If you want to travel more for less money, applying for a travel rewards card is one of the best ways to do just that. With every dollar you spend on the card, you earn travel rewards that can help cover your flight, hotel, and other future trip expenses.
However, the best travel credit cards on the market are often reserved for only those with good or excellent credit scores. Which means if your credit is less than ideal, or if you don’t have enough credit history to prove yourself to the big banks, you may find it difficult to get approved for a travel credit card.
Does that mean you should rule out getting a good travel credit card if you have a bad credit score? Not necessarily.
Here are three credit cards that you may still qualify for, along with some additional info to help you decide whether to apply for a travel credit card.
What Are Travel Rewards Credit Cards?
A travel credit card earns rewards you can use for flights, hotels, rental cars, and more. Just like any credit card, the more you spend on the card, the more travel points or miles you’ll earn.
What makes travel rewards cards so special is that they’re usually much more valuable than your average cash back or store credit card. Travel rewards cards tend to offer big introductory offers — we’re talking a value of $1,000 or greater — for new applicants.
Read more: Best Travel Rewards Credit Cards
In addition, travel cards offer a high return on everyday and travel purchases, and the points you accumulate can be used toward future redemptions. Some travel cards even offer exclusive benefits like airport lounge access or statement credits toward Global Entry or TSA Precheck to improve your travel experience all-around.
But these cards also come with a catch. Travel rewards cards have some of the highest APRs on the market. If you fail to pay off your credit card bill on time, you will owe interest and late fees, thus hurting your credit score and negating the value of any rewards earned.
Read more: How to Use a Credit Card Responsibly
What Credit Score Do I Need for a Travel Credit Card?
Based on the FICO scales, there are five credit score ranges:
- Exceptional: 800+
- Very Good: 740 to 799
- Good: 670 to 739
- Fair: 580 to 669
- Poor: >580
Because travel rewards cards are so coveted, you’ll most likely need to hold a good to exceptional credit score for the vast majority of them. Not only that, but you’ll need to provide sufficient credit history. If you’re looking for your first credit card and don’t have at least a year of account history to back up your credit score, you’ll have a tough time getting approved.
And unfortunately, if your credit score falls in the fair or poor ranges, you’ll most certainly be denied for the top cards out there.
For example, one of the most popular travel credit cards available is the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card. It’s a beloved card for its manageable $95 annual fee, strong rewards potential, and hefty sign-up bonus. While there’s no official credit score requirement, most applicants with a credit score of at least 740 will get approved for the card.
The more prestigious the travel card — or the higher the annual fee — the better credit score you’ll need. For most people, The Platinum Card® from American Express immediately comes to mind as one of the most luxurious travel cards out there — and comes with a whopping $695 annual fee. To qualify, you’ll likely need an exceptional credit score.
Read more: What Is an Excellent Credit Score?
Best Travel Credit Cards for Low Credit Scores
If your credit score isn’t quite up to par just yet, don’t fret. There are still some considerable rewards cards that can serve as great starter options. Over time, as you improve your credit history by making timely payments, you can start to qualify for some of those big kahunas mentioned above.
Best for Fair Credit: Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card
The Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card comes with a low $39 annual fee and is designed for applicants with average credit. So, if your credit score falls somewhere in the 600s range, this could be a great card for you.
While the Capital One QuicksilverOne isn’t branded as a “travel” credit card, it comes with many of the same travel benefits provided by competing cards. For starters, cardholders earn 5% cash back on hotels and rental cars booked through the Capital One travel portal and 1.5% cash back on all other eligible purchases, with no limit to how many rewards you can earn.
All the rewards you earn can be redeemed as statement credit, check, or direct deposit. Even better, Capital One QuicksilverOne cardholders can opt to redeem their rewards for flights, hotels, or rental cars through the issuer’s online travel portal at a rate of 1 cent each. This can be a great way to offset travel costs, even as a “cash back card.”
Another key benefit of the Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card is no foreign transaction fees. If you’re traveling internationally, the card waives surcharges and fees for paying in a different currency.
Best for Poor Credit: Discover it Secured
If you have bad credit — or a score of under 580 — the Discover it Secured is worthwhile as you work to build your credit history. To open the card, you’ll need to put down a fully refundable security deposit between $200 and $2,500. The amount you put down will determine the total credit limit available to you, and if you ever decide to shut your account, then you’ll get your deposit back.
Secured credit cards typically come with high annual fees or lack rewards-earning potential. Fortunately, the Discover it Secured comes with no annual fee and offers 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants, up to the first $1,000 spent per quarter.
You can save the cash back you earn toward future travel purchases. Additionally, you can use your Discover it Secured abroad, as the card also waives all foreign transaction fees.
Read more: How Secured Credit Cards Work
Best for Students: Chase Freedom® Student Credit Card
If you’re currently a student in an accredited two- or four-year university, this is the perfect time to get your hands on a travel rewards card. Even if you have no prior credit history, Chase offers easy approval odds, and the Chase Freedom® Student credit card is specifically intended for college students.
Cardholders earn an unlimited 1% cash back on all purchases. While not the best earning rate out there, it’s better than not earning any rewards at all. Other benefits include a $20 good standing reward after each account anniversary, for up to five years, and automatic credit limit increases after five monthly payments on time within 10 months from account opening.
Plus, Chase offers some of the best travel credit cards on the market. Which means if you develop a strong foundation with this issuer now, you can apply for better cards in a year or two.
Other Ways to Get a Travel Credit Card with a Bad Credit Score
Applying for a travel credit card on your own isn’t the only avenue — there are a few other options worth considering.
If your parent, guardian, or another trusted adult carries a travel credit card in their wallet, they may be able to add you as an authorized user, and then you can enjoy some of the benefits of the primary cardholder. In some cases, becoming an authorized user can be a smart way to build credit quickly.
You may have also received prequalified offers in the mail for travel credit cards, stating that you’re eligible to apply for the card. If any of these mailer offers interest you, the odds of approval may be much higher since you were preselected under a variety of factors.
As a good rule of thumb, try your best to pay your credit card statement on time and in full for at least one year. This is a tried-and-true method to increase your credit score and maximize your odds of approval for that desired travel rewards card down the line.
It can be difficult to get approved for your dream travel card without a good, very good, or exceptional credit score. However, that doesn’t mean all rewards credit cards are off the table. There are plenty of cards that still offer rewards you can save up toward future travel expenses and other travel-related perks.
Once you improve your credit score, getting approved for a better travel credit card will become much more feasible.
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