What Credit Scores Get Approved for Top Rewards Credit Cards

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How we manage our access to credit is one of the keys to achieving our travel goals. It’s essential we maintain a detailed record of credit card applications and approvals, and manage multiple lines of credit while not carrying a balance at the end of each month. It also requires meticulous planning of where spending is directed, to ensure we earn the associated bonuses on each card.

Recently we shared our top tips for managing your credit score and received some questions asking what credit scores are required to get approved for top rewards credit cards. We want to expand on that in this post and provide some data on credit scores that have been approved in the past, and some added info on what providers are looking at in credit card applications.

Maintain an excellent credit score

There is More to Credit Card Approvals Than Your Credit Score

The first thing to note is that the approval process is not based solely on your credit score. There are lots of factors taken into account, and the formula is constantly evolving. Some of the other factors that determine applications outcomes include:

  • Income – It's a no-brainer but income plays a significant role in which applications are approved, and the qualification levels vary for each card. Your income level helps a credit issuer decide how much credit they're comfortable assigning to you. Typically, the more income you have reported, the higher line of credit you'll be provided if approved. Keep in mind that income is the only item in this list that a creditor is unable to obtain from your credit report.
  • Hard pulls on file – One of the big pain points of the past summer has been the confirmation of Chase’s 5/24 rule, and the tightening of application requirements across all providers for new rewards card inquiries. Too many recent credit inquiries will adversely affect the outcome of new credit card applications. Lenders show a level of concern when someone is “hunting” or “fishing” for credit in a short amount of time.
  • Diversified credit accounts – Lenders like to see an even spread of credit and appear to be more inclined to approve new credit card accounts for applicants that might have a mortgage or auto loan. Mortgages and auto loans are generally considered low-risk loans as their underwriting processes are more thorough than you'd experience with most credit cards. Additionally, mortgages and auto loans come with collateral; the house or car for which you've taken out the loan.
  • Age of credit accounts – Much like having a mortgage, older credit lines display a higher level of credit maturity and represent a substantially lower risk than applicants with accounts of a younger age. While past performance is not indicative of future results, for the most part, it is all a credit card issuer can go on to decide if you are worth the risk.
  • Credit utilization rate – Keeping your credit utilization rate low will raise your chances of having new cards approved — it is simple math. If you're using only a small percentage of credit with your existing creditors and you seek an account with a new creditor, they'd rather bring you on with little to no revolving debt. They'd see you as more likely to be able to pay your bills on time and that you're not overextended.

The information we’ve gathered is drawn from a mix of Credit Karma’s in-house data, Credit Boards‘ credit pull database, and data from myFICO® Forums, calculating both the average credit score & the lowest scores typically accepted.

The cards listed are rewards cards that we think offer substantial value for their respective price points, and the scores should provide some insight into what credit scores are needed for a successful credit card application.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

One of our favorite travel rewards cards and the best all-round beginners travel card on the market. The Sapphire Preferred has a mid-tier annual fee of only $95. But it packs some premium features like Primary Auto Insurance, Trip Delay, Cancellation, & Interruption Insurances, and earns a valuable 5X points on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards (2X on other travel); 3X points on dining at restaurants including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out; 3X points on streaming services; 3X points on online grocery purchases (excluding Target, Walmart, and wholesale clubs); and 1X on all other purchases. Cardholders also receive a 20% discount on travel redemptions through Chase Ultimate Rewards®; meaning points are worth a minimum 1.25 cents per point for travel.

  • Average: 736
  • Low: 646

Chase Sapphire Reserve®

While the Sapphire Reserve signup bonus was reduced at the end of March 2017, the card still set’s the benchmark for travel rewards credit cards. It gets an excellent return on travel and dining, comes with a complimentary Priority Pass Select membership that allows the cardholder, plus up to two guests, into the lounge, and has an industry-leading $300 annual travel credit. The Sapphire Reserve attracts a $550 annual fee.

  • Average: 776
  • Low: 683

Chase Freedom Unlimited®

The Freedom Unlimited has quickly become a favorite of the rewards travel scene because of the ability to pair it with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, the Sapphire Reserve, and the Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card and transfer points to Chase travel partners.

  • Average: 748
  • Low: 685

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card

The Southwest Plus Card is one of our favorite co-brand airline credit cards. The card has a welcome bonus of 40,000 points, and an annual fee of only $69, most of which is offset by the 3,000 bonus points on account anniversary.

  • Average: 752
  • Low: 685

Citi Prestige® Card

While we searched far and wide for information on the Prestige Card, we couldn’t nail down enough data points to give a reliable average. The majority of approval scores for this $495 annual fee card were in the high 700’s and low 800’s, which makes sense for a premium card commanding a high annual fee. If you have any data points you're willing to share; please let us know in the comments below.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

Always a class favorite, the Amex Platinum is one of the leading travel rewards cards in the world with a welcome offer of 100,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $6,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 6 months of Card Membership. The card also provides unparalleled lounge access, a mammoth 5x points on airfare purchased directly through the airline or via Amex Travel (on up to $500,000 per calendar year), and a $200 annual airline credit. The Amex Platinum has a $695 annual fee (Rates & Fees).

