The 5 credit cards this recent grad keeps in her wallet
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A question I'm often asked is why I own multiple credit cards as a recent college graduate. I stumbled across the world of points and miles a few years ago, and throughout my efforts to learn more about travel credit cards, I discovered The Points Guy. I was amazed by all the opportunities for (almost) free travel just by owning the right cards.
As a college student, I found it difficult to find the time (and money) to travel between classes, work and other commitments. After studying abroad in Paris, I wanted to continue traveling without breaking the bank -- which led me to build my credit card portfolio at a young age.
Before you jump into points, miles and credit cards, it’s important that you start with understanding credit scores and personal finance. Establishing credit is one of the most important things you can do for your financial future. But from annual fees to annual percentage rates (APR), it’s hard to understand how credit cards work.
If you've just recently graduated, this is the perfect time to get your bearings. There's a learning curve for everyone, so I'll take you through my journey of the first five credit cards I opened. With several years of experience now, I’ve been able to take some awesome trips – completely paid for with points and miles – at just 22 years old.
First card and first mistake
In 2016, I entered my first year in college. I opened my first credit card ever – the Wells Fargo Cash Back College℠ Card – which features a $0 annual fee and 1% back for Wells Fargo Go Far Rewards.
This was the easiest card for me to open, as I had no credit history and had already been banking with Wells Fargo for years. I used my first credit card sparingly – only putting my phone bill, gas and other school-related expenses on it.
The information for the Wells Fargo Cash Back College card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Then, I studied abroad in Paris during the summer of 2017. This was the first time I flew internationally by myself and was also my first time in Europe. In those glorious six weeks, I learned that a 50-cent baguette with lots of butter makes for a delicious lunch (while keeping my taste buds and my wallet happy), and that comté cheese is the best cheese in the world.
While eating to my heart’s content, I also made one of the biggest mistakes I could ever make. I didn’t know what foreign transaction fees were, so I paid a hefty amount using a debit card and my Wells Fargo credit card. The fees ranged from 1-3% on every purchase I made, so I wasted quite a lot of money that summer.
Related: What is a foreign transaction fee?
As a credit card newbie, this was quite the rookie mistake. But all things considered, no study abroad experience is complete without a couple of mishaps along the way.
Getting started with airline rewards cards
Fueled by my desire to keep traveling and to find a card with no foreign transaction fees (see rates and fees), I applied for the Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card in 2018. The card -- with a $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $99 (see rates and fees) -- offered great perks: I was drawn to the introductory offer, which at the time was 60,000 miles and is no longer available (was worth $846 according to TPG valuations).
The card currently offers a welcome bonus of 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first six months of account opening. Other benefits, such as the ability to check a bag for free and access priority boarding on Delta flights were enticing, too.
However, I had to consider paying an annual fee for the first time. I justified paying a $99 annual fee since I saved more than $300 on checked baggage fees alone in the first year of account opening. In college, I used my SkyMiles for a fall break trip to Seattle, a winter break trip to South Korea and a spring break trip to Puerto Rico.
While the Delta card served me well over the past couple of years, I ran into a couple of frustrations using American Express while traveling internationally. While in Amsterdam, my Amex was denied at many restaurants and bars, so I knew I needed a more universally accepted credit card next.
In June 2019, I applied for my third credit card – the JetBlue Plus Card – when I interned at JetBlue Airways. The $99 annual fee was waived for life for employees – even if you were working at the airline short term. With an introductory bonus of 30,000 TrueBlue points for employees (worth about $390), it was a no-brainer to add this card to my portfolio, which came with free checked bags, 50% off inflight food and cocktails and more.
The information for the JetBlue Plus Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
While interning for JetBlue, I had full access to stand-by travel. I took a trip every weekend that summer – I was jet-setting to Los Angeles, St. Maartin, Cancun, Albuquerque, New Mexico, and so many other amazing destinations. While I didn’t rack up points on these standby trips, I used my new JetBlue Plus Card on all other living and travel expenses to lock in the bonus points. And post-internship, I was able to redeem those TrueBlue points for trips to Boston, New York and Miami throughout my senior year of college.
Since I entered college, I’ve been an Amazon Prime Student member, and I’ve ordered everything from textbooks to dorm essentials over the years. In late 2019, I decided to add another card to my wallet: The Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature Card by Chase.
The information for the Amazon Prime Visa card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Because I was ordering from Amazon and shopping at Whole Foods so frequently, I figured that I should somehow maximize these purchases. Like many, I've used Amazon even more since the pandemic. This card offers 5% cash back on Amazon.com and Whole Foods, 2% back at restaurants, gas stations, drugstores, and 1% on all other purchases.
Finally, you'll receive a decent amount of traveler’s benefits, such as no foreign transaction fees, travel and emergency assistance, lost luggage reimbursement and more. While I rarely use this card for other purposes outside of Amazon and Whole Foods, I don't see the harm in keeping this card since it carries no annual fee.
Bigger and better travel rewards cards
In my senior year of college, I graduated to my first travel card that wasn't tied to an airline: The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card. While the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and the Capital One Venture are often compared, I applied for the Capital One Venture because of its simple earning structure.
Both have annual fees of $95, but back when I applied, the Capital One fee was waived for the first year. While this is no longer the case, I've found tons of value for the card that have helped me justify paying the annual fee since then.
One of the major perks that stood out to me was up to $100 credit for a Global Entry or TSA Precheck enrollment fee. This has helped me expedite through airport security when flying and bypass long lines when returning from international trips.
I also love that it’s easy to rack up miles, as you get 2x miles on every single purchase. The ability to transfer my miles to 19 transfer partners makes it a valuable traveler’s card. And let’s not forget that the Venture card is a favorite of The Points Guy himself, Brian Kelly.
My next cards
Once I achieve the sign-up bonus for one card, I can’t help but think about my next move. Since I graduated in May 2020, I've opened three more cards -- the Chase Sapphire Preferred, the Chase Freedom Flex and the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card. I've booked many trips with the points and miles I've accrued throughout the pandemic for trips later this year.
If you've just graduated, I highly encourage you to get a headstart on your first credit card. If you’re looking to travel for (almost) free, it’s worth opening a beginner’s card to rack up great rewards.
While I’ve made some mistakes along the way, it’s crucial to know the fundamental principles of credit card usage and not spend more than what you can pay back in full each month. Having multiple credit cards can be exciting, but you’ll have to be careful managing multiple accounts at once.
As seen in my own journey, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the credit card game. Hopefully, you’ll find yourself closer to your next vacation, but maybe this time, for free.
For rates and fees of the Delta SkyMiles Gold card, click here.