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

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

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

Chase Freedom®

Apply Now
  • Earn a $150 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first 3 months from account opening
  • Earn 5% cash back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases in bonus categories each quarter you activate
  • Unlimited 1% cash back on all other purchases — it's automatic
  • 0% Intro APR for 15 months on purchases and balance transfers. After the intro period, a variable APR of 14.24-23.24%. Balance transfer fee is 5% of the amount transferred, $5 minimum
  • Enjoy new 5% categories every 3 months like gas stations, restaurants, select grocery stores, and wholesale clubs
  • Cash Back rewards never expire as long as your account is open
  • No Annual Fee
Intro APR Regular APR Annual Fee Balance Transfer Credit Rating
0% for 15 months 14.24%-23.24% Variable $0 See Terms Excellent/Good