  • Average: 716
  • Low: 643

Final Thoughts

The one thing that stands out looking at these credit scores is how low some of them are! There is a common misconception that to enter the points and miles game requires an exceptionally high credit score in the high 700’s at least. But, looking at the numbers above. Applicants with credit scores in the mid-to-high 600’s are in with a chance at acquiring some of the most valuable travel rewards credit cards available, provided everything else on the application presents a risk-free prospect to the lender. While we strongly recommend you only focus on top travel rewards cards with FICO scores over 700, you can see it is possible to be approved below that.

If you have any data points that could help others in the AwardWallet community, we would love to hear from you in the comments.

For rates and fees of the cards mentioned in this post, please visit the following links: The Platinum Card® from American Express (Rates & Fees)

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  • Alma Langrum says:

    I found this useful

  • stephen micheal says:

    I love this page, I really learn a lot today. good writer nice review.

  • Suellen Herwehe says:

    My 29 y.o. daughter got denied a Capital One Savor Credit Card–credit score is about 750 so she is not sure why she was denied. Good to know that other factors enter in.

  • Enjoyed reading this… Very good information.
    I’ve been pretty successful getting Chase to reconsider after being denied by simply calling and explaining more details about my income.

  • Thank you for this info! I really thinking of getting the Chase Sapphire card, since in a couples years I really want to treat my family and I to first going to Sydney. However, I have learned that it’ll take a LARGE number of UR to go nonstop and first on Qantas. I’m researching the best way to do this and think the Sapphire would help a lot. Anyone have any idea the best way to get points and/or miles to compliment my usage of UR to get this?

    On a different note, where in the world on the Hilton.com site do you find out where the points expire?! I do not know why I cannot find it. It’s really hurting my confidence ;o) lol! Maybe I should get my 5yr old to look? lol!

    • Karen, other programs to look at should be Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Points or SPG Points. They’re the most flexible travel rewards points out there with a series of transfer partners each. They’ll give you the most flexible options and best chance at achieving your goal. Keep in mind, regardless of how many points you have, first class on Qantas to Australia is VERY difficult, so be flexible.

      As for Hilton, they do not list an expiration date on their website. If you add your Hilton account to your AwardWallet profile we’ll calculate when the points will expire based on the rules of the program. Short answer: after 12 months of no eligible activity: https://awardwallet.com/blog/do-hilton-honors-points-expire/

  • Thanks for the useful information. I’m currently taking a break from new appliation, but is there any way to get the CSR 100K offer online? That would make the offer too tempting to pass by.

  • Mark Grammer says:

    Just a reminder that “age of accounts” includes cancelled accounts for 7 to 10 years.
    In other words, accounts still “age”, even if they are cancelled.
    The problem is, when they finally drop off (7 to 10 years after cancellation), you need some other accounts to keep the average age high.

    So try to keep at least one fee free account to preserve your credit card age over the years.
    From my understanding, this is one of the “secrets” to getting your score up to 850.

    Thanks for the blog!

  • On the 5/24 rule yea it sucks, but there are ways to manage it. Really think about your cc apps. Something that gives a $100 bonus or 10k miles/points bonus is really not worth sucking up one of the 5. Some business cards don’t count, you can google those. And avoid a credit card binge. 24 months, 5 cards, keep it to 1 app every 4-5 months or so this way when a new must have credit card offer comes out you should have one coming off your report within a few months max before the offer expires. Avoid doing 3-4 at one time, then its a long 2 years to wait for these to come off. I try to target cards that give at least $500 worth of value or 50k points and only occasionally do ones for 350/35k when I have apps to burn or I really want some other benefit from that card.

  • It’s so interesting to me how some years the credit card sign up bonuses are more or less, bleh, but in other years it’s as if it’s a cornucopia or bonanza of opportunities. I really try hard to monitor my status and “position” so if a desireable offer appears I hopefully am in a good place to be approved.

  • The Citibank Prestige card I don’t know much about it but I do know it comes in a wooden box with black velvet interior quite a presentation has major major benefits can’t tell you what those are though at this time

  • Interesting that the data doesn’t seem to bear out that the most-premium cards require the highest scores.

  • You forgot to mention that history with a bank can influence decision making. Some banks are willing to give you a card without the right credit score or income if you have a good relationship with them.

  • Bertrand Say says:

    What is the best card to get if credit score is not a problem?

    • While it depends on your goals, I’d steer you to the 100,000-point signup bonus that is available on the Chase Sapphire Reserve when you visit a Chase branch. The online offer is only 50,000 points. If you’d rather a card with a smaller fee, I’d go with the Chase Sapphire Preferred, which has a 50,000-point bonus.

  • Surprised that the card issuers aren’t being even tougher (the “5/24 rule”), given all the fluff we read about ‘big data’ and businesses “knowing” (potential) customers’ habits, you think the card issuers would want to be better about spotting those of us chasing sign-up bonuses with no intention of being profitable/loyal customers.

