These Travel Rewards Cards Require Excellent Credit Scores

Jan 18, 2019

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While many travel rewards cards are fairly easy to get approved for if you have a decent credit score, some of the most rewarding premium cards require truly excellent credit. When I studied biology in college, my professors often talked about how “health is more than just the absence of disease.” Similarly, excellent credit means more than just the absence of missed payments. It means a lengthy, established history of paying your bills on time.

Today we’ll take a look at some of the travel rewards cards that require excellent credit scores. These generally break into two groups: those that require a long and established credit history to be approved, and those that require a “clean” credit report (i.e., not too many recent inquiries). Note that these distinctions are different from bonus eligibility rules like Chase’s 5/24 rule and Amex’s once-per-lifetime bonus policy.

Established Credit History

Cards that require established credit history are often the ultra-premium credit cards that come with valuable benefits and relatively high credit limits. There’s one group of cards that immediately jumps to mind here.

Amex Charge Cards

Amex charge cards are incredibly unique in that they aren’t technically credit cards. They don’t come with a preset spending limit; rather, purchases are approved on a case-by-case basis. This means that, in the wrong hands, they could be very dangerous. Someone could spend tens of thousands of dollars on these cards before Amex caught on and started declining the charges. To stop this from happening, Amex will generally only approve applicants with excellent credit.

The charge card family is relatively large, but there are four main products of interest to those looking for travel rewards. At the top of the line you have The Platinum Card® from American Express and The Business Platinum Card® from American Express. You can check out this guide for a complete comparison of these two cards, but here’s a quick rundown:

Amex Platinum Amex Business Platinum
Welcome Bonus 60,000 points after you spend $5,000 in the first three months Earn 75,000 points after you spend $15,000 on qualifying purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.
Spend Requirement $5,000 $20,000
Travel Category Bonus 5x on airfare purchased directly with airlines5x at Amex Travel on airfare and prepaid hotels

Terms Apply.

5x at Amex Travel on airfare and prepaid hotels1.5x on purchases of $5,000 or more (up to 1 million additional points per year)

Terms Apply.

Annual Fee $550 (See Rates & Fees) $595 (See Rates & Fees)

 

Both cards also offer up to $200 annual airline incidental credit, Centurion lounge access, Gold elite status with Hilton and Marriott and many more perks. The personal Platinum card also offers an up to $200 a year Uber credit and up to $100 a year credit at Saks Fifth Avenue (terms apply). Meanwhile when the annual fee on the Business Platinum is raised in February 2019, the card will also get up to $200 annual statement credit on U.S. Dell technology purchases.

If the $500+ annual fees are too much for you, you can also consider the American Express® Gold Card and American Express® Business Gold Card, both of which were overhauled toward the end of 2018.

In exchange for a $250 annual fee (See Rates & Fees), the Amex Gold now offers an up $100 annual airline incidental credit and a $120 annual dining credit, which breaks down to $10 a month at the following merchants: Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, Ruth’s Chris Steak House and participating Shake Shack locations. Perhaps the best benefit though is the new 4x bonus categories on dining and US supermarkets (up to $25,000 a year for supermarkets; then 1x). Based on TPG’s valuation of Membership Rewards points at 2 cents each, that works out to a stellar 8% return.

The redesign of the Amex Business Gold clearly targeted more established and higher-spending businesses. In addition to raising the annual fee to $295 a year (See Rates & Fees), Amex’s current offer is 35,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $5,000 on eligible purchases with the Business Gold Card within the first 3 months of Card Membership. Amex also took most of the work out of maximizing your rewards. Businesses automatically earn 4x points in their top two spending categories from the following list:

  • Airfare purchased from airlines
  • US purchases for advertising in select media
  • US purchases for shipping
  • US purchases at gas stations
  • US purchases at restaurants
  • US purchases made from select technology providers

This is calculated every month, so if your spending patterns change your rewards will follow as well without any extra effort from your team. The 4x is capped at $150,000 a year in spend in combined purchases across all categories, which still allows you to earn a whopping 600,000 Membership Rewards points if you can max out your bonus spending.

Premium Credit Cards

Even if they come with a fixed spending limit, you can expect to face stricter approval requirements for the ever-growing list of premium credit cards. These cards offer valuable perks up front and are generally marketed toward higher spenders who in turn need a larger credit limit. Some of the most popular options at the moment include:

Inquiry-Sensitive Cards

Even if your credit report is decades-old, there’s one thing that trips up the heaviest players in the points game: too many recent inquiries. Since card issuers don’t publicize a full rubric of who they decide to approve and why, this is mostly anecdotal, but there are two issuers in particular to be careful about.

Citi

Citi is especially sensitive to the number of recent inquiries on your credit report. Generally speaking, if you’re planning to apply for multiple cards in a short amount of time, you should always prioritize your Citi applications first (unless you still have slots left with Chase’s 5/24 rule).

Whether you’re applying for a transferable points card like the Citi Premier Card or a cobranded card like the Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard, having too many recent inquiries on your credit report can ruin your chances even if your credit score is in the high 700s. Note that “recent inquiries” is different from “new accounts,” so you can’t get around this unofficial rule by applying for business cards instead.

If you’re looking to rack up American miles by taking advantage of one of the multitude of welcome bonuses currently being offered, you should start with the Citi AAdvantage cards before moving on to the Barclay Aviator cards, instead of the other way around. The Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard is currently offering a 50,000 American AAdvantage miles after spending $2,500 in the first 3 months of account opening. The information for the Citi Premier has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Capital One

While there have been plenty of 100,000-point welcome bonuses in recent memory, by far the most eye-popping and jaw-dropping one we’ve seen is the up to 200,000-mile offer on the Capital One Spark Miles for Business. This bonus helped celebrate Capital One’s decision to add 14 airline transfer partners to the Venture and Spark card families, and includes two tiers: earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $5,000 in the first 3 months, and another 150,000 miles after spending $50,000 total in the first 6 months.

While the chance to earn 300,000 miles (including the miles earned on the $50,000 of spending) is too good to pass up, many people with excellent credit, myself included, were rejected when we applied. The reason cited was too many recent inquiries, and after digging around various forums and comment threads it appears that this is a relatively common occurrence. Unfortunately this is simply the cost of chasing welcome bonuses. The opportunity cost of waiting for inquiries to fall off your credit report can be too high, so you just have to take what you can get.

Bottom Line

Even though it sometimes feels like it, card issuers aren’t simply handing out miles to anyone who knocks on their door. Welcome bonuses and luxury travel benefits are expensive to offer, and card issuers will only give them to customers from whom they expect to recoup those costs, and then some.

If you’re just starting out on your credit journey, or working to repair previous mistakes, it might make sense to avoid applying for these cards at all (and wasting an inquiry). Instead, there are plenty of travel rewards and cash back cards that are easier to get approved for and can help you build the excellent credit you need to get these cards.

For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Business Platinum card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Gold card, please click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Business Gold card, please click here.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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.