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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.
American Express® Gold Card
The American Express® Gold Card could be considered both a travel and dining rewards credit card. You earn the most points on food-related purchases, and redeeming them for travel is often the best option.
Using the card, you'll get 4 points per dollar spent at restaurants, 4 points per dollar on your first $25,000 in purchases at U.S. supermarkets, 3 points per dollar when booking flights with an airline or via AmexTravel.com and 1 point per dollar spent on all other eligible purchases.
You can use your points to book flights through the website at a rate of 1 cent per point (other travel options require more points). Or, you can transfer your points to partner airline and hotel programs. Depending on the current ticket price and the number of miles you need for a rewards flight or stay, your points may be worth more than 1 cent each with these options.
The American Express® Gold Card has a $250 annual fee, but cardholders also receive up to $120 in statement credits ($10 per month) for purchases at certain restaurants and delivery services, enrollment required. You'll also get $100 in airline fee credits to cover fees and in-flight purchases. You can also get 35,000 bonus points if you make $4,000 worth of purchases within 3 months of opening your account.
Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card
The Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card offers a straightforward rewards program with valuable cardholder benefits. You earn 2 miles per dollar spent on every purchase, and then redeem your miles to book travel (or offset travel purchases) at a rate of 1 cent per mile. Alternatively, you can transfer your miles to partner frequent flyer programs and book a rewards flight.
The card's $95 annual fee is waived the first year, which lets you give it a test run without any extra expense. As a cardholder, you'll also receive a statement credit worth up to $100 once every four years for a TSA Precheck or Global Entry membership, which can give you access to shorter security lines at airports. New cardholders can also get 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 within 3 months of opening their account.
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.
The Platinum Card® from American Express
The Platinum Card® from American Express is well-known as a premium travel rewards card. While its $550 annual fee is one of the highest around, don't dismiss the card as a good option until you learn more about its benefits. Even if you don't regularly use credit cards for purchases, its cardholder perks can make this card worthwhile for frequent travelers.
As a cardholder, you'll receive status in the Hilton Honors and Marriott Bonvoy hotel loyalty programs. You'll also gain access to hundreds of airport lounges around the world, including Amex Centurion Lounges, Delta Sky Clubs and Priority Pass lounges (once you apply for your free membership). Your card will also open doors at non-airport lounges in popular venues, such as the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
The luxury travel treatment might be enough to justify the cost, but the perks continue. You can get up to $500 in statement credits each year for various travel and retail purchases. For example, you get $50 Saks Fifth Avenue statement credits twice per year, and $15 in Uber credits each month (plus an extra $20 Uber credit in December). Additionally, you'll receive up to $100 in statement credits every four years to offset the cost of a TSA Precheck or Global Entry membership.
The card is also part of the American Express Membership Rewards program. You'll receive 5 points per dollar when booking flights directly with an airline, and 5 points per dollar when buying flights or prepaid hotels on amextravel.com. Other eligible purchases give you 1 point per dollar, and, as with the American Express® Gold Card, it's best to use your points to book travel or transfer them to a partner program.
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.