the former tasted fresh and the mayonnaise adulteration was a welcome one. 




Main Course
Japanese Chicken Biriyani - A hardcore biriyani lover like can not accept anything which is merely titled biryani but fails to have the necessary flavors. This dish ended up being a fried rice made out of sticky rice.

Seer fish with Aleppey dashi - the grilled seer fish with a bitter coconut curry was such a saviour and made the biryani manageable. We went for refills of the curry and this was among the better dishes served to us. 




Desserts
I had considered skipping desserts when I noticed all of them had a green tea base (not much of a green tea lover); and, to make it worse the options were: creme brulee and panacotta. These are two desserts I have appreciated on very limited occasions. 

1. Panacotta - Served with a dose of strawberry syrup and infused with fine coconut chunks, it felt like this dessert was custom made to suit my preference. Loved the slightly unusual creamy taste and how all of the aforementioned elements blended in perfectly. WOW! 

2. Creme Brulee - The ladies ordered for a refill and kept gorging on this one. I found it decent and torched top was especially well made.

3. Green tea Ice Cream - By this point I had gotten tired of green tea. A typical green tea lover might appreciate this ice cream, however the inconsistency in mixing and adding of green tea powder put me off a bit.


On a summary note, this place is to be tried if you are a Japanese food lover or one aspiring to try this cuisine.

 Sora Jima - The Accord Metropolitan Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Sahara Star Hotel, Mumbai

Star Category - 5 Star
Location - Ville Parle, Mumbai


Was on a business trip to Mumbai and had checked into this hotel for experiencing their luxury.

About the Hotel:
A beautiful property centered impressive lagoon theme. Given my brief stay here, I was not able to experience/use much of their common amenities like spa, gym and swimming pool. 

Below pictures are the night and day views of the lagoon from the room


Recommended for: 
Business travelers and those looking to stay close to stay close to Chatrapati Shivaji Aiport (Domestic Terminal/Terminal 1)

Pricing (8/10)
The room tariff's were relatively well priced when compared to other airport hotels. I made a reservation through Agoda for INR 7300.

Hospitality & Service (4/10)
Walked myself to the front desk and there was absolutely no hospitality offered to sail through the check-in process or for carrying luggage to the room. The front office staff found an opportunity to dump the room farthest from the elevator on me (considering it's a circular shaped hotel, the room I was initially allocated was a good mile from the elevator). After cardio intensive trip to the room I rushed all the way back to the reception to get the room switched. Thankfully, this time around I was attended by a staff who was kind enough to offer a room closer to the elevator.

The staff mentioned about their free airport pick up and drop for 'domestic' flights. The moment I mentioned T2 (Jet's domestic flights fly from Terminal 2), there was silence - indicating the revocation of the offer. I wanted to get it clarified anyways and when asked was told no such facility will be provided for Terminal 2.

Room (Facilities & Comfort) (9/10)
The room was a moderately spacious one and each room has an attached balcony facing the lagoon; the lagoon is one of the wow factors of the hotel and occupies the central area of the hotel's circular layout. Key room facilities include: a mini sofa and table, well stocked mini bar, study/work table. The room I stayed in had a bath tub and a separate glass enclosure for shower.

The facilities were top notch and the unlike the usual excessively soft beds you find in a few hotels, their mattress was just what I was looking for after a long tiring day.

 



Food (4/10)
The breakfast at Earth plate was a disappointing one despite their huge spread. In simple words, it was quantity over quality.

On a summary note, the room and facilities were impressive but the hospitality and food was underwhelming. 

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Konaar's Biryani - Kodambakkam, Chennai (3/5)

Madurai food is something I am particularly fond of and when I saw this newly opened restaurant near home, could not resist trying it out. 

Food (3.5/5)


Interestingly, the restaurant offers around 8 biryani combos, each with a different starter (includes chicken 65, kadai, fish, mutton kola urundai, tandoori chicken, etc). 

I ordered a south Indian biryani combo. This comes with a bowl of biryani, raita, brinjal curry, mutton kola urundai (minced mutton fried and served in a ball shape), sweet and a soft drink. 

Portions: Initial thoughts on the biryani was the rice quantity was not sufficient; however, as a combo it balances out. With 4 large kola urundai's, anything more would be too much for an average eater. 

Taste: found the taste of biryani rice just about average. The raita and brinjal curry did not significantly impress either. That said, the large chunk of meat which was served with the biryani was tender and very well cooked. 

On the contrary, the kola urundai was lip smacking. The crust of the urundai crumbles as you bite into it and it is easily among the best I have had. One observation was that it had small bone pieces (not sure if it's intentional or traditionally made so). 

Coming to soft drink, I was impressed that they had bovonto as an option and I am sure it have more takers than pepsi. 

Ambience: the dining area was clean and well maintained. Seating - though a little cramped, was moderately comfortable. 

Cleanliness around the hand wash area needs attention and tissues refills need to be monitored.


Pricing: the combo I had was priced at INR. 260. I would consider it good value for money. 

Service: I first wondered why it took them ten minutes to serve a biryani order. However, one bite into the kola urundai and I knew exactly why (hot and freshly made - I am sure they need preparation time for it). 

On a summary note, while the biryani was not too impressive, this place serves the best kola urundai's I have tasted. Definitely going back for more of those and probably to try some tiffin and parota combinations.

Konaar's Biryani Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato