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When you’re building credit, it can be hard to qualify for a rewards credit card, especially one designed for travelers. Your credit score plays a big role in the types of credit cards you’re likely to get approved for, and the best travel cards are typically reserved for people with FICO credit scores of 670 and above.
Most credit cards for people who have bad credit or fair credit lack rewards programs and come with a limited set of features that focus on helping you grow your credit score so you can eventually gain access to cards loaded with the features you want. But there are some cards that don’t make you wait that long.
Even if you have a damaged or limited credit history, you can still get a rewards credit card with perks that could help drive down the cost of your next vacation or road trip. Take a look at our picks for the best travel credit cards for bad-to-fair credit along with our tips on how to make the most of your travel rewards.
Comparing the best travel cards for bad-to-fair credit
|Card name||Best for||Annual fee||Credit score needed||Rewards rate|
|Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card||Flat-rate rewards||$39||Fair credit||
|Credit One Bank Wander® Card||Flights and road trips||$95||Fair credit||
|Capital One Quicksilver Secured Cash Rewards Credit Card||Hotels and rental cars||$0||Bad credit||
|Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards Secured Credit Card||Customizable rewards||$0||Bad credit||
|Capital One SavorOne Student Cash Rewards Credit Card||Students and entertainment||$0||Fair credit||
|Upgrade Cash Rewards Visa®||Emergency travel||$0||Fair credit||
|Capital One Walmart Rewards® Mastercard®||Online shopping||$0||Fair credit||
|Discover it® Secured Credit Card||Gas and sign-up bonus||$0||Bad credit||
The best travel cards for bad-to-fair credit
Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card: Best for flat-rate rewards
The Capital One QuicksilverOne card gives people with fair credit the chance to earn 5 percent cash back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 1.5 percent cash back on general purchases. That’s an above-average flat rate that will ensure you’re getting a decent amount of cash back on every purchase. Cardholders also get to take advantage of Capital One’s travel portal, which is filled with travel features that can make booking travel easier and will be a helpful resource when trying to book travel at the best price possible.
Credit One Bank Wander Card: Best for flights and road trips
The Credit One Wander Card is one of the few unsecured travel rewards cards accessible to people with fair credit. It comes with an annual fee of $95, but that may not be a problem for frequent travelers who can earn enough in rewards to offset that fee and still come out ahead.
Cardholders earn 10X points on hotel and car rental bookings made through the Credit One Bank Travel partner, plus 5X points on all other eligible travel (including airfare), dining and gas purchases (followed by 1X points on all other purchases).
Few cards give you the freedom to earn such a high bonus rewards rate on travel without limiting you to specific airlines or hotels. This can make it easier for you to find the best prices on many types of travel, including flights, resorts and travel booked through travel agencies. That flexibility, combined with a sign-up bonus and no cap on how much you can earn, makes the Wander card easily one of the best travel credit cards available at this credit level.
Capital One Quicksilver Secured Cash Rewards Credit Card: Best for hotels and rental cars
The Capital One Quicksilver Secured card gives people with bad credit a lot more value than many secured cards. While many cards that require a security deposit simply give you access to credit, the Quicksilver Secured card gives you the same cash back rates and many of the same benefits found with Quicksilver cards for people with good or excellent credit.
You’ll not only get a high rewards rate on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital Travel and 1.5 percent cash back on all other purchases, but also access to the Capital One Travel portal and features like price drop protection and best price guarantee.
Bank of America Customized Cash Rewards Secured Credit Card: Best for customized everyday rewards
The Bank of America Customized Cash Rewards Secured Credit Card is another rare secured card that offers top-notch rewards typically reserved for people with good credit. On top of earning 1 percent cash back on general purchases, you can pick one category in which you’ll earn 3 percent cash back while also earning 2 percent back on grocery and wholesale club purchases (on up to $2,500 in combined purchases in these categories each quarter, then 1 percent).
