What’s The Best Travel Rewards Credit Card For Someone Young Without Great Credit?

by on February 9, 2014 · 10 comments

in Chase, Citi, Sunday Reader Questions, Video Blog Post

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TPG reader Cliff is young and doesn’t have great credit, and he emailed to ask what reward credit card options he has:

“I’m young and don’t have great credit. Are there airline credit cards designed for people like me?”

Having good credit is essential if you want to be able to apply for several credit cards and get lucrative sign-up bonuses, which are the best way of racking up tons of points and miles quickly. However, even if your credit isn’t great, now, that doesn’t meant you won’t be able to get in on these deals in the future.

I didn’t always have the best credit myself. After college I was strapped for cash, paying high rent and dealing with high living expenses in New York City, so I accrued a bit of debt on my credit cards at the time. Thankfully, I was able to pay off my debt and now I’m very strict with myself on paying off my cards now. However, due to my past experience I can shed a little light on these situations.

Obviously even if you don’t have great credit, you probably still want to get in on receiving airline rewards and benefits. So the questions becomes…

How To Do It?

Cliff, in your situation, I am not sure what your credit score is, but you may actually have better credit than you think. It may be possible for you to open certain cards without a problem. (You can check your credit score here if you don’t already know it.)

However, it’s very important if you have debt, that you don’t accrue debt on premium cards like the Sapphire Preferred or Premier Rewards Gold. The APR’s on premium travel cards are much higher than on others, which may later negate the value of any points or rewards you earn on them if you carry a balance, and that defeats the purpose of having these reward cards in the first place.

If you are already in debt, I recommend opening a card like the Chase Slate and transferring your balances, as it has 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers for the first 15 months, and no transfer balance fees for 60 days. Your main priority should be to getting your outstanding balances low and paying off the debt so that you can boost up your credit score.

That being said, there are some other cards that could work for you. For example, the Chase Freedom card is targeted to the less premium market and your credit doesn’t have to be stellar in order to qualify. This card has no annual free and offers cash-back bonuses, 0% APR for the first 15 months and 5X quarterly earning categories.

Citi Forward

Another option is the Citi Forward card, which is specifically marketed towards college students. Since this card is geared toward young people building their credit, there are also special perks that include the bank lowering your APR for purchases by up to 2% when you make a purchase and stay under your credit limit, and pay on time 3 billing periods in a row (they will reduce it 0.25% every quarter, a maximum of 8 times).

If you get these cards (and in general), pay off your bills on time, and shrink your debt as much as possible, your credit score should go up. About 35% of your score is your debt-to-credit utilization, so as much as you can bring down that debt, that will help boost your score. Plus that way, sooner rather than later, you can begin taking advantage of the more lucrative deals and cards once you are debt free. You can find more info about how your credit score works here.

Let me know if you have any other questions by messaging me on FacebookTweeting me or emailing me at [email protected]

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • BC

    I would like to add some useful information. Any Visa Signature cards (this includes a lot of popular rewards cards) require a minimum credit limit of 5k. Thus, if you don’t have great credit, these are likely out of reach. On the other hand, I recommend the Barclays US Airways card for those with a short credit history. I got it only 4 months after getting my first credit card.

  • Brendan

    I’ve had the Citi Forward for 6 years (I got it when I went to college) and it’s a very good first credit card with a decent rewards program.

  • Huy

    Barclays is quite strict on those with student loans. Even with a score of 762 and loans deferred until I graduate they could not approve me for this card

  • doctorofcredit

    Discover it is another good choice.

  • samhradh

    The Delta Gold AmEx is generally considered one of the easier airline cards to get

  • Steve Bierfeldt

    Brian when you do a credit Ap-o-rama and have identified the cards you want to cancel and the new ones you want to get, do you typically apply for the 5-6 new cards first and THEN cancel the old 5-6? Or do you cancel first, let those clear out and then apply for the new ones? Do you always do one way specifically? Do you think it matters?

  • Patrick McCann
  • D

    I got my Delta Skymiles Amex the day i turned 18, approved instantly!

  • kgal1298

    I’m still working on my credit…I started off with a horrible score around 540 and now I’m up around 640, but I started with a Capitol One card and you can get one secured if your credit is super low…in case anyone didn’t know, but I found when I got my credit up to 640 and I got a fairly well paying job Chase United Mileage Plus okayed me with a 5K limit shockingly enough. I went with them since I realized how many card are working with Barclay and Barclay wont okay me for anything…anyway so far so good. I’m switching to mainly using that card and moving away from the two Capitol One cards I have so I can gain some mileage. Not exactly the best airline miles card, but hey it’s a start. Anyway that’s my story. College can really kill ones credit that’s for sure and hell I didn’t even get my degree.

  • kgal1298

    Barclay is horrible they wont okay me for anything, but I was able to get the Chase United Mileage Plus card with a 5K limit. I figured I’ll stay away from Barclays for another few years which sucks they are affiliated with some awesome rewards, but ahh what can you do?

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