The Credit Scores You Need for the Best Travel Credit Cards

The Credit Scores You Need for the Best Travel Credit Cards

Are you ready to apply for a new rewards credit card, but you’re not sure which one you’ll qualify for? We’ve taken a look at the major travel cards on the market and figured out the credit scores you’ll need to get them.

There are a few caveats. First, this information is very hard to come by. Card companies like to keep the credit scores customers need to get their cards a bit mysterious. It gives them more leeway to deny or accept applications.

For instance, if the card company needs more cardholders, they may drop their standards a bit. And if they have plenty of applicants, they may require a higher score than usual. So while we’ve done our best to compile an accurate list, there’s no guarantee that you’ll get a card even if you have the score we recommend.

It’s also true that the right person applying at the right time might get a credit card that appears to be out of their reach. In other words, it might be worth applying even if you don’t think you’ll get the card. But don’t apply for one that is totally out of your league.

Remember, there are a lot of factors that card companies consider before accepting or denying an application. Chase, for instance, has the 5/24 rule which states that you can’t open more than five new card accounts during a 24-month period. If you have, Chase will not give you a new travel card.

Every card company also puts limits on your total credit limit. American Express, for example, may limit you to a total of $50,000 in credit across all Amex cards. If you have two Amex cards with a $25,000 limit each, you won’t get approved for a new card unless you can convince them to up your total limit. Alternatively, you could move some of your credit from your other two cards to a new one.

There are other factors that also play into your chances of getting approved for a new card, such as your current income and debt. But the fact remains that your credit score can be a pretty good predictor of card approval.

The Basics

Most credit card lineups have a basic, midrange and premium offering. That’s true if it’s a part of a general rewards program, like Chase Ultimate Rewards or Citi ThankYou, or associated with a specific airline or hotel loyalty program, such as Hilton Honors or Delta SkyMiles.

The basic cards are often a no-fee, entry-level option with middling rewards. On the other end of the spectrum, premium cards typically have huge annual fees and lots of benefits and perks.

Generally speaking, the more expensive the annual fee, the better your credit has to be to qualify for the card. While that’s not always the case, it’s a good general rule of thumb. If you want the premium card in the lineup, but you don’t have the credit score to get it, consider getting a cheaper card first and building up your credit from there.

Say you want the excellent Chase Sapphire Reserve card, but you only have fair credit. You could apply for the Chase Freedom card, which typically requires a much lower score to get. Be sure you use the card and make your payments on time. After about six months, reach out Chase directly and ask about getting a better card, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred. After some time with that card, contact Chase again and they may let you step up the Reserve.

The Cards and the Scores

Let’s start with the best cards out there. To get these cards, you need excellent credit, which we’ve defined as a score of around 730 or more.

 IssuerProgramAnnual Fee
Sapphire ReserveMChaseUltimate Rewards$450
Citi ThankYou PrestigeCitiThankYou Rewards$450
Citi ThankYou PremierCitiThankYou Rewards$95
Amex PlatinumAmerican ExpressMembership Rewards$450
Amex Premier Rewards GoldAmerican ExpressMembership Rewards$195
AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCardCitiAAdvantage$450
Delta ReserveAmerican ExpressSkyMiles$450
United ClubChaseMileagePlus$450
JetBlue PlusBarclaycardTrueBlue$99
British Airways Visa SignatureChaseExecutive Club$95
Citi Hilton Honors ReserveCitiThankYou Rewards$95

You’ll note that many of these cards are the best in their various lineups. They may come with hefty annual fees, but they also come with some impressive perks. Obviously, with excellent credit you can get any of the cards below as well.

With good credit, which we define as scores below 730 but above about 690, you still have a lot of great options.

 IssuerProgramAnnual Fee
Amex EveryDay PreferredAmerican ExpressMembership Rewards$95
Chase Sapphire PreferredChaseUltimate Rewards$95
Citi ThankYou PreferredCitiThankYou Rewards$0
Starwood Preferred GuestAmerican ExpressSPG$95
Platinum Delta SkyMilesAmerican ExpressSkyMiles$195
United MileagePlus ExplorerChaseMileagePlus$95
AAdvantage Platinum Select World MasterCardCitiAAdvantage$95
Alaska Airlines Visa SignatureBank of AmericaMileage Plan$75
JetBlue CardBarclaycardTrueBlue$0
Marriott Rewards PremierChaseMarriott Rewards$85
Hilton HonorsAmerican ExpressHonors$0
Citi Hilton HonorsCitiHonors$0
Capital One Venture RewardsCapital OneVenture Rewards$59

With just average credit, that’s a score of about 630 to 690, you have significantly fewer options. While these cards are still solid rewards cards, they’re also a good choice to build credit so you’ll qualify for the above cards in the future.

 IssuerProgramAnnual Fee
Chase FreedomChaseUltimate Rewards$0
Amex EveryDayAmerican ExpressMembership Rewards$0
Gold Delta SkyMilesAmerican ExpressSkyMiles$95
Southwest Rapid Rewards PlusChaseRapid Rewards$69
Capital One Quicksilver Cash RewardsCapital OneCash back$0

If you have a score below 630, you’ll probably need to do some work on your credit to get a decent rewards card. You’ll have very few credit card options, but you should get one as soon as possible so you can build a positive credit history.

You’ll probably have to get what’s called a secured card. With these cards, a small security deposit typically ranging from $50 to $200 will get you a small credit limit. From there you’ll be able to build up your credit and eventually get a better card with more benefits. Capital One and Discover, among other issuers, offer good, no-fee secured cards.

Get the Card of Your Dreams

Getting the right rewards card can help you earn free travel fast. Big sign-up bonuses are only the beginning, as many of the best cards also offer fantastic perks, such as lounge access and bonus points for purchases.

It might take a little patience to get one of those cards if your credit score isn’t the best, but it can be worth it. Just get the best card you can, make some purchases, and pay off the bill on time. It won’t take long to boost your standing with the credit card company and earn that premium travel card.