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Senior year in college: What's in my wallet?

June 17, 2021
10 min read
an unknown person holds a wallet with many credit cards while sitting outdoors
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As a college kid, I know just how overwhelming credit cards can be for the first time. What is a good credit score? Why should I use a credit card instead of a debit card? All questions can be answered in TPG's beginners guide.

But the biggest question that I get from both adults and my friends is: What credit cards do you have in your wallet?

Travel can be costly — especially for college students. However, it really doesn't have to be draining on your bank account. I have traveled to 40 states and 20 countries in the past two years alone — partially thanks to a sound credit card strategy.

(Photo by Ryan Patterson for The Points Guy)

Related: Best credit cards for college students

As I started college, my awesome parents (thanks Mom and Dad) added me as an authorized user on their Chase Sapphire Preferred Card account. Fast forward three years, I now have 13 cards and have been using points and miles to see the world.

So, what's in my wallet as I start my senior year of college?

The Platinum Card® from American Express

On my first card, I really went for gold (or Platinum). Because I spend so much on flights as a travel photographer, earning 5x back on airlines (when booked directly with the airline or via Amex Travel; up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year) has been one of my biggest point generators. The big question I get from family and friends is whether or not the Amex Platinum is worth the annual fee.

While the $695 annual fee is steep (see rates and fees), I regularly get a ton of great perks from this card. As a college kid who eats out a lot, I use the Amex Platinum’s annual Uber Cash to order food on Uber Eats in the U.S. However, the biggest justification for me is the Priority Pass lounge membership that comes with the card and allows me to enjoy the comforts of an airline lounge before my next flight. Enrollment required for select benefits.

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Related: 14 things to do when you get the Amex Platinum

(Photo by The Points Guy)

Being a college swimmer, I need to eat a ton of food since I burn calories rapidly. With lots of food consumption comes added expenses and since I travel weekly, I frequently grab quick meals at Priority Pass lounges all over the country. In 2019, I managed to hit 30 Priority Pass lounges and maximized the Amex Platinum's lounge perk.

Assuming I would have spent at least $15 on food either at the airport or outside, it would total $450 worth of meals, which cuts into the Platinum Card's $695 annual fee. This benefit has been hugely beneficial to me while traveling on a budget. Unfortunately, lounges have looked slightly different in the past 14 months, but I fully expect to maximize this perk again this summer.

Other great Amex Platinum perks include up to a $100 statement credit for TSA PreCheck or Global Entry, complimentary Hilton Gold and Marriott Gold status and purchase protections, which have made the Platinum Card from American Express a mainstay in my wallet since my 18th birthday. Enrollment required for select benefits.

Apply here: The Platinum Card from American Express

American Express® Gold Card

The American Express Gold Card, with its $250 annual fee (see rates and fees), has also been a pillar in my wallet for more than three years, and I use it more than any other. With an impressive 60,000-point welcome offer after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first six months of card membership, it's a great first card for students who don’t travel as much but want to get into the Amex camp.

As many college students can attest, our biggest expense (besides tuition and lodging) is food. Earning 4x back at U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 spent on purchases per calendar year; then 1x) is huge and the Gold Card is also one of TPG's best cards for dining at restaurants. So, if you're a college student, I definitely recommend doing the math on your campus dining plan to decide if it's worth it for you.

I did the math on my dining plan and it wasn’t breaking even on what I was paying, so I opted out. Along with the rewards I am earning from paying for all my food, not using a dining hall also let me look at what I was really eating and learn to eat healthier.

Check the CardMatch tool to see if you’re targeted for the 75,000-point American Express Gold Card offer (offer is subject to change at any time).

(Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy)

The American Express Gold Card also offers up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar, and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required. Add the up to $120 annual U.S. Uber Cash ($10 monthly credits) and the Amex Gold is the most used card in my wallet. Card must be added in the Uber app before receiving the Uber Cash benefit. Enrollment required for select benefits.

Related: 4 reasons why the Amex Gold is the one card we can’t live without

Apply here: American Express Gold Card

The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

I truly believe that Amex's Blue Business Plus card is one of the most underrated credit cards available. The 2x back on every purchase (on up to $50,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x) is a big winner in my books. You don't have to memorize any bonus categories (simplified earning rates for a college kid) and there's no annual fee (see rates and fees) to worry about.

Related: Blue Business Plus card review: Double up your everyday spending for no annual fee

As a professional photographer, most of my big purchases center around equipment and helicopter rentals. Unfortunately, these purchases do not fall under any bonus category. But with the Blue Business Plus card, I'll earn 2 points per dollar on all my equipment purchases and helicopter rides. I managed to earn close to 80,000 points — without factoring in referral bonuses — on this card in 2020. That's not bad at all for a no-annual-fee card.

Apply here: Amex Blue Business Plus Credit Card

Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card

The Marriott Bonvoy Boundless card is the newest addition to my wallet. At the time of my application in November 2020, Chase offered a whopping five free night awards, up to 50,000 points each, in exchange for spending $5,000 in the first three months of account opening (offer no longer available). That generous offer was on top of the annual free night certificate included with the card, valid for a one-night stay at a Marriott Bonvoy property with a redemption level of up to 35,000 points.

The card is currently offering 3 Free Nights (each night valued up to 50,000 points) after spending $3,000 on purchases in your first three months from account opening.

Already having Hilton Diamond elite status, I decided to spend this year going for Platinum Elite with Marriott. One of my favorite perks is the 15 elite qualifying nights credited to my account each year. You can also earn one credit towards elite status for every $5,000 you spend. Thanks to The Platinum Card from American Express, I already earned Marriott Gold Elite status, which gives me 28 out of 50 nights towards Platinum Elite. In addition to my six free night certificates that I plan to use this year, I'm already well beyond the halfway point toward my goal of earning Marriott Platinum Elite status.

Related: Why I am keeping my Marriott Bonvoy Boundless card for the long term

(Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

Apply here: Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card

Bottom line

Credit cards can be overwhelming and not easy to grasp for a college kid. But with a little reading, there are so many perks from credit cards that benefit a college kid like me. I've spent countless hours educating myself on travel rewards and that's why the American Express Platinum, American Express Gold, American Express Blue Business Plus and Marriott Bonvoy Boundless are the main cards in my wallet going into my senior year of college.

For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Gold card, click here.
For rates and fees of the Amex Blue Business Plus card, click here.

Featured image by (Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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How we chose these cards

Our points-obsessed staff uses a plethora of credit cards on a daily basis. If anyone on our team wouldn’t recommend it to a friend or a family member, we wouldn’t recommend it on The Points Guy either. Our opinions are our own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our advertising partners.
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TPG featured card

Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

2 - 10X points
10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day

Intro offer

75,000 bonus miles
Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

Annual Fee

$395

Recommended Credit

740-850
Excellent
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023
Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

    75,000 bonus miles
  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023