Disclosure: We get a commission for links on the blog. You don’t have to use our links, but we’re very grateful when you do. American Express, Barclaycard, Capital One, Chase, and US Bank are Million Mile Secrets advertising partners. Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or endorsed by our partners. Here’s our Advertiser Disclosure.
Are you a college student who wants to travel as much as possible? There are lots of ways to get Big Travel for nearly free! And it’s not hard to get started.
I’ll show you how to build your credit and start earning miles and points, so you can see more of the world. And visit family and friends back home!
Get Started on the Path Toward Big Travel
I get most of my Big Travel by using miles and points. Check out my beginner’s guide if you’re just starting out!
Miles and points are 1 of the the best ways to travel cheaply. Here’s how you can do it, too – even if you’re a college student!
Start Building Your Credit
You’ll need a decent amount of credit history to get a credit card that earns miles or points. Because many of these cards are geared to folks with a longer credit history.
If you don’t have any credit history, or very little, you’ll need to show the banks you can be trusted with credit. That means paying your bills on-time and in full every month. Never miss a payment!
And you should NOT get started with miles and points until you can pay off your credit cards each month. Because the interest you’ll pay by carrying a balance negates the value of any miles or points you’ll earn.
But if you handle your credit responsibly, it will help to boost your credit score.
Ways to build credit include:
- Get your parents to add you as an authorized user
- Open a secured credit card
- Apply for entry-level or store credit cards
Best Cards to Get Once You Have Credit
Link: Chase Freedom
Link: Discover it for Students
Banks will approve you for certain cards without a long credit history.
For example, you can apply for the Chase Freedom card to start a good relationship with Chase. They have some of the best travel rewards credit cards.
They’ll even give you a $20 reward each school year when you get good grades (over a 3.0 GPA). And the cards have no annual fee, so they’re a free way to build your credit!
You can earn miles, points, and cash back with any of these cards while you continue building a credit history and establishing relationships with the banks.
Meet Minimum Spending Requirements and Earn More Points!
Once you move up to the miles and points cards, you’ll find their minimum spending requirements are higher than entry-level cards (whose minimum spending requirements tend to be $1,000 or less). And when you’re a student, it can be tough to spend that much!
Also consider using your cards for things like:
- Dining out with friends
- Books for classes
- Fast food between classes
- Public transportation like your subway pass
Any time you need to buy something, put it on 1 of your cards instead of using cash or debit cards. But again, always make sure you can pay them in full at the end of each billing cycle.
RadPad is a service that allows you to pay your rent with a credit card, too. If you live off-campus, that could be an option.
Keep in mind you’ll pay a ~2% to 2.5% fee, depending on which card you use. So it could be good to meet the minimum spending requirements, especially if you want to plan Big Travel with the points you earn. But it may not be the best strategy for regular rent payments.
I encourage you to run the numbers to make sure it’s worth it. For this deal and ANY others you find along the way!
If you attend a school that accepts credit cards for tuition, by all means use your miles-earning (or cash back-earning) credit card! Do the math if there are any fees involved, though. Because depending on how you want to use your miles, it may not be worth it to pay a fee to earn them.
You might also considering paying your tuition through Plastiq. But again, you’ll pay a 2.5% fee when you pay with a credit card. That said, if you’re trying to earn lucrative sign-up bonus, paying tuition could be an easy way to knock out all the minimum spending requirements at once.
How to Travel Here at Home
If you want to travel home while school’s not in session, you can pay 25,000 miles for a domestic round-trip coach award flight, on most airlines including:
If you live near where you go to school, you can pay 10,000 United Airlines miles each way for coach flights under 700 miles on United Airlines. Or you can pay 7,500 British Airways Avios points for flights under 1,150 miles on partners American Airlines and Alaska Airlines.
For example, if you go to school in Detroit, and you’re from Atlanta, you can fly home at the end of May. And go back to Detroit in early September for 25,000 Delta miles and ~$11. That’s a price most college students can afford to pay! And, you’d get to spend your summer break at home.
You could also get home by using:
- AMEX Membership Rewards points to fly on Delta
- Chase Ultimate Rewards points to fly on United Airlines
- Chase Ultimate Rewards points for a flight on Southwest
- Chase Ultimate Rewards points for any flight you find (no blackout dates!)
- Citi ThankYou points to fly on United Airlines
- Citi ThankYou points for any flight you find (no blackout dates!)
You can also fly on a budget airline to save money if you don’t have enough miles or points for a flight.
Of course, these methods will also work to get you anywhere else you want to go, in case you need a getaway and a break from the books!
How to Travel Farther
After you get familiar with your new cards and points programs, you might decide to travel beyond the US. Maybe a backpacking trip to Europe? Or a Caribbean vacation?
Be sure to check out:
- The Cheapest Way to Hawaii From the West Coast With Miles & Points
- The Cheapest Paid Flights to the Caribbean From the East Coast
- All the Ways to Get to Europe With AMEX Membership Rewards Points
- Use Delta Miles to Get to Europe (Even From the West Coast!)
- How to Fly to Europe Using the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
- Top 5 Cheap Ways to Get to Europe Using Miles and Points!
- Explore Europe for Cheap With Budget Airlines!
You can read the guides linked above for more tips to how to travel using the miles of your choice.
And now that you’re reading Million Mile Secrets, you’ll be an expert on booking award flights and hotel stays in no time (in case you need more things to study!) 😉
If you’re a college student who loves to travel, you can start building your credit history as an extracurricular activity. You’ll boost your credit score when you pay on-time and in full each month. But you should NOT open a credit card if you can’t pay the balance.
Cards like the Chase Freedom or Discover it for Students are within reach once you show you’re responsible with credit. Once you build a relationship with the banks, you can apply for cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Citi Prestige for Big Travel!
From there, you can travel home to visit friends and family. Or get Big Travel all around the world. The key is to use your credit wisely. Along with your education, it’s 1 of your most important assets!
* If you liked this post, why don’t you join the 20,000+ readers who have signed-up to receive free blog posts via email (only 1 email per day!) or in an RSS reader …because then you’ll never miss another update!