What Credit Score it Takes to Get Approved for the Best Rewards Credit Cards

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I’ve signed up for scores of cards over many years and I still have an excellent credit score, it was nearly 800 FICO on the three major credit bureaus when I went to get my mortgage. In part because of signing up for more cards, rather than in spite of it. (Here’s how to manage your credit score when signing up for credit cards.)

It often surprises me though how many credit cards are approved for consumers with much lower credit scores than I’d have expected.

Credit Karma carries information on the average (mean) credit score for those approved for the card through their site, and the ‘typical’ typical lowest credit score (the bottom 5th percentile) among those approved through Credit Karma. While not representative of all people applying for a card, I find the data fascinating.

I’ve written about this data in the past and last month MileCards covered it.

CreditKarma refreshed their numbers with data from October 2015 through July 2016. Here’s a sampling of some of the average and typical low scores for some popular cards.

  • Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

    This is the best first card for entering the hobby. It’s got a great signup bonus of 50,000 point after $4000 spend within 3 months of account opening, and earns double points — that can be transferred to a variety of airlines and hotel programs — on all travel and dining spend.

    Average score: 736
    Typical low score: 646

    Transfer Points to Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer

  • Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card

    The card offers a signup bonus of 50,000 points after $2000 in spending on purchases within 3 months of account opening. It’s a great way to help earn the legendary Southwest Airlines Companion Pass.

    Average score: 670
    Typical low score: 607

  • Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express

    I’ve had this card for 15 years. The reason it’s great is because Starwood has the most number of airline points transfer partners where transfers are 1:1 into miles (or better). You’re earning Starwood Starpoints and those are the most valuable currency.

    And there’s a built-in 25% transfer bonus: for every 20,000 airline miles you transfer points into Starwood gives you 5000 additional miles. So you effectively earn 1.25 miles per dollar on all of your spend (a built-in 25% bonus), and you get to pick what airline program you want your miles in later.

    Average score: 743
    Typical low score: 657

    Starwood’s Al Maha Desert Resort

  • Platinum Card from American Express

    This is the card that offers the best insider benefits. You get access to American Express Centurion lounges. You get access to Delta lounges when flying that airline same day (though guests will cost $29). You get a Priority Pass Select card that includes access to Alaska Airlines lounges, and many international lounges.

    You can designate one airline on which you’ll receive a $200 fee credit for the year (and in my experience, and while terms and conditions apply on all of their offers, small denomination airline gift cards have worked for reimbursement. The Platinum American Express also reimburses the $100 application fee for Global Entry or the fee for TSA PreCheck, comes with Gold status in Starwood Preferred Guest and Hilton HHonors Gold.

    Average score: 716
    Typical low score: 643

    Bar at the American Express Centurion Lounge, Houston

  • Citi Double Cash Card

    Citi Double Cash is the easiest high value cash back card, with no need to open separate financial accounts and no annual fee but still providing 1% back when you make a purchase and another 1% back when you pay off your bill.

    Average score: 729
    Typical low score: 653

There are factors which go into credit card approval besides credit score, such as your income and the number of other cards you’ve applied or been approved for two name just a couple.

Still, it surprises me to see how low even the mean scores getting approved for the Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Card and Amex Everyday card are. And it surprises me that while the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is a pretty premium card, that it hardly seems to take perfect credit to get it.

We know quite a lot about who has the American Express Platinum card but it’s illuminating to see just who can get it.

Full disclosure I posted my credit score earlier this year.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Editorial note: any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer. Comments made in response to this post are not provided or commissioned nor have they been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by any bank. It is not the responsibility of advertisers Citibank, Chase, American Express, Barclays, Capital One or any other advertiser to ensure that questions are answered, either. Terms and limitations apply to all offers.


  1. Thanks, Gary. Your post last February was what enabled me to get into this hobby, as I didn’t think I would qualify for any good cards with the 618 FICO score that I had then. I was able to get the Southwest Premier and now have a score above 700 and can get most any card I want.

  2. It really didn’t cover all the bonus cash back cards. Example: Barclay Cashforward. Each spouse can get those types..

  3. I’m actually kinda shocked at the typical low scores here, and how low the average scores are. I’m a pretty cautious person, but if my credit score ever dipped below 780 I’d probably go into crisis mode. It’s usually in the 810-830 range. It’s good that those with lower credit scores can play the points game though…

  4. No mystery here at all.

    People with high FICO scores typically have very low debt to credit ratios because they pay their balances in full when due or they use very little of their credit. While such people are highly dependable, they do not make card issuers a lot of money.

    On the other hand, people with FICO scores that are just good enough are a boon to creditors because they carry debt on their credit cards, which earn issuers a lot of money on interest payments, but they are also responsible and pay at least the minimum required each month…. The perfect “customer” for lenders 😉

  5. I’d argue that for effectively $55 more, the Sapphire Reserve is actually a better starter card than the Preferred — you get twice as many Ultimate Rewards points up front for the same spending, you earn more points on dining/travel/transportation/lodging, and the points you earn are worth more if you use them as travel cash. And if you don’t yet have TSA Pre or Global Entry, which you definitely do want, then it’s effectively $45 less than the Preferred in that calendar year.

    Further, I’d say that neither the Sapphire Preferred nor the Sapphire Reserve should ever be mentioned without the no-fee Chase Freedom Unlimited in the same breath. It’s a dual-card solution that gets you at least 1.5 Ultimate Rewards points for every dollar spent. If you have a Sapphire Reserve, that’s at least 2.25% back for travel cash, which is better than the Citi Double Cash, while still having the flexibility to transfer the points 1:1 to partners if you’d rather do that instead.

    And if you use the Reserve for its bonus categories, you get 3 points (2 for the Sapphire), so you’re really doing even better with the combo than any of the above cards, except maybe the Amex Everyday Preferred if you have viable transfer partners for the Membership Rewards points, or the SPG card if being able to transfer to nearly any airline except United is what’s most important to you. Given how horrendous American’s awards now are, I think the SPG card has lost a lot of its value for domestic flyers, given its slow earning.

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