Travel cards' best signup point offers require excellent credit
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Dear Cashing In,
I have a credit score of 704. What is my best choice of credit cards for travel and airline bonuses? -- Chaim
Landing big sign-up bonuses, earning frequent flier miles, traveling to exotic locations -- it sounds like a great plan. And it is true that having the right credit cards and using them wisely can be a money-saving hobby.
Unfortunately, signing up for credit cards with travel rewards is not open to everybody.
Chaim, let's start with your credit score. A FICO score of 704 is generally considered in the "good" range. That places you above most consumers. But you probably won't have your pick of all rewards cards, most of which are targeted toward people with excellent credit -- generally in the range of 750 and above. Banks evaluate more than just your credit score when considering an application for a new card, but it is still an important measure.
If you want to have a better selection of rewards cards, you might be well advised to spend some time building up your credit. Actions such as checking your credit report for errors, paying bills on time, paying off your balances every month and not becoming overextended can help. If you're carrying balances and paying a lot of fees and interest, those expenses can quickly cut into any rewards you might earn from a card, so be sure to get that in order first.
There are a number of websites, including CreditCards.com, that allow you to compare reward cards (and other cards) on the basis of your credit score. If you look, you'll see that pretty much all airline-affiliated cards are aimed at people with excellent credit, so those will probably be off-limits to you at this point.
If it is sign-up bonuses that interest you, airline cards tend to have some of the biggest bonuses. For instance, as of December 2014, cards affiliated with American Airlines, Southwest Airlines and British Airways all have offers of 50,000 miles when you get the card and then meet their initial spending requirements.
Another big category of travel-related cards are cards issued by banks that have their own rewards programs.
However, if you search for rewards cards in the "good" credit range, you'll find that a lot of the travel cards are probably unavailable to you as well. A couple travel rewards cards that might be available to you, according to the CreditCards.com tool, are the Capital One Venture Rewards card ($59 annual fee, waived first year; 40,000-mile sign-up bonus) and the Capital One VentureOne Rewards card (no annual fee, 20,000-mile sign-up bonus).
Other than that, your options for finding big sign-up bonuses on travel cards with only good credit seem limited.
You might be better off with a cash-back card, which can be easier and more straightforward to use. Many of these are aimed at people with less-than-excellent credit and have no annual fees.
If you want the best choices, be smart with your credit, improve your credit score -- and then find a travel rewards card that works best for you.
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