  • My credit score is about 790. I’ve been approved for Citi Prestige, CSR, and a variety of less prestigious cards. (I was originally declined for CSR due to 5/24; I fell below 5/24 in January; re-applied for CSR in early February, and was approved quickly. I opened 4 personal cards and 1 Chase business card in the last 24 months – another data point suggesting Chase does not include their own business cards in the 5/24 count.)

  • I got approved for the freedom a long time ago when I barely had any credit history.

  • Ram Prasad Gopichandran says:

    Managed to get the Saphire Reserve with 720 credit score and 2 other Chase cards. So quite happy about it.

  • Sometimes it’s not the score that is the problem but rather, some accounts are too new.

  • Never would imagine that the bank does not pull actual income data. That chase 5/24 rule does slow you down on card cycling. Just make a plan and keep under 5 cards

  • Cathy Krasnianski says:

    Shame having a score over 850 doesn’t nullify Chase’s 5/24 Rule.

  • I have seen my score NOT go down after 11 cards in 12 months. Is my score going to go down when I cancel the cards before the annual fee is due? If so, what can I do?

    • It depends on what the rest of your credit report looks like. The only immediate impact to your credit score when you close an account could be an increase in your credit utilization as the amount of available credit you’ll have will decrease if you close lines of credit.

      • I’m not sure if my logic is correct, but it seems to make sense that for some people closing cards they had for just 1 year could make their score go up. If she has enough credit available that it does not affect her utilization AND she also has much older cards, closing these 12 month old cards should raise her credit average thus increasing the score? Right?

        • Logic would dictate that, but when you close an account it stays on your credit report for up to 7 years. So it’ll continue to impact your average age of accounts. Note: “Average Age of Accounts” is not “Average Age of Open Accounts”, rather it is the average age of all accounts listed on your credit report; open and closed.

          • Wow, i never knew that, makes sense though. Thanks for the info.

          • Carolinagurl says:

            Thanks for the info. I didn’t know that, but it does make sense that it would be based on the history of the entire account, instead of the credit line associated with it.

  • My wife’s application for CSR was approved when she had a credit history of half year and a 6XX credit score.

  • If you have a very low credit sore you should focus on one entry level cards for a year or two.

  • I think one thing that helps too is keeping your credit diversified. Although Chase delivers the preponderance of travel reward cards, other banks do provide some. Unless you start using up all your credit, the diversified credit cards are likely to result in a lower utilization ratio too which should increase your credit score.

  • score isn’t a problem.. but that dang 5/24 rule.

  • Surprised to see the Freedom has a higher average score than the CSP

  • excellent info. wish you had included the Citi AA card.

  • What about number of credit cards? I feel like every year I open 2-3 new cards to take advantage of the opening bonus, and eventually all the cards will penalize me in some way.

  • Tougher than getting approved is figuring out how to meet the spending requirements. Wish I knew more strategies on how to spend enough. There used to be a way to get coins from the US Mint using a credit card then depositing them right back into your bank. But that was before my time.

    • There are tons of ways to get manufactured spend (ms). Gift cards are the route i usually go. I plan on looking into reselling as I’ve read that has a lot of potential too. I’d like to learn more about some other ways too.

    • Lynn Collins says:

      One of the things, that I started doing in order to meet my spending requirements was to solicit my close friend’s help. She would allow me to pay her recurring monthly bills, in exchange should would write a check in that amount payable to the creditor, at the time I would pay. So, there was no risk involved. Some of the larger bills included homeowner’s and car insurance premiums. Also, if I was racing the clock to meet the requirement, she gave me the option of paying her property taxes by credit card which made me responsible for the processing fee of 1.75%. Food for thought.

    • Plastiq.com is my favorite way to meet the min. spend. I couldn’t pay my rent before with a CC but with Plastiq they send a “bill-pay” check to your landlord that is funded through a CC transaction. There’s a minimal fee but if you’re earning a sign up bonus with the transaction then the fee barely matters.

      Also consider over-paying your utilities that you can pay ahead of time.

      • @DaWoodMan1, @ROBERT, @Lynn Collins Belated thank you for all the great suggestions.

        I don’t think that I will be able to pay bills on behalf of friends/relatives, but gift cards may be an option.

        And I love the plastiq.com idea. I am definitely looking into that one.

  • amzsinger@gmail.com says:

    If the score requirements are so high, why do so many people get approved these cards? Seems like everyone has one of these!!

  • I won’t be much help in determining the lowest credit score to receive an approval, but I will say that the only time I’ve been denied was with the Ink Plus. Obviously since that is a business credit card there are other criterion and the reason for the denial according to Chase’s CSR was the relatively short amount of time my “business” had been open. Last year I officially licensed the business in my home state and this year I plan to show some “business” income on my taxes to look more legitimate for business credit card purposes.

  • I have a very good credit score, however I was turned down for the Chase Sapphire Reserve because of the 5/24 rule. Even though I have been a long time Chase customer they would not make an exception and approve me.