The customizable categories include travel, which covers airfare, hotels, transit, campgrounds, resorts, tourist attractions, booking agencies and more. You can even get cash back on your day trips to places like amusement parks and aquariums. That level of flexibility is a rare feature that will appeal to daytrippers and other travelers who don’t spend as much on airfare and hotels.
The Customized Cash Rewards Secured card is also a great credit-builder card as long as you can pay your balance in full each month and avoid the card’s high variable APR of 26.24 percent. It offers a credit limit as high as $5,000, which is one of the highest limits around for a credit-builder card. If you are able to take advantage of the high credit limit, you will likely have an easier time maintaining a low credit utilization ratio.
The information about the Bank of America® Customized Cash Rewards Secured Credit Card was last updated on Sept. 21, 2022.
Capital One SavorOne Student Cash Rewards Credit Card: Best for students and entertainment
Not only is this one of the few student credit cards to offer a sign-up bonus, but its bonus is also relatively easy to earn compared to other welcome offers: You only need to spend $50 in your first three months to earn a $100 cash bonus. This will easily help cut down on the cost of travel home over the holidays. The card also comes with no foreign transaction fees, making it a great option if you plan to travel or study abroad.
Music and sports fans looking for exclusive events will also appreciate this card’s impressive 8 percent cash back on Capital One Entertainment purchases. On top of this entertainment perk, this card also offers a great rate on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and in everyday, student-friendly categories like groceries, dining and popular streaming services. You can redeem rewards for cash back, gift cards or recent purchases, including travel.
Upgrade Cash Rewards Visa: Best for emergency travel
The Upgrade Cash Rewards Visa is a credit card and personal loan hybrid with an APR of 14.99 percent to 29.99 percent. If you qualify for an APR on the low end of that range, this card could come in handy if you need to go on a sudden trip that you can’t afford to pay off right away. You can use the card to help finance emergency travel and even move money directly to your bank account to use as you like. You then pay off your charges in monthly installments at a fixed interest rate, which can minimize the total amount of interest you pay over time. As a bonus, the card earns an unlimited 1.5 percent cash back on all purchases after you pay them off.
Capital One Walmart Rewards Mastercard: Best for online shopping
The Capital One Walmart Rewards Mastercard is accessible to people with fair credit and offers an incredible amount of value and convenience if you can take advantage of the card’s best features, including its top-of-the-line grocery rewards.
You’ll earn 5 percent back on all Walmart.com purchases, including grocery pickup and delivery. If you don’t mind ordering groceries online, that’s one of the best rewards rates you can get on groceries without paying an annual fee. And since Walmart sells so many other household products and services, this is a great opportunity to build up a considerable amount of cash back you can use toward your next vacation.
The card also earns 2 percent back on in-store purchases, at restaurants, on travel and at Walmart or Murphy USA gas stations. Capital One is also one of the rare issuers that offers credit-builders access to a top-of-the-line travel portal. So when you’re done raking in your cash back rewards, you can use cost-saving features found in the Capital One Travel portal to help you make your next trip even more affordable.
Discover it Secured Credit Card: Best for gas and sign-up bonus
The Discover it Secured Credit Card gives people with bad credit a chance to earn 2 percent cash back on gas and restaurant purchases up to $1,000 in combined purchases each quarter (then 1 percent) and an unlimited 1 percent cash back on all other purchases. These are decent rates for a secured credit card that can provide some value for roadtrippers. But the standout feature is the card’s sign-up bonus, which matches all the rewards you earn in your first year. You’ll have to wait until the end of year one to see this bonus, but the chance to double all your first-year rewards should make the wait worth it.
Discover also has some nice credit-building features, like the ability to graduate to an unsecured card in as little as seven months based on your creditworthiness. And if you forget to make a payment and don’t have credit card autopay set up, Discover is one of the few issuers that charges no late fee the first time you are late ($41 after).
How to choose the best travel card for fair or bad credit
The best travel cards for people with fair-to-bad credit have features that can make your travel or everyday purchases more rewarding, which can help bring down the cost of your next trip. But finding the right one for you will depend on a few factors beyond how you like to travel. Follow these tips to help you compare travel cards for fair or bad credit.
