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With the weather warming up and spring approaching, traveling and taking a vacation to a far-flung location may be on your mind. If you travel and fly frequently, travel credit cards are a great way to rack up points or miles to get free flights, hotel nights, access to airport lounges and other travel-related benefits. However, if you're interested in signing up for a travel credit card, your credit score can limit your ability to get one. Most travel credit cards require cardholders to have a high credit score.
FICO credit scores range from 300 to 850 and fall under different categories, ranging from 'poor' at the lower end to 'exceptional' at the higher end. If you have a credit score between 580 and 669, you have a 'fair' credit score, according to Experian. In order to get a travel credit card, you'll likely need a credit score in the mid or high 600s. If you have a low credit score and are interested in getting a travel credit card, your first focus should be on improving your credit score.
"For someone who has a limited credit history, or poor credit score, your options for travel or
rewards credit cards are going to be limited. I would focus on increasing your credit score by making sure your credit utilization is low and you're making your payments on time," Dustin Waller, a credit card expert and YouTuber who's been to 20 different countries and currently has 20 active credit cards, says. "These two factors account for roughly two-thirds of your credit score. If you can keep those two pieces in check, then your credit score will rise."
Waller recommends that people with a credit score below 600 start out with the Discover it® Secured Credit Card or the Capital One Platinum Credit Card (see rates and fees) in order to start rebuilding their credit scores. The Discover it® Secured Credit Card is a secured card that requires you to put down a security deposit that's equal to the value of your credit line. The security deposit acts as collateral if you default on your monthly payments. Starting at seven months from account opening, Discover will automatically review your credit card account to see if you can transition to an unsecured line of credit and return your deposit. This incentivizes cardholders to pay their monthly payments on time and in full.
The Discover it® Secured Credit Card also comes with rewards, a welcome bonus and no annual fee. You can earn 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants on up to $1,000 in purchases each quarter and 1% cash back on all other purchases. For your welcome bonus, Discover will match the value of the cash-back you earned in your first year of card membership.
Earn 2% cash back at Gas Stations and Restaurants on up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter. Plus, earn unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases – automatically.
Discover will match all the cash back you've earned at the end of your first year
N/A on purchases
Balance transfer fee
3% intro balance transfer fee, up to 5% fee on future balance transfers (see terms)*
Foreign transaction fee
New / Rebuilding
*See rates and fees, terms apply.
The Capital One Platinum Credit Card is another good option for people who have low credit scores and are interested in travel credit cards. The Capital One Platinum Credit Card notably has no annual fee and charges no foreign transaction fees. It also comes with travel-related perks like auto rental collision damage waiver, roadside assistance and 24-hour travel assistance services. However, you won't be able to reap any points or miles with this card: the Capital One Platinum Credit Card does not offer a rewards program or welcome bonus.
If you have a credit score above 600, Waller recommends the Apple Card for a card that's a step above the Discover it® Secured Credit Card and the Capital One Platinum Credit Card. Like the Capital One Platinum Credit Card, the Apple Card has no annual fee and is a good option for travelers as there are no foreign transaction fees.
Unlike the Capital One Platinum Credit Card, the Apple Card has a rewards program. It earns 3% cash back on goods or services purchased directly from Apple, on Uber and UberEats, at Walgreens and Duane Reade stores, on the Walgreens app and on Walgreens.com, in T-Mobile stores, at Nike, at Exxon and Mobil stations and at Panera Bread, 2% cash back on Apple Pay purchases and 1% cash back on all other purchases.
The Apple Card is known for its ease of use — you'll need an iPhone but your purchases can be made through the Wallet app or with a physical card. By using the Wallet app, you'll be able to see a snapshot of your spending history and how much interest you'd have to pay if you make only a portion of your payments
Once you've improved your credit score by completing your payments on time and in full, you'll have your choice of a variety of different travel credit cards. For people with a 'good' or 'excellent' score, Waller suggests the Chase Freedom Flex℠, Amex EveryDay® Credit Card and Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card (see rates and fees). Note that the first two cards charge foreign transaction fees, so they're better suited to domestic travel.
If you have closer to an excellent credit score, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is a great travel credit card with a good welcome bonus. You can earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. Those Chase points are worth $750 when redeemed through the Chase Travel Portal and can be transferred to valuable partners like Hyatt, United, British Airways, Southwest and more.
$50 annual Ultimate Rewards Hotel Credit, 5X points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3X points on dining, 3X points on select streaming services and online grocery purchases (excluding Target, Walmart and wholesale clubs), 2X points on all other travel purchases, and 1X points on all other purchases
Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
21.49% - 28.49% variable on purchases and balance transfers
Balance transfer fee
Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater
Foreign transaction fee
Read our Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card review.
For rates and fees of the Discover it® Secured Credit Card, click here.
For Capital One products listed on this page, some of the above benefits are provided by Visa® or Mastercard® and may vary by product. See the respective Guide to Benefits for details, as terms and exclusions apply. Information about the Amex EveryDay® Credit Card, Chase Freedom Flex℠ and Apple Card has been collected independently by Select and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of the card prior to publication.