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The best travel credit cards typically require a good to excellent credit score. They also often have an annual fee. However, if you can qualify for one of these cards, the rewards and cardholder benefits can far outweigh the cost.
Why You Need a Good Credit Score for a Travel Card
Credit card companies create and offer credit cards with different types of customers in mind. The best rewards cards tend to be for people who have established their credit and shown they can use credit responsibly. Generally, that means you've taken out loans or opened credit cards and paid your bills on time.
If your credit scores are in the 670 to 739 range, your credit is considered good, while scores above that will put you in the very good to excellent ranges. You want to be at least in the good range if you're looking at the top travel cards.
That said, credit cards don't necessarily have a minimum credit score that determines if you'll qualify. In fact, a FICO® Score* or VantageScore® credit score could simply be one of many factors a credit card company considers when reviewing your application.
Other factors may include your income and monthly housing expenses, which can also impact the credit limit and interest rate you'll receive. This can be important, as some of the card's benefits may come from the card network (such as Visa or Mastercard) rather than the card issuer (such as Capital One or Chase), and the network could require a minimum credit limit for certain types of cards.
With the Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card, for example, you'll receive a Visa Signature card if you're approved for a credit line of at least $5,000 or a Visa Platinum card (which has fewer benefits) if you're approved for a credit line below $5,000. But some credit cards don't have a Visa Platinum version and the issuer may deny your application if you don't qualify for at least a $5,000 limit.
All else being equal, having a good credit score can improve your chances of getting approved for a top-tier rewards travel card.
What Your Good Credit Score Can Get You
With the varying rewards, benefits and fees, there's a lot to consider when you're trying to determine which card deserves a spot in your wallet. Here are five of our top picks—none of which has a foreign transaction fee—with a few highlights from each card.
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card has a tiered rewards program with different earning and redemption rates.
Using the card, you'll receive 2 points per dollar spent on travel and dining purchases and 1 point per dollar on other purchases. The points are worth 1.25 cents each if you use them to book travel through Chase's Ultimate Rewards portal. You can also transfer points to select airline and hotel loyalty programs. There are other redemption options as well, such as cash back, but points are only worth 1 cent each in those cases.
Chase doesn't waive the card's $95 annual fee during the first year. However, there's an intro bonus of 60,000 points (worth $750 in travel bookings when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards) if you make $4,000 worth of purchases with the card within your first 3 months. You can also receive primary rental car coverage when you use the card to pay for a rental vehicle—a rare benefit that can offer significant savings versus paying the rental agency for coverage.
Discover it® Miles
The Discover it® Miles card is another option that has simple rewards. The card also doesn't charge an annual fee, which could make it a top choice for some people.
Using the card, you'll earn 1.5 miles on every dollar you spend. You can use your credit card to book travel and redeem the miles to get a statement credit offsetting the purchase. Or, you can redeem your miles for cash back at the same rate.
Rather than a large intro bonus after you spend a certain amount of money, new cardholders get their rewards miles doubled at the end of their first year with the card. The bonus offer might be a good fit if you have a lot of upcoming expenses in the coming year, or if you don't want the pressure to spend thousands of dollars during your first few months with a new card.
Monitor Your Credit for Free
If you'd like to get one of the top travel cards but don't have good enough credit scores yet, take some time to improve your credit. Paying your bills on time and keeping credit card balances low could help your scores improve over time. Also consider signing up for a free Experian account (which comes with a free score) to keep an eye on your progress. Additionally, you can use the Experian CreditMatchTM tool and receive credit card offers based on your current credit standing.