- Get your credit score. Knowing your credit score can improve your chances of applying for a credit card and getting approved. If you have bad credit (FICO score below 580), a secured credit card could be your best option, but with fair credit (FICO score of 580 to 669), you’ll have more options, including unsecured cards. If you need help, here’s how to check your credit score.
- Know your spending habits. To get maximum value, you’ll need a travel card that rewards you for as much of your travel or everyday spending as possible. For example, if you’re a Walmart shopper who spends the most on groceries and household items, the bonus rewards you earn with the Capital One Walmart Rewards card could make that card a better fit than a card that only offers bonus rewards on hotel and car rentals.
- Secured vs. unsecured cards. Depending on your creditworthiness, you may be able to choose between a secured or unsecured card. But if your only option is to get a secured card, you’ll have to put down a cash deposit as collateral before you can use it, which typically acts as your credit limit. Make sure you know what the minimum and maximum security deposits are and that they fit your budget or spending habits.
- Watch out for fees. Pay attention to the fees that come with each card you’re considering. Some fees may be worth it, especially an annual-fee card with a higher rewards rate that makes it easy for you to earn enough cash back to offset the fee and still help cover travel costs. But if you travel abroad or make online purchases with overseas merchants, look for a card that charges no foreign transaction fees. Or if you have a habit of making late payments, make sure you know the card’s late payment fee and try to avoid cards with penalty APRs, which have long-term consequences that could make it harder to keep up with your card payments and lead to further credit troubles.
- Know the value of your rewards. The best travel credit cards for bad or fair credit typically have a point value of 1 cent. So 1,000 points will be worth $10 when redeemed through a travel portal or for options like statement credits and gift cards. But that’s not always the case. For example, some cards may value your points at 1 cent when redeeming for statement credits but 0.8 cents when redeeming for gift cards. So before choosing a rewards card, make sure you know the value of your points for different redemption options.
How to make the most of a travel card for bad-to-fair credit
Once you have the right card for you, it pays to have a strategy in place to help you build credit and maximize the rewards you earn. Here are some steps you should take to get the best value out of your travel card.
- Take advantage of the perks. Use your credit card instead of cash or a debit card to earn as many rewards as possible. If your credit card issuer has a travel portal, take advantage of any available features, such as price-drop prediction, which can help you book the best flight based on your travel plans. For the best value, make sure to compare the prices with third-party booking sites before you finalize your travel plans.
- Have a budget. If you don’t pay attention to how much money you have and how it’s being spent, you run the risk of overusing your credit card on unnecessary purchases or not having enough money on hand when you need it. Knowing how to budget can help you keep track of your money so you can avoid most missteps that derail your travel plans or financial goals.
- Pay off your balance quickly. Unless you’re traveling for an emergency, try to avoid making travel plans you can’t pay for. Most rewards cards come with high interest rates, also known as annual percentage rates (APR), which you can avoid if you pay your balance in full each month before the grace period ends. But if you carry a balance, you’ll have to pay interest charges, which could make it harder to pay off your travel purchases and could lead to credit card debt.
- Ask for a credit limit increase. If you don’t have a credit card that automatically considers you for credit limit increases, consider asking for one after six months of use. Having a higher credit limit and using as little of your available credit as possible can save you from having to pay down your balance before the last day of your billing cycle to avoid a potential drop in your credit score.
- Don’t lose track of building credit. Focusing too much on earning rewards runs the risk of slowing down your credit-building journey. Make sure to pay your credit card bill on time and keep your debt to a minimum to avoid negative marks on your credit report, which will drop your credit score and make it harder to gain access to credit cards and loans with better features and money-saving benefits.
The bottom line
Having less-than-stellar credit doesn’t mean you have to miss out on travel perks. There are ways to score a rewards card even if you don’t have good credit, and with responsible use and a sound strategy to maximize your rewards, your next flight, hotel stay or day trip could be a lot less expensive.