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Million Mile Secrets reader, Liz, commented:
After studying abroad last semester, I’ve been bitten by the travel bug. Although I have a very good credit score, I’m a college student and don’t spend that much, which precludes me from going for cards with sign-up bonuses that require spending $3,000 in the first 90 days.
I would like to get a card to start earning rewards for my purchases and develop a credit history. But in keeping with the number one rule of paying off my balance each month, there doesn’t seem to be a card out there for me.
Ideally, I’m looking for a travel rewards card that offers a sign-up bonus requiring $1,000 in the first 90 days and has a waived annual fee for the first year, or none at all! Is there a card that you’d recommend for me?
Welcome to the miles & points hobby, Liz!
I’m so glad to hear Liz is interested in earning rewards for travel. Miles and points are one of the the best ways to travel cheaply. They’ve given Emily and I the opportunity to visit amazing destinations around the world!
The good news is most banks offer credit cards with sign-up bonuses that have relatively small minimum spending requirements. And these cards tend to waive the annual fee or have none at all. So they’re great for students on a tight budget!
I’ll share tips for beginners in the miles & points hobby. And 5 great rewards cards for beginners which have low minimum spending requirements!
5 Rewards Credit Cards for College Students
Million Mile Secrets reader Liz appears to be very knowledgable about credit cards, minimum spending requirements, and reward travel.
For others just getting started in the miles & points hobby, I recommend checking out my beginner’s guide.
As a college student on a limited spending budget, one of Liz’s primary goals is to get a rewards credit card with a small minimum spending requirement ($1,000 or less). And I’ll share a few recommendations in a moment.
But consider these 40+ ways you can complete minimum spending requirements, which might open the door to other cards with larger, more lucrative bonuses. For example, I know friends in college who would pay for friends’ meals or textbooks on their credit cards. Then, they’d collect the money from their friends to pay their credit card bills.
This is even easier nowadays with money transfer services like PayPal or Venmo.
Or you can consider paying tuition or bills using a credit card with services like Plastiq. But run the numbers first! You’ll pay a fee, but it could be worth it as a way to earn a big sign-up bonus or accumulate more rewards.
For folks just getting started with rewards credit cards, here are 5 picks with low minimum spending requirements and good rewards!
1. Chase Freedom
Link: Chase Freedom
The Chase Freedom is my favorite no annual fee card. I use this card regularly because I earn 5X Chase Ultimate Rewards points (or 5% cash back) on up to $1,500 in spending in rotating categories each quarter when I activate the bonus.
New applicants can earn 15,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points ($150 cash back) after signing-up and spending $500 on purchases within the first 3 months.
This is a great card for beginners because you can accumulate my favorite flexible points, which you can later combine once you get a second Chase Ultimate Rewards card, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. Then, you’ll be able to transfer points directly to terrific airline and hotel partners, like Hyatt and Southwest.
Plus, folks on Credit Karma report approvals with limited credit history. So this is a great card to start building a relationship with Chase. And for earning bonus points in the quarterly 5X categories.
2. Chase Freedom Unlimited
Link: Chase Freedom Unlimited
But instead of rotating 5X bonus categories, the Freedom Unlimited earns 1.5X Chase Ultimate Rewards points (1.5% cash back) on ALL purchases. This can be a valuable perk for folks who won’t spend the maximum in the Freedom’s quarterly bonus categories.
And like the Freedom, you can accumulate rewards, which you’ll be able to transfer to travel partners once you get an eligible Chase Ultimate Rewards card.
3. Discover It
Link: Discover It
The Discover It card is a fantastic no annual fee card with no minimum spending requirements.
You’ll earn $50 cash back when you sign-up and make a purchase within the first 3 months.
And if you’re a new cardmember, Discover will match the cash back you’ve earned at the end of your first 12 billing cycles, including the sign-up bonus!
Plus, this card has no foreign transaction fees. So it’s great to use on an overseas trip.
But with the first year cash back match, you can effectively get 2% back on every purchase for your first year. And 10% cash back in the rotating quarterly categories when you register!
4. Bank of America Alaska Airlines
So if you’re looking to earn versatile airline miles, the Bank of America Alaska Airlines card is a good pick!
You can earn 30,000 Alaska Airlines miles AND a $100 statement credit after spending $1,000 on purchases within the first days 90 days of account opening.
This card has a $75 annual fee that’s NOT waived the first year. But the $100 statement credit more than offsets that.
The card comes with an annual companion ticket voucher valid for one year. Your companion travels with you on a paid Alaska Airlines ticket for $99 plus taxes and fees. This perk is a great if you’d like to travel with a friend or family member during spring or summer break!
The card also has no foreign transaction fees, which is terrific for folks traveling abroad!
5. AMEX EveryDay
The AMEX EveryDay credit card is the ONLY no annual fee AMEX card that earns flexible American Express Membership Rewards points.
And you can earn a sign-up bonus of 10,000 American Express Membership Rewards points after spending $1,000 on purchases within the first 3 months. Plus, you’ll also get a $25 credit on a $25+ purchase at Newegg and a complimentary year of Newegg Premier membership (worth ~$50).
And, if you use the card to make 20 or more purchases within a billing cycle, you will earn an extra 20% Membership Rewards points. There is no minimum transaction amount for any of those 20 purchases.
And because this is an AMEX card, you’ll save money with access to AMEX Offers. This is a great perk for college students on a budget!
With minimum spending requirements in mind, folks on budgets can get cards like the Chase Freedom or Bank of America Alaska Airlines card to earn valuable sign-up bonuses and flexible miles and points. This is the best way to get Big Travel with Small Money!
Don’t forget to check out my beginner’s guide for other tips and tricks before